Sweet Baby UGH

I try to keep this blog humorous, but I also want to keep it real, so can I take a minute here to be completely exasperated?  Let me start by saying, “Ugggggghhhhh.”  It’s Leo’s taglineTM but today I’m going to apply it to his older brother.

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This guy here. Sweet Baby D. I wish I could shrink him back to that happy, laughing little cutie pie who never missed assignments or forgot to turn assignments in or only half did assignments or did assignments but wrote all his answers in 2-word “sentences” or who couldn’t do the science lab because he didn’t wear pants to school or who doesn’t have any idea why he got an F on a group project or who claims that everyone in class did badly, so I should be totally cool with his D+.

Maybe this is why he nicknamed himself “D” as a toddler. We called him Sweet Baby D, and now he is very good at getting D’s. If only he had nicknamed himself A, or even B-. I would love to have a Baby B- at this point.

It’s crazy frustrating. I volley back and forth between thinking he’s super lazy to thinking he has a learning disorder, some sort of Missing Executive Functioning Syndrome. MEFS. Is that at thing? That sounds like a thing. Kevin says there’s nothing wrong with Vincenzo; he’s just a 13-year-old boy going through some growing pains.

We make charts. We meet with his teachers and guidance counselor. Promises are made. New strategies are put in place. Charts are made charty-er. The next day I get a new notification: VINCENZO BETO IS MISSING 5 ASSIGNMENTS.”

I hate that when Vincenzo comes home, there is a struggle for me to get information out of him while he says as little as possible about his day. The info he gives us is so minimalist and doesn’t make sense and has big holes in it.  Kevin and I have had to become the forensic scientists of conversation.

His teachers say, “Vincenzo’s my go-to guy in class. He’s the one who always has his hand up! He’s the one with all the answers!” They say he’s a good student and a kind person. I show them his grades and everyone says, “Well, that’s weird.”

I think he wants to do well; he just doesn’t want to do well as much as I want him to do well.  That’s is different from saying he doesn’t want to do as well as I want him to. But since you mentioned it, let me say that if I had gotten his grades in middle school, I would have been going to school early and staying late to get them fixed. Of course, I showed up early to school and stayed late if I ever got so much as an A- in class. I tell this to Kevin, and he says, “And look how happy and well-adjusted you turned out.” I say, “Thank you. My therapists think so, too.” (Because now I have three of them.)

I’m not here to ask for advice. We’re already doing everything we can, and if his grades don’t get better by the end of the quarter, I’m going to look into getting him evaluated for a learning disorder. What I’d love to hear from you is, “Oh, my kid did that in middle school too, and then he totally snapped out of it and got into Harvard and is now a brain surgeon who writes best selling novels and digs wells in Africa in his free time.”

That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Cornbread taco bake
Garlicky lemony green beans
Watermelon
Cinnamon nutella snowball cookies

Not Quite Right

1. Rocco, reading this bottle of salt:

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Mom, what does LODIZED mean?

2. Jnet: Vincenzo, I got you a book about introverts.  Do you know what an introvert is?
V: Yes.  It’s very bad.
Jnet: It’s not bad to be an introvert!
Me: Honey, it’s totally okay to be an introvert!  
V: Oh.  I thought it was really bad.
Me: Wait—what do you think introvert means?
V: Like…a pedofile?

(And there we were, telling him it was totally okay to be one.)

3. Rocco helped put together this puzzle:

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He kept pronouncing Hostess like hostas and referring to Little Debbies as Little Derbies.  We corrected him about 100 times, then just gave up and bought him a box of Little Derbies.

4. One of Rocco’s thank you notes:

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Fish ‘n chips
Something green
Peppermint snowballs

More Christmas 2018

I’m not quite done with Christmas yet, even if Christmas is done with me.  I can tell because our living room only looks like this now.

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It took six days to get it down to this.  I almost had to call in Disaster Relief to help.

Christmas, as I previously mentioned, is a lot about the gifts but it’s not only about the gifts.  It is also about the laughs.  They are just as bountiful as the gifts and (usually) completely mess-free.  (There was that one time I laughed and tomato soup and noodles came out of my nose, and that was not a mess-free laugh.) I love how Christmas Day starts and you don’t know where the laughs but you know you’ll find them without even trying.

Now, I realize that telling someone about a belly laugh you had is quite awkward for the person listening, who tries to lsitens politely but is all the while thinking, “Seriously?  You nearly died laughing over an woman wearing a pink angel costume?”  But you laugh anyway because the person telling the story is waiting for you to laugh.  I will spare you that awkwardness by writing these moments in a blog post that you don’t have to smile at all at because I am not standing across from you to see you not smiling.

And so, with an apology to my brother, I give you this drawing he did during a game of Pictionary.

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Any guesses?  Anyone?  Anyone?  No one?  A person looking at the moon?  A wolf-human hybrid?  A zombie, his friend wearing a dog mask,  and a balloon?

Wrong.  All, wrong.  This, my friends, is a polar bear.  What’s even scarier is that someone even guessed it right.  We were already on the floor laughing at this bizarre vaguely humanish polar bear when my mom came in and said, “Oh, did Luke draw that?”  Luke is seven years old.  And we were back on the floor again.

The second good laugh came when we decided to make a human pyramid because once in like 1992 we made one, and then when we were in pyramid formation someone started singing Jingle Bells and the whole pyramid started singing it, and we were a singing pyramid of aunties, uncles, and cousins.  Maybe you had to be there, but just in case you weren’t…

The last laugh, sadly, none of us were there to see, though we all got to laughs via text messaging.  My mom went to bed on Christmas night and threw back her covers to find this.

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She immediately texted our family specifically to find out which one of us did it.  I was offended that she thought we would stoop to such a basal level of humor.  And then husband said, “Oh.  That might have been me…”

There, now aren’t you glad I spared you all the awkwardness of telling you these stories by writing them here?

And now for some final Christmas pictures so we all can move on with life.

Leo, on the playground, waiting for church to start:

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Rocco on the playground, waiting for church to start:

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Vincenzo’s answer to the question, “What was your favorite memory from Christmas day?”

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Leo with a microscopic version of Frogger (you’d think he got a whole Atari by the look on his face):

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Vincenzo with a cool thingy on his arm:

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Well shoot, I thought that was going to take longer.  Anyway, happy new year everyone!!

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Braciola
Dry-rubbed chicken
Lemon spaghetti
Asian salad with mandarin oranges, ramen, and edamame
Crusty bread with compound butters
Cherry upside down cake
Hot cocoa cookies 

Christmas 2018

For all we tell ourselves about Christmas not being about gifts, for all we imagine ourselves like the Whos down in Whoville who would hold hands and sing a joyful song on Christmas morning even without any gifts, I am here to say that Christmas is at least a little bit about the gifts.  In fact, it’s a lot about the gifts.  I feel weird posting pictures of all our stuff in a world where some people have so little, but this is the life I’m living, and this blog is about my life.  And so, with that disclaimer in place, I give you this picture of our house the morning after Christmas.

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This picture is the answer to the question I ask every year of Do you think we got the kids too much?

Why is the day after Christmas called Boxing Day?  Why isn’t it called The Day of Very Big Messes?  I felt both defeated and fired up by this mess, like a knight who finally faces the dragon and realizes it is much bigger, much angrier, and much sharper than he imagined.

(Side note: We lost Leo in the mess yesterday morning and didn’t find him until dinnertime.   The above picture shows he was there all along.)

Kevin, being from Chicago, asked for Bears stuff for Christmas.  Santa delivered.

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It also came with a package of gummy bears and a set of adorable bear plant holders that coincidentally will look amazing on my bookshelves.

Kevin’s favorite gift, though, was this:

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He likes to say our family motto is “Cheat to win,” and he takes pride in his cheating skills.  We sat down to play this game and he stole my Vermont Avenue from right under my nose, took extra money from the bank even though we made him count it out in front of us, and stole a hotel off the board that we were all watching like hawks.  It’s scary how good he is at cheating.  It’s like he’s had years of practice.  I told him this is making me think he’s never honestly won a single game against me. 

We had to end the game early so he could go to yoga, and as he was leaving I said, “Wait—how do I know you’re not cheating on me?  Where are you really going?!”  He just raised his eyebrows and left. 

But cheaters never prosper.  I took back Vermont Avenue and stole all the money from the bank while he was gone.

As for the boys, Leo got a laser tag set which led to a Christmas morning that had as little to do with the nativity as possible.  Bang bang.

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From the in-laws, Leo got a personal claw machine, which goes great with his cotton candy maker, and gumball machine.  He has two feet planted firmly on the road to becoming a carny.

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Rocco got a bunch of Lego sets, all of which he had built by the 26th at 10AM, which is crazy considering we were gone all of Christmas day.

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Vincenzo made it halfway through his stocking before he got to a book, never made it any further.

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Speaking of stockings, it gets harder every year to find things to put in them.  With 13 years of boy toys built up, we already have it all: matchbox cars, train sets, army guys, slime, kaleidoscopes, kazoos, slide whistles, magic 8 balls, Pokemon cards, whoopie cushions, ball-and-string toys, superballs, hats, mittens, handcuffs.  The stocking problem is compounded by the fact that the boys’ stockings seem to grow longer with each toy we put in.  I am not exaggerating.

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In what freaking world does this qualify as a sock? 

I have taken to filling the stockings with toys I know will break after the third use so we can put the same thing in their stockings next year (hello, styrofoam airplanes!).  That, and things that come in unnecessarily large packaging.  I realize that this is the opposite of how I shop the rest of the year.  I also feel like I should apologize to my sister right now, who reuses everything from the leftover wax from candles burning down to her own bath water.  I am not joking.

Anyway, I want to thank Baby Jesus for giving us a reason to shower each other with gifts.  Ridiculous, flimsy, perfect, heartfelt gifts.  Gifts that are given by people who love someone to someone who loves them back.

And so I say sorry Jnet, and thank you Baby Jesus.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Potato leek frittata
Buttered toast
Berry smoothies
Fresh vegetables

The Greatest Gift

Well, let’s get right into it—trying to fit a Christmas that felt bigger than life into the size and shape of a blog post.  Shoving aside all “Jesus is the reason for the season” thoughts, let’s head straight for the presents.

I had three favorite gifts this year.  My first was a blood pressure monitor my in-laws gave us.  We have already had many chances to use it, like when Rocco ate an entire bag of pepperoni sticks in one sitting.

My second favorite gift was this flip chart of moods.  It has come in very handy, like when the whole family sat down to play Cheater’s Monopoly together.

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And then when Kevin stole $100 from the bank.

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And then again when Kevin stole Vermont Avenue from me.

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The booklet was technically for me, but really it’s for the whole family.  It’s best for everyone if they know my mood before they ask me what’s for dinner.

My number one favorite gift needs a bit of introduction.  It is not only my favorite gift of the year; it is my favorite gift of all time.  It was the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me, it is something my boys and I will treasure forever, and it is something that will make me happy on the days I think that I am a crappy writer.  You are waiting for the punch line, but there is none.  There is just a picture of the absolute greatest gift anyone with a persistent writing bug and a vicious inner critic and could receive.

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He had my blog printed off.  All seven volumes of it.  I would quote you some of my favorite passages, but they’re all in the archives here, so it would be redundant.  I read parts of the first volume today and have no recollection of most of the events I wrote about, which is crazy considering they were big enough to sit down and carefully craft into a blog post.  It felt like reading someone else’s writing and I thought, Man, this girl can write!  Which is not something my inner critic has ever said to me.  In fact, Kevin added a quote from me at the beginning of each book  Ironic quotes, considering behind each quote are 400 pages of writing that tell a different story. 

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It’s kind of meta, having a picture of my entire blog here in a single post on my blog, don’t you think?

This set of books was the gift of a lifetime and it made my dream come true: now I’m a published author. 

I am a modern woman.  I am the one who writes fairy tales flipped on their heads, whose books turn tutu-clad princesses into epic bad guys and pancake-flipping moms into brain surgeons.  But despite all that, I feel sometimes like Kevin is my knight in shining armor and he keeps fighting the dragon while I stand there in its jaws yelling “Turn back!  There’s no point!”  He slays the dragon then turns to me and says, “There is always a point.”

Then he says, “Get it?” and points to the pointy end of his sword.  “There’s always a point?”  And I roll my eyes and everything is back to normal again.

Now, everyone knows that The Greatest Gift of all is learning to love yourself, as Whitney Houston made clear in 1985, but this stack of books here?  Well, I guess it just brings the point home.

I’m not a big fan of professing your love of your spouse to all your friends on social media, but sometimes you have to break the rules.  Kevin, I love you so much.  Thanks for all the dragon slaying.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken chili
Salad w/apples, craisins, and candied pecans
Fruit
Christmas cookies

Gingerbread Houses ‘18

We had our regular crew over for decorating gingerbread houses yesterday and dear Lord, I have lost all control over parties and children.

Like for example, we found a couch in our shower this morning.

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I mean, the last I had seen the couch, it was on our bed.

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Also, this morning Vincenzo got locked out of his room because apparently the kids broke the doorknob so it only opens from the inside now.  When questioned, they boys burst into hysterical laughter and said, “It just went flying across the room!”  (Thank goodness Rocco was still in there or Vincenzo would have had to go to school in towel pants.)

I tried to figure out what had gone down last night while the adults were sitting around eating soup and saying, “What’d you say?” over the din of what looked to be an all-out war in our living room.  The older kids took all the weapons and cached them in a bedroom (coincidentally, the one that now has a broken doorknob) and they sold weapons to the younger kids.  Yes, they set up an arms dealership in the bunk bed room. 

(I got them to open by asking, “Arms for the poor?”)

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The younger kids, from what I gather, spent their time alternately buying and stealing weapons from the older kids.  They also rediscovered our cat hole that gave the younger kids an escape advantage, as the older kids can no longer fit through it.

This is our cat hole, in case you were imagining a very different kind of cat hole.

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Somehow the kids also decorated their houses.  How do they find the time?  I went ahead and named the houses.

The Minimalist (alternate name: The Door was Delicious)

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Party on Top, Business Below

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Sat Near the M&M Bowl

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The Big Sister’s

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It Was Different in my Head

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Diabetic Delight

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At the end of all this, after all the candy eating and arms dealing and doorknob breaking and couch moving, it was time to say goodbye to our guests.

And this is what that looked like.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers, including…
Chicken pot pie
Potato soup (thanks, K!)
Baked potatoes
French onion soup
Homemade bread
Monster cookie ice cream

Christmas Countdown

We pulled down the Christmas decorations and I gave Leo the nativity set to put up. 

He clearly has not seen many nativity scenes in his short life. 

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It’s such a first-grade interpretation of the wise men.  “Okay, line up single file, guys.  Everyone will get a turn.  Baby Jesus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Hey! No cutting, Balthasar!”

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Also, I love Joseph’s stance here.  He is so much the dad who hears the baby crying and comes to help but hasn’t the foggiest idea what to do, so he stands there leaning slightly forward as if just the gesture of being someone who wants to help is helpful in and of itself.  Am I right?!

As for the rest of our Christmasing, here’s what it looks like to date.

This is the part where Kevin starts talking about how they have perfectly nice pre-cut trees just ten yards away from here.

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Inspector Leo.  He’s more the upper-management type.

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But sometimes the only way to get a job done is to do it yourself.

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Guess I forgot to tell them to say cheese.

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Leo, rediscovering his favorite Christmas ornament: a golden unicorn with a fake diamond.  Of course.

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Here we are decorating the tree:

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Oops, wrong picture (that was last year).  Here we are decorating the tree:

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Yup, so that’s where we’re at.  Counting the days until Christmas while also wishing it doesn’t come too fast so we can enjoy these brightly-lit, dream-filled, family-packed days.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers & some new stuff:
Cheeseburger soup
Chicken and sweet potato curry
Rice
Baked potatoes
Green beans and broccoli with butter
Brownie royales