Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Blue Moon

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas Break

My true love gave to me ...

A gale of giggles:

The Three Stooges are on for 24 hours straight and there's nothing the boys love more. As One says "it just gets funnier and funnier!"

Heaven, help me!

Perfect Fortune

We ate Chinese tonight with the boys. That's something I think should be a New Year's Eve tradition; all the others (like getting drunk) being more or less for amateurs. At fortune cookie time, Two received a most portentous fortune:

"What's vice today could be virtue tomorrow."

Sigh. The child least likely to need such a fortune is the one to receive it, of course. The devious, conniving blond who wraps waaaay too many people around his little pinky got reminded of his unnatural ability to make mischief and get away with it.

Happy New Year, little manipulator. I love you anyway.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On the Tenth Day of Christmas Break

We realized we'd forgotten the 9th day. But that doesn't matter, because nothing happened yesterday anyway.

But today, my true love gave to me ...


And the muffalotta that defeated me:

It started out as a half, and is now a quarter residing in the fridge.

Monday, December 28, 2009

On the Eighth Day of Christmas Break

My true love gave to me ...

A trip to BW3.

But that's only good if you happen to have finished your lunch at camp today. If you haven't, well, you're out of luck, until that lunch is gone.

Once the lunch has been eaten (as dinner), Two claims his reward.

I have to say, every post like this I write, I hear Bob and Doug McKenzie in my head: "...and a beer." Pardon me, my almost-Canadian roots are showing.

What to Read When You're Almost Ten: The History Edition

One’s History reading hasn’t kept pace with his fiction reading, but what can? Here is a list of what has occupied him this summer and fall:

Victorian England: Cultures from the Past – well-organized, sez One.

American West: the Struggle for the Plains 1840-1895 – also well put-together.

Two Sterling biographies: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. We love this series, written by a host of authors and featuring so many great figures from American history. More titles keep appearing, which makes me more than happy.

Immigrant Kids

A re-read of Danger in the Desert – a huge favorite. One did his explorers' project this fall at school on Roy Chapman Andrews, who he refers to in conversation as “Roy”. They're friends.

Russia: Revolution and Counter-Revolution: he’s in the middle of this now, drowning in Russian names as he falls asleep. Maybe some of it is sinking in, maybe not.

And two dislikes:

Adventures in the West – each story was more boring than the last.

The Oregon Trail, by Francis Parkman – just too thick and One too young, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself for now. I really don’t want to try it myself and find out otherwise.

On deck:

The Spanish American War by Georgene Poulakidas.

The Mexican Revolution – the last of a four-book series on the history of Mexico, starting with Cortes. One rates these books as some of his favorite history books of all time.

Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun

The Road from Home, about the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks.

Two more Sterling biographies: Marie Curie and Thomas Edison

Carry a Big Stick and Then Darkness Fled. We’re trying a new series of biographies, the Leaders in Action series; the former is on Teddy Roosevelt and the latter on Booker T. Washington.

Pasteur’s Fight against Microbes

The Usborne Introduction to the First World War – a good general overview. We always like Usborne history and science books, although the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia is even better.

Dead Reckoning: Great Adventure Writing from the Golden Age of Exploration, 1800-1900 – he started this once and put it down. It might be too thick for him right now, not in terms of ounces but in the weigh (and dullness) of the subject matter. We'll see.

Lost City of the Incas – this is Hiram Bingham’s book about finding Machu Picchu. It’s a “try” for One – he wants to read about Bingham desperately, being an admirer of all things daring and heroic – but we’re not sure how dense the book will be. Another thing to try and see about.

When he's through with all of these, I have three groups of books waiting for him in my Wish List: one on the Thirties, one on World War II, and one on the post-war modern era. He'll be well into fifth grade when he finishes them all, but then we can go back to the beginning and start over - just like the book says!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What to Read When You’re Almost Ten: The Fiction Edition

One has been reading like a madman this year, as usual. At close to ten he shows no signs of throwing books out the window in exchange for a gaming system – which is wonderful, since we’ll buy him any number of books but no gaming system, not. ever. He still reads history at bedtime each night, but he is much more devoted to all kinds of fiction. A list from this summer until now:

Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge. Magic + orphaned kids = a great adventure.

Captains Courageous – not the first Kipling he’s read but by far the favorite.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

The Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome – One has read four of these, has the middle four waiting from his Christmas stash, and after that will have four to go. He absolutely loves them, and I am so grateful to Melissa Wiley for the recommendation.

The first three books in the Hornblower series. These are also well-loved, and he’ll eventually get around to finishing the series, I’m sure.

Across Five Aprils, read while he was reading history books on the Civil War.

Journey to the Center of the Earth – his hands-down favorite Jules Verne.

Around the World in Eighty Days – the second-favorite Verne.

Oliver Twist – unfortunately an abridged version (grr) but One liked it anyway. I have a thing against abridged version – a very Charlotte Mason-ish thing. I don’t see the point to just the story; you need the language as well to get the most out of a classic book. If you can’t read it unabridged, put it down and wait a year or two. As usual, my two cents on almost everything are available to you, here, for free.

Little Britches: Father and I were Ranchers. This is first in a series by Ralph Moody. Loosely autobiographical, they are about Moody’s childhood on a ranch in Colorado. There are seven books left in the series, which I’m sure One will devour at some point.

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Tom wins over Huck, which Husband tells me is quite unusual.

On deck for the book-eater:


The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright. Three more where this came from if it's a hit.

Goodbye Mr. Chips

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

The Hardy Boys, numbers 15 to 21. A Christmas present from Two.

The Switherby Pilgrims: A Tale of the Australian Bush

All Quiet on the Western Front (a read-aloud with his dad)

The Wheel on the School

And most unusual: a dislike category:

The Great Brain. One wanted to know who would put up with this mendacious, nasty kid for more than five minutes without socking him one. I have to agree.

The themes for One that ring most true: (A) adventure, (B) bravery, (C) children fallen on hard times who show (B) and have (A) as a consequence, and (D) watching kids grow up, however painful it may be.

I'll have a history post for One tomorrow. Don't worry: it's not half as long.

Apparently ...

On the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh days of Christmas break, the true love gave me the gift - the gift of doing absolutely nothing but relaxing with Husband and the boys. Wow, the very best gift of all.

The only time we left the house in three days was for a trip to the park today, after Two mastered the art of two-wheel bike riding sans training wheels. I have to brag: he got it on the first try. New friends were made at the park, and this coming week now holds the promise of a "play date", as well as four days at the boys' favorite day camp.

The merriest of Merry Christmas's to you all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On the Fourth Day of Christmas Break

My true love gave to me ...

The best Christmas carol ever. Enjoy your Christmas Eve, all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On the Third Day of Christmas Break

My true love gave to me ...

Wait - there was a "true love" involved in today? No there wasn't. All there was today was a surly, boot-faced mother who worked 11 hours straight, held a non-stop pity party for herself, and let the children watch 7+ hours of TV.

Oh yes. It was that day of Christmas break.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"My Dad and I Share the Same Shadow"

Ann Althouse posted this, and I had to copy it in here:

What a beautiful relationship between father and son! Condolences to Mr. Peek, whose son Kim passed away December 19th, at 58.

On the Second Day of Christmas Break

My true love gave to me ...

Harry Potter and queso and chips.

What? You didn't think I was going to rhyme for 12 solid days, did you?

Monday, December 21, 2009

On the First Day of Christmas Break

My true love gave to me ...

Whatburger and Survivorman on TeeVeeee!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reading in First Grade

Two, who is speeding towards 7 (gasp!) has really improved his reading skills since he started first grade, contributing to my thought that he learned absolutely nothing last year in Kindergarten. He reads out loud with me every night; not only does he have a big reading vocabulary, he is great at sounding out unfamiliar words as well. His favorite read-to-me books right now are the Magic Tree House series, of course. When he can speed through these a little faster, he has the first Boxcar Children book to start on.

For read-alouds, this summer we read The Wonderful O, The Wind on the Moon, and The House of Arden. All three were very well-loved, although I have a particular fondness for Arden (I would read Edith Nesbit's vintage shopping lists, I think). This fall we have gone through Mary Poppins and The Wanderings of Odysseus by Rosemary Sutcliff, and are now part of the way though the latest Hiccup Horrendous book, A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons. He and his brother absolutely love Mary Poppins, and sneer at the musical version as the worst book-to-screen adaptation ever. Two is not the history animal that One is, but he loved Odysseus, as well as anything to do with Greek gods and their adventures (like this). On deck for reading aloud we have Black Ships before Troy (the companion to Odysseus), The Railway Children, and both Alice stories. He loves magic and fantasy, so the Alice book should be a huge hit.

Speaking of reading first graders, my niece – just 7 this fall – is an excellent reader, so we have sent her the first three Betsy-Tacy books for Christmas, as well as All of a Kind Family. One was at this reading level at her age, but Two is not there yet. I was so glad when her mom asked us for books for her for Christmas! Choosing books for girls is a treat I’m not accustomed to, but enjoy very much when I get the chance.

One has been eating books like chocolate this fall; I’ll post an update on his literary exploits soon.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Man-ifesto

This, I like:


If this doesn't hit you in the ole solar plexus, I'm very sorry to say that you have no soul.

"As I carried my new little girl into the bedroom and put her in a new dress, fear overwhelmed me. What was I going to do? What does one do with a child that may never walk? How would I keep a semblance of normal life for my other girls? Would I have time to continue loving them enough while caring for a special needs little girl? Oh, what were people going to say? God just whispered that His grace would be enough, that His grace was sufficient, that His grace was going to allow me to raise this little girl, even after I had turned her away from my gate five times. Grace."

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Ever Lovin' Post Office

This was on Drudge, but I nevertheless feel compelled to link to it because it is so dang funny. It seems as if the Post Office has been hiding the mail:

"They're just pushing it aside for the next day," Arcovio told the paper. "We've had issues with them hiding the mail."

And of course, "The U.S.P.S. has yet to return a call for comment."

Wait - I have a great idea! Let's have the government run more things - like banks, auto companies, and health care. Yes!

Remember, if Grandma complains she never got the sweater you sent her - you know where it is.

Quote of the Day

Today comes from my friend Missy:

"No one prays and asks God for a sign to tell them if they should get pregnant, but people tend to think they need a burning bush to tell them to adopt."

Don't think it should be that way, myself ...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Such Cuteness!

Have you seen this commercial? These firecrackers remind me of my older niece, who is usually seen dressed in something precious, just like these girls are:

Oh how I love my boys, but watching something like this I want to jump up and down and yell "I want a daughter, dang it! Gimme one NOW!"

Some people have commented elsewhere* that this is inappropriate - disrespectful, s*xy and materialistic. As to the last point, well, it's a commercial - of course it's materialistic! And on the first two points - I'm usually hyper-sensitive to kids acting older than they should, but I really don't see that here. Maybe it's too many years in Texas talking, but they're just cheerleaders, for Heaven's sake! And could they have more clothes on? I just don't see anything here but extreme cuteness.

There's my two cents. As always.

*Actually in the comments - I don't think Barbara is being overly judgmental - she just raised the question and some Scroogish moms ran with it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

78 vs 95: or Why Two and Numbers Make No Sense

We receive the results of the boys "gifted and talented" applications last week from our school district. One made it into "g/t" by the skin of his teeth (I can speculate why, but won't right now), but Two? Two bombed. Stank. Crashed and burned. Not only did he refuse to do ALL 140 problems on the Stanford reading test, he blew off the Naglieri test to the point of generating a score of 78. Yes, 78. Since the Naglieri score is supposed to equate to one's IQ, that would mean that Two has an IQ of 78. Or, as one book puts it, a score that leaves him unqualified to dig ditches.

Do I think these tests are generally accurate? Sure. Do I think Two has an IQ of 78, or anything closely related to that number? Hell no. When questioned by Husband and me, Two confessed to finding all the testing uninteresting and to daydreaming through the entire process.

Which leaves me with this: a six year old who is so bored by an IQ test he blows it off.

Can you say "rip your hair out in frustration moment?" I can.

He likes school. He likes to learn. He gets good grades: he has a 95% average. I read with him every night, and he reads Magic Treehouse books well out loud. He's not reading at the level that One was at this age, but he's better at guessing and sounding words out correctly than One ever was. Both boys do supplemental math at home (more on that in another post) and he's breezing through the Grade 1 Singapore Math workbook without any help from me. He's also the creative child: his after-school art teacher finds him easy to teach and good at everything he tries. He designs and builds elaborate objects out of what he digs out of the recycling bin and copious amounts of duct tape. He sings well. He's good at sports: his taekwondo master says, that while Two is prone to not being fully present when he doesn't want to be, when he does give things 100%, he rocks. Backed up by the fact that he's kept up belt-wise with his three-year-older brother for almost 18 months now, I believe it. He's also the mechanically minded child; he undertstands how things work without explanation, and when he doesn't understand, he's delighted to take something apart just to see how it works.

So what's his deal? Did he mess up on one test, or does he have an intelligence that is hard to measure - one that his father and I can see quite clearly, but doesn't show up on standardized tests? I'm at a complete loss. Totally puzzled by the whole thing.

Anyone have a clue what to do with this crazy child? Input much appreciated.

For now, I'll just continue to tickle him, read with him, answer his innumerable questions, snuggle him, and enjoy the joy that is my irrepressible six year old. Because when it comes down to it, who can resist this?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Family Movie Night

I have a hard time with movie reviews - I think it's mostly because I don't like many of the movies being put out these days. Hard to blame the reviewer when he's sent to review schlock, but maybe I do from time to time all the same. Trying to get an accurate read on what's appropriate for the boys is even harder; people get picky when it comes to what their kids watch, but no one seems to have the same standards.

One review website I've been sent to, with high hopes that it would help make these decisions easier, is Kids-in-Mind. I hate to say it, but with every review I read, the message I come away with is "Someone said 'darn' and the dwarfs drank beer. Don't see Snow White." Not. helpful. If I didn't want to see any movies at all, I wouldn't bother looking them up. I'd just stay home and let the kids watch their 14,000th episode of Dirty Jobs.

But tonight I ran across another site, and I am astonished to say that it actually encourages me to see movies. It has exceedingly well-written reviews, points out the dirty details I might find relevant (which cuss words, any s*x?), but still glories in a good movie. Now that? That is helpful indeed.

Christmas Presents for Boys

I've obviously been giving this subject a lot of thought the past few weeks, so here are some recommendations, mostly for the 5 to 10 year old crowd. No video games included - they don't get to come to this house. Not. Ever.

Snap Circuits: One doesn't play with these much (although he likes them when he does), but Two has a special love for them. He takes the C&S Sales catalog to bed with him, to ensure happy dreams about circuits, robots and such. Stinkin' engineer ...

Legos: I hate the Lego kits, although both boys have friends who love them. My problem is unique to each boy: Two hates to follow directions on any toy, prefering at all times to make things up as he goes along. That would be a problem with a 700 piece kit. One loves to follow directions, but he just can't on the Lego kits. This is the child who had to be taught to use the TV remote by his younger brother. When he was seven. It's a future-history-professor kind of thing, I guess.

Anyway, what they both love are just plain Legos. They even love the "toddler" version, now called Duplos. As they explained to me recently: "We like the small ones, but when you want to build some honkin' big stuff, the little ones just don't work." Seems logical to me.

Books: Yes, books are a perfectly acceptable present in this house. You thought otherwise? We're actually expanding on the "books as presents" idea this year by getting them iPod nanos and gift certificates to They love books on tape, and this is a much less cumbersome way of getting them a bunch of them. Whether they actually ever figure out that music belongs on the iPods, I cannot say.

Guns: We love guns. And the boys think toy guns are the greatest. toy. ever. They've broken most of them, so it's time to replentish their stock. Don't get me started on the marshmallow-shooting variety, however. But burp guns? Love 'um. Nerf, cowboy guns, semi-automatics - all good, too. A young boy can never have too many weapons.

I floated the idea of a real, honest BB gun for One this year, but Husband has yet to respond. With One, the whole "you'll shoot your eye out!" fear rings quite true, so it may not be the best idea I've ever had. Usually a non-response from Husband means "you're so completely crazy, but I am far, far too nice to tell you so", so I think we will pass on this one this year.

Other Weaponry: The boys have always loved swords, whether they be cheap plastic ones or nicer, wooden ones. They fight each other, as well as fight imaginary enemies when they're alone. The latter looks like the boy version of ballet. I love it.

Toy Soldiers: We have buckets of these, along with some tanks and such, and the boys don't show any signs of getting sick of them. The soliders usually man the ships, tanks, and such that the boys build with Legos.

The Big Presents: Two years ago we sprang for a foosball table; the boys and Husband have played for hours on it so far, and it seems as if that won't stop anytime soon. Whether it's foosball, air hockey, pool or ping pong - if you have the room for it, it's worth it for all the time you'll spend together. I'd put the big basketball hoop in the same category; that was a Christmas present from my dad and stepmother several years ago and it is very loved and well-used.

The Toddler Corner: Husband and I were discussing the ideas that have worked over the years and those that didn't, and we thought of some good one from the not-so-distant past that the boys have mostly outgrown. They include big wooden blocks, train sets (ours is now loved by a small friend, who wakes him mother each morning with the word "choo-choo?"), as well as some "speciality items" such as Carnovires. This last item is headed north to our nephew this Christmas; we hope he likes them, too.

That's my list for now. Check out the Instapundits, Glenn and Helen, for some more ideas.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Snow Day

So far, we haven't seen much snow on the ground, but we've been having fun watching it fall all the same. The boys were told to bring extra clothes to school, and they played in the snow with their classmates and then changed into their dry clothes (which are now, of course, wet as well). Here's what we've seen so far:

No, it's not Minnesota, but I think we're okay with that.

11AM Weather Report

I know y'all are waiting with baited breath (ed: what does that smell like? Tari: shut up) to hear what is happening with the wild and crazy Houston weather. Yes, we've moved on from last year, and are now approaching The Great Blizzard of 2009.

So far, faithful readers, this is where we are at 11am:

Yes, that's snow. It's not sticking, but I can vouch for its consistency.

Stay tuned for more updates. Remember, baited breath ...

Chucks and a Puck

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Everything You Wanted to Know about my Christmas ...

... but didn't care enough to ask.

First of all, let me say that I am sick. Sick, sick, sick. Which is why I am allowed to blog during business hours. Honest – it’s in the Employee Handbook. Oh, and I copied this from Missy, which is also allowed when you are sick. Ready? Okay, here we go:

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Spiced apple cider. But no brandy in it. Never, ever, ever. Oh no.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? It depends. What size of present was he planning on bringing, and is there wrapping paper large enough to fit? Because if it’s an iPod, I’m sure he will wrap it. But the foos ball table? The fat man didn’t bother with that sucker.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White. Because I’ve always been a light snob is why. But I am discovering a secret love for colored lights, and every year I think about breaking some out. I’ve given up on lights outside the house. In fact, I can’t even imagine decorating outside the house right now – but that might be the Sudafed talking.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Husband just got his very first shotgun, so maybe he can shoot some down from a tree and bring it home. I’ll ask.

5. When do you put your decorations up? The family tradition (on my side of the family, that is) is that the tree goes up on December 11th. Yes, exactly on December 11th. Why? Because my mother thought it was a great idea to make my dad wrestles with a big, fat, snowy Christmas tree on his birthday every year. I am quite certain he hasn’t done that since the mid-80’s, when they divorced. Hey, Dad – I hope you never have to put up a tree on your birthday, ever again.

As for this family, the tree and decorations happen sometime between now and the 15th. It’s not a set thing. It happens only when I break down from the whining and begging from the boys. When that occurs, I bribe Husband with things that aren’t any of your business, and we haul all the stuff out of its home in the guest room closet over the eaves. I put it all up, and the boys spend maybe 5 minutes throwing ornaments on the tree. Then they run away to play tackle football on the wood floor upstairs, and I finish everything off. Nothing but fun in this house. 24/7.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Tamales. And more tamales. And after that, tamales for dessert. God. Bless. Texas.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? Christmas Eve with my paternal grandmother. Sometimes my younger aunts and uncles would show up with her and we would play pool. They let me stand on a chair to play, and sometimes they let me win. Life was sweet at six: I even had my own pool cue.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Is there a secret I don’t know about? Please, do tell!

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Yes. One per person. No substitutions, exceptions or refunds.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? See #5 above. The toss and run method works well around here with all kinds of things. We even serve dinner that way sometimes.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Love it. Because I live in Houston and it has snowed twice in 17 years. That’s snow you can really love.

12. Can you ice skate? Why yes I can! I get weepy every time I see the movie Miracle; not because of the whole “beat the Soviets” thing, but because the sight of those red seats at the rink remind me of years and years of being the worst skater in the Lake Placid Skating Club. Just one of the scars of childhood. Thank you for bringing it up.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? As a child? I’m going to vote for the big Barbie head you could put make up on and color her hair and all. Just the smell of all that plastic and chemicals – yeah baby!

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Here’s my theory on that one: the proper answer is, of course, the birth of Christ. However, since I view modern Christmas as a sort of Saturnalia that has long since lost its original meaning, I think I’ll say eating.

Personally, I’d like to keep the mid-winter Saturnalia thing going, and come up with another time to celebrate Christ’s birth. Since we know it wasn’t on December 25th, why not? How much luck do you think I’ll have with the Patriarch of Antioch on that idea? Should I write him a letter?

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Just about anything. Maybe Moeller’s Bakery’s’ petit fours. Or their coconut snowballs. Or my chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Or …

I’ll stop now.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Staying in and wearing jammies all of Christmas Day. We even eat Christmas dinner in our jammies. And at bedtime, we go upstairs, put on clean jammies, and go to bed. Sometimes, laziness does = perfection.

17. What tops your tree? A “gold” wire star. Eh.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? I’m going to be sanctimonious and say giving. Because it’s almost true. Well, when it comes to kids – it is true.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? I love Christmas hymns. Love love love them. The best one I’ve ever heard was years ago, when we were still Presbyterian: the choir at midnight services walked in singing Once in Royal David’s City. All the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. Gorgeous.

20. Candy Canes: Yuck or Yum? Eh. The boys don’t love them, and I don’t love finding partially eaten ones all over the house. We usually don’t buy them for this reason.

21 Favorite Christmas Show? The Grinch. I do not resemble him at Christmas, but the rest of the year? Well …

22. Saddest Christmas Song? No such thing. Christmas is happy. Christmas no is sad. Now go listen to Merry Christmas from the Family and stop sobbing already.

You have our permission to copy this post and fill it out on your blog. Wow, I channeled Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday for a moment. Weird. Must be the Sudafed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gender Wars

A funny.

What do you mean, it's not funny? Of course it is. To me, anyway ...