Sunday, October 5, 2014

Chutes N Ladders: A Choice Every Mother Must Face

When Annabelle was around the age of two I remember thinking that we would have to sell her to gypsies.  Perhaps it was because I was pregnant, and then had a brand new baby but Annabelle was quite a handful.  I distinctly remember thinking "this will not work."  And the response I got from several people, including an OB Nurse right after I had Georgia, was "Just wait until she's three."  So many people said it was going to get worse.  What kind of advice is that??

But I am here to tell you, everyone was wrong.  I LOVE this age.  I have found a new friend. A new buddy. A new person in my life to make me laugh and keep me company.  Don't get me wrong, when she gets mad  it is terrifying but those moments are few.  And I seem to be able to tolerate it a little more because usually her anger has purpose.  There is usually a good reason for her rage that can be easily identified and manged in some way.  When she was two it was just screaming fits of useless rage.
my new BFF

But now, we have fun. Annabelle got a memory matching game for her third birthday and she is really good at it.  She takes turns and follows the rules and understands the game. Of course game play is limited to Georgia's naptimes because no one can do anything with Georgia around. She has entered full  Orangutan mode.  Her activities include grabbing and flinging anything she can get her chubby little fingers on.  But Annabelle and I find time to sneak games in when we can.

So after we had mastered Memory, I decided she was ready to graduate to a more sophisticated game. A game I loved as a child and held in my brain as a milestone of "fun" for when I could play this board game with my children.  Chutes N Ladders.  I couldn't wait.  As soon as Georgia was down for her morning nap I peeled the cellophane off the box and showed the board and pieces to Annabelle.

Opening the box: Disappointment number one. Everything had to be assembled. I had to punch out all the pieces and assemble the spinner.  This activity took all of three minutes, but to Annabelle it was an eternity.  She also thought this was the game. So it was three minutes of "No, just wait" and "well we have to put it together first"  and "I don't know why. Because that's how they were shipped from China."

Ok.  We cleared that hurdle and were able to set up the game and explain the rules: Disappointment number two.  These rules were more complicated than Memory. There was spinning, turn-taking, number identification, counting...and then a very complex set of rules regarding the chutes and the ladders.  We almost didn't make it past this point.  Trying to define a "chute" to a three year old proved to be very challenging and I didn't consider this in my perfect vision of playing the game.  They look like slides.  She doesn't know what a chute is. I don't know what a chute is.  My chute knowledge is exclusively linked to laundry chutes, which we do not have in this house.  So we decided to play Slides N Ladders.  Why the hell would they call those chutes? I don't get it.

Ok. NOW we were ready to play right? Wrong.  The construction of board game spinners has really declined since the early eighties: Disappointment number three.   On my first attempt to spin the spinner didn't move.  Then on my second attempt the whole spinner assembly went skidding out from us under across the rug.  The spinner requires a very specific flicking technique that a three year old cannot possibly be expected to master. So spinning required two game-players. One to hold the spinner and one to spin. Actually it probably requires three players: one to hold, one to spin, and one to say "No, you don't get to spin it again"  and  "No, that's a two not a five" and "it's on the line so now you do get to spin again even though I've told you twenty times you only get to spin once."

Ok. HERE WE GO. Game play.  I looked at the clock I was worried that we weren't going to have time to actually play the game because set up and directions took so long. I really shouldn't have worried.

The ultimate Chutes N Ladders disappointment.  I am going to have to writea letter to Milton Bradley or whatever Chinese-based conglomerate is now producing Chutes N Ladders.  The spaces on the board are all green.  They alternate dark green and light green, with no discernible lines outlining each space.  For a very young child to count spaces and move their very small game pieces, this is a nightmare.  To her credit, Annabelle did her best.  She really grasped the concept of identifying the number she spun and then counting to that number.  Where she fell apart was trying to move the piece the correct number of spaces on the board which I blame on poor board design.  The whole notion that you can only go up a ladder when you land on a ladder was lost on her and she became quite agitated when I tried to correct her.

So we did our best.  Annabelle lost interest in Slides N Ladders and shortly after I prevented her from going down a slide that she was not legally permitted to slide on.  Additionally, she didn't understand that making this illegal move would really hurt her in this game.  She became bored after about five minutes of game play.  This also raised some questions about my parenting that I am still not sure how to answer. She just turned three.  Do I make her play by the rules completely and not allow her to just climb and slide willy nilly? And what happens when I win the game? Am I supposed to let her win so as not to crush her spirit? Or do I take the "hey, that's life kid (said in 1930's Brooklyn accent)" approach that I tend to lean toward on a daily basis?  I do not know.  The pressure of Chutes N Ladders was too much.  We put it away and resumed playing Memory.

the new face of terror in our home
I find it difficult to balance activities in our house now that Annabelle is three and getting to be kind of fun, Georgia is becoming...slightly less fun.  Or rather, she is becoming high maintenance.  It's like living with a miniature King Kong.  She seems so much more curious than Annabelle ever was at that age. We didn't ever have to do a large amount of 'childproofing' with Annabelle. For the most part she left stuff alone.  Anything that was childproofed was purely due to my own laziness of not wanting to pick up a mess and engage with my child.  My mother claims this is not true and I that I have simply forgotten what a handful Annabelle could be at this age, I will have to consult prior blog posts for a judges ruling.

But Georgia seems to be borderline suicidal.  She skips the fun stuff like the cabinet of Tupperware or the spice cabinet and heads right for the oven knobs.  She pulls herself right up on the handle of the door, turns on the gas, smiles and scoots away while our home fills with lethal toxic, combustible fumes.  This is also fun when I actually am baking something and she cranks it up to BROIL without my knowing.   Annabelle never once touched an oven knob in her life.
this happened while unsupervised-
how did she even do this?


Georgia's favorite past time is to sit in front of an electrical outlet and jam her fingers into it over and over again, all the while a smile on her face.  And yes, I know they make safety plugs to place in the outlets to prevent a violent electrical death, which is fine...if you don't ever plan to use electricity, but I have to vacuum up dog hair and ladybugs twice a day. I NEED OPEN OUTLETS. She's a Kamikaze lunatic. She climbs up on Annabelle's rocking chair, stands up with her toes gripping the edge of the chair like a monkey and teeters there smiling looking down as though this will her be her greatest stunt yet.  She lifts the seat on the toilet and pulls herself up and leans way over into the bowl to see herself (not unlike Narcissus) and  I told Bryan I would rather let her drown in the toilet than put a LOCK on the toilet seat. What kind of people have to lock a toilet? People who want their children to thrive I suppose.

  Needless to say, finding activities that appeal to all of us is sometimes a challenge.

In complete fairness to Georgia, I have noticed that whenever Annabelle runs toward her to "check on the baby" or hug her or interact with her in any way, Georgia tenses up, turns her head, and squeezes her eyes shut. So I have gotten the impression that Georgia is not the only threat to the safety this family.

I do my best.  Bryan's job keeps him away a lot this time of year and I do everything I can to make that seem normal to our girls.  So I try to pack a lot of fun into our weekends, to the point of exhaustion and nausea.  Last weekend we did art projects, got pumpkins, fresh milk from the dairy, played outside, checked on our own pumpkins in the garden, played Chutes N Ladders, and went to an Apple Orchard.

faster than a speeding bullet - our train ride
Which brings me to my next point: Apple Orchards.  The decline of the apple orchard experience is nearly as disappointing as the modern Chutes N Ladders game board.  It is more and more difficult to find orchards where you can pick your own apples.  And even if you can find one they are so overly commercialized it is frightening.  I am trying to figure out when bounce houses became synonymous with apples? I can make exceptions for petting zoos, because farm animals can be tied to apple orchards via six degrees of separation.  I can make exceptions for hayrides  because, again, loosely tied to orchards.  I managed to make an exception for a "train ride" last weekend because..well..  it wasn't really a train.  It was plywood built around a small electric motor, running on six feet of straight track being operated by an elderly couple, who seemed very passionate about the whole train ride experience so I didn't want to ruin their lives by saying "I'm not getting on that thing, are you nuts?"

mama got to ride the train too

It is difficult to try and create a learning experience out of an apple orchard visit when it involves going into a store to buy a bag of apples, riding a train, petting a goat, playing on a playground, and eating a brat. But we do our best.

Incidentally, in trying to cram in as many activities into a weekend as we can I have learned something else about my three year old.  Annabelle can drive. I don't mean she can reach the pedals and safely operate a car, I mean that she completely and totally understands the rules of the road.

Due to the nightmarish logistics of our daily life, we spend a lot of time in the car. More time than any child should, but that is how it is and that's all these girls know in life.  They think everyone does this. Annabelle and Georgia spend at least an hour in the car every day. And as a result of this Annabelle had learned how to drive.

When we approach the road to daycare Annabelle says "turn on the clicker" referring to the turn signal.  And when we get to the stop sign to turn out the road she says "You have to stop and wait your turn."  She of course knows that green means go, yellow means slow down, and red means stop, so I get a complete summary of what the options will be as we approach the stoplight.

The main highway we travel on every day is under construction (always) and on our way home when we get to the point where the barrels are up and we have to merge into another lane, Annabelle will say "Ok mom, you have to slow down."  She pays attention to everything in the car. So much so that when someone cuts me off and she hears me inhale sharply (in lieu of using unsavory language) she often say "Thanks buddy" which she has heard both myself and her father say in traffic.  Trust me...it's better than the alternative. Regardless, I am certain if we were in some kind of emergency situation and I had to operate the pedals, Annabelle could safely and effectively navigate us home.  The child can drive.

the laundry needed to get done,
dinner needed to be made,
floor needed to be washed...
but it waited. 
What this is all saying in a very long way is that I no longer have someone to do stuff to, but someone to do stuff with.  It's fun.  But there is so much pressure to do it well. I want to make sure she gets to have the same amount of fun as kids whose moms don't work or kids who don't live 35 miles from their preschool.  Kids who can get on their bike and ride down the sidewalk. How do I compensate for what I view as a handicap to daily living?

Anyone who knows me knows that the geographic constraints of our life making 'normal living' challenging.  Annabelle started a tumbling class (technically a cheer tumbling class in preparation for her professional cheerleading career) and it is 35 miles from home and 30 miles from my work.  Wednesdays have become the barometer of things to come, I know this.  They is nothing enjoyable about it, except for how much Annabelle loves it. We leave the house at 6:00a.m. and don't get home until 8:00pm. We've been doing it for about six weeks and it's exhausting.  It's hard on Georgia too and Bryan and I have talked about quitting.  But I cannot justify not giving her these experiences because the logistics of our life are completely unmanageable.

And  I know this will only get worse as the children get older and each day the first question I ask myself when I open my eyes is "how am I going to do this?"  But I do it.  I do it every day and try to not get too caught up in what's going to happen next year, or the year after that.  But ultimately, even though I may have more commuting, driving and time-wasted going places, this is not that different than what all mothers think on a daily basis.  How am I going to do this? How am I going to be sure I do everything I can NOT TO SCREW THIS UP.

Bryan and I have aggressive work schedules.  I do not work because I want to, I do not work because I believe that I can have a successful career and be an amazing mom. I work because it's what this family needs a this point in time.  Do I think I'm doing a great job at work? No.  Do I think I'm doing a great job at home? Absolutely not.  Is everyone alive and mostly happy? Yes.  Am I currently writing this on a kitchen table covered in newspapers and half-painted pumpkins? Yes.  Is it making me crazy that's it not cleaned up? ABSOLUTELY.  But I had to make a choice. And I chose to sit and write this.  The mess can be cleaned up when I should be having breakfast.  I will choose to clean instead of eat. You'd think I be skinnier.

Bryan makes these same choices. His job is more demanding time-wise than my own and that is just the nature of that job.  But we do whatever we can to make sure the children are a part of it.  Today he'll take Annabelle with him to the field.  She loves it and thinks its the greatest day.  I'll spend quality time with King Kong and maybe get the laundry done.  If Bryan is working close to home, we'll go visit.  And when he's here, he's spending time with our girls instead of tackling the long list of things that need to get done here.  We still do not have any trim around our doors or floor since we remodeled the house in 2011.  Do I care?  Not especially.  Do I nag him as if I do care? Regularly.  But if I had to choose what he did with his time when he had a day off...well...
 

So when you wonder why my blog posts are not true blog posts and are instead thirty page essays, it's because I always have to choose.  I have to choose between laundry and painting pumpkins. Between paying bills and playing Chutes N Ladders. Between showering and posting to my blog.  So if you encounter me at the grocery store today, step away because today I chose to write.



Thursday, June 5, 2014

I Didn't Drink an Entire Bottle of Wine While Writing This

It is nightfall. I am on deck listening to the sounds of the crickets, frogs, and the last of the birds. Milton and Bernie are lying quietly at my feet, and I am on my second glass of wine.  This is what summer is all about.

when did she get so big?
Of course, in my house there is a pile of dirty dishes, unfolded laundry, and countless other tasks that are not getting done while I choose to use this time to write. This is the struggle I face every day. Although usually I am choosing between doing the dishes and taking as shower...or sleeping.  And while I love being a mom, being a working mom usually means making hard decisions and sacrifices on an hourly basis.  Difficult decisions like: Do I fold this laundry or take a shower?  And at those moments I think to myself, I wish I didn't have to work...and I wish I smelled better.

And then on the weekends I sit back and think to myself, we've colored, played with play-doh, had a hot breakfast, baked cookies, sang songs, counted the blocks,  and....wait. It's only 9:30??  What the hell are we going to do for the rest of the day? And I realize there is no perfect situation. Whether you work outside of the home or not, there's always going to be things that you wish you had gotten
done.

I've said it before, as a parent, you learn as you go. Annabelle is two and a half and I still am learning new lessons with both children.  Recently, I have learned a very important skill needed in order to effectively understand and communicate with a preschooler.  The phrase "I didn't."

I was first enlightened by this phrase in a previous blogpost. "I didn't drink the paint water" is what Annabelle said with paint encircling her mouth. Fair enough. Maybe she didn't understand it was the paint water she was drinking.  My second lesson was a little more obvious. I was picking Annabelle up from daycare and upon greeting me at the door of her classroom she said, "I didn't poop in my underwear."  And I hugged her and said "Good for you!"  Rookie. As she was climbing into her car seat it was extremely evident that she, in fact, had pooped in her underwear.  Ok.  Honest mistake.

"I didn't tickle push the baby"
But I began to notice a pattern.  After hearing Georgia began to shriek from the living room, I ran in to see what happened and Annabelle popped up from behind the couch and immediately said "I didn't pull the baby's ear." Ok.   And the next night after feeding Georgia and giving her an antibiotic through a syringe, I left it on a table in the living room and took her up to bed.  When I came back downstairs Annabelle pointed at the syringe and said "I didn't lick that."   I bet that tasted good.

So now I know. "I didn't" always means "I, in fact, did all these things and I am not sorry but I am still telling you I did them."

Not all lessons are so cut and dried.  For example, I am trying to set a good example of eating habits for my girls. I am trying my best to make sure they see fresh vegetables and fruit being cut and have

some level of understanding that food comes from somewhere other than a box.  I try to let Annabelle see me snacking on carrots and whole fruits as often as I can.  This inevitably results in me hiding in our kitchen closet furiously shoveling entire Oreos into my mouth.  "What are you doing in there, mama?"  is followed by muffled and choked response of "Cleaning."  And then I emerge proud of myself only to see Annabelle studying my mouth and saying "I like chocolate too."  How can she see Oreo crumbs on my face but when it's time to clean up toys she is constantly saying "I can't find them" while she is standing on top of them?

Each day brings new lessons.  Another lesson I learned is that while driving on a long car trip after a fun activity almost nothing wakes Annabelle up.  I can talk on the phone on Bluetooth, listen to a book on cd, open a window to pay a toll, sneeze, you name it and she keeps right on sleeping.  But crinkle the paper of a McDonald's bag, and her eyes snap wide open from a dead sleep and like a zombie she will ask "What are you doing, mommy?"  and I say nothing and let my food get cold on the front seat.

Don't worry, there some things I've learned on this journey that Bryan has not. As a part of potty training we reward Annabelle by allowing her to pick out a jellybean after going potty.  What I have not figured out is at what point I can discontinue this practice, but I will deal with that later. And what I mean by that is, she will be fifteen years old asking me for a jellybean every time she goes.  Bryan, as it turns out, is a big fan of jellybeans.  So each time I would open the container I would notice the supply getting smaller and smaller.  NOTE:  Hand washing is a practice in this house, but not a priority for Annabelle, nor is she very thorough.  You couldn't pay me any amount of money to eat those jellybeans.

Additionally, jellybeans are not easy to come by after Easter. So I told Bryan if he was going to continue to eat the jellybeans, he had to replace them.  Dutifully Bryan went to the store to get jellybeans and returned home with two bags of JellyBelly brand jellybeans. He handed them to me and I just stared at him. He informed me they didn't have the brand I get.  I continued to stare.  He said "I thought JellyBelly were the best."  And he is right. They are gourmet. The best. Unless you are two. And at the age of two, tempting flavors such as Pina Coloda, popcorn, and coffee are disappointing to say the least.  I didn't give him a hard time about it, he tried.   We all learn these lessons at are own pace. NOTE: Upon further research, Bryan learned he does not like the JellyBelly jellybeans either.

At the end of each day I am exhausted.  There is an endless list of tasks I didn't accomplish, and worse yet, I end every night wondering if I did enough for these girls.  People who have more than two children amaze me. Not only are they exhausted, but how are they keeping the third child alive?  Poor Georgia is so much more neglected than Annabelle ever was.  As our second, and more than likely last child, I've started modifying her clothing. i.e. I have just started cutting sleeves and pant legs off if they seem to tight, short, or restrictive.   Annabelle's clothing wouldn't have been mutilated, she would have gotten brand new clothing.

 And Georgia is always happy. Always happy to see me, never cries or fusses, and is always smiling.  And that makes me feel even worse.  How did I forget to put socks on her?  How did I let the headrest on her car seat get so dirty that there is a visible, greasy head print on it for all the world to see? How did I allow her sister to put a cowboy hat on, straddle her and shout "Yeehaw?"

 And while I am feeling guilty because the tv is on to entertain the girls while I try and make dinner, my mind starts to spin wondering with my job and my horrible commute how will I ever be what they need me to be...and then I hear laughing, and it's Georgia's. And she's laughing at Annabelle who is jumping and dancing and laughing too  and I remind myself to stay in the moment.  I have to be thankful for the little blessings we have each day and know that even though I don't know what will happen tomorrow, I have done my best.

And as I try to have this epiphany free from sarcasm Junebugs are slamming into the side of the house and falling at my feet.  Ew. Now Bryan brought the eggs up from the coop and had a "Barn Swallow" in has hand that he found and opened his hand to show to me and it flew directly at my face.  And after I recovered from that horror, a moth the size of a hummingbird landed on my screen. The majestic splendor of country living...and being married to a jackass.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Beep the Corn

This week it was warm enough to let the chickens outside for some fresh air, digging, pecking and foraging.  They were ecstatic. And so was Annabelle. And I realized we are entering our third spring of chicken-raising!

April 2012
(You wont catch me holding this hen now)
    
Yup, Annabelle in the brooder at 5 months of age
I look at at his picture now and I am less concerned about the chicken eating
Annabelle's finger. but am more concerned with what the hell she is wearing
and why there is a container labeled "soup" next to her. Incidentally Georgia
wore this ladybug suit to daycare today

March 2014
Annabelle helped the chickens take a bath by throwing dirt on them

March 2014
I love Annabelle's bravery

A few Saturdays  ago I decided to enjoy a cup of coffee on the deck before beginning my day.  It was cold out, but it was nice and sunny and there was just barely a light winter breeze. These days I am so desperate for five minutes of silence that I will stand outside in the middle of a Tsunami if it means I will be alone.  I held my cup in both hands, slowly sipping while enjoying the warmth radiating off the cup.  I could hear a woodpecker pecking the oak tree by the chicken coop and I wondered if spring was just around the corner.  And as I looked out onto the field to enjoy the sun's reflection on the white and icy ground cover, my silent reflection was interrupted by the sound of one of my dogs retching and throwing up under the deck.  I tossed what was left of my coffee over the side of the deck and went back in the house to face the day.

How many times can one human's quiet time be interrupted by a retching dog?? Scroll back through my past posts and you will see...it's fairly often.  We just have a "dog throwing up under the deck" kind of a life.  At least this time it was not in our bed.

At any rate, that cold morning got me to thinking about how desperate I've become for a few moments of quiet.  I have never been someone who enjoys the quiet. I always have a radio or tv on just for noise. Now that I have  a walking, talking mini version of Bryan and I...I find myself  craving silence.

Even as I wrote this I wanted to run screaming from the house.  Annabelle always makes me laugh but it is nonstop talking. There's a lot of talking just for the sake of talking "Whatcha doin, Mama?"  and "are you talking to daddy?"  and we've even reached the age of  "why."

 And as I've mentioned before, the conversations  are often very difficult to participate in. On the occasions that I am able to follow and make sense of her dialogue, she is usually picking up from a conversation we had a week ago.  Yesterday morning while driving to school we were talking about ducks and water.   In the middle of what I thought was  a very productive and educational conversation, Annabelle interrupts herself and says "Santa brought my kitchen."  Ok. True statement. "Yes, Santa did bring your kitchen. At Christmas.  Three months ago.  Let's count the ducks we see."  and she starts counting, gets to 3 and says "I wanna call Santa."    Jeez.  So I did what  I am supposed to do and lied .  "We can't call Santa now, he's sleeping."  In fairness to me, it was 5:50 in the morning, he probably was. I don't know what time zone the North Pole is in. I also am concerned that my daughter may go through life believing Americans suffer from a high rate of narcolepsy because whenever she wants to talk to someone on the phone my immediate response is "you can't right now..he's sleeping."

It is not only in conversations that Annabelle's mind seems to wander, she's two.  Her attention span is not much different than the attention span of one of our dogs.  Although...I have seen Milton sit and stare at wrapped Twinkie on the counter for several hours, so perhaps that's a bad example.

Annabelle loves to be busy. Idle hands are the devil's tool. She has a lot of interests, the problem is that she doesn't enjoy doing any of them for more than three and a half minutes.  For example, when Annabelle asks me if she can  paint one could assume that this is an innocent enough request, but one would be wrong.
Painting! - make a note of the glass of wine in the background on the
table
The last time Annabelle the chance to paint I told her she had to sit in her big girl chair, as she always does for art activities.  On this particular day she wanted to sit on the stool instead.  Since we could merely agree to disagree on the matter, Annabelle chose to lay on the kitchen floor crying instead of painting.

Don't feel too sorry for her though because twenty minutes later while I was engrossed in  an activity, Annabelle pulled herself together and decided she was ready to paint and happily moved her chair over to the counter.  Since she used nice manners and sat where she was supposed to sit, I really had no choice but to let her paint.  In the past painting would occupy Annabelle longer than any other activity, usually for around twenty minutes.  On this day, though, she  decided she was done painting after approximately three and a half minutes.  This is most likely due to the fact that I was doing something I enjoyed.

While she was paitning I found myself having to say (and let's be honest...I was shouting) "don't drink your paint water!" and "Take the brush our of your mouth" and  "Why are you STILL drinking the paint water??? If you want a drink of water I will get you a cup of water!" and my personal favorite "No, you may not paint the dogs. You paint on the paper only."  In between each of these verbal attempts at trying to correct her behavior, she removed another article of clothing. Nudity really gets the creative process a-cookin.
I didn't drink the paint water

As a brand new parent I had more patience. I used to try and positively re-direct her behavior.  For example, in my earlier days I would have smiled and pleasantly suggested  "oh my, that is very creative to paint Bernie. You are very smart, but show mommy how good you are at painting the paper."  However now I am more likely to jump up and down and shout  "If you put one more drop of paint on that dog I am going to throw your paints in the garbage and give your dog to a little girl who listens to her mommy."

It has taken this long to realize that parents have no idea what they are doing.  And I am terrified my children will eventually you figure this out. It took me over thirty years to figure it out. 

Yesterday in Target I overheard an altercation between an adult and toddler to which I could completely relate.  The adult had been reduced to nothing but a babbling moron.  I couldn't see them but I gathered the child did not want to sit in the cart but wanted to either get out or stand. I heard the adult say "I told you if you don't get down, you won't be buckled."  What? In what possible scenario did that statement make sense?   Then there was some stammering and and stuttering and a defeated sigh escaping from said adult.  I wanted to walk over to that aisle and hug her and say "it's ok. I knew what you meant."  It's just like when Annabelle and I are leaving daycare and she decides to lay down in the middle of the entrance.  As  I recently told a friend, after trying all tactics that I know of I starting counting to three. And all I can do is pray "Dear God, please make this child get up before '3' because I have absolutely no idea what the hell I am supposed to when I get to three."

I also vividly recall my mother and sister having argument and my mom threatened my sister by saying "If you don't watch your mouth, you're going to get fat teeth! And we're talking lips here."  Even now decades later I cannot recall this without laughing out loud. I love that my mother was so angry  that she was not only threatening her with physical violence, but was so flustered she couldn't even properly threaten her.

And not that long ago Annabelle was eating hot dogs for lunch, which she had begged me for. Halfway through her hot dog she decided she wanted baloney.  And what did I tell her?  "You may not have any baloney until you finish that hot dog, young lady."  WHAT???  Never mind the pile of carrots on your plate, but you better eat that entire tubular formed processed meat byproduct before you can even think about having a flattened circular processed meat byproduct.  I have no idea what I am even saying to her half the time.  Thankfully she is still too little to call me out on it.

Her conversational skills continue to improve the older she gets, and she wants so badly to tell me things and it is so frustrating when I have no clue what she is trying to tell me....for both of us. She so badly wants me to understand her.  It is like a demented game of charades most of the time.  And then there are the heart warming moments where I cannot control myself and simply laugh at her while she is talking.


poor Georgia.  she's practically used as
furniture.  those are her sister's shoes
resting on top of her after they "fell" off
in the stroller on our buggy ride
On the days when Bryan is home before we get home I always honk the horn when we pull in the driveway so he can come out and help get the children and all of our baggage inside.  Until recently, Annabelle loved this and would laugh hysterically when I honked the horn and delightfully command me to DO IT AGAIN, MAMA!  However lately it only seems to provoke the beast within her.  On the first nice day this season, Bryan was cleaning the chicken coop when we pulled in the driveway so I didn't need to honk. He heard us arrive and he came out from the coop to help us, and Annabelle got to go with him and help him clean the chicken coop.

Since that day Annabelle FORBIDS me to honk the horn. "don't beep the corn, mama! don't beep the corn."  So of course I start laughing and beep the corn.  This causes her to get so mad she turns red and shakes and shouts "No. Don't beep the corn. Daddy's in the chicken poop. Annabelle go in the chicken poop."  I suppose a better mother would correct her and sound out the word  H-h-h-orn and  C-c-c-oop.  But instead I beep the corn and laugh at her.

Meanwhile Georgia has most likely joined Bernie's crusade to figure out a way to get the hell out of this house.  I have seen Bernie lying next to Georgia and her staring very intently at him. I am certain they are planning their escape.  Perhaps they will hitch their way out west and jump a freight train to California.

And when I turn to my husband for some adult conversation, I am usually left scratching my head as often as I am with Annabelle.  I often sing "You Are My Sunshine" to Georgia and I  sang the part  The other night dear, while I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms. But when I woke up, I was mistaken, and I hung my head and cried." and I told Bryan I hated that the second verse was so sad.  Bryan's reply:  "Sad? What's so sad about it?  It just means you didn't co-sleep her to death."  I am surrounded by logic.


Bryan will murder me for posting this picture, but I LOVE it, it's one of my favorites .  It completely
captures the essence of our home. 








Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fun in the "Makin's"

I am trying to figure out exactly when meteorologists all got together and decided it makes sense to name every single weather pattern. As a child or teen I don't recall there ever being names for winter storm systems.  I also don't recall every type of weather having to be specifically defined either.  When did cold stop being called cold?  I admit there is something sexy about calling a cold snap a Polar Vortex, but after a while it just becomes another ridiculous news item for all of us to obsess over. 
 
I was watching a daily talk show and the hosts were discussing how this type of weather sensationalism may actually be making humans (specifically Americans) wimpier.  I would have to agree with that.  I am not suggesting that we shouldn't use caution when there are severe weather conditions, but I do agree that as a society we have been getting slightly dramatic over weather conditions over the last few years.  Keep in mind that I reside in Wisconsin, so I feel like the drama over cold, ice, and snow is completely unwarranted. If you live here and are not aware that these things occur, well...I'm not sure the news is going to be able to help you at this point.  

They specifically referenced this tasty little news item that I particularly enjoyed.  Apparently a Wisconsin woman was having difficulty getting her Dodge Caravan started during the Polar Vortex and resorted to trying to warm up her car by burning some coals underneath it.  "Lac du Flambeau police Chief Robert Brandenburg tells The Associated Press temperatures were about minus 23 degrees and the woman's 2007 Dodge Caravan wasn't starting. So first she took out the battery, warmed it up inside and reinstalled it.  Then she shoved a mound of hot coals under the van hoping to warm up the engine chamber. He says the undercarriage of the front bumper caught fire, causing about $1,000 of damage."  I experienced a myriad of emotions to this story.  The first was pride.  I thought to myself, "Good for you, sister!  You need to get to the grocery store to get food for your babies!" I mean she took the battery out, warmed it and replaced it for crying out loud!!  I would like to know an exact count of females who not only have the skills to do this, but the ambition. I consider myself hardier stock than many, but if the car doesn't start I am in jammies for the day.  But then when I read on to see that her next attempt was to shove a mound of hot coals under it I felt slightly diminished.  Mostly I was just completely alarmed at how much this woman wanted to leave her house in subzero temperatures.

If you read on in the story http://www.wsaw.com/home/headlines/Car-Fire-Cause-by-Charcoal-Fire-239111151.html  the Chief of police seemed to indicate that this is an acceptable method of warming up your car, but only if you know what you're doing. I consulted with Bryan and he too said this is an acceptable practice (that is not really used anymore in present day) to warm your car in extreme conditions.   I'm not sure what experiences make you qualified for this technique, but Bryan and I were in complete agreement that I am not qualified to attempt this.  I suppose tailgating would and this did take place in Packer country so perhaps I was too quick to judge.

I really enjoy how many of my photos capture our true hillbilly nature. Yup, there's Annabelle's lawnmower on the deck covered in snow.  The perfect winter toy.  And you will notice our grill is not covered. That's because the grill cover is on the stroller, which is right next to the grill.
 I am more sympathetic to those living in places where they do not experience extreme cold.  I can understand why they closed the schools in Atlanta, their fountains froze for crying out loud!  I was watching an Atlanta weatherman on the news and behind him was a huge fountain with water frozen in midair.  These people were so unprepared for conditions they didn't even have time to shut their fountains off. Sad.  But I don't know if I support closing our schools here in Wisconsin for extreme cold.  It seems that it is more for the benefit of people who do not know that it is cold and that it is not okay to let your children walk to school without a hat and gloves.  I guess as person whose time is at a premium, I do resent it when decisions that affect the majority are made to cater to the uninformed and irresponsible.  That is merely just my opinion, and I do respect that school systems take the safety of children seriously.  

So basically, what I mean to say is that the fact the news last week was dominated by the Polar Vortex, the cold weather caused people to once again hole up in their homes with nothing to do but let insanity slowly creep in and eventually take over.  We were some of those people.

I spent many days baking. This helped keep the house warm and kept me busy. The problem is that because I have been home all day every day I have also eaten all of the items I baked almost immediately (in many cases why they were still piping hot) and therefore have most likely gained five  to eight pounds.  Is it still considered baby weight if you gain it two and a half months after your baby is born?
 
Yesterday Bryan was attempting to clean out our basement to begin construction on what will become another room to fill with Annabelle's toys that she doesn't play with.  In doing so he produced a cookbook that he thought would be very helpful to me.  After reviewing this book I felt compelled to share these recipes and newfound knowledge. 
 
 In fact this book is filled with so many tasty recipes and useful knowledge that I do not even know where to begin.   This cookbook is entitled:   "Mountain Makin's in the Smokies (You will note that I am typing the title as written on the book, those are not my errors)."  That's right, you read correctly, the name of this cookbook is "Mountain Makin's."   This book was published in 1957 by The Great Smoky Mountains Natural history Association.  According to the preface "this book is compiled of 'old-timey' and present-day recipes."  

  Glancing at the table of contents it appears to read just like any old cookbook- oops wait, what's that on page 48? Page 24 might be something to investigate as well.
I'm sure you want me to share the Groundhog recipe straight away, but I am too eager to share pioneer remedies for common ailments.  Poor little Georgia was suffering from a cold for several days after New Year's Eve, so I was especially interested in page 29.
Why thank you, Mrs. W.P. Trotter for the tip. I do have an onion and a wet cloth, but roasting the onion on hot ash may present a problem.  My first instinct with all of these recopies and remedies is to laugh, but I know there is validity located within them.  I remember when Annabelle got her first cold as infant many people suggested putting Baby Vicks on her feet. 
 
 Common cold isn't the problem in your house? Perhaps Ringworm is your issue.  I know this still makes its way around schools and daycares.  Do not waste your money on hygienic creams and lotions, Mrs. W.P. Trotter has another recipe to relieve those pesky Ringworm symptoms.  Correction: To CURE your pesky Ringworm.
Do you ingest the dock root or leaves?  Or do you apply them to the skin?  I am also not sure if any leaves will do or if they need to be dock leaves?  How do you apply a root to the skin?   I also just happened to glance at the recipe above the Cure for Ringworm and found myself smiling. I really enjoy that the recipes in this cookbook are written in such a conversational tone.  "Cook until tender. You can eat it this way or fry in grease. It's just fine."  Yep. It's fine. Eat it boiled, or fry it after you boil it. It's cool. Whatever. 
 
I know that we have a vaccination for Whooping Cough now, but I personally hate that it is paired with a tetanus shot.  Those tetanus shots are awful, so I always resist the Whooping Cough vaccination.  Thankfully, Mountain Makin's has a remedy for  that as well.
 
   What is troubling me is the dosing for this cough syrup.  "Give any amount as often as needed."  I suppose there is nothing harmful in this cough syrup so it as not as though an overdose can occur.  The remedies we use today are loaded with chemicals that appear to just slowly cause your organs to fail one by one, so perhaps I shouldn't make fun. I must admit that part of me is tempted to try this remedy for cold or cough on Annabelle, though I am concerned about the amount of sugar and honey in this recipe.  I feel as though the coughing would just be masked by the psychotic episode induced by the large volume of sweeteners.
 
Let us move on from remedies and explore the culinary delights of the residents of the Smoky Mountains (both old-timey and present-day...meaning the present day of the past. I guess that would be past present day residents).  I am sure you are dying to get your hands on the Groundhog recipe, so get your pencils ready:
Groundhog
 
This is a recipe that my mother-in-law taught me how to cook ground hog.
 
Dress and cut it up. Put in pot, then bring to boil. Break up spicewood branches, and put in pot with meat.  Boil until meat is tender. Remove; then salt and pepper; then roll in flour; put in 1/2 cup shortening, preferably bacon grease.  Then put in oven and bake until it is brown.
                                                                                                     -Mrs. Ennis Ownby
 
My only question regarding this recipe is regarding "bake until it is brown."  What the hell color was it when we started?  I suppose I would also like you to consider, as you read this, your own mother-in-law, and what your reaction would be if she invited you over to pass down a family recipe and it turned out to be Groundhog. 
 
I'm sure if I consulted with Bryan on this topic he would tell me not to make fun, I will appreciate these recipes in Armageddon.
 
Here is something else I learned from this cookbook.  Apparently in the mountains in both the fifties and in old-timey times cornmeal was a staple in all diets and recipes.  Nearly every recipe in this book calls for cornmeal.  Please refer back to the table of contents and notice that there are twenty one pages of bread recipes in this book.  EVERY SINGLE recipe of bread called for cornmeal and the majority of these recipes were variations of cornbread.  Bryan loves cornbread and has asked me to try some of these. I suggested we start with this one:
 
Ash Cake
 
There is an old man that lives near us that says his mother makes ash cakes all the time.
 
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon soda
1/3 cup fat
1 teaspoon salt
Enough water to make a thick dough
 
Have a good hot fire. Pull out ashes and make a nest-like place in the ashes. Brush off ashes down to the hearth.  Put your dough in nest. Let set a while and the dough will form a crust.  Then cover with ashes and hot embers. Bake 20 or 30 minutes.
-Mrs. Ben C. Fisher
 
"There is an old man that lives near us that says his mother makes ash cake all the time."   We are now baking our bread, and eating it coated in ash because a casual acquaintance mentioned it passing while waiting for the bus?  I would love to hear how that conversation began. Or more to the point, how it ended up a recipe in Mrs. Ben C. Fisher's recipe box.  "You know, that man nearby whom we do not know personally said his mom makes ash cakes all the time. We should too.  I mean if it's good enough for the old man who lives near us, well then it's good enough for the Ben C. Fishers."  
 
I also don't completely comprehend the how the ashes function in this recipe.  Actually I do not understand how the ash functions at all in this recipe.  It appears to me that you coat your dough in ashes from the fire, and then bake it, which ultimately means eating it.   Bryan seems perfectly fine with this. I myself have  reservations about this process.
 
If the Ash Cake isn't your speed, perhaps this one is:
I was very surprised that there is an actually recipe for mush.  My husband laughs along with me at these observations, but deep down he is thinking we are all set for the Apocalypse. I know that he is worried I won't have the survival skills so he is arming me with them slowly, one-by-one. I'm sure you're concerned because Cornmeal doesn't last forever and it may spoil or get buggy in our bug out shelter (pun intended), but don't worry.  Mountain Makin's has a recipe for how to make cornmeal.  I am all set.
So let us close this chapter on mountain life with one final recipe that caught my eye. This recipe for Indian Bean Bread.

 Okay, so it was not the recipe itself here that caught my eye.  I don't want to be crude, and if this is an illustration of Mrs. Roy Pilkington herself, I certainly do not want to be disrespectful.  But based on this illustration it would seem to me that life must have just been harder in the old-timey Smoky mountains.  All that time spent leaning over the fire and tending to the hot ash and embers for your Ash Cake really takes a toll on a woman, doesn't it?
 
I am glad that Bryan and I are able to find simple entertainment on these cold days.  I am making my reluctant return to work next week. I am positively dreading it and appreciate my husband's ability to provide distractions and levity(I specifically chose that word just for him) as I struggle with the guilt and sadness of leaving sweet baby Georgia and my wild-eyed Annabelle in the care of others in order to return to work. 
 
And while it is easy to page through this cookbook and laugh, I truly do not like the idea of poking fun at the women behind these recipes, or this book itself. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an old soul who longs for simpler times. I always tell Bryan I wish that I could just throw my smartphone into a vat of hot lava and instead get a rotary phone again.  He is always quick to point out that I can do this at any time, to which I respond with:  I will. I just need everyone else to do it too. The Mountain Makin's women were women who would have started their Dodge Caravans with a mound of hot coals so they could take care of their families.
 
As I read the cornbread recipes of simpler times, I wish we would take a step back sometimes too. I often wish I was composing these posts on a typewriter instead of a laptop or PC.  I also wish my children were going to grow up in a world where people knew how to do things, and thought for themselves.  I am hoping that I can at least show them how to make cornbread from scratch so they are aware that not all food comes out of a box.  I hope that we can slow things down a little bit for them so they have a childhood.  I don't know when kids stopped being kids.  Probably around the same time the meteorologists decided the word "cold" just wasn't quite  good enough.
 
 Until then I will just have to be envious of Mrs. Roy Pilikington and Mrs. Ben C. Fisher.
 
 
 
 
***I do not know the rules about using photos and recipes from a published cookbook. So I am including copyright and publishing info:
Mountain Makin's in the Smokies: A cookbook
Published by: The Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Associations, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 37738
Edited by: Mary Ruth Chiles and Mrs. William P. Trotter
Illustrated by: Mrs. Patsy Gilbert
Compiled by:  The Wives of Park Service Employees and their friends
Lithographed by: Hickory Printing Group, Inc. Skyland, North Carolina  28776 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Poke-a: Part Two

Where was I?
So as you can imagine, with a baby in the house we have to find multiple ways to keep Annabelle entertained.  I continue to be amazed at how she is turning into a little real person.  She knows so many words and talks in sentences and phrases.  We can almost have an actual conversation with her, granted it is a very one-sided and frustrating conversation that one might have with a criminally insane person...but a conversation nonetheless.

I suppose that when I say Annabelle is turning into a little person, a more accurate statement would be that she is turning into a little dictator. Christmas is just days away and I have yet to be able to impress upon Annabelle that if she is naughty Santa won't come.  She is certain he is coming and she is certain he is coming every, single, night.  I have learned that two year olds do not have a firm grasp on how the spacetime continuum operates.  I have also learned that when you raise your child to play outdoors every single day for hours until she is filthy and broken, winter in Wisconsin is a painfully long stretch of  time.

So in addition to competing with a new baby in the house, Annabelle has a touch of cabin fever and it has manifested in her personality, causing her to behave like Attila the Hun, which is what I have been calling her (not to her face) for the last couple of weeks.  Although I think Attila may have just been a tyrant and not officially a dictator.  And in that scenario would that make Bryan, Georgia, and I Eastern Europe? I'm not sure, history is not where I excel. Neither is math. Oh...and science.  And I think we all agreed that brevity wasn't either, so I'm not sure exactly where my talents lie. 

Perhaps you may think I am being unkind or am over-exaggerating this personality flaw, but let me provide you some highlights of life with Attila the Hun.

NO DANCE, MAMA!
Annabelle prefers elevated seating so that she may supervise the house
Each day I pick Annabelle up from daycare and drive her home, which takes about thirty minutes.  In that thirty minute stretch I learn that I am not allowed to smile, dance, smile, stare, look at her, or speak.  My hands must remain at 10:00 and 2:00 (unless I am giving her a snack or a drink) and my eyes must remain straight ahead, per the edict of The Dictator.  Katie Perry comes on the radio and who can resist her empowering and catching girl power lyrics?  So I turn up the radio and begin to sing and bob my head back and forth.  From the back seat I see a single finger rise into the air followed by the angry war cry of Annabelle "NO DANCE, MAMA!  NO DANCE!" and if I ignore this order from the backseat, a shrill scream is shortly to follow.  So I stop dancing and quietly sing while I stare at the road, but The Dictator misses nothing.  "NO SING, MAMA!  NO SING!"  and then when I try to ask permission to sing I am interrupted with "NO TALK!"  So I stop talking and just quietly enjoy my song. And after a few minutes I glance up into the mirror to see what she is doing, and the finger is raised again, "NO, MAMA!" I am not sure what I have done this time, and then I realize I have made direct eye contact with The Dictator, which one should never do.

I don't know why I'm complaining, Milton and Bernie receive the brunt of Annabelle's leadership. 
do not disobey The Dictator
cruelty at its most primitive
Her new favorite activity is to boss the dogs around. she likes to open the gate
to our stairs and order them to go up the stairs and STAY or LAY DOWN.  Milton can handle this sort of guidance but Bernie is a nervous wreck.  He has been clinically depressed since we brought Milton to the far.  Annabelle corrals the dogs upstairs and then opens the gate to give them a taste of freedom and then slams it in their hopeful faces.  Its is a cruel form of torture.  Even now I had to pause from writing to go intervene on a situation on the stairs where Annabelle was at the top of the stairs shouting at Milton to "COME UP HERE!" and when he did not, a  Category 5 meltdown occurred.  And while I was trying to figure out how to fix the situation both dogs went into the kitchen and ate Annabelle's  "cerealraisin" in her snack bowl on the kitchen chair.  So as soon as the tears were dry from Milton not obeying her direct commands, they began to flow again when she realized her dogs ate her snack.  Maybe she shouldn't leave her snack bowl on the floor or where the doggies can get them like mama said.  Just a thought.

I try to engage Annabelle in activities such as reading, counting, flashcards, puzzles and anything else I can think of that we can do together. I don't know why I try to engage her in educational activities, she learns all she needs to know on the farm.  Some of Annabelle's first phrases were "dog hair everywhere" and "woodstove chores."   I can only imagine what the rest of the world thinks of our parenting.  We have to check her coat pockets before she goes into daycare because she smuggles nuts, screws, and bolts in.  I also don't know why I worry about my ability to educate her because my games and activities are never her first choice.  I have to compete with Daddy's games, and I have learned being the mom kind of blows.  Happy fun dad is always the one she goes to for entertainment.  I'm the jerk who washes her face and brushes her hair so she doesn't look like an orphan.  So when given the choice between playing with Mama or playing with Daddy, the winner will always be Daddy.

The two current running favorite Daddy games are  "Wallenda" and "Christmas Pokey Eye."
Wallenda is pretty self explanatory, right? Named after the famed Flying Wallendas, it is a death-defying act of balance.  Bryan lies on the floor and Annabelle steps carefully onto his outstretched arm and hand, and he yells "Balance!" and then she yells "Balance!" and then she balances precariously on his hand.  Then he instructs her to let go of his other hand she is using for support, and then she waves to me before crashing to the ground. To be honest I was pretty surprised at how good she is at this stunt.  She is able to balance, but she prefers the crashing to the ground portion of the game.   Actually she doesn't crash to the ground, she crashes into Bryan's skull and ribcage.   Bryan is most likely going to not only have brain damage from this game, but is also going to require rotator cuff surgery in the near future as well.

It is here I should offer a tip to parents of toddlers.  I was very afraid Annabelle would break ornaments on our tree or worse yet, pull it down.  I was prepared to have Bryan rig up some sort of system to tie the tree to the ceiling (wasn't that good of me to put in all that work thinking of  ways for Bryan to do work).  But we found an easy way to prevent this, we purchased the pokiest tree known to Earth.  We have a Blue Spruce and it is like barbed wire and therefore is almost impossible to touch.  As a result of this Annabelle does not touch it and gets very upset when anyone else touches it or grazes against it.  It is very pokey.

Thus the invention of "Pokey Eye."  In this game Daddy lies on his back and hoists Annabelle above his head superman style and pretends to fly her face-first into the Christmas Tree.  This causes her to squeal and recoil and scream "Pokey Eye!"  Lather. Rinse. Repeat. This makes her laugh very hard.  I think it is not dissimilar to a super fast roller coaster that is fun but also terrifying at the same time. The whole time you're laughing and screaming, but deep down you're wondering if your harness is going to come loose, sending your body flying through the sky like a rag doll.

At press time I was just corrected, and apparently I did not know the correct name of the game.  It is not  "Pokey Eye,"  it is "Poke YA."   As in "look out, the tree's going to poke ya."  Either way, it's a fantastic way to entertain a toddler. What better way to spend quality time with your daughter than pretending to hurl her, eyeball-first, into the pokey Christmas tree?  Really, if you were her, which would you choose: Flashcards or Christmas Poke Ya aka Christmas Pokey Eye?

Our activities and parenting choices may be questionable, but I am lucky to have a husband who will engage in this unsafe behavior so I can wash the dishes, feed the baby, or maybe even sit down and compose a blog post.  And Annabelle may be a bossy little dictator, but I would rather raise her to be confident in her voice than afraid to speak out.  I would prefer it if she wouldn't speak out so passionately to me and me alone about my dancing, but we will fine-tune this attribute later in life....hopefully.


Merry Christmas from Annabelle's Chickens