Friday, November 30, 2012

Let it snow!

After an unusually mild winter last year, I'm literally thrilled that it is currently snowing outside. We had a dusting earlier this week, but this is real, accumulating snowfall.

*doe-eyed look of happiness*

I'm planning lots of knitting, this weekend, and we're having some friends over for dinner tomorrow night. Because I enjoy giving myself unrealistic expectations and unreasonable goals, I'm attempting to knit a sweater that I can wear on Christmas Eve. Did I mention that I started it 2 days ago? And as opposed to my Ravellenic Games sweater, this has full long sleeves.


We'll see how this works out for me.

Advent starts this Sunday! Can't wait to get all the calendars and the wreath going. We're getting our Christmas tree as well this weekend, and will decorate the house. Very excited. I will post an update on Monday!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

St. Joseph coming through at Christmastime...

One of the books that I'm putting in Anne's stocking this Christmas is the final installment in the St. Joseph board book series that we don't own, Daily Prayers. I included this with my big Amazon order last week and it just came. It's *adorable*. When Hank was a toddler, I ordered the rest of the series from the publisher, Catholic Book Publishing company, and you can see the full list of titles that they now have in this series here.

We have the ones that are toward the bottom of Catholic Book Publishing's list, the larger books with the big handle at the top. The toddlers *love* toting these around. Anne has been bringing them to me for weeks now, wanting to sit in my lap and flip through them with me. Her favorites are Our Guardian Angels and Our Friends the Saints. Henry was always partial to We Go To Mass and Gifts of God.

These are such cute books that I wanted to give a quick plug for them, and they would make great stocking stuffers for your little ones. They're easy for the kids to carry around and can take a lot of abuse. My children really enjoy the color illustrations. I always brought a selection of them to Mass with us when Hank was little. Anne still rarely makes it to Mass with us because the 10 am Mass is usually coinciding with her nap so Mike stays home with her. So for the time being, the books live in her toy basket and she brings them out every day.

My only quibble is the page featuring a guardian angel watching over a little girl as she stands on a stool and uses the stove top without parental supervision. Although the text cites that her angel is watching out for her, I'm thinking we shouldn't be giving the kids any ideas. :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A busy bee with Christmas shopping

In the spirit of the holiday (New Years resolution 2012: no crazy, chaotic Christmas season this year) I started my Christmas shopping a few months ago. Not a lot, but I picked up some things when I could so that we wouldn't have a lot to do in December. This also has the benefit of spreading out the expense.

Christmas is always tight for us financially. We live on a budget, and while we certainly have a sufficient amount to spend on entertainment and simply our "wants," we're always conservative about such things and watching our bank balance. Sometimes I feel like, being in our late 30's, we should be past this stage in our lives :) but alas, I think it is this way for many, many people. The reasons are manifold:

(1) Student loans. This is far and away the main reason, nothing else even comes close. I made a significant dent in mine even before Mike and I got married, and we've steadily chipped away at them over the years to the best of our ability, but it's a very depressing and humbling reality that it's going to take at least 10 *more* years before these are paid. I know that we are not alone in this burden. I'm grateful that we do not have credit card debt and we just put as much on the student loans every month as we can. Every time the principal balance shrinks I try to focus on the positives of that rather than how far we still have to go. That's all one can do.

(2) We own a house and thus have a mortgage. But I'm grateful for our house and the fact that it will be paid off in about 10 years is a cause to rejoice. I'm also grateful that although we own 2 cars they are both paid off, though we're going to need to replace at least 1 of them in the next few years.

(3) Our flexible jobs. If we were willing to move and for Mike to work more hours, we'd certainly be making more. But we want to be near our families and have one of us at home with the kids as much as possible.

Thus, Christmas is tough on our budget, especially now with 2 kids. Hence, this year I wanted to really focus on the thought behind the gifts that I give, rather than worrying about whether I'm getting each person "enough." I've found this to be very soothing on my peace of mind.

I'm making a few things, but I'm trying not to go overboard. I love homemade gifts, but last year I made myself nuts, so I didn't want that side effect either. The things that I am making are by special request so I know that the recipient will really like them. Otherwise, I've picked out 1 thing that I think the person will really enjoy.

With the kids it's tougher. You just want to give them everything they could ever want and watch their eyes light up. But of course, we won't, yet I still want Christmas morning to be fun for them.

What I decided to do was select their gifts very carefully. And even this winnowed down allotment added up quickly over at Amazon! We can afford it, but it's why December and January are so tough anymore. Each child is getting 3 gifts. Henry is receiving 2 Lego sets he's been wanting, plus a Super Mario Bros. K'nex building set, I think it's a race track. Anne is getting a talking zoo, a Fisher Price mailbox, and the Disney Princess Castle. Each child is also getting a few books, Henry a few movies, and Anne a tiny baby doll, for their stockings. I also have a few peg saint dolls for each child from Cam's etsy shop (I just ordered St. Joan of Arc and St. Patrick for Anne, she's taken a real interest in her saint board book and has fixated on those two; appropriate since one of her namesakes is St. Therese, and St. Joan of Arc was her favorite saint :)).

And that's it. I ordered a few books and movies for Mike that I know he'll love, and I made him a pair of socks recently.

He's a Steelers fan. :) I still have a few other family gifts to procure, but I'm not stressing. I'll get a few at a time, and pick one carefully for each person.

I've noticed that I feel a lot more relaxed this holiday season. I don't feel all worried and frantic. And that's the way it should be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Advent preparations 2012

This past Sunday I was the catechist for Children's Liturgy of the Word for the feast of Christ the King. The first thing that I excitedly talked about with the kids (before we got into the theme of Christ's kingship) was that this was the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. Just six short days from then, we would begin Advent.

I'm reviewing the book that you see above for Catholic Library World, and I have to say this one is lovely. The author mentions in the introduction how Advent is a time of "ancient expectancy of the Messiah" which is just lovely, no? For each day of Advent, she includes a quote from the Mass readings, a reflection on a Christmas tradition, a suggested family activity, and a prayer. It's very inexpensive at $7.99, you might want to check it out. :) The pages are all in color, it's just beautiful.

We just established the Children's Liturgy schedule for December, and I'm on again December 16th, the Third Sunday of Advent; excited! I was thrilled to secure Gaudete Sunday, so that I can talk to the children about the pink candle; they always love that. :)

Our parish also set up the Giving Tree this past Sunday and Henry picked off a card for us. This year, I asked if he would like to donate some money from his piggy bank toward the gift to the child that he chose off the tree. He agreed, so we'll get buying something over the next few weeks. He can then put it under the tree. We pick a card off the Giving Tree each year, and I think for children this is an excellent opportunity to teach them about stewardship and charity.

Other things that we are doing this Advent:

(1) Lighting our Advent Wreath - We do this every year, and Henry loves the tradition. After struggling with finding a wreath in which the candles will not tip over, this year I purchased this one from Christian Book Distributors:

The candles sit in these little cups and they *look* secure to me, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I also have fresh taper candles all ready to go. This wreath also has a spot in the middle for a white Christ candle in votive form. I'm going to round one up so that we can light it on Christmas Day, Henry has already asked about this. :)

(2) Open Advent Calendars - Yes, that is plural. Henry loves Advent calendars. He has a chocolate calendar, a Lego calendar (secular, but he loves it) and we have a wood calendar. I toyed with getting Anne a cloth calendar, but didn't pull the trigger. Fisher Price makes one. Maybe next year. She'd most likely just want to eat the pieces anyway.

(3) Put out Nativity Sets - Henry's new Fontanini set is a big hit, even Anne loves it. She squats down next to it and says "Chee!" which is her word for Jesus. It's quite precious, as you can imagine. We also have the Fisher Price nativity set which we'll set out for Anne. I think she'll really enjoy playing with it this year, especially since she has several Christmas board books that we look through together and I identify all of the people in the nativity scene for her.

(4) A Prayer Routine - I'd like to do this, maybe with the above book. Mike puts Hank to bed (I tackle Anne) so I don't have a regular bedtime prayer regimen going with Henry. This would be a good opportunity to start one on as many nights as I can.

I'm hoping that Henry comes home with an Advent project from school as well. Last year he had an Advent prayer chain that he had to hang up and take a link off each day after saying our prayers. It was really cute.

I really want this Advent to be serene and happy, not chaotic in any way. I've already decided to make Christmas gift giving a lot simper this year (more on that tomorrow) so we're off to a good start.

As we approach Advent, I wanted to draw everyone's attention to Michelle's link-up via her blog Liturgical Time.

This link is also posted on the right navigation bar on my blog for the season. There is a collection of Advent-related posts here for any interested readers. :) I'm going to try and link this post up to it and any others that I write this Advent.

It's a beautiful winter day here in western New York and I hope that everybody is enjoying this special time of year!

Monday, November 26, 2012

A stuffing crisis and explosive poo - Thanksgiving 2012

I always aim to be funny on this blog, but let me just start out on a serious note by saying that I had an absolutely *fantastic* Thanksgiving weekend. I loved being home with Mike and the kids and it was just sublime. I feel very blessed that Mike and I both have such flexible jobs in that we get to be home so much with each other as a family.

Now I'm back at work and it's Cyber Monday and I'm shocked, SHOCKED I tell you to say that I don't know if I'll be doing my traditional sale yarn order. Could it be, dear reader, that I ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH YARN?! Let's be honest, I have a lot of yarn. But I can never resist sale yarn. However, what I knit most with is worsted weight wool and cotton, and nothing that I really wanted over at Knit Picks is on sale. There is a bunch of cotton on sale, but it's winter, and I really wanted some wool. It seems like mostly sport weight is on sale and I just rarely use sport weight. I mean, I can't believe this.

It's good, though. I bought a bunch of yarn during their summer sale and I can use the money toward Christmas gifts. Now that Advent starts this coming weekend, I'll talk a lot this week about the Christmas season, I have a lot on my mind about that lately. And I've missed you all! So expect lots of lengthy posts this week. :)

Ok, so a recap of this past weekend and the inevitable hilarity that ensues on holidays in my household. We were hosting Thanksgiving this year, and in my eagerness I decided to make stuffing from scratch, which I've never done before. I'm a big fan of Stove Top. But I wanted to feel all pioneer woman and since Mike mostly takes care of our turkey, I decided to contribute the stuffing.

I scoured the Internet for the perfect recipe. There are lots of delicious varieties out there, but I just wanted plain white bread stuffing. Turns out it's not so hard to make. I feel confident.

Wednesday night I saute up a big pan full of celery and onions. Smells delicious already. I break up the bread. I add everything into a big stock pot and pour in the required amount of chicken broth and add the poultry seasoning. Looks good. It seems a bit dry, so I add in some more butter (let's just agree - butter makes EVERYTHING BETTER) and a hair more broth. I stir and taste test. Oh yum. It's delicious. I feel that my existence as a woman is validated.

Except...hum. What started out as a full pot of stuffing had definitely shrunk in the moistening process. I spooned it around a bit, hoping for some loaves and fishes-type multiplication. Nope. I put it in a bowl to stash in the refrigerator overnight so that we could stuff the turkey first thing in the morning. The quantity was definitely less than what I expected based on the gigantic loaf of white bread that I used.

I panic. It's nearly Anne's bedtime and both kids are jammied up. I rush over to Mike.

"I think we need to run to the store."


"There isn't enough stuffing!"


I show him the bowl. He gets that look that he gets when he's going to try and talk me down from the ledge about something.

"I think it's fine, Sweetie. Plus, if you want to make more, can't we just run to the store tomorrow morning?"


"Why not?"

*frustrated pause*

"Because I want to do it right now!"

I don't make much sense when I'm that much on a mission. I was in stuffing mode, and I wanted my mind set at ease about having enough. But in the end I knew that he was right.

I slept on the "stuffing situation," and in the end, decided not to make anymore. We had plenty. Not as much for leftovers as I would have liked (is there anything better than Thanksgiving leftovers?) but we had more than enough.

Crisis averted.

Thanksgiving was a huge success. The kids loved the Macy's parade, and we all enjoyed the dog show that followed. ("woof woof!") Dinner was enjoyed by everyone, and wine was consumed by all.

Black Friday dawned, and I stayed in and safely away from the stores. I was worried that the kids would go stir crazy, but the day was smashing. We ended up running to the public library where Anne played in the toy kitchen they have set up there and Henry got a few videos and books. That night, Henry was having a sleepover at the grandparents, and so it was just Mike, Anne and I. The house felt *quiet* only having 1 kid in it!

We put Anne to bed. We basked in our quiet time. Then we went to bed.

Around 2:30 am I hear Anne. I roll over figuring she will go back to sleep. She does not.

Sometime thereafter I feel Mike nudge me. I grunt at him.

"Should I go get Anne?"

"No, I'll do it."

I stumble out of the bedroom, martyr-like essence following in my wake. I peek through her keyhole (this is a sweet feature of having an older house). If she's laying down, chances are she'll fall back to sleep. She's standing up.

I sigh and open the door. Immediately, rancid air meets my nostrils.

"Hi Mama. Uh oh!" *points to diaper*

Oh, no problem. A poo diaper woke her. I go to fetch her. I spy a pool of brown liquid covering her crib sheet.

Uh oh, indeed.

I turn on the lights and assess the damage. I don't think I've ever seen so much poo in one sitting in all my years of diaper changing, and that's saying a lot. I grab her stuffed puppy dog. HE'S WET. He's immediately relegated to the laundry. I lift Anne out of the crib and strip the sheet off. I'm attempting to peel her sleeper off when Mike exits our bedroom down the hall.

"Oh wow." The smell has now permeated the entire upstairs.

Mike comes to investigate.

"Do you think we should give her a bath?"

"She needs a complete hose down."

Mike runs the bath and disinfects her mattress. The sleeper is so bad that I throw it in the garbage. I had to actually SCRUB DOWN THE OUTSIDE OF THE DIAPER PAIL due to debris while Mike bathed her.

After her bath, I get her in a fresh sleeper while Mike starts a load of laundry and throws the trash. We go downstairs to watch some tv in the darkened living room to let the upstairs...air out a bit.

I find a Friends marathon on Nick-at-Nite. And ugh! The commercials were depressing. The stores were advertising continuing sales for all "Black Friday weekend!"

It's a whole weekend now? Apparently so. The whole thing strikes me as so desperate, it makes me a little sad.

Anne fell back to sleep pretty quick. Somehow, the scent of poo lingered on my nostrils and I could not for the life of me uncover the source. I carried her up to her room and had to wrinkle my nose a bit in her room but most of the smell had dissipated.

Anne's statement on Black Friday? Not sure, but that was EPIC. Honestly though, I enjoyed that particular middle of the night session. Lots of sweet cuddle time and she slept the rest of the night after that. Except for the fact that the next morning I COULD STILL SMELL POO.

Going to take some time to really get rid of this one. But the rest of the weekend was great. I'm trying to do my Christmas shopping and stay within our budget, and I crocheted 12 gift dishcloths this weekend. Why? BECAUSE I'M INSANE. And I have all this yarn, so I should use it up, right?

More Christmas and Advent talk to come this week!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'm back, safe and sound...

Ok, I have a bit of a phobia about flying, and I haven't done so in many years. This, as you may suspect, is a bad combination. It makes the fear percolate and spread, like a fungus. Thus, on Thursday, I had a difficult time preparing for my trip. I told everybody that I loved them before I left, just in case, you know, I didn't make it back. I'm nuts like that.

I also just HATE traveling by air. The extra time you have to leave for airport hassle, not knowing what will happen to my poor beleaguered suitcase when it's out of my possession, the juggling act (that is the most charitable way that I can describe it) that is now the security checkpoint, the delays, the squishyness that is seating space on the airplane, having to travel hundreds of miles out of your way due to connections where you're then delayed even further, praying that your luggage makes it to your destination, all that good stuff.

Bear with me while I insert a quick factoid:

Travel time by car from my house in western New York to my sister's home in southern Maine - 10 hours.

Travel time by air from the time I leave my house for the airport to arriving at my sister's door in southern Maine - 9 hours.

I'm just saying.

The reason for this craziness is twofold: (1) there is of course no direct flight from me to Portland, Maine. We had to fly to Baltimore first. (2) my dad has tons of free tickets on Southwest (he's a business traveler) and Southwest doesn't yet fly into Portland, Maine. We had to fly into Manchester, New Hampshire and then drive 2 hours to my sister's house. This sucked. But the ticket was free, so how can I complain?

But the bottom line is that unless I'm going to Europe (or MAYBE Hawaii and Alaska; actually, I'm just crazy enough to want to drive to Alaska), I want to travel by car. You can leave when you want, stop when you want, eat and drink what you want, pack what you want, and not have to have someone frisk you. But I digress.

I will say that Southwest is very good. You don't have to pay to check a bag, they solidly have their act together with loading and unloading the plane, and they really try to be pleasant and stay on schedule. Their flights are all full, and I'm glad that their business is good. Although, perhaps they're trying to distract us from the fact that I SWEAR that there is even LESS space on the airplanes than there used to be. Did they add seats but yet not expand the airplane? It seems that way, but what do I know.

Anyway, two things make the travel bearable:

(1) Company. My parents traveled with me, and I was glad to have someone to talk to. It's soothing.

(2) Alcohol. WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THIS BEFORE?! My dad had drink coupons.

*angels sing*

Although, seriously, even for $5, people THIS IS SO WORTH IT. I assumed I would get just one of those teeny tiny bottles, but instead I got a full glass of Chardonnay.


Next thing you knew, I was chatting up a storm and feeling relaxed. Relaxed on an airplane? MAGIC.

The flights were actually pretty painless. 50 minutes to Baltimore, and then 1 hour to Manchester. The suckfest began with the rental car and the drive north to Portland. Ugh. By the time we got in, it was midnight, and I was exhausted. A cruel, cruel reality is that I get motion sickness and cannot read or knit in the car.

Anyway, I glimpsed the babies before we all collapsed into our beds, but they were sleeping so I didn't get nearly the baby time that I wanted.

The next morning, I was up early, bright eyed and bushy tailed, putting on makeup in the guest bathroom, a cat by my side, waiting for any sign of noise to come from my sister and brother-in-law's bedroom.


BAM! I'm at the door.


There commenced 2.5 days of near constant baby snuggling.

There was always a baby needing to be held, changed, fed, or soothed, which was just fine with me.

The baptism was Saturday, and it was lovely. I just LOVE the affirmation of our baptismal promises and the tenets of the Nicene Creed in the ritual:

"This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Andrew is my third Godchild. I'm also Godmother to my nephew Nathaniel, who made his First Communion about a year and a half ago, my good friend Irena, who was a full catechumen at the Easter Vigil 2011 when I was 8 months pregnant with Anne and who converted from atheism, and now Andrew. I was also confirmation sponsor for Shauna'h, his mother. It's a very nice Catholic tradition that we have going on. I feel privileged to be their Godmother.

Our family are the last Catholics on my mom's side. My grandparents and aunt and uncles on that side are all devout Christians, but are no longer Catholic.  My dad's side though, has *more* Catholics now than in the past. I am doing my best to pass the faith on to my children and I pray that they do the same.

During the ceremony, the deacon did a lovely job. There were 2 other babies being baptized, and he asked everybody why they chose the names that they did for their child (all had at least 1 Catholic saint name) and asked about their baptismal garments. My nephew Will was wearing a gown that was over 80 years old, handmade by my brother-in-law's grandmother. Babies in the family have worn that gown in each generation since. Another of the babies was wearing an heirloom gown as well.

It all made me reflect on the history of our faith and how it's just as perilous now (when we're not being persecuted and beheaded, all that happy stuff :)) to pass on the faith as it's ever been. Today, it seems as if our enemy is indifference. I hope that I instill in my children and Godchildren how precious and special our faith is, and how we need to hold on to it firmly and passionately.

I very much enjoyed my trip, and the travel back was less bad. I was anxious to get home to my babies. Anne seems to have grown at least a foot since I last saw her, and is talking more than ever. As ever, she's extremely sassy and appears to be once again (please let this be over soon!) getting a new tooth. She HAS to be almost done; it would be inhuman otherwise.

A quick sampling of her new vocabulary:

(1) "Mine!" - Something that is most certainly NOT hers, but that she would like to be.

(2) "No no no!" - Self explanatory.

(3) "Ball!" - The child loves balls. This includes the giant red Target "dots" that they have outside the stores which I'm pretty sure are made of concrete and weigh as much as a herd of elephants. But yet, this explanation fails every.single.time when she sobs that we can't take the "ball" home with us in our car. Sigh.

I'm off the rest of the week, so no blogging for another short stretch. I will return on Monday with Thanksgiving and Black Friday tales. That is Cyber Monday, and is a big yarn sale day for me, so prepare for yarn talk. I actually dreamt of yarn the other day. It was all very cat-like.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Northeastern bound, blogging will be light for a week or two...

Morning all! I'm traveling to Maine today to visit my sister, brother-in-law and new twin nephews. :) Their baptism is this weekend, and I'm Godmother to Twin A, Andrew. :) I'm very excited. I am, however, a very nervous traveler by air, so would you all wing up a prayer for me today? I'm armed with my Kindle, a boatload of yarn and my knitting needles (yes, these are allowed in your carry-on, I already checked; if the TSA tried to take my beautiful wood needles away from me somebody WOULD PAY) and my iPod. I should be fine. But I'm antsy all the same. I'm also going by myself. Mike and I didn't feel like Anne would be a good traveler just yet, so he and the kids are staying behind. I'll only be gone for 3 days, but I'm still very unsettled about leaving them. :( But I know it'll be fine.

I'm staying home on Monday to just be with Anne, but I'll check in with you all on Tuesday. After that, with Thanksgiving, I'll also take a short blogging hiatus for family time. Following Thanksgiving weekend I'll be back to my usual schedule.

I'll regale you all with baptism stories and traveling details next Tuesday. Until then!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stop the madness!

When I had a lull at the reference desk this morning, I flipped over to MSNBC to glance at the news. I don't know why, because I got all depressed seeing the majority of the headlines. Seems like all news is BAD news these days, kwim?

At any rate, I spied an article about Black Friday, so I read it. The article was about Target employees protesting that the store is opening for Black Friday, on, well, *Thursday*. Thanksgiving day, to be precise. 9 pm on Thanksgiving.

And apparently this is the new thing this year. A handful of other popular retailers are opening at 8 pm Thanksgiving. I knew, I just KNEW that the midnight thing last year was a bad step on a slippery slope. For as long as I can remember, Black Friday doorbusters began somewhere in the realm of 4-6 am Friday morning. Suddenly, last year it was midnight. I heard lots of complaints from people that that was too early and interfered with Thanksgiving dinner, since people wanted to go wait in line. (I think such people are absolutely out of their minds, but I suppose that is neither here nor there).

And I KNEW that this year it would be earlier. Once that step was taken to push the opening time back to midnight, the floodgates were opened. 8-9 pm Thanksgiving evening.

Here are the two positions:

Con - This is an outrageous infringement on a family holiday about GIVING THANKS that is now being run amuck by corporate greed. Employees are being given no choice but to work, and despite being paid more than usual, this is unconscionable. Nobody needs a jump start that early. What is so different 8 pm Thanksgiving night that wouldn't be the same early Friday morning? The store will still make a lot of money.

Pro - Target will lose a ton of business if they don't open at the same time as their competitors. Employees are well compensated for working a holiday, in addition to extra bonuses. People should be grateful that they even have a job in this economy, and have the opportunity to make more than usual to boot. If they don't like it, they can find another job.

So. I'm sure you'll be unsurprised to learn that I side with the Con position. :) I mean, it's a free society, the store's management can open whenever the heck they want. But the point is I don't think we want to be going down this road. Are they really going to be making MORE money by opening on Thanksgiving, or will it just spread the same sales out over a longer period of time? I think it'll just be the same, but obviously they disagree. I just think that some things should be sacred. Black Friday will always be Black Friday, but Thanksgiving is about family. Why take away the joy of that day? There's just no need.

In Christmas preparations generally, we've lost that sense of joyful anticipation. Everything is so hectic and *rushed* anymore. It feels like we as a society don't sit back and simply enjoy things enough. I've noticed in Children's Liturgy of the Word (when I'm excitedly lecturing them about the liturgical calendar, because that's what I *do*) every time I ask the children what season is next in our Church calendar they say: "Christmas!"

And of course, it's not. :) It's *Advent*. Nobody remembers Advent anymore. Before the excitement of Christmas morning comes the quiet expectation of the nativity.

It's a shame that Black Friday (still pre-Advent, but the spirit is the same) has become a crazy fest, but it is what it is. I wish the stores wouldn't open until Friday morning, but they didn't consult me, so there you have it.

We'll see what the reports are after this year, but I fear that the opening time will creep sooner and sooner until Thursday morning will commence "Black Friday." I just find it all very sad.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Anne's world: nearly 18 months

She's very into the toga look these days.

So, Anne is suddenly talking. She really says a lot of words, much more so than Henry at this same age. Let's take a quick tour, shall we?

When Anne says the following, the possibilities for what she means are:

(1) Shoes

     (a) She wants to go outside
     (b) She has taken her shoe off in the backseat and has flung it to the other side of the car.

(2) Socks

     (a) She is now barefoot and has hidden her socks.

(3) Gee  

     (a) Jesus
     (b) Cheese

(4) Ma-me

     (a) Grandma
     (b) Mailman (who she has quite a love affair with)
     (c) Magnet

(5) Da-da

     (a) Da-da
     (b) Random guy we see in the mall.

(6) Nice

     (a) She has thrown a toy on the floor with zero remorse

(7) Uh oh

     (a) She has deliberately thrown food on the ground
     (b) She has deliberately ripped something

(8) Woof woof

     (a) Dog
     (b) Any other animal

(9) Baby!

     (a) A baby
     (b) Any child under the age of 16

Never a dull moment in our house.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Do these pictures look familiar to you?

Because it seems like every time I dance, I do so the exact same way, lol. I obviously have favored arm positions and poses. 

Anyway, Saturday night went GREAT. My solo was very early on in the program, and I really liked it's placement. Our guest dancer danced, Claire danced, and then I was up. I felt honored to be included in such a group. :)

Our venue was a church hall this year, and it wasn't very large, so it got crowded quickly. I don't like to start out on the stage, so I waited in the next room until my music started, and then was faced with discreetly elbowing people aside ("excuse me, pardon me") to get out to the stage area. Which put my opening shimmy section right when I was still smack in the middle of transversing the table area. Happily, improvisation is on my side, so I just shoulder shimmied and kept walking out.

And even though I was still nervous, this is the *least* nervous I've ever been when I've danced solo. I actually felt *excited* to be doing what I love, and to be lucky enough to have an audience to share that with. That's the first time I've ever felt that way about dancing before, ever.

It was good. I hit all my accents, including a (for me) very dramatic pause in the middle. I watched Secrets of the Stage: Volume 1, a performance course for belly dancers recently. One of the featured dancers mentioned how it's a beginners mistake to think that you need to be "busy" all the time when you're performing. My favorite quote was:

"When you're on stage and the audience is staring at you expectantly, waiting for you to do something, and you choose to do nothing, that is a very bold choice."

Yes, indeed it is a bold choice! I just loved that. But you know, she's right, it makes your dance more interesting, and your audience more engaged, to pause at appropriate points in the music.

"Oh. What's she going to do next?!"

Obviously, you're not standing there nonchalantly. You're in a strong dancers pose, confidence oozing from your sparkly costume. :) And when you move again, suddenly everybody is very interested in what you're about to do. There was a very dramatic beat in my music following a drum crescendo, so I flung my hair forward and dropped down to a bent position toward the floor. I waited until the next strong beat (maybe 4-5 seconds) before flinging my hair back and shoulder rolling up. Believe me, that's a LONG 4-5 seconds when you know everybody is staring at you wondering if you're going to move again or if you've lost your will to dance. :) And when I came up, all eyes were firmly on me. :) I loved it!

This was also the first time, after I finished a solo, that I didn't feel really needy, hoping that people gave me compliments. I knew that I did my best, and that it went great. That's a damn good feeling. Am I the next Fifi Abdou? Good God, no. :) But for the girl voted shyest in her senior class, I've come a long way, baby. I'm improving every time that I perform, and that's all I could ever hope for.

Our group numbers went very well too. I'm happy to report that my gold costume stayed on my body. :)

I'm farthest on the left there, in the front.Yay for no costume malfunctions.

Mostly. :) Mine were fine, although I was paranoid. Other costume malfunctions did abound. But the nice thing about belly dance (in my experience) is the Belly Dance Sisterhood that surrounds you like a silk veil. Come off stage panic stricken that your underwear was showing? A group surrounds you to reassure you that everything was in place and that you looked beautiful. Struggle with your sword? A quick conversation circle gathers to relate other sympathetic sword stories (mine included in this one :)) and assure you that you covered up the sword tumblings like a pro. A random woman you've never seen before enters your dressing room full of only partially clothed belly dancers? Everyone greets her warmly and asks if she needs help putting on her costume or needs any pins.

I left that night feeling very happy and content. I'm a very lucky belly dancer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My mind, sometimes I miss it...

My mind has been on the drum song that I picked for my belly dance solo on Saturday. So much so that when I went for a quick walk the other day during lunch, I stopped off on the wrong floor. My office is on the 4th floor, and the library is a bit crazy (it was designed in the 60's, sigh) in that the main entrance is on the 2nd floor. I'm listening to Max (my friendly iPod) and I exit the stairwell. Something doesn't seem right.

First thought: "Wait, they moved the bound periodicals down to the main floor right in front of the entrance?!"

Because that just makes SO much more sense than me spacing out and not going down enough stairs.

ANYWAY, I'm improvising, so no choreography to memorize, but I still like to know my music really, really well before I perform to it. The hafla is nice in that it's very informal and I can pick whatever music I want. I don't have to worry about balancing out my set or conforming to length requirements. I wanted to choose a style just for the joy of dancing to it, so I chose my original love, a drum solo. I also thought about performing with my sword, because I love my sword and we get along well, plus it's a real crowd pleaser. But for pure dancing, I love drums, so that's what I'm doing.

I chose a song called "Shimmabulous" and unsurprisingly, it's going to involve a lot of shimmying. I think that I like to improvise so much because it allows the dancer to just interact with her music. The music "speaks" to you, and there is no pressure to remember a planned choreography. I *know* that I'm a better dancer when I improvise, I'm not nearly so stiff. So, this song is saying "SHIMMY, GIRLFRIEND!" to me a lot, but what I like about it is that it changes rhythms several times which makes the performance much more interesting. There are lots of quick percussive accents and dedicated shimmy sections, but also slower segments and dramatic pauses. I really like it.

There is one section to me that screams "choo choo!" which is actually a real dance step, and although it isn't complicated it can be hard to pull off. I'm struggling with my choo choos a bit and have been working on them a lot in the evenings after the kids go to bed. They're right before a "DRAMATIC PAUSE!" which I don't want to screw up, so the choo choos better cooperate if they know what's good for them.

So, overall I'm much less stressed than I used to be before a performance. Improvisation has done that for me, and for that I am very grateful. I'm looking forward to it and will post pictures on Monday. :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A trip to Target...

Mike: "Hank did you pick something out for Cameron's party?"

Henry: "Yeah."

Mike: "Oh, Battleship. Do you think this is something he would like?"

Henry: "Yeah. I mean, I guess so. I mean, I don't know."

Mike: "Where are Mommy and Anne?"

Henry: "In the GIRL aisle." *shudder*

Mike: "Ok, well..."

*Anne runs by the end of the aisle, me in hot pursuit*

Mike: "Right. I think it's time to leave."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I see London, I see France...PLEASE GOD NO!

Ok, so I relayed the troubles my belly dance troupe is having with our new costumes last week. Since I don't know how to sew (aside from attaching buttons) my generous mother-in-law graciously agreed to do some major alterations for me. As well, my teacher, Claire, sewed a new panel and belt section into my skirt since the existing belt was at least 4 inches too small and there is no stretch to it at all.

On Friday, Claire gave me back my skirt and she did a *beautiful* job. The new panel is copper to coordinate with the copper and gold beads and it looks like the skirt was meant to be that way. :) I was thrilled. In the mean time, my MIL had worked on my top and fixed the "side nipple" problem. I now look like I'm *extremely* well endowed due to some gel inserts, but everything is very covered and modest. I feel a bit like I'm wearing a suit of armor on the top, but as long as there is no risk of a boob popping out, I'm happy.

So the skirt. It looks gorgeous, but as is typical with these costumes, it didn't come with any hooks attached. My MIL set to work on these. As soon as we started our sewing session, I started to get nervous. The belt portion is *heavy* and it's *attached* to the skirt (which is NOT a natural belly dance costume design). If it doesn't fit exactly perfect, there will be weird gaps at my hips and it could fall down.


We get it nice and tight and she determines where to put the hooks and snaps we picked out. The whole shebang is heavily beaded, so she has a hard time fitting the implements in. She puts on one snap and has me try the skirt on, to make sure the placement is correct before she sews on the rest.

It looks great. I am happy. I shimmy. My skirt falls off.

And there it is, folks. Because the thing is so heavy, in a split second, it was on the floor and I'm standing there in my underpants. With my mother-in-law standing right there. And my father-in-law in the next room. Happily, he had dozed off while watching football.


We quickly deduce that the snap is malfunctioning because all the beads are causing it to not lie flat. Plus, it needs, oh I don't know, about A HUNDRED more snaps to assure it'll stay put due to the heft.

I change and give her back the skirt. She takes it home to sew aforementioned 100 snaps on. I got it back yesterday.

SUCH A RELIEF. She took off a ton of beads so that the snaps and hooks can lie flat. There are snaps at the far end of the belt, and then a snap plus 2 hooks at the near end of the overlap section. Everything goes together nicely and it's nice and tight. I danced in it extensively last night to assure that no nightmare scenario occurs in which I am up in front of a room full of people in an armor-like bra and and my underwear with a deer-in-the-headlights look of horror on my face.

If that happens, I may never dance again...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election day!

Election day dawned beautiful here with the sun coming out for the first time in weeks. This is going to be a quick post since I'm writing between a reference shift and a class, after which I have to immediately leave to fetch Henry for an appointment with the allergist.

I don't really post on politics (in fact, I noticed that I had no previous subject tag to use with this post :)) because despite the fact that I was a political science major in college, I don't really enjoy talking about politics. I do find it interesting, however, and Mike and I have an election day tradition of, well, drinking and watching the returns come in. It's fun. He's picking up some Pumpkin Ale for us as I type. :)

At any rate, I'll be voting after Henry's appointment and I'm looking forward to a nice night. I do have dance costume updates (because, you know, that's important enough to be included in the same post as the presidential race...) but I'll save those for tomorrow. The hafla is drawing nearer! And I'm getting nervous! No matter how many times I perform, the nerves never completely cease. Which I see as ok. It means that I care. And I do, very much. So lots of dance talk to come!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Henry's 7th birthday

Henry's birthday is tomorrow (election day!) but somehow he's wound up with a week-long birthday celebration this year. Saturday, we invited all the boys from his class to our local bowling alley for a little shindig.

*hair turns gray*

I mean, they were very good. :) But being responsible for 9 rambunctious boys running around was no walk in the park. I think some people are naturally more gifted at dealing with loud herds of children. I love children, I really do, but I am not one of aforementioned gifted people. :) At any rate we survived. And stopped off at the liquor store on the way home. And the boys had a great time.

Sunday we had family over for a small pizza and cake party. More Legos were celebrated by Henry. Fun was had by all, especially Anne, who positively basks in extra attention. And so we finally unveiled Henry's big birthday gift for the year - A Fontanini nativity set, complete with the Holy Family, some sheep, an angel, the 3 kings, and a 3 kings tent.

It's *lovely*. When we plugged it in and turned on the lighted stable, Henry gasped. :) I promised him that this set was *his* and he could keep it in his room and we would add to it every year. Last year, he about keeled over from the stress of Anne messing with the Christmas decorations, including his old Fisher Price nativity set. Btw, they have a really nice combo pack now for the Fisher Price set that comes with the original nativity, the 3 kings set, and a possy of shepherds. I see a tent for the wise men in there now, along with an extra angel and a cute camel. Anyway, I digress.

Henry's new Fontanini set is beautiful. He set up the tent with the wise men lounging inside separate from the stable and the Holy Family. The next time I went into his room, the 3 kings had migrated over to the stable and were adoring the Child. :) The angel had joined them in what appeared to be a party-like atmosphere.


In remembrance of all souls...

"Mommy, can we light a candle when church ends?"

"Yes Honey. I'm going to go write the names of our family members who have died in the Book of Remembrance by the Easter candle. I'll give you the candle money. Go into the sacristy and get the candle, put the money in the box, and bring it out, but DON'T try to light it without me. Wait til I'm done."

"I know how to light it myself, Mommy."

"Yes, I know that you *know* how, Honey, but I don't want you to."

"How come Mommy? Are you afraid that I will burn the church down?"

"Yes, exactly."


Friday, November 2, 2012

In gratitude for our Catholic school

A few weeks ago we had our autumn parent conference with Henry's teacher. This year, Mike and I were both able to go, which was wonderful. As we were waiting for Hank's teacher to finish up with another parent, we wandered around the hallway immediately outside the room and saw lots of adorable art work. I love the Catholic spin on everything they have the kids do there. There was a featured prayer, one written by each child, in honor of the month of the rosary, complete with drawing of Mary. Lists of things they were grateful for, etc.

When it was our turn, we headed in. I had met Henry's new teacher before, but Mike hadn't. She came from a nearby Catholic school that closed last year after being open for more than 100 years. This is part of a sad reality in our area. I know that we're lucky in that where we live (western New York) there are more Catholic churches and schools than you can shake a stick at. However, over the past 10 years, there have been SO many church and school consolidations/closings. I'm sure this is prevalent throughout the northeast.

The main reason is population shift. Not as many people live in this area compared to 100 years ago, and those that do have moved to the suburbs in droves. The original, gorgeous churches (complete with schools) in this area were built in the cities. There simply wasn't enough families registered to keep all of them open, especially with the high cost of maintenance in these historic structures. One of the local suburbs recently built a new church to accommodate their burgeoning congregation, but alas, it is modern, and well, sort of ugly. :) It seems to be the way of things these days. But I'm happy that the parish is thriving.

Our parish school closed 3 years or so ago after being open for nearly 110 years. Hank's school is affiliated with another parish that is very close to where we live. Including our parish, 3 Catholic schools have closed recently right in or on the border of our town. Too much competition for not enough families willing to pay to send their kids to Catholic school. I will say though that with the public schools majorly cutting back (laying off teachers, cutting programs, etc) it seems to me that there is renewed interest in the Catholic schools even from non-Catholics, which is helping attendance.

At any rate, Henry's school picked up some students and teachers from this most recent one to close, and the school seems to be doing well. I'm happy, since I obviously want them to stay in business.

Henry's teacher is very experienced, and very laid back. We chatted with her comfortably, and it's clear that Henry is thriving both academically and socially. I worry because Henry is a bit of a shy child (he reminds me so much of myself in this way) but she assured us that she never would have known he was shy if we hadn't said anything, that he just integrates so well with his classmates. That made me feel good.

She said two things that struck a resonance with me. As we were chatting about Hank, she said:

"He's doing so well here, I'm so glad that you sent him here."

Me too! I thought that was just such a lovely way that she put that.

As we were finishing up, I asked her about her old school closing and how she was transitioning to her new environment. She said how much she liked the school, and how it emphasized traditional academics and values:

"They focus on the important things here academically: reading, math, handwriting, science and social studies. And God. God is the most important thing here."

Since she had come from another school and had many years of teaching to compare with, her comment really stuck with me.

This morning, Henry forgot his gym clothes, so I dropped them off in the office on my way to work. The principal was there talking to one of the secretaries when I arrived. They immediately asked me about Henry's birthday (which is Tuesday) because one of the kids had told them that Henry's birthday was tomorrow. I mean, the principal KNOWS my kid and cares about getting his birthday right in the daily announcements, and it's not because he's seeing her all the time for disciplinary reasons. :) I was so impressed by that. This is a nice place, a very worthwhile investment in Henry's future.

And I can't wait to see Anne in the adorable girls uniform when she starts kindergarten. :)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween humbug

First of all, the big reveal... ta da!!

My ghost socks. Aren't they cute and scary? I love them. They're super warm and soft.

Anyway, back to real life. Halloween is always a mixed holiday for me. Right before we have to head out into the cold evening air I say to myself: "I hate Halloween." I just want to stay home in my ghost socks and relax. But it is not to be. So I was in a bad mood at the start of the evening yesterday. Let us chronicle my night...

I arrive home at 4:30 pm and pack Anne up for Mass. She always does great until after the homily. Last night, she did great until the responsorial psalm. That didn't bode well, but what could I do? I plied her with milk and some small penguin crackers as best I could, but next thing you knew she was squirming out of my arms and trying to eat the missalettes. I eventually got desperate and let her hold my cell phone (turned off, of course), which she drooled on and generally got all nasty. Toward the sign of peace I had to walk her around a bit, and luckily we made it through communion and to the closing hymn before we had to flee the church, Anne refusing to cooperate in getting her rain coat on. It wasn't her best performance, but I handled it well. We get home.

I'm starving. We wolf down turkey burgers and vegetables and the doorbell starts to ring. This is when the "I hate Halloween" vibe got started up for the year. Hank is bouncing off the walls, we have a sink full of dishes, Anne has crushed and thrown food on the floor, children are at our door demanding candy, and I'm just wishing that we could all go to bed. There's the Halloween spirit for you.

Mike tackles the dishes and the doorbell while I help Henry get his Darth Vader costume on. 

Next comes the wrestling match with Anne. I stuff her into a long sleeved Onesie and pink tights, which she immediately tries to yank off. I then layer her cupcake costume on. Within seconds, she had ripped the top half off. It was like that trick that male strippers do (not that I've seen a lot of them, I'm talking Saturday Night Live skits here) where they rip at their collar and their entire outfit comes off. That's what she was doing. Trying to put the little frosting cap on her head was an exercise in frustration and a near occasion of sin. 

An attempt at photographs fails miserably.

We head out. Hank is so excited he can hardly keep his mask on. Anne, of course, got accolades about her costume wherever we went, even without the frosting cap. Last year she was a ladybug and she was in good company. This year, she was the only cupcake and people really commented on how cute her costume was.

Meanwhile, I was so cranky that I had refused to take a jacket. Therefore, I'm freezing my ass off while Hank bounds about the neighborhood and Anne refuses to hold my hand and trips on sidewalk cracks. I demand that she hold my hand, but the instant I take my eyes off of her to aid Henry in some way the following occur:

(1) She tackles a decorative scarecrow and fiber optic vampire in someone's landscaping;

(2) She takes out a row of potted mums;

(3) She french kisses a dog.

It was loads of fun. I will say that the kids had a fantastic time. Hank was beaming, and Anne squealed the entire way down the street. I don't think I've ever seen her so happy. Unfortunately, she now thinks that we can always waltz up the porches of everybody in the neighborhood and attempt to enter their home.

I noticed several parents toting what were clearly alcoholic beverages with them as they accompanied their children.


At any rate, we made it home alive, Anne now being willingly carried she was so exhausted. Toward the end there I did start to enjoy myself. There is a unique feel to Halloween night that is different from any other in the year. One of the houses on our street featured a costumed Michael Myers, and I have to say, whoever it was was GOOD. I mean, *I* was scared! He had the wide-legged stance and the soulless, dead ahead stare down to a tee. It was creepy.

I was glad to get home though, and I couldn't get Anne bundled into a sleeper and into her crib fast enough. After Henry was also in bed, Mike and I watched an Alfred Hitchcock Presents marathon while I worked on another pair of socks. I was feeling much better. Halloween ended well.