Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Brotherly bliss

One of the things I like least about returning from our Christmas vacation in Colorado is saying goodbye to my brother. We live on opposite ends of the country, so we only see each other during those times when we manage to meet in the middle – twice a year at most.

I hadn’t expressed this sadness to Will but I think he may be thinking ahead about how he and Owen’s relationship will change as they grow older.

On the drive back from the library yesterday, Will told me he wanted to marry Owen one day. I told him brothers don’t usually get married, and he seemed a bit worried.

“Will Owen and I get to see each other much when we’re grown up?” he asked.

I told him they might see each other a lot if they lived in the same state, but if they lived far away, like Uncle Graham and I, they might just see each other once or twice a year.

“I want to live right next door to Owen,” Will said. “Or maybe we can live in the same house.”

I guess Will and Owen’s relationship is already like a stormy marriage. They play together most of the day, much of the time happily, but they also have their share of domestic disputes. Lately, at least a couple times a day, Owen will come up to me and say “I no like my brother.” And at least a couple times a day, he will say, “Mama, I like my brother. He nice.” In general, though, when Owen’s not giving me an official report, I’d say liking each other wins. And I’m savoring this relative domestic bliss while it lasts.

Here are the brothers, together on a Beaver Creek gondola, and with Uncle Graham, the brother I haven't lived near in years:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ski report

Yesterday we braved some chilly weather for Will's second and last day on the slopes. This time Owen came along and rode the Gondola up and down with Grammy and expressed his intense desire to ski like Will. Maybe next year, I told him.

Will learned to slow down, stop and turn and then he got pretty keen on flying down the bunny hill by the end of the day, a little too quickly for my nerves, but he learned to make himself fall when all else failed.

He even survived a slow-speed crash with an equally young and equally inexperienced little boy that left neither of them in tears. (This was while Grandpa was with him and Rob and I were off enjoying a run on our own. Will was eager to report the incident to me when we met up at the bottom of the hill: "Two kids crashed," he said, "and one of them was me." On the drive home, Will made Uncle Graham and Rob recount in detail every big skiing crash they'd ever endured.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Missed flights and merry Christmases

Our trip to Colorado began with us missing our connecting flight from Denver to Eagle, the last flight of the day, with some of that East Coast weekend weather to blame. That wound up being a hassle with a silver lining, since we called on my cousin and his wife to put us up for the night at the last minute and our boys got to play with their second cousin for a morning and we got to admire and hold their little baby girl, who at 7 months is bright-eyed and sweet as can be. As the boys played, Rob and I sat on hold trying to figure out rescheduled flights and baggage issues. The phrase “We are experiencing high call volumes. Your expected wait time is 55 minutes” is still ringing in my ears. We made multiple calls, and always the wait time was 55 minutes.

We finally made it to Eagle, where we've been having a really nice visit, complete with sledding, deer-watching, and Scrabble playing. And today Will got his skiing legs under him for the first time since last year. We got a late start and he was so determined to keep skiing past the lift closures at 4 that we hiked up for one last mini-run.

So we are enjoying our white Christmas so far. Merry Christmas to you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

There's no place like the potty for the holidays

Just in time for the holidays, we are making our first real sustained attempt at potty training Owen. Probably not so convenient with all our travel plans, but at least I’ll be with Owen throughout the day – and we can help my mom relive the memories of cleaning up occasional accidents on her carpet instead of mine.

What launched the whole endeavor was Owen’s recent interest in wearing Elmo underwear. (I had to bravely skip the drab thick training underwear that worked for Will but is apparently not snazzy enough for his fashion-savvy younger brother.)

Having long ago abandoned sticker charts and other bribery as futile in terms of our long-term potty training efforts, I now focus on talking shamelessly about all things fecal. Will and I talk about how much better we feel after going potty and we examine the shapes of Owen’s poops – are they walruses, caterpillars trees, or bouncy balls? (Today we had a mama hippo with two baby hippos; and a rattlesnake. Just try not to visualize.) I talk with Owen about how he is saving diapers and trees and how I don’t have to use any wipes on him now (he’s not a fan of them).

Often we lure Owen to the potty with the promise of reading a book he picks out as he goes and Will, sitting on a stool next to Owen’s potty seat, typically joins us for a reading session. I'm beginning to wonder if it will be my fault when my boys turn into men who read and general take forever in the bathroom.

We've still got lots of work to do though before it's smooth sailing. When Owen’s immersed in play he’s not too interested in taking care of business, so it should add some insanity to our holiday break.

As always, any tips from potty-seasoned moms are welcome.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Tis the season to bake some cookies

Will and I have spent several afternoons in the kitchen this month baking up holiday treats to unload on our classmates and co-workers. Owen’s “helped” out some too – although we confine him in to a counter place where his germ-infested cookies will only be eaten by him.

I wrote about the adventure of baking with kids for the holidays for a column in today’s Ledger-Enquirer. There I included a recipe for two of our favorites: Mexican Wedding Cakes and Magic Cookie Bars.

Here’s a link to the Triple Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies recipe we tried after browsing a “25 Days of Christmas Cookies” recipe list at If I make them again I will cut the amount of chocolate chips a bit and increase the cranberries -- either way, though, they're a nice indulgent holiday cookie. (We didn't even bother with the melted chocolate drizzle on top of the cookies -- would have been a nice aesthetic touch, but you don't need more sweetness in these!)

Of course, nothing’s more fun than cutting out and icing sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies – but I figure those are fairly standard recipes so I’m not including them here. I also make an easy fudge – nothing more than melted chocolate chips, sweet condensed milk and vanilla extract – to fill out the platter.

Next year, I imagine we’ll attempt something new. So if you have a favorite holiday cookie recipe to share, please do.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hundreds of lights, millions of lights...

Last night we went up to enjoy the Fantasy in Lights show at Callaway Gardens for the first time. We've intended to go in years past and somehow never made it happen. But having experienced the joy of watching our wide-eyed kiddos take in the Christmas lights spectacular, we'll be taking them every year from now on. We bundled up, brought blankets and hot chocolate (so hot in my overly efficient thermos that the boys couldn't drink it) and enjoyed the show from one of the trolleys.
The Christmas caroling we did en route reminded me of riding around carolling on a truck bed in the little Colorado town where I grew up. Outdoor caroling adventures are definitely memories that stick. I kind of wish people still got together and went door to door and sang to their neighbors. Does that ever happen anymore?

The boys stayed wide awake on our 45-minute drive home as we recounted favorite light scenes and sang more Christmas carols together.

I will admit, though, that I was feeling just a smidgen guilty about our complicity in encouraging Callaway Gardens to put on a show using 8 million lights and 3,500 extension cords -- but then I read on The Atlanta Traveler that Callaway offsets 100 percent of its energy use by purchasing wind power credits. So that eases my conscience a bit.

Owen stood up -- awed, bedazzled, and exclaiming -- for the entire hour-long lights tour.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Santa's astounding memory

We went to the North Columbus Library today to see a Christmas puppet show and have a visit with Santa.

As he stood in line, Owen told me he was going to ask for Play-doh for Christmas, then changed his mind and decided he wanted a bear. But once he saw that the library Santa was handing out books, he decided to ask for a book – and was quite delighted when he immediately got his wish.
Will, for his part, timidly asked Santa for a transformer. I’m not sure that Santa actually heard his request and on the way home, Will, probably worrying that his transformer would be forgotten, asked me, “How does Santa remember what all the children want for Christmas?”

I offered a lame response on the order of: “I’m not sure – they say he really knows a lot about all the children of the world so I guess maybe he’s just a mind that can remember everything about children.” We also decided we'd better finish up our letter to Santa (which we started a week ago and abandoned mid-project) just in case he has any memory lapses.

Lately Will has been posing a lot of probing questions about Santa and his flying reindeer antics. It’s not that he’s a skeptic, necessarily; he just seems to be wondering about the mystery of it all.
So far I’ve been offering, “Well I’m not really sure, but the stories all say…” kinds of answers so that I feel like I’m being partially honest and yet keeping the myth alive for as long as Will seems to want to believe in it.

So for those of you with older and wiser kids, I’d like to know, what prompted you to spill the beans? (And for those of you with younger kids, how do you field the tough questions?)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Our tasty Christmas tree

This year we decided to forego the commercial Christmas tree lots and farms, and instead drove over to our friend Jeff’s 19th-century family home near Waverly, Alabama, so that he could help us harvest a cedar on some land he’s planning to clear anyway. We petted a couple goats, then headed down the hill for our tree. Jeff remembers cutting down Christmas trees as a boy on the land that’s belonged to his family for six generations.

There was more tree than we needed so the boys chose a couple branches, which will become “trees” for their bedroom or our dining room. Jeff told us the goats would enjoy eating the base of the tree we were leaving behind.

“They like cedar,” he said.

As if to prove his point, by the time Rob got to the top of the hill, three of Jeff’s goats were following behind, grazing on the tree as they chased it. As Rob hoisted the tree atop the car, one of the goats jumped up on our car, hooves on a side window, mouth seeking tasty tree branches -- until Jeff redirected him. Turns out these goats are agile enough to climb to the roofs of cars and trucks when the mood strikes them.

Will, who’d already developed an attachment to our new Christmas tree, decided to stand guard near our car in case one of the goats tried to pull some more funny stuff. The goats had moved on by that point, but it all made for a memorable Christmas tree hunting adventure.

Our tree, pre-harvest.

Jeff told Will to haul his "tree" up the hill like a mule.

Three-tree parade

Feeding frenzy

Thursday, December 3, 2009

You better watch out

I keep forgetting to pull the Christmas CDs off the shelves at home and put them in the car, so ever since the calendar turned to December a few days ago I’ve been singing off-key a cappella Christmas carols to the boys on our drive to preschool. Will and I sing Jingle Bells together, but I have to go mostly solo for Up on the Housetop, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, The Twelve Days of Christmas and Frosty the Snowman (whose lyrics I generally bungle by the end). This is an all-request show, so I wind up doing the livelier tunes – Away in A Manger and Silent Night just aren’t quite rockin’ enough for Will and Owen’s tastes.

Today, when I was intending to break into Up on the Housetop, I instead found myself singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – as in: “you better watch out, you better not cry….”

I swear I wasn’t trying to pull Santa threats on my kids, unless it was subconsciously?

Because it’s true that Owen has chosen this week to try out crying fits in hopes of getting his way. I’ve been gently escorting him to his room and encouraging him to come out just as soon as feels like being happy with the rest of the family. This has been working fairly well; he lies on the floor in tears for a couple minutes and eventually comes out teary-eyed, sucking air in loudly, but not quite crying and fairly ready to discover a little calm within. We’ve had to do it a few times though, and I think Owen’s aware he’s been crying more than usual.

Tonight as I was putting on his pajamas he asked me to sing “Better Watch Out” two times in a row. He seemed to be contemplating the lyrics, and he asked me, “Who better not cry?”

“It’s just a song,” I said, detecting some concern in his voice. “I guess it’s saying Santa likes to see kids use their words instead of just crying when their mad. Do you think it’s saying you better not cry?”

“No,” said Owen decidedly. “Babies better not cry.” He even named a baby we know, as if to insure that he wasn’t including his big boy self in the “you better not cry” group.
We’ll see if that means he’s resolving to reform or if it means he's not going to "not cry" and is already envisioning another crying fit on the menu tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm only singing that song if it's requested. I don't think I want to turn Santa into a coal-delivering Big Brother in our house. I'd rather just encourage my kids to be good for goodness' sake. It feels more honest.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fun at Fernbank

One highlight of our holiday weekend was a rare 10-hour date for Rob and I that included Christmas shopping in Atlanta, dinner and a movie while Rob's dad and sister played with the boys and put them to bed.

Another was a trip to Fernbank Museum of Natural History, where Will and Owen marveled at everything from stuffed wildlife native to Georgia to huge replicas of dinosaur skeletons -- and some interactive exhibits in the "Sensing Nature" exhibit and in the children's discovery areas. Will and Owen agreed that a trip to Fernbank was even more fun than a trip to the zoo, perhaps because they weren't at all intimitated by the motionless animals (they tend to get spooked by gorillas and tigers and the like). Will said his favorite things in the museum were some model dinosaur babies emerging from large dinosaur eggs and a stuffed barred owl. Then Will reconsidered and said, "Actually Papa was my favorite thing."