Friday, October 29, 2010

Bree's Fall Choir Concert

October 28, 2010

Last night was Bree's Fall Choir Concert. In the Fall they usually do pretty serious, somber tunes, often with some Latin involved--they showcase the tunes they've been rehearsing for festivals, and it's fairly traditional fare (unlike Spring Show, when they let loose with the more modern pop tunes). This year's show was dedicated to the Armed Services, part of a tribute to the seven young men from our school who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one in the place who got a little teary during the tribute portion of the program.

Mr. Bergman

Bree's got several friends in the choir, some of whom she's known since early elementary school. Sometimes, when I look at these beautiful young ladies and handsome young men ready to step out into the world at large, I swear I see the adorable little cherub-faced seven-year-olds they were when I met them. Have you ever seen the movie Big, when Tom Hanks reverts back to his child-self at the end of the movie and he stands there in a suit seven times too big for him? Yeah, it's kind of like that. Weird, huh?

Bree and Layla
Bree and Macie Mellor. Bree's known Macie since first grade.
Austin Woodard and Bree have been close friends since second grade.
Wendie, Simone, Bree, Macie, Layla, and Austin

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spirit Week for Danielle

October 28, 2010

It's Red Ribbon Week at Danielle's school. Each day has its own playful, fun theme. As always, Danielle has her own style goin' on.

An original Design by Danielle Crazy Day hat.

Crazy hair day. Seriously, even when she spends an hour doing her hair, it still hangs in her face!

I think the favorite part of Spirit Week is Friday, though. It's Parent-Teacher Conference Day, which means no school for the kids. I meet with Danielle's teacher tomorrow afternoon, and I anticipate a positive meeting. She's loving sixth grade!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You Say Pumpkin, I Say Punkin

October 25, 2010

I'm going to have to do a happier Halloween post, because honestly, that picture in the post below creeps me out whenever I look at the page. I've got to move that puppy farther down so it's not the first thing I see when I click on the blog.

When Bree was in kindergarten, they did a whole unit on pumpkins and Fall during the month of October. They did Fall leaves, they drew jack-o-lanterns, they counted pumpkins. They also learned to spell some Fall-themed words, including pumpkin. It was a hard word, a bonus word for a kindergartener, but Bree was a strong speller already, so when she and a friend decided to study before their quiz, she thought she'd have no problem with that or any other word on their list. Her friend asked her to spell pumpkin. "P-U-N-K-I-N," she spelled, confidently.

"Nope. Wrong!" Kids get a weird sense of elation when a smart kid get something wrong. Why is that?

"No way! That's not wrong. That's how you spell it: P-U-N-K-I-N. You're wrong."

"You are wrong. There's two "Ps" in pumpkin. Plus, there's no "N". It's supposed to be an "M"."

Bree put her little hands on her hips. "Two "Ps" in punkin? That's dumb. There's no other "Ps". I should know how to spell it; that's my nickname! Aunt Lisa always calls me Punkin.

They settled it the way most kids would; they went straight to the source. Standing in front of their kindergarten teacher, Bree was certain she'd be able to verify that she was, in fact, correct. Hands on hips, she spelled out Punkin, awaiting the confirmation she was sure would come. I imagine her teacher stifled a smile when she learned that Bree was, in fact, spelling her nickname. What she was not, however, spelling correctly was the standard, everyday run-of-the-mill version of a pumpkin. Bree was wrong. Her pride was hurt, and she felt betrayed. Aunt Lisa had been calling her the wrong thing all along! It took quite a bit of convincing to let her know that Aunt Lisa did in fact know how to spell pumpkin, and that Bree was a very specific and special brand of "Punkin."

Kindergarten was also a source of chagrin for me during this time. Up until Bree started school, we had always purchased pumpkins and decorated our jack-o-lanterns by painting on the face or applying stickers or plastic features, a' la Mr. Potato Head. There was no carving of pumpkins in my household, for a couple of reasons. One should be self-evident, if you read my previous post. I am not a fan of knives in general, and at Halloween time, I become downright skittish about them. At the very least, one could cut off a digit, and I'm quite fond of all of my digits. And at the very worst? Well, have you seen the movie Halloween? You know how old Michael Meyers was? Yup...he started down his dark path right about kindergarten age.

The second reason was much less rooted in sub-concious fears. The truth was, I just didn't like the mess of gutting a pumpkin. Digging my hands down in all those pumpkin guts--well, I just never saw the appeal. Then kindergarten came, and I was ratted out. My kid found out that I had been holding out on her all those years, and that there were pumpkin seeds to be roasted and pumpkin pies to be made. (She hadn't yet figured out that I'm no Martha Stewart and those innards would be just as well off staying right where they were.) Plus, she was like an alien outcast to all her friends for whom pumpkin carving and pumpkin seed roasting was an annual tradition. She had no idea there was anything inside that big ol' gourd until those kindergarten folks got to her. That was, by the way, the only year I ever tried pumpkin seed roasting or making a pumpkin pie from scratch. The hype was completely overrated, in my opinion. But I never again got away with not actually carving the jack-o-lantern again.

Kindergarten betrayed us both.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Heeere's Johnny!

October 25, 2010
It's the time of year when the T.V. channels are filled with the kind of slasher/horror movies designed to tap into the love-to-be-scared-to-death vicarious thrills people seem to seek as Halloween nears. Me, I could do without all of that. I'm a big scaredy-cat who likes her 'spooky' Halloween to be about fluffy black kittens in witch hats and Winnie the Pooh dressed up as a pumpkin. Although I've made peace with the fact that my husband is Mr. Creepy Halloween, I still have to change channels quickly whenever I see a commercial or trailer for a scary movie. Honestly, I was even hesitant to put up the creepy picture of the knife for this post, because I'm sure I'm going to see it come up in my nightmares tonight. So where did this morbid fear of knives come from? As far as I can tell, it all began with Johnny.

No, no, not that Johnny. (And yes, I've gone out of my way to avoid watching The Shining. Just the trailer for that movie is too much for me.) No, I had my own personal Johnny. He was a neighbor kid who lived up the street from me when I was about three years old. My brother Gary was five, and by that age, already showing signs of precociousness. That's a diplomatic way of saying Gary went out of his way to prove he could outsmart and outwit just about any adult he came into contact with. As a matter of fact, eventually he made it his mission to see how quickly he could get our babysitters to quit--he made it a game. At this time, though, he was only just beginning to test out his skills at getting under people's skin.

My parents were both working and going to school, so my mom had hired a young mother to come to our home during the day to watch us. When she was too sick one day to come to work, my mother was left in a bit of a bind. She couldn't miss school or work, so she had to find someone to stay with us. Since it was summer, our neighbor Johnny was home during the day. He was a sixteen-year-old kid who was willing to give up a day to earn a little pocket money, and my mom was desperate. Having never met Gary, he didn't really know what he was getting himself into. Gary, it would turn out, was also a bit out of his element.

You know how when you get in trouble or get scared and you just want someone to be in it with you? How it kind of lessens the fear? Well, Johnny was pretty much a non-factor for me. I stayed in my room playing quietly. But Gary found a way to push Johnny's buttons. I don't know what he did, or what he said, but he eventually went too far. Suddenly, Gary burst into my room where I was minding my own business and playing with my dolls. "Johnny's got a knife and he's trying to kill us!" he screamed. His eyes were wide as saucers and he slammed the door shut, trying to jam a chair under the doorknob. I didn't question him; I didn't doubt him. I heard Johnny banging on my door and yelling, "Come back here, you little brat!" Even though Johnny didn't have any reason to be mad at me, I wasn't processing reason. I was three, after all. When Gary told me we had to jump out the window to escape or Johnny would stab us and kill us, I scrambled after him, abandoning my dolls to whatever fate befell them if Johnny should happen to break down my door.

Gary opened the window and used my bed as the trampoline to jump up onto the window sill. He quickly dropped into our front yard and yelled for me to follow. I struggled to jump up high enough to jump up to the window, hindered by short little limbs and blinded by frightened tears. My heart was pounding as Gary was screaming for me to jump while Johnny continued to bang on my bedroom door. I was terrified, and when I finally made it to our front yard, I was sobbing. Gary grabbed my hand and we ran to the neighbors' house, where the kindly grandma-type let us in to wait until our mom got home. I was inconsolable, and could only feel safe hiding under her bed until Mom came to retrieve me. Neighbor Grandma even tried to coax me out from under her bed by offering me cookies; she eventually left a small plate of them under the bed for me.

When Mom finally came over to get us after she got home from work, she tried to console me. I don't think she actually believed our story, and couldn't believe how hysterical I got. Gary verified the story, but he shook it off pretty easily. Me? I was scarred. When I tried to go to sleep that night, I closed my eyes and saw Johnny with a knife. Now, mind you, I never actually saw Johnny with a knife. It probably wouldn't have scared me nearly as much if I had. As it was, I was free to use my imagination to picture what kind of knife Johnny was chasing us with, and man, it was BIG. And very sharp, and very shiny. In hindsight, I would imagine that the truth of the matter was that Gary smarted off to Johnny, and Johnny probably pulled out a little pocketknife that was ubiquitous among the 'cool' teenagers during that time. Realistically speaking, if sixteen-year-old Johnny had really wanted to hurt an obnoxious five-year-old (let alone a little three-year-old), I'm sure he would have.

None of that mattered, or even occurred to me at the time. All I knew was that there was a killer who lived on our street, and he was after my brother and me. I was afraid of going outside for fear of seeing him during the day. At night I couldn't sleep, and when I did, I had terrible nightmares. I was miserable, and I made my mom miserable, too. She didn't know what to do with me, or how to assuage my fears. She was pretty smart, though, and ultimately, she came up with the solution that allowed me to sleep peacefully again. What did she do? She lied. She lied knowing that I'd fall for it, and that it would work. I was, as I have said, only three. After about the fifth day, she came home from work and told me that she had talked to the police. The police, in turn, had gone to Johnny's house and talked to his mother. And do you know what the police did? They made Johnny move to another street. And for the first time in nearly a week, I slept like a baby that night. Now I don't know what actually transpired between Johnny and my mother--maybe she didn't pay him for babysitting. Or maybe she did. Maybe she never spoke to him about it, or maybe she told his mother that he wasn't mature enough to babysit kids, for future reference. I don't have any idea. All I know is that when Mom told me the police made Johnny moved away, I thought I put it all behind me. Mostly, I did. But knives? The glint of a blade, or a slightly crazed look in the eyes of anyone with a knife in his hand, even in jest, takes me right back to an irrational, instinctive reaction. And in case you're wondering, there's way too much of that right around Halloween for my liking.

So while I don't have to hide my knife block in the kitchen before I go to bed each night anymore, and I no longer leap on my bed from across the room just in case there's a creepy psychotic escaped convict ready to reach out and grab my ankles before I head off to dreamland, I'm still no fan of simulated fear. Real life is scary enough; I can't spend energy going out of my way to find extra fictional ways to scare myself to death.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Meeting Miss Zoe

October 24, 2010

When my great-niece Zoe was born on Thursday, I was just dying to meet her. Unfortunately, with soccer and drama practice, the elementary school carnival, two soccer games, and a robotics meeting over the course of the first three days of her life, I had to bide my time. Sunday came finally, with nothing on the agenda and nowhere else I needed to be. I needed to see that baby! Courtney and the baby had been released from the hospital earlier in the day, so we drove out to their house to meet the newest addition to the family.
John-John, proud big brother, was playing his hand-made guitar fashioned from Legos, serenading his sister with an improptu song: "I love my sister; she's the best little girl in the world. I love that baby; she's the perfect one I love." Oh my gosh, how adorable is that?
I was loving watching Uncle Doug hold Miss Zoe. He was so sweet with her!

John-John and Daddy Justin

Sweet dreams, Zoe: )

Oktoberfest Party

October 24, 2010

Saturday night Doug and I attended an Oktoberfest party hosted by our friends Bill and Renee. Actually, the Oktoberfest theme was just a cover for the fact that Renee wanted to throw Bill a surprise birthday party. That totally added to the fun of the evening. Renee and Bill really got into the spirit of it and handmade all kinds of German fare, decorated, and played German beer -drinking songs. Bill even taught us a little German song to sing before our toast. Renee laughed because she said Bill completely threw himself into planning his own birthday party without even realizing it.

When Renee first called to invite us, we knew it was a surprise, but we didn't know whether or not anyone was dressing up. We debated back and forth whether or not we wanted to surprise everyone and come in costume. There was a chance, of course, that no one else was dressing up, and we'd show up and stand out all night long. There was also the chance everyone would dress up, and if we didn't, we'd still stand out. We didn't want to ask, though, because we kind of wanted it to be a surprise. At the last minute, we decided to go all in. I'm so glad we did! It was a lot of fun, and Bill and Renee had also gone all out, so we weren't the only ones feeling festive.

Garfield Carnival 2010

October 24, 2010

In this year of firsts and lasts, here's just one more to add to the list: The Garfield Elementary Carnival. My youngest is in 6th grade, so that means our connections to this school, though they will always be there in spirit, will be a thing of the past. That hasn't stopped Brianna from coming back every year--it's a tradition she looks forward to each fall, even though she's a senior this year--so I'm sure we'll check back in every now and again. But realistically speaking, it's the end of an era for us, and future visits will be more about nostalgia than about an active participation in a community we will no longer be a part of.

These little entreprenuers have their own necklace business, and they were a part of this year's Vendor Alley. They design, create, and sell at local carnivals. I was very impressed with their presentation! And yes, I had to buy something from them: )

My good friend Jennifer and her daughter Megan, also participating in Vendor Alley. Jen is unbelievably creative--I'm pretty jealous. My friend Karen also had a booth selling her adorable handmade baby blankets and bibs. I just had to buy something from her for my new niece, Zoe. How is it possible that my friends are all so crafty and I'm so...not?
The Pick-A-Pumpkin Patch

There was quite a variety of inflatables--some for the big kids, and some for the little ones. (You just can't have those 6th grade bruiser boys bouncing around and knocking heads with the tiny kindergarteners.) I thought this one was especially cool--an inflatable bucking bronco! Soft, bouncy landing included.
One of the booths selling tasty treats. Who doesn't love snow cones?
Brianna's good friend Shelby joined Danielle and Brianna for the evening.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More Baby Love--Zoe Olive Phipps

October 21, 2010
Today our nephew Justin became a daddy, making us Great Aunt and Great Uncle to little Miss Zoe Olive Phipps. I haven't gotten to see her yet (or hold her!), but I've gotten to see pictures of her taken not too long after her arrival in this world. Much love and congratulations to Justin, Mama Courtney, Grandma Lisa (Doug's sister), and Big Brother John John.

Miss Zoe, born at 12:06 on October 21, 2010. She was 8 lbs., 6 oz., and 20 in. long.

Zoe with proud daddy Justin

Big Brother Jonathan

Grandma Lisa

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mockingjay--Suzanne Collins

October 17, 2010

I've got a review of the third installment of The Hunger Games--Mockingjay--up at the other blog. Click here to check it out at Sisters Recommend.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Big Fresno Fair 2010

October 14, 2010

Last year, due to the downturn in our own personal economy, we didn't end up taking the kids to The Big Fresno Fair. Doug and I were both pretty bummed about it, since we had made it a bit of a tradition that we all looked forward to the previous three years. This year, we knew we'd be able to bring the tradition back, which was an especially big deal to me since I realized this would probably be the last year we'd be able to all go together. Next year, about this time, Brianna will probably be knee-deep in college life, making that transition to independence. Not that I think she'll ever out-grow the draw of the Midway all lit up at night, or the uniquely delicious fair fare, but realistically, scheduling a Family Fair Excursion is just going to get a lot trickier next year--especially if she ends up going to school in San Diego. (Excuse me for a minute while I get all nostalgic about my little girl getting all grown up.....sigh.)

Aaaaaand, I'm back.

As soon as school got out, I did the pick up rounds at all of the schools, and then headed home with the kids to pick up Doug. One year we surprised the kids and pulled them out of school early, without even telling them why, but although it was a great surprise, we found it wasn't as great an idea as we had hoped. Brianna happened to be wearing spectacularly unsuitable shoes for walking around the fair all afternoon and evening, and we ended up having to spring for a brand new pair of shoes at the fair. That's not a very cost-effective plan, in case you were wondering. We also discovered that year that although we intended on getting there early in the hopes that the kids could get some of their rides in before the crowds hit, the Midway doesn't open until after school gets out. Smart folks, those Fair Board people. They're not trying to have all the juvenile delinquents ditching school to come hang out on the Ferris Wheel.

So this year, shod in appropriate footwear and with pre-ordered discount tickets and ride wristbands in hand, we set out for a night of good family fun once the the school day was through.

Our first stop is usually the barn. Danielle and Nicholas are both animal lovers, and we took the time to see the cows, bunnies, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens. Doug's favorites are the cows, with their big, sweet eyes. Bree likes them, too. I always look for the goats, especially the kids. Nicholas usually takes some time to bond with a rooster or two, and Danielle is fascinated by the rabbits. Of course, we all love the baby chicks.

After communing with the animals, the kids humored us while we made a tour of the exhibit buildings. We have some friends who had some exhibits on display--decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, baked goods, and such, so we wanted to see those. The kids were fascinated with the Gems and Minerals Exhibit, where they each came away with some shiny polished treasures, but we missed the the Art and Photography Exhibit this year. It's one of my favorite exhibits, but honestly,although the kids were pretty patient, by this time they were clearly ready to move on to the main attraction: The Midway!

All the kids like the rides, but Danielle is the real daredevil of the group--she'll go on anything. Upside down, round-and-round, super-fast and spinny--doesn't matter. She loves them all. Bree's pretty brave, but she has her limits, and Nicholas is somewhat hindered by his aversion to heights and tendency to get queasy if the ride swirls his tummy too much. He's pretty much a roller coaster-y kind of guy. Luckily, the fair offers plenty of options for all of them. Some kind soul who was leaving for the night even passed off her unused ride tickets to me, so even though Doug and I hadn't planned on spending the money to go on rides ourselves, I got to take a spin on the Ferris Wheel with Danielle.

As you can see, one of things I was really looking forward to at the fair this year was playing with the settings on my new camera to see what kinds of pictures I could get. I was really happy with the results!

No fair is complete without mention of the food, of course. We decided to give each of the kids $20 to spend on whatever food or souvenirs they wanted, as long as they made sure to eat something that constituted 'growing food'. Once their money was gone, it was gone, and they weren't allowed to ask for anymore. It worked great, with the kids even banding together so they could get a variety of tasty treats that tempted us all. Our collective selections included a teriyaki bowl, a bratwurst sandwich, a pulled pork sandwich, an Indian taco, a corn dog, sweet potato fries and roasted corn on the cob. After we let our growing food settle for awhile, we also shared cotton candy, a super-sized, super sour dill pickle, and this amazingly tasty treat--funnel cake! (Or as the kids used to say when they were little, Funny Cake.)
You all know that calories don't exist at the fairgrounds, right?

We all came home with sore feet, full bellies, big smiles, and good memories. Thank you Big Fresno Fair, for another great year.