Check-in and a Short Play

Oh hi! You’re still here? Me too! I’ve been doing well lately. As a writer, I’m in recovery mode, like I had an injury and need to recuperate. After spending a couple weeks fighting the concepts of rest and recuperation, now I’m enjoying them both. Mostly. (I am genetically incapable of enjoying them 100%.)

I’ve been writing stories about woodland creatures making snow cone stands and trying to find enough scarves to outfit all the snowmen and following a set of mysterious tracks in the snow. They’re the kind of stories I always thought were too cheesy for my taste, only turns out I really like writing them. I’m also filling my time with an on-line class for my teaching certificate and subbing here and there. I’m gorging on middle grade books, reading the good ones as slowly as I want and skimming (sometimes ditching) the bad ones as fast as I can. I’m keeping the writing small. I’m letting the bread baking, the book reading, the dinner cooking, and the kid wrangling be big.

In short, I am recovering by putting writing back in its place, as one thing about me instead of the only thing about me.  I understand that this struggle to keep writing the right size is a chronic condition that will need to be treated more than once over the years. Maybe I will get better at embracing the recovery process because once I do, it’s an awfully fun place to be. It gives me time to write the fun stuff, like this little play I whipped out for today’s blog.

A Dinner Conversation
A one-act play

VINCENZO, ROCCO, LEO, and DAD sit at the dinner table. MOM walks by to take her seat.

DAD: Woah—did you just crop dust me?
MOM (insulted): What? No!
DAD AND MOM (turning to face children): Boys?
[LEO shrugs. ROCCO throws hands up in air]
VINCENZO: Well, he who smelt it, dealt it.
[Family resumes eating, ignoring the smell as best they can. 60 seconds later, ROCCO hops up from his seat.]
ROCCO: Be right back!
[He runs to the bathroom and closes the door. The lock clicks. Family pauses, realization dawning.]
MOM (calling down the hallway): Rocco! We figured it out!
ROCCO (from bathroom): Oh! Who was it?!
[Remaining family members: look out at audience, throw their hands up in air.]
END SCENE

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Crunchy melba pork chops
Hasselhoff potatoes
Broccoli
Peanut butter cookie ice cream sandwiches

Nine.

Leo, my happy spaz of a kid, has danced way into his ninth year, his skinny arms flailing about like one of those blowy things at a car dealership. 

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While most of the pictures in this post don’t match up with the text, they all match up with Leo, Age Nine, in all his nonsensical glory.

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Leo is happy 95% of the time, but so very, very mad that other 5%, as demonstrated by this singular moment.

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He loves his stuffed turtle, fried food, math time and bath time. He hates timed tests, repeating himself, and dinner. Loves ice cream, hates cake. Loves reading, hates writing. Loves video games, hates arts and crafts.

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He liked riding his bike for about two weeks, until Rocco also decided he liked riding bikes and now Leo doesn’t like it anymore.

He loves attacking Kevin, even though his fists bounce off Kevin’s chest like tiny drumsticks off a big drum. And even though Kevin pile drives him onto the couch and pins him to the ground, every fight ends with Leo dancing around the living room, declaring himself the winner.

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His favorite Avenger is Loki, no matter how many times we explain he’s a villain. He and Rocco were very concerned about Loki when he got arrested at the end of Thor, thus securing a place in their empathetic hearts.

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Leo and Rocco get along much better than they used to, though at least twice a day they get into it over something dumb, like someone saying something in the wrong voice or standing too close to the pinball machine.

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But it’s nothing a little Loki time can’t smooth over.

Leo’s the random number generator of our family. He might come out of his room with a mini claw-grabber that he uses to pick things up with the rest of the day. I might go downstairs to see him wearing a beard and bandana, or reading a book upside-down on the couch. I may look down the hallway to see him squished up against the wall, claiming he’s not there. Me: “How long have you been standing there like that?” Him: “No one is standing here.”

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Leo is generous, sharing his favorite candy, his unicorn chair, and especially his art supplies with anyone who asks . Keep them! Keep all the art supplies!

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(Does this count as art?)

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There’s something about Leo’s brain and body that doesn’t do things fast, which is why he’s needed so much speech therapy and OT, and also why he has an absolute meltdown when he feels rushed. While the therapy has helped fix some of his issues, it hasn’t changed Leo’s best quirks, like the hair twirling he’s done since he was a baby.

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And whatever you call this.

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He loves a good prank and any kind of pun. He makes up a lot of jokes on his own, most of which are bad but some of which are funny.

Leo: What’s a sharp-clawed crow’s favorite room of the house?
Me: I don’t know, what?
Leo: The claw-set.

(I can’t tell which category that one falls into.)

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He is a boy of big feels. A couple months ago Leo pretend-shot Kevin, who said it missed and got me instead, and I pretended to die on the kitchen floor. As I lay there, pretend-dead, Leo ran over and fervently told me the bullet didn’t hit me, I’m still alive. That night, after the boys had been in bed for an hour, he came stumbling out of his room, crying, and asked me to never do that thing I did in the kitchen again. Oh, his heart.

He’s still my baby, even though he’s too gangly and sharp-elbowed to even fake it anymore. He’s a gentle, loving soul who is half silly, half, sweet, and 100% ridiculous. He believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and leprechauns. Believes in it all, whole-heartedly.

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And what a lot of heart he has.

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Well, surely we can do better than that picture to bring us to a sentimental end.

Take II: And what a lot of heart he has.

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Still not it.

Take III: And what a lot of…turkey he has?

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Gah! This is hard! Gimme a sec to find some kind of a picture that feels right.

Okay, got it.

Take IV: And what a lot of heart he has.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Ham & Swiss quiche
Salad with roasted peppers, garbanzo beans, pepitas, and feta
Pan-roasted potatoes
Cherry charolettes

Leo’s Remote Bday Party

I’m still a bit on the outs with words and am showing up timidly today, approaching this blog post carefully, touching it with a stick, ready to jump back if it seems dangerous.

Leo turned 9 last week and we celebrated with a remote birthday party, which meant I got to be crafty!

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We dropped the boxes off the morning of his party, which was half the fun, as it involved parts of the world that exist outside of our house.

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That evening, the boys met up on Zoom where they did some minute-to-win-it games, like emptying out a box of Kleenex and trying to get an Oreo from their foreheads to their mouths without using hands. Hilarity (and big messes) ensued.

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Then the boys microwaved popcorn and watched a cartoon together, decorated party hats, made some noise for the birthday boy with confetti poppers and blowers, and played video games until their eyeballs turned into raisins.

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I don’t have a neat, conclusive way to end this blog post, so I’ll just throw a picture onto it and hope you don’t notice the abrupt ending.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Heart-shaped pizzas
Salad
Stained glass sugar cookies

Suncadia II

The weekend wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies (i.e. slushy hills and video games). There was also an unusual amount of gross stuff that happened in those two days. For example, it was gross when Leo threw up in the car on the way up there.

But that wasn’t the grossest thing that happened.

The hills were covered in poop. Wherever there wasn’t snow, there was poop. Sooooo much poop. Deer poop, rabbit poop, squirrel poop, coyote poop. Every kind of poop!

Deer, those graceful creatures with big, innocent eyes that remind you of Bambi and everything soft and beautiful in the world—these are the same creatures that walk around pooping on the very stuff they eat. It’d be like sitting down for dinner and eating it, then pooping on the table and continuing to eat. Seriously. Gross.

But that wasn’t the grossest thing that happened.

Here and Rocco and I, moments before he pulled something out of the hot tub and said, “Oh look! A Band-aid!”

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And that’s the grossest thing that happened on vacation.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Beijing-style meat sauce and noodles
Garlicky green beans
Chocolate trifle

A Thing We Did

We did a thing! We did a thing! We left our neighborhood! I finally have something to blog about!

Last weekend, we headed into the mountains for Suncadia, which is known as a wintry wonderland this time of year. Unfortunately, it’s been a warm winter, so there wasn’t a ton of snow.

Here was Sunday’s attempt to sled.

It’s a good thing we brought inner tubes along, as we had more opportunities to float than to sled.

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Our spirits were dampened when we realized we were floating in what looks to be the remains of Frosty.

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The next day we found a new hill!!

I know this looks like a pleasant glide, but it felt out of control and death-defying. I honestly don’t know why the video makes it look so calm!  All the mushy snow of the previous day had turned into icy concrete. After we each took a trip down and saw our lives flash before our eyes (some people’s runs were longer than others’), I imagined all the horrible things that could happen to us, two broken legs  being on the lighter end of the list, and we decided to continue our search for the perfect sledding spot. The boys found this one all on their own.

Despite all the videos of outdoor “fun,” mostly, we just stayed inside and did this.

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In fact, the hardest thing about the trip, other than the snow on that second hill, was the drive there and back, when we had to unplug the pinball machine.

What brave little heroes.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Cheeseburger soup
Honey wheat bread
Roasted cauliflower
Rice Krispie Treats

Patriotic Voices

Tonight, I share with you a few conversations from this historic inauguration day. They are not only humorous, but are also proof that maybe it’s time to stop playing pinball and read a book or something.

Exhibit A:

A dinner conversation between me, Rocco, and Leo:
Me: Do you know what is so historic about this election?
Leo: That it’s the first one during quarantine?
Me: Well yeah, but any other reasons?
blank stares, all around
Me: Here, let me help you figure it out. Do you know who the new vice president is?
Rocco: Donald Trump?
Me: [incredulous stare, followed by an explanation] Let’s back up. Do you know who Trump’s VP was?
Rocco: That one I know. Joe Biden.
Me: [smashes head into hands, provides more explanations] I’ll just tell you. Our new vice president is Kamala Harris. Do you know why that’s historic?
Leo: Because she’s a girl.?
Me: Right. The first girl VP. And she’s also Asian and black. We did have a black president before, though. You remember who that was, right?
Leo: MLKJR?
Me: [reminds self they are just children and they are very breakable] 

Exhibit B:

10 seconds later
Me: It’s also historic that Biden has the first person with Native American heritage in his cabinet.
Leo: Well, it must be a very big cabinet.

Exhibit C:

A conversation with Leo, who is 8:
Me : Can you believe Donald Trump was president for half your life? You’ve only had 2 presidents so far.
Leo: Who was the other one?
Me: Obama. Do you know how long he was president?
Leo: No.
Me: 8 years.
Leo: So I’m 12?
[Also, it should be noted that we had this conversation earlier in the day, before the conversation where he guessed that MLKJR was our first black president.]

Exhibit D:

A comment made while watching the Parade Across America, somewhere around North Carolina:
Rocco: Are they going to do all the countries?

Exhibit E:

A question:
Me: What do you think Donald Trump’s doing tonight?
Leo: Playing video games?

Exhibit F:

A follow-up question:
Leo: Can I play video games?

So as you can see, intelligence is low, but morale is high in our house tonight.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Thai chicken salad (thanks for the recipe, K!)
Won-tons
Chocolate hazelnut cookies served with a sigh of relief

Plugged In*

I used to have rules about technology usage in our house. There used to be guidelines, limitations, and a general concept of the word moderation.  And now, there is this

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and this

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and this and this and this.

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Leo’s big Christmas gift was a computerized pinball machine that can simulate dozens of different pinball tables, which you unlock by playing. A lot. Of pinball. We treat it like a job, taking shifts during all the waking hours of the day.

When not on pinball duty, the kids alternate between playing Kinect Sports, old-school video games on the Picade, regular video games on the computer/XBox, Among Us on their tablets, Jackbox TV, and then we finish the day off with a movie. (Kevin is trying to show them all the Marvel Movies in, like, a two week period.)

Yesterday I took a stand and told the boys they couldn’t do any technology until they built a marble set out of real wood pieces and real marbles. It took them 3.5 minutes. I told them great, now they can spend 3.5 minutes playing video games. They laughed at me the whole time they were turning on the X-box and picking up their controllers. They know I am in a weakened state, mainly because I want them to scram so I can hog the pinball machine for an hour or two.

I fear I’m done as a writer, all because of the stupid pinball machine. (Don’t want to brag, but I am the current speedbag champion in Champion Pub and am ranked 712 worldwide.)

Whenever I tell the boys we’re having a technology-free hour, they say, “Okay, but that means you have to turn off your music. And all the lights, and the stove and dishwasher.” Then they tell me I can’t even use my scissors of coffee mug because those are also technology, and while their arguments don’t seem quite right, I haven’t figured out how to disprove them, mainly because I’m also playing pinball during these discussions.

So in conclusion,

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Leave me alone! I’m too busy to write a conclusion.**

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken thighs in cream sauce
Penne
Salad

*I drafted this blog over Christmas break, so we’re not playing as many video games now…but the boys have the same amount of screen time either way.

**Also, who are those people who, when they take pictures of their family, have a sparkling, tidy, spotlessly clean living room behind them?

Our Ugly New Year’s

As much as I love hosting parties, during quarantine I’ve noticed how much I also love not hosting parties. When I host, I try to make everything fun, delicious, and pretty. When not hosting, I make things fun and delicious and skip the pretty. I don’t have to frantically sweep all the junk off the counters the minute before guests arrive, or vacuum the floors, or think about varying dish heights or traffic flow when I set out the food. I don’t put on make-up, do my hair, or  make sure everyone is wearing something nice.

See? Not a button or zipper in sight.

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And if the appetizer Kevin makes turns out looking like this…

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Who cares?

Or when your Beef Wellington starts actively bleeding as you cut slices off, you are grossed out but not embarrassed, as you would be if a tableful of guests were looking on.

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(I didn’t take a blood shot, but here are some precursor liquids.)

Normally we do a Lego game that involves me wrapping about 20 TP tubes in shiny paper and tying the ends to make them look like party crackers from the store.  This year, our Lego game looked like this:

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For the first time since having kids, we stayed up until midnight. (Kevin had wanted to go to bed early so that 2020 could be over more quickly, but I wanted to stay up so that 2021 would start sooner.)  There’s just so much to do here, between all the new Christmas gifts and the boys’ rediscovery of Kinect Sports. There were sparklers and smoke bombs, the making of hand-cranked candy cane ice cream, the watching of Captain America, and the putting-together of a candy-covered puzzle.

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So while our New Year’s was ugly, it was also quite lovely.

The question is, have I realized the senselessness of spending all that time fussing over details? Am I a changed person who will go forth using produce bags to wrap gifts in? Will I burn the boxes of old Martha Stewart magazines in my basement? Will I serve food out of the very pots it was cooked in henceforth?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2020, it’s that you can’t predict the future. But I’m pretty sure the answer to all those questions would be maniacal laughter.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Cornbread taco bake
Salad with apples and blue cheese
Korean pancakes

Almost Like Christmas

Vincenzo, whose cookie-decorating skills rival his father’s gingerbread house-decorating skills, created an army of robots and Santa’s alter ego, which he used to enact a rather violent play for his brothers.

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For those of you wondering why I have a robot-shaped cookie cutter in my Christmas collection, here’s how Rocco decorated his robot.

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Christmas Eve felt kind of weird. I hadn’t realized before how these two days of the year are already choreoraphed for us. Normally we don’t have to plan a minute of it; we just show up at all the places we always show up to. With all the gatherings and events gone this year, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. It felt like we were just waiting for the day to end so we could go to bed. At one point, Kevin and I made a grape run to the grocery store, just to have something to do. And it’s silly, but being at the grocery store with a bunch of other people wearing celebratory garb from sparkly holiday dresses to unstained sweatpants, the air buzzing with pre-Santa energy—it somehow made the day feel like Christmas Eve. There are so few chances to feel part of a community lately and to share collective joy, and standing there feeling it all made me get teary-eyed in the checkout line.  I felt like Scrooge when he wakes up and realizes he’s still alive. If I had a shilling I surely would have tossed it to the first bare-footed boy who walked by, so full of the spirit was I.

After dinner, the Santa excitement in our house was cranked up to 11. Rocco and Leo were just like two characters out of a cheesy Hallmark movie, pouncing on each other like lion cubs, holding theoretical discussions about how Santa gets it all done, and giggling together their beds once the door was closed and lights off. As much as I hate watching those cheesy Hallmark movies, it is lovely to spend a night living inside of one.

Once the giggling subsided and I had a moment to myself, I sent a picture of my fireplace to my sisters.

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Within moments, this poem happened, via collective effort:

The masks were all hung by the fireplace with care,
in hopes that the coronavirus wouldn’t be there
The children were nestled all sanitized in their beds
While visions of vaccinations danced in their heads.

I’m not even going to apologize.

Christmas morning was about the only thing that felt normal this holiday season. Papers, ribbons, boxes, toys everywhere, gifts that made the boys’ eyes light up, gifts that made us laugh, joy and yuletide bulging out the walls of our house.

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After lunch, we went to my parents’ garage for a white elephant gift exchange. My dad won a pair of fuzzy Santa underwear, which he immediately tried on and danced around in, just like when they put the hat on Frosty’s head.

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Oddly, no one wanted to steal them after that. We certainly weren’t going to trade our top prize.

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Or our other one, either. (Look closely…but not too close!)

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In conclusion, we eked out just enough family time and laughs from day to make it feel like Christmas, or at least something similar to Christmas, like Halloween + Easter.

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Covid Christmas was like Vincernzo’s Christmas cookies: something was a little off, but a cookie’s still a cookie and it made us happy anyway.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Random stuff, including:
Ham & Swiss quiche
Frozen pizza (technically, thawed pizza)
Parmesan broccoli
Gnocchi with browned butter
Christmas cookies