Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Miscellany

December gets me every time. Between getting ready for baby Jesus this week and baby brother a few weeks after that, we’ve been whirling. I keep telling myself that as soon as I finish project X, I’m going to relax and enjoy the holiday. Unfortunately, as soon as project X is complete, project Y appears in its place, and so on and so on, until we’re now days away and I’m left wondering where the time has gone.

So before our company arrives tonight and before the season slips away, I thought I would push the pause button on the errands, cleaning, baking, wrapping, parenting, etc. etc., and document a few of the traditions we’ve enjoyed this month.

Nothing original or earth-shattering here. Just a few simple things we’ve tried to relish among the holiday hectic.

1. Ornament Books

Every year, like everyone else, the kids are each given a new ornament. About five years ago, I started journaling which ornament was chosen for each child and why, so that when they one day inherit the collection there will be meaning behind each dusty treasure.

I bought this set of six books to keep the pages.

This also established an official cap on how many children we’re allowed to have.

We made this year’s ornaments from the trunk of the Christmas tree Jack cut down for us in the little town of Markham, Virginia.

A few other pages from years past -

2. Dollar Store shopping.

More exciting than Black Friday is the trip we take every year to the dollar store, where the kids are given a list of people to shop for, a dollar for each name, and then set loose to make their big decisions.  Favorite gifts from the past have included an ethnic angel for Aunt Elise, and penguin shaped nasal aspirator for my mom.

I can’t reveal what they chose this year for risk of spoiling it for our guests, but let’s just say that if any of them have dreadlocks that need taming, then this is their year.  Also, I hope they don’t have a personal objection to owning unlicensed Hannah Montana paraphernalia.

The kids are also in charge of their own wrapping, which requires quite a bit of restraint on my part. For every square inch of wrapping paper, they use roughly two feet of my scotch tape.

3. Elf

I did not climb aboard the Elf on the Shelf train this year, in spite of my sister Jane’s persistent pleadings. Lucky for me, she finally gave up, bought one herself and shipped it to us.

I'm forever indebted.  It's been magic for the kids, waking up early every morning to race around the house and find his hiding place.

We named him Boehner, and he is naughty

I think he's also been on my Pinterest account looking for ideas.

4. Neighbor Gifts

I dream of someday presenting my neighbors with a beautiful wrapped Christmas box of English toffee, just the way my mom did when I was growing up. 

Unfortunately, the learning curve of candy making has proved a little steep for me.  (Overheard every December in my kitchen: “Mmmmmm, this is going to be sooo good.  Just the way Mom makes it.  Yum.  Wait.  Am I overcooking this?  Am I undercooking it??  Is it going to be too soft???  IS IT SCORCHING????  SHOULD IT BE BUBBLING LIKE THAT???? NOOOOO I’M WASTING SO MUCH BUTTER!!!!!!!”)


So until I master the art, and I plan to keep trying, I stick with my trade and instead make a little holiday hair fancy every year for the girls to deliver to their friends. 

This year’s trees were inspired by my crafty friend Jo. 

5. Nativity Books

Another simple tradition we’ve started is a collection of the kids’ nativity art. One night each December we sit around the table and have them draw their version of the birth of Christ, which I slip into a page protector and put into their own book to keep.

It takes zero effort, but I like to imagine that someday they’ll enjoy the 18 or so renditions of the greatest story as they imagined it every year of their lives.

I imagine Jolie will also wonder why she dressed the Wise Men in leisure suits.

In a separate binder we keep their letters to Santa, lest they forget what they dreamed of every year and why they thought they'd been good.  Heaven forbid I forget any of this myself.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Costume Breakdown

I have a policy of putting minimal time and effort into my children’s Halloween costumes. It could be because I’m cheap or lazy, or perhaps it’s because I’m apathetic toward something they will only wear once. In the dark. Underneath their snow coats. But I prefer to think it’s because I’m saving my energy to pull off an impressive Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When it comes to costumes, I only have two criteria. It must be (1) free, or very inexpensive, and (2) the child has to be excited to wear it. Beyond that, it’s free game.

Here’s what of each our three chose this year -


By early September, Jolie decided she was destined to be Rapunzel. Special thanks to our Netflix account for their relentless homepage promotion of the most popular, hard to find, overpriced costume of the year.

I searched the stores high and low (and by that I mean I looked once when I was at Walmart), but they were sold out. I figured it was the same story everywhere else in town, so I checked online, and the only option I could find in stock was the authentic Disney Store version for $69.50


So I took Jolie on a trip to my favorite thrift store, where we scoured the racks and scored a purple dress for $3.89. Then we came home and rummaged through the dress up box and craft supplies, and about an hour later, came up with this.

Certainly, there are differences between Jolie and the Disney Store girl. But the only difference I can see is that Jolie has $65.61 more in her college fund than she does.


Cal’s costume was a hand me down from one of our neighbors. Our neighbors, bless their hearts, looooove to give us their hand me downs. We’re the only family on our street with young children, let alone almost four of them, and our house is strikingly smaller and older than the others, making us prime targets for sympathetic glances and boxes of charitable castoffs.

Every so often, someone knocks on the door to present the kids with leftover treats, used books, hand me down clothes, and very random toys, including two of my personal favorites -

A Freddie Mac bear,

and Bono glasses

A couple of weeks ago, the Moriettis across the street stopped by to present Cal with a box of costumes their son had outgrown. This was a gold strike for a boy whose dress up options had previously been limited to his sister's collection of tutus and fairy wings. He ripped open the box to his choice of Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Buzz Lightyear, and dinosaur costumes.

He chose dinosaur. Rawr.


Leah had the most options - her pick of about 50 different costumes when I discovered a discount Halloween store that sold everything in her size for under $15.

I first presented the princess gowns, but she rejected all of them. Next I tried fairy. No. Witch? Nope. Pirate? Cowgirl? No, no. I was starting to get impatient, and was about to force her to make a choice when, on her own, she spotted this on the rack, and her face lit up. And my heart melted.

Don't make the mistake of calling her a referee. She's not a referee. She is her adored Grandpa Jack. And a pretty dead ringer at that.

Good call Leah. Hopefully this means Grandpa Jack's next visit will bring more treats than tricks, although I wouldn't count on it because Grandpa Jack loves to tease. At least next time, she'll have a whistle to eject him with.

Happy Halloween. And happy birthday today to our Cal, who took Leah's approach three years ago when he pretended to be his Grandpa Jim by being born on his birthday. We are putting our candy to good use here, as we have much to celebrate.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roy G Biv

Leah turned five, and Jack put his foot down. He said, essentially, that come hell or high water, this year we’re going to finally give this child the birthday party she’s never had.

He had a point. We have never properly celebrated poor Leah’s birthday. Last year it fell in the middle of a major move. The year before that, another move, and this disaster. Before that there were other various excuses, such as traveling, illness, and the fact that as the middle child, we just don’t love her as much as the others.

I agreed, and set to work. After consulting with the birthday girl, we settled on the theme “Rainbow Party,” which Jack referred to as her “Roy G Biv Party.” It was an appropriate choice. Anyone who has met our Leah can attest that her personality refracts every color under the sun. I also loved the theme because rainbow parties have been making rampant appearances on craft blogs lately, and I was spared from having to come up with a single original idea.

Here are a few memories from the day. Most of the pictures were taken before our 10 little guests arrived and the house unraveled into an orchestrated chaos from which it took me a full two days to recover. And a full three weeks before getting around to uploading the pictures. Here’s hoping I captured enough to provide counterargument when Leah grows up, notices the 4-year void, and wonders if we loved her in the early years.

We do love you Leah. In fact - don’t tell the others - but you are our favorite.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Memory Loss

After living for seven years in the shadow of the San Andreas Fault, I admit I was relieved to leave earthquake territory for Washington DC, where the only thing you have to worry about is Al Qaeda.

Image my surprise then, when on Tuesday afternoon our house suddenly felt like a Christmas present being rattled by a curious child. I had just enough time to gather my wits and my children under a doorway. Then fortunately, just as I was beginning to wonder what kind seismic standards existed in the 1950s when our house was built, the shaking stopped.

Thankfully, I was able to get a hold of Jack before the phone lines were jammed. The only suffering we incurred was that it took him a record-breaking two hours to Metro home. He normally grills for us on Tuesdays so we were left starving, and dinner was so late that we missed the opening obstacle course on Wipeout. Natural disasters are rough.

Unfortunately, that was the extent of our damage. I say unfortunately, because I’m aware that no one likes an earthquake story that doesn’t contain a little damage.

So, as a consolation, here is another damage story. This is one happened last week, when the earth was still -

It was Tuesday night. I was walking from the kitchen to my desk to retrieve a to-do list, when I took a misstep, and heard a $1,600 crunch.

It certainly didn’t sound like a $1,600 crunch. More like a tiny little snap. Au contraire.

I had stepped on our external hard drive. It was a short step, and I am not an elephant, but as luck would have it I may as well have thrown the thing from a moving truck. What initially looked like a harmless crack in the exterior, turned out to be a fatal sever between data and memory reader thingy. Seagate, the drive’s manufacturer, provided me a friendly quote of $1,000-$1,600 to recover our contents.

Contents: Every picture we’ve taken over the last 5 years. Every picture of Jolie since she was two. Every picture of Leah since she was a newborn. Every picture of Cal, ever. This is not to mention all of Jack’s dissertation data, our entire collection of music, ebooks, templates, sacrament meeting talks, etc.

Ironically, the drive had just safely returned from accompanying us on a 5-week summer vacation. Jack had not been thrilled with the idea of traveling with something so valuable, but I had insisted. I wanted to be able to keep up with photos, so I raised my right hand and swore to take better care of our hard drive than I would our children. And I did. It journeyed from Baltimore to San Diego and back, with stops in Utah, Denver and Chicago between, without collecting so much as a single fleck of dust. When it made it home unharmed, I made a big deal of patting myself on the back and ceremoniously accusing Jack of worrying for nothing. Then I put it under the desk. And then I stepped on it.

As I whine, I realize there are far worse things in life. Earthquakes and Al Qaeda, for instance. So I allowed myself one good cry, a couple of swear words, and then I decided I had to get over it. Hard drives break. Pictures get lost. Life moves on. Someday we’ll probably shell out the $1,600 to try to retrieve the memories, and we can all have a good laugh about it.

In the meantime, I’m starting fresh. After three months of morning sickness I had been hoping to do some catch up on blogging. With that no longer an option, I’ve turned my attention instead to conducting search and rescue efforts for pictures that have survived outside the hard drive.

I've never been so thankful for cell phones. I’ve had my simple little texting phone for over three years now, and had no idea how many memories have been captured by its camera. It has cheered me up quite a bit to download the images and design them into pages for the kids albums. Pages that won’t disappear if I accidentally step on them.

Aside from texting some of these pictures to Jack, I've never done anything to preserve them and am certain I never would have if I hadn't killed the hard drive. Most likely they would have eventually been tossed out with my phone when a new phone came along. I likewise would not have uploaded them here, had I not been prompted by Tuesday's quake.

Opportunities arrive in strange disguises. A comforting realization as we anticipate a weekend visit from Hurricane Irene.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Seating for Six

Jack & I are expecting our fourth child in January. Thank goodness, because these signs are in the front row of some of the most crowded parking lots in DC,

and it is becoming increasingly difficult to get Cal to pretend he is an infant.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Something Old

Today, Jack & I celebrated our 10-year anniversary. I thought it would be only proper to mark the occasion with the romantic story of how I fell in love with my wedding dress.

When my two older sisters were married, I observed my parents’ philosophy that while a wedding should have a reasonable budget, the gown was exempt. My big-hearted Dad could not put a price tag on granting his daughters a dress befitting their childhood dreams. I took note, and began making extravagant sketches in my mind.

I was single after my junior year in college, and decided to spend the summer in Arizona with my parents. On a boiling hot day in July, my Mom & I spent the afternoon running errands. On our way home, passing through a questionable neighborhood on the south side, we drove by a rundown Salvation Army. On a whim, we decided to stop and take a look inside. My mom has the most beautiful, Anthropologie-like collection of dishes and a talent for finding them in the most unlikely places, so we set out to sift through the rubble in search of a treasure.

As we approached the entrance, I noticed a hand-written sign that said, “TODAY ONLY. HALF OFF WEDDING DRESSES,” and very sarcastically announced that it must be my lucky day. If there’s any extra room in the cart when we’re done, I told my mom, let’s toss in a wedding gown. Hopefully I’ll need one someday.

The joke continued as we walked inside, so while my mom went to browse the china, I decided to prepare for an impromptu Salvation Army bridal gown fashion show. I grabbed the first dress I saw, went into the curtained off area that was the dressing room, and slipped it on. I zipped it up, looked in the mirror, and to my own surprise found myself thinking, “This is my wedding dress.”

I called my mom to come take a look. Before she walked in, I remember her saying, “This ought to be good.” She pulled back the curtain, stood looking confused for a moment, then finally said, “I think this is your wedding dress.”

We bought the dress, including headpiece and veil, for $30, and carried it out in a giant garbage bag. It was old and very delicate, but didn't need a single alteration.

Jack was also in Arizona at the time, working and playing baseball. In the little spare time he had, we had been on a few dates. I called him at his parents house that night, and the following conversation ensued -

Me: Hey

Jack: Hey

Me: What did you do today?

Jack: Worked. Baseball.

Me: Oh yeah….?


Jack (finally): What did you do today?



We had dinner recently with another couple, and the story of my dress came up. When Jack impersonated that fateful telephone conversation, his friend asked, “Didn’t that scare you off?” Jack answered, “Actually, I remember thinking to myself - Any girl who can buy a wedding dress for 30 bucks, is the girl for me.”

Ten years later, after 6 moves, 3 children, 7 years of graduate school, and a sobering amassment of student debt, I understand well the logic behind his criteria.

I’m so glad I chose that $30 dress.

And him.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Weekend Plans

Today begins one of my two favorite weekends of the year. Every 6 months, members of the LDS faith get to sleep in, stay in their pajamas, make cinnamon rolls, and watch General Conference with their families.

Without fail, every time I watch General Conference I hear something that makes me feel grateful and uplifted. Something that gives me perspective. Something that makes me feel a little peace in a world where there is less and less of it. Something that motivates me to be a little bit of a better mother, a little more patient, a little more willing to forget myself.

If you would like to catch a bit of conference today or tomorrow, you can watch it here.

If you're planning to watch already, these are my favorite cinnamon rolls. We also love printing out these conference squares for the kids to fill with stickers & M&M's (I'm not going to lie, I play too. Competitively.). I also recommend doodling your way through the messages, the way my friend Mary Karlee does.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Plastic Eggs & Deadly Plagues

The kids and I went grocery shopping at Safeway this morning and when we were finished, decided to browse through the Easter display.

I was sifting through the shelves - and half ignoring their desperate requests for jelly beans, stuffed chicks and chocolate bunnies - when Cal hands me this.

I beg your pardon?

I read the label again, confirming that yes, that there was a bag of PLAGUES. Who knew? The calamities suffered by the Egyptians? The disease, the darkness, the locusts…Turns out those weren’t just the wrath of God unleashed on Pharaoh. Those are toys you can put in your child’s Easter basket.

And I for one could not resist. I had just told the kids we didn’t have enough money for popsicles, then I turned around and tossed a bag of plagues into the cart.

The fun started at the register. Perhaps I’m easily amused, but I loved seeing “bag of plagues” on my grocery receipt, right between “Tostitos” and “parmesan cheese.”

Now let’s take a look inside -

First, we find the usual items one would expect in a child’s bag of plagues. Blood, lice, locusts, wild beasts…

Then of course there are boils. How creepy are the boils?

Creepy, but thank goodness for them. Most kids today have never even heard of boils, and I think it's high time they learned. Boil Handz could be the next Silly Bandz.

The cow is cute, but don’t be fooled.

He is diseased.

The frog? Not diseased. Leah loved the frog.

Until I told her to imagine millions of him, overflowing the neighbor’s pool, filling up the streets, spilling through our windows and into her bedroom….

Fun's over.

Here is Cal, plagued by darkness...

The bag also contains a puzzle,

Which will go in Jolie’s basket, obviously.

Jolie might be disturbed at first, but of course I can reassure her with the story of people slaying innocent lambs, slathering their blood above the door, and then listening to the deafening wail of Egyptians whose firstborns had been killed. Sweet dreams, darling.

And that, as we know, is the final plague. The label promises that all 10 are “Fun & Educational,” and I would have to agree. I think another selling point are the kinds of arguments these toys are likely to prompt among siblings (“Quit touching my boils!” “Take my lice out of your mouth!!” “Where’d you hide the blood??” etc.). With a little luck, these kinds of exchanges will occur in public.

But I'll let you be the judge, because I've decided to make this post a giveaway. We've had our fun and besides, plagues are meant to be spread around. Leave a comment at your own risk, because like it or not I'll be randomly selecting one of you to receive all 10 plagues in your mailbox next week. I'll even throw in a bag of my favorite Easter candy, just to make them easier to endure.

A Brother Like No Other

(Written by my mother Susan Foutz, who would like to clarify that she actually has two brothers like no other ) If you lived in Arizona in t...