The Game Of Life

I love games.  Games that require thought, shuffling, rolling dice, spinning a spinner, turning over a sand timer, or leaning over to move a game piece.  It’s a dying pleasure. Board games and cards have been replaced by Apps. The personal interaction has transformed to a virtual world of screen names and avatars.  Apps are great and playing with family and friends all over the world is awesome, but it’s not the same as gathering together with snacks, music, conversation, and laughter.

Uno Card GameI spent a lot of nights at my grandma’s house with my cousins.  Apart from arguing about who would get the primo sleeping spot under the dining room table (I never won that argument), we played Uno. The best games were the ones that lasted hours.

Another favorite was Monopoly (until my husband sucked all the fun out of it.  He has great potential as a loan shark.) I lived two doors down from my cousin and we’d play Monopoly during the summer.  One game lasted a week.  We had the patience and dedication to keep coming back to it, day after day, until we finished.  I can’t imagine my kids doing that now.

My cousin’s family loved games. We’d sit around the table, eating chips, while the adults played “Twenty Questions.”  They always laughed so much. I realize now that a lot of that laughter was at the suggestive nature of some of the questions.  A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.

The Game Of LifeThat same cousin and I played a lot of games together, too.  We loved to play Scattergories, Trivial Pursuit, and Life.  The game of Life is especially precious to me.  Near the end of her life, my great-grandmother came to live with my paternal grandmother.  My cousin and I would go stay with Mamaw when Grandma wasn’t home and I always brought Life.  My cousin and I would play in the floor for hours while Mamaw sat in her chair and watched.  We didn’t talk to her much and we felt guilty.  We were there for her, but we just sat and played games.   We were only 12 and didn’t yet understand the concept of loneliness or the joy of children.

When I watch my children play, it takes me back to my childhood.  I remember what it felt like to have no other care in the world than who was going to win a game of Uno.  I remember how effortless it was to play Twister.  When I watch my children play, I marvel at their intelligence, their joy, their existence.  I delight in them. My Mamaw, sitting in her chair watching her two great-granddaughters play Life, laughing, and chattering probably felt the same way.  I imagine her thinking about her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.  About her Life.  We needn’t have felt guilty.

While we were playing Life, she was enjoying the fruits of hers.

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This is a revised version of an earlier post.  I’m linking up with the Yeah Write Summer Series.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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Three Birthdays Down, Two To Go

Kids birthday parties are stressful. Like most moms, I want my kids to feel special on their birthdays. Unfortunately, there are some moms out there that make this extremely difficult. You know the ones I’m talking about. They rent gigantic bouncy houses, treat their girl and her twelve friends to a spa day, rent a pony, and other ridiculous stuff like that. I handled the stress pretty well on the last birthday. I rented a cabin and we had a sleepover by a lake. There was a pool. I thought it was wicked cool and the girl, when asked how she liked her party, shrugged and said, “It was fun, I guess.”  Trust me. That means she liked it. She’s subtle like that.

This party was for my Aspie. I was worried. Turnout for a summer birthday party isn’t the greatest, especially when the birthday falls two days after the Fourth of July. That’s stressed Mikey in the past. “What if nobody comes?”

Ouch.

Burger King

Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like a creepy king and a Whopper.

I held my breath when I asked what he wanted to do for his birthday this year.  He didn’t hesitate.

“I want to go see The Amazing Spiderman and go out to eat and I want Noah to come with me.”

Whew.  A movie and dinner with a kid I know would come.

“Where do you want to eat?’

“Burger King.”

Burger King?  Really? Alrighty then.

“What kind of cake do you want?”

“A map of the world.”

I love this kid. He made it so easy on me. A sheet cake with a drawing of the world. Easy peasy, right? Well, kind of. I had to do it free hand while looking at a picture. As usual, my kid got the short end of the cake decorating stick. Their cakes are always so…shoddy.

map of the world cake

I seriously need to invest in an airbrush system.

He liked it. Though he did point out that I forgot a body of water to separate the too small Africa from Eurasia, Alaska looks like a hawk’s head, and Italy in no way resembles a boot. All valid points and he was gentle about it. He’s a good kid.

He got everything he asked for–a super impressive Atlas (geography buff), a watch, and a gift card to Game Stop. Again, he made it easy on us.

He was funny on his birthday. Everything we did was “the first time I’ve done this as a 12-year-old.” I took him to the beach. “This is the first time I’ve been to the beach this summer AND as a 12-year-old.”  We had pizza for dinner. “This is the first pizza I’ve eaten as a 12-year-old.”  You get the idea. I’m glad that only lasted for a day. As funny as it is, I really didn’t want every minute experience commented on in that manner. “This is the first time I’ve eaten lasagna/hamburgers/ice cream/a ham sandwich/a bowl of Captain Crunch as a 12-year-old.”

So birthday number three is in the books and it was a success. Next up is Billy, the soon to be seven-year-old. He’s going to say Chuck E. Cheese or Jumping Jacks. I’m prepared for it. I have no idea what kind of cake he’ll ask for. I’m sure it will be difficult and he’ll want it just so. I’m really gonna have to step up my game on that one.

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My 34th Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday.  I turned 34, perhaps the most boring age on the planet.  34 is no different from 33.  Now 35?  That’s an important birthday–officially on the downward slope to 40.

Oddly enough, I spent the night before my birthday making a birthday cake for someone else.  Even more odd, I took it to a birthday party that wasn’t for me or the person whose cake I was making.  It was a surprise party for my husband’s grandmother, who thought she was coming to my birthday party (though I suspect she wasn’t really buying that.)  It was very sweet because her daughter, who lives in China, came in for the occasion and she wasn’t expecting that.  The look on her face was priceless.

Anyway, the cake.  I know you want a picture.  I will oblige.  It is a “sewing” theme cake and one that I made up as I went along.  I think it turned out pretty cute.

Small tiered cake (single layers) with fondant buttons, needle and thread, ribbons, and ribbon roses.)
Sewing Cake with buttons and ribbon roses

Pink Lemonade Pound Cake with Lemon Buttercream Icing
fondant buttons and ribbon roses

Fondant Buttons and Ribbon Roses

As with all my cakes, I was up until the wee hours of the morning, decorating.  It doesn’t matter when I start a cake, I’m always up at 2 AM.   When I finally decided to go to bed, my sick little girl woke me up, crying, because her ears hurt.  By the time I got her back to bed, it was after 4:00.  I went to bed and then woke up at 8:00 and had to clean up some vomit.  My poor little sick girl had coughed until she gagged.

Not a great start to a birthday.

But it got better.

I got to eat some good barbecue at the birthday party.  And I got to watch my beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats beat the despised University of Louisville Cardinals.  Goodness, it felt good to admit I despise the Cards.  On Facebook, everybody is so polite and sportsmanlike about the whole thing.  I don’t get it.  What’s the point of a rivalry if there’s no hate and vitriol involved?  Just because some people start taking the trash talk personally, like they play for the team or something, I’m supposed to be “classy” and write things like, “Good game” or “Congrats UL for making the Final Four?”

Psshhhht.

What I really want to write is, “Neener, neener, neener.  We won and you lost because you suck and we don’t.”

Anthony Davis is ridiculous and I love this shot. That's right, UofL, just watch him go to work. There's nothing you can do about it, anyway.

Yeah, I know, I’m acting 4, not 34.  Whatever.  Shut up.  Point is, UK made it to the National Championship Game and I’m really excited because they’ll be playing Kansas.  Why?  Because writing UK-KU makes me happy because it’s symmetrical and I love symmetry.  Yeah, I know, I’m a weirdo.  Whatever.  Shut up.

So, that was my birthday.  Well, part of it, anyway.  I get to have a Part II–dinner out with the husband on Friday night while my saint of a mother in law keeps all five of the kids.

I am totally spoiled.

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I Remember This One!

When I was a child, it took forever for Christmas Eve to arrive.  The month from Thanksgiving to December 24 was agony.  Decorations everywhere, Christmas music, making my list from the Sears and JCPenny Wish Books, and the preliminary parties at school and with extended family added to the excitement and the suspense.  Would Christmas EVER get here?

Now, Christmas music and decorations show up in stores weeks before Halloween.  “Too early,” I complain.  Christmas trees in commercials on Halloween.  “Too early.”  The radio station goes all Christmas, all the time on November 1.  Again, “too early.”

“Too early” is now ingrained in my brain.  It’s planted itself in my subconscious, so that when Black Friday is come and gone, my mind is still saying, “too early.”  It’s so entrenched that when Christmas Eve is here, I’m sitting in my living room, staring at the Christmas tree, and telling my kids to go to sleep or Santa won’t come, and I’m in shock.

How is today Christmas Eve?  I haven’t watched that one Christmas movie yet.  I didn’t make baklava.  We didn’t go out looking at Christmas lights in our pajamas.  What have I been doing for the past month?

The answer isn’t pretty.

I’ve been yelling at my kids.  A lot.  I’ve been hating my job.  I’ve been tired, no, exhausted.  I’ve been complaining–my back/feet/neck/head hurts, I’m broke, I’m too busy.  It’s TOO EARLY.

And now, it’s too late.

Christmas is over and done.  It’s time to take down the meager decorations I put up this year.  School and work starts back in less than a week.  The wonderful Salvation Army man who sings Christmas carols has packed up his bell and bucket from the grocery store entryway.  Worst of all, when I turn on the radio, Burl Ives isn’t singing “Holly Jolly Christmas,”  Maroon Five and Christina Aguilera are singing “Moves Like Jagger.”  (Gag.)

Christmas is over and I’ve missed it because I was being a Grinch.

I can handle missing some movies, Christmas lights, and baklava but I am guilt-ridden mess for the way I’ve treated my kids.  Were they loud?  Yes.  Did they stay up too late?  Yep.  Did they argue a lot?  Oh yeah.  Were they bouncing off the walls and making messes and talking too much and generally annoying the crap out of me?  Absolutely.  

But so what?  They were excited about Christmas.  Like I was when I was their age.  And, like them, I’m sure I was loud and obnoxious, but I don’t remember my mom yelling at me for it.  Who does that?   Kids express excitement by doing all those things above.  They can’t help it.  Me, as Mom, knows that and should cut them some slack.  Instead, I ranted and raved at them and about them for most of the Christmas vacation.  For shame.

Well, I have exactly 6 more days to make up for that.  I’ll be more understanding.  I’ll not yell.  I’ll gently break up arguments and fights.  I’ll find something constructive for them to do when they moan, “I’m booooorrrrred.”  Look out, June Cleaver, there’s a new mom in town.

As for next Christmas?  As soon as I see Christmas decorations on the store shelves, I’m putting up the Christmas lights, using the house from the movie “Christmas Vacation” (which will be in the Blu-Ray player) as inspiration, and starting the honey sauce for the baklava.  Judging from current trends, this might happen in September.  If so, maybe everyone will assume I’m celebrating Constitution Week.

Christmas will not sneak up on me next year!  In fact, I’m telling the husband that if he hears me utter the words, “too early,” he has permission to hit me upside the head with a roll of Christmas wrapping paper or perhaps a decorative tin full of santa cookies.  If he balks at the idea, I’ll just remind him of Christmas 2011.  I’ll be seeing stars in no time.

How festive.

Adventures In Christmas Shopping

Every year, my saint of a mother-in-law takes all the kids overnight so me and the husband can go out to eat and get our Christmas shopping done. I look forward to it.

A night out.  Alone.

It’s so tempting to just go home and sleep, especially this year. We both have colds and are exhausted. We couldn’t do that, of course. It was the last weekend before Christmas and we had bought exactly ONE present out of the required 15 for the kids. (See the Three Present Rule.)  There was only one problem.  We had no idea what we were buying.

Santa and Mrs. Claus bored

If we were Santa and Mrs. Claus, this would be us.

It was the last weekend before Christmas and we were going to have to wing it.

Scottish Eggs

Scottish Eggs-Hard-boiled eggs, wrapped in sausage, dipped in bread crumbs, and deep fried. Hungry?

We headed to the restaurant first because we always know what and where we’re going to eat.  Over our Scottish eggs, we made a tentative list.

Video game
MP3 Player
Guitar
Falcons Jersey
Dress-Up Clothes
Books of some kind
Lemonade Mouth Movie (?)
Girly things
Boyish things

It was pathetic so we did what we always do.  We ate too much (Bangers and Mash and Shepherd’s Pie) and headed to the Wal-Mart.  Wal-Mart has everything kids want, right?  Well, no, they don’t.  We walked around the place a while (TWO hours) and bought a few things.

We headed to the Toys R Us, where they wanted almost $60 for an Easy Bake Oven.  Are you kidding me?  I have a perfectly good oven at home that doesn’t require a light bulb to work and actually makes cakes that taste good.   If my 8yo was Amish, she’d know how to bake bread, pies, cakes, and cookies using a wood stove.  Surely she could handle an electric oven.  We walked around a while (ONE hour) and bought a few things.

Lemonade Mouth

Lemonade Mouth (?) DVD

We headed to Target, still searching for my daughter’s last present.  We found it–the last copy of Lemonade Mouth (?) and added a few generic boyish and girly items to our cart.   We walked around a while (45 minutes) and bought a few things.

Then we headed to another Wal-Mart. (!!)   I needed a pair of black flats.  I tried to find a pair at Target but they literally had none in my size.  Zero.  Not even the ugly ones.  I knew Wal-Mart would have ugly black flats in my size.  As it turns out, they only had the ugliest of their wide selection of ugly black flats in my size.  And yes, I bought them, seeing as the entire Savannah area appeared to have a shortage of black flats in a size 8.  And they hurt my feet.

Anyhoo, we picked up that “book of some kind” for the 12yo and we were officially done.  Then the evening took a sinister turn.

Walmartian

This, I was prepared for.

Wal-Mart has that reputation for badly (half)dressed people walking around, clueless, with snotty-nosed toddlers wearing only a diaper and swigging Co-Cola from their bottles sitting in their cart, right?  Well, that was nothing compared to what I saw in the Wal-Mart.

Actually, I heard it first.  A woman started yelling profanities.  I’m not entirely sure what she was so worked up about, but it had something to do with some lady hogging the aisle.  She was MAD.  She yelled and the entire Wal-Mart stopped to stare.  The lady she was yelling at (along with her poor child in the cart, who was fully dressed and clean, by the way) walked away.  The angry lady (who also had a child with her)  stopped yelling for a while.  Until she spotted the aisle-hogger in the checkout line.

Then, I kid you not, she said the following:

“You and your ugly-a$$ child.  Yeah, I said it.  I went there.  You with your ugly-a$$, m-f’n child, *incoherent raving*, more m-f’ns, profanity, profanity, profanity, ugly-a$$, m-f’n child.  I said it and I don’t even care.”

I couldn’t believe it.  She said that about a CHILD, who looked to be about 3 or 4 years old, loud enough for him and everyone else in the Wal-Mart to hear it.  I wanted to punch her in the face and I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way.  My husband was waiting to break up the inevitable fight because that poor aisle-hogger probably weighed about 100 lbs. and the “heckler” was not a small woman.  He’s such a good guy.  (Love you, honey.)

The police showed up, which was lucky for the horrible woman,  because I’m pretty sure she was about to be the victim of a beat down.  I’m not the violent type, but it would be tempting to get in a few kicks and/or punches if such a thing occurred.  How could anyone say that about a child, much less to a child’s face?  So what if the kid’s mom was an aisle-hogger?  I don’t care if she rammed her in the butt repeatedly with her cart, there was no excuse for that.

Needless to say, I did not end the evening overcome by the Christmas spirit.  I was disgusted and shocked at the cruelty of people.   If my night was ruined, I can only imagine what that poor mother was feeling.  Wherever she is, I hope she’s telling her son what a beautiful boy he is and having a Merry Christmas.

German Roasted Almonds

German Roasted Almonds are my favorite holiday treat.  When I was growing up, these sugary, spicy nuts were one of the highlights at the Kentucky State Fair.  Those little $4 cones of nutty goodness were a classy addition to grater taters spritzed with vinegar and deep-fried corn dogs.  When I moved away from Kentucky and the State Fair, I started making them for the holidays.  They’re now a must at Christmas time.

This year, I made my own festive paper cones, filled them with German Roasted Almonds, and gave them as teachers’ gifts.  They were beautiful and inexpensive gifts.  I made two batches of almonds and had enough for 11 cones plus some extra to keep at home for less than $20.  If you already have the scrapbook paper and embellishments, it costs even less.   They look pretty in a bowl for parties, too.  Or you could skip all the craftiness and thoughtfulness and eat them yourself.

German Roasted Almonds are so easy to make. As my Christmas gift to you, here’s the recipe. You’re welcome.

German Roasted Almonds

Ingredients

1 lb. bag raw almonds (pecans are delicious as well)
1 egg white
1 tbsp. water
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice OR 2 tsp. cinnamon

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 250°

2.  Beat egg white and water in large bowl until frothy.

3.  Add nuts and mix well.

German Roasted Almonds in Egg White

4.  Combine sugars and spice in small bowl and toss with the nut mixture.

5.  Line large baking sheet with foil and spray with oil spray or grease with shortening and wipe off excess with paper towel.   Spread nuts in single layer.

German Roasted Almonds on baking sheet

5.  Bake for 20 minutes.  After 2o minutes, toss nuts lightly with a plastic spatula to break up clumps  (be careful not to knock the coating off.)  Make sure to spread nuts into single layer before returning to the oven for another 20 minutes.  Repeat and return to the oven.
When nuts have baked for a total of 1 hour, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.

The nuts will be soft at first, but will get crunchy as they cool.  Be sure to eat some while they’re still warm.  So delicious.

And so pretty!

The Three Present Rule

Three GiftsIn our household, we limit our kids to three Christmas presents from Santa.  When I tell people this, I get shocked expressions and the emphatic “WHY?”  My stock answer is this:

If three presents were enough for Jesus, it’s enough for my kids.

It gets me laughs and I need like that.  Of course, I’m absolutely serious.  Like most Christians, I struggle balancing Santa and the gifts with the true meaning of Christmas.  I love that kids believe wholeheartedly in Santa, in magic.  My two-year-old just learned what Santa does.  Her eyes light up whenever she sees Santa on television or in books.  “Santa bring me toys.”  I ask her what kind of toys Santa’s going to bring her.  “Pretty toys.”  **Swoon.**

But I want my kids to know why we celebrate Christmas.  I want them to appreciate the true gift of Christmas, not just what ends up under the Christmas tree.  So we correlate the gift-giving with the Three Wise Men.  It works.

Three Wise Men and Mary and Jesus

Image Via MorgueFile

There are other benefits to the Three Present Rule.  You know how some kids make their Christmas lists miles long?    You know how some parents get nearly everything on that list?  You know how kids will play with those toys for about two minutes before getting bored with them, tossing them in the toy box, never to see the light of day again?

My kids don’t do that.  They consider their lists very carefully.  When the Stacking Cups in the JC Penny Catalog caught my oldest son’s eye a couple of years ago he almost included them on his list.  In the end, he realized they were PLASTIC CUPS–perhaps the dumbest waste of one of three presents from Santa.

Cup Stacking Speed Stacks

Image via EveryStockPhoto

My children are not greedy.  They choose presents they really want and don’t ask for every stupid thing they see on television or in stores.

The Three Present Rule has its drawbacks.  What if they choose the hot toy that everybody wants and nobody can get?  With a small list, it’s not easy to compensate by getting them something else.  Not to mention the fact that Santa shouldn’t have limitations.  Thankfully, this hasn’t happened to us yet.  The advantage to having weird kids (they have weird parents, they were doomed from the start) is they aren’t all that interested in what everyone else wants.  Two years ago, my son asked for a spinning top.  What?  (Actually that gift makes sense to an autistic child.  Spin and spin, over and over and over and over again.)  Bam!  $2 gift and the kid was happy.

Unfortunately, the Three Present Rule isn’t always cheap.  Last year, we had to buy 3 Nintendo DSs.  Thank goodness for a Black Friday sale on used and refurbished gaming systems.  This year I had to find a laptop.  Again, Santa does not have limitations.   For younger kids, the Three Present Rule is cheaper, but the older the kids get, the more expensive the gifts.

The biggest problem with the Three Present Rule are the other kids who have no such limitations.  It’s not easy to explain to my kids why their friends get dozens of presents and they only get three.  I’m always afraid they’ll start questioning the existence of Santa Claus when they compare their Christmas with everyone else’s.  It’s no different from having to explain why some kids get more extravagant gifts.

 “Why did Johnny Spoiled Rotten get $50 in his stocking and all I got was some chocolate and a stupid paddle ball?”

paddle ball

Creative Commons

We do the best we can.  Specifically, we take the fall for the fat guy.

” Santa Claus honors our wishes when it comes to gifts.”

Eventually, the kids will stop believing in Santa Claus.  When that time comes I hope they’ve learned a few things.

  1. Christmas is not about presents.
  2. Quality over quantity.
  3. Greed is NOT good.
  4. The value of a dollar.
  5.  Their parents love them and are doing everything in their power to raise happy AND sensible adults.