Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Best Gift

Christmas morning arrived before 7:00 a.m. at our house. Joe-Henry usually wakes up about 6:30 to use the bathroom, and I usually hear his pitiful cries for "Maaawwwmm" because he's afraid to walk down the hall in the dark by himself. So I wait in the bathroom with him, then of course there is the begging for snuggling, and he's usually too polite to refuse me. Anyway, we're snuggled up, and he's chatting away, wondering what Santa brought, and if he left a letter (she did), when I finally said, "you know, we could just get up now and go see", and he thought that was a terrific idea.

I'm remembering myself at his age, and Christmas morning was chaos: I don't believe I stopped to take a breath when opening packages. I usually had all my presents counted, and if I remembered to say thank you, it was usually because my mom was threatening to send everything back if I didn't. But somehow, this trait didn't rub off on my son - the first thing he wanted to do yesterday morning, before checking to see if Santa left anything, before tearing into the giant packages that have been mocking him for days by the tree, was to give me MY present. He was so excited about it. He has totally caught my husband's gift giving gene too. They are both excellent at getting the perfect gift. It's usually something you had no idea you wanted or needed, and it's always something lovely and useful, as well as sentimental.

So I sat on the couch and he got it from under the tree, and I unwrapped a movie I hadn't seen in years and didn't own until Christmas morning. Anne of Green Gables, with Megan Follows. When I was 29 I played Anne at Seattle Children's Theater. It's one of my favorite theater experiences, and the movie is just so lovely and perfect, and it never fails to make me weep. I saw it a while ago at Costco, and sort of said "awwww! I love this movie!", and it must have been the way I said it, because he was so excited to give it to me - he just knew that it was perfect, and he was right.

After that, we went downstairs to open Santa presents, then back upstairs for an iChat with the Grandparents, then the next couple hours were spent leisurely opening gifts, stopping to play for a while, then on to the next one. It didn't feel overwhelming, it felt nice. I was so proud of him for taking the time to appreciate everything, genuinely, and be thankful without having to be reminded. It was a relief after last year's bout of the gimme's to realize that it was mostly just an age appropriate, yet still really irritating, phase.

Hope you all had a wonderful day, with just enough snow to make it magical.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Wishes

"Twas the night before Christmas....

WAIT! It's the NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS?!!! WTF!!! How did THAT happen? SHIT! I have more to do! Shopping, cleaning, especially cleaning, cooking, baking....


Okay, AnnieMcQ, breathe...just...breathe....lay down and rest your hands on your belly, and watch them rise and fall with each relaxed breath....


There, that's better. Ah, now that I've headed off my stroke, I'd like to pull a few gifts out of my bag for each of you, my lovely, loyal readers. The one's who comment, anyway!

For Suttonhoo: I do believe you have already received the best gift you could have ever wished for, but I still have a a couple stocking stuffers for you. May you spend more time travelling for play and less time travelling for work. May you have time and energy to put forth the creative efforts you need for your own personal artistic pursuits. Hugs and Kisses, my dear friend.

For Franklin: Ah, my sweet twin sister of a different mother! A kiss on both cheeks for you! I wish you, selfishly, a bit more mommy time, so that you might blog enough to keep me entertained. I also wish to silence your inner editor, so that you might more freely share with us, without worrying if it's "good enough". I've turned mine completely off, and.. wait, maybe that's not the best example. Um, I don't know, ask Suttonhoo how she does it. She posts all the time and always sounds brilliant. Love you, friend!

For Tracey: I wish you time and a calm center. To make the tough decisions you need to make about getting your MSW. I wish you a year free of guilt brought on by things you should or shouldn't do for your family, and the clear knowledge that by just being who you are, you are setting a brilliant, loving example to your gorgeous children. I also wish for you more nights with the Dallas Posse, and hopes that I might join you one of these days....

For Lola: Mz. Bola, I wish you spectacular light in your apartment, I wish you a forever honeymoon with your wonderful new husband. I wish you students who make you laugh, and artistic fulfillment. Go Canada!

For Rodius: I wish you a good, solid nights sleep, and a date with the Mrs. I wish you memories of this first year with Thumper that will make your eyes moist for years to come.

For Purelight: I wish you more visits with your new grandson, and of course many happy times with your family, and open communication with your other visitors! May they guide you to great new lights!

For Ambernator: Aside from wishing you a good nights sleep (see above), I wish you a strong back for when Isaac starts walking, I wish you big sloppy baby kisses and good health all year. Squeeze that sweet little guy from his great Auntie!

For Debby: I wish you an easy delivery, and much much joy as you bring two more beautiful babies into this world.

For Kari: I wish you an easy move to LA, and a job writing for your favorite show. Or even not your favorite show. A job writing and getting paid for writing. And as soon as you get there, take a hike in Runyon Canyon for me. You'll be amazed at what you see.

For Donna: I wish you continued good humor, and time enough to enjoy the fruits of your labor and your family.

For my newest reader, Stutopian: I wish you clarity and peace and an open, fearless heart. And while we're at it, strength and a continued sense of humor.

And for my husband (who never comments, but still reads faithfully): You know what I wish for you, Hotstuff. I got plans for you. Oh, and some mushy stuff too. I'll whisper it in your ear later when I'm doing that thing that gets you all hot and bothered.

As for those of you I've forgotten to mention due to my limited brain capacity, and those of you who stop by and read but don't comment because you might be afraid that I'm slightly unbalanced and might stalk you (wise, wise people)....

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanza, dear friends, one and all!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Think Outside the Box

Dear Aunt Jackie,

Your package arrived today.

I'm sure that the presents will be enjoyed, almost as much as the box that they arrived in.

Thank you for all the packing peanuts.

Packing peanuts are so much fun.

While we were opening the boxes, the neighbor boy came over and joined in the chaos.
And yes. I made them clean up every. last. peanut.

The box was pretty much destroyed by the kids, but Joe-Henry is now using it, in it's flattened state as a ramp between our living room and dining room, sending his hotwheels into the box that Aunt Jill sent today.

Happy Birthday, Herman

My Dad, Herman Cyrus Christianson would have been 91 today.

Everyone called him "Cy". There were a select few though, who could get away with "Herman". I was nervy enough to try, and lucky enough to get away with it.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I miss you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I'm Sorry, Santa....

I am hanging on by a thread, people. I have two days left until Christmas break, and I'm hoping my sanity holds out that long. I've been fighting a cold and an ear infection, and trying to tie up loose ends for the holidays. Got the packages mailed, but not the cards; got the presents (mostly) but they aren't wrapped (mostly); the kids at school, God Bless 'Em Every One, are sending me over the fence into the Crazy Yard. and I just want to take a long nap.

And have sex.

And drink a beer.

The thing that is keeping me tethered to my life and honestly, still in a fairly elf-ish mood, is, of course, Joe-Henry. He hasn't needed to be reminded too many times about Santa, and as I watched him sleeping tonight, his gorgeous face so soft and sweet, I started to cry. He's so much older this year than last - his humor is more sophisticated (meaning knock knock jokes are BEGINNING TO MAKE SENSE, but he still thinks farts are hilarious), and his reasoning is clearer.

But he still believes in Santa. And it struck me today: what is the ratio of Santa is Magic to Santa is Watching? How often have I just listened and encouraged him to marvel at the nicest man in the world who brings every child a present on Christmas morning, and how often have I threatened him with "You know Santa's elves are looking RIGHT NOW, don't you?"
Did I miss out?
Did I blow it?
Do I deserve a lump of coal?

I hope not.

I'm missing the sing-a-long at his school this Friday, and it is chewing a hole in my heart. He's being so sweet about it, and honestly I don't think it's a huge deal to him. But it is to me. I want to be there. Holding his hand and singing those songs, and storing away just a few moments more of the magic you have when you're seven and old enough to know better than to NOT believe in Santa.

A Lovely Christmas CD

If you're looking for an alternative to the standard Christmas fare, check out Mindy Smith's new Christmas cd "My Holiday". Love her voice, and "It Really Is A Wonderful Life" and most especially "Santa Will Find You" will make your hardened, cynical insides turn to mush. It did mine.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

This just in....

Well, that's just misleading. Sorry. It's not "just in". Today's post is about stuff I've heard over the past three weeks that have just been percolating away in my brain. I try hard not to be a reactionary. I try my best to process things, and reason them out in my head, but what usually happens is that they don't percolate, they just ferment and fester until I'm really worked up. Well, it's been a rough week, and so now, here you go, I'm letting it all out.

I'm sure you're all aware of the story that came out about a month ago regarding John McCain's tacit approval of someone calling Hillary a bitch? If you were sleeping, or perhaps at Disneyland and unaware of National Events, take a peek...

Of course, McCain has gotten little coverage in the past couple weeks, thanks in part to the fact that Mitt Romney is now talking about the fact that he's a Morman, and Mike Huckabee's stellar showing in the polls, despite the fact that he thinks women should be subservient to men. Here's the deal for me, and honestly, I mean no offense to any of my five readers, but how in the world is it possible to truly believe that we women should follow men blindly, even if they are wrong? How is it possible to believe that anyone else has a right to tell you what to do with your body, or to deny you the right to equal wages for equal work? It may come as a surprise to some, but we women not only have the right to vote, which means we don't just have to influence the men in our lives about the candidate we believe is best, we can vote for him OR HER ourselves. Honestly, please tell me. I want to know.

But the thing that is really sticking in my craw is this: It's all a show. There are no solutions - the national debate has become about religion and "moral character" - who has it and who doesn't, instead of how to get this country back on track. Don't get me wrong - I do believe that "moral character" is important, but I don't personally believe that it has anything to do with religion. I think it has to do with action - How we treat others, how we solve problems, how we listen and learn.

My Dad, who never went to college, had some excellent advice for me when I was dating. I've applied to it many different areas of my life. He said "It doesn't really matter what they say. It's what they do."

Can you imagine what would happen if we all started paying closer attention to voting records instead of sound bites and town hall meetings and speeches? If we were truly informed, and they knew it? If we held them accountable for their actions, instead of just complaining about their lousy performance? If we based our votes on what they did instead of what they said?

Might make for an interesting experiment.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Father Christmas & My Elf

Tonight we had something at my school called "Father Christmas". It's a night where the whole school is used - they have room for Christmas crafts, games, a visit with Santa, and shopping in the gym. They take donations the week before, and set up tables - two 25 cent tables, a 50 cent table and a $2.00 table. Only the kids are allowed in, they are given a personal shopper and they can choose 4 gifts to buy for family or friends, or themselves. Then they go into the cafeteria to purchase their items, and have them wrapped so no one knows what they got. The school I work at has such an amazing supportive community, and it was such fun to be part of it - it really put me in the spirit.

I was a "personal shopper" and Joe-Henry was my elf. He was a little disappointed that he didn't get to shop, but I think it put him in the mood, too. He would point out things that he thought might be fun for brothers or sisters, and the kids loved having another kid to relate to.

When we got home tonight, we were both pretty tired, but at bedtime I told him I was excited about the presents I'd gotten him, and he asked me what it was. "Do you really want to know?" I asked, my eyes wide with sincerity? He nodded, afraid to say anything that might jinx his good luck. "Come here, I'll whisper it in your ear". He snuggled up, his ear to my mouth, and I whispered "I'm not telling". "Oh MAN, Mom! Just tell me where you got it then!" "Okay, lean in close...." I can't believe he's falling for it again, but it's so fun to torture children at Christmas! "I got it at the store" I whisper, and he collapses in a fit of groans and giggles.

Christmas IS for kids. But I'm learning that it's pretty fun for those of us who are lucky enough to hang with them too.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Deep. Breaths.

Went to Costco today. Shopped on a Sunday. Before Christmas. With PMS.

Managed, by the grace of Joe-Henry to not have a nervous breakdown, but forgot my debit card and had to go home, retrieve it AND COME BACK. They put the cold stuff back, so we had to get them again, and go through the check out AGAIN.

My ankles are killing me from the THREE carts that rammed into them, and I still feel the need to scream, two hours later.

The sweet spot though was that when I was berating myself in the car on the way to retrieve my debit card, I called myself a dummy, and my sweet zen master said "Mom! you're not dumb, you just made a mistake."

I'll remember that after the desire to punch someone fades away.

I am now assigning Costco duties to my husband.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Fever Effect

There was a story on NPR the other day about the Fever Effect in children with autism. There was a study done that says that fever in some children with autism will decrease their autistic behaviors, and goes on to say that they are studying how certain protiens that change in the brain during a fever could be developed to help children without actually causing illness. I didn't hear the story, rabid npr listener though I am, but a colleague at school was talking about it. I listened, mouth open in awe, because I had just witnessed it earlier in the week. One of my kids' behaviors when he is anxious is to say "I don't like" to whoever he happens to lay eyes on, or "I don't want" something he knows is coming up, even if the thing that is coming up is candy or something enjoyable. He was out sick for two days this week, and I knew it was coming because the morning he came down with it, he got off the bus, quietly said "good morning, Anne, where's Pam?", and proceeded to have appropriate behavior all morning long. Even his voice was different. He was a completely different child. At about 10:00 his nose started to run, and he got pale, and when he went home at the end of the day, I knew he'd be out sick the next day.

Yesterday he was back at school, still not feeling entirely himself, but most of his behaviors were back, so I knew he was on the mend. And yesterday my partner was out sick, so it was particularly stressful, not just for me but for the kids as well. Especially for the kids. We had a sub with us, who was terrific, but kids with autism have a hard time with change. One of the girls in our group is very attached to my partner, and she had a very difficult time, hitting herself, pulling her hair, when I instructed her to do things that we normally do every day. I am still learning at this job - getting them from point a to b in their schedule is easy, getting them to communicate is much harder, and talking them down from a tantrum is still scary for me - not because I feel that I am in danger, but because the tools I have at my disposal - timers and calm down schedules and a different language - are still so new to me that I feel clumsy when I use them, and I think even years of doing this can never innoculate you to how heartwrenching it is. But I know they need me, in that moment, to be solidly there for them. I was able to just be with her, talk her through her calm down schedule, and she finally calmed herself down enough to get through the rest of the day. But I know more than anything, she doesn't want to do this, she doesn't want to feel this way or to hurt herself or anyone else, and it takes a harder heart than my own to not feel it for hours after it's over.

As I put her on the bus, she said "boo, peas", which I knew meant that she wanted a piece of blue candy. My partner usually tucks her on the bus with a piece of candy, because she's nicer than I am. I explained that I didn't have candy, and signed that I was sorry, and she copied me, signing sorry herself, and asked me to squeeze her hands. As I squeezed her tiny hands, the hands she uses to hit herself, to fling her hair when she's angry, the hands she bites when she's out of control, I wanted so much to be able to give her something - not candy - but a cure that would allow us to talk about, well, anything really.

That's why I can't get that story out of my mind. Because it seems so hopeful, so possible, that one day they might be able to maneuver in the world like you and I do.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'm Sad, or How Weather Can Suck

There is something about living in the Northwest - it can be sooo beautiful here, and if you visit from, say, California, you notice how GREEN it all is. And it's true, there are beautiful trees, and lovely parks, and wide-open green spaces to run in slow motion toward a tall soy latte.

But there is a reason why it is so green - it is the flip side to living here, and most of the time it doesn't get to me at all, but this past week, I have just been too constantly damp to not feel it....S.A.D. And honestly, it's not the rain, as much as it is the persistent grey. And the fact that nearly everyone else is affected by it too, so you constantly are surrounded by grumpy people. Or slow people. Or crying people.

We are lucky, though, because we don't live in a flood plain, and our roof wasn't torn off by hurricane force winds. And yesterday, the sun actually came out for a while, and at school, we all squinted and blinked and basked in it's warmth and talked about things other than how grumpy we were.

But that's over - the ten day trend has us getting rain, rain and more rain, except for this Saturday when it will be gorgeous, and I will be inside all day for a training session for school. Sigh....

The bright side of all this is that there is excellent coffee and beer in the Northwest. Which makes for some jittery drunks, but hey, whatever gets you through the winter.

Monday, December 3, 2007

In Other Newth...

Joe-Henry lost another tooth yesterday, this one located on the bottom, next to his front bottom teeth. It's been hanging by a thread for days, and I was relieved that it happened at home, and it wouldn't be distracting him (and everyone else at school). Last night, after bath time, I found him in his pj's in bed, feverishly writing a note to the tooth fairy, which read:

"Dear Tooth Fairy, Here is a dime for you because you often don't get paid for your bisness. Love Joe-Henry"

It was on Pirates of the Caribbean note paper, and he decorated it with hearts.

The tooth fairy took the dime, but I'm pretty sure the note was worth more to her.

Party Pooped

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the "party" yesterday. An odd experiment, I know, but it did put me in a holiday frame of mind - hope it did for you, too!

If you missed it yesterday, don't worry, there's leftovers - help yourself! And the beauty of a blog party is there isn't a mess to clean up!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Come In!

Hi! Welcome!! I'm so happy to see you - thank you so much for coming! What's that? Oh, it looks delicious, let me take your coat. I know! The roads are so icy this morning, I'm glad you got here safely!

Who's that playing on the iPod? Sufjan Stevens! I'd heard of him, but never heard his music until last year, and Charley picked it up as a gift for a friend, and we decided to get it too. It's so festive and mellow, isn't it?

Help yourself to the table - I've made Brie topped with fresh cranberry relish, and there are some dipping crackers next to it on the table, and some yummy chile & cheese spirals. Both recipes are below:

Wheel of Brie
Topped with fresh cranberry relish, it can be store bought (not jellied), or home made. I make mine following the directions on the bag of fresh cranberries, substituting brown sugar for white, using orange juice instead of water, adding apple chunks and some hot pepper flakes. Stop wrinkling your noses - it's delicious! I'm serving it with Milton's Multi-grain crackers, but any sturdy, slightly sweet cracker would be perfect.

Chile & Cheese Spirals
4 oz. Room temp cream cheese
1 small can mild green chiles
1 small can chopped black olives
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup green onions

Mix cheeses, chiles, olives (drained), and onions, spread on lavosh, roll into logs & slice into spirals.

Please, help yourself, there's wine & beer and hot chocolate & spiced cider on the stove.

I'm going to go pour some cider for myself, and see who's at the door....

Edit 12:00 p.m.: Look who's here! It's Lola and Franklin! Lola is getting tipsy on beer, and is promising to make this an interesting party - we're going to play some Apples to Apples, and I've added a salad to the table. Here's the recipe:

AnnieMcQ's Holiday Green Salad

1 bag of mixed greens (make sure there's arugula in there)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of dried cranberries (sweetened is best)
1 apple
1/4 cup toasted pecans or almonds
good aged parmesan, shaved
Girard's Champagne Dressing

Soak cranberries in hot water for 10 minutes, or until soft, drain. Pour enough Champagne dressing over softened cranberries, just to cover. Arrange greens on a large platter, peel and dice apple, sprinkle on toasted almonds, add cranberries just before serving (so it doesn't wilt), top each serving with shaved parmesan.

Make yourselves comfy, I'm going to change the music on the iPod to Vince Guaraldi. I'll be back in a bit!

Edit 4:30

Kari's here, with the Winona Ryder version of "Little Women", and Franklin is burping away in some corner of the house! I think she might take a nap, then party on with us into the night. I'm putting on some chili, because it's raining outside, and the fire is roaring, and chili with sides of sour cream, cheddar, and green onions, with some cheddar cheese biscuits sound pretty heavenly.

From Nestle's Make it Simple Entertaining:
Pumpkin Chili Mexicana

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped red bell pepper
1/2 c chopped green bell pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 lb. lean ground turkey
3 1/2 cups (2 14.5 oz cans) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 3/4 (15 oz) solid pack pumpkin
1 can tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans
1/2 cup diced green chiles
1/2 cup whole kernel corn
1 Tblspn chili powder
1 tspn ground cumin
salt & pepper to taste

heat oil over med-high heat, add onion & peppers & garlic, cook 'til tender. Add meat, cook 'til browned, drain.

Add everything else. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cook covered for 30 minutes. Serve with garnishes. Makes 6-8 servings.

Who wants to chop the onions? It always makes me cry... I'm going to change the music on the iPod to A Merry Affair.

Edit 8:00 p.m.:

I'm hoping Suttonhoo can make it back - she's traveling, as usual, but I've decided that maybe if I post a good eggnog recipe, she might just make it back!

Traditional Eggnog Recipe, from

12 eggs, separated
6 cups milk
2 cups heavy/ thickened cream
2 cups bourbon
1+ ½ cups sugar
¾ cup brandy
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

In a large bowl and using a mixer, beat the egg yolks together with the sugar for approx 10 minutes (you want the mixture to be firm and the colour of butter).
Very slowly, add in the bourbon and brandy - just a little at a time.
When bourbon and brandy have been added, allow the mixture to cool in the fridge (for up to 6 hours, depending on how long before your party you're making the eggnog).
30 minutes before your guests arrive, stir the milk into the chilled yolk mixture.
Stir in 1+ ½ teaspoons ground nutmeg.
In a separate bowl, beat the cream with a mixer on high speed until the cream forms stiff peaks.
In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
Gently fold the cream into the egg mixture.
After ladling into cups, garnish with the remainder of the ground nutmeg.

Serves: 8.

Drink up! I'm changing the music on the iPod again: this time it's James Taylor, At Christmas, one of my new all-time faves...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

party, party, party

Hoop-de-dooo! The party is tomorrow, everybody! Where your best jammies or your favorite Christmas Sweater! There will be music, and food (or at least recipes!), and tales of Christmas' long ago, when someone or other got really drunk and told everyone how they really felt.

Doesn't it sound like fun?