Saturday, December 27, 2008

12/27/08 Birthday Playdate

Today we had what started out as a "Hi, Helen!" playdate, that I hijacked into a birthday celebration for Julian.

Julian hadn't asked a peep about a birthday party. I'm amazed; many kids count down the minutes until their birthday party. But I just couldn't get one organized in time; I'd have had to plan it mid-November, and it was too busy a time dealing with remodeling. I might have pulled it off had it not been for the extra challenge of post-holiday timing.

So turning a playdate that Helen, visiting from San Diego, had motivated to catch up with her 2004 Las Madres friends into a "birthday playdate" was the best I could do. The timing was good, at least, it's not often Julian will get birthday parties so close to his real birthday. Next year, he'll get to choose his own partygoers and I won't be so tied up with life that I can't plan a party ahead of time. Fortunately, for most kids, "birthday party" mostly means "cake," and that, I was able to do.

As it turns out, it was a group of The Usual Suspects, a nice-sized group of longtime friends. Helen showed up looking tanned and fit, as she's training for a marathon next month.

Left to right: Sonia, Stefanie, Me, Helen, Betsy.

Interestingly, all of us are double-boy moms; that is, all of us have two boys close in age without siblings inbetween. 4 out of 5 of us had those two boys first; two of us prepended and appended not-very-girly-girl girls. All of our 2004 "babies" are boys.

I had fun preparing for this playdate/party, despite the slight schizophrenia between the two events. I didn't want anyone to feel obligated to bring gifts or be on time or other formalities that occur with "parties," though I did feel the least I should do is provide some lunch, something hostesses don't usually do for "playdates." We had a nice time hanging out, and everyone was very forgiving that I turned a playdate into a semi-party.

We caught up and yakked, the kids played (though Julian mostly followed Gabriel and Gina), and then the payoff: cake! Which suffered a serious lack of decorative inspiration, and I just copied what I did yesterday, plus an inscription.

Julian put on a good face, but I wasn't sure he had that great a time. Poor kid; he just doesn't know my friend's kids that well. I really will do better next year. I have a lousy record for 5-year-old birthday parties, though this was a terrific playdate!

Helen is unbelievable. After an hour, the family room was carpeted with toys that had occupied now-empty shelves. But this is how she insisted on leaving it.

The playdate was definitely the highlight of the day. Being parents to Gabriel and Katrina definitely wasn't. They were both nothing short of unbearable today.

Katrina cried angrily during the Happy Birthday singing, because she wanted THE CAKE! You can see her in the corner of this photo, crying and reaching for the cake, the little brat. Lucas' reaction (the little boy sitting next to her) attests to the volume level.

Then she insisted on getting the '5' candle, and threw a fit until she eventually, somehow got it.

She held off the demanding impossibleness for much of the playdate, but was exceptionally demanding, difficult to please, and extremely, obnoxiously bossy this afternoon after her nap. She's also picked up a very nasty habit from her brothers: threatening to punch me ("I'm going to PUNCH you, Mom!"), and then doing so, though the actual force behind the punch is more like a tap. Still, it's the thought that counts. By 6:15pm, Dave and I were counting the minutes until we could put the little firestorm to bed.

Then her oldest brother picked up where she left off, getting into his new semi-hysterical obnoxious giggling mode where all he does is is be destructive and laugh at everything, especially being told to stop. The only way to break him out of it is to do something severe enough to make him cry, but that can often backfire and make him angry, escalating the situation. Once again, Dave and I were suffering every minute until we could get him out of our sight. Gabriel has really been acting out lately, making us very nervous. We know well from past experience what his "phases" are like.

Julian was much better overall, but Gabriel completely hyped him up and we only got through the bedtime process by separating them as much as possible.

I focused on the positives of the day by finally, finally catching up on my food blog. It's been two months since I posted! I often stage food-blog posts, by uploading photos and putting in links to recipes, but I just haven't had the chance to really write them out. It's fun, it's like writing mini-articles, with a beginning and an end. It helps ground me, and makes me feel like a grownup. I really like learning to cook and entertain. This is something that everyone in every aspect of my life -- friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances -- will enjoy.

Now, I'd better get planning Gabriel's birthday party -- I'm already behind.


Friday, December 26, 2008

12/26/08 FIVE!

My boy is 5 today!

Julian obliged me with a photo, to show off his new Gap shirt from Bonne Maman and Papa Paul. A little big, but he didn't mind.

We went out to dinner early at Outback, and somehow inbetween Katrina's nonstop demands and my shrinking from frequent glances from neighboring tables, Julian asked me softly, "Are they going to make me a cake here?"

Poor kid. I hadn't said much about his birthday, but I did bake two cakes today and had some butter softening up for frosting. I was a little behind though, so as soon as we got home from the restaurant, I whipped up the frosting and very quickly decorated it. Then I "surprised" him (sort of) with the cake and singing, and we did a family birthday.

(A family birthday that was interrupted by us all getting tired of Katrina constantly demanding something and being on the verge of throwing a tantrum because those were not "MY PREZ-INTS! MY PREZ-INTS! MY PREZ-INTS!")

Julian was very happy with everything he got, ignoring Gabriel's disparaging remarks about getting books for gifts. (The little jerk; he got some books this year that he loves.)

It's not lost on me that this day might have been a real milestone for me as a mother. Five is a real threshhold, when there's no remnants left at all of toddlerhood, with school looming in the near future. Someday I will experience my youngest child turning 5. I look forward to that, though I know perhaps I might not be as happy about that as I think I will be. Indeed, Katrina insulates me from any melancholy I might have about Julian growing up. But she also keeps one of my feet in the tantrum-diaper-nap-unreasonable-toddler world, when the other foot is now squarely in little-kid world.

I am so proud and so head-over-heels in love with my sweet, precious, thoughtful, imaginative, playful, goofy, singy, genuine, happy five-year-old boy!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

12/25/08 Merry Xmas!

We're weird. We don't get up at the crack of dawn to open presents, and our kids don't bug us to. Maybe we should, because we never finished opening them today.

One tradition we started some years ago will contribute to this materialism sloth: leaving one unwrapped gift per child under the tree, so they can jump right in Christmas morning to play with something. This year that worked against us, since the items in question required some help unpackaging, and one child insisted on asking permission first (guess who), but we did get to snooze late and make a late breakfast.

I made pancakes from a Cook's Illustrated recipe (technique, really) that I've made before, and I'm beaming proud and happy to say that Dave loves them. The kids, eh, they like pancakes period, they're not discriminating. But Dave is a tough audience, and he really likes these ultra-fluffy buttermilk pancakes. It makes me feel like a real cook when I can make a very standard dish (pancakes) and make it exceptional.

We had to get everybody outside; the boys were bouncing off the walls, so I concocted a weak excuse to go to the jobsite. We all trucked over there to measure a thing or two, pick up mail, check out test-paint...and really, just wander around. Dave and I both like doing that; it helps us see the space as a home, rather than a jobsite, and we always come away with ideas. And future punchlist items.

Despite the ideal photographic conditions and a good selection of backgrounds (despite the construction dust), Katrina wouldn't cooperate with a photo. "NO PICTURE! NO PICTURE! NO PICTURE!!"

The boys point out their favorite colors. This is a good spot in the house to test-paint colors for all different rooms, since it's lit (our house has no electricity right now), but without direct sun.

Back at The Ranch, it was finally time to open some gifts. I made up another new "tradition" this year that will expedite things: whoever's turn is next to open a gift has to throw away the wrapping of the last person's gift that was just opened!

I didn't take photos of everything, but the kids loved their gifts. Julian said, of a book of 101 Science Experiments from Aunt Stephanie, "I'm going to do all these ess-periments and then I'll be a real scientist!" Gabriel got so involved with a robot toy from Bonne Maman that he refused to open any gifts after that! So thank you Aunt Stephanie and Aunt Laura, for those lovely still-wrapped parcels for Gabriel. Leave it to Gabriel to find a new angle to gift-un-wrapping.

Katrina went about methodically pulling out each alphabetic puzzle piece from this book, loudly reciting the object's name for each piece.

Even though this was supposed to be a lighter year, there was no shortage of bounty and a sense of plentifulness. The kids loved everything, and I'm sure Dave and I will too when we get around to opening them!! Thank you all!

I was reeling from a horrible headache today, so took a nap in the late afternoon. As it turns out, that caused me to miss a phone call from my East Coast family, one I wasn't expecting at all or I'd have instructed Dave to wake me up. This is one of those consequences of living with a "migraineur" -- when they say they need a nap, they really mean it, so it didn't occur to him to wake me. I'm heartbroken I missed the call. It's Christmas! Damn these headaches.

Then I kicked into gear with one of my new favorite parts of the day: cooking. I should have prepared most of this yesterday, but...oh well. Still, with a huge late-afternoon scramble, I managed to get everyone seated at 6:30pm. Our dinner menu:

Stovetop-roasted chicken with lemon & herb sauce
Sauteed green beans with herbs
Mashed potatos
Ciabatta stuffing with chestnuts and pancetta

The first two items came from Cook's Illustrated, a very special issue to me. I just got subscribed to CI by donating to a local public radio station, and the first issue I got happened to be one that Laura & Ryan used for our fabulous Thanksgiving feast. In fact, the sauteed green beans were the same ones that Ryan made, though he did a better job of it (crisper). I'm not a big stuffing fan, but Dave is, and I'd saved the stuffing recipe from a Giada di Laurentiis show for a year. But it was my favorite item of all, it was so tasty.

I really had fun making Christmas dinner, though I was mindful of the many times my poor mother was trying to enjoy Christmas morning with us and zooming out again and again to check something in the kitchen. I "solved" that accidentally by serving Christmas dinner at dinnertime, instead of late-lunch-time, but that has its consequences too.

Then the kids got to indulge in their decoration efforts, by tearing apart the gingerbread house, and eating the cookies they'd decorated. Every year we do a gingerbread house or cookies, I feel like we just managed to squeak it in -- they're not established as traditions yet. But the boys are getting old enough to remember stuff like this, and it seems we eke it out somehow every year. So maybe these will be new traditions. That would be nice for me if they remember decorating Gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies as part of the holiday. Next year though, I'll make the gingerbread house.

First they had to endure a group photo. Katrina, clearly, was quite miffed at having to sit in my lap. But I love this picture because of the boys' expressions: Gabriel in the classic kid-fake-smile, Julian in his usual face-making mode (and oh, those lips!).

A cookie improved her attitude.

Time to take apart the gingerbread house! I think the boys had more fun making it than eating it. The cookies were much more popular for actually eating. Phew. Nice to know I can compete with a $8.99 kit from Target.

I was intrigued when a longtime friend from many years ago, who's still single (ladies alert -- I know Boston's Most Eligible Bachelor!), asked me what I was doing for Christmas. That question, until fairly recently, was a perfectly normal one. That's what you ask young adults who've moved away from their origin families. But once again in my life, where and who I spend Christmas with is a given.

And now if you'll all excuse me from this Christmas glow, I have a birthday cake to make.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

12/24/08 A Colorful Christmas Eve

I spent a lot of time with the boys today. First, they accompanied me to the jobsite house and "helped" me test-paint and measure closets. Gabriel helped me by writing down all the closet measurements as I called them out. He takes his job very seriously, even tucking the pencil behind his ear like a real carpenter.

When I paint a test patch on the wall, their job is to take a dry brush and smooth the edges so there are no streaks. There are now patches of color all over the house! I think I have it down-pat now. The theory of using a 50% strength formula of the main color in the halls didn't work at all, so I had to try another color. Looks like the entire new part of the house, except one bathroom, will be some or other shade of muted green. I like getting the boys' opinions on all the colors, too, and though I have to keep a close eye on them and immediately nip any running games that get started, it's much more fun having them there with me.

Later, we decorated cookies. I'd made the dough two days ago and only today got around to cutting out and baking the cookies, then we decorated them after dinner. I have a system now, in which I ice a cookie, then set the wet cookie on a tray, where they sprinkle away to their hearts' content. Normally I'm very open to letting them do everything themselves, but a bowlful of drippy icing...I think I'll handle that one myself for a while.

They had a great time. Gabriel tried again and again to get perfect red stripes on candy-cane cookies. Julian's cookies were random and creative. A nice summary of their personalities as seen through Christmas cookies.

Katrina was in better shape today overall, and other than a showy dinner tantrum, she was pretty good. Tonight's tantrum was partly sparked by foolishness and stubbornness on my part. Foolishness because the cookie-baking project was in full swing -- and full view -- when she came into the kitchen, and she wanted a COOKIE, not dinner. Stubbornness because even my under-the-weather baby is not getting a cookie for dinner, not first, anyway. I finally got her to eat by quietly asking Gabriel to put the bowl of turkey burger in front of her instead of me. She has nothing to prove to him, so she calmly accepted it. When I gave it to her, she dumped it on the floor angrily, earning her one of her first at-home timeouts.

Time to go play... I mean, wait for Santa!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

12/23/08 Christmas Eve Eve

Incredibly, I went to work today. I was absorbed in an interesting problem -- a refreshing change for once! -- when the Director walked around and kicked everyone out, around 1pm. "Go home! Be with your families!" He was right, of course. Dave was home with Katrina, who had a temperature last night and isn't eating well, but was overall in a decent mood today.

I got Katrina up from her nap today, and found her playing quietly in the crib with her baby doll. "I put diper on da baby, Mommy!" Katrina lifted the baby by the ankles as I do with her to change her. Then, "It *smells*, Mommy!" Hmmmm...maybe if the "baby" potty-trains, she'll consider the idea for herself.

I'm looking forward to a down day with the whole family home tomorrow. I think. That's a nice-sounding fantasy, but the boys have been increasingly out of control lately and Gabriel has started really acting out. My affection for a cute 2-year-old toddler suddenly skyrockets!


Monday, December 22, 2008

12/22/08 Rejuvenation

I love Rejuvenation. It's store, catalog and Web site that features new "old" house parts. They started out as a salvage place, and still have a huge warehouse store in Portland that Dave and I visited in 2002. Their print catalogs are full of amusing little anecdotes and bios on longtime loyal employees, and their Web site is excellent.

I had to laugh today when I went to Rejuvenation's page for doorbell buttons, where it has a little diddy called Saved By The Bell. They're very understanding: "By the time customers are choosing Door and Cabinet Hardware, they're are a bit tired....With their projects nearing an end, these folks are burning through their hell bent phase."

We're not really nearing an end, but I did buy a doorbell button today. Getting one thing crossed off my to-do list is definitely rejuvenating!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

12/21/08 Pancake Breakfast

Today I took The Three to a long-standing annual social event put on by some longtime motorcycle friends. We join together for a pancake breakfast at a friend's house before going to the annual motorcycle show, but lots of people never make it to the show anymore. I'm among them.

I braved it with all three alone, hoping to get in a few conversations with old friends. And that basically worked. This sort of thing is much easier now that the boys are older. I gave them a stern talking-to ahead of time about wrestling, fighting, running, and jumping, though Julian got away with some furniture gymnastics. Other than some fake-clinginess (holding onto my legs and asking to be picked up, something she NEVER does at home), Katrina was pretty forgiving. No major fits at least, phew.

It helped that I invested the effort to go to Borders yesterday to get some new books for the grownup breakfast.

Felipe happily engages Katrina in a show-n-tell.

In some ways, she's easy at these things because she's not a super-curious toddler who gets into everything. In other ways, she's hard, because even if she doesn't show it, I know she's a time bomb that can make life very unpleasant for anyone within a mile's earshot if something doesn't go Exactly Her way. Fortunately, she kept the lid on and made a liar out of me.

I had a brief flash of an artistic moment here -- stripes! It was better before Julian adjusted his position, he'd been right against Gabriel.

We made a graceful exit before things got too out of control.

Back at the ranch house, Katrina is testing Uncle Ronan's footsteps in graffiti art. I spent 20 minutes tonight Goo-Gone-ing and scrubbing the fridge, floor and a few walls. No more crayons in baby's reach!

It rained this afternoon, sapping the few faint flickers of motivation I had to take the kids anywhere after Katrina's nap. I was quite happy to stay at home, give them an early dinner, and have an overall peaceable evening.