Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hot Chocolate and Another (Undeserved?) Award

My wife came in here about an hour ago and said in a hushed voice, "How about you go into the kitchen and make us some beverages?"

My first thought was alcoholic kinds, but then I remembered we don't have any. Then I paid closer attention and realized the half-whisper meant something more devious... something the kids can't know about... our secret luxury: hot chocolate.

The kids can't know about it because they're gobblers. If it's remotely sweet or tasty in any way, particularly if its sugary and/or expensive, they gobble it. We have no chance. We, in fact, have a whole list of things at the grocery store that everyone in the family enjoys that we cannot purchase because the kids ruin it by pounding it down within hours of becoming aware of it. Hot chocolate, especially if its something that sounds fancy like French vanilla hot chocolate, is pretty near the top of that list. Luckily, I make pretty much everything from scratch, and the kids have already been taught the oh-so-fun lesson about how bad raw cocoa tastes. Heh heh heh.

The problem was that we didn't have a key ingredient in sufficient quantities. We were essentially out of milk, which would also cut into our romantic morning coffee ritual. Enter the good man: our spectacular homemade hot chocolate would be had!

I went to the grocery store at 10:30 at night to fix this problem, and as anyone who has been there knows, the grocery store after about 8:30 pm is a bizarre place. Santa Claus was there, in fact, tonight, but he wasn't in uniform. He was in green flannel with green jeans, and he couldn't work the self-scanning checkout. Weird place, that.

Then I came home and made it -- a little of the premium, organic cocoa mix my lady picked up a few weeks ago, nice unsweetened cocoa powder, some hippy sugar, and a few chocolate chips found their way in this one. L-o-v-e-l-y. Score 10 good-man points... except that she just went to bed without me while I'm typing this (making this shorter as the seconds go by...).

In other news, since I report things like this and folks seem to like it, I won another little award for my blogging efforts, though I don't know that I deserve it, particularly since I don't play by the rules (and should?). This one is again courtesy of The Readhead Riter and notes that I'm apparently a superior scribbler.
As my friend Jordan says... "everyone's got to be good at something." Thanks!

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Becoming My Parents

The kids are pushing me to become my parents. Despite the fact that I'm 11000 times busier than usual right now, they're every bit as needy and incompetent, and right about equally ungrateful and unappreciative. It's awesome. I am, however, keeping up with (at least) my share of the dishes, which is usually what I find myself doing almost every time I need to take a break from my work or when my wife needs the computer for hers (or for some reason the kids sneak on here to watch Japanese cartoons online...).

Here's a picture of my parenting skills in action. I'm rather happy with this picture, and the parenting skills behind it, although I don't think it would be admissible in a list of techniques for "parent of the year." The picture, at least, is really good, if not indicative of a strange scenario.
I just love how the late afternoon autumn sun is glinting off that lovely hand-crafted and glazed mug out in my yard. The color of the fading grass and the yellow maple leaves, and even the brown ones, all come together with its pale blue and the yellow-gold sun glint to make a rather lovely picture. It only begs one question, I guess: why is this lovely hand-crafted mug in my yard.

Answer: Clueless and Belligerent.

Real answer: I threw it there because I did not want to smash it, although I really wanted to smash it to make a point via going rather psychotic over the children, who are testing my nerves majorly while I'm all extra-stressed from work. C&B managed to leave milk in this mug after she's been told at least 600 times not to leave milk in mugs (she's supposed to wash them, but we're more than happy to concede if she merely rinses the milk out of them). This one didn't even make it back to the kitchen. After I noticed it had been sitting there for over two hours, then noticed that it still had milk in it, and then noticed that C&B was nowhere to be seen near this mug (which was by a plate still smeared with whatever she had eaten off of that plate, all on a table in the living room, which is nowhere near the kitchen sink), I flipped out.

The mug went in the yard after contemplating smashing it (noisily and with a great deal of fuss to make the child believe that maybe I'm a little less stable than she assumes I am when she behaves this way repeatedly) and deciding against it. It was a nice gentle toss. About an hour later, C&B went to get it after I told her she couldn't have anything else to eat or drink until she picked up and washed her dishes from earlier, including the mug, which she couldn't find and didn't remember using. It was rather entertaining watching her go into the yard to get it, but she pointed out on her return that what I did was "obviously unnecessary."

I pretended she didn't say anything and went on with my day, enjoying the lovely meal I spent far too long on so everyone would have something delicious to eat for dinner. This is exactly what my parents would have done, apparently, and to my chagrin, my mom found the story absolutely hilarious when I told it to her today, along with another apology for everything I did as a child, particularly when I was ungrateful for things I was given, particularly lazy, or ignorant of taking care of my mess when I should have known better (and did!).

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Another Award and Where I've Disappeared To

Apparently, even though I've been too busy to post much of anything on here lately, I won another award. Way cool! Thanks to Julia over at Everyday Mom Ideas for the props. I definitely appreciate it! I also like that this award is considerably less girly than the others.
The "Best Blog Award" seems a little over-the-top for what I'm doing here, but I appreciate the nod nonetheless. Everyone that agrees with Julia's taste in my blog should visit hers and check it out.

So... too busy to put anything... doing what? Well, there's autumn yard work -- that's keeping me busy. There's entertaining guests at a friend's birthday party. Then there's work... it's been keeping me a little busier than normal, and then I found out that I get to defend my thesis (finally) in about two weeks. I don't really even have time to be typing this since that seems oh-so-important and I'm oh-so-under-prepared for it. Therefore, with another quick thanks to Julia, I'm calling this one done even though I've got some great stories about the kids to tell. Seriously, my brain almost melted about six times in the last three days.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

It Had To End In Disaster: Kids and Expectations

As soon as my wife started cleaning Clueless and Belligerent's room yesterday, a project that took her around three and a half hours, I figured it wouldn't end well. When she punctuated the activity at it's close with the words, "All she had better say to me about this is 'thank you,'" I expected the worst.

Before continuing with how the day went, I want to add two things: how it came to the point where we would directly interfere in their space and the similar situation with the other child. I'll start with her and then tell how it all started. Sullen and Moody's room is also a wreck. There are a couple of pieces of furniture in there that my wife repeatedly asks her not to cover with her laundry. Those were covered with indeterminably clean or dirty laundry. The floor was covered with scraps of paper and tissues (which is disgusting because that child cannot manage simple tasks like not just throwing her used tissues on the floor or stuffing them in the corner between her bed and the wall and the like, despite the fact that we took all of her belongings away from her for the entire duration of the summer as a punishment for this heavily recurrent problem). My wife, not wanting to get sick (which is what happens every time she cleans that child's room), simply cleared those pieces of furniture and made a pile of "fix this" in the middle of the floor. She also made a list of things to be fixed: clean up the tissues, get the dishes (some of which are growing mold and/or hidden from plain view) out of the room and wash them, hang up the clothing, take dirty laundry to the basket, generally straighten up, and vacuum the carpet (which will eventually have to be removed and probably burned). For how this exciting saga proceeded, stay tuned to the last half of this post!

How did it get this way? Socks. The children both claim that they have no socks. This makes no sense to us because we seem to buy them socks on an almost uncannily frequent basis, like they have some kind of sock-destroying ritual going on although we never see the destroyed socks or any evidence thereof. Their complaining and arguing (when we point out that they should have many pairs of socks, even clean ones) finally pissed us off enough that we decided to have direct intervention. I took care of dishes and kitchen-related cleaning while my wife attacked their rooms, cleaning Clueless and Belligerent's for her spectacularly (like it could be featured in a magazine of how properly trained children keep their rooms) and doing the above-mentioned actions in the disease-ridden other room.

Not surprisingly, my wife found seven pairs of clean socks and five pairs of dirty ones in C&B's room, most of which were near the bottom of piles of cleaned laundry that had been placed originally on the end of her bed with the instructions: please put these away nicely. Those piles were all stuffed in various and sundry places around the room: in corners, partly under/behind the bookcase, partly under the bed, and against the wall. On top of every pile were other things: books, stacks of half-crumpled "important" papers, dirty (and wet) laundry including towels, candy wrappers from candy we didn't give to the child, and general teenage-girl squalor. The only aspect of C&B's room that wasn't magazine-perfect when my wife got done were those socks, which were left out in neat rows on her bed, clean and dirty, as a sort of declaration of her retardation. Surprisingly, she threw very little away, save candy wrappers, and left much of the child's "organizational system" intact, if improved slightly. This presentation was left with a nice note: "I found your socks. They're on your bed, and we'll talk about where they were. Please put the dirty ones, unfolded, in the laundry basket, and put the clean ones away properly. I expect you to keep your room like this from now on. You're welcome. Love, Mama."

Incidentally, a similar scene, sans note, was provided in Sullen and Moody's room with the socks, about a dozen pairs of which were found in her room (without even having to search for them or do a thorough cleaning!) despite her frequent claims that she does not own enough socks because we lose them on her. Wrong.

C&B didn't come directly home from school. She asked to be allowed to hang out with her friends at the park (between the school and our house) for a few hours after school, giving a specific time that she'd be home. In fact Sullen and Moody didn't come directly home either, choosing to engage in her dorky Anime Club, an after-school activity that we're not sure is altogether healthy but that we consent to since she's allowed to have dorky interests (I played D&D as a teenager...). As to C&B, she even called at about an hour and a half until she was supposed to come home and asked to go to her friend's youth group meeting with her, so we said "okay," and expected not to see her until about 8:30 or so.

Meanwhile... Sullen and Moody came home and immediately went to her room. She cried out when she saw it: "My room has been ransacked!" I informed her that it had merely been adjusted in a manner that suggested what the problems were, that there was a note detailing those problems, and that she was to have it fixed in rather short order. She said, "Can I at least take a bath first, or do you think she [my wife] will flip out?" I consented to the bath. Bad move. I didn't take into account that despite her eczema and her knowledge that soaking it in hot/warm, soapy water for long periods of time being bad for it, the child takes obscenely long baths whenever given the slightest opening to do so, especially when stressed out about something or trying to avoid doing something she doesn't want to do. This one lasted two hours to my great frustration (I had to pee), though my wife didn't know anything about it because she was working (preventing me from using our other bathroom, which is in her office). I had somewhere to be and left the house before she got out of the tub... and before C&B came home.

I came home (much earlier than expected) to my wife looking frazzled. I asked her what was up, and she said that she "didn't want to relive it." Sullen and Moody was in her room, door closed, supposedly cleaning it. Clueless and Belligerent had gone toe-to-toe with my wife over the cleanup job and jab about the socks. First of all, somehow, there was a massive argument over the socks because C&B refused to recognize that those socks could have been in her room and insisted that they were planted there in an effort to make her look bad. Secondly, C&B was furious that people had touched her stuff (which makes me wonder what she has to hide). Thirdly, C&B was very upset about her very nicely organized closet and dresser and the fact that her clothes were neatly folded and put away or hung up in an organized fashion on hangers because she "doesn't like her clothes being like that"; she "likes them on the floor." She was told that we don't care what she likes, that her stuff is in our house, and that the socks were indeed hers and were indeed "lost" in her room (so she could stop accusing us of screwing up the laundry and losing all of her socks). She was in our bedroom on the phone, jabbering away, when I got home, but that was only after having been denied it for an hour while she was sent to her room to "stare at it so she'd know what it's supposed to look like."

The bathroom that Sullen and Moody had occupied, like her room, was now a mess. Water was everywhere, so three towels had been wontonly strewn on the floor to deal with the fact that she had splashed water everywhere (the child's idea, ostensibly since she doesn't have to wash the towels). There was an empty soda bottle on the edge of the tub, the shampoo and conditioner bottles were placed precariously along its edge or where they had fallen in the floor also, and there had been no obvious attempt to clean up any of this after herself. She won herself a prize, mentioned below, for her room and this. The bathroom is now cleaned, by our hands, save the soda bottle, which awaits her as a token of her failure and impending doom.

Now, we can fast-forward to this morning. What are the states of the three rooms in question?
Clueless and Belligerent: Some laundry is already piled on the floor, crinkled papers (some blank) are strewn about on top of various piles, and the magazine-perfect appearance of the closet has been destroyed so that a poster of something she was into four years ago (on the back wall of her closet) is visible.
Bathroom: Cleaned properly except the empty soda bottle, which is placed in a locale that annoys me every time I go in there: right where the child left it.
Sullen and Moody: The tissues are still on the floor, the bed is a wreck, the cleared-off furniture is home to some clothes again and the wet towel she dried her hair with after the two-hour bath, the dishes are still there (still molding in some cases) with two extras that somehow went in there yesterday under the radar and never came out, the pile in the floor is still there though it is now covered up with every clothes hanger that the child has in her room (symbol of a project started and not finished?), the vacuum cleaner is in there but has not been used, and somehow about a week's worth of dirty laundry is heaped on the floor, not in her room, but in the room adjacent to the room with the washer and drier in it (the basket is on top of the drier, not in this adjacent room).

The children win some prizes for this, though I don't know how it will go.
1) There is no longer any reasonable excuse short of bleeding for delaying any cleaning project for more than about eight seconds;
2) Magazine-perfection is required with no other activities permitted until it is achieved -- daily;
3) We'd include "dishes don't go in your rooms for any reason," but it's a prize they've already won and ignore because we don't have a good/effective/creative method for enforcing it;
4) They each will wash their own laundry (and socks) once weekly. In fact, we will no longer be washing their laundry under almost any circumstances;
5) Sullen and Moody no longer gets to take baths: showers are required.

Kids. Disaster.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Cos: Parenting Values and Family Fun With Cosby Show Reruns

Maybe my wife and I are alone in this, but I don't think so. We definitely feel like better parents after watching a few episodes of The Cosby Show together, and even more so if we do it together with the girls, who love the show as much as we do, if not more.

It's odd to say this seeing as we're basically a family that never watches television, particularly my wife and I (the girls watch it greedily every chance they get at someone else's house). Way back when, soon after my wife and I met, though, we sat down and watched Bill Cosby: Himself with my mom one night and laughed our heads off. Seriously, that's some funny stuff. That, of course, made us want to watch more Cosby hijinks, and so in no time, we had bellied up and bought a couple of seasons of the immortal show on DVD. When there's not much else to do, one of the girls will pop one of those DVD's into the player, and before you know it, family time is happening.

It's great, although I'm definitely not the first person to say this: The Cosby Show is family programming perfection. It's funny for kids; it's funny for adults (for wholly different reasons); it's funny for non-parents; it's funnier for parents; it's funny for teenagers; it's clean; it's non-violent; it promotes being successful; it's family-oriented; it's filled with values; and it gives fantastic advice on how to succeed as any of a parent, child, or teen in a family dynamic. It also comes loaded with an over-healthy dose of 1980's kitsch that makes those of us old enough to remember it either just a bit nostalgic or just a bit embarrassed to have signed on. Of course, explaining the 1980's (particularly the fashion!) to children of today sets up wonderful opportunities to discuss fads and how ugly they'll think their clothing is in a couple of decades or so. The DVD's of course come with the added bonuses of never having to sit through commercials or deal with programming schedules.

The other day, the girls put the videos in, and I came around and discovered that it was on just at one of my all-time favorite scenes. The precocious son Theo (age 13), who apparently has bad grades and is a general let-down in many ways, has been hounded about this kind of thing throughout the entire show. He's in his room at the end delivering a powerful speech to his dad (THE Cos) about how "maybe I'm not going to be a doctor... maybe if you weren't a doctor I'd love you just as much because you're my dad, and so maybe, just maybe, you can love me for who I am, just who I am, because I'm your son."

The audience erupts with emotionally evoked applause at this point and Theo stands silently, trying to look serious, awaiting his loving father's reply and for the live studio audience to calm down. His stance is very "I'm Hamlet and just delivered a moving sillioquy, what have you got to say about it?" Dad stands up. It's very exciting because it looks like he's about to deliver a powerful family-oriented, I-love-you-son kind of response, and then in a very real, very true, very funny way expresses irreconcilable frustration in voice, tone, and manner as he says: "Theo... that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my entire life. No wonder you make D's." He continues his tirade with something to the tune of "if you would try instead of being lazy" or something that I don't think I've ever heard because I'm too busy almost pissing myself over the "stupidest thing I've ever heard" part and the "no wonder you make D's."

I think it's good for me to watch that because it doesn't fill my head with B.S. responses to give the girls. I think it's good for the girls to watch it because every kid tries some eloquent speech of that sort at some point in their lives (or several times) and expects the tv-and-movies response of "You're right, son, gosh. Let's get some ice cream!" that couldn't be further from a realistic response in that kind of situation and obviously isn't good for the child because it merely panders to them.

If anyone's curious, my most elegant speech to my mother came off a bit more like an attourney's debating in which I researched and then informed my mother of my Constitutional rights as a citizen of the United States of America and exactly how she was denying those, citing the specific Amendments that she was withholding from me. Her rebuttal was as follows:
"This country is free, and its citizens do have inalienable Constitutional rights. You however," she said, "live in my house, which is a monarchy, and I'm the queen. You therefore have no rights in this house except to do as I say when I say it until you move out, and if you'd like to leave now, I'll pack a bag for you and take you far enough away where you can't find your way back anytime quickly." I think I was seven. Staying at home, under the rule of Queen Mom, sounded like a good idea.

Of course, Bill delivers some wonderful other lines in there too... in another episode is another favorite of mine. Talking with his teenage daughter, Denise (age 16), she clearly decides she has an opinion on something, and Bill asks for it. How he does it is genius (and perfect for precocious teenage girls in my household to watch): "Come on, tell me. I want to hear whatever gems of teenage wisdom you have to spew out." Beautiful.

Another favorite was once when one of the Cosby girls (Vanessa, age 12) gets in trouble for wearing makeup when she was expressly told that she wasn't allowed to (but felt like doing it anyway). Sullen and Moody got really mad that Vanessa got in trouble for that, thinking that the makeup-wearing was minor and shouldn't have entailed the grounding that she got. In fact, she got so upset about it that she bulled up and was very difficult to talk to about it for hours. Finally, after a while, we got out of her that it made her upset because she feels like she gets in trouble for a lot of "stupid little things" like that, which we were eventually able to put into a better perpsective for her (via convincing her that Vanessa, on the show, got in trouble for disobeying a rule, whether that rule was reasonable or not, which is not a "stupid little thing").

If you don't watch The Cosby Show with your kids (and grandkids?), I think the money for the DVD's is well-spent and maybe should be invested. I'm a huge advocate, and as my wife and I say, it very well could improve your parenting skills.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Wife Is Awesome

Yesterday, my wife worked her butt off and made a decent chunk of change for the family, and she did it in a situation that was detrimental to herself. Here's it went and how I responded.

She had to work from sometime in the afternoon, three or so, until almost nine she was gone. It was close to an hour each way to drive and the rest of the time was massage, one after another, on lots of (grateful) people. What makes it kind of tough, though, is that she has a slightly injured shoulder, so about three-quarters of the way through, it really started bothering her. I, of course, didn't know this.

I knew she was working long and hard and would be hungry, though, so I started making a lovely meal. This meal was also intended, of course, to feed the children, who were as close to ungrateful about it as they're allowed to be. I guess they don't like mushrooms as much as my wife and I, and I guess I'm not worried about that. She was quite glad about the food when she came home, but almost as soon as I saw her, I realized something wasn't right. It was her arm, which apparently was weak, tired, and killing her from the issue in her shoulder causing some wicked referred pain.

After we ate, she lay on the floor on some blankets and tried to rest, but her arm was apparently really bothering her. Luckily, she's taught me some of her moves, as have some other folks, and I dug my hands into her unhappy shoulder and worked on several of the knots (most of which are actually in the upper branch of pectoralis major, for anatomy nerds out there) and then turned my attention to a more loving, gentle, relaxing massage. I don't know how much it helped, but she seems to think it was pretty good. Then, even though I did all the meal making, since her arm felt like crap (and even though my leg has been hurting for about a month, making standing for long periods not that good), I did the dishes.

So... I took up the slack, I guess, at a time of need. That's how we roll at my house, and I think it's a large part of our success in our relationship.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Awards, Apparently, And Rule-Breaking

So some lovely ladies out there in Blogland ("blogosphere" is a bit too buzz-word for my tastes now) have awarded me with some very manly looking prizes for my chronicles with my family as husband and step-dad. Here they are, with proper props and thanks:
First, there is the "Lovely Blog Award":
This is thanks to Mesina over at And then there was me, and by her own admission, it comes off as a little bit sissy-looking. I can live with that. I even kind of like rose-petal scented tea, although a teacup full of roses/petals with ribbons around the base has never appeared in my life before now and is unlikely to appear many more times in the future. Sullen and Moody (the older daughter, who just turned 15 and pointed out to me that she's very close now to being legally able to drive a motorcycle... yeah right!) would probably like it if the cup was chipped and there were some black roses in the mix to make it kind of pseudo-goth (she likes to pretend that she's goth). My wife would think it's not very pretty at all, but I'm still glad to have the award, however anti-manly it looks. Thanks, Mesina! You rock for noticing that I rock!

Then there's the "Splash Award":
This is courtesy of the Redhead Riter at her eponymous blog. I'm pretty sure this is a picture of a mermaid that looks like a fairy. I'm pretty sure that neither "fairy" nor "mermaid" is the image I'm trying to give with my blogging efforts, a fact I can now attest to more certainly because my redhead wife just saw this and busted out laughing. I'm thinking someone needs to design some more studly looking awards... again, not that I'm looking a gift-horse in the mouth. I do appreciate the recognition, for sure.

On the other hand, these blog awards apparently carry "rules" or "instructions" that remind me of spam e-mailing. I like the idea of recognizing people for their efforts, but I'm not the avenue for that kind of thing: I'm sort of a withholding praise kind of guy. Both of the women mentioned above have outstanding blogs that are worth checking out and even following, but I'm apparently supposed to nominate some odd number (or prime number?) of other blogs that deserve to have a manliness stamp of each sort placed on them. That's probably not going to happen. Sorry for breaking the rules, but I am who I am.

To balance out the girliness of the above awards, I hereby award myself the "Smashing Tim in the Face and Making Him Fall Down" award. It looks like this:
My wife is still laughing, but not because of how incredibly manly it looks that I'm smashing a guy named Tim down with my fist and an intense look under a very sweaty brow (this happened in London, btw, Mesina!).

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