Friday, December 7, 2018

Five on Friday: If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say . . .

I know it's not technically winter yet, but let's face it: it's winter. We've had snow. We've had a lot of winter holiday traditions. It's cold.

I hate the cold. My husband and I were talking yesterday about if we'd rather be too hot or too cold (hot. always.) and then extending that to would we rather die via too much heat or too much cold. He doubted that I'd still prefer heat in that scenario and then I reminded him that during the winter I can wear two pairs of wool socks and lay under piles of blankets and still feel like my toes are tiny little digits made of ice. It's miserable.

So I can get a little grumpy as the weather gets colder. Optimist me has decided to come up with a list of things I do like about this time of the year. There must be some good things!! Let's see . . .

1. Hats. Hats are cute. It's not fair for my wide-brimmed sun hats to get all the usage I guess.

2. Fire in the fireplace. Sure, I now constantly smell like I just got back from a camping trip but look how nice:

3.  The snow is . . . pretty at least. Particularly in my backyard before the children start trampling it:

4. Traditions. For some reason the cold-weather holidays have so many more traditions attached to them than any of the other holidays. Probably it's too cold outside to be busy with anything else. I do love them all, particularly the ones that our family has created for ourselves (like epic gingerbread creations, hand print construction paper Christmas trees and taking a gaggle of kids to wrap gifts for the residents at the Developmental Center)

5. The sunrises are also particularly pretty this time of year. Because of the time change? The season? Climate change? Santa's magic? I don't care why, I just know that seeing scenes like this every morning when I wake up and start my coffee really help me start the day with a smile and gratitude, even if my toes are frozen.


Friday, November 30, 2018

Five on Friday: What I've Been Reading

Once again the year is predictably and inexplicably drawing to a close. That means the "Best Of" lists are popping up: what were the best new songs of the year? Movies? What books did you read and love in 2018?

While I have read and loved many books this past year, when I look at our bookshelves I see many books that I enjoyed as a child and again with my children. So I thought I'd do a similar list but with a different twist. For today's Five On Friday, here are five books that I've been reading . . . for the past forty years or so.

1. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  I love the very 70s illustrations in this book (including the Punch Buggy sighting). A few years ago I took all five kids to visit their Dad in his office and we recreated that scene from the book . . . uh, not on purpose.

"My Dad said please don't pick him up anymore."

2. "Stand Back," Said The Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!" Anyone else remember this one?  The Elephant's sneezes can have pretty catastrophic results so a mouse saves the day . . . sort of.

3. Animals should definitely not wear clothing. It would be terribly embarrassing to go to the zoo and realize the elephant is wearing the same outfit as you. Important life lessons are learned in these books.

4. Something Queer is Going On (a mystery) Oh how I loved these two girl sleuths and their big floppy dog Fletcher!

5. The Marvelous Mud Washing Machine This may be the very first book I can remember reading on my own. Thanks to my husband, I now own a copy. A Marvelous Mud Washing Machine was a dream of mine as a child--and again as a mother, but for different reasons.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Five on Friday: Thankful for the Thanks-Giving Turkey

It's weird how one year I had a little collaborative family craft idea (It starts as a large feather-less turkey in early November. We write things we are thankful for on paper feathers to adorn it) and then all of a sudden it's an annual tradition that's a decade old.

So weird.

Here are some of my favorite things about this craft for a short and sweet, Five on Black Friday list:

1. First Turkey vs. Most Current Turkey: Not quite as much effort is put into making the base turkey anymore (Feathers? Googly eyes? I laugh.) But it still always gets a food name. I don't know how to explain it other than my kids are kind of strange and funny.

Meet Cheeseburger, the Turkey

This is Squash. The Turkey.

2. The contributions made by extended family, neighbors and friends over the years.

3. The way the turkey has become a bit of an ever-evolving time capsule. Would you just look at that handwriting and spelling?

"I am thankful for dogs"
4. The ridiculous ones that made us laugh when they were brand-new and continue to do so every time we see them:

5. Every single turkey has multiple feathers giving thanks for our family: the ones that live with us, the ones that live nearby, the ones that live far away. They are referenced by name, by title (Brothers! Cousins! Etc!), by characteristics they exhibit (So-and-so's sense of humor) or by the ways they help us our impact our lives.

These are the reasons I'm really thankful for the Thanks-Giving Turkey.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Five on Friday: Snowvember!

New Jersey's No-School November continues with an unexpected snowstorm causing an unplanned early dismissal AND school closing!

So what will we be doing home all day today? SO MUCH! For example:

1. Shoveling. Shoveling. Shoveling. I'd say eight inches of very heavy snow times the length and width of my driveway, path to the front door, the back deck and the yard path I created so our little dog can still go out . . . definitely mean I can indulge later when I do some . . .

2. Baking! I looked up this recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with intentions of making them to freeze for Thanksgiving morning, but who am I kidding? While the dough is rising I will do some . . .

3. Reading. My daughter and I  are reading Nikki Grimes' Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel together and have two chapters left. I have some articles a friend saved for me to get to as well, never mind the book I'm really enjoying (Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng)

4. Writing. Funny how last night I had NO ideas for my Five on Friday list but this morning I came up with three. I'm (obviously) writing this one now but will probably try to write out the other two ideas I had before I forget them again.

5. Lots of basic snow-day stuff like taking pictures of the pretty snow and my lovely children playing in it, stoking the fire and having impromptu dance parties.

View from my back deck this morning

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Five on Friday: Recent Discoveries and Realizations

It may be "No School November" here in New Jersey* but the learning never ends! Well, maybe my kids' Halloween Sugar-adled brains are on vacation but their Mother has been making all sorts of discoveries and realizations lately! 

For example:

1. Apparently little brother has grown quite  bit since February! No wonder he couldn't get his khakis from last winter on! Thank goodness his favorite sweatshirt still fits him.

February 7, 2018
November 4, 2018. Didn't even realize the sweatshirt thing until later.

2. Pretzel pancakes aren't as bad as they sound. I wouldn't go so far as to recommend them but in the Halloween-goodies-into-pancake frenzy of last weekend, they surpassed my expectations and were 1,000 times better than the Jolly Rancher, M&M and Skittle combo a certain youngest child created.

Note the red left in the pan. Skittle? M&M? It's a mystery nobody wants to solve.

3. I recently read Catcher in the Rye for the first time since I was a teenager. I realized that I still could relate to Holden as that young kid trying to figure it all out but at the same time I found myself repeatedly thinking, "Oh honey, no." One part that I know I chuckled at then and again now:

Funny because it's true.

4. My youngest son is an athlete and a musician, not much of an artist. Whenever he sits down to make a card for someone he relies on his go-to . . . a cookie truck. This is adorably cute and I will rue the day he abandons it. Recently I was cleaning  and found this drawing . .  . the MYSTERY COOKIE truck!! Best discovery ever!

Is it a good cookie or is it a bad cookie? Do you like a mystery? Try our mystery cookies!

5. Last weekend  I got to remember just how fucking long it takes to put yarn extensions in my daughter's hair. But I also got to rediscover just how cute she looks with them and how happy they make her. She even remembered to say "thank you" without being nudged.

I stopped counting the cumulative hours when I got to three and a half.
Can't pose, Ma, gotta run, dance and swish my long, long hair now

* They do have school but there are a slew of half days for conferences, two days off for the teachers' conference, half days and days off for Thanksgiving. I also refer to the conference week as "New Jersey Goes to Florida" week.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Five on Friday: Sappier than an After-School Special

When I sit down to write my weekly Five on Friday list, I first try to come up with ideas by thinking about current events. Lately, every week there seems to be only more violence, vitriol, lies and lack of leadership. I get so frustrated and upset. I wonder how many "coping with the terrible state of the country" lists can one blogger can write? How many vigils can I attend or passionate speeches can I share just to have another horrifying hate crime happen? What can I possibly do that actually impacts the world? That promotes peace?

So then I usually turn to the smaller picture, my own community and my family, to find inspiration and hopefully some signs of hope or joy. This time when I did that, I realized that our recent act of hosting a British Exchange Student definitely provided lots of joy I could share. Then, like in a sappy after-school special, I remembered an important lesson. I've decided to share the laughter and lesson re-learning for this week's list:

1. Through a shared sense of humor and the magic of the Internet, we got to know our Exchange Student's parents, too.  It's a long story, but let's just say it concludes with us taking a picture of the six kids standing on a sidewalk lovingly giving the middle finger to  her Dad. CULTURAL EXCHANGE AT ITS FINEST.

(There are three things I want you to know about this picture, two in my defense and one because it's funny:
a. Her Dad started it
b. At the end of his daughter's visit, he admitted we were "okay, for Yanks"
c. After putting both middle fingers up, my 8-year-old said, "This feels sort of normal" )

2. I didn't mention that our guest has two prosthetic legs since losing her legs to an infection as an infant.  I am thankful for her willingness to answer my family's questions about how her life has been impacted by this and basic facts about how prosthetic legs  work. A highlight in this regard was when we invited a local family over to visit. Their 5-year-old daughter also has a prosthetic leg. I wish I was filming when she saw our Exchange Student's legs: her little face absolutely lit up with joy.

3. All the fun that comes along with learning each other's vocabulary (Jumper? That's a sweatshirt!), pronunciation (HOW do you say garage??) and expressions. My favorite was when the someone brought up the song "Uptown Girl" and my teenage son said he didn't know it. Our guest admonished, "Sort that out!" and it continues to make me laugh.

4. Yes, as predicted, we did have fun taking advantage of things to do locally but even better was all the playing we did at home. She renewed my family's interest in Wii Sports and we had some pretty serious competitions going on. Also, the kids together invented a new activity of wearing the Speak Out mouthpieces while singing karaoke songs at the top of their lungs. It was hysterical . . . highly recommended.

UK vs US  10-day Wii Sports Showdown

5. Here comes the After-School Special proselytizing: I remembered that happiness shared with a new friend, from a different country and perspective, is the kind of joy that brings along with it the hope and inspiration I long for. It reminds me the actions we take, the friendships we make, do help change the world. I can continue to feel helpless in combating hate or I can defeat it in small steps every chance I get.

I choose the latter.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Five on Friday: Things My Kids Know I'm a Sucker For

Any kid worth their salt intrinsically knows what their parents are suckers for. And if there's one thing all five of my kids are, it's salty.

They know, without doubt, that:

1. I will always say yes to taking free books (the same cannot be said about free stuffed animals. Even though I really like things that are free, I maintain that stuffed animals breed in captivity.)

2.  I will always allow a banana at bedtime (usually I'm pretty mean and say no to last minute attempts at stalling bedtime by asking for a snack but if it's a banana? Okay.)

3. I will let them watch anything on PBS at pretty much any time of the day (Though my 8-year-old recently told me that she's too old for PBS)

4. Likewise, they know their chances for getting me to say yes to additional screentime are pretty damn high if it's to play educational games (Can you spell SUCKER? S-U-C-K-E-R)

5. Lastly, these kids know their mother pretty well and they rest assured knowing that if they use a curse word correctly in a sentence around me, they'll never get in trouble. (And that I'll probably laugh)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Five on Friday: Perks of Being a Host Family

Tonight our British exchange student will be arriving and we are all really excited about meeting her! We did this same exchange program two years ago and had such a good time . . . I'm not sure how I dropped the ball on signing up last year, but we're back this year, baby!

You might be wondering why we are willingly taking another child into this house where the grown-ups are already so outnumbered--so I should mention that this is just a ten-day visit. And you know how people always say that after having two kids, adding a third isn't really that big of a deal? I can attest to that and add to that by saying after having five kids, any number of additional children aren't that big of a deal either.

One of the great things about it being a short visit is that we don't have time to put anything off. Everything that we want to share with her we must do right away, so we've scheduled it and will get it all done.

Of course the best things about being a host family are getting to make a new friend, having fun laughing at little cultural differences together, having UK vs. US candy showdowns (ever try British Skittles? Not nearly as sweet as ours and a bit more flavorful.) Not to mention getting to listen to my youngest imitate a British accent . . . but having done this before, I've realized there are other perks that I hadn't counted on, like:

1. Being provided the opportunity to take advantage of lots of local places, restaurants and things to do: it's like a mini-staycation with a new foreign friend who has never seen any of it before.

2. Likewise, we also get the chance to take advantage of places that are local-ish but we don't manage to get around to enough. Frequently realtors use "close to both New York City and Philadelphia!" as a selling point to living in this area, but how often do we get into either city? We will be in the next ten days!

3. We also get to go to places that we don't normally go to, like the ginormous Mall about half an hour away. Our children have been there so infrequently that it is just as much a magical display of dazzling American excess to them as it is to our guests.

We took this picture last time we visited the big Mall with exchange students. I'm telling you, we are like tourists there ourselves.

4.  While we like to think we prioritize family fun and togetherness, sometimes the hectic life of a family of seven means we end up doing things like frantically carving pumpkins on October 30th. Not this year! We have all sorts of family fun on the itinerary, including carving pumpkins weeks before Halloween!

5. The food, oh the food.  I love hosting and cooking and making special foods so I have plans to do a lot of that in the next ten days. By the time she goes home we'll all be 5 pounds   0.35 stones heavier!