Sunday, November 30, 2008

Versatility in the Way of Pianos and Sword Masters

Some of you may remember the disaster of a piano cover that was ordered, delayed, and finally shipped to us last September in the wrong size and with random lettering embroidered on it. My mom returned it, wisely insisted on her money back instead of engaging in another round of specifications with the company, and set upon designing a cover with my dad.

They picked fabric (more on that later), Dad drafted a pattern, Mom sewed it up, and voila, a lovely piano cover!

Q-ster offered to help them put it on the piano, and he fingered the dark brown fabric longingly. “It looks like a Jedi cape.”

Much later in the evening, while my parents were working on some fit adjustments and cutting a piece for the lining, Mom stopped and informed Dad, “There’s some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that we cut the lining piece too small. The good news is that someone is going to get his Jedi outfit.”

And so it was. I joined forces with my parents, and a day later, we have one really, really happy little Obi-wan.

Q-ster admiring his reflection in the TV screen.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Signs of the Times

Receiving a letter from an elderly European friend, deciphering the text, and realizing that it began not with “Congratulations on your new baby” but with “Congratulations on your new president!”

Thinking that the drawstring bow to my new Target pajamas looks like candy.

Having no boxes in which to ship a few things to family, scavenging some shoe and diaper boxes in desperation, mailing off the packages, and then receiving a bunch of Amazon boxes the next day.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Top Ten List, 10 Months Later

We had a lovely playdate today with another family, and oh, the kids had fun too. I made a pink lightsaber for Princess T, and she and Q-ster battled their dads with gusto. We have an important rule in the house – you can’t attack someone who doesn’t have a lightsaber. Consequently, they learned to drop one in a parent’s lap and then start whacking away before the adult had time to react.

Buster let Princess T’s mom hold him for quite a while before he got antsy, and we all enjoyed some good conversation, albeit interrupted by shrieking duels.

~
Last year on December 16th, I started a “Ten Things I Love About This House” list, with the idea that I would write about one thing each day leading up to Christmas. Life got a little busy and I made it up to #5 . . . by February. Oops. So, it’s about time to pick up the list again and see if I can finish by this Christmas.

Without further ado, the #4 Reason I Love This House:
The awesome double oven, complete with temperature probe (pictured), so that one doesn’t have to open the oven door to see the interior temp of the cooking turkey. Instead, the display on the outside of the oven shows the current temperature and shuts off the heat when the target is reached. Mrs. Original Owner picked some good appliances.

It was fun to cook and host Thanksgiving dinner for my parents – it’s just like we are real grown-ups now!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wishing You and Your Family

An abundance of health, love and lightsabers this Thanksgiving.

The green beans and the mashed potatoes are already made and in the fridge. We’ve got a turkey, and Q-ster is excited to bake an apple pie. I just need to find a good recipe for gravy and we're all set!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Innocuous Title Without DWTS Spoiler

Julianne Hough, Derek Hough, and Mark Ballas as kids! Don't read further if you've got Dancing with the Stars Tivo'd and you're waiting for later to watch.

Not surprisingly, beautiful Brooke Burke won the competition due to her technical skills and and her professional partner's top notch work. Corky Ballas must be so proud. His son and two protégés have produced fabulous choreography week after week and won the last four seasons of the show. I'd love to see what Corky can do when handling someone more able than his 82-year-old partner (Cloris Leachman) this season.

This clip has a bit of great footage from the kids' early days. Warning for the easily shocked - it also includes a segment from Carrie Ann's performances as a Madonna backup dancer. It just shows there are few overnight successes - most stars have been working a long time toward their goals.

Were you rooting for Brooke, Warren, or Lance?

Monday, November 24, 2008

One Damp Duck

The micro dude enjoys gnawing his duck rattle lots. It’s become so saturated with drool that we could probably wring it out and irrigate a few drought-stricken countries.

In these economic conditions, it makes sense to think of how everything can be re-purposed, but I suppose drool is taking it a bit too far. At the Company, everyone has been asked to turn in their corporate credit cards, eliminate travel, and otherwise behave more frugally. I noticed that this week, all the lights switched off at 5pm, requiring that someone manually turn them back on. That probably saves thousands of lightbulbs a few hours of use every day.

During the last downturn, I remember some witty cubicle dweller posting a notice informing fellow employees to not leave their desks, as it would reduce carpet wear. If they didn't drink liquids during the day, there would be fewer bathroom trips, saving time and increasing productivity. Also, they should try to breathe less frequently, as that would lessen the need for air circulation.

It’s good to get a laugh while you can.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spatulas with Legs

Believe it or not, today was the first time I took both boys on an outing, just the three of us. Aside from SwingDaddy’s trip to get them a pumpkin, we’ve ventured out only as twosomes or the whole family. It felt good to hold Q-ster’s hand as he trotted next to the stroller, and Buster smiled back at us from inside.

They were beautifully behaved, so I’m sure there is some terror to pay in the future, but for the morning, I basked in the mom-ness.

I had a Bed, Bath, and Beyond gift card from our housewarming many months ago, and with the way companies are shutting down left and right, it seemed prudent not to wait any longer. I didn’t have any luck finding a pie top cutter, but there were some nice lightweight mixing bowls that will be handy, given Q-ster’s new requests to bake a pie.

This family of kiddie tools from Head Chef really caught his eye. Aren’t they adorable?





Santa’s going to be bringing him the spatula. He’s also requesting Star Wars sheets, surprise, surprise. Really, it's my fault though. I showed the Pottery Barn Kids catalog to him to help him transition to the idea of getting a real bed. He was resistant to talking about moving his mattress off the floor and onto a frame, until I called it a Star Wars bed. Now we just have to find a bed that doesn't have sharp corners or a princess canopy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Small Happenings Blogger

Silicon Valley Moms Blog hosted a topic day on Diversity last week, and I hadn't intended to participate. I generally don't post about harder-hitting topics, and it was already a busy week. Then fate intervened in the form of some board books I read to Buster, and I couldn't help but write on the bone-headed result. You can read contribution on the African-American Boo-Hoo baby here.

Afterward, I read the posts from other contributors, and I was a little embarrassed. You know how I wrote about being a small happenings blogger, and not a Big Event blogger? Everyone else seemed to write weighty soul-searching essays, and I wrote about a picture book.

Well, I guess I know my niche!

~
What does this look like to you?

It appears to be a size 4 hoodie that I bought half-price at the Mervyn’s close-out sale, but it could be so much more. Q-ster is always pretending to throw back the hood of a Jedi robe before he launches into a lightsaber battle, so I was thrilled to find a brown hooded jacket.

“Look honey, I got you a Jedi robe!”
Sadly, he informed me that everyone knows Jedi wear DARK brown robes, not light brown ones, and refused to put it on.

So, I guess it’s just a hoodie. Here's to hoping Jedi fashion changes before he outgrows it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Merbaby

I love the fuzzy sleep sack that Buster wears to bed. He’s toasty and warm all night, and when he kicks his feet around, the long tail makes him look like the child of a mermaid.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This is Incredibly Embarrassing

But I’m going to have to run out and buy a copy of People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive Edition!

Hugh Jackman, who along with Ewan McGregor and James Marsden, is my ideal movie star – an action hero with musical theater chops.

In this video clip, Hugh explains that the theme of his campaign for the title was “Change” (Ha!), since George Clooney has been named multiple times, and that perhaps he shouldn’t have done everything the photographer suggested, like getting into the ocean for the photo above. As he shivered in the water, he said, “Being sexy is hard work!”

~
In a totally unrelated thought, I was working on my laptop tonight as Buster dozed in my lap, and I basked in his snuggliness and warmth. The micro dude is already earning his keep by sharing his body heat.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Have Not Heard of That Vegetable

Mama, will you please get some more Mommy Beans?

What? Oh, these.

(Ed-a-MAH-MEE, for those unfamiliar with the yummy Japanese soy bean – highly entertaining for preschoolers to pop out of the shell and eat.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thoughts While Watching Reality Television

Things that go through my mind while I’m doing a little research for work and blogging while Dancing with the Stars plays on TV at the same time:

- Tom Bergeron is an awesome host. Samantha Harris is a terrible interviewer.

- After an entire season of gorgeous dances, Brooke Burke’s jive was riddled with mistakes. Good thing she pulled it together with a good Latin number.

- Advertisers seem to think that DWTS viewers need a lot more medication. The drug companies have run out of names that haven’t already been copyrighted. Cymbalta sounds kind of pretty, but Abilify?

- Thank god Lacey has stopped sabotaging her partner with “edgy” choreos, because Lance is an great dancer and they looked sharp in both pieces.

- Carrie Ann referred to one of the dances as a ‘showstopper,’ which reminds me of a story from the legendary Norma Miller. Early in her career, her dance team performed in within a longer show, and their manager expected a showstopper from them every night. As in literally stopping the show. They needed to perform so well that the audience cheered and whooped and hollered so long that the next act couldn’t come onstage, and the dancers would have to return for more bows and an encore. That’s a real showstopper.

- I love Len’s comments in the DanceMaster section and seeing whether they match what I would have said. Two for four! Last week, SwingDaddy and I had called Lance on lack of turnout and Brooke for not straightening her legs. I agree with the pointers for Cody and Warren, but they have so many technical challenges that there were a lot of choices.

- Cody’s been charming and I adore Julianne, but he’s clearly the weakest dancer now. I think this is probably his last week.

- The professional swing couple was fun to watch. She landed aerials really solidly in spite of those skinny heeled shoes.

- Ad for Dirty Sexy Money. So glad that Lucy Liu found another cool role on TV after Cashmere Mafia was canceled. Not that I’ve seen either show yet, but I have to root for my alleged doppelganger.

- Kym has put together some great dances for Warren this season. I especially loved the legwork in the gancho/racket section of their tango last week (about 50 seconds into that video clip).

It looks like Brooke, Lance, and Warren for the finals. What do you think?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Click, Click, Click

That family photo session left a bigger impact than I imagined. Q-ster’s been squirrelly about posing for pictures for a couple of months now, so I was pleasantly surprised when he was so cooperative with the photographer. Now he wants to be a photographer, part time of course, when he’s not working as a Jedi.

I was sitting with Buster in my lap, when his big brother came over to join us. He leaned his head against mine and hugged Buster. “Smile for the picture!” he said. After we struck a series of poses, he stepped away from us, picked up a toy to hold as a camera, and directed us to smile again. “One more! Click, click, click!”

Then he came over to hand over a pretend CD of pictures to me. The modern digital child knows how this is done. (Although, our photographer did use film for half of the photos, which will be coming by mail in a few days.)


Here’s a photo Q-ster specifically requested that I take of him and Buster today. And below is an outtake from last week’s shoot, when I was trying unsuccessfully to extract Buster’s fingers from his mouth. I meant to post it that day, but sleep got to me first.



Photo credit

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Old School or New School?

So I'm admiring these gingerbread kids in the Williams-Sonoma catalog and thinking, "How cute, they're wearing headphones!"

SwingDaddy added, "They ought to have the little white cord leading to an iPod."

And then we realized they're wearing earmuffs.

Ah, Californians.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Galactic Dance Festival

We’ve enjoyed a bizarre yet delightful combination of Q-ster’s interests lately. Where once he did nothing but dance, and next he played nothing but Star Wars, we now have both!

First he does an elaborate dance with an imaginary Princess Leia. Then I must join him in a Jedi dance as Obi-wan flips across the floor. I totally wish that Robot Chicken spoof of “Empire on Ice” was real, because we’d buy the little dude a ticket faster than you could say “singing Wookie.”

Today, he caught me off guard, describing green guys that dance with axes. I immediately imagined some central European folk dancers. I’ve seen many German troupes in green variants of lederhosen.


And the occasional Polish or Czech group with axes.



But no, it turns out that the Star Wars Lego game features Gamorrean guards that dance with their axes. My education never ends.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The State of Upness

We’ve been working on manners with the little dude for a long time, and it occasionally pays off.

“Milk! Milk!”
“How would you ask?”
“May I have some milk, please?”
“Yes, you may.

“I want a cookie!”
“I don’t hear anyone asking nicely.”
“May I have a cookie, please?”

Now and again, he wants his dad to pick him up for a piggy back ride.

“UP! UP!”
I make eye contact with him, indicating that he knows how to ask.
“May I have up, please?”

Close enough.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Need Some Artsy Clothes

It’s refreshing to find a book that is frank about how one’s behavior as a mom can’t be too rebellious against the school system or the child will pay the price, but then goes ahead and explains how to get the “good” volunteer jobs and dodge the time-consuming, boring tasks. Silicon Valley Mom Blogs’s own Michelle Lamar has a new book (Congratulations, Michelle!) titled The White Trash Mom Handbook, and here is one of her entertaining solutions:

Present an image to the community that says “I’m artistic” so that you are crossed off the short lists for some of the more political type of jobs. . . . Artistic types do not get asked to chair important committees. People respect and enjoy artistic types – they just don’t want them running the budgets or speaking at meetings.

She goes on to describe vintage and “artsy” clothes that send the message, as well as what fun jobs might be available instead of PTA president.

Although the descriptions of the precarious politics of an elementary school parent terrify me, I enjoyed reading Michelle’s descriptions of ways to be helpful to teachers that will be appreciated but still fit my style and schedule.

This is the part I’m going to need to figure out. By nature, I actually like to be on the organizing end of things. I’ve run projects, committees, dance troupes and theatrical productions with crowds of people, complicated tasks and hard deadlines. Since Q-ster was born though, I’ve taken a big step back to protect my time for him. Work is pretty demanding, so the rest of my time needs to focus directly on family.

As the boys grow and these sorts of school opportunities come up, I’m curious to see what I’ll become in this new context - activities that aren’t solely about my family, but again for the larger community. Will I be a joiner, a driver, or an “artistic type?”

~
And on a totally unrelated note, here’s my Q-ster story of the day: The Best Use of an AT&T Catalog ever.

The little dude cut out phones for both of us and we spent the evening making 'calls' to each other. "It's Mace Windu on the phone!" sez he.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Not Nearly as Much Drama

We had our family photo session today and holy cow, we got at least two shots where all four of us are looking ok! Aside from the moments where Q-ster took his little brother’s head in his hands to move it into better position, there was very little fussing and a highly unlikely amount of cooperation from both boys.

I can’t tell if this is a reward for more challenging previous years, (year 1 – frowning baby, year 2 – toddler insistent on holding cleaning implements, year 3 – equipment and weather issues), or a warning that it will never go this well again.

It makes for a very boring blog post.

The micro dude had me up at 4:30 this morning, so I’m heading for sleep. Tomorrow, I will need to make sure that admiration of beautiful photos of beautiful children does not interfere with playing with said children.

Updated: Photo link

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Brothers

We’ll probably spend the next fifteen years telling them to be gentle with each other, but Buster still giggles with delight when his big brother knocks him over for a hug.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ma Ingalls, Watch Out

I’m totally like those plucky pioneers this weekend. They cured and salted pork, harvested and canned their own crops, filled their cellars with supplies to cook all winter. And me? I made a trip to Costco and brought home warehouse-sized packages of organic meat at warehouse prices to separate into meal-sized portions in Ziploc bags for the freezer. I even labeled and dated the bags. OK, maybe not just like the pioneers.

After a morning of holiday gift sewing projects and an evening of food prep, I’m feeling very domestic. It seems like everyone is writing about meal planning and how to save time and money with various cooking strategies. We’ll see how this goes, but I figure it can’t be worse that realizing at 11pm that there’s no food in the house for the next day.

I even hauled out the baby food book that’s been sitting idle since we got it. Buster’s first month of solids is going really well, and after throwing an armful of prepackaged jars into the shopping basket last week, I thought about making our own mushed veggies.

Q-ster is such a good eater that I’m afraid of ruining it by being too repetitive in our meals. He’ll even relish vegetables that both SwingDaddy and I dislike (Squash! Zucchini!) We’ve been incredibly lucky and want to encourage him as much as possible. I guess it’s finally time to grow up and figure out this whole cooking thing.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Books are Yummy!

I’ve often felt like I should talk to Buster more when snuggled up, or at least say something more meaningful than “Cutie, cutie, cute, cute!” After attending an educational panel last weekend, I’m going to make a greater effort.

Leapfrog sponsored a session for the Silicon Valley mom bloggers (well documented by Beth here) that could easily have been a product-push, but was instead a discussion by an education researcher from Berkeley, teachers among us, and the other moms. I was an early reader and have always enjoyed books, but it was incredibly valuable to get these new insights and reminders now that I have my own children.

Here are some highlights– not to be pedantic, but so that I remember it even when I’m sleepy!

Dr. Cunningham talked about the importance of high exposure to language at an early age. Reading out loud, especially poetry or nursery rhymes, helps children learn how language is constructed, how to play with it, and start building vocabulary.

In kindergarten and first grade, the emphasis is on phonics – sounding out words. It isn’t until third grade, when their books become dramatically more advanced, that vocabulary splits the haves and have-nots. The kids who have had lots of exposure to text already know the longer and more complicated words. The others are stuck trying to sound out things they don’t understand, and then they stop reading. Since avid readers can trump even those who are ‘smarter’ according to her university research, reading skills provide a huge advantage.

So even when kids can already read by themselves, it’s still important to read out loud or listen to story CDs or DVDs and ask them questions about what they’ve heard. The books should be a year or two ahead of what they can read solo, both advancing their vocabularies with “rare and unusual words” that don’t come up in regular speech and giving them a chance to ask parents about topics that come up.

We’ve decided to institute a regular family reading time. I realized that Q-ster never sees us read, since we relax and read after his bedtime. This week, we all sat together with our own books and read, Q-ster looking at pictures and Buster chomping on what we call his “chewy book” for teethers. We’re also reading out loud more to both boys. All the educators in the room agreed that the most important thing to children’s success was parental involvement.

Leapfrog gave us toys to match the ages of attendees’ kids, and we opened up the Tag Reading System for Q-ster tonight. He loved it. How much? Two complete hours of non-Star Wars entertainment tonight. That my friends, is no easy feat.

Thanks, Leapfrog and SV Mom Blogs!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Geography and Old Glory

Q-ster picked up a package left by our front door. "South Dakota!"

SwingDaddy and I looked at each other. Huh?

1) Why did we get a package from South Dakota?
2) If we did get a package from South Dakota, how would he know?

The little dude put down the package and brought over a piece from his puzzle map, and it all became clear.





Guess those educational toys actually work!

It turns out the package (not from South Dakota) contained a DVD autobiography of the fabulous Norma Miller, with whom we've worked in the past. It has great footage of her life onstage and in film from Harlem in the 30's and onwards. We admit to skipping ahead to the section where we appear working with her and dancing at the University, but look forward to watching the whole thing this weekend. (For more about the DVD, see here.)

One of my most prized memories of her was a business trip I took to Las Vegas, when she still lived there a few years ago. I saw all the billboards featuring stage productions and musical extravaganzas as I drove in from the airport and gave her a call to say I had arrived.

"Hi Norma! It's Lady M, of SwingDaddy and Lady M." (Yes, it's a weird pedigree, but that's how most dance teams are known. "Hi, this is Diane of Rob and Diane, leaving a message for Sharon, of Paul and Sharon.")

"How are you, dear?"

"Good! I'm in Vegas."

"What are you in?" Meaning, what show are you in? I loved that she assumed I was in town to perform in a show. Ah, glamorous days.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just Like Duck

“Hey kiddo, we’re going to go vote. Put your shoes on.”

“What’s a vote?”

“We’re going to vote for president.”

“Like Duck for President!”

“That’s right.” Once again, showing the power of fiction to help explain real life, we re-read our favorite story about how an ambitious fellow went from humble duck to running the farm, from winning the election for governor to being the first duck President of the United States. We read it two times, by request.

What a sigh of relief as the polls started to close tonight. I was so steeled against disappointment after the last two elections that I scarcely believe we have an intelligent, progressive, hard-working president-elect who believes in the equality of people. So much that I’m not disgruntled about election results trumping the TV schedule and the Dancing with the Stars results show being postponed to tomorrow.

Yay!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Dullness and Gratitude

It’s been a couple of grinding days through paperwork. Saturday night, we read all the remaining election material – every candidate, proposition and measure, and prepared our ballots. Sunday night, we scoured our company health care plans to see what far-fetched ideas they’d incorporated this year and how to best manage our medical, dental, vision, and flexible spending accounts. Tonight, we balanced checkbooks, paid bills, and reconciled credit card accounts.

Not much fun. But it was a good reminder to be grateful that in this increasing conservative country, I can vote, as an ethnic minority and as a woman. That I have access to health care for my family. That the bills are still manageable. Yep, we’re pretty lucky.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dreaming of Christmas

Since we didn't do any Halloween prep until October 30 (aside from the costume), I'm going to see if we can be a bit more prepared for Christmas. Yes, totally skipping Thanksgiving, because for me, Thanksgiving is about food and family, not decorating.

We have a real fireplace mantle now, and I want a set of hooks from which to hang stockings. Which ones to choose?

This train is adorable and would provide one hook for each of the four of us:


I also like these snowflakes:


I could also buy bases to make my own toppers, but who am I kidding? I'm never going to get around to that.


And then there are these "Fiber Optic Stocking Holders" with no explanation of what the fiber optics do. Is there some kind of lighting or electricity involved? Does Verizon offer a 20Mpbs download/upload rate to the Christmas stocking?

Question for you more veteran parents: Should I get two hooks or four? I think it would be fun to have four, but perhaps filling my own and SwingDaddy's stockings in addition to the children's will get tiresome year after year, and it would be better to do two. This is the first Christmas that Q-ster will remember well, so whatever precedent we set is the one we'll need to follow. The pressure is on!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Octopus and Mom


Jango Fett and Darth Maul Jr.
SwingDaddy’s team at work had a big Halloween shindig, so everyone was dressed up, including a clever fellow in a suit and Lehrman Brothers nametag, bearing a cardboard sign saying he’d work for food. It was amusing – adults asked SwingDaddy if he was Boba Fett, but children 12 and under knew that he was Jango Fett.

Q-ster had quite the successful foray last night. We visited several neighbors, and he said, “Trick or Treat!” and “Thank-you” at appropriate times, with the occasional reminder. There was usually a pause while the host tried to figure out whether Buster should get candy too, but we explained that he should develop more teeth before we give him caramels.