Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Because Sharing is Caring?

Yesterday I was attempting to go through my phone and figure out what was important and worth saving (very little) and what was extraneous crap that needed to be deleted (the vast majority).  Amongst all that, I found a number of things that I meant to share with you, but never did.  Stills and images from our family life of great importance, such as this one:
Remember Flat Adelaide, that school project our daughter did last school year, where she sent a flat version of herself down to my family in Kansas?  I never ended up telling you how that turned out, because I am a horrible blogger sometimes, but the above is one of my favorite images, sent from my aunt Sherry, who clearly appreciated the humor to be found in an overly amorous cow welcoming Flat Adelaide to their farm.

How about this picture that I remember taking on a run in a park twenty miles north of here?  I saw a bright swath of green through the trees alongside the trail, and I had to stare at it for several seconds before I realized it wasn't grass.
That is a body of water.  One I would never want to swim in, although it is possible you could walk across that thick layer of scum and make your friends call you Jesus.

This was from our last trip south, where my sister and her husband got our boys Nerf guns for their birthdays, and the adult men proceeded to play with them more than the children.  Here they are preparing for a good, old-fashioned duel, minus the holsters and Colts.  Real men use Nerf Zombie Strikes.

This one's from that same trip, where Adelaide and I discovered our new favorite piece of playground equipment:  A saucer that tilts and spins and whips you around if you can get someone strong and fast enough to get some momentum going.  Atticus was up to the challenge, spinning us until Adelaide began to experience dizziness and nausea, which I think is the object of any good spinning toy.  I do so love to spin.  

Another one from that trip:
Derek loves Ed, and Ed loves Derek, and I love reminding anyone who will listen that Ed is a cat so hardy that he survived being run over by my mom.  In a car.  The back of her property line butts up against he back of a vet's property line, so I remember her hollering for Kelli and I to fill a laundry basket with old towels from the linen closet (because even after running him over, she wasn't going to let us use the regular towels for him, a fact I now find hilarious), then we had to run poor, squished Ed across the long backyard to the vet's office.  When I think about how boisterous we were with our baby sister Steph in that same laundry basket while whipping her around the house, I feel bad for Ed, because that had to have been one heck of a rough ride.  My childhood was a series of one dead cat after another, with only two, Ed and his predecessor Pete, being sturdy enough to survive our household and the lure of the suicide highway that ran, temptingly, right in front of the vet's office.

I just took this one yesterday.
I'm a little worried about our neighbors; the two snowmen I found constructed near our house over the weekend were this semi-creepy one lurking right around the corner, and a full-on creepy one with apples for eyes and a gaping hole for a mouth two streets over.  I'm telling you, winter does strange things to people.

And I'll leave you with this one.
If Caedmon is home and Derek is home, this is a likely scene to stumble upon when coming around any corner, as I did here a couple Sundays ago.  Caedmon will tolerate a hug from most people, but from Derek, the man whose dirty laundry our youngest used to make nests out of to curl up in when his father had the temerity to be gone at work all day, well, Caedmon will cling to him as long as possible.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Living History Farms Race

A week ago a couple friends of mine convinced me that running seven miles through cornfields and creeks and the woods in November in Iowa was a good idea, especially when it's with a few thousand of your closest friends.  After a little encouragement from Derek- he's great at convincing me I can do hard things when I'm waffling- I signed up for the Living History Farms race.

Then the weather forecast went to crap.

I spent much of the four days before the race harassing my friends about what to wear and obsessively checking the weather.  The only thing the forecasters could agree on was that yes, snow was coming, possibly a lot, and yes, the temperature would drop and the wind would begin to gust Saturday morning.  You know, perfect conditions for a cross-country race.

Then came the emails.

Poor Race Director Steve.  I feel like this would be a stressful race to oversee, being where it is and when it is every year.  Yes, you hope people are going to be smart about running in cold weather, but, you know, these are people we're talking about, so instead you have to send out all these increasingly panicky-sounding emails that say things like, "You need to make a decision based on your own personal safety," and "We have 30 medical and emergency personnel and they are prepared," and "PLAY SAFE.  IT'S NOT WORTH IT."

Now, because I have never run this race before, and I can be a bit of a pansy about the cold, all of this made me just the tiniest bit nervous.  Especially when this started happening Friday afternoon:

And then this is what I walked through Friday night:

And because this was the first snowfall of the season all the news outlets wet themselves in excitement and engaged in what seemed to be a strange game of one-upsmanship, where one person would predict 3-5 inches, prompting the next to say, "Oh, yeah?  I say 4 to 6 INCHES!" and ended with a top prediction of somewhere around ten inches.  

Still, I consoled myself with the fact that the snowfall was supposed to end Friday night sometime, and yes, the temperature was supposed to bottom out somewhere around 14 degrees right as the race was beginning at 9 am on Saturday, and yes, there was a frigid wind expected to be blowing right around then, too, and YES, Poor Steve was sending out even more frightful emails that said, "Don't where [sic] cotton!! Old fashioned sweat pants & shirts are cotton.  You will freeze!" and "There is nowhere warm for all of you.  Stay close to your vehicles until 8:45."  But despite all that, I was being led to the slaughter through the experience by my two loving and experienced running friends who have run this race several times before and were able to say, "Wear this instead of that, here's how to keep your toes from falling off, and tell you what, I'll just bring all kinds of extra gear for you to use."  

In the end, Poor Steve cut almost two miles off the course and eliminated most of the creek crossings for safety's sake, but it was twenty whole degrees above zero when we started, there were only around four inches of snow on the ground, and the only thing that got really wet was my feet.  

I'm the second fool from the left.

I also collected a number of brand-new experiences, such as sitting on frozen port-a-potty seats (the word of the day was "BRACING!") watching a few runners who thought it would be a kick to run in either a variety of costumes (turkeys, pilgrims, Elvis, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, scarecrows, elderly people toting walkers, oxygen tanks, and cigarettes) or almost naked, and, best of all, starting the winter running season by normalizing running in the cold and on ice and snow. 

The post-race beef stew was hot, the doughnuts were not frozen (as they apparently have been in years past), and my thirty-degree run today felt positively balmy.  Worth it. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Atticus, Art Director

I saw an article the other day whose title went something like "A Thanksgiving Centerpiece Constructed in Only Thirty Minutes?  Yes, You Can!"  I didn't click on it, because, well, I did read that title, but do you think that was for real?  Do people- other than florists and Martha Stewart- make centerpieces?

I really am curious, because the closest thing we get to a centerpiece is a bunch of miniature gourds my grandparents grew and sent home with me months ago, which are now covered in globs of paint courtesy of four out of five Crislers.  (Yes, I painted gourds, too.  I have to keep my inner 4-Her satisfied somehow.)  And they don't scream "centerpiece" so much as "way station before their eventual destination:  the garbage."

An added benefit to this style of "centerpiece" is that now I have a kitchen that is 25% more colorful than it was this time yesterday, because there is almost as much paint on the floor as there is on the gourds.  Not to worry; it scrubs off easily, which is why all art projects are undertaken on the kitchen floor rather than at a table like fancy folk.  

The best part is that none of this would have happened if we didn't have an Atticus who requests special art projects on a near- weekly basis, and who also insisted the finished product be put in "I don't know, like a bowl, or one of those jars that we keep the Band-aids in?  And can you put them on the table so we can look at them every night at supper?"  

Do you think Martha has an internship?  One specifically for seven-year-old boys?  Because I can only come up with so many craft ideas, and I'm running out of gourds...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Not a Gift-Giving Guide

Because I sometimes like to pretend I have my act together, I have begun Christmas shopping.

Really it has more to do with the fact that gifts are not really my thing, so if I want to enjoy the month of December and my very favorite holiday, I need to get as much of the shopping done as I can now.  Then all I have to do is the gift wrapping- which I LOVE- and somehow tuck it all away without forgetting just where I stashed it.  I am not so good at this.

If you're any store other than the three where I do my regular grocery shopping every week, you only see me a few times a year.  I don't dislike shopping, exactly, but unless I have a specific need, I don't really see the point of even walking through those doors, unless it's to waste time and money, both of which I tend to spend very carefully.  This means I am overly impressed by the things I see most places I go this time of year; displays and items that don't even register with other shoppers have me going "Wow!" and "Neato!" all over them while shaking my head in wonder at all the amazing things that exist these days.  I'm like the Beverly Hillbillies for the first twenty minutes, excited by all the novelty- before becoming overwhelmed by the same and suddenly morphing into Gollum, just wanting to get me and my precious back to my cave.  It's exactly as endearing as you might imagine.

Here's what I got excited over last week while shopping before I scurried back to my hole:
Isn't this neat?  The back is flat, so you can attach it to your wall or ceiling, and plus you'd forever be able to claim that you had quasi-literally given your loved one the moon.  Perhaps also get your recipient a small fish tank that you could gently slosh around so you can pretend your moon exerts gravitational pull.  Just make sure whatever animal you put in the water is hardy enough to take a bit of a beating.

The only problem with this one is that I get that Whitney Houston song stuck in my head every time I look at it- you know, the "I believe that children are our future, teach them well and blah blah blah," one?  Well, that and the problem where any of our kids would most likely cry if this was their Christmas present.  But what a great way to teach kids about carbon footprints and living in a way that's ecologically conscious.

This one's just on here because I need someone to explain it to me.  Why would anyone buy this?  It's handing your kids both the tools and a permission slip to terrorize you.  Completely baffling.

As soon as we walked into Barnes and Noble last Friday, Adelaide and I saw a table stocked with adult coloring books.  (And by "adult" I don't mean they had, um, questionable content or anything, they were just more detailed than children's coloring books.  Just so we're clear.)  We rushed toward it and immediately began coveting our neighbor's coloring books.  It was like preschool all over again.  Only way prettier.


I carried The Time Garden around with me for a good fifteen minutes before reluctantly putting it back.  This is normal bookstore behavior for me.

There were other treasures at B&N, of course:
The New Elephant and Piggie!  Long live Mo Willems!

I've had my eye on on that illustrated Harry Potter since it first came out a month or so ago, but forty bucks for a story I technically already own (albeit without supercoolawesomeamazing illustrations) just isn't happening.  For now.

These things get me all jumped up in anticipation for my birthday in a couple weeks, because I have, naturally, requested to go look around the Brass Armadillo for my birthday date with Derek.  There I anticipate coming across a different manner of treasures than the ones above, but treasures nonetheless:  Goat bells!  Creepy old photographs!  Cast iron squirrel nutcrackers!  Ach, the anticipation is excruciating!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pie, Glorious Pie!

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Bible scholars and I all agree:  This verse is about pie.

Well, maybe faith, too.  But mostly PIE.

Pie prep is underway in the House of Crisler.  I have large amounts of butter and parchment paper, because pie crust demands both, particularly if you want to complete the process with no nicks in the surface of your sanity.  After all, it's almost the holidays!  Time to make everything smooth, smooth, smooth for those Christmas cards you're sending out to 250 of your closest friends you don't even talk to anymore!

*clears throat*

Pie.  We were speaking of pie.

Here's what I'm looking at this year so far:

The New

Caramel-Pecan Pumpkin Pie
First and most importantly:  How do you pronounce the word "caramel"?  I say "CAR-mull," even though when I'm looking at it my eyes tell my brain that it should be "CARE-uh-mell."  This dichotomy causes great suffering to the word- and grammar-lover in me, but even so, I will fight to the death in insisting that it's "CAR-mull."  I just will.
I'm a very lukewarm pumpkin ingester; I mean, if you stick a piece of pumpkin pie in front of me you won't exactly have to force-feed it to my face, especially if it's loaded down with appropriate amounts of whipped cream, but if I have to choose between pumpkin pie and almost any other kind I will always choose almost any other kind.  Still, this is Thanksgiving we're talking about, and pumpkin pie feels kind of necessary, doesn't it?
So when I came across this recipe- complete with tempting photo- for Caramel-Pecan Pumpkin Pie in my trusty, beloved Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and it had the little "Best Loved" heart next to it, I knew it had to go on the menu.  The topping alone on the pie in the picture looks like something I'll have to keep myself from "sampling" until there's none left for the actual pie, and this pie counts as the traditional Thanksgiving dish, at least in my rosy little world.

The Trusted Favorite

French Silk Pie
This is a major favorite around our house.  It is rich, it is dense (insert inappropriate trophy wife/husband joke here), and if there's any way you can make it in the presence of those you will be feeding, DO THAT.  Something about the the step that instructs, "Place the saucepan [of boiling mixture] in a bowl of ice water, stirring occasionally, until the mixture stiffens and becomes hard to stir," seems to impress people, even if in practice it's just not that hard.  If you can boil chocolate and you can dump ice in a bowl, you can make this pie.  Just channel all those inspirational posters featuring mountains and sunsets and "BELIEVE IN YOURSELF," although what the harsh nature of the wilderness has to do with self-esteem, I do not know.  What I do know is that your guests/Eaters of Pie will be grateful if you serve this up.  
One thing I will say about this pie:  It does not need the whipped cream that BHG suggests you top it with, and I do not advise that lightly, because when it comes to my Sacred Whipped Cream Beliefs, I am normally quite firmly in the "More is More" camp.  I've dished this French Silk Pie up to a number of people over the years now, and the unanimous opinion is this:  It does not need whipped cream.  This is a pie best left unadorned and unspoiled, which is the opposite of how I feel about the interior of our house during the holidays, meaning Christmas is about to EXPLODE all over this house and I couldn't be happier about it.

The Undecided

Lemon Meringue Pie
While I love Lemon Meringue Pie, the honest reason I want to make this is that I've struggled to achieve that pretty meringue that isn't either weeping or beading, and this makes me cantankerous and obstinate, because meringue is not the boss of me, I am the boss of meringue.  This may not be the right attitude to model for our children, however, especially Adelaide, who is eager to get in the kitchen and get to pie-making.

Berry Fruit Pie
This one is attractive because last year Adelaide mastered the Art of the Pecan Pie, so I'm trying to find a pie recipe that will 1) Be simple enough for her to execute for the most part on her own, 2) Won't be so simple she'll be offended and just sure that I'm infantilizing her, but 3) Still tasty.  This recipe has only four ingredients, aside from the crust, and the directions seem well within her abilities.  

Sour Cream Raisin Pie
I am both attracted and repelled by the name of this pie.  I think the attraction stems from the delightfully old-fashioned feeling I get from it, the revulsion from the suspicion that this pie could be legitimately disgusting.  Or delicious!  

For Consumption Before Thanksgiving Because Sharing is Hard

Apple Pie 
I'm more or less being forced to make this pie because I still have a big pile of apples from a friend sitting on my kitchen counter, and I don't want to be wasteful, do I?  

I've shown you this picture at least half a dozen times, already, but I don't care:  It has Adelaide and it has pie- a pie that Adelaide made, in fact- and she is cute as a button.  Don't tell her I said that.

Obviously we won't be eating six pies throughout the remainder of November; these are just the front-runners, from which I'll choose... probably three.  Trying to hold myself to three.  Well, three plus the apple pie.  That one doesn't count.  Because... apples are healthy?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

So You Married a Football Fan

When I was a kid, our Sunday schedule was pretty set:  Get up.  Go to church.  Go to Sunday school.  Come home.  Wait foreeeevvvveeer for lunch.  (It was maybe thirty minutes.)  Eat lunch.  Read the funnies.  Do whatever for the rest of the day.

I had no knowledge of football.  I did not know it had a season of its own, I did not know it was a thing that happened on Sundays, I did not know that there were people who placed any kind of importance on sports in their lives.  My family simply wasn't interested.  I was vaguely aware of the existence of sports only because there were a couple kids in my elementary school who wore Starter jackets with strange symbols on them.  There were a few front yards around town with arrowheads and the word "Chiefs" emblazoned on various things, but I thought that just meant Native Americans lived in those houses. (Well, "Indians" in my childhood brain.)  This isn't that strange, okay; it was southern Kansas, there were a few Native Americans in my school system, plus the Ponca nation just across the state border.

But as it turns out, there are people in this world who live and die (figuratively... for the most part) by their football team.  I know this because I married one of them.

First of all, my husband's come a long way in eleven years, mostly because he realized that Scary Monster Football Derek doesn't do much toward making warm, fatherly memories in the hearts of his children.  He still hollers and glowers and whoops during the games, but he intersperses it with games of catch with the kids and weird, forced smiles thrown in my direction to show that he is still aware of and thankful for my existence.  

But let's say you're still a newbie.  Sports, you say?  Oh, yes, I have heard of the sports.  They make for wonderfully emotional movies.  Isn't it remarkable how the good-hearted underdogs always win?

If this is you- me, a little more than a decade ago- there are some things that you need to know.

#1.  Your loved one is no longer your loved one.

If this sounds like crazy Jedi logic, that's because it is- crazy, that is, but also true.  That perfectly sane, reasonable human being you thought you knew?  They are gone, gone, gone, replaced by wild-eyed, irrational Sports Loved One, at least for the next few hours.  I recommend reading a little classic Robert Louis Stevenson to help you understand this phenomenon, because that is surely Mr. Hyde sitting in your chair, wearing a treasured NFL jersey that may or may not have been washed in quite some time, depending on the level of superstition in your Sports Loved One.  

#2.  You scratch my back, I scratch yours.  You watch sports, I get an extra hour of the Great British Baking Show.

Once you've accepted the reality of the presence of Sports Loved One, it's time to figure out just how you're going to get through this.  You could throw yourself a little fit, make Sports Loved One good and miserable with lots of sighing and eyerolling at key moments in the sports thing, but do you really want that kind of behavior boomeranging back at you when you're in the bookstore with a stack of new-found treasures and what you hope is a winning smile directed toward your loved one?  A little tolerance goes a long way and can be redeemed in a variety of ways, say, in hours-long wanderings together in an antique emporium. 

#3.  Engaging Your Sports Loved One

Okay, so you're ready to practice some tolerance.  But what does tolerance look like?  In the early years of our marriage, it was helpful to me to pretend Derek was a wild animal any time the Vikings were playing.  If you've ever read anything about approaching dangerous animals, you'll find that experts recommend what is known as an "open approach."  You'll find that many of the same principles apply to Sports Loved Ones:  First, you approach the animal/SLO openly, perhaps deliberately making a subtle noise to let them know you are there.  Try delicately crackling a chip bag, preferably in their diagonal line of sight.  Be very cautious about making eye contact.  If at all possible, AVOID CONTACT, but if you must, follow the previous guidelines, and above all, REMAIN CALM.  I do everything I can to stay away from my Sports Loved One, but Doritos are Doritos, man, and sometimes needs must.  

#5.  Immersion.

If you've ever invested time in learning a foreign language, you know that the best and fastest way to acquire this second language is through immersion.  Now, I don't want to alarm you, but merely by virtue of being in a relationship with your Sports Loved One, your own immersion has begun.  Don't fight it, dear.  Parts of your brain may find it slightly appalling that you now use such sports idioms as "throwing a Hail Mary" and "huddling up."  This is natural and expected, and will help make up for the errant All this fuss for a piece of overboiled leather, and It's just a game! that still occasionally slips through your lips.

#4.  Enforced Calm.    

If all else fails, start having babies.  Babies tend to cry when you let out heartfelt screams, even if it is because Adrian Peterson scored a touchdown for your beloved Vikings.  The parenting books don't say so, but infants provide wonderful aversion therapy for the excitable sports fan in your house.  If kids aren't really your thing, perhaps a high-strung dog would meet your family's needs.  Anything that will scream back and with greater intensity at your Sports Loved One will suffice, really; babies are just what we ended up with.

You can do this, sports novice.  If we all stick together, maybe come up with an official colored awareness ribbon for those of us who live with and support our Sports Loved ones, we, too, can have an entire sports event decked out in our chosen color.  I vote puce.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Eyeballs, Games, and Friends of an Avian Persuasion

Well!  What a week.  It's November, which means my thoughts have turned pie-ward, one of my very favorite -wards.  Adelaide and I have already begun our pie-plotting, strategizing which of us will make which pies, and trying to figure out how many pies is too many pies.  (The limit does not exist.)

Speaking of Adelaide, she had her first appointment with the pediatric ophthalmologist.  Everyone in the office was very kind, which we appreciated, even if getting her eyes dilated is not Daughter's favorite thing.
The woman who put the drops in warned us that it often takes 8-10 hours for pupils to return to normal after dilation, but because Adelaide has lighter-colored eyes, it would most likely take longer.  Adelaide and I both wondered why the heck this was, and naturally, Dr. Google had an answer:  The darker your eye color, the more melanin is present in your eye (which I knew), and that melanin acts a kind of filter (which I did not know!), so people with less melanin in their eyes- those with lighter-colored irises- are usually affected more quickly and for longer periods of time than those with more melanin.  Fascinating!  

Other than learning about melanin and its effects on dilation, the doc gave us a course of action for Adelaide's eyes.  We have cheapo glasses on the way (cheapo because we don't know how long she'll be in these before possibly changing to a different kind-- zenni.com, friends who want cheap glasses), and an MRI scheduled for next week to slap down the troubling red flags raised by her combination of symptoms.  I was still a little freaked out after the appointment, but God put my own personal Florence Nightingale (except she goes by Jessie) in my path who told me exactly what to do and where to make the appointment and where to get the cheapo glasses.  I swear to you nurses could achieve world domination if they weren't so busy saving the rest of us rubes.

Two of the kids had parent teacher conferences.  We found this on Atticus's locker and it was all I could do to maintain my composure.  Thankfully I had our son's face staring up at me; seven-year-old boys don't exactly appreciate their mothers embarrassing them at school with tears.
I kept it together.  Barely.

We've maintained our wild lifestyle with this week's game de rigueur, Mancala.
I really thought the boys were too young to grasp how the game is played, but Derek taught them and I was proven wrong, which really is nice sometimes.  They even managed to sneak a game in this morning before school.  You know you love something when you ask to play it at 7 a.m.

We've been entertaining a distinguished visitor to our hydrangea bush.  
I am alerted to his presence not by anything as bourgeois as a doorbell; no, only a Caedmon will do, who cries out in delight anytime his new friend is near.
Caedmon never misses an opportunity to educate the ignorant on the way of the Calvin and the Hobbes.  The cardinal seems to be a willing student.

I hope you all had a wonderful, wonderful week, full of your own versions of Mancala and cardinals, but hopefully noticeably devoid of pupil dilation.