Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How to Celebrate New Year’s Eve, Our Style


Our end-of-year tradition is that Dwayne takes our orders and creates a fantastic dinner, made-to-order.  This year, the kids and I made it easy on him and all demanded his famous sliders. 

But he started off with a melted Asagio (cheese) flambee, which was a spectacular fireworks display.



But then…the burgers. De-lish, Babe!



And then we had just enough time to get down to Bellevue Square for the last night of Celebration Lane (which is what Snowflake Lane turns into when Christmas strikes midnight). 


This penguin stole my Santa hat!  His beak must have been pretty cold.


Stilted costumes were handing out kazoos, an important addition to any New Year’s party.


I find it impossible to not dance at these things, even weighed down by a child or two.  


Showing off his talents, Wesley tries to catch snowflakes with his tongue.  Except those aren’t actual snowflakes, baby. 



And the best part?!  Keith and Julie were there, too!  Parker and Cecily are awesome cousins.


So long, 2014!  Can’t wait to meet you, 2015!

Friday, December 26, 2014

It IS Better to Give

Dwayne’s surprise came a little later than everyone else’s on Christmas morning.  The kids and I waited until he was in the shower, then frantically moved furniture around in our bedroom, then pushed the surprise from Piper’s closet to it’s new place in our room.  I vacuumed the floors, arranged everything just so, and plugged it in, and still have plenty of time to enjoy Dwayne’s gift until he was out of the shower.


To say he was surprised is to give him the greatest credit of trying very hard of having no clue about his gift, in spite of huge cardboard boxes badly hidden around the house and enormous bulges barely covered by Piper’s closet doors and dire warnings about what to not notice.

Somewhat abashedly, I confess I absolutely love this new spot in our room, and I spend more and more time there, currently as a Patrick Rothfuss-addict and avid homework avoider. 

Thanks, Babe, for an excuse to give you the gift you’ve always wanted and finding out it’s perfect…for me!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The 12 Guests at Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:20141225_165544

12 Jims Dog walking

11 Brians Biking

10 Garys Sawing

9 Grammas Babysitting

8 Cheryls Coughing

7 Dwaynes Napping

6 Denises Writing

5 Janets Riding

4 Wesleys Whistling

3 Kylas Caroling

2 Pipers Piping

1 Sandis Building a Sand Castle

Talk about a priceless Christmas…even if guests were forced to create and sing a song against their will.  I loved it!

Thanks, Santa!

 DSCN1964This year’s Christmas (brought to us by and Trader Joe’s) is infamous for the amount of surface debris caused by all of Santa’s bounty.  Then we went downstairs and Skyped with some CA family, unwrapping gifts together, and making an another entire carpet vanish under torn wrapping paper and fillers.  Then one hour to clean up before family arrives—whew!  It should have been the beginning of total madness, but the entire day was beautiful, relaxed, and perfectly warm in the company of loved ones. 

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How stereotypical of me—Kyla and Piper each get dolls and Wesley gets a new bow and arrow.  However, the girls each picked out the doll they wanted to get for Christmas (and I really had not planned on getting Kyla another doll) and Wesley has been waiting months and months for a new bow, since his last set broke. 


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

“Gingerbread House” is a Stupid Name

…for something made mostly out of candy, icing, and spit.  But it DSCN1962is our Christmas Eve tradition, which sounds better than “Way to bribe the kids to clean the house and then keep them locked in one place while parents get ready for Christmas”.  We’ll still call it a Gingerbread House and delight in the rapt attention of our little ones.



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Monday, December 22, 2014

We Interrupt this Blog…

“MO-om, Kyla’s stuck and we can’t get her out!”

“Did Pooh-Bear get stuck in Rabbit’s Hole?” I call out as I put down my computer and book to rescue a bear stuffed with fluff.

“I’m not a Pooh-Bear!  I’m just stuck and can’t go up or down and my stomach is really starting to hurt!”

We are at the cabin and when I last checked on then, the three were playing baby and Piper was reading them all bedtime stories.  I thought I’d get an hour of P&Q (Peace and Quiet) to blog and read. That lasted long enough to boot the computer and find where I left off in my book.

She was stuck between the top bed and the wall. Luckily, the bed wasn’t so heavy that I couldn’t move the bed while laughing.  She grinned good naturedly and thanked me. 

I was just starting work on a blog post when I heard again, “MO-om, Wesley’s stuck!”

Same spot my friends. I’m never going to caught up on blogging.


PS  I got about 30 minutes of nonconsecutive P&Q over a 4 hour block.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Superheroes Among Us

DSCN1904 DSCN1903 First, here is the Wolverine of Christmas Letter Fame. 

Then Piper and Wesley became the Underwear Bandits, about which I will let the pictures write their own 4000 word essay.

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Even Timmy Whitefoot couldn’t escape without a cape.



And what do you get when you mix a Pilgrim and a Batman?  I don’t know either, but it’s kinda cute.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 Christmas Letter

December 13-15, 2014

Dear Loved Ones*,

2014 has been fantastic—I haven’t been personally responsible for a $4000 water leak this year, and I’ve increased my “winning” streak of buying non-working appliance to 5 in a row. I’m calling Guinness when I get to six. Dwayne and I both celebrated fortieth birthdays this year--a good excuse for the gray we both sport. My cellulite has hungrily attacked all my “give-a-damn” cells, which is an especially fine trade off. The kids make good case studies and writing material, and the place in my head is a diverting spot to be.

Do you remember the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin and Susie get into a terrorist-level snowball fight, and the last panel leaves Calvin soggy, groggy, and convinced that Santa “is going to skip this block for years”? He was also in his element and seemingly content with his lot in life. I’m pretty sure at least half the Need household is getting coal this year, but maybe on the whole, it was worth it.

Kyla could be one of those rigorously scheduled kids with practices and clubs every day. Except substitute extracurricular activities for vision therapy and reading tutoring and that pretty much fills up her days. Kyla’s school career has added far more to my résumé than all my post-grad work combined. I didn’t know a kid with 20/20 eyesight wouldn’t have the visual acuity to read. But vision screening just measures how well you can see something 20 feet away, not if you can focus on the page 12 inches from you…as she and I have learned. She’s still quite dyslexic, but her eyes are getting strong enough to sustain a reading lesson. With her persistence and confidence, she’s the right kid to have such learning disabilities, even when my heart aches for her struggles. She’s been fortunate to have a teacher who not only reads kid writing and spelling, but can actually read Kyla writing and spelling. It is a true super power!

Of course, Kyla is far more than a kid with dyslexia. She sounds like a book when she speaks. Correction, she sounds like a long book when she speaks. Most recently, she’s started to refer to herself in the third person. I’m always hearing what a sweet girl she is. I often think so, but with Piper and Wesley as her foils, it’s hard to be objective. But her wheat-free diet really seems to have helped and she’s back to being a darling who wants to do her part to contribute to her family and the world. I love that she (ear-) reads more than I do and that she fiercely loves her ragdoll, her little brother and even Piper, against Piper’s objections.

Thanks to BBC’s Sherlock, we all know the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. Fortunately, Piper is merely the latter. Piper desperately wants to be an only child. Instead of spending her nearly 7 years on Earth acclimating to being a second-born, she seems to be actively maladjusting. She draws family pictures that “don’t have enough room on the paper” for Kyla and Wesley. She’s plenty bright, and occasionally uses her literacy skills to write hate mail to her siblings, which thankfully they can’t yet read. But I have spies and she has been caught holding Kyla’s hand as they walk home from school together and she sometimes reads Marvel comics to Wesley instead of hitting him. When a cat goes streaking from a forbidden part of the house wearing a pink doll skirt, I know to shout “PIIIIIIIIII-PER”. But I can’t fully write off a child who stays up way too late reading books after lights-out, much like her own mother used to do and still does. Her fierce streak of independence suits my style of parenting. I don’t waste too much time banging my head against the brick wall she likes to climb, and we’re both happier for it.

As threatened, I enrolled Wesley in as many preschools as I could schedule. The promised land is still a year and a half away, when Wesley is in school full time. I often forget that he’s a good looking kid, which may have to be his future meal ticket, since he has no brains to speak of. This year’s acronym, NOB, was inspired by our son, who usually wins the daily “Not Our Brightest” award. When Kyla began vision therapy last spring, we gave Wesley some of the same exercises, and he immediately covered his eyes and hid. Now he, too, is in therapy. The good news is that he will complete the program before he starts Kindergarten. Last year, he rocked the two wheel bike. This year, as a 4 year old, he taught himself to roller blade, ice skate, skate board and pogo stick, sometimes simultaneously. I’m just waiting for him to add knife-throwing to the mix. He wears shorts every day that is technically above freezing (Mama’s rule) and is becoming a fairly innovative superhero. He found 6 long sticks, changed into a long-sleeve shirt (on purpose!) and stuck 3 into each sleeve for Wolverine claws. The kid makes me wheeze from laughter, but not always in the moment.

Dwayne’s exciting news is that he has been granted an 8 week sabbatical at work. Stay tuned in about five years for when we actually take advantage of it. Dwayne also handily wins Lover of the Year award for surprising me with a river cruise on the Danube from Germany through Austria to Hungary this summer. (The inspiration for a year abroad…it’s for the children, I swear!) The kids stayed with my parents while we ran around palaces and cathedrals. There were several times I wished Kyla had been there knowing she would love the history and artifacts as much as I did, but I did spent more time writing that one week than I have all autumn.

I continue my usual recommended therapy of dark chocolate and projects. The day before school started, Dwayne and I took a sledge hammer to Kyla’s room and began a quick remodel that lasted into October. I caught my breath and then started converting part of the garage into a mudroom, which ironically, is now one of the nicer rooms in the house. Then a quick master bedroom update. But my stay-at-home status should be updated to stay-at-school since that’s where I spend most of the school days doing everything I can to be on staff without the paycheck…or the responsibilities.

The cookies are calling, so I’m going to break a personal rule and conclude in the same way I did last year.

We have a Bethlehem Star on our back porch, brightening the dark street below us. I don’t want to imply in any way that the Christ Child lives here, per se, but our prayer is that you, too, find what you seek.

With heaps of love,

Denise, for Dwayne, Kyla, Piper, and Wes

*I told myself I can eat all the rum balls I want as soon as I finish our Christmas letter. To make this fair, perhaps you should read this with a plateful of cookies. Or a shot of rum. [Dwayne: Why it is always either/or for you? “And” is a conjunction, too!]

Friday, November 28, 2014

National Swearing Day

The first year we were married, Dwayne dubbed the day we hunted, bagged, and set up our own Christmas tree as “National Swear Day”.  And it was true—my unflappable husband was truly flapped by a bad tree stand and other circumstances.  His job is to make sure the tree stands true for a month—he get’s to bow out of lighting, decorating, watering, and cleaning up after the tree.  But he’s found enough hassle in his part to continue calling the day after Thanksgiving as National Swear Day.

I’ve come to suspect that Dwayne actually enjoys NSW.  Every year, he is the one manipulating the family into choosing bigger and bigger trees.  Last year was a complete debacle. But this year was perfect.  First of all, we finally found “our” tree farm.  (Note to self for NSD 2015: JP Landscape Tree Farm
29726 NE Cherry Valley Road, Duvall, WA 98019). 

Although the weather vacillated between “downpour” and “deluge”, we got out at the farm, were immediately greeted by the farmer under a warm shelter, given a quick lesson on the different species they grew, and were told that “all Frasiers are $25 this weekend.”  The Fraziers were getting too big to sell, meaning many were getting over twelve feet.  Dwayne’s eyes gleamed at “over 12 feet” not at “$25”!  We didn’t go far into the DSCN1870field before Dwayne spotted three perfect trees and then let the kids pick.  We cut, carried, and then handed it over to the staff to do all the actual work.  The kids and I then got to pick up our s’more bags and roast marshmallows over the roaring fire unfazed by the rain.  The farm dog politely greeted everyone, while we snacked, sipped on hot chocolate and wrote and posted letters to Santa. 


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It felt wrong to get the perfect tree so cheaply, so Dwayne buy some mistletoe and snowman nutcracker to assuage my guilt.







And by nightfall, we were ready for the season!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Denise Gets Her Mudroom

Our split-level house has some “flow” problems, and this time I’m not talking toilets.  The kids and I always enter through the garage into a very narrow hallway.  A few years ago, I built a shoe bench that had just a half inch clearance to close the door.  The kids don’t actually put their shoes away, but if they did, the bench is getting too small for their growing feet.  Even if coats and shoes were put away, it was still a bottle neck for getting us out of the house each time. 
It just wasn’t working.
Dwayne and I have had “build a mudroom in the garage”  and “organize the workbenches” on our house project list for years, but over this last year, it started shooting to the top.  So after Jim and I caught our breath after finishing Kyla’s room, the sledge hammers came out again. 
Oh, in case it wasn’t clear, our garage was in worse shape than the house.  This is 90% my fault, but as I don’t take care of the garage until the kids, house, estate, and cabin are in shape, you can see for yourself how often I can get to it.
The garage before:

We had two workbenches, which are just places to put 1) all the new tools we buy for projects, 2) but all the old tools on until we put them where the belong, and 3) piles of things Mama is supposed to fix.  We cleared those out and put everything in the middle of the garage.
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Then Papa Jim attacked and our new area was framed and wired. Dwayne and Jim decided to make it bigger than I first imagined, but they were 100% correct!

Jim made a “wood shower curtain” to hide the water heater and furnace.  Then it needed to be dry walled. Dwayne tiled the new room and Jim put together a new workbench out of the old ones.

I always enjoy the interior design.  I painted it my favorite orange, put up brick wall paper over the hiding wall, and made a bench (for $15!) with scrap wood and some cheap planks.  I love the old wardrobe I found on craigslist—perfect for storing extra coats with small interior drawers for each kid and myself.  I used wood trim to better hide the dirt around white doors.  There’s the perfect spot for an upright freezer (as soon as it starts working…Whirlpool).  And the cats have their bed and food in here now to, a good compromise between house and garage.  I LOVE how this turned out!
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I’ll have to post pictures of the garage later, but I have a place for everything now, thanks to some serious garage clean out and good pegboard. 
The kids still don’t put their shoes or coats away in the REALLY CONVENIENT AND OBVIOUS hooks and baskets I specially designed for them, but at least I have the perfect mudroom… if not the perfect children. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wesley’s Newest “Thing”

He builds something and then stands on his head.  The End



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Wesley, or How to Feel Better About Your Own Children


Yes, yes, that is Wesley on top of the counter, with his roller blades, getting candy out of the candy basket.  And, yes, I stopped to take the picture.  In fact, since he got up there on his own, I let him get down on his own. 



Wesley was mad that I didn’t buy him a new costume (which means he hasn’t saved the marbles to buy one), so he drew a costume on himself.  Since he wears shorts no matter the weather, he has more skin to show. 



He is perfectly fine hanging off branches.  Wearing shorts.



Swinging upside down on the beach over wet rocks.  We will never, ever get his IQ tested.  We’re going to push sports instead.



He made an obstacle course which centered on turning over the slide and jumping from the top, over and over.  Usually, he starts on the window sill, jumps to the top of the bookcase, scrambles to the slide-on-its-side, over the to bar, and then swings from the pull-up bar.  Since he had a friend over, he may have played the gentleman and cut the obstacle course down to one stupid stunt. 



Kyla has a plaque from a neighbor hanging over her bed that reads “Do Not Disturb the Queen.”  So Wesley insisted on a “Do Not Disturb the King” sign for his door.  This is his sign.  In one of his sweeter moments, he asked Piper if she wanted a “Do Not Disturb the Princess” sign.  She declined, not so politely, because he doesn’t know how to spell so well.  It’s no wonder he calls Piper the “mean sister” and Kyla the “nice one”.  He’s not entirely wrong.


Another Wesley story.  He’s my only kid who actually eats bananas straight from the fruit bowl.  One morning, I was out of eggs when I was making pancakes, so I put in a banana instead.  Wesley was on his second pancake before Kyla sat down. She exclaimed, “These are so good, Mama!  Are they banana pancakes?”  Wesley throws down his fork, screaming, “I hate banana pancakes!  These are so yucky! I won’t eat them!” and runs off to his room. But it was a pretty good morning, because he usually throws that tantrum as soon as I announce what’s for breakfast (unless it’s cereal).  He’s definitely a kid affected by hunger and he looses even the little smattering of brain cells he had.



I’ve had a surprisingly number of people comment how handsome Wesley is.  I don’t actually see it most of the time.  I think it’s because I see him yelling, screaming, pouting, crying, kicking, and generally being unpleasant.  (A friend who takes Wesley often said this weekend when she visited us at the cabin, “I’ve never seen this side of Wesley before” during a particularly uncooperative walk on the beach.  I replied, “This is the Wesley I live with.”)  But the boy does eventually fall asleep.  Not usually in his own bed, but by 8pm, I’m not picky. And then  he’s kinda of heart-stopping.