Archive for December, 2009

The Last Dregs of Advent

We had a few more activities in the calendar that I never got around to throwing on the blog, so here they are:

One of the things that I tried to do with the advent calendar was to put in some activities about giving to others to stress that the Christmas spirit is not limited to what Santa brings. When the kids are a bit older, hopefully this will translate into some sort of community giving, but for this year, I decided to keep it simple. We made pine cone, peanut butter and bird seed treats for the birds and squirrels. I took each of the older children shopping for gifts for the other parents. The last was a gift for our favorite couple at the Ranchero.

Our lovely neighbor and building caretaker extraordinaire, Bill, and Rex-Goliath have a special relationship. It evolved because Rex-Goliath likes to hang out on the balcony during the warmer months, and Bill is often doing some sort of project back in his garage (which our balcony overlooks).

Bill has an affinity for the Mounds bars. He started giving them to Rex-Goliath, who would bring them into me, and I would put them in the cupboard. Sometimes I would distract him, sometimes I would give him some vegan candy instead. One day, Dan confessed that he would sometimes just let Rex-Goliath have some of the candy bar. So, without looking too closely at the ingredient list, we decided that Mounds bars would be vegan in our house. Neither of us could bring ourselves to explain veganism to Bill (who would be completely confused by the concept – he is in his eighties and cows are for eating in his world – what else would you do with one?).

As a thank you to Bill and Carol for being so sweet to the kids, one of the advent activities was to bring them a gift. A few days prior to the activity, I made some Christmas cookies, including some chocolate rum balls dipped in coconut (the Mounds bar of the Christmas cookie world). We packed them up in a red Chinese food container (I have almost worked through all of the leftover ones from the wedding centerpieces) decorated by Chloë.

Rex-Goliath decided to use the time to vacuum up the buttons he had strewn all over the kitchen floor earlier. The inscription on the box read:”To Bill and Carol, From Chloë’s family, work done by Chloë, as always.” Obviously someone was a little disgruntled over having to set the table earlier. A few more, “When I was a kid, I had to mop the floor up hill both ways” stories ought to set her straight.

The kids had a grand time delivering the package, knocking on the door, running away and hiding.

Bill knocked on the door a bit later to thank us. He seemed genuinely touched to have received the present from the kids. Mission accomplished.

On the 15th day of the advent calendar, the darn thing seemed to think that it would be a good idea to go ice skating in Rice Park. We bundled up the boys, picked Chloë up from school, and Dan dropped the older two and I off at the rink, planning to park the car and bring the baby back to hang out in the warming house.

When we arrived, a very nice warming house employee informed us that broomball would commence in about forty minutes. I figured we might as well make the best of it – it was really cold that day, and I didn’t even know how long the kids would last. I rented the kids skates, tried to put them on, then got them new skates that fit. Then tied the laces on each skate. Then I had to put mine on, find a spot for our things, save Rex-Goliath from toppling over, etc. By this time, the zamboni guy was slowly ambling around the rink, as if he didn’t know that I was on a deadline. Because he probably didn’t, but I’ll still hold it against him.

By that time, the warming house was filling with burly broom ball-types, slapping high fives and adjusting their earmuffs. We were finally able to get out on the ice with about ten minutes left of skating time. With about eight minutes left, Rex-Goliath decided that skating was not for him (thank you, divine being, as I will not have to shell out thousands for hockey crap) and began to say, “Mama, go!” loudly. Chloë made it around the rink approximately two times before the nice warming house employee called us off the rink for broomball.

If you are wondering what Dan and the baby are up to at this point in the story, so was I. Things were starting to seem a little weird. I slowly took off my skates, then slooooowly removed the kids’ skates, sloooowly walked them (two feet) up to the table, then proceeded to get really nervous. Maybe Mr. Grinch had just had it with the family holiday activities. Maybe he was sick of the kids’ whining and complaining. I figured he must of just driven off. Now, if you are smart and planning to abandon your wife and kids, it is a terrible idea to do so with one of them sleeping in the backseat. Especially the one that needs diapers and mama milk, which your wife has in her possession – not you. But Dan isn’t big on planning.

I messed up my phone a few months back and lost all of my phone numbers that her stored on it. His phone was not on him (it was in my Uncle Dave’s salsa-making kitchen), so I could not call him. I was trying to figure out a) who I could even call (the jerk had the car seats for the kids I had with me!) that b) I had a number for. Things were not looking promising. Strangely enough, it did not occur to me to notify the police that my husband was missing – I just assumed that if he was gone, it was of his own accord and not foul play. Hmmm. Maybe I should reexamine this at some point. Anyway. Back to the story.

Eventually, while I was trying to recall somebody, anybody’s phone number, he burst through the door, holding a very red-cheeked and perturbed-looking Xavier. Apparently, Dan had been forced to park eight blocks away and carried the 20-lb baby the whole way to the ice rink in the bitter cold. Poor guys.

So I sent him back to fetch the car.

Once we left, we drove trough the Taco Bell* and all was good.

*Ever try to order vegan food when going through the Taco Bell drive through? We really need a script.

Dan (to Taco Bell drive through speaker thingie): I’d like two crunchy tacos supreme, (to Leah) Why do you need the supreme?

Leah: Because I like the the tomatoes.

Dan (to Leah): But it is such a pain in the ass. We are paying a whole bunch of money for one sixteenth of a tomato, plus it makes it so much more difficult to order. (to Taco Bell drive through speaker thingie) Okay, two crunchy tacos supreme, substitute beans for meat, no cheese, no sour cream. Five bean burritos, no cheese. One soft shell taco kids’ meal –

Leah: Why do have to get the kids’ meal?

Dan: I don’t.

Chloë: Why can’t I get the kids’ meal?

Leah: You can’t get one for her and not one for Rex-Goliath. It’ll be a thing.

Dan: Is he at kids’ meal age now? That’s so cute! Let’s get him a kids’ meal.

Leah: Whatever. (to herself) Great. Two more plastic toys to surreptitiously throw away and wind up in a landfill.

Dan: The Taco Bell toys aren’t always horrible. Remember when they gave out books, like James and the Talking Pinata Talk Sacrifice?

Leah: Yeah, yeah.

Dan: Make it two kids meals, one with soft shell tacos, no cheese, sub beans for meat, one with a bean burrito, And a seven layer burrito, no cheese, no sour cream, substitute beans for meat, oh, and can we get some mild sauce and a bunch of fire sauce?

And so it goes…

–Mrs. Wonderful


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Trains, Trains, and Automobiles Part 2

After the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, I decided that we needed one more fun train activity for December. The Minnesota Transportation Museum has a train museum at the Jackson Street Roundhouse, and we decided to give it a go. My lovely friend Melissa is also blessed with a little trainophile, so we met for a little playdate.

The best thing about the train museum is that no one actually goes there. No lines, few other children to fight with, lots of open space – it is really quite lovely with lots of natural light. The worst thing about the train museum is that no one actually goes there. That makes for a surplus of elderly male volunteers just itching to talk train and show you around the place. This would be great if our whole party was over the age of twelve. Two year-old boys just aren’t the most appreciative of a tour guide’s vast knowledge.

So I spent the whole time simultaneously trying to listen to the tour guide (let’s call him “Ed”) not only to be polite, but because the history behind the exhibits was interesting, and trying to keep Rex-Goliath from doing any number of things that he shouldn’t (including but not limited to breaking the train signals, stealing the model trains, falling into pits in the floor, pulling down the cow catcher exhibit, and just plain running off). It, as all things involving motherhood, was a balancing act.

When we arrived at the museum, the boys spotted the train tables immediately. I knew that if we didn’t allow them to play around for a bit we would spend the whole time trying to keep the things from pulling the boys away from us like a giant toddler boy magnet. They had an impressive set-up of wooden Thomas track and trains.

Ed, who appointed himself our tour guide, hung around giving us facts about the museum. Ed had lots of plans for us – showing us the train cars, letting the boys push buttons to make train whistles go, and taking us outside to see some train thing.

Exchange between Ed and I while we moms were trying to finish our coffee and the boys were gleefully stealing trains from each other:

Ed (excitedly): See my hat? That logo is from the Northern Balhousie Railroad.

Me (nodding): That’s really cool.

Ed (pointing wildly): See that train on the TV? We have that train right back there! I can show you it if you want.

Me (craning my neck around, trying to get back-up from Melissa, who was slinking away, staring into her cup): Yeah, I bet the boys would like that after they are done playing.

Ed (practically dragging me to get my coat): During the summer, we give caboose rides out back. If you come back in the summer, you guys could ride in the caboose. But I could show you the caboose today if you want.

Me (looking around desperately): Yeah, we definitely should check that out in the summer.

Ed (unsure as to why we would still be standing amongst the train tables): This building is the only building in the state that has a working turntable. If you want to go out back, I could show you that. Or I could show you that train over there…

Eventually I had to acquiesce. So we had a little tour of the place. While managing diaper bags and little boys, trying not to spill our styrofoam cups of near-boiling liquid on the precious antique train furnishings.

Ed told us that this train made for a good photo op. For some reason, Rex-Goliath was terrified of the thing. But with promises of candy and a good shove, I convinced him to pose despite fearing for his life.

The coolest train they had was the former private car of some rich guy. I am assuming that having a private train car back in the day was akin to having a private jet now. Although it is possible that it was more comparable to having a private Winnebago.

I was impressed that they decorated it for Christmas. Ed warned us that they only do this around the holidays, though.

The best part about having your own train car is that they put the toilet right next to your seat, and your seat is directly below your sleeping quarters. I hope they had Febreze back in the day, although you were probably relegated to waving about an apple stuck full of cloves to “freshen” up the compartment.

The private car had a kitchen. It also had a disturbing-looking chef mannequin standing in the kitchen. Had they given him a knife, I would have thought that I was in some sort of museum-based horror B movie.

They had a few more train cars for us to go through. One was an old electric car, from the Dan Patch line (like the street with the cheese curd booth on it at the Great Minnesota Get-Together). According to Ed, electric trains were not that popular. He was a little sketchy on the details, though.

There was a pretty rad-looking engine called the “Hustle Muscle.” Once again, Ed was a little vague as to its history.

The final car that we experienced was a car that cattle drivers used to ride in while bringing their beasts to the slaughterhouse a la The Jungle.

Despite its distasteful purpose, the cars, both smoking and non, were pretty nice. The cattlemen themselves must have been somewhat distasteful, however, as there were signs posted warning against spitting and littering.

The kids these days use computers to track where trains are. Apparently you can even watch this via the internets.

It was pretty neat to see that there was a train in South Saint Paul (our fair city) when we were at the museum.

By this point, the boys were dying to get back to the toys. Ed was still holding out hope that we would go outside with him, but unfortunately, lunch was beckoning. The boys did get to see a real train drive by the museum before we left. Except for the big disappointment for Rex-Goliath upon our departure (he didn’t understand why we would leave such a cool place if given the choice), the trip was a success.

–Mrs. Wonderful

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Trains, Trains, and Automobiles Part 1

For those of you that have not gotten the wire, Rex-Goliath loves trains. The whole thing happened by accident. We were at Blockbuster, renting Chloë a movie (Tropical Barbie or something equally horrific). Rex-Goliath obviously had not understood that renting him a movie was not in my plan. He selected one and gleefully marched up to me, waving Thomas the Tank Engine: The Great Discovery. This is how fate-sealing parenting decisions are made – I figured he would watch it once and we would move on with our nearly TV-free existence. Not so much.

He wanted to watch it constantly. This is probably what happens when you deprive your child of the things that all children love (TV, candy, vodka) – they gorge on it as soon as they get their hot little hands on some. Eventually we got him down to two viewings a day (bear in mind, this whole thing went down during a particularly paper-ridden time of the semester). Then one night, after a few glasses of Franzia on ice, I discovered a website offering Thomas and Toby for $1.99 apiece. I punched in my checkcard number, and off we were (Given my hatred of characters and merchandising, this was a pretty big deal).

Now we are in full-on obsession mode. Since I decided that Thomas is fairly innocuous, I have indulged the train obsession a bit. One of our advent activities was to drive to Hastings to see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train and take low-quality pictures of it. The whole thing blinks and flashes more than a Fisher Price baby toy and is not exactly photogenic for the amateur. Add that to the fact that I was wearing Xavier and trying to hold Rex-Goliath up to see the train while taking said pictures and avoiding the strangely high number of people waving lit cigarettes, it really is a feat that I captured anything other than the bum of some burly man in front of me.

Rex-Goliath was napless until ten minutes prior to arrival. I should have been there right on time, but Google Maps has been failing me big time lately, and I spent a few minutes touring historic Hastings looking for a glowing train. Eventually I found a parking lot with a lot of people walking around, and I decided to just follow the crowd. Definitely a gamble since I was hefting the baby and dragging the toddler (in boots). Lucky for me, I was on the right track (get it? ). We arrived with plenty of time to spare because according to some old dude I overheard, “the damn thing is a half hour late every year.” Finally, our chronic lateness paid off.

The train is really neat to see – one of the cars opens up and a band plays Christmas music. It acts as a fundraiser for local food shelves, so you can do a good thing while seeing a festive thing. The moment that the train pulls into the station is a little surreal – I was half-expecting it to not show up (my luck).

I cannot guarantee that Rex-Goliath enjoyed the experience to its fullest – he was woozy from the mini-nap and it was hard to see anything but crotches and butts from his height. I think he “got” it, though. If the obsession continues, we’ll try for a repeat next year. An additional parent, two more pairs of socks, and a travel mug full of warm goodness would have improved the experience quite a bit.

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Keeping Up with the Husband

Well, since he posted his, I have to post mine. I like the fact that it mentions all of the things important to me: the husband, the children, school, and Franzia.

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Interesting little Facebook thing

I think this is a vaguely quaint way to reflect on the year that is coming to a close. 2009, we hardly knew ye.

2009 came, brought in Xavier Wonderful, and took out Michael Jackson. I think we got the better end of that deal.

2009 came, brought in Xavier Wonderful, and took out Michael Jackson. I think we got the better end of that deal.

– Mr. Wonderful

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Holiday Cheer

Time flies and advent calendar doors open.

Around November first, I said to Dan, “What do you think about getting the tree December 10th?” He looked at me with confusion and disgust. I could tell what his train of thought was:
a) Why are we talking about Christmas? You know I hate Christmas.
b) Why are we talking about Christmas? We still have carved pumpkins why the door.
c) I really hate planning anything, especially planning Christmas.
d) Christmas trees cost money, don’t they?
e) I am trying to play my video game.

I love planning and I love Christmas, so I decided that December 10th would be the day.

Come December 10th, Rex-Goliath opened up the little door, and Surprise! Time to get the tree. I will say, Dan surprised me. Not only was he keen on procuring a tree, but he also expressed interest in going Christmas shopping.

We packed up the family truckster and headed for the MOA.

The best thing about the Mall of America on that particular day was that TLC was filming an episode of Mall Cops during our visit. We actually saw the crew following around a husky security guard with a boom mike.

Xavier and I did a little Christmas shopping while Dan and Rex-Goliath had a little adventure consisting of flirting with those ladies selling lotion at one of the many kiosks in the mall, playing with legos and meeting large crustaceans.

When the Bubba Gump Shrimp mascot walked up, Dan said that Rex-Goliath looked as if he had run into Jesus Christ himself – a cross between complete awe and sheer terror.

My exploits were not nearly as interesting – I did realize that Urban Outfitters is selling a replica of almost every ceramic tchotchke that I have purchased from Valu Thrift in the past 3 years at a 1000% mark-up. I could look at it two ways – bitterly (why didn’t I ebay them before the damn kids or dog broke them?) or somewhat proud (I always knew I had the taste of a trendy thirty-something with an excessive disposable income that tries really hard to look cool and vintage without the odor that comes with things that are actually cool and vintage).

Speaking of cool and vintage, we are now arriving at the tree-trimming portion of the post. Trim-the-tree pictures are boring and awkward. The tree always looks weird and distorted when a non-professional is telling it to say “cheeze,” and it is really difficult to get a picture of the children hanging up ornaments obediently. So I had a little fun with Picasa (the Google picture editor) and turned some of them into strange 70s-style pictures (or possibly just strangely-tinted pictures of my kids and tree).

Both purchase-the-tree and decorate-the-tree day were in the advent calendar. I timed it so that we bought the tree right before Chloë arrived for the week. I even wrapped a few presents to stick under it before she arrived to make it more exciting.

I left the selection and purchase of the tree up to Dan. Now that it is all said and done, I would say that he picked a decent tree. From where my butt is currently parked, the tree looks full, round and even. When the tree first arrived, wrapped in that orange plastic netting, it looked like an alien Jennifer Lopez – our tree had a butt. A junk-in-the-trunk-style butt.

I found this quite amusing, and as Dan was sawing and trying to shove the giant, misshapen trunk into our inadequate tree stand, I felt the need to snap a picture of the tree butt. For some reason, Dan did not find this nearly as humorous as I did.

The tree was so voluptuous that Dan had to run to the store for a plus-sized tree stand. He tried sawing, voodoo spells, ice-picking, threatening to use it for firewood, and whispering sweet nothings, but the tree would not comply and squeeze into our old stand. Rex-Goliath was rather fascinated by the sawing portion of this process, so I made him a little cardboard saw so he, too, could experience disappointment.

The actual trimming was left up to the kids and I – Dan had a thing that evening. It was a packed evening (crafting, baths, dinner, Christmas Sponge Bob *shudder* and a full clean-up). We saved the tree until the kids were in their jammies. Everyone participated, some working toward the original end goal, others with their own plan.

Chloë was the most helpful – she actually put ornaments on the tree.

Rex-Goliath discovered a long strand of beads that we usually hang on the tree and proceed to drag them around, whipping them about the house.

Xavier alternated between hollering and chewing on a Santa hat.

I made the kids pose for an action shot as well as a “completion” picture, promising popsicles for cooperation. I am not above bribery.

They did a lovely job and enjoyed their orange and root beer popsicles immensely.

We had an extra stocking this year. Rest in peace, in the freezer for now, dear Chuckë.

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More Advent Adventures

Today, door 8 of the advent calendar, we did an oldie with a new twist. In our history as a family, we have made quite a few trips to the Como Park Conservatory. On one of those trips, Dan and I even got married there. Somehow, I have never been there during the holiday season. We will definitely do this one again – the Sunken Garden is incredibly beautiful with all of the poinsettias.

During pretty much any Team Wonderful activity, something will go awry. In fact, we adults have a saying that doing things with kids is a good idea in theory alone. But doing things with kids is like childbirth – you forgot how bad it was last time and can’t wait to do it again after a week or so. In some freak of nature, planets-lined-up, string-theory-systems-go timing, the trip itself was great. No major meltdowns, no baby issues, heck, I didn’t even have to visit the ladies’ room. A blizzard was brewing, so we started the festivities mid-morning. I let Rex-Goliath do the door-opening by himself.

Terrible idea. I really must pay more attention to my toddler.

As with most things in the house, there is a system in place to ensure fairness with regard to the advent calendar. The kids switch off opening the doors, unless there is something for Chloë to do once the door is open (e.g. scratch off a lottery ticket) – then Rex-Goliath gets the door piece of the ritual. Chloë wasn’t with us today, so Rex-Goliath got to run the show. He opened the door I pointed at, pulled out the slip, and read off a proclamation of nonsense syllables in a way that would have made our great orator, Barack Obama, proud. I figured that he knew the ritual by now (you read the slip and then we are done), but apparently not.

I was looking for the pacifier leash (that thing that attaches the paci to the baby so it doesn’t wind up in a puddle of melted snow, pug hair, and stale pretzels on the car floor), when Dan told me to come and see what our son had found. The big door, the number 25, had beckoned, and Rex-Goliath could not resist the urge to open it. He was rewarded for his efforts, as I had stuck a little Christmas-themed Percy (from Thomas the Tank Engine) in that door. So my little Christmas surprise is now over.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t heartbroken – it is much more exciting to get a surprise present on a day when you are not getting any other presents. I ordered this little guy off e-bay, and I now suspect that he may have been procured by the seller (a Hong Kong native) in a not-so-wholesome manner (Santa Percy is part of a set sold at Target in the stocking stuffers section – somehow Mr. Hong Kong only had the Percy piece). I thought that he was a Thomas Wooden Railway engine, but he is actually a Take-Along Thomas engine. The Take-Alongs don’t fit the wooden tracks, and I have this premonition that by Christmas morn Rex-Goliath might have some wooden tracks. Percy may have caused some frustration if received on that day. So this is better. Now I’ll just have to get that lump of coal that I had originally intended for door 25.

I packed up Xavier, Dan packed his man-whore satchel, and Rex-Goliath packed up his trains. P. Puggy sat on her butt and watched, in case anyone is interested. Then we were off.

Once at the conservatory, we did our usual thing – Tropical Encounters room, Bonsai Room (currently lacking of bonsai trees), Fern Room, then the rest of the conservatory, saving the Sunken Garden for last.

Rex-Goliath, looking at the koi in the North Garden:

Rex-Goliath, appreciating the beauty of the poinsettias (read: playing with his trains in a location that includes beautiful poinsettias):

Xavier, before he took a snooze in the baby carrier:

The picture of Xavier was so good, we spent a fair amount of time blowing raspberries, dancing like monkeys, and pretending to be robots after a shot of Jack Daniels in a misguided attempt to get a shot of Rex-Goliath of similar caliber. The boy was not having it, though:

This was the best we could come up with:

And, of course, the requisite picture of Dan, looking very debonair and a little like a tourist:

Another not-completely-disastrous outing, brought to you by Team Wonderful.

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