Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday Countdown - Day Four - November 30

It took me quite awhile to get this post up, and you'll have to forgive me, but I'm going to pre-date it anyway and at least as long as you aren't subscribed to the blog, you won't notice. You'll just likely miss it. Oh well.

Aleks keeps opening the scrolls and leaving them all about the house where they disappear into thin air. Seriously. I can't find them anywhere. So I didn't photograph it. No worries, though, because I have a handy list of everything we intended. I'm not even certain this activity got done on November 30th, though we did have the garlands and lights all ready to go. In fact, I'm certain it didn't. The majority of it got done on December 1st and 2nd.

We made a quick visit to Target to pick up some extra extension cords for the outdoor lights as well as another strand of LEDs, which we use indoors with the live garland since they're cooler but the garland dries out sooner with the heat on, so as to try to minimize the risk of burning the house down - which is not to imply that we leave these lights plugged in unattended or anything, only to imply that I am cautious and paranoid due to something like chronic anxiety. We also picked up a stocking for Natalie (my sister who is now living with us) to match the others we already have (they all sport snowmen).My best friend's mother, Jane, had embroidered Aleks' name on a snowman stocking for us for his first Christmas, so I continued with the snowman theme. I managed to embroider Anna and Jon on our stockings the year I was pregnant with Sebastian, then for the next Christmas, I asked Jane to do Sebastian's as well. She died suddenly two years ago and Christmas still reminds me of her. While snowmen may not entirely be my thing, I can never change out the stockings now because they are one of the few reminders of Jane that I own.

Christmas was her absolute favorite holiday. She went all out every single year. Their tree alone had more than 700 ornaments and touched the ceiling. It was a pain in the ass to decorate too because I helped on at least one occasion. I remember it vividly: being 15, sorting through dozens of boxes with a gaggle of teenaged friends, all of us awkward and weird. I don't think I'll ever go that far with this holiday thing, though. I hope. Poinsettias aren't really my thing!
Who can be sure though? I did spend the evening embroidering Natalie's name to match ours.
I got Aleks to help me dump our dead mums in the compost pile and clean out the remaining tomato plant out front, then we carefully and painstakingly wrapped our live garland in lights for the porch rails. It was dark and cold and Aleks had given up by the time we were finished. The marigolds are still blooming though. Weird weather.
I'm quite fond of the live garland. It's so traditional and lovely.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday Countdown - Day Three - November 29

When Aleks read today's scroll he asked, "How is this a fun activity?" I replied that sometimes we have things that are related to the holidays that need to get done and so sometimes those things are on the list. He said this wasn't fun for him. He'd already played outside with a friend from down the street all day and I was rushing out the door to get to three different stores before they all closed for the evening, so I was a little miffed that he had to object.

Thus in my frustration, I said, "well how about we make hot cocoa and watch a movie all together?" He thought that was cool as long as there was popcorn too and we looked into inviting Heather & Steve to join us. Unfortunately, they were in the midst of a two hour drive back from visiting family and we were unable to have them over. In the end, it was good because I could keep my bathroom looking skuzzy and we could work on our designated activity while we watched the movie.

While I was at the store, I changed my mind about hot cocoa and bought root beer and vanilla ice cream for floats instead. This was a genius idea. The boys loved it.So the activity?
The thing about finishing up holiday cards is that as with everything that I do, I tend to seek the most labor intensive methods just to torture myself. So the holiday cards are being constructed by hand this year. And there are at last count 72 people on our card-receiving list.

I put Aleks straight to work drawing pictures for the cards while we watched Lord of the Rings. Bastian fell asleep on the couch, but I used some of his paintings on some of the cards.
The basis is a holiday letter printed on not-quite-cardstock, which we fold and then decorate the front of. The not-quite-cardstock is only available in white, it would seem, which kinda sucks. But maybe the photos wouldn't look so good otherwise.
I did five cards a couple of days ago and distributed them at Thanksgiving. Tonight we got 9 done. I may do one more (or several more) before I call it a night. I figure if I get 10 done a day we can have them all out before Christmas. Ack.
I also wrote the titles of each piece on the back of the cards and dated them. Our friend Jay said we should number them like fine art prints.

Invasion of the Miraculous

By some miracle - and I have, by the by, made several mentions of/allusions to this before - I have found myself in the strange position of being no longer the mother of babies, but rather the mother of two, bona fide children. Aleks is by all accounts positively school-aged. Bastian has turned four and now even four-and-a-half and if I'm remembering a younger Aleks correctly, that is the precise age at which the intensity of toddlerhood and preschool-aged-hood began to diminish and evolve into something else entirely.

This foursomeness is an absolute miracle to me. This four-ish-ness and this seven-ish-ness and all the joy and bizarre new struggles we've found here means that for the first time in my life as a mother, I was able to strap the children into the car (and, admittedly, Aleks strapped himself in then proceeded to read the word "Britax" on the tag of his seat, which necessitated a conversation about what exactly that means), then handed one child two hand-me-down Bone comics and another child a book of mazes and a marker, and set off on a four-hour journey listening to the quiet murmur of activity from the back seat without needing to help anyone at all. In fact, I was able to open my notebook, review the things-to-do for the next week, write an agenda for my Co-op Change Committee meeting and even wish that I had brought more yarn on my trip so as to get started on Christmas gifts.

As we drive, this miracle mingles with the miracle of late-afternoon winter sunshine under clear skies: that miracle of golden light which fills the world, casting leafless trees and dried corn stalks in rich, autumnal tones, making winter seem but a nice cozy nap instead of the gray desolate wasteland I sense it to be come February. I feel warm with contentment in the front seat, allowing these intersecting phenomenon to expose me to the fact of my happiness, just when I was so busy as to be unaware, just when I'd rushed about trying to make meaningful events for the children and organizing all plans and luggage and people from honeyhut and movie theater and grandma's house to car and back, over, and through. I find myself surprised at myself and so thrilled about it all that I casually rest my head and take a nap.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Holiday Countdown - Day Two - November 28

Still at the Grandparents' house post-Thanksgiving, we planned to do the first two days of Countdown there. I arranged it so they'd be things we could maybe do anyway so as to minimize the craziness of overwhelm from 35 consecutive days of planned activity. I probably do consecutive days of planned activity usually, but now and then I take days to do a whole lot of nothing because it feels good and energizes us for future endeavors.

Due to the problem with honey extraction, we had to do both activities on the 28th. Jon also decided that he wanted to drive home later in the afternoon. We started packing up and got everyone dressed and ready. Aleks opened the scroll.Then Jon thought it would be better if I just took Aleks to see the movie. Bastian tends to have trouble paying attention and prefers instead to move around a lot. We adults really wanted to see this movie (remember that we are huge Wes Anderson fans), so it seemed preferable to one-at-a-time it. Lilly, Aleks, and I rushed out the door to see the 12:30 showing. We made it just in time, having only missed a few previews. Bastian contentedly ate honey without us.

The movie was great! I think some part of Aleks identified with the character of Ash. Maybe that's just me projecting though. Maybe I just felt so deeply sympathetic to Ash that I read into it when Aleks loved all the bits that Ash was in. Plus the cape and the weird quirks and the slightness were all very Aleks.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Countdown - Day One - November 27

I finally finished my containers for the Countdown. I folded 35 paper cranes and cut out little strips of paper with the activity of each day written on it and rolled them into little scrolls wrapped in thread and labeled with a sticky number then threaded through the beaks of each crane so that each crane carried our day to us. Then all of these were strung together in one long strand. I will likely not do this again as it is crazy and time consuming. It is however, quite decorative and the crane as a symbol of peace is nice for this time of year in addition to meaningful to our values. So, there's that.I got the whole thing done just in time.
Hung it up and promptly had to pull off Day 1.
Which read...
Only trouble was it turned out it was too cold to extract honey. My mother has big plans to get a solar panel for the Honeyhut so it can be electrified and heated (and they can have a place to plug in the wax knife and install lighting for days when extracting seeps into night), but alas, none of that is quite in place yet. It's sort of the wrong season for honey extracting I guess. Not that that matters much. The frames can stay in storage for awhile as honey is a natural preservative and doesn't go bad.

We all spent the day recovering from Thanksgiving instead. We watched movies, sat in front of the fire, played around the house, said goodbye to Aunt Teresa, and ate turkey sandwiches. So on Day Two we had two tasks. One of which was extracting honey. Bastian mostly ate it.
As did Aleks.
He also got a chunk of comb to chomp on. Which he did.
The honey wasn't really dripping, so Jim used the wax knife to cut off the comb caps and then had a special tool for scraping the frames free of their waxy whatnot. It worked well enough. He got this plastic sink and set it up to let the honey drip through into a filter.
The bees started swarming about outside the Honeyhut. Several got in. They were after their honey.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I didn't really take photos. It was pretty much the same thing as always: dinner at my mom's with all the usual suspects plus Jon's sister in from New York to spend the day with us and the boys. Aleks ate two turkey legs and a wing. After years of watching him eat next-to-nothing, everyone was pretty amazed. There was the usual fun of crazy family members, but no drama whatsoever, which was not unusual, but certainly helpful for decreasing overall stress. I was happy for it.

While Jon was off picking up Teresa from the airport, the grandparents and Aunt Lilly started dancing in a chain to Natty's Slavic music. We all joined in and it was a special kind of joyful crazy that we all love about our family.The boys forced Aunt Teresa to download lots of special apps on her iPhone, which they then played with almost all day. Here, Aleks talks to his Gido on the phone while I finish up my holiday countdown cranes at the table, after pie.
We all stayed up too late watching movies. We watched Elf together, which I stole as a thing-to-do from somebody's holiday countdown post somewhere. I found it on sale at Marshall's for five dollars and thought it a great way to ring in the season. The weather around here has been unusually warm and not at all indicative of Christmas on its way. It's hard to complain too hard about that though.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bastian Squishes and Kisses

Forgive my unkempt appearance, but this is the sort of thing that Bastian does all the time that makes me, at the end of the day, totally touched out. And he's four-and-a-half...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Revisions to the Holiday Countdown List

I noticed several other bloggers and mamas started to say they would begin their countdown lists on Thanksgiving and some said they would go to New Year's. The nice thing about going 'til New Year's is that it makes it all about the whole season and not just about the payoff of Christmas. Since we had such a buildup last year that came out with a lot of frenzy and crazed children, I think that this might help. Thus, I've changed my list up a bit to include 35 days instead of merely 25. I might lose my mind trying to make all this happen, but hopefully we'll just do our best and get over it.

Without further ado...
27th. Extract Honey with Grandpa Jim .
28th. Go see The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
29th. Finish up Holiday cards.
30th. Decorate the house with garland and lights.
1st. Make paper snowflakes and decorate the windows.
2nd. Visit the Christmas Story house.
3rd. Make crystal snowflakes.
4th. Pick out a really nice Christmas tree (but don’t squish any elves that may be hiding in the branches!).
5th. Decorate the tree and drink hot chocolate.
6th. Go on a walk in the woods. Gather items for the winter nature table.
7th. Write letters to Santa.
8th. Make popcorn strands for the tree.
9th. Make color ice blocks. Add salt. Build things.
10th. Visit Snowdrop's Adventure Game (a local event for kids to play a giant-sized board game about a white deer).
11th. Make dough ornaments for the tree.
12th. Wear fancy dress for dinnertime.
13th. Enjoy a candlelit bubble bath.
14th. Listen to holiday music and set up a nature table for the season.
15th. Make homemade playdough.
16th. Let’s go ice skating today!
17th. Have breakfast for dinner.
18th. Have breakfast with Santa at the Farmpark 10:30 a.m.
19th. Build a Gingerbread house.
20th. Bake a batch of Christmas cookies.
21st. Buy a gift for a family in need via Heifer International.
22nd. Visit Baba.
23rd. Go see the lights at Clifton Mill.
24th. Christmas Eve: Unwrap one present after dinner (Mama & Papa get to pick which one).
25th. It’s Christmas Day. Enjoy your time with friends and family, food and fun!
26th. Go for a walk at Aulwood.
27th. Have a tea party.
28th. Is the sky clear? Get out the telescope for some star gazing, if not, go for a nighttime walk with homemade lanterns.
29th. Family Game Night!
30th. Make dragon eggs.
31st. It's New Year's Eve! Make a list of plans for the New Year.

City Fresh Holiday Style

There are two late-autumn City Fresh pick-ups, one the week before Thanksgiving and the other the week before Christmas. When Amy and I were talking the holiday shares up at the last two regular-season City Fresh dates, we'd say that you'd get "squash and sweet potatoes and squash and onions and squash and other root vegetables and squash and squash and kale and squash." We were very amused with ourselves.

After speech therapy, we zoomed downtown to drop Papa off at the library then rush over to the holiday share spot. We listened to The Tale of Despereaux on CD in the car instead of the news as Aleks requested. When we got there, everything was pretty much set and unloaded already, though nobody knew what to do about checking people in. We eventually worked it well enough.

The kids brought bags of toys to play with. Bastian was clinging to me for part of the evening as he'd fallen asleep in the car. He sat on my lap whining while I wrote folks receipts for December's share.

There was indeed squash as promised.
And cabbage bigger than your head. We figure one could use this one cabbage and manage cabbage rolls, corned beef and cabbage, and coleslaw.
Butternuts...which look like my friend Becca's head, or so she says.
There were really only two kinds of squash, as it turned out. We still have like 35 squash at home though.
Josh is the truck-driver. He brings the veggies from the farms and usually looks like a bit of a urban farmhand himself. What with the mud on his pants and boots.
Told you. Cabbages bigger than your head.
Giant turnips too.
There were goons hiding behind the cabbage pyramid they built.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unschooling Co-op Outing

November and October switched places. It rained and was freezing cold all through October, which was good because we were sick for most of it, so we didn't miss much outdoor time. Now that we're better, the weather is nice. I keep hearing "Indian Summer" here and there, but I don't think it applies because it got so cold and yucky in October and September was maybe mild, but certainly not hot. And besides, I'm pretty sure "Indian Summer" offends me anyway.

Due to the still warm-enough weather, we've been able to do all this nice fall hiking lately. So for our Unschooling Co-op day, I arranged that we'd head out to Squires Castle to check it out, walk in the woods, and drink some hot cocoa. Squire's Castle is what used to be a country estate for a Standard Oil executive. Eventually, his wife died, he built another house in Millionaire's Row in Wickliffe (one of the several varying Millionaire's Rows in Cleveland during the Kerosene Age which moved progressively further from the industrial heart so as to avoid the toxins seeping out from the refineries) and the castle was closed up. One of the area metroparks bought the estate after a time, stripped the interior of the castle, but left the shell so people could go...visit it, I guess. There are three fireplaces remaining and from what I can tell, it's perfectly okay to start fires in them and have yourself a little wiener roast.

The grounds are lovely and there's a hilly forest all around, which is beautiful. The boys and I had never been, so it was high time.From the rear.

Interior shot.

The kids spent some time hanging in the windows.

Then we copped a squat on Donna's recycled wool sweater throw (I need to make one of those, fyi), and enjoyed too "spicy" (according to Bastian) hummus, pretzels, and hot chocolate.
Aleks reminds me of a chocolate joker here.
The kids went on a little walk themselves, then we all went up the hill and into the forest. It was much lovelier, really, than shaker lakes, being not in the middle of a neighborhood where you can hear (and sometimes see) cars driving by on the road. There were steep hills, which the boys dubbed "mountains" and wide, well-kept paths, covered in crunching leaves. Not much in the way of wildlife, but Aleks found some hornet nest pieces for our nature tray.

After hearing a recent tale of accidentally hatching hornets indoors, we were careful to make sure there were no closed cells with hidden life teaming behind the fragile closures.

Exploded tree.
Twisty tree. Reminded me of the growing tree in My Neighbor Totoro. Without its bark, you can see how it grew, in great spirals...

On the drive home, after picking up crickets for Esteban and accidentally squishing Bastian's fingers in the car window (requiring that I pull into a funeral home parking lot), there was a massive sun at sunset, bathing us in an intense orange glow.
Then we stopped into the library to discover that our four canned goods weren't quite enough to wipe all our fines and that I'd read the deadline of the program wrong, thankfully. We also picked up another television program about giant squid (series, actually, about "real" monsters of all sorts) and a couple of books on CD for in the car since Aleks does not appreciate always being forced to listen to the news. Sigh. Then home for minestrone soup!