Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Bit of Eclectic Reading

Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle Series #4)

Okay, everyone in the world has already reviewed this, so I am not going to go into much detail. I just have to ask...does anyone else feel like it could have easily been 200 pages shorter, without hurting the story any? I was looking forward to this long-awaited conclusion as much as anyone, and I generally have no problem with good, thick books. By the last THIRD, however, I was reading just to finish it. I even said out loud, several times, "Oh, get ON with it, will you?" Oh, and if you missed the nods to Tolkein in the first books, you can't possibly miss them in this one. My patrons seem evenly split - some thought it was fine, others (saying this in a whisper) didn't even finish it.

Cold Cereal

Adam Rex is an incredibly talented writer suffering under the curse of really awful titles. "The True Meaning of Smekday"? What does that tell me about the book? Why would I want to read it? This title is just as bad. To compound the problem, it's really hard to describe the book in a book talk and make it come out right. "See, there are these twins, only they aren't really, and their guardian gives them these tests all the time. Oh, and everyone in this town works for the cereal company, including the mother of the new boy, who can see things. Like the pookah named Harvey. And this really obnoxious clurichaun - do NOT call him a leprechaun. And there's something sinister about the cereal company. Oh, and the new boy, Scott, his father punched the Queen of England, except that she's - wait, I can't tell you that part."

See? Sounds cheesy. But it's not, I promise you. Fortunately, bad titles and difficult descriptions did not hurt The True Meaning of Smekday any, so I doubt this one will suffer when it is released in February. We will definitely be getting a copy. It's a zany fantasy/mystery that reminds me of some of Daniel Pinkwater's books. My ARC (received from publisher) only had a few rough sketches in it, but so far the art looks appealing. I am looking forward to seeing the artist's rendering of Mr. Biggs, the butler.

Now, I read the two previous titles at the same time - one at work, one at home - during the same time period our pastor was getting into the history of Rome. Makes for some confusion at times (so, Herod had a dragon, and it was pink, and he made everyone swear in the ancient language, at the top of the man-made mountain, that they would feed his cereal to their firstborn sons...) After finishing all three, I needed something light and silly.

Beauty Queens


A plane load of beauty pageant contestants crash-lands on a desert isle, where strange things are going on - think a mash-up of Lost, the Clique novels, and High School Musical, with as much political-correctness as you can squish into almost 400 pages. The characters start out as one group stereotype, and branch off into individual stereotypes. Definitely fits the bill for something you don't have to think about. I'm assuming it is supposed to be campy and groan-worthy, in which case it works. Some good one-liners, but one of those books that is funnier in the telling about than the actual reading.

Last, we have:

The Always War

I'm generally a fan of Margaret Peterson Haddix, but lately it seems her books are requiring more and more 'suspension of disbelief', as they say in the theater world - that act on the audience's part of being willing to accept things at face value. There was SO much in here that just didn't make sense. For 75 years people have become so brainwashed they don't question obvious problems, but in one telecast the heroes convince them all otherwise? The characters are all one-dimensional and unbelievable. The book tells us one is exceptionally bright, but he comes across as dumber than a box of rocks. Very disappointing.

All of these except Cold Cereal are available at the library now, and we should be getting that one when it comes out in February.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Keeping Kids Busy, Part 2

Okay, so, the crystals are still growing. Partly because C. isn't happy with looking at them from the side, and keeps pulling them out of the water, causing them all to fall off the pipe cleaners, even though I keep telling him NOT TO TOUCH THEM. Technically, he is touching the pencils, not the pipe cleaners. I probably should have been more specific. Anyways, I can't get the camera to focus on the pipe cleaners inside the water, so you'll have to trust me on this one.

Today I was continuing in the cleaning and organizing mode started by taking down Christmas decorations, and I started on the refrigerator. It drives me crazy when a package is opened, the contents are partly used, and then the rest sits there forever. There were four slices of sourdough bread left in a bag, so I toasted them and added them to the bread crumb bag I keep in the freezer (also storage place of loaf ends, which are perfectly good for sandwiches, and which everyone swears they use, but which still mysteriously fill the second shelf of the refrigerator. Three or four bread loaf bags, each with two end pieces, conscientiously twist-tied shut.)

And the tortillas. Many many bags of both corn and flour tortillas in varying sizes, all opened. We already have enchiladas in the freezer, so today we had chicken and cheese quesadillas for lunch (using part of the leftover chicken, double points for me), then I made one whole package into quick snacks. Just slice them up, spray on some butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar:

Then toast for a few minutes at 350 degrees, and you have sweet crispy treats. You could probably try other toppings (think anything Doritos uses). I may do that tomorrow, since I STILL have flour tortillas left.

A half bag of stale marshmallows, and the toothpicks left from making Buckeyes (am I cheap, or what?) became an art project.

I have no idea what S. was making, but here you can see C. building a Star Wars ship, which was followed by several men holding light sabers. Eve.Ry.Thing. has to do with Star Wars these days. Everything.

We also went outside to play in the melting snow. S. trucked around through snow and slush and mud, scooping bits up in her bare hands, then you could see her face suddenly register the lack of feeling in her fingers. "I'm cold, Mommy! I'm cold! I need my blanket!" (stiff-walking toward me with her hands held straight out). She has the exaggerated shiver and chattering teeth down quite well, and was doing it for Daddy long after everyone was toasty warm again.

L. mostly just hung around all day. Oh, except for the time he was sitting in his chair, and pooped all up it. My day would be empty without at least one load of laundry. Look at those thunder thighs! Can you believe this is the same little stick-legged boy from a few months ago?

In case you've wondered why M. is not in any of these, she has been out for the past couple days. She's home now, and we are planning a zombie apocalypse sleepover. Either tomorrow or Sunday. Or some other day. We don't like to overplan.

Have You Sent a Card Yet?

If you are not also connected to us on Facebook, you may not know about our young friend Luke Maeding. This special ten-year-old boy has had health problems literally since birth - in fact, that is how he met his mother, Heather, a NICU nurse. The kind of health problems that have doctors scratching their heads and telling him he is one of a kind - but usually not in a good way. Just last year he had a double lung transplant, and while that has helped in so many ways, he is still in and out of the hospital. He got his wish and was home for Christmas, but two days later was back in an ambulance, headed for his home away (6 hours away) from home.

One of the things that brightens his day is receiving e-cards through this neat program:

He is in Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, in room 7a705. He asked his mother this time if she had let people know he was there again, and when she asked why, he said so they would know to send him ecards! Word of that is spreading, and they have started mapping all the cards that have been coming in. You can see the map on his mom's blog, at

They don't have to be get well cards - the crazier, the better, in fact! Take a few minutes and send him one from your neck of the woods (even if your state is already colored in), and make sure to mention where you are from. Pretty easy way to make a sick kid smile a little!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Keeping Kids Busy

When school is out, the Children's Room tends to be busier than usual, so I really have no business taking my vacation during those times. I did anyway. I took the whole week between Christmas and New Year's off, planning to spend as much as possible of it on the kids. Of course, I'm not completely crazy, and I knew it would be a good idea to plan some actual activities to keep us all busy.

Thinking ahead to taking a whole week off, and realizing the a) C. would have already been out of school for over a week, b) He would still be hyped up from Christmas and driving me crazy, and c) I miss half the birthday parties, when you get to talk to other mommies, because I have to work, I decided to invite everyone in the school over to play for an afternoon. That's a lot less daunting when you live in High Rolls, and there are only 20-odd kids in the whole school.

Tuesday was the day, and S. decided to dress up in honor of the occasion:

Unfortunately, that was also the day half the families were out of town (or had discovered an electrical octopus in their under-construction bathroom), so we just had two families show up. They had five boys between them, though, so that was good for a few smackdowns.

Love how S. looks like she's refereeing.

What's funny is that I didn't even have any Mommies to talk to - both sets of kids came with their dads. We had a good time, though!

When we cleaned up after Christmas, I put a few things aside to space out over the rest of the week. There were puzzles:

With pieces missing. She was not amused.

Videos to watch:

My two-fisted drinker.

And race tracks to try out:

We also have a few art/science projects set up. Today I took all the Christmas decorations down, and to fill in the empty spots we started borax crystal snowflakes/icicles. All you need is:

Borax (find it in the laundry aisle) and boiling water (figure one spoonful borax to one cup boiling water). You will also need containers to put the solution in, pipe cleaners or string for the crystals to adhere to, food coloring if you want, string or fishing line, and pencils or other sticks to suspend them from.

The preparation can take a while, if your kids are too little to tie thread, cut bottle tops off, etc. Hang your icicle or snowflake base from the sticks, so that they will hang inside the containers without touching the sides:

(just three pipe cleaners twisted together)

Measure your boiling water as you put it in, so you know how much Borax to use. A word of warning, the first bottle I poured water into curled at the top (the yellow one), and since I had filled it pretty full, I had a mess to clean up!

I was still boiling more water for the blue and green at this point.

Then you wait! I got C. to sit and watch for a while, but finally had to admit that it wouldn't happen today:) Hopefully, tomorrow morning we will have little colored crystals growing on the pipe cleaners. That, or we will have four stupid cats covered in colored Borax solution, and another mess to clean up.

Other plans include making fantastic structures out of marshmallows and toothpicks, and making our own books. What about you guys? What creative (and cheap) ways do you have to occupy your young 'uns? Come on, I have 5 more days to go!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Week(end) in Review

Our family Christmas fun mostly started on Thursday. We had a home visit in the afternoon (tribal social worker and someone from the courts. Christopher hid in the dog kennel.) so I worked in the morning and took the rest of the day off. Once the visit was done, we went to the mall for the annual picture with Santa:

Such serious faces!

Mykela has had her picture taken with this particular Santa every Christmas for the past 17 years! I like this Santa, because we used to do theatre together, and he remembers me as Miss Charity from a melodrama we were in. Miss Charity is far better behaved than Miss Ami, and therefore more deserving of presents, so I am quite fine with Santa calling me that.

On to Golden Corral for dinner. We don't eat out much, so this was a treat. My only request was that it be somewhere I could hear everyone at the table talk, and with all the varying tastes, a buffet seemed like a logical choice. Plus, children 3 and under eat free. They may be changing that policy soon. S. had steak, scallops, mac and cheese, several kinds of vegetables, rolls, chicken, shrimp, brownies, fudge, ice cream, and a bunch of other things I have forgotten. We were all stuffed, but she kept shouting, "I need more chocolate!"

We dragged her out, and drove around looking at Christmas lights. We stopped at cousin Bryan and Taryn's, but discovered Taryn was out of town. Oh, and Brian killed Santa (windy nights are bad for Christmas decorations.) S. kept saying, "I have Taryn at my house," but we looked when we got home and didn't find her. S. was the only one who stayed awake all the way home, yelling "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" most of the way. Did I mention the chocolate?

Friday I needed to be at work early - so, of course, the washer overflowed. Got that sopped up and one load going, then bundled everyone into the Toyota - according to the scanner, the roads were pretty bad, with even a snowplow getting stuck somewhere, so my 2-wheel-drive van didn't seem like a good option. Our roads were mostly just...weird. Little bit of drifting going on. One lane would be bare pavement, while they lane next to it had four feet of snow.

So, I was a bit late, but made it to work in time for the staff party staff meeting with refreshments and gift exchange. There is always WAY too much good food (Senta: your grandmother may make blueberry muffins for us any time she chooses), but we did our best to put a dent in it. The gift exchange was good for some laughs - a non-cook gets the cupcake making kit ("It's a....spatula? Spatula! And a....whisk?"), etc. I pulled the last number, so I didn't have to agonize over choosing, and ended up with something I really liked (brownie makings in a jar, soup mix and cool soup bowls, and white chocolate, which is my absolute favorite). Then we staggered to our desks to set up for the patrons. It was pretty quiet all day, but steady. So was the snow.

Rashal, our reference librarian, got a great Christmas present towards the end of the day - she is now our new cataloguer/systems admin person, which leaves us with TWO reference positions open. As soon as they are officially posted, I will share the information, but please let anyone who may be interested know. An MLS will probably be recommended but not required (nobody else on staff has one), what we really need is someone with library experience.

Saturday we woke up to...more snow! Daddy still had some running around to do, but Mom and the kids stayed home and baked. Mom wanted to put goodie baskets together, but for some reason, there weren't any Buckeyes to be found. Hmm. That's okay, they are pretty easy to make. For those who asked earlier, you just need to mix:

1 1/2 cups peanut butter
1 cup softened butter
1 tsp vanilla

Then blend in 6 cups powdered sugar, 2 cups at a time. It should get dry and stiff towards the end. Shape into 1-inch balls (try to resist making them bigger, they are super-sweet!) and place on cookie sheets lined with waxed or parchment paper. Poke a toothpick into each ball and place in the freezer for an hour or more (overnight is fine).

You will need to get a wooden spoon at this point. I will tell you why in a minute.

Melt a package or so of chocolate chips in a small bowl (I use a measuring cup). Start with a minute and stir, then 20 seconds at a time, stirring each time, until everything is melted. As it cools, you may need to pop it in for another 20 seconds.

Dip the balls in the chocolate partway, then put back on the cookie sheet. This is where the spoon comes in handy...

Some of the balls may fall off the toothpick. Which isn't necessarily bad. You can hold the spoon underneath to catch them, or use it to fish them out afterward.

You will also need the spoon to whap your husband every time you find a lone toothpick sitting next to an oily spot where an undunked peanut butter ball once was.

Anyways, if they all start falling off, put them back in the freezer for a bit, then continue. Take the time to rinse off your spoon and threaten your thieving husband some more.

If you want to be fancy, like my friend Althea, you can drizzle chocolate over the top to hide the hole. I'm lazy. Unlike Althea, who has 87 gorgeous small children at home, and still finds time to bring beautiful baskets of goodies to the librarian. There were other things besides Buckeyes in the basket, but everyone's eyes were immediately drawn to these. This was the only one left to take a picture of, an hour after I got home.

Problem: what to do with the leftover melted chocolate? (As if extra chocolate is ever a problem). First we played a bit:

Cocolate ribbon is very yummy, fyi.

I started thinking it was shame I didn't have any chocolate molds, then remembered the mini muffin pans I never use because I hate cleaning them. M. helped me quick-scrounge some other leftovers, marshmallows and sprinkles, and voila:

Rocky Road candies. I meant to do that all along.

Next we made these Caramel Apple Cider Cookies from The Girl Who Ate Everything. I had never made them before, but they were pretty easy, and the kids had fun putting the caramels in the middle. A few minutes in the oven, and...

...holy decadence, Batman! I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that Christmas is all about sharing. And I love my family. And I can always make more. Tomorrow.

The afternoon was a flurry of last-minute wrapping, people sequestering themselves in various rooms with strict instructions for no one to follow them. Then baths and dressing up for a candlelight service at my mil's church and dinner at her house.

Sleepy kids - but they know when Mommy is pointing the camera at them!

I started to feel a little cruddy at that point, and after watching everyone else in the family get sick over the last week or so, I had an idea of what was coming. I managed to hold it back through Daddy's reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas, bedtime, and getting the presents out and ready...and then I collapsed into bed. Only to get back up again. Frequently.

Fortunately, Santa didn't seem to mind my being out of bed half the night:

We really do try not to go overboard at Christmas, but with four kids,and with grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. buying for them too...yeesh! There was once a tree back there, I promise.

I was able to drag nyself to the sofa and watch the proceedings, for which I am very grateful. Some pics from the morning:

What do you mean, some fat guy was in our house?

More ducks!

The first gift M. opened was a new skinning knife, which put her in charge of opening all packages and removing all tags. yes, we planned it that way.

Duct tape!

It took FOUR HOURS to unwrap everything, mostly because we had breakfast after stockings were opened (well, most of us did), and because we like to stop and play with things along the way. Things came to a screeching halt while C. looked over his Star Wars book...

...and S. played with her talking tea set...

...while M. prepared for the upcoming apocalypse.

L. wasn't quite sure what was going on, but he did like this softly singing glow worm. Mommy liked that it was quiet.
Mommy got a stocking full of her favorite candy, and a cooking set she has really wanted:
Paula Deen Nonstick Porcelain Enamel 12-Piece Cookware/Tool Set
Yes, guys, it is perfectly acceptable to buy the woman kitchen things, if that is what she has asked for. In fact, knowing how I go ballistic when people use metal utensils on my good cookware, daddy also got be nice bamboo spoons, rubber tongs, etc. M. got me a big set of heat-resistant spatulas. They done good. Someday, I hope to be well enough to enjoy it all.

Daddy got kitchen stuff, too. I really REALLY wanted to get him a cider press, because every fall he mentions how much he wishes he had one. I had half the mountain looking for one in my price range, and everyone had one they just sold a week or so ago. Then I saw this post from The Pioneer Woman, and after another flurry of conferences with my mountain friends, decided a juicer would work just fine. I also got a selection of different types of apples for him to experiment on, which smelled really good, and posed some challenges in hiding. I finally just put them in the pantry and told him to stay out.

M. got a cotton candy machine that works with hard candies, and it was immediately put to use.

Her best, gift, though, came in pieces, numbered in the order she had to open them. This was the first one:

and she figured out what it was! We told her she was wrong just to bug her, but by the end it was pretty obvious. For those who need to see more pieces:

Now she has to put it all together:)

Then Grandma came over: more presents!

Wrapped in a ball of crepe paper. S. was most confused.

She also brought food, which Mommy was actually able to eat a few bites of - before crashing into bed again.

You know, dreams when you are sick are all the more bizarre and vivid. For example, I was waiting for C. at the school bus stop in front of Lowe's in Alamogordo (which of course is where the High Rolls kids get off), and it was July (which is, of course, when they go to school), and I decided I wanted a slushee. So I turned to the slushee stand (which does exist, but which is not, to my memory, two stories tall), and called up my order - a 60 oz. apple butter (?!) flavored slushee - to Andrew Mancuso. Unfortunately, Andrew was so freaked out at one of his former teachers ordering a slushee, he disappeared into the inner workings of the booth, and never came back. C.'s bus came in early, and he wanted a slushee too, but we never saw Andrew again. I woke up REALLY wanting a slushee. And rather annoyed with Andrew Mancuso.

So, that was Christmas. A good time had by all, for the most part - it could have been worse, at any rate! I am on the mend, just moving slowly, and trying to figure out just where Santa thought we would PUT all this stuff before we have C.'s entire school over to play Tuesday - which should make for another good blog post all by itself...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Last-Minute Book Reviews and Christmas Ideas

I am really liking this series we just got:

I Want to Be a Princess

I Want to Be a Knight

There are 6 titles in the "Let's Play Dress Up" series, all written by Rebekah Jay Shirley and published by Windmill Books. There are several reasons I am very happy with them: first of all, what child does not want to be a fairy/princess/astronaut/robot/knight/pirate? Instant appeal. But, are they useful?

Heck, yes! I couldn't find a link to an inside page on their web site, but the costume ideas are very doable, using materials you probably have in your kitchen trash or can find even in a craft-impaired town like ours (hint to retailers or investors: open a good craft store here, and there would probably be a parade in your honor.) You do NOT have to be super-crafty or coordinated to put these together, which is very good, because I want to go home and make everything listed.

Oh, and one other reason I like them? Look at the princess: is she blonde? Blue-eyed? Fair-skinned? No! Bravo to the publishers for putting average, every-day kids on their covers, when so many others are still sticking with stereotypes. (Not that I have anything against blonde-haired, blue-eyed princesses - although, S. would probably prefer being the robot with the ray gun.)

Gift Ideas: There should still be time to order these and get them under your tree. If that doesn't work out, though, you can check out a copy here, and make the costumes as your gift. Then it's time for play! Just one request - you HAVE to send me pictures!

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...Texas Chainsaw Christmas Massacre and Zombie Apocalypse.

A two-year-old with an axe. What could possibly be scary about that?

Or that.

Or that. (Of course, a pretty teenage daughter is scary with or without weaponry)

As you may have surmised, Daddy and these three went out hunting wild Christmas trees this weekend. The one they bagged fit perfectly into the space we had carved out. Best of all, Mommy and Logan got to stay home in the nice, warm house. (Note to self: Make sure to always have a baby around at Christmas time.)

Several people have made comments about our fence. We've been doing this for so long, I can't remember having a tree without barriers. Wait, yes I can: the year my mother made popcorn-and-gumdrop strings for our tree. I was about seven. Very pretty. The red gumdrops disappeared first. By Christmas, there were just a few yellow ones here and there. Darn mice.

At any rate, if you are going to have a live tree in a house with dogs, there is always the danger that a dog will say: hey, look, a live tree! Have I mentioned my new carpet? And then there are toddlers and shiny objects. Bad combination. We Santa generally doesn't put presents under the tree until Christmas night, when YOU HAD BETTER BE ASLEEP AND NOT FAKING IT AND NO, YOU ALREADY WENT POTTY AND YOU ARE NOT GETTING UP AGAIN.

We eventually even got it decorated.

You know the really scary part about the whole weekend? Daddy did all the lights. Voluntarily. He also did lights outside. All over. Daddy doesn't DO lights - or any other Christmas decorations. You've seen the cartridge in a bare tree, right? Now he's talking about putting lights on his truck!!! That can only mean one thing: quite simply, the end of the world as we know it. (And as you know, M., the end of the world can only mean...ZOMBIES! Happy dreams, sweetheart.)