Saturday, October 30, 2010

Early Tricks and Treats

The jack-o-lanterns are carved.





There was a dry run with the costumes at downtown businesses.




Bring on Halloween!

No She Didn't

My children behaved so badly in church. Don't believe me? Well, it's true, some weeks are better than others. At this age, Madeline often must be removed. And, at his age, we still allow Benjamin a little bit of leeway with the bathroom breaks-- but not much. And, we had a very full day. The kids were up late last night carving pumpkins, up early this morning excited to begin the Halloween festivities, went to play for a while at some friends' house while Todd got his hair cut, and spent the afternoon trick-or-treating at businesses in town.

Still, there's no excuse. During the 50-minute church service--
Benjamin: took things away from the baby to make her cry, poked Maddy's eye with my sunglasses, crawled under the pew and smacked his head trying to get out, asked to go to the bathroom before the first scripture reading, wandered the length of the aisle returning from the communion procession
Elisabeth: refused to stand up, refused to kneel, refused to sit up, lay down in the pew with her jacket over her face, lay down on the floor, took off her shirt and sat in her undershirt, banged her headband on the pew in front of us
Amanda: fell asleep-- twice

I made them sit in the pew afterwards and each compose an apology to the priest (all except for Madeline, who played the 18-month card.) Then, we waited until the pastor had greeted all the other parishioners, and I made each child personally deliver her or his apology. He forgave each of them... I might.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Kindergarten Bound?

I slept fitfully during the night, due in part to one clogged nostril and due in another part to someone else in the bed passing whistling rushes of air through his unclogged nostrils. At 4:19 I awoke, to find Benjamin, naked, pacing the hall. I got out of bed and followed him.

"What's the matter?" I asked. "Somehow, my pajamas got wet, so I took them off and laid them here to dry (gestures to the foot of his bed.)" I picked up the pajamas and said, "It's pee." Then, I felt around and found the damp spot on the sheet. "You wet the bed." Ben vehemently, though pointlessly, argued the point. I considered waking The Father of Benjamin, who had reassured me it was "just fine" to give Ben "just a little bit of Propel" for which he begged at bedtime. Instead, I sent The Son to the bathroom again while I stripped the bed, stuffed him into dry pajamas and then made him a makeshift bed on the floor of our room, because I just didn't have the energy at that hour to wrestle with the backup waterproof mattress pad.

Soon, I had a Krinkeland Man snoring on each side of me. I lay there thinking about another item discussed at Ben's IEP meeting: KINDERGARTEN. Benjamin is our only child with a summer birthday. He is also, in case you didn't know, our only boy. One more point: he's just as interested in learning and as intelligent--if not more intelligent than-- his two older sisters. So, what to do about kindergarten?

Everyone has an opinion on this one: Some say, send the child at five-- he is smart and ready to learn, needs to be engaged and could use the social interaction; others say, keep him home another year-- let him mature or you're going to have behavioral problems down the road. I tend to most value the views of educators and child care providers, since they see the issue and its effects over and over again. And I have many friends, who've been in the same situation with their children, who've made different decisions, with varying degrees of success... but all have had the best intentions for their little ones and are well meaning with their advice. Still, I can only look at my child. And that does not simplify the situation.

Some factors:
*the birthday-- Ben's is mid-July, but I really wish people would quit looking at the date and just consider the kid
*the stature-- Ben is small and still displays some very mild gross motor delays; he will likely be the slowest student in gym class, no matter when he starts
*the aptitude-- cognitively, he tests way above other kids his age; Ben is also interested in writing his letters, drawing people, beginning reading skills, and arithmetic (Did I mention his vocabulary? "Mom, Madeline is literally in the basement!")
*the school-- kindergarten at our school is all-day, every day
*the social part-- Ben has a five-months-older cousin who will go to kindergarten in the fall; so will his preschool friends
*the mother-- believe it or not, I'm in no hurry to get rid of him; childhood is fleeting

Naturally, we will be consulting Benjamin's current preschool teachers and prospective kindergarten teachers before making our final decision. However, I was lamenting this issue and polling the other mothers one morning over coffee when one very smart and oh-so-rational friend asked, "What does Ben want to do?" Huh... I don't think anyone thought to ask him. So I did. He wants to go.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Progress Is in the Eye of the Beholder

We had Benjamin's biannual IEP (individualized education program) review this morning. It's a chance to meet with the people who work with Ben and those who oversee his progress. We review the services he's been receiving and the steps he's been taking, and then adjust as necessary moving forward.

In our case, Ben's IEP meeting involves the team of Ben, Mom, Dad, his developmental adaptive physical education teacher, his physical therapist, the physical impairment specialist (PI is Ben's "classification") and his case manager. Our input into the meeting consisted of updating the others on any doctors' visits, changes in diagnosis, treatment, etc. as well as sharing our views on his physical skill development and/or concerns about milestones still to be met.

Then, the others weighed in on Ben's improvements. The leader for this part of the meeting was Ben's gym teacher and main squeeze, Pam. She gave examples of goals Ben has met and we just had to agree:
*Ben can jump... off the couch.
*Ben can hop... across the wet floor tiles in the shower.
*Ben can pedal... his Big Wheel down our driveway and crash into the front porch at full speed.

Ah, progress.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Puppy Peeper

I cannot believe I just did this... I don't know what came over me... I have no explanation, no excuse-- other than the cold medicine... But, while working (translation: answering emails and cyber-shopping) on the computer, something compelled me to go here: Winterhaven Cavaliers.

And I saw this:

DO. NOT. TELL. MY. HUSBAND. OR. MY. KIDS. I already conceded to getting a puppy when Madeline goes off to kindergarten. I'll need a new baby by then. But, these babies are waiting for families now.

A decade ago, the breeder took our Eisenhower's photo in that same chair. I printed off the photo and packed it in Todd's lunch so he would agree to the dog. It worked.

I don't want a dog now. We don't need a dog. Who can handle a dog? Aren't these the cutest dogs?

Bundles

When I awoke this morning, I first noticed the sore throat, stuffy nose and pounding head of a nasty cold that had invaded my body during the night. Next, I noticed the blinking light on my phone, alerting me to school closings. In some areas, the delays were because of wind-related power outages. Further north, the closings were due to SNOW. I flipped on the television, where the weather man warned of 39-mile-per-hour wind gusts and an impending rain-snow mix for our area.

After attempting to wake the dead, (two girls who would rather lay in bed and talk all night than go to sleep,) I shuffled down to the mud room and dug out the winter jackets and hats, and scoured the storage bins for matching sets of mittens and gloves. I stopped when I got to the snow boots. Todd said, "Don't bother with all that stuff yet. It's still too warm to snow here." But, the kids were excited to bundle up in their new jackets, and were thanking me as they danced around the bus stop, protected from the gale-force winds.

Sure enough, the flakes were flying by 9:30. Why do I live here?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Am Fine

It's good to have friends.

While herding the four-year-old toward his napping destination, I lost track of the 18-month-old-- I'm not proud of that, but it happens. I found Madeline sitting at the top of the stairs, grinning like a Cheshire cat, clutching a cordless phone receiver in one hand and my cell phone in the other. I pried the phones out of her sticky fists and checked that everything said "off" or "clear" or "cancel." It did not appear as though she called 911. (Only grown men do that in our house. Remember?) So, I set down the phones and went on with the nap time rituals for both kids.

After the boy and the girl were in bed, I went into my bedroom and noticed the lights flashing on both my phones. Each one had three messages, from the same three friends. The first was calling to tell me Madeline had called her on the phone and, though they had a nice, nonsensical conversation, she was concerned because she never heard me in the background. Was I OK? Could I call her back and tell her so? The second was from a friend who lives closer than the first. Number One had called her, expressing her concern for me and asking her to go check on me. Number Two laughed, seemingly unconcerned about me, and hung up. The third call was from the friend whom Number One called after not getting the response she expected from Number Two. Number Three relayed that she reassured Number One I was probably fine, but that she would go check on me.

At that moment, the doorbell rang. I ran downstairs to assure my friend, so she could reassure my other friend, that I was fine. Sheesh. Madddy just got hold of the phone. I don't know what she did to the phone-- all the phones-- because now I can see people calling me but can't seem to make the receivers answer. So then, I had to send text messages and emails stating the state of my safety to Friends One-Three.

For the record, I'm most like Friend Number Two (hee, hee, I called her Number Two...) but I'm also really glad I have friends like Number One and Number Three.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Consume or Be Consumed

I don't know if this kind of stuff happens to other people, but, here in Krinkeland, we've had some weird run-ins in the realm of consumer-product-customer service. Some are relatively small events, such as the time the grocery store florist pressed a bouquet of roses into my hands and said, "I'm supposed to throw these out, but they're still so pretty. Please take them home and enjoy them." Or, there was the instance when I had to return the wrong thing to Target (note to self: Never send Daddy out for diapers) but the clerk gave me too much change and when I tried to help her, she scanned the area for her supervisor and pressed the money back into my hand, pleading, "Please, just go. It's fine. Go."

Other instances are kind of bigger deals. When I was a new stay-at-home mom with a baby, there was a major screw-up with a computer. Todd ordered a new PC for our home, and I was there the day the UPS guy pulled up with the delivery. He unloaded all the boxes in the front entry and left. When Todd got home, he said, "What is all this?!" Apparently, there were more boxes than items he ordered; the company had sent us an extra monitor.

The UPS man happened to deliver something else the next day, so I showed him the box and asked him to take it back. He said he couldn't, without return orders. So, I contacted the company and went about 13 rounds with their customer service department. I was first told I was wrong; two monitors could not have been sent. Next, I was told I should ship back the extra monitor-- at my own expense. When I refused, an agent agreed to send me a pre-paid return label-- but never did. I called again and eventually got the shipping label, but the company was supposed to call UPS, but apparently didn't, because no one ever returned to pick it up. That story ends with an extra computer monitor still sitting in our basement... eight years and two more PCs later.

This week, another head-scratcher. As you may recall, the dishwasher has been on the fritz. Mechanically, it still works. However, the electronics are fried, so I can't make it start when or how I want-- I just push a bunch of buttons and the machine runs itself, at some point in the 24-hour period that follows. I got out the user's manual and discovered the electronic control panel was still under warranty, so I contacted the manufacturer about a replacement part.

For the first couple conversations, various agents told me I must be mistaken; the information they had for my dishwasher didn't say that. After Todd finally copied the page out of the owner's manual and faxed it in (no joke,) a representative agreed to replace the control panel-- BUT, the warranty covered the part only, not delivery or labor. Todd said he could put in the panel; the agent said that would be OK, but the part would first have to be shipped to a licensed parts supplier and we would have to pick it up. Fine.

We waited a week and then called the name of the appliance guy as given to us by the manufacturer. He didn't know what we were talking about, and had no control panel. Later, the appliance guy called back and said the company had actually sent a whole new dishwasher, so when did we want him to deliver and install it? Todd called the company to ask. "What the...?!" and he was told the manufacturer did not have a replacement part, and did, indeed, send a whole new appliance in its place. OK. Good to know.

Todd called the guy back and said he would pay him to deliver and install the dishwasher-- because who wants to mess with that? The guy spent two hours at our house this afternoon, really wrestling with the new dishwasher, because the company had not sent any of the hardware or trim kit pieces necessary for installation. (Those are "extras," apparently.) But, now, it's in, and it works, I guess.

So, new dishwasher. I really want to know, has that ever happened to you?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Side by Side by My Sister

Tonight is closing night for "Side by Side by Sondheim," a musical revue in which my sister and my BIL both star. What, you think "star" is too strong a word for an ensemble cast? Whatever... I've already seen it so I'll be the judge. Anyway, I saw the show once last weekend and I'm going again tonight. I don't really know why I haven't yet written about it-- guess there were just so many other riveting things going on in Krinkeland.

It's a challenging show, I won't lie... not only for the performers but for the audience. Of course, millions of people adore the works of Stephen Sondheim, so it could just be me. Either way, open your ears, open your mind. If you don't have your tickets yet, you can buy them at the door; here's where to click to find out more. I'll see you tonight.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dark-- but Delicious

Another day off from school means kids finding more ways to entertain themselves in Krinkeland. This morning, Amanda and Elisabeth decided there were not enough Halloween decorations around the house, so they set out to make more. They cut out little paper ghosts and hung them on the light switches-- basically any "project" that involved leaving the caps off markers and glue sticks and creating trails of construction paper scraps.

Libby chose a sheet of brown construction paper and made a Halloween poster. It was covered with black marker ghouls, goblins, witches and specters-- very creepy. There were words on the sign, but they were written in pencil and hard to make out. I asked Libby what it said, and she read to me, "Come Over to the Dark Side, We Have Cookies."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Barbie and Freud

After a swimming outing, we went to lunch-- me, three friends, and fifteen children between us. We adults sat at a separate table from the kids (the one smart move of the day) and, somehow, talk turned to Barbies... and how we all played as little girls:

"I always got annoyed with my sister for constantly changing their clothes," the first friend said. "'They can just sleep in their clothes,' I told her."

I chimed in, "I always wanted to cut the Barbies' hair, and my mom would tell me, 'You know, it won't grow back.' But I always thought, 'Barbie looks better with a bob, anyway.'"

The third member of the group giggled, "I always made the Barbies get married... and then sleep in the same bed together."

Our fourth friend said, "I used to hang my Barbies." What?! "Yeah, we had a family friend who taught me a few cool knots, so I would fashion nooses for the dolls and execute them."

Thirty-some-odd years later, what does this say about all of us?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Head-Scratchers

Never a trendsetter, Benjamin has recently become interested in Webkinz. For the non-parents-of-young-children among us, these are stuffed animals made by the Ganz company, and each comes with a unique code that can be entered on the Webkinz website, making the stuffed things "come alive" in cyberspace. Hallmark makes a killing on these things. Our family had never heard of Webkinz, until Amanda started school... and then they were everywhere. She got five of them as birthday gifts her kindergarten year. Since that time, the girls have kind of cooled to the 'Kinz... although they do still tote around the stuffed animals and sometimes will shop for them if a particularly cute and colorful one is on display.

Benjamin got just a few Webkinz toys at the same time his sisters did-- I think others bought them for him just so he'd be included. He loves his animals, but has only this week asked to play online. With my supervision-- which she clearly does not need-- Amanda established an account for Ben. Once each code is entered, the first step is to name the animal. OK, long lead-in to the funny part:

He named his platypus "S'more." When I asked why, Ben pointed out the animal had a brown bill and brown feet, with a white body in between and dark brown eyes. Clever, right? Next up was his kitten, which Ben dubbed "Chatty Catty." That is funny to me (and my mom) on a whole, different, inside-joke level... but it reminded me not to talk about others, at least in front of my kids. Finally, Benjamin also has a Webkinz turtle. When asked what he wanted to name that animal, he shrugged and said, "Turd."

While I was still shaking my head over the son's naming rights, I wandered downstairs and Amanda followed me. It was the first time she noticed the large floral arrangement on the kitchen table. She walked over and read the card aloud: "Happy Anniversary. I love you, Todd. p.s. I miss you. XOXO" Then, the Firstborn turned and asked with all sincerity, "Awww, who are those from?"

Monday, October 18, 2010

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Today, Todd and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary-- on different continents. He sent an email message, and flowers, as any good husband would. And, he just called-- to tell me Happy Anniversary, and to tell me his trip took nine hours longer than expected due to mechanical problems with a plane and other mishaps, and to tell me goodnight... and that he wished he was home. Me, too.

It will be an exciting way to spend an anniversary week, for him. Tomorrow, Todd and his colleagues will be on-hand at a Munich hospital for the first human implant of the orthopedic device they created. If all goes well, WE'LL BE RICH! OK, that's a slight overstatement. If all goes well, Todd can presumably keep his job and the rest of us can presumably keep living off him.

I will have my own version of an exciting week, with one child recovering from pea-up-the-nose, another suffering from suspected croup, and two children getting their first dental fillings. As always, Mom and Dad, my MIL and other various relatives and friends are on-hand to help with the child care and to listen to me whine. I thought about taking myself out to a romantic dinner tonight... but settled instead on a little more than a little Bailey's in my coffee. After 14 years, it's the little things that count.

"To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with."
--Mark Twain

"People stay married because they want to, not because the doors are locked."
--Paul Newman

"I got gaps; you got gaps; we fill each other's gaps."
--"Rocky"

As for his secret to staying married: "My wife tells me that if I ever decide to leave, she is coming with me."
--Jon Bon Jovi

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Foreign Body-- Nose

We finished filling all the kids' plates and had just sat down to supper when Benjamin proclaimed, "I'm going to stick a pea up my nose!" All the adults at the table said, "No, don't!" Ben started crying, "I already did!" Great, my husband has been gone for five hours, and already, a medical (ha!) emergency.

My sister took the lead; she is the expert in this arena since her Number One Son did the exact same thing at a Sunday dinner a couple years back. It soon became apparent Benjamin was incapable of blowing-- he just kept spitting all over her. Then, she went after him with the bulb syringe (you know, that light blue, suck-y thing you use to clear the nasal passages of infants,) but still had no success. Benjamin continued to be hysterical throughout, which did not help matters any. My BIL looked up Ben's nose with a flashlight to confirm existence and placement of said pea, and then he looked up possible concerns and solutions on his iPhone (his specialty.)

I locked Ben in the bathroom with me, tried a blowing tutorial and even went after him with a tweezers, but all was in vain. I asked the other adults in attendance whether it was really necessary to seek medical intervention now... I mean, maybe his boogers would slime up the thing and it would gradually just come out. It wasn't going to get infected within the hour, was it? No, my mom pointed out, but it could become dislodged while Ben was sleeping and he could aspirate it into his lung. [Insert exasperated sigh here.]

I happen to know two families with toddlers who have aspirated popcorn kernels into their lungs. For real. Two kids, of similar ages, with intelligent, educated mothers, who watched their kids carefully while eating and who could have done the Heimlich Maneuver if required. But, each child stood up suddenly or was jostled by someone else and seemed to choke on the popcorn but swallow it. The problem showed up overnight or the next day, with fever and wheezing and other nasty, scary stuff. Please, people, no popcorn for the little ones.

Apparently, it is also unsafe to give them steamed peas.

Since all the relatives were still gathered and could assist with the other children, I packed up Ben and headed to the emergency room. Of course it was the emergency room... We missed the closing of urgent care by 27 minutes. Luckily, all was quiet in the waiting room; no blood and no barf in sight.

While Ben was in triage, one of my friends who is an ER nurse came around the corner to greet us. She asked Ben why he stuck a pea up his nose, and this launched another round of hysterics. Mostly, I think he was just embarrassed, as well he should be. After running into another friend who was in the ER with her son, who had a bum foot, we were shown to a room and a doctor. He came in, shoved a balloon catheter up Ben's nose, inflated the balloon and knocked out the pea. It even took the doc a couple of attempts, so that made me feel we had at least gotten our copay's worth.

Benjamin wailed that his nostril hurt, as well it should. He vowed to never again stick a pea-- or anything else-- up his nose. My friend gave him three stickers and off we went, with discharge instructions on after-care for "Foreign Body-- Nose." That got me thinking about what other things could be shoved in what other places. Gross.

At this point, I'm sure my family would want me to share the story of my day in kindergarten, when the teacher was out of the room (who would leave a class of five-year-olds unattended?!) and we were supposed to be paying attention to a book and record. The teacher had a vase of pussy willow stems on top of the piano. One of those pussy willows ended up my nose. The story goes that the boy sitting next to me held me down and shoved the pussy willow up my nose. A lot of blowing, some endless minutes in the coatroom, and a forced apology later, and the incident was resolved. It all seems implausible, I know, but the story has held for 31 years. Why change history now?

p.s. For the eldest child's version of "The Prince and the Pea," click here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pen-t Up Frustration

Benjamin takes apart ink pens. I don't know why he does this, don't know how he started, don't know how to get him to stop. I'm sure it is some sign of his vast brilliance, but it is so ANNOYING. Ben is perfectly capable of putting the pens back together, except, EXCEPT, before he does so, he always manages to lose the little springs. Ben also loves to take mechanical pencils and click, click, click out all the lead. I've been thinking of switching to crayon, as the official writing medium of Krinkeland-- but Madeline eats those.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tracking the Ivories

A friend recently sent an email that she is looking for a piano. If any of you know of someone who wants to get rid of a piano, please float me a line and I will let her know. Some families get pianos passed down from relatives. I know a few people who've found pianos on Craig's List. Todd and I got our piano the old-fashioned way-- after much research, plenty of negotiation, and careful consideration, we bought it from a piano dealer.

There is a Krinkeland protocol for making any major purchase. For Todd, this involves researching the various makers, brands, models, materials, options, and upgrades. For me, this involves waiting for Todd to make up his mind and agreeing whatever he decides is the best. Therefore, by the time we were ready to buy a piano, there really wasn't much to it.

Todd had chosen a make and model, which came in a specific size and color. There were maybe a half-dozen dealers in the five-state area who had-- or could get-- such an instrument. He found one family-owned store that happened to have the piano we wanted, still crated but on-site, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. So, one Saturday morning, with a bare living room corner and money to burn, off we went.

Now, one might think that a couple willing to travel to another state in search of a piano is pretty set on making a purchase. However, history will show that this same couple drove twice the distance to visit a dog breeder, spent the day playing with the puppy, and then turned around and left with an empty kennel in the backseat because one member of the couple determined that dog was "not a quality representation of the breed standard." The other half of that couple cried all the way home.

However, much like choosing a puppy, choosing a piano can be a fun experience, because a piano is not a necessity. What I mean is, without the pressures of need or tight budget or screaming kids, this purchase did not have to happen. Of course, I assumed all the while it would. And, I'm sure, so did the guy at Morgan Music-- that is, until he'd spent some time with Todd.

Following repeated phone conversations, Todd walked in and shook hands with this guy (Greg? Mark? Why can't I remember his name?! According to the website, it has to be either Rich or Todd, but those don't seem right.) He couldn't really show us the piano, because it was still in the crate, and there would be no reason to set it up in the showroom if it was just going to be packed up again and moved. But, we had the catalog and we'd seen photos. So, really, it was just a matter of getting this guy's perspective on whether this was the right piano for us (like he's going to suggest otherwise-- how many grand pianos does he really sell each day in Eau Claire, Wisconsin?!) And then, and then, we had to negotiate price.

All couples have their strengths, and this is one where Todd and I really shine. Again, if the purchase is a big one and it's not a necessary one-- as opposed to the time we had to buy a new car because ours was oh-so-dead on the side of the road-- then, it's kind of fun. I don't know where the price started, but I'm sure it was high. I also know Todd had a number in his head that he was willing to pay, a figure he could put on a check and have no trouble going to sleep that night. The two men kept volleying their offers, but no agreement could be reached. Finally, I suggested we take a break and go to lunch to mull over our decision.

I don't really remember the exact figures from that day. (I truly have no brain capacity for big-ticket items-- can't even tell you the purchase price of our house. I look at it as a gift God gave me, much like childbirth amnesia.) But, anyway, Todd and I agreed we were going to walk away if the seller didn't come to our price. Then, we went back to the store.

Here's the fun part: I know it's hard to believe, but in these big negotiations, I'm actually the good cop. Todd drives the hard bargain while I play nicey-nicey, which is quite enjoyable, since it is obviously not what comes naturally to me. So, the piano salesman had established his "bottom line" and Todd drew his-- $200 lower. They tensely, but politely, argued back and forth, until it appeared both men were willing to walk away from the deal. All the while, I was wandering the store, touching all the drum sets and chatting up the clerks... and eavesdropping.

Todd made motions to leave, and I'd already been with him enough years at this point to know he was serious. I smiled and shrugged and headed in his direction-- and then I stopped. I made a little speech about us having come all this way, and about what a pity it would be for the guy to lose the sale, and then I batted my eyelashes (heck, yeah, I can do that!) and asked, "Why don't the two of you meet in the middle? Todd, you could pay $100 more, and (other guy) you could take just $100 less."

The deal was done and everyone signed on the dotted line. We even got the sellers to deliver the piano all the way to our house. We paid a fair price for the piano, the store owner unloaded a huge instrument from the inventory, and everyone was happy. It was, and is, a beautiful instrument, something that continues to bring music and joy into our home. Furthermore, Todd and I have referred many people to this store, including my BIL, who has bought numerous pianos for his school district's music program. See, everyone wins.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Incentive, Encouragement, Motivation... OK, Bribe

Elisabeth asked me this morning whether she could receive a prize every time she shows good work on her spelling tests. (Four weeks of school have netted four perfect spelling tests for the Divine Miss L.) I assured her, just as I have whenever a similar question has come up from her older sister, that performing well in school is part of her job; it's what's expected of her; the only certain reward for completing and excelling at one's work is pride in a job well done. She rolled her eyes but didn't seem all too surprised with my answer.

It's pretty much my same attitude on giving kids an allowance. I recognize that, at some point, we will have to work out some monetary system with the children because we cannot be bottomless ATMs. At present, however, their father and I provide for their every need and there is no reason for them to have their "own" money. We talk about the value of a dollar when shopping for a gift for a birthday party. They ask why I buy things on sale or on clearance and I explain. They are allowed to spend some portion of the money they receive as gifts. But, when it comes to payment for doing chores around the house... well, they'll see a check as soon as I do.

Still, I was thinking along these same lines later in the day in regard to students taking standardized tests. At the girls' school, they are wrapping up fall assessment for MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) testing. I started stewing about Amanda, and our concerns that she does not challenge herself academically, and may not be challenged enough by teachers and others in school. Last year-- the first year she took these standardized tests-- her scores did not change much from fall to spring. If we take those results to a very basic level, it could be suggested Amanda is not learning enough over the course of the school year.

So, then, I thought to myself, is there a way to "encourage" her academically and, therefore, to improve her future test scores? Is it totally sick to dangle a carrot, like, if your MAP scores go up at least 10 points each in math and reading in the spring, we'll buy you a Wii? Or, maybe, what I really need to be doing is incentivizing the teacher... If Amanda's test scores go up, I'll buy you a car. I'm just kidding... I know this is probably all sick and wrong, and there are too many other factors that go into standardized test scores, and I don't have the cash required to buy anyone a car.

But we cannot deny that sometimes bribes work. For example, my husband sent a text message today telling me they were starting to get patients lined up in Germany and he would have to leave again on Sunday. (You see, texting is the best method of communication to relay that information because it is impossible to get screamed at in response.) I told him that since Monday is our wedding anniversary, maybe be better think about taking me along on that trip. Wait, that's not a bribe-- that's a threat.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Announcing...

It is with equal parts pride and trepidation that I announce the creation of a new blog: Krinkeland Kids. Yes, yes, yes. My two big girls have been hounding me for months to help them create their own blog. I kind of thought it was a phase and they would get over it... but, they didn't.

I really have no idea what this blog is going to involve-- I just know it means more work for me. Although they are, without a doubt, more technologically savvy than their mother, my children are not permitted to use the computer without permission and supervision. So, their blog will be managed by me and stored under my profile. This means, whenever one or both of the girls posts something, it will be attributed to "the Queen of Krinkeland." However, I can assure you, the words are all theirs.

All of Krinkeland Kids is theirs. The girls chose the background and the layout, as well as the photos and additional page elements, such as the "Challenge Words" widget. They are hoping to add more items, including a "Joke of the Day" but we've had some difficulty finding a source with only clean jokes. The girls wrote their inaugural post together... and I resisted the urges to correct their spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Remember, they are only eight and seven. And they are very excited.

So, when you are checking in on Krinkeland, be sure to hop over to Krinkeland Kids, too. I know they look forward to your visits, your comments and your suggestions. I know I am hoping they will soon lose interest. Me and my big ideas.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Information Age

While I'm sure there are parents who are more strict, there are certainly many who are more lenient when it comes to their children's access to technology and the various means of communication. My eight-year-old does not have a cell phone. No text messaging or IM-ing for her. She also can't use the computer without permission, and then has access only to pre-approved games and research sites. I don't even let her call friends on the land line-- unless I'm standing right there and the call is for a specific purpose.

When one of Amanda's friends emailed her (via her mother's account and my account) with some important information, I relayed it, and supervised the exchange. Now, I think it's so cute, I have to share:

Hi Amanda ,I am getting glasses .I am getting my glasses on the 18th .

Love sophia
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Hey Sophia I heard you were getting glasses.Its going to be hard for me to get used to that.I have some questions to ask you what color are they ?I bet they're going to be pink. Did you want glasses or not? are you going to get a case for them?
Love,
Amanda

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I like glasses. They come with a caseThay are pink with puple and yellow butterfly on the side.

Love sophia

Monday, October 11, 2010

Read to Me

When I was a little girl, my dad made a habit of reading to us at bedtime. Before we were able to read very well ourselves, he introduced us to wonderful stories, from the Chronicles of Narnia to Little House on the Prairie. I still remember lying in bed and hearing a chapter or two each night.

It's a tradition I've continued with my children. Well, to be honest, it's a tradition I started with my children. And then they stopped it. By the time Amanda was a first grader, she insisted on reading the chapter books to me. And, Elisabeth never liked the books I chose, or would prefer to wander off to cuddle with Daddy and watch TV instead of listening to me read. Then, the girls started asking for time to read by themselves before I turned out the lights each night. So, I gave up-- for a while.

Today, at nap time, I offered to start a chapter book with Benjamin. He was excited about the prospect, and we chose "Fantastic Mr. Fox" by Roald Dahl. I figured the boy would like it because there's action and it's a little dark. We got through three or four of the short chapters. Of course, as soon as the older girls got home from school, Ben told them we were reading a chapter book together. And that was the end of that.

When bedtime rolled around, Libby announced to me that my services were no longer needed. She and Amanda were now going to read to Ben, and it wasn't going to be "Fantastic Mr. Fox"-- because that's Libby's book and she didn't want it residing on Ben's night table. So, Amanda offered up another Dahl tale, "The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me." They wouldn't even let me listen.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A 10 of a Day

We marked 10-10-10 by getting ready for winter. A real shame, since it was another beautiful day weather-wise... but, who knows how many nice days we have left before Mother Nature turns on us. Todd and I took the kids out for the last boat ride of the season. The children asked if they could go tubing, but, we assured them, though the air was 80 degrees, the lake water definitely was NOT. It didn't stop Madeline from trying to jump off the back of the boat. Has anyone yet found a way to reason with a one-and-a-half-year-old?

Today after church, Dad and Teddy came over to help take out the boat and the Jet Ski, the lifts and the dock. I burned sticks and leaves, put away sand toys, and stacked up patio furniture, since I'm not much help at the rest of that stuff. After the bulk of the work was done in Krinkeland, the guys headed out to Mom and Dad's house, and took out their dock, too.

It doesn't seem as though my brother got enough enjoyment out of the lake places and lake toys for all the work he put in. Then again, neither did we. Raising little kids and overseas business trips aren't really compatible with relaxing at the lake. But, I sure did enjoy being outside today and just taking in the view.

Oh, and I threw in some photos from our annual visit to the apple orchard with Jason, Maren, Lucas, Noah and Julia... because it was also a gorgeous day yesterday, and because they're all so stinkin' cute!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Buffalo Ink

At the fire station open house, Benjamin wanted a temporary tattoo, but, when he lifted his shirt, the volunteers giggled... said there weren't too many places left to mark:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday's Rays


It was another day of sunny skies and really warm temps. I am not complaining. I dread winter so much, I'll hang onto these conditions for as long as possible, and try to somehow store up the heat and light so that I can pull from my reserves come January.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

He Speaks, I Laugh

I took Benjamin for his preschool screening through the school district. It was a cross between a formality and a waste of time since (1) he has already been thoroughly evaluated through the district's early childhood and special education departments and (2) we plan to send him to a private school that prefers to do its own assessment. However, we got the letter reminding us to do this, and I am a rule-follower, so, we did it.

Nothing so exciting happened, as when I took Amanda and, frustrated she could not copy one of the example block towers, she threw the blocks across the room. Ben was polite and focused, answered all questions and answered them thoroughly. The evaluators were most impressed with his vision, something about the speed at which he could switch from one eye to the other and see clearly; and they were also wowed by Ben's vocabulary and verbal skills.

This is no surprise, as it has been the case with all the Krinkeland offspring. However, you never know-- just this morning, Ben was telling me a story about Amanda climbing a "porcupine" tree, and, a few days ago at Grandma's house, he asked me to push him on the "tater-totter."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The 10 Percent Club

Elisabeth had her seven-year well-child checkup. Since-- knock on wood-- my children are rarely really sick, we don't see the pediatrician often. So, I actually look forward to these physicals just to get some idea of my children's health. I don't think Libby so much minded the one-on-one attention, either.

The doctor was running especially late, so Libby had to find lots of ways to entertain herself in the exam room. After I would not let her play games on my phone, she started pumping the ball on the blood pressure cuff. She was really disappointed when I told her no, nothing would explode. Then, she hopped up on the exam table, faked sleep, and wiggled around on the paper, so it would look "used" and claimed to the nurse it was that way when we arrived. Finally, just before the doctor and her med student appeared, Libby removed the shoulder strap from my hand bag and strung it across one corner of the room, declaring that area the "reserved section." Then, she stuck herself in it and pretended to be too important to answer the pediatrician's questions.

The highlight of the visit was Libby's position on the growth chart. She has climbed into the 10th percentile for weight! That is quite an accomplishment for our little Popsicle stick, two years of butter and french fries in the making; she is 42 pounds. Elisabeth holds steady at the 40th percentile for height, just under four feet. (She makes it with shoes.) "Really, only the 40th?" Daddy asked later. "She seems so tall." Big personality.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Home

Todd is home. He is jet lagged... now comatose... and will probably have to go overseas again in just a week or two... (Debbie Downer, I know.) But he is home.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Love Note

Everyone is a bit out of whack here in Krinkeland. With Daddy's long absence, we're all emotional and getting on each others' nerves. Grandma asked the other day how things were going and Amanda said, "Well, Mommy yells a lot." When I had to take Madeline out of church because she was misbehaving, Benjamin threw a royal fit for Grandma and Grandpa because he thought I wasn't coming back. Yesterday, Ben started a conversation with, "Well, if Daddy's not home by Christmas..." And the Happiest Baby in the World refused to smile this morning when I took her to get her photo taken; she just stuck out her lip and batted her long eyelashes over those baby blues.

The biggest challenge in terms of dealing with feelings is Elisabeth. She doesn't say much, ever. Sometimes she'll give me a look, and I know I'm supposed to understand-- but I don't. The past two days, Libby has been extremely upset over not being able to find her "Sqwishies." These are little rubber animals that she buys for a quarter from the vending machine outside the Family Dollar store. The children beg me, and Grandma, and anyone else who will give audience, to take them there, and to give them quarters, on a daily basis. Anyway, they beat me down on Saturday; I gave 'em each a buck and enjoyed 45 seconds of silence in the front seat of the car. By Saturday night, Libby's were lost.

I know they'll turn up somewhere, sometime. I scolded Elisabeth for not keeping track of her toys. But, I'm not trying to teach her a lesson-- I didn't touch the things, and I don't think her siblings did either, unless Madeline flushed them... a distinct possibility, now that I think of it. Anyway, this morning, Libby was beside herself over not being able to find the Sqwishies before she left for school. She cried and whined and hung on my legs. I pried her off and sent her on her way.

When Libby returned from school, she marched into the house and said, "I don't want to tell you about my day. I knew you were going to ask, so I wrote you this note:"

I had a bad day mom I mist you more then maddy today i mist you sooooooooooo much that I almot crid I love you soooooooooooo much mom soo that is waie I wrot this soo you wood now how I falt I love you soooooo much mommy

Poor Elisabeth. The only way this day could get worse would be if she knew I shared her letter with all of you.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Weekend in Pictures

HERE






THERE




Does Not Suck

My mom came over to watch the younger kids while I was out with the older ones. When I returned two hours later, the first thing Mom told me is, "Your vacuum doesn't work. It isn't spinning in there. You probably need to clean out the filter."

First thought: Great, my house is so filthy, the minute I leave Mom gets to work cleaning it.
Second thought: Yay, Mom cleaned my house!
Third thought: The vacuum has a filter?
Fourth thought: Where is my blasted husband when I need him?!

We have one of those bagless vacuums-- a cheap one. We used to have an expensive, bag vacuum. But, then it broke, and it cost a lot to fix it. So, when it needed repairs a second time, we ditched it. I bought the new vacuum a year or so after we moved into this house. Our home is outfitted with central vac lines, and, one of these days, we will be investing in a central vac system. When the central vac will be up and running is another of the great Krinkeland mysteries. In the meantime, the cheap vacuum works just fine. It's heavy, but it works-- I mean, worked.

After Mom left, I first took out the dirt cylinder and emptied it. Well, I first ate four of the chocolate peanut butter cookies she brought... then, I took on the vacuum. I basically disassembled the thing, until I found the pleated filter. Turns out, the filter was difficult to find because it was covered in so much filth. The instructions on the vacuum said to tap the filter to release any dirt particles. I pounded the filter against the garbage can, the garage door, and the driveway, but the sludge would not budge.

Finally, I took all the loose parts (none appeared motorized) into the kitchen and scrubbed them in the kitchen sink. Every surface of those vacuum parts was coated with a kind of dark purple dried mud. I believe the recipe is one part Cheerios crumbs to four parts regular dirt to three parts red wool fibers from the front entry rug.

I left the filter and other parts to dry on a towel on the kitchen counter. This evening, they were still damp, and still dirty. So, I took a toothpick to each individual filter pleat and gouged out more hunks of the purplish gunk. It took, oh, an hour to go through all the pleats. But, I swear I heard the filter mumble, "Aah, I can breathe again."

Can you imagine being the vacuum cleaner in a home with four little kids, sand from a beach, and grass clippings from a man who comes inside from mowing the lawn and, for no reason whatsoever, traipses from one end of the house to the other? Suck-y job.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Warning: Whining... but It's My Truth

I just got a call from the hubby (it's bedtime in Germany) telling me he will not be coming home this weekend; it will likely be the middle of next week. I will not go into the explanation I got... (I guess it makes sense to him and those other rocket scientists with whom he works.) This new estimated return makes this the single longest business trip he's taken, and the longest we've ever been apart-- forget me parenting solo the four kids, it's the longest absence in our marriage.

Whenever Todd is gone, for any length of time, my thoughts immediately go to my cousin and to Todd's stepsister, both of whom are mothers who are married to Army officers; each husband has been deployed overseas for months at a time. OK, they get the gold star. I couldn't do it. Then, I think of a friend who also has four young children and her husband's job requires him to be gone every other week, always. Then, I think of another friend, who I just talked to yesterday, whose husband has been away on business every week this month; he comes home Saturday and Sunday and then leaves again.

Then, I think of a friend whose husband was out of work for six months and took up residence on the living room couch. When he did get a new job, it required him to be gone all week-- and she was THRILLED, called it her "vacation."

Then, I think of a friend, married for 10 years with four young children, who recently confessed she and her husband have never spent a night apart. She was appalled that I didn't have my kids sleeping in bed with me, and intimated she-- at this point-- might just have died from loneliness. Now, that might be a little creepy... and it reminds me of that Kathy Mattea song Lori Simpson sang at the High School Pops Concert:


OK, back to me. The point is: I know how many families out there have it rougher than we do, how many women work harder and live lonelier than I do. In fact, in some ways, I admire them-- that they have found a way to pull up their inner strength and power through. They must feel so accomplished. When my partner is gone, I feel as though I am in a holding pattern, just doing the minimum to get by, waiting for him to return so we can keep living.

And I am grateful to my husband, for the hard work he puts in, to always make sure he his providing for all of us. I truly can't imagine that pressure. And I know he is dedicated to his work; I've always told him, since he does have to go to work every day, (and, believe me, we need him to go to work every day) then, at least, I hope he is doing something he loves.

But, I also remember meeting my husband when I was all of 18 years old, accepting his proposal at age 20, and beginning to plan our lives together without a clue as to what life actually held. Even then, even then, I had some sense of what I could handle, what I was willing to "put up" with. I said I wouldn't marry a doctor (at least, not a surgeon-- a podiatrist would probably be fine.) I said I couldn't marry a military man. I said I didn't want to marry a police officer, a pilot, or a long-haul trucker.

All are worthy and admirable professions. I'm really glad, thankful, indebted that we have people who do these jobs and do them well. But I know myself, and I know the life I'm trying to lead-- and I could not lead it with an absentee husband. Maybe I'm just too dependent. Lazy. Weak.

During a recent discussion of his heavy travel itinerary, I tried to share my perspective: I told Todd I willingly gave up a successful career for the call to motherhood-- I haven't looked back, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I embrace the Mommy "job" with gusto, and I work really hard to be an even better mother than I was a professional. But, no matter how hard I work, I feel like a failure... because I could be the Best Mom in the World, but I still couldn't be Dad.

Man, I don't know if I should post this. Somehow in my segmented brain, the mammogram tale isn't personal at all-- but this kind of cuts to the quick. I share with love. I thank the family and friends who are always supporting, helping, lifting me up out of my whining. I ask you not to judge if you see me and the kids at McDonald's again this week, and, for heaven's sake, please don't tell Todd.