Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grahamism of the Day

In a matter of weeks, my baby went from soft-spoken babbler to Sir Won't-Shut-Up.  He is constantly talking to me in full sentences and is, himself, reveling in his budding vocabulary.

So why is it that when I want him to talk-- when I'm encouraging it-- all I get are one-word answers?

"Good morning, Graham!  Did you sleep well?"


"Did you dream about me?"


"Are you ready to get up?"


"Should we get dressed and have some breakfast?"


"Do you really like that word?"


"Can you say anything else?"


"You know that I love you, right?"


"Do you love me?"


 "That hurts my feelings because I love you!  Do you think that was a nice thing to say?" 


And another one bites the dust.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Easy as A, B, C

Cael is really enjoying his time in preschool.  He seems to be making strides in his patience with others, and I haven't received any notice of additional time-outs for poor behavior.  But so far, Cael hasn't made much progress on his reading.  Part of the problem is that, because of his October birthday, he is attending the 3-year-old preschool class at four years old, and the class can only work at the level of the slowest (or in this case, youngest) student. 

But that hasn't stopped us from continuing to work on letters at home.  He knows most of them in uppercase, but gets confused by the similar-looking symbols of "u", "m" and "n", as well as several others that can be written in multiple ways, like "a" or "g".  Each time Graham brings me a book to read, the three of us will sit and hear the story, and then Cael will point out the letters he can identify.  It's a slow system, but one that I hope will lead to his literacy sooner rather than later.

So you can imagine my surprise when Cael started rattling off letters on his kid's menu at lightning speed as we dined at Steak 'N Shake.  

"T-I-C, T-A-C, T-O-E!"

"Yes, great job--"

But as my eyes drifted to Cael, I saw that he was busy with his paper hat and not looking at his menu at all.  Graham, however, was chattering away and pointing out each and every letter on his menu.

I was simultaneously proud and embarrassed for not having worked on letters with him-- not even once-- as I was concentrating my reading efforts on my one child of reading age.... or so I thought.  In fact, the more I thought about it, I was sure it had to be a fluke.  How many children teach themselves to read without being prompted even once?

So I wrote out the alphabet on the back of my placemat, sure that this test would discount Graham's sudden genius.  Once all 26 letters were accounted for, I slid the paper in front of him and asked him to read.

"A, B, C, D, E, F, G!"

Like he'd known them all along.

The only problem is that with Graham reading letters fluently, Cael sees less purpose in learning them himself as long as he has his little brother by his side.  I feel much this way about math as my smartphone has a calculator, but this story isn't about me.  It's about my overachiever son and his older brother who might forever be copying over his shoulder.

Now Graham, the little show-off, is toddling around the house pointing out letters and items that showcase his new-found brilliance. 

"Geen balloon!"

"'R', Mama!" pointing out the letters on my shirt.

And very quickly he began compounding his interests... 

"Red shirt, boo 'R'!"

Yesterday colors, today letters, tomorrow HTML code.  I think it's only fair.


(This post is a continuation of yesterday's story.  Click to read the previous post.)

We quickly rushed home from our jaunt into town as soon as we saw the look of oncoming flu on Cael's face.  (For those of you unfamiliar with the look of flu, it is a paleness best described as a cross between albino and death).  Cael slept through much of the car ride and went straight down for his nap when we got home, Joel and I relieved that the holey Walmart bag we'd given him for an emergency sick bag was still empty.

When he woke up, the color was back in his face and he came upstairs, announcing, "I want lunch!".  Knowing the pattern that Joel's flu had taken three days earlier, I managed to avoid feeding him and complimented my own foreshadowing skills as soon as Cael started getting sick in a plastic garbage can liner. 

Two down, two to go.

As sick as Joel was, however, Cael was the picture of health even though he wasn't the sound (or the smell) of it.  He'd run around the house, playing normally, and then crash on the couch for a moment or two before getting sick again.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

By bedtime that evening, Cael was through the worst of it and woke up Saturday morning feeling himself again.  But as grateful as I was that my eldest had recovered, I found myself living in constant fear that Graham would fall ill.  Every time I laid him down, I prompted Graham to call me if he felt sick, and when he woke up crying, an uncharacteristic behavior for him, I was SURE he'd gotten sick.

My fear for Graham was justified, given his hospitalization last February for a serious bout of stomach flu that left him severely dehydrated and with low blood sugar.  My fear for myself was secondary but proved to be the most debilitating. 

I was sure I'd catch the flu.  I knew it.  I found myself analyzing and second-guessing every choice I made. 

Should I eat that leftover stuffing?  Is that really what I want to revisit in a few hours?  Is the pecan pie really worth it?  (It totally is, by the way.)  Perhaps I should stick to a banana.  Or soup.  Something soft that will come up as easily as it went down?  Maybe I shouldn't leave the house in case I get sick.  Or should I bring a bucket along?

As of today, I still haven't caught the flu.  But have I just jinxed myself?

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Ours, as you might expect, was interesting and unexpected.

I had been eagerly anticipating the opportunity to host the Thanksgiving feast at our house, not only because we are the only family members in town with enough room for thirteen people, but also because my Martha Stewart gene flares up whenever there is mention of a party or gathering.  After all, there are only so many occasions that allow for clove-studded oranges.

But then Joel got sick.  Like green-in-the-face sick.  And even though he was better by Wednesday morning and back his normal self by that evening, I could sense the fear in the quivering voices of my family members as they said, "It should be okay" when I asked about attending Thanksgiving in our home.  So just as I had predicted, the festivities were moved up the street to my Dad's thus far germ-free house. 

Problem solved?  Not so much.  The question of the hour quickly became the safety of my husband attending the meal in his weakened condition.  Was he still contagious?  Would we have a repeat of the Great Thanksgiving Flu of 2002?

With no way to predict the future and me unwilling to leave my husband for Thanksgiving dinner, there was only one thing to do.  I delivered the turkey, side dishes, plates and other accoutrements to Papa's house and continued to our local grocery store to purchase a chicken or any other edible bird that remained less than 24 hours before Thanksgiving.

I quickly got to work thawing the chicken in a water bath just as I had just days before, and instead of hoping for health for my family, I begged for the virus to end with Joel.  Please, please, please! 

After thawing and cleaning the chicken, I handed it over to Joel to violate with chunks of apple, onion and celery.  With the leftover apple and the orange I had hoped to use for mulled cider, he pinned fruit slices to the top of the bird and tossed it on the grill with some wood chips and a meat thermometer to gauge our temperature and keep up from over-cooking the chicken.

I saved a bit of the squash for us before contributing it to the rest of the family, but needed some sides to accompany our newer, much smaller bird.  I picked up some green beans, some stuffing and whipped up another package of instant potatoes.

 And then we waited.  And waited.  For the two hours we expected it to take, and then another two hours after that.

I got a phone call that my family was done eating over at my Dad's house and that my sister would, courageously, brave the illness that hung in the air in our home to deliver leftovers to us despite the fact that we still hadn't eaten.  Graham's bedtime came and went, and then Cael's, leaving us to constantly dole out small piles of Cheerios to keep their hungry tummies happy.  With the aroma of several pans of delicious Thanksgiving fare wafting to our noses, we ourselves picked at leftovers until we finally pulled the chicken out when it came within two degrees of the "goal temperature", only to discover that the meat inside was about two more hours away from cooked, so we quickly threw it on our grill pan and finished the job on the stove.

When we finally sat down at the table I'd decorated for just the four of us (two of whom couldn't care less) we looked wide-eyed at the spread of food on the table and realized that none of us were hungry anymore.

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We pushed a few bites of food around on our plates, Joel testing out his slow-cooked chicken and me devouring a small pile of stuffing simply because it was Thanksgiving and that's what one does on Thanksgiving.

And with that, the kids were off to bed and Joel and I stared at the heaping mound of leftovers from two Thanksgiving meals.  Then we looked at our normal-sized refrigerator.  And back at the food.

The next day, after successfully storing the tupperware containers of food more tightly than Jenga pieces, we ventured into Cedar Rapids well after the Black Friday rush had subsided.  Needing to get a few groceries, we visited the store and packed our purchases, along with a Radio Flyer trike for Graham's Christmas gift into the van, and then we looked back and saw Cael looking a little "iffy". 

And then Friday went from "black" to worse...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!  And guess what... we're thankful for YOU!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Do You Believe in Fairies?

Tomorrow is the big day, and we are hosting Thanksgiving in a big way.  My entire family is getting together for the first time in years, and in order to accommodate 13 people but leave enough leftovers to execute the "Moistmaker", we have purchased a robust 22 pound turkey that we hope to grill.

That is, if the nasty stomach bug that seems to have my husband in its clutches lets up in time.  But unfortunately, this isn't the first time someone has gotten sick around this most food-related holiday.  Or the second.  Or the third. 

For about as long as I have been involved with Joel, our family has been visited annually by the aptly named "Stomach Flu Fairy".  The first year my sister played the role of the fairy, unknowingly exposing each diner to the virus.  As everyone returned home after the feast they were hit, one by one, leaving my Dad and I the only ones unaffected and Joel in the unfortunate position of being grossly sick at the home of his future father-in-law.

The trend continued year after year, with last year being the only exception as some members of our family battled swine flu rather than the more belly-turning variety.  So yesterday, when I pulled our rock hard bird from the freezer and into a cold water bath, I kept my fingers crossed that all would go well.

Perhaps I should have shared that sentiment with my husband.

You see, this year WE are the stomach flu fairies.  We, the holiday hosts, are the bearers of bad news and queasy tummies.  The turkey, sunning itself on my refrigerator shelf, will likely be making its final flight over to my Dad's house for the big day, and my plans for mulled cider and pinecone napkin rings will just have to wait.

It's okay, though.  The details don't make the day-- what's most important is that we are together to share in the season, right? 

You let me know and I'll text Joel.  He's upstairs and I'm sleeping on the couch.  

I don't want anything to do with that.

(Happy Thanksgiving, friends!  I will be back on Monday to let you know how it all turned out.  Wish us luck-- Friday is Joel's birthday and in his current state, cake won't be necessary...)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Cael has great hair.  He inherited my curls but without the frizz-- Joel's thick, soft locks but still maintained the blonde.  But there's one problem... he has way too much of it.

I've trimmed it in the past, but for the last 6 months or so I've been forbidden to cut it under penalty of Joel.  Even though I have resisted, Joel frequently comes home and proclaims, "You cut his hair!" even when I've been much too busy refilling sippy cups and surgically removing plastic coins from the DVD player to consider giving a haircut.

But in the last month I've trimmed my sister's hair, given my nephew a haircut and begun the process of shearing Oscar back to a presentable state.  In fact, it seems like the two people whose hair I haven't cut are the ones who need it most.

Just days before Graham was born, I gave Cael his first haircut.  We loved his bouncy curls, but as his hair got longer, the "Oh, she's so cute!" comments grew exponentially and we knew it was time for a trim.  At the time, we opted to shorten the "wings", the hair on the sides of his head that led to a Bozo-esque appearance that was more laughable than adorable.

And the haircut helped.  But we learned that the shorter we trimmed his hair, the straighter it became, so for future haircuts I had to restrain myself as much as possible to keep him looking like himself and to keep myself out of the doghouse.  I don't like it in there... it's full of fur.

Graham has had several at-home haircuts, most of which accomplished the task of shortening his hair but left him with a 1980's vintage bowl-cut inspired "do".  I attempted the first and then reluctantly handed over the clippers to Joel who had a steadier hand and no fear of temporarily marring our second born.

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Recalling those experiences led me to the computer to search for photos to support my cause.  It was at that point I realized that Cael's last trim was last September 28th of 2010-- over a full year ago!  And it shows.  When he's in the bathtub, his soft locks tumble down his back and I can only help but to feel jealous on behalf of women everywhere. 

So with Joel's objections in mind, I made an executive decision.  I decided to forego the haircut in exchange for another "wing trim" that would hopefully buy us time before pageant scouts try to enroll him in the "Little Miss Potty Mouth" contest.  I very carefully trimmed less than an inch of hair from the sides and tossed in a touch of mousse to put the bounce back in his mane.  He looked great.

The next day, Cael rattled the walls at preschool and after I picked him up, we headed to the next town to meet Daddy for lunch, as we often do on Tuesdays.  We settled into our favorite table and the very moment I heard the door open and Joel entered, I was greeted with, "You cut his hair!"


As it turns out, I'd broken that lesser known commandment, "thou shalt not trim", and found myself right back in the doghouse.  I tried to justify my behavior but knew that in Joel's world, an illegal haircut ranked right below waterboarding in terms of personal violations.  So I did my best to apologize and moved on.

Last week, while gathering a few groceries at the store, Joel and I initiated our traditional tag-team method and each headed off in different directions.  Cael and I were charged with the task of seeking out a few Christmas gift ideas for Graham, and Joel was doing the same for Cael.

After I'd selected a few items and was three aisles into my grocery list, I saw a cart whiz by with a man in a Hawkeye sweatshirt and a baby with wet, freshly cut blonde hair.


While I was lovingly sifting through Walmart clearance items and Mickey mouse paraphernalia, my husband took my baby to SuperCuts and had his sweet head buzzed without me.

"Are you serious?  You got his hair cut without me?" I asked.

"You cut Cael's hair without me."

"I just trimmed it.  You had his hair cut all over without me?  I wasn't even there to take pictures!"

"I took some on my phone."

"You're in so much trouble."

So I guess payback is a bitter pill to swallow.  And as I sit in bed, looking at photos of my son's milestone that I will never remember, I can't help but turn to my sleeping husband and wonder. 

Where are the clippers now?  

Monday, November 21, 2011


I'm recovering from four days of single-parentdom while Joel was at the Iowa All-State festival, and being the glutton for punishment I am, I can't simply enjoy my alone time but rather seek out daunting organizational tasks to accomplish during his absence.  After a complete closet overhaul, gift-wrapping extravaganza and checking 14 "to dos" off my list, I was left with about 4 hours of sleep each night before two wily little boys woke me much too early each morning.

And it was at that exact time that they decided to gang up on me.  Early Saturday morning, Cael was awake before the sun and demanded to watch one very specific, elusive episode of Curious George, forcing me to scour the Netflix search box for the time when George "did stuff to that traffic light".  Once I found what I was confident was the correct show, I grabbed a very whiny two year-old and tossed him into my bed to doze for a few more minutes while he was glued to "Toy Story 3".

On a Saturday morning, this system can buy me 30-40 minutes; minutes that are very precious when you have gone to bed at 2:15am and are being awakened at 5:47am.  But on Saturday, my boys would have none of it.

"Mommy, this isn't the right George!"

"I'm sorry, honey. I don't know which one it is, then.  You'll have to pick one out for yourself."

"You come downstairs and help me!"

"I already did that, Cael, and I couldn't find the right one for you."

"Maybe if you put your glasses on you would see better." 

That was either really wise, or really snotty.  I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"I will do that in a little bit.  Graham and I are watching Toy Story."

"Graham wants you to get up, too.  Right Graham?"

"Up, Mama!" added Graham.

"Come on, boys, let's all snuggle in here and watch this movie." 

"I don't want to snuggle you because your hair is all messy and it is itchy on my face."

"Well, that's how my hair looks after I've slept on it."

"It doesn't look good, Mommy."

"Thanks, Cael."

"Bad har, Mama!"

"Thanks, Graham."

"See?  If you can't see and your hair looks bad you should just get up."

"Up, Mama!" 

"See?  You do that now.  Time to get up." 

Time for a "Mutiny" chapter in "What to Expect When You're Expecting"...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Caelism of the Day

This morning started off like any other, with the boys eating breakfast and journeying to the basement to play, destroy things and let them take their imaginations to new and inexplicably weird places.

Today, it took us to the floor of a greasy garage, where Graham's car (aka the Cozy Coupe) had been having mechanical problems and Cael, with his abundant knowledge of automotive repair, grabbed his tools and dug right in.

"Oh, I think I see the problem."

I think I saw the problem too-- Cael the mechanic was attempting to fix the engine by adjusting the wheels with a tape measure.  I mean, I'm no expert, but it seems like his method would be more effective on the hem of a dress than a large-motored machine.

"This looks really bad, Graham!"

With his measuring tape in hand, Cael had undoubtedly uncovered some faulty hoses or a water pump that was past its prime.  But the next thing he said was the one that made me wondering if, while I'm fast asleep in my bed, Cael is sneaking from his room to watch premium cable by the glow of the television.

"This is gonna be really expensive, Graham.  I'm gonna take you for all you're worth!"

Maybe I don't need that oil change...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't Mess with Texum

I've made mention before of Graham's Mickey Mouse placemat map, but what I haven't adequately shared is its new-found celebrity status in our home.  Graham received it at the end of September as a small birthday gift, while Cael opened his Thomas the Train placemat in early October when he turned four.  I was so pleased with myself for finding such perfectly applicable gifts for my boys and knew-- just knew that they would love them.

And in the beginning, they did.  Cael was very happy to dine amongst the trains daily until he discovered that his placemat did not have a map on it, and the love affair was officially over.  Now we very rarely use the mats because it invites an inevitable avalanche of "I want it!" and "No, Mama!  Mat!" that I'd simply rather avoid.

But the other day, when Graham made it known that he would not (under any circumstances) lower himself to eat a ham sandwich, I handed the placemat over to my one and only diner. 

"Mommy, where is Iowa again?"

"Right here."

"It's not very big."

"Well, it's actually very big in real life.  But you're right that there are states that are bigger."

"Why is Iowa green?"

"I don't know, honey.  The states don't really have colors.  But the states at the bottom that are orange and yellow have warmer weather than the blue states up top."

"Look at that HUGE orange state!"

"Oh, yeah, that is Texas.  It is very big.  But there's one that is even bigger, right over here.  It's called 'Alaska'."

"No, it's tiny."

"Well, that picture is tiny, but it's actually bigger than all of the others."

"NO, it's not!  See?  Texum is bigger than Alaska."

"It's called Tex-AS, and I'm afraid it is smaller than Alaska, Cael." 

"Nope.  It's not.  It's HUGE and big and wide."

"Okay, whatever you say, dude."

"I say you're wrong." 

Ouch.  Don't mess with Texum.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Color Me Confused

My littlest weirdo (I say "littlest" as being weird isn't much of a distinction in my home) has made leaps and bounds developmentally over the last month.  Always a quieter child, I had assumed his personality was the culprit, and thanked my lucky stars that I had two children that complimented each other and breathed a sigh of relief for the gray hairs I was sure I'd avoided.

As it turns out, however, Graham was NOT a calmer, quieter boy.  He just inherited my perfectionism and chose not to speak until he felt that he could effectively express himself, and also explodes into an irritable conniption when any of us can't understand his experimentations with the English language.

But for those topics he knows, he's very clear and confident.  And there is no topic closer to Graham's heart than colors.  One of his first words was "purple", and while I doubted that he was making that distinction, it soon became clear that he had a real aptitude for art and colors.

Once we'd mastered purple, it was on to green, those colors being Graham and Cael's favorites, respectively.  When the "green" switched clicked in his brain, he was unable to turn it off.

"Mama!  Geen gass!"  
"Geen ball.  Biiiig ball!"

On to red.  And then blue.  And then we hit a wall.  We've been working on all of the colors with the help of our gel window clings, but decided to tackle them one by one this time and focus on yellow.

"Graham, can you say yellow?"


"Good job!  Now, which leaf is yellow?"

"Dat weef."

"Nope, that's the orange letter.  Try again!"

"Dis weef."

"Well, that's a brown acorn.  One more try?"

"No more weef!  No weef.... YUT!"  (Yuck)

That was as pointless as a steam engine with no coal.  And I know my trains.

I thought that it might all be in my approach, so I decided to ask Graham to tell me the color of certain items around the house.

"What color is my shirt?"


"Good job, Bubba!  Okay, what color is that lizard?"


"You're so smart!  Hmm... what color is your shirt?"


"Right again!  Now here's a tricky one... what color is your hair?"

I knew it was a long shot, especially since "blonde" resides somewhere between a color and a characteristic, but I was curious of what his response would be.

"Red har."

"Red?  Not yet, at least.  What about your tummy?"


"You have a purple tummy?  That's news to me!  What color is your bottom!?"


Today colors, tomorrow therapy.

Holiday Sentiments

I've become one of them.

I gave in and hung my Christmas lights on Sunday, not completely because I couldn't resist grabbing the holidays by the neck and giving them a great big hug, but because the weather was so unseasonably warm and sunny, and I didn't want to be up on a ladder with a 15 degree windchill at the end of November.  That would really bust my buffers.

I'm doing my best to resist turning them on each night, since my goal is to wait until the day after Thanksgiving before going into full-on "elf" mode.  So I put my mind toward other, less noticeable holiday efforts.

I knew that I would want to design our Christmas cards from scratch as I did last year.  I always enjoy design projects, and there was something extra motivating about not only taking the photo, but cropping it, editing out ketchup or chocolate on faces, hands and shirts, and creating a design that would bring a smile and a bit of the holiday spirit to our loved ones.

Christmas card 2010

You know, because not everyone gets their holiday spirit from Polar Express.

With enthusiasm, I grabbed my camera and taped up an old red shower curtain with some masking tape for our backdrop while Graham was very quickly on the scene to thwart my efforts.  He immediately sat on the curtain, pulled it off the wall and laughed.


"Biiiiig TOOT!"

I should have taken this as a warning that the experience was gonna stink.

I put both boys down on the repositioned backdrop, and they almost immediately began fighting.

"Graham is sitting on my leg!"
"I don't want to take pictures!"
"But Mommy, it's not Christmas yet!"

I tried everything.  I wrapped them with Christmas lights.  I fed them cookies.  I put a Santa hat on Graham's head and a bow in Cael's hair, but it was futile.  As I snapped away, I knew that the 700+ photos I clicked at lightning speed were useless-- whether it be bad positioning, lighting, or just behavior, this photo shoot was a bust.

I asked the boys, pitifully, if they would let me take just a few more, but the screams yelled in return told me it simply wasn't worth the effort.

But how could I make a Christmas card with such pathetic photographs?  What would I send to my family and friends?

I wasn't sure that was the way to go.  I tried again.

That one was no good, either.  Despite Cael's behavior, I wanted him on the card if for no other reason than to make sure everyone knew we'd kept him alive for another year.

No?  Surely the next would be better.  Everyone likes a little wisdom with their holiday sentiments, right?

Perhaps not.

Resigned to the fact that our card might just be a little irreverent this season, I returned to the computer to look for some alternative images.  But before I could, a couple of photos from Christmas 2010 caught my eye and reminded me of two of the reasons I love this time of year so very much.

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So I gave it one more try, and came up with two designs that I love.

They may not be perfect, and they might be similar to the card I made last year, but I hope that when someone opens one of these cards, they feel the love I have for my kids and the love they have for one another.

But if not, there's always New Year's...