Sunday, January 18, 2015

Solo Weekend

Andrew was gone this weekend, from 6am on Saturday until midnight tonight. He took the car to the airport, so the girls and I were homebound. It was also freezing and raining, so we probably wouldn't have gone anywhere anyway. Still, staying home alone for two full days, with no human contact (aside from the sort-of human kiddos) or scheduled outside activities, is not easy. Yesterday seemed to last a million hours. The girls had little interest in any structured activity, though we did do some Sculpey (tiny pies, tiny fruits) in the morning. Otherwise, we just hung out in the basement. We made a long banquet table out of Keva planks and arranged all our tiny foods on it, for the enjoyment of Playmobil pandas and other animals. We built stuff from Magna Tiles. I was frequently ordered to "be Princess Celestia" (a My Little Pony) and talk in my "pony voice." The day. Dragged. On. For. A. Million. Hours. After a full day in the basement I felt as torpid and foggy as if I'd been poisoned by carbon monoxide. Maybe I was. We do, after all, spend most of our time within three inches of the boiler.

Today was better, lasting maybe fifty hours instead of a million. First thing this morning I broke out an as-yet unopened Santa present, a "science" kit from the Dollar Tree that involved a packet of tiny round specks that would supposedly grow into "water marbles" or, as the girls eventually called them, "gel balls." We filled a few containers with water on the kitchen table (in the basement, of course) and poured in the pebbles, and waited. It didn't take long for them to start morphing into bumpy things weirdly encased in clear slime. The girls loved them. They played with these "gel balls" as they continued to weirdly grow, eventually becoming pleasing, smooth, round, squishy balls that floated and bounced and squipped through their fingers. We had out tea sets and glasses and tupperware containers. We put the balls in an empty bin; we put them in a water-filled bin. Their entertainment value did not diminish the rest of the day. We had a break for a snack around 10:30, and a break for lunch and naptime, but otherwise the girls played with the gel balls. (When Lucia went up for quiet time, after being told she couldn't bring the gel balls with her, she told me she would just lie on her bed and think about them.) I finally had to force them to clean everything up so we could have dinner.

And yes, water was everywhere, and gel balls will be in our basement corners forevermore, but you can't ask for more from a $1 item, especially because the gel balls seem like they'll last awhile. This weird activity saved me today. (And I was reminded of an important parenting tenet: when in need of diversion, fill a shallow storage bin with water, provide cups and bowls and spoons, and just step aside.)

Letter to Lucia: 62 Months / 63 Months

Little Lulu,

Combining letters this time since I wrote a lot about Christmas, and that was really the focus for most of November and all of December. I have to say this was the most fun Christmas with you yet: so much giddy anticipation; a real awareness and understanding of Santa; an exciting wish list; and little of the worry of prior years of mid-day meltdowns. Five is a good age. A fun age. We're still exploring a lot of the new things from Christmas as we get back into our regular routine.

You're still loving pre-K, the best thing we've ever given you. For future decisions, I need to remember how much sleep I lost this summer, doubting my decision to switch your preschool and enroll you in this class, with its longer hours and unfamiliar teachers and classmates. And yet--what a fortunate thing it is that I didn't let those doubts rule my actions. I feel lucky every day that you're there. Now I worry about the year ending; you say frequently that you want to go to kindergarten, but I think you'll feel the end of your pre-K year as a real loss. You'll miss it. I know you will.

You can count to 100 now, with minimal prompting. Your writing is improving. You're trying to spell, but not yet reading. Your drawings are becoming better; your people still lack necks, but your flowers now have petals, and your trees have branches and fluffy heads of leaves. Rainbows continue to be your favorite thing to draw.

You're straining for more independence, and I'm trying to keep up. On your own, you've started setting the table for each meal (you initially called it "separating the table") with cups of water, napkins, plates, and silverware. You sometimes wipe off the table after we eat. You sometimes clean up your own room in anticipation of the end of quiet time. You've been influenced by one of my favorite childhood books, My Special Day, which I unearthed during my massive attic cleanup in Connellsville over Christmas. In the book, the little girl does everything she wants for a day, which includes making her own breakfast and lunch. Once our new kitchen is done, I can imagine what was once unimaginable: having cereal and a small milk pitcher at your level so you can prepare your own breakfast. (You sleep till 7:30 or later most mornings, though, so the once-delectable idea of avoiding 5am wakeups has dimmed.)

When there are conflicts with you these days, it's at bedtime--the second we head upstairs, it's like a demon-child overtakes you, and even if we've had the nicest day, someone always ends up yelling (me/Daddy) or crying (Greta) or trying to slam a door in someone's face (you). It's bananas. We don't know how to fix it. It's the weak link in our daily routine, the part of the day I dread the most. It shouldn't be that way.

Favorite toys/activities: Magna Tiles, My Little Ponies, Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Frozen, necklaces, drawing, stickers, glitter glue, tiny foods, Lego Friends, eating popcorn on "movie nights," marshmallows

Favorite books: Cat's Colours, My Special Day, Goodbye Tonsils, Donald Duck and the Magic Mailbox, Balloonia

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Handmade Gifts

As always, our handmade gifts were the best gifts exchanged this Christmas. The lineup this year: personalized letterpressed notecards from Dad; aprons for adults and kids from Mom; tiny notebooks made from Vera Bradley playing cards from Molly; and tiny Sculpey pies and cakes, with a glass cake stand, from me. 

When, you might ask, do I have time to make tiny cakes out of Sculpey. The answer is: the girls got crafty this holiday season. We did so many things together, holed up in our basement while chaos reigned above. Greta made a snowman from cotton balls and construction paper. We made clove and orange pomander balls. We made snow globes from mason jars and bottle-brush trees. We made handprint-painted ornaments for Christmas gifts. We did a lot of foam stickers. We did a few Christmas craft kits from Michaels. We cut snowflakes from coffee filters. We made salt dough stuff and painted it. We made Santas out of corks. We glittered.

And we did a lot, a lot, of Sculpey. The girls were so excited about making tiny pies in bottle caps that they began demanding that Andrew drink more beers. We spent many afternoons with nails, beads, bottle caps, and clay, sitting for an hour at a stretch, making pies and cakes. Waiting for the cakes to chill in the refrigerator before slicing was a time of great anticipation. 

Pomander balls, accompanied by Christmas songs on the computer. In the basement, of course.

Representative fun with stickers / foam shapes

Cork Santas, a lot cuter on Pinterest

The annual batch of salt dough

Coffee filter snowflakes

The small plates are about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Bottle cap pies

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

More Christmas

We were in Connellsville for nearly two weeks this holiday, and Andrew and I packed a lot into our stay. Christmas festivities took up the first part of the trip, but after that, we had great plans. Gabe’s again, of course. Wings at Lynn’s. Those are standard fare for any Connellsville visit. There was New Year’s Eve, as well, which we spent with friends in Pittsburgh who were brave enough to host a party that involved seventeen kids under ten years old.

This year, we added something new to our Connellsville time: touring residential and commercial properties with a realtor, with an eye toward possible investment properties. Well, one eye was turned toward that; the other eye was simply curious to see what was behind the doors of some of the stately old homes whose faded grandeur seems mismatched with their $30K prices. We saw some interesting things. At one apartment, the door fell off—just pushed over and fell down flat—when the realtor went to unlock it. At a house, though the realtor made a big deal about calling to get the code for the lock on the back door, the front door was hanging wide open and askew. Holes in the floor were common. More interestingly, one house had a tunnel in the basement leading halfway across the street outside—its original endpoint a mystery to all. We went into more than one turret, with beautiful light and views. But much as Andrew and I love decrepit old houses, we weren’t charmed by these places. We were, however, intrigued by the possibilities of a commercial property—no hidden tunnels, but potential for a nice little side business of landlording. We shall see.

We also spent a morning wandering around Rural King, checking out piles of bags of Deer Corn and camouflage office chairs.

On our final day, we along with Mom and Dad went into Pittsburgh to Phipps Conservatory, to see the Winter Garden and its lovely lights. It was so much fun—the girls were on their best behavior, and we all loved walking around. It was a perfect end to our trip.

It was disheartening to come home, with our house still a construction zone, nary a morsel of nourishing food in sight. A stray half-bag of egg noodles had been emptied by some creature apparently living in our basement. 

Christmas: Tidbits

A few additional tidbits from our Christmas vacation:

The Crib's Death Knell

Greta decided Christmas vacation was the perfect time to refuse to sleep in a crib. She and Lucia were sharing a room, with Lucia in Molly's old bed and Greta in a pack-and-play, and for the first time Greta seemed to realize that Lucia had something she wanted. There was nowhere else for her to sleep at night, so she had to accept her fate, but she slept in the bed for her naps. It was about 50/50, sleeping vs. playing. I peeked in one afternoon and saw her trying to climb onto an old exercise bike that's in a corner of the room. Other days, she did nap, adorably tucked under the covers. She made no effort to hide her ability to climb in and out of the pack-and-play with ease. Since returning home, she hasn't protested her crib, but its days are probably numbered.

Lucia and Her Snugs

The girls got a lot of plush things and dolls for Christmas: plush Anna, Elsa, and Olaf; giant teddy bear (from Uncle Don and Aunt Joanie); Strawberry Shortcake dolls; plush Rudolph purses. And Lucia found a deep enjoyment in arranging them all on a chair and asking that she be photographed with them. She was very, very particular about how these pictures were to be. If one doll or animal's face was hidden, she'd rearrange everything, and another picture would be taken. I love how happy she looks in all her five-year-old splendor.

Jingle Bells

Molly taught Lucia how to play Jingle Bells on the piano by putting smiley stickers on the piano keys and writing out the "music" in stickers on a sheet of paper. Lucia was beyond thrilled. She also loved singing Christmas carols with Mom, especially Up on the Housetop, Frosty, and Rudolph. Both girls are still singing Suzy Snowflake, with hand motions.

The Earring Incident

We had one unpleasant episode while in Connellsville, involving Lucia's earrings. I hadn't pushed her to change her earrings for several weeks--she was wearing sparkly pink flowers, and wanted to keep them in--and somehow, through a combination of earring design and the tightness of the backing, her ears had become painfully irritated. When Mom and I finally insisted on taking out her earrings, it was a difficult and painful process, and bloody. Lucia was, understandably, very very upset. After a day of rest, we knew earrings had to go back in, lest her holes close. Lucia was nervous and scared, and my first attempt--with her crying and writhing away from me--was bloody and unsuccessful. We despaired. Then I opened up a bag of marshmallows--Lucia's favorite candy--and told her she could eat as many as she wanted while I put in her earrings. I'll never forget the look on her face when I put the open bag on the table--stunned disbelief. As she shoved marshmallows into her mouth, barely stopping to breathe, I was able to put both earrings in with no problem whatsoever. Now, back home, a couple of times she's tried to get a repeat by saying, "Mommy, I need to change my earrings today. I think I'll need some marshmallows."

Warm Weather

The weather was so mild during our time in Connellsville that the kids got to play outside almost every day. On Christmas Eve, Lucia, Greta, and Luca found endless imaginative possibilities with Molly's car, turning it into a kind of Polar Express (assisted by some silvery paper "tickets" from Dad). At one point both Dad and Molly were in the car too, along for the ride as Lucia screamed "ALL ABOARD!!" for the millionth time.


We had a really fun Christmas this year. Both Lucia and Greta were incredibly excited about Santa Claus, and we even made out lists to mail to the North Pole (courtesy of a local shop with a “Santa” mailbox outside). Andrew and I were excited for a different reason: we were heading to Connellsville for nearly two weeks, which meant a blissful escape from frozen/boxed food and an increasingly dirty, chaotic, unpleasant, renovation-inundated home.

Molly and Luca were in Connellsville with us for the first week, and Luca, Greta, and Lucia happily played together, running around the house, piling into beds, screaming “Snowman!” and dashing around manically. They all enjoyed watching Rudolph, accompanied by popcorn and hot chocolate. We left all the kids with Mom and Dad to go Gabe’s shopping, where Molly and I brought home a wonderful haul reminiscent of the Gabe’s of yore: among much else, we both got $200 Seven for All Mankind pants for $3, and Molly got a shirt for 50 cents. Andrew, too, got a bag or two, including $12 snow boots and a bunch of $3 ties.

Molly had bought little mailboxes at the dollar store, and each day left a tiny, handmade Christmas treasure inside: snowmen, Christmas stones, small notebooks with covers made from playing cards. Lucia, in particular, anticipated her daily “mail” with great excitement.

On Christmas Eve, we joined the annual Orlando party, with an appearance by Santa, who brought Lucia and Greta each a plush Rudolph purse, and Luca a plush snow monster from the show. (The back story of these toys deserves a note: the girls’ interest in Rudolph appeared just a few days before Christmas, along with their fervent wish for Santa to bring them a Rudolph doll, which, of course, was nowhere to be found that late in the season; I found one at our Target, and then called every Target along our rote from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to find another one, finally securing one in Mechanicsburg; Luca was besotted by the snow monster the day before Christmas Eve, and I steered Molly to a Connellsville Rite Aid to try to find one, where, lo and behold, there was one snow monster on an otherwise empty shelf, for 50% off—a Christmas miracle, surely.) The kids all had fun at the party, mostly playing out on the sun porch.

And then Christmas morning arrived, with all the splendor of the day—the Santa gifts laid out on chairs for each child, piles of presents to open, an enormous, delicious Christmas dinner. The day slipped by happily, with no meltdowns or problems; and the kids all seemed to love their gifts. The biggest hits for Lucia and Greta were their Strawberry Shortcake dolls (they each got three); Anna dresses; plush Anna, Elsa, and Olaf (the Olafs were from Gra and Pop-Pop); necklaces; a marble run, and Lego Friends sets. They also got Magna Tiles, Keva planks, Elsa dress-up shoes, kinetic sand, art supplies, giant teddy bears (from Uncle Don and Aunt Joanie), and so much more. The three kids came together to play with their sticky wall-climbing ninjas from Santa (Molly), throwing them against the wall and screaming as they slimed their way down.

It was all great fun, and a memorable Christmas all around. And it was funny: even though I was the one who planned what to get the girls; even though I was the one who bought the gifts, sometimes going to ridiculous lengths to find the must-haves (Mom and Dad might never forgive me for all the urgent quests I sent them on); and even though I was the one who arranged the gifts on the girls’ chairs, and stuffed the tiny treasures into their stockings; I still felt a giddiness as I followed them downstairs in their little fleece nightgowns on Christmas morning, as excited as they were to see what Santa had brought them.

Wearing new aprons from Grandma

Rudolph toys

Grandma, Lucia with new toys, and Greta, who seems to have forgotten how to smile on demand