Friday, February 12, 2016

Snips and Snails and Endless Supplies of Destructive Energy

Right this second, Caedmon and I are both completely spent.  We have thirty minutes until we have to leave to pick the bigguns up from the bus stop.  I am typing.  He is curled up in the fetal position next to me.  This is what helping out at school parties does to us.

When I got an email from Atticus's teacher begging for more parent helpers for the Valentine's Day party, I was like, "Sure, yeah!  I can do that!  No problem!  Oh, what's that?  It's an hour and a half of Valentine fun with 25 of my favorite first graders?  Brilliant!"

That is how Cade and I found ourselves hauling a snack into a classroom, then obediently accepting a handful of chopsticks, marshmallows, and paper plates for our superfuntime Valentine game station.  There were stations all around the room, each manned by parents who were wearing their best forced smiles (except for that dad who had the grimmest, sourest expression that has possibly ever graced that classroom.  I admired his facial honesty and wondered what kind of bet he had lost with his wife.), and the teacher grouped the children into packs of five, rotating them through the stations.

Our first two groups both consisted entirely of boys who took the "pick the marshmallows on the center plate up with chopsticks and deposit them on your own plate, most mallows at the end wins" game to a place I didn't really know it could go.  There was stabbing of food and hands.  Marshmallows flew.  Chairs toppled.  I have two boys of my own so I knew what to do:  Disqualify every last boy and eat the prize strawberry Starburst in front of them.

Round two went more smoothly.

Honestly, though, at one point I found myself thinking, You know, IT'S FUNNY, I checked the school lunch menu last night and I'm quite sure I didn't see amphetamines on there, yet there is no other possible explanation for this.  It was madness.  I couldn't understand why there wasn't thick plexiglass between me and the animals and why I hadn't been charged admission to watch this display.

Then came one group of girls after another.  Beautiful, beautiful girls.

They were so calm.  So civilized.  Yes, many of them were competitive, but I didn't have to snatch Caedmon back from the table repeatedly due to fear of chopstick puncture wounds like I did with The Others.  They followed directions.  One of them told me I was pretty, another said, "You are SO NICE."  It all I could do not to pet them and maybe cry a little over the fact that they had to share a classroom with such beasts.  The shy "You're pretty" one had curly red hair and freckles and all that remains to be done is get her parents' contact information so I can arrange a marriage between her and our son.  Ginger grandbabies suit me just fine.

Atticus was one of three boys whose necks I did not find myself mentally measuring for estimated circumference- for shock collars, understand- and while I like to think our son would have been a good role model for the Testosterone Gang, more likely it was because he was the only boy in my final group that was otherwise populated by girls, and because hello, Mom's right there.

I've read before about the wisdom of classes divided by gender, and while I won't weigh in much on the topic, given that, you know, I'm not an educator, I do think that if I were ever sent to the fourth circle of hell and had to teach a classroom full of boys, I would demand Satan outfit my classroom with a fleet of treadmills, no desks necessary, thanks.  The treadmills- or stationary bikes, I'm not picky- would be arranged in a semicircle facing in, where I would teach as the boys remained in constant motion.  Kid with the most miles and completed math facts at the end of the day wins, as do their parents, who no longer have a kid bouncing off the walls the second they walk in the door after school.  You're welcome, society.

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him," says James 1:12.  It would seem that feral boy-related trials get a mustache rather than a crown, perhaps because it's not from God but rather one of his little angels whose mother I prayed for immediately after he left my station .  Also pictured:  Exhausted Caedmon who is SO DONE immediately following the party.


This week I've been driving our kids to the school bus stop in the mornings, because although I know we can survive twenty minutes outside in single digit temps, I choose not to.  I'm generally a "Why drive when you can walk?" kind of person, so I've had our children out in some extremely questionable weather in the past (number of times kind citizens of our community have stopped their cars or stepped out of buildings to ask if we need a ride:  Countless.  In my defense, our little town stretches out for no more than a few miles at its widest point.  This is not exactly the Trail of Tears I'm forcing our kids down here.), so our children have welcomed this reprieve.

The older two wait in our vehicle until they see the bus getting ready to round the block toward them, then they hop out and go to stand in line.  Every day this week, from the back of the van, Caedmon has given voice to the fierce war waging within him:  "Ohhhh.  I really want to go say good-bye just one more time.  But it's cold outside!  The bus is coming.  I-I- MOM, I NEED TO GET OUT."

He then bolts out the van, and scurries up to Adelaide to hug her tightly one last time before she leaves him for seven long hours.  
Caedmon's in the orange coat and blue hat, squeezing his sister.  Pardon the frost patterns and snow in the foreground; I don't get out of my vehicle even for a picture, so this was taken through the windshield.
Today Atticus got a hug, too, although there's no picture of that embrace as it was quick and very perfunctory.  

You would think that this would mean that Caedmon loves it when we go to his sister's school to eat lunch with her, but no.  Absolutely not.  He gets very quiet and increasingly downtrodden as more and more fourth grade girls squeal over him and say to Adelaide, "Oh mah gahsh.  Your little brother is SO CUTE.  He is adorable.  Oh em gee.  Look at his face.  Look at his Batman hat.  Do you think he'd give me a hug?"  

It got bad enough last time that Adelaide took the worst offender, a very nice but rather loud girl aside and said, "Privately, I agree with you, Caedmon is cute, but you really shouldn't say that in front of him; he considers it very offensive to be called 'cute' or 'little' or anything like that."  

By the time we left, he hadn't said a word in thirty minutes and his shoulders were hunched up around his ears.  All he'll say about the lunch experiences is that he does not like to be around so many bigger kids, and he does not like to be called cute.  Fair enough.  

None of this is terribly surprising given how loud and crowded and busy Adelaide's lunch room is, and I'm able to watch as it begins to overwhelm our youngest within minutes of our arrival, but I was in Caedmon's preschool for two hours yesterday morning for his Valentine party, and you want to talk about overwhelming?  So loud.  So shrill.  And it's busy-ness borders on a swarm at times.  It is nuts in there.  It's always incredible to watch how Cade's preschool teachers can begin singing any of the songs they use to transition from one activity to another, because all those children who were I swear about to go Lord of the Flies on each other settle down and start cleaning up or washing their hands or sitting on the carpet.  I guess it really is the presence of bigger kids that overwhelms our son so much.

Those same magical preschool teachers had also instructed that their students were only to write their own names on their Valentines; scratching out the recipients' names on nineteen pieces of paper is too cumbersome for little hands, and it's much easier just to go through a line and drop a Valentine in each sack, not worrying about which one goes to whom.

Our Caedmon, however, threw a wrench in this whole plan Wednesday night when I stated how happy I was that all his Valentines had been finished for days, as he'd already written his name on every last one.  He grew upset, started honest-to-God weeping, and through a torrent of tears told me that "But Mom, the Valentines all say 'To:' and I can't just leave those blank!  It'll look stupid!  You're supposed to write who each one is to, Mom!"  Then I began sorting through them, and he had already phonetically spelled out half the names of the kids in his class: Noah was Nou, Drake was Drak, etc, etc.

And that is how Caedmon got to stay up past his bedtime doing something his preschool teachers told him expressly not to do.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ice Skating! Worthy of Exclamation Points!

Last Saturday, the Crislers went ice skating as part of an extended-family birthday celebration.

Derek had been ice skating before, but the other four of us- including me- had never been.

The kids were excited to try it, if a little nervous.  I was just plain excited, having long ago made my peace with making a fool of myself while doing any activity involving my person.  For years, our kids watched those VeggieTales cartoons, and you may remember how the vegetable hosts always ended each episode with the benediction, "God made you special," "And he loves you very much."  Well, one of the ways that God made me special was to gift me with extraordinarily poor hand-eye coordination and a propensity to fall/run into solid objects/accidentally hurt myself on a disturbingly frequent basis.  Strapping blades to my feet and letting me loose on some slick ice in a crowd of innocent bystanders?  I've really outdone myself this time, says God, as he pops some popcorn and settles in for a good show.

That is why Saturday was such a pleasant surprise:  I can ice skate!  Like, actually ice skate!

Listen, there are very few physical activities I've ever tried in my life that I caught on to quickly, so having a natural knack for something like ice skating made it so that I spent most of my time gliding (with, yes, frequent wobbles, IT WAS MY FIRST TIME, OKAY?) around with a gobsmacked smile and baffled laugh accompanying me.  This must be how Derek feels all the time, and let me tell you, it is glorious!

Adelaide likewise took to it with relative ease, and like me, was just as pleasantly surprised and cheered as I was to find something she could do with such quick confidence.  "I am good at this!" she crowed after an hour.  "I know!" I replied, and we understood each other perfectly, as this is not normal for the two of us.  Not normal at all.

Atticus was... well, he was interesting to watch, at least at first.  He's a pretty athletic kid, and so far has taken to most of the sports he's tried rather well.  So it was just bizarre to watch him struggle so much when he first got on the ice.  That boy's feet acted like they had a blood vendetta against him at first, like they were bound and determined to slip this way and that way and often two opposite directions at the same time.
You know how, in the Harry Potter books, there is a curse that is cast by yelling, "Tarantallegra!" that causes your opponent's legs to dance under them in a quick and uncontrollable fashion?  You remember that?  Watching Atticus during the first half hour of ice skating was almost exactly the way I envisioned that curse playing out.  He fell over and over and over, then he'd take a break, then drag himself back on the ice, then fall again, over and over and over, but at some point, even though he kept falling, he forced himself away from the bar running along the wall of the rink, and by what I'm guessing was sheer stubbornness forced his feet under control, and began skating.  He was still falling quite a bit, but he was also skating, and getting faster and bolder and stronger on his skates, and I'm not gonna lie:  It was beautiful to watch.  He's the Crisler that started our outing rather dejected, but ended begging to go back.

Caedmon's skating abilities fell somewhere between Adelaide and Atticus's:  He wasn't as quick a study as his sister, but it wasn't as difficult for him as it was for his brother.  He used the little ice-skating-aid-walker-looking thing every so often (or sagged against it as the adults took turns pushing him around the ice, which, by the way, is exhausting), but also pulled himself around via the bar and mustered enough courage the brave the ice away from the bar.  He won Saturday's award for Refused the Most Help which, despite being a medal that only exists in my mind, still equated to many, many cries of "Don't hold my hand!" "I don't need any help!" and "I can do it MYSELF!"  That was before being reminded that guess what, bucko, manners still matter on the ice, and why, yes, you can still get in trouble while ice skating!  After that it was polite but repeated, "No, thank you"s.  He, too, can't wait to go back.

Derek skated around for a while with his usual disgusting natural ability for physical endeavors, but his ankles didn't hold up for long; whether that's actually his legs' fault or not, it's hard to say.  He had warned me before we went that the worst part about skating at a public rink were the rental skates.  I obviously have nothing to compare them to, but I will say I still have sore spots where the top of the skates met my shins- if I had to guess, and based on the skates I saw people wearing that were owned by them, my skates weren't tight enough, and I had them laced as tight as they could go.  Even whilst skating, I had a fair guess as to what the problem was, as it reminded me somewhat painfully of the perils of not properly tying and tightening the ribbons on my pointe shoes.  Ankle support matters, friends!
Look at us!  We're a family of ice skaters!  Not in a triple-Salchow-kind of way, but in an able-to-propel-ourselves-about-on-ice way, which I will TAKE.

Big thanks to Derek's sister and her family for the idea and invite, to his mom for helping drag the kids up and encourage them time after time, and his dad for providing two solid hours of rink-side assistance.  We can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Things I Don't Understand

  • Texting while driving.  
(See also:  Reading texts while driving.  I've received some important texts before- "Guess what?  I'M PREGNANT.  WITH TWINS," but it's never occurred to me to celebrate such important news with my own death.)
For a while I really, truly believed this wasn't something that happened all that often.  I mean, I'd seen the cautionary ads and read some appalling news stories about victims of those who stare at their phone while operating a 4,000 pound piece of machinery, but really, people couldn't be that crazy, right?!
Then I started to actively look for drivers looking at their screens rather than the road, and my gosh, they are EVERYWHERE.  We have to cross a relatively busy road to get to our kids' school bus stop, and every single day I see teenagers freshly unleashed from the nearby high school doing the stare-at-phone-stare-at-phone-QUICK-GLANCE-UP-AT-THE-ROAD-stare-at-phone-stare-at-phone bit, and every day, I point it out to our children:  "See that, kids?  Those people don't care about your safety.  Texting 'K' to their friends is more important to them than your very lives.  That is not acceptable behavior."  And lest you think it's just teenagers, or even mostly teenagers, NOPE.  The people I have observed texting while driving more than anyone are my contemporaries:  Adult women.  Grown-up, supposedly intelligent women.  I left church Sunday and a woman I know was behind me for several miles with her vehicle full of kids, texting away.  If I'd had to slam on my brakes for any reason, there is little doubt in my mind she would have rear-ended me, so engrossed was she in her phone.  

For me, the only salve is knowing that we have three small children who not only know not to check your phone while driving, but also feel little compunction about pointing it out in others with unbridled disgust and little to no care for political correctness.  I'm careful to curb our children's comments about smokers outside of stores- yes, it's bad for them, but the smokers are outside, and as long as they're attempting to smoke away from the lungs of my little ones, I feel like it's not really my business- I have no problem with the accusatory pointing our kids reserve for the nefarious texting drivers. 

  • These suckers.
I can only assume flavors like these were developed for children like our Atticus, who was gruesomely thrilled at the revelation of these creations.

  • Why it's still winter.
Do you know how sick I am of seeing this nonsense on my phone?  Even on the warm days- like the one above- it's often too windy or blizzardy to enjoy it.  And while yes, running during today's relatively gentle snowfall is beautiful, it can be hard to remember this when you can't find the trail through the snow and keep stumbling into the ditch, or the rocks, or the creekbed, because it all looks the same when it's blanketed in a thick layer of snow.
Somewhere under there is a trail.  Supposedly.
Thank heaven I have a Caedmon who spends his rest times (I'm not allowed to call them "nap times" anymore, because naps are for little kids, and guess who's super sensitive about being called "little"?) making these paper flowers for me, because "Mom, I know you like to see lots of flowers, but there aren't any flowers right now, so I made you one.  And it fits in your pocket!"

Friday, February 5, 2016

Three Things and a Request

  • How did the peanut butter cookie dough fare in the crock pot, you ask?  Eh.  It was fine.  I was never that big of a peanut butter cookie fan until I began making them for myself as an adult, and last night's final product reminded me of any mediocre peanut butter cookie you can get from a deli or grocery store.  Cookie snob that I am, in the future I'll be channeling Lord Capulet and keeping these ill-matched parties separate.  

  • It's well-established that I'm just the tiniest bit frugal and that I'm on a lifelong quest to eliminate excess waste from our household, which makes this a beautiful, beautiful thing in my starry eyes:
I've been cutting open our lotion bottles to get all the extra lotion out for many moons, but it didn't occur to me to do the same to my facial moisturizer until a few months ago, and behold!  I discovered an extra 3-4 weeks' worth of lotion in there, coating the inside of the bottle, hiding from the pump, hoping to remain undiscovered.  Of course, you have to keep the bottle you're slowing disemboweling in a container of some sort- I use tupperware- to keep the lotion from drying out, but I was inordinately excited by this whole thing.  For some reason, Derek didn't share my level of enthusiasm over this.  He's a strange man sometimes.

  • Something neat that is commented on every time I take this crock pot somewhere:
That little rubber band-thingy came with this, the biggest of my crock pots, and it is so simple but so genius:  It does a marvelous job of keeping the lid on when I'm transporting food from the house to the car to another house, and never slips off.  I assume you could do much the same thing with a regular rubber band of some sort, although the handles on this one have notches on their undersides for the band to slip into.  Who on earth comes up with these things?  Not the likes of me.  

For the curious, that's not the C-grade cookie dough in there but tonight's supper, which has the benefit of being easy, and delicious, and doesn't require the use of our angry oven.  Like all true chefs (lolololol), I began supper prep at 7:30 this morning when I threw a roast in the crock pot and then dumped the contents of this package on top.
Lid on, switch on low, and that's it.  I'll shred the beef and discard the fat about twenty minutes before we eat tonight, but other than that, it's as far as I'll come to slaving over a hot stove today.  Served on warmed tortillas with some cheddar and salsa and sour cream?  Delicious.  I'll throw the leftovers on a bed of spinach for the lunch the next few days, show my anemia who's boss.

I have exactly six more great crock pot recipes, and then I'm tapped out, which doesn't exactly work with our oven being out of commission for the foreseeable future.  As such, I'm asking for your help:  Do you have any tried and true crock pot recipes?  Would you share them, or are they state secrets?  Please?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Unexpected Snow Day Adventures

7-8 inches of new snow + high winds + dropping temps = going on our second snow day in a row.  It's served as a nice little break from our regularly scheduled life, but sometimes our children need to be reminded that they are not allowed to go all flying squirrel in the house.  Outside?  Sure.  Whatever.

They've spent large portions of both days outside, and while I sometimes feel a pang that I am not that mom that spends hours outside making snowlumps and snow forts with them, I get over it real quick and get back to my usual routine of setting the trash/ compost bowl/ whatever right outside the door and hollering, "Somebody come take care of this, please!" in their general direction.  Then I hurriedly shrink back in because it is warm in here and cold out there, and that's pretty much all my brain needs to know to make its decision.
Sometimes I stay at the door long enough to take a picture through the glass.  That's just good parenting.
I assuage any residual guilt with the knowledge that I spent an hour shoveling this morning, then I make hot chocolate for everyone and give myself a sanctimonious little pat on the back.

Today I'm doing an experiment in cookie dough, because Adelaide was making peanut butter cookies yesterday afternoon, but within about a minute of turning on the oven, I smelled a very strong scent of gas, so I turned the oven off and called Derek.  He said to get the heck out of the house and call the energy company, who would send a tech out to inspect everything.  So I called the energy company, and they said to get the heck out of the house, they would send a tech out to inspect everything.  The guy on the phone also said exciting things like, "Do not turn any lights on or off.  Do not open any windows.  If you are on a landline, do not hang up the phone, leave it off its cradle.  We do not want to risk creating any sparks.  Get out now."

I instructed Adelaide to get bundled up as best she could with the winter gear right by the front door, then I went upstairs to rouse both the boys from their naps (see flying squirrel reference above; they had worn themselves out by midafternoon) and hurried them down the stairs.

A few delightful pieces of information:  If Atticus is in the house, he is wearing shorts.  We keep our house at 67 degrees in the winter during the day, and 60 starting at 8:30 every evening, but he still wears shorts.  Yesterday, while Adelaide was making the cookie dough, I was doing laundry, specifically boy laundry, which includes every pair of pants Atticus owns and his snow pants because I like his teacher and don't want her to faint from the scent coming off of them every day at school.  Because of all this, when we got out of the house, Atticus was wearing snow pants that hit about mid-shin over his shorts, along with snow boots and two jackets, because oh, yeah, I was washing all their coats, too.  Ditto the multiple, layered jacket look on Caedmon.  We looked homeless, but I figured it was no big deal, we were just going to go hang out at our small town library for a while 'til either the technician figured out the source of the problem or our house exploded in a giant fireball.

We arrived at the library.  There was a hand-lettered sign informing us it had closed early, I'm guessing due to the weather.  Super.

So we went to Wal-Mart, because at least there we'd fit in, right?  I've heard about that People of Wal-Mart website, and while I doubt it applies to everyone on there, keep in mind that some of those customers may look like that because they've been turned out of their house and had to dress in whatever was immediately by the front door.  It's possible.

So we went to Wal-Mart, got the kids' valentines for school, got a call telling us to come back, there would be no slow suffocation tonight.  All the hallelujahs.

The technician was really nice, but informed me that yes, something is up with our oven, and that we are not allowed to turn it on until we get it looked at.  As of today, we have an appliance repair guy coming out in a week to look at it, because that's the soonest he can get here.  Hence the cookie dough in a crock pot.  I mean, I couldn't let Adelaide's beautiful dough go to waste, could I?
I'm not real sure how it's going to turn out; we could be treating ourselves to peanut butter mush tonight.  Or it could be our new favorite dessert!  Aren't adventures fun?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Books and Caucuses, But Not Books About Caucuses

Big week, friends.  We're finally over the awful illness that trashed us last week (except for those odd moments where we have to sit down due to continued weakness and lingering nauseau.  OTHER THAN THAT.), today is the Iowa Caucus, and as of midnight tonight, we're in a winter storm/blizzard watch until Wednesday morning at 8 a.m.  Yay, Iowa!

Derek's out caucusing right now while I stay home with the kids; four years ago, I got to go be a good little citizen and caucus while he stayed home.  Either way, after today hopefully we'll stop receiving enough political flyers in the mail to wallpaper the first floor of our house and the radio will stop with the non-stop political ads, at least until the fall.

When we haven't been hearing about how this candidate is evil and a liar and possibly the anti-Christ and how that candidate is a criminal and eats babies and doesn't even know how to garden, we've been hearing about this giant storm that the Weather Powers That Be have somehow had their eye on since it was over Ethiopia.  You know, or somewhere.  It's Monday, and Monday is grocery day in this house, where I emerge with my Aldi bags and my Aldi quarter and my meal plan with my specific lists broken down by store, but today is not just Monday, it's the day before a possible blizzard, which means the stores were packed and people who are somewhat less capable and efficient grocery shoppers than I (read:  99% OF THE POPULATION) were just wandering around, stopping their carts in the middle of the aisles, thinking their no doubt incredibly deep thoughts right in front of the bag of brown rice I needed but couldn't reach without risking a molestation charge.

You know what grocery stores need?  Grocery police.  I don't mean, like, who gets which items, I mean someone to aid the flow of traffic through the store, perhaps help certain shoppers lessen their risk of imminent death by other shoppers.  I would be terrific at this, because I understand that moving through a store should be just like driving:  You travel on the right, if you have to make a stop you pull over, and in general just try to be aware of your surroundings, because as it turns out, you are not the only person in the store attempting to restock your larder!  I could somehow reward conscientious shoppers with discounts or high fives or something, and write citations for those who are pissing off everyone around them, but I'd probably need a whole separate pad for those guilty of just being all-around jerks.

I may already be drunk with power.

Even without grocery police, I made it through all the stores and got everything I need to make bierocks and shredded beef tacos and other deliciousness this week, plus we made our trip to the necessary libraries just a couple days ago, so we are ready.
Look, if the State Library of Iowa says I need three books to weather this storm, then who am I to argue?

I think I'll start with this one, because it won't be starting so much as continuing, as I'm already halfway through and it is fantastic.
Nonfiction history book about medieval England:  Sounds eeeeuuuuurrrgh, right?  But you guys, it is so good.  I can't put it down.  

Now, off to put the kids to bed, aka "I don't care if you're praying your tiny little heart out for a snow day tomorrow:  Chances are, you'll have school, so bed!  Now!  But keep praying, because I don't want to get up, either!"