Sunday, December 29, 2013

Put down the iPad and walk towards the light

Yesterday I spent the entire afternoon un-decorating and packing up Christmas stuff. I also had to rearrange our living room furniture because I bought a couch on Craigslist. Of course, I had tons of help from my family. Ha ha! Oooh, I kill myself. Seriously, though, there's plenty of enthusiasm for putting up the tree. Taking it down? Not so much.

I hadn't planned to buy a couch. I had been lurking on Craigslist for a few weeks in search of a recliner. We had two in our living room but one of them had some personal problems - one arm was mostly disconnected and was threatening to fly off at any moment. Anyway, I happened to find an ad placed by a woman who was moving to Hawaii. Yesterday I stopped at her house after yoga class and bought the couch she had advertised. I thought it was a good deal for $65 - it has dual recliners and a center console that flips down when needed. Her sister even offered to load it onto a trailer and bring it to my house. Say what you want about the Midwest - we've got some nice people out here, ya'll.

One funny side note .  .  . when I walked into the house to look at the couch, two Boxers rushed towards me. Family members (there to help with packing, I think) quickly ran over to pull them off. I laughed and explained that I have a whole house full of Boxers who jump all over me. The Craigslist lady, as it turns out, teaches English at a local high school. Loves Boxer and teaches English? I think we would have gotten along famously had we met at some other time. Alas, she is headed to Hawaii and now I am sitting on her couch.

Once I got done packing up all the Christmas stuff and moving furniture, I was pretty tired.  However, we had tickets for a local light show, so we pulled on our snow boots and headed out for that.  We made the kid put down her iPad and forced her to spend quality time with her parents. It amazes me how well she navigates that thing even though she's only had it for a few days. She is currently playing Draw Something and a couple other games with her cousins. She and I are playing Words with Friends (I am anticipating a "YOU NEVER LET ME WIN!" meltdown shortly.) My new worry is that strangers might be able to connect with her.  I plan to keep a close eye on the situation, but I worry that technology moves faster than I can absorb it. I make my living off technology so it's not like I'm thoroughly clueless, but kids catch on just a wee bit faster. 

The kid has four days left of her winter break. I should probably force her to crack open a book sometime soon.  If she's not on the iPad, she's making bracelets on the Rainbow Loom. She wore about a dozen bracelets to church this morning. Is there a legal limit on those things?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Best Day

Well, the new iPad seems to be a hit. Our diabolical plan is working - buy the thing, make her love it, and then extract good behavior by threatening to take it away.  [insert evil laughter here]

She received an iTunes gift card from one of her aunts, so now she is blaring Taylor Swift songs in her bedroom.  She is currently listening to "The Best Day," which is the song her cousin sang at the wedding last month. "Roar" by Katy Perry will be on in a second, so hold tight. You may be able to hear it from wherever you are. We also got her a Bluetooth speaker for the iPad. We weren't thinking, I guess.

Surprisingly, the kid didn't roll out of bed until after 8:00 this morning.  Then she tore into her presents like some kind of animal. We weren't up terribly late last night.  We went to church and then put her to bed shortly thereafter. Earlier in the day, she and I watched "Polar Express" and talked about Santa. "Mom," she said. "Sometimes I forget [that she knows there's no Santa] and then when I remember, I still want to believe, just a little bit."  I felt like crying. Damn that little brat who spoiled it for her much too soon.

"I still believe just a little bit, too," I said, and gave her a big hug.

So, she knew she didn't have to go to bed in order for Santa to come, but I still made it clear that she needed to go to sleep if she wanted gifts.  

It was our turn to host (P's side of the family) this year, so we had guests over for brunch this afternoon. We host every third year. I ate way too much (my sister-in-law and niece both brought yummy casseroles) so I think I see some extra gym time in my near future.

Our guests left a few hours ago. Since then, the kid has been Facetiming with one of her cousins in Virginia. He also taught her to text. She's been taking photos, making videos, and downloading apps at the speed of light.  You gotta love technology.  Within minutes of opening the iPad this morning, we'd already connected with my middle sister via Facetime. We exchanged Christmas greetings from the comfort of our living room, in our pajamas. I suspect we don't even know the full potential of the iPad yet.

She did get other gifts, of course. Several aunts and one cousin bought her clothes from Justice. She can't wait to wear one of her glittery new ensembles tomorrow.  She got two pairs of rockin' boots from Justice. I think she wishes she had more feet and at least two more bodies so that she could wear everything tomorrow.   The kid also received several craft kits, some accessories, and a fabulous nightgown made by her personal designer.

I'm going to sign off and take a bath now.  I asked my husband for some stuff from Bath & Body Works. I like the Eucalyptus Spearmint stuff in their aromatherapy line. For reasons known only to him, my husband got me three bottles of lotion in that scent, but no bath gel. Three. Bottles. Of lotion. There are so many things in this life that I just don't understand. He got me some wine and chocolate, though, so I'll just work on those and try not to ponder the mystery any further.

Merry Christmas!

That's a Santa Root Beer in the background. Just in case you wondered.

Wearing new nightgown made by Meemaw, new hat, new slippers . . . and gripping the new source of all things awesome in her life.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

All Set

The out-of-state gifts have been shipped. Cookies have been baked (and foisted off on friends and relatives). Shopping for the kid is done. Shopping for the husband is done. All gifts have been wrapped. Woot!

I love these last few days before Christmas, when it's just a matter of waiting. I particularly love the evenings, that hour or so after I've yelled at the kid to go to bed and then I can sit quietly in the living room, enjoying the tree, the candles, the solitude.

We knew a snowstorm was coming, so I took the kid shopping yesterday so that she could pick out a few things for her dad (originally we had planned to go today). Apparently everyone else saw the same forecast, because the mall was insane. Fortunately, I spent two hours doing restorative yoga yesterday afternoon so I was relaxed enough not to utter a single cuss word as I circled the parking lot, looking for a space. We did our shopping and then headed home.

Speaking of Christmas shopping, I have to share a funny story. When family members have asked me what to buy my kid for Christmas, I have been saying, "You can buy her some ugly clothes from Justice if you want."  How ugly? "If it hurts your eyeballs just to look at it," I explain, "She will love it."

My youngest sister bought some Justice stuff online and had it shipped to our home. She gave me a heads-up and told me that the stuff would be wrapped. The box arrived on Friday, so I opened it. The stuff inside? Not wrapped. I looked at the packing list and noticed this line printed across the middle of the paper: "Gift wrapping is back-ordered."  What on earth? HOW CAN GIFT WRAPPING BE BACK-ORDERED?  I imagine that the gift wrap will arrive sometime next week, which will be super helpful.  I dug through the box to see what my sister had sent to her niece. I figured I would just wrap the stuff for her and fill out a gift tag on my sister's behalf. She sent some jeans that I know the kid will love, as well as some boots that she will probably want to wear to bed. Then I spotted a shirt and saw the tag that hung from the neck seam: Size 20. Ummm.  I thought maybe the tag was just wrong, so I took the shirt out of the plastic bag in which it had been sealed. Nope, it was definitely a size 20 - and this size was also reflected on the packing list. It's kind of funny because my daughter is so tiny that she still has to sit in a booster seat in the car. She wears a size 7 and even that is pushing it - a size 6 also fits fine most of the time. I sent my sister a text and let her know that I would exchange the shirt the next day. Here's where it gets a little weirder, though. I dug around in the box some more and found a pair of shiny, glittery black leggings that my sister did not purchase. Size 14.  Not listed on the packing list. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to exchange them because, technically, they didn't belong to us. Anyway, I guess the point to my story is that the people who work in the Justice warehouse are on crack.  Oh, and the store did give let me exchange the leggings so I applied that amount against some ugly Justice necklaces and and stuff. The leggings were so horrifying that I couldn't bring myself to obtain a pair in A's size.

As predicted, we did get a snowstorm this morning. I very much wanted to go to church, but one look out the window convinced me that it was just too daunting to head out. I decided to have a no make-up, no bra, wear-my-pajamas-all-day sort of day. And so I did. I tried to take it easy today, although I did tackle one big job. I cleaned out our linen closet. I found pillowcases I hadn't seen since Bush was in office. I also plowed through a few levels in Candy Crush Saga, because that's what Christmas is all about. Falalalala!

Back to the grind tomorrow. I suppose I'll need to wear a bra to work.

My absolute favorite Christmas decoration. My mom got it for me - I believe it's from the National Wildlife Federation or something along those lines.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

She can't pay attention, ya'll

The kid brought home her report card last week. She is graded on a scale of 1-4.

1 = Does not meet expectations
2 = Partially meets expectations
3 = Meets expectations
4 = Exceeds expectations

She got lots of 3s and a few 4s in areas like math, science, reading, history, and social studies.  She is reading above grade level.  Academically, I'd say that my little smartie does fine.

She did receive some 2s, though.  Most of them are clustered under an area called "Life Long Learning Skills." The 2s were in:
  • Follows school/classroom rules and directions.
  • Demonstrates self-control.
  • Works independently.
Some of the comments from her teacher included statements like:

"She does struggle with not talking while others are talking and respecting the speaker."

"A does have some self-control issues. She is often times distracted during instruction and work time by objects in her desk or talking to others."

"I do sometimes ask her to slide her desk away from others so she is able to focus and complete her work."

There were good comments, too, of course. An example: "A is a very accurate, smooth, fluent, expressive reader."

I'm happy that my daughter is doing fairly well academically, but I don't know what to say or think about the fact that she seems to tank when it comes to "Life Long Learning Skills." I can't help but think that these are traits I cannot fix. I'd have to re-scramble her DNA or something. If she was having trouble with reading, we'd just read more. We'd work on it.  When I had a conference with her teacher a few weeks ago, I asked her if she thought I should have my daughter tested for ADD/ADHD. She said that it wouldn't hurt but that she didn't think my daughter was an obvious case. She said that with some kids, she can tell by about 9:00 a.m. on the first day of school if they have it. With my child, she said that she can see shades of ADD but that it's not a given in her case.

So, I think I'll just wait and talk to her doctor in May when she goes in for her annual wellness exam (when she turns nine). Until then, I think all I can really do is to remind her regularly to listen and be respectful at school. Obviously, we have some of the same issues at home with not listening, inability to focus, etc.  I also know that I need to remember all of the awesome things about my kid: she's creative, smart, friendly, and friendly.  Note to self: remember to ask the kid what she has in her desk that's so amazing (and then, whatever it is, threaten to take it away).

On a somewhat related note, we're trying a "chore jar" on for size. I modeled it after a chore jar that my friend Sarah uses for her boys. Do you like how I used the Old English font to make the chores seem super fancy and desirable? She gets paid on a per-chore basis. So far I can't say that she's wildly enthusiastic about it. However, in time I hope she will have a better understanding of the correlation between work and money. And if someone wants to buy ugly clothes from Justice . . .

Monday, December 16, 2013

My baby can narrate like nobody's business!

Our church held its annual inter-generational Christmas service yesterday.  This service is fully carried out by the children of our fellowship. It includes a Christmas-themed skit, which is always adorable. You can usually count on at least one wardrobe malfunction or something that does not go as planned.  This year's story was "The Christmas Cobwebs," the tale of a poor cobbler and his family, and how they learn the meaning of Christmas.

It seems like just yesterday that my daughter was one of the toddlers in the annual production, wandering aimlessly around the stage, knocking over props.  The wee ones are usually given bit parts as angels or something along those lines.  Now that my daughter is a very mature eight-year-old, she was given a big part this year: narrator.  It was her job to stand at the podium and read all the narrative parts of the play.

When she was practicing her lines at home, I reminded her of the importance of speaking clearly into the microphone. The kid is normally very outgoing but has been known to get spooked in front of a crowd.  There is a Subway restaurant near our church. I told her that the people waiting for their foot-longs at Subway should be able to hear her. "Who is that amazing child with the spectacular oratory skills?" they will ask.

I needn't have worried. My kid could scarcely be seen over the podium, but she read her lines like a champ. All you could see was a Santa hat poking up behind the microphone (and she was even standing on a box that we keep back there for shorter speakers). She also helped out during other parts of the service. She lit candles for some of our members during the "candles of community" portion of the service. She is not allowed to have any involvement with fire at home, but she lit those candles like a pro.

Last week my daughter and I were at a gift shop when a lady looked at my daughter and then asked me, "Is she in third grade?"

I was astounded.  Because of her height, people often guess that my daughter is around five.

"How did you know that?" I asked.

"I was a teacher for 27 years," she replied. "I could tell by her maturity."


Now, how do I go about getting Miss Maturity to put her plate in the sink when she is done eating?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I didn't have enough chaos in my life, so I . . .

. . . took in other foster dog. Two-year-old CeCe was surrendered to a shelter because someone in his family was apparently allergic to him. He's kind of a wild man, so he was deemed a no-go for the adoption floor. Our home is far too small for a fourth dog, but I don't like the thought of doggies spending Christmas on a cement floor in a shelter. And the shelter where he landed is a nice one, as shelters go, but still. Maybe I am just a little bit sappy after all. Don't tell anyone.

CeCe is freshly neutered.  He has attempted to hump Gideon, Gretchen, and Kaiser in turn. I can't say that any of them were open to the idea. In fact, CeCe has been told to go fuck himself about eighty different times in the last hour. So far, he has not been effectively dissuaded from violating his new friends.

He smells like a shelter but I'm hesitant to give him a bath since it's five degrees outside. I sprayed some groomer's cologne on him, so now he smells like a shelter with hints of wet dog. He's also more vocal than the others. Remember the Hamburglar?  That's how he sounds. Robble-robble, robble-robble.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ah, tradition

We attended our daughter's winter concert yesterday (fifth year in a row!). This year, the school split things up a bit differently. Apparently they had access to two music teachers, so they held two concerts - one with the younger kids performing and one with the third, fourth, and fifth graders performing. I guess my daughter is an upperclassman now.

P and I arrived at the concert at about the same time (both drove straight from work) and found seats in the cafe-gym-e-teria. The third graders were up first.  They filed in and arranged themselves on the risers. As usual, our kid was in the front because she is short. See, there are benefits to being petite! She was wearing her new Christmas dress and a Santa hat. First they sang a song called "Earthlings Unite." It was a little odd, if I'm being honest.  The kids were doing some sort of hand gestures, but our kid wasn't doing them. I even tried to catch her eye and do the hand gestures myself.  (Sort of like sign language to say, "Why aren't you doing this?") The second song was "We Will Jingle" to the tune of "We Will Rock You."  We will, we will, JINGLE!  You'll have that stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You're welcome!  On this song, our kid did the corresponding hand claps . . . sort of.

And then, the third graders were done. They filed off the stage.  We then listened to the fourth and fifth graders sing their songs.  There was some sort of reindeer dance on the floor in front of the stage but I couldn't really see it from where I was sitting. As an added bonus, some beginning band students played a couple of songs. It was brutal, just brutal. But hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?  And those kids are one up on me if they can read music. I sure can't, as anyone who has stood near me in church during a hymn-sing can attest.

The music teacher thanked everyone, the principal thanked everyone, and that was about it.  The new (very cute, very energetic) music teacher is, as far as I could tell, about 15. I figured she probably needed to finish up so that she could get back over to the high school in time for fifth period.

Later in the evening, I took the kid over to a local museum that was holding a kids-only Christmas shop. I've taken her there in the past.  They also have lots of window displays full of old-school Christmas decorations, so it's fun to poke around in the museum at this time of year.  We found the kids' shop and got in line.  They actually have a whole store set up with a tiny little door that kids pass through to get in.  Then a helper guides them through and wraps the gifts for them. No parents are allowed in the shop.  A volunteer handed us an envelope containing four gift tags. Gifts in the store were $3.00 each, with four gifts being the maximum a kid could buy (although they could go back through the line again if they wanted to).  The shop did not take debit cards or checks. Crud. I looked in my wallet. I had exactly $12.00 in cash.  I handed it over to my daughter.

I told her I would help her fill out the four gift tags. She just needed to tell me who the four recipients were. "Who's first?" I asked.

"Meemaw."  Okay, gift number one was going to my mom. I filled out the tag and asked the kid about the second gift.

"Ummmm," she paused.  "Grandpa Ted!"  I filled out the tag.  Two down, two to go.

"Daddy. The next one is for Daddy."  Okay, sounds good.  At this point, I need to remind you that I had given my child every dollar from my wallet. Every dollar. My wallet was now barren and sad.  Who, oh who, would receive the fourth gift?

She paused and then named one of her cousins. Alrighty then. 

I browsed in the museum's regular gift shop while the kid was in the short people shop. I picked up a few stocking stuffers and hid them in my purse. Then, when she was done shopping, I had to carry the four not-for-me gifts around the entire museum while she played and ran around.

Ah, tradition.

Drawing a picture for Santa. She "knows" but, you know .  . . it doesn't hurt to suck up anyway.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The annual blog post that nobody reads

And yet, I can not be stopped from posting it every year.  Yes, that's right, it's my annual "favorite music of the year" post. Now, I think you know that I am way too lazy to look these up individually and confirm that they were released in 2013 and not at the tail end of 2012 or something.  But, I think I'm at least in the ballpark.

Anywho . . . here are my favorite songs from 2013:

Jake Bugg - this is a toss-up between "Slumville Sunrise" and "Me and You."  I also still have several songs from last year's debut album in heavy rotation. I have a feeling that if I met this kid in person, he would be an arrogant ass. I do think he is extremely talented, though.

Big Boi - "Apple of My Eye" and "Mama Told Me." Okay, I did look this one up and the album was released in December of 2012. But, I listened to it this year.  Big Boi is basically a guilty pleasure for me. Don't tell anyone.

Disclosure - "When a Fire Starts to Burn" and just about everything else from the album "Settle."  The great thing about this album is that it also works great as a work-out playlist. 

The Avett Brothers - "Another is Waiting."  I've never been a huge fan but I liked this song. The song "I and Love and You" (from a few years ago) almost brings a tear to my eye every time I listen to it. I should probably spend more time listening to these guys.

My Morning Jacket - "Leaving on a Jet Plane."  This was from the album "The Music is You" which was a John Denver tribute. I believe it came out at the end of 2012. In any case, I was never a John Denver fan (as old as I am, he was actually a little before my time) but Jim James' voice on this song just slays me. Absolutely slays me.

Crystal Fighters - "At Home."  I bought four songs from the album "Cave Rave" and love all of them.

Lucius - "Turn it Around." I saw them on a Tiny Desk Concert on NPR and just loved them.

Ra Ra Riot - "Dance With Me." This one is also on the work-out playlist.

Haim - "Forever." These sister chicks got a lot of buzz this year, and they really are very good!

Honorable mentions: Matangi by M.I.A, Mercy by TV on the Radio, Everything by Nine Inch Nails, and Black Skinhead by Kanye West.

I'll be sure to bore you with my list again next year. Until then . . .

Saturday, December 7, 2013

How cold was it?

When I drove to yoga class at 7:45 this morning, the temperature outside was 1 degree.  And that's without any sort of wind chill factor.  On my way home (about an hour and a half later), I noticed that the temperature had risen to a balmy 2 degrees.  So, it goes without saying that today was the perfect day to drive to a tree farm in search of a Christmas tree. P and I joked that we were going to take the first tree we saw, even if it was already strapped to someone else's car.

We bundled up and drove to the tree place. The temperature was up to 8 degrees by this point. We grabbed a saw and headed into the field. Now, I don't know one type of evergreen from the next, but normally I am a little bit picky about the tree we choose. I like trees that have firm branches but also have needles that aren't overly prickly. After about five minutes of wandering around and having "how about this one?" discussions as we hopped up and down to keep blood flowing, I chose one that seemed to be the right size and shape. Our eyeballs were starting to freeze.

When we got it home and installed it in the tree stand, we quickly realized that's we'd chosen the extra-prickly variety. My daughter and I all but bled as we added the ornaments. After a while, we were sort of tossing decorations at the tree and hoping they would stick.

It turned out so purdy, though!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

American Winter

(This is my 900th post. Yay me!)

At the risk of spoiling all of the holiday revelry for just a moment . . . 

I am fortunate. I have a family, a job, a home, a car, and a college education. I have a 401k account. I suppose I am firmly middle class and yet, I think all it would take is one medical crisis or a more-than-very-brief period of unemployment and our little family would be in big trouble.

I was pondering this weighty thought last night as I watched the HBO documentary "American Winter."  It was a sobering experience. If you have an opportunity to see the film, I highly recommend it (it is currently on HBO on Demand and was just released on DVD as well).  American Winter profiles a handful of American families struggling with poverty.  Their stories are heartbreaking. These are people who desperately want jobs and often cannot find them. Or, the jobs available to them offer such low pay that they must still visit a food pantry just to get by.  They must explain to their children why their electricity has been turned off, why water no longer flows from the spigot. One boy tells his mother, "I'm fine, Mom. I don't need a hot meal." Another child cries because she knows it is her own medical issue that has kept her mother from working. Medical bills climb so high that even knocking a dent in them starts to seem almost laughable.

The film does an excellent job of dispelling stereotypes. For starters, most of the families profiled are as white as Wonder Bread (I know many like to believe that people of color are the ones draining resources). Far from lazy, one woman spends her days hauling around scrap metal and selling plasma just to make a few extra dollars. A man named John makes it clear that he will do ANY job, any job at all.  He is not holding out for a CEO position.

I must confess that I had to confront a couple of my own prejudices as I watched.  For example, my brain started to form the thought, "How can someone so poor afford so many tattoos?"  I had to cut myself off to keep from going down that path. Because you know what? It's none of my business. Just because someone else is struggling does not give me some sort of license to weigh in on how they spend what money they do have. It's too easy to jump to conclusions.  Many low-income families are also significantly overweight. Some might wonder how such families could claim to be poor when clearly they have enough to eat. Well, the situation is more complicated than that. Low income neighborhoods rarely have nice grocery stores. Instead, they are dotted with fast food restaurants. Bad-for-you food is cheaper than good-for-you food. It's simple math.

American Winter also points out that attitudes towards poor people have changed dramatically over the years. Those who rely on welfare and other social programs are treated with disdain.We are so sure that these folks are abusing the system that we pressure our politicians to pull the plug on all of it. The distribution of wealth in our country grows more unbalanced by the minute.The families portrayed in the film are not looking to be wealthy.  They would be happy just to have the basics.

Last week my daughter asked me what the phrase "walk a mile in my shoes" means. Maybe more people should ask what that means.