An Exploration of Parenting by the Vowel

Xmas HoaX : Elf on the Shelf December 26, 2012

Filed under: The Unknown — edamomie @ 11:24 pm
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U: The Unknown

“Christmas gift parent advisory: do not buy the Elf on the Shelf. It is advertised to change places in your house while you are sleeping but it doesn’t. We returned our first box and haven’t had any better luck with the second. So far the elf has just been sitting in the box. The kids have been so disappointed. Just giving everyone a heads up on this.” – -Facebook post by my husband, December 24.


Elf on Wilde Roast's Shelf

Elf on Wilde Roast’s Shelf

Okay, so we know that as parents we actually have to move the elf ourselves. Most chimed in with comments on his Facebook page that conveyed that they (wink, wink : )) understood that we knew what our role was. However, we did have one person suggest that I call her because “…my brother and wife have had one for a few years and what they do is hilarious I plan to get one on sale for next year. It’s not what the elf does – it’s what you do with the elf.” Now that response, Michelle, is hilarious.

The Elf is mainstream holiday culture. We got ours last year. In a culture where easy and consistent access to technology is available to our kids, the Elf for parents represents a third-party way to impose a looming threat over their Christmas gifts. Gifts that by the way, are totally technology related. We put restrictions on technology and tv time. We said that if they limited their screen time the Elf would give Santa the green light to deliver presents on their wish list, which included a Wii.


Box-Resistant Elf

Box-Resistant Elf

Parents are willing to pay $29.95 for this small Elf in a big box with a story. At least I feel better when I look at the mother/daughter team that chose to capitalize on this tradition. We take him out the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) and he works for a month. That’s about a dollar a day. Worth it, I’d say.

Our Elf is pretty boring. Others, as witnessed by Facebook posts and photos, have elves that are much more mischievous. Some fly paper airplanes, some get entangled in toilet paper, others make a mess in the kitchen or slide down the banister (see Pinterest for ideas).

I’m making a promise to get more mischievous next year – that is, if my future 8 and 10-year-old will even pay attention. I, in intro-Elf mode, have to say the guilt of forgetting to move him nightly mirrored the times when I’ve forgotten to leave money from the Tooth Fairy. I have made up a ton of excuses as to why the Elf might have chosen not to move from his post from the previous day. That was as creative as it got. Next year, I’ll be armed with new ideas! Any Elf on the Shelf stories to share? Michelle?


Holiday Breakdown January 4, 2011

Filed under: Activities — edamomie @ 11:31 pm
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A: Activities


12 Days of Break by the Letter: A Matching Game

12 Days of Break by the Letter: A Matching Game


Here’s how this holiday break went for our little family:


12 Ikran Dragons
11 Pairs of PJ’s
10 Runs down Buck Hill
9 Red Ryder Rifles
8 Sweet Italians
7 Jello Knox Blox
6 Tangled Rupunzels
5 Figure-eights
4 Pic-a-nic Baskets
3 Rumpelstiltskins
2 Trips to the Mall
and a Squeezy Burp from Junie B. Jones


And to break it down further:


12:  Ikran Dragons: the Ikran is the skyhigh-flying dragon in Avatar. I am about a year late to the table with this observation, but I was unsure of the kids’ readiness to comprehend this movie. Us parents screened the whole thing (2hrs 40min over the course of two nights) and finally gave in by break day #12. The kids got to watch it. I fast-forwarded through the battle scenes and did a lot of pausing and explaining. Worth it.


11: Pairs of PJ’s: What is it about grandparents and PJ’s (…and Herbergers I might add)? I am thrilled – the kids are now stocked for the year.


10: Runs down Buck Hill: First skiing lessons for the kids. Ava, my 7-yr-old, just went with it. Calvin, the 5-yr-old, questioned the best way to do everything and by the mid-point of the lesson (from our indoor vantage point), we could see him wildly gesturing to the big hill. He would not be left behind. Ava loved it so much she felt compelled to call her uncle and do some trash talking about how easy it was for her and too bad all he knew how to do was bomb the hill.


9:  Red Ryder Rifles: After blogging in an earlier post about comp tickets from Sweet Retreat to see A Christmas Story, turns out Snowmaggedon did prevent us from making the Saturday, December 18 show (they did actually have the 2:00p.m. show, just not the 7:30p.m.). We rescheduled for December 29, a perfectly sunny outdoor day for ice-skating as it were.  The play was a treat. There is not a bad seat in the house (we went from third row from stage to third row from the back) at the Children’s Theater. Anyway, Ralph, the older boy in the story, mentioned his dreamy Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle 9 x 90 times.


8:  Sweet Italians: Number of slices of our Pizzeria Lola Sweet Italian pizza. This new neighborhood joint knows pizza, beer, wine, ice-cream and atmosphere. On a Thursday night, we waited for an hour to be seated. It was packed. To stave off hunger for 5-10 minutes, the photo booth awaits. We also tried the Butternut squash, spaghetti squash, brown butter, Taleggio & sage pizza – yummy. When given the soft-serve ice cream choice of vanilla or pistachio, Calvin confidently ordered the ‘stacio. Also good stuff.


7:  Jello Knox Blox: See my Dec 24 post.


6:  Tangled Rupunzels: Grandparents took the kids to this one. My Dad loved it. I have nothing to add.


5:  Figure-eights: Last year, we did indoor ice-skating. Sunday, December 26 was sunny and perfect for outdoor ice-skating. We headed to a nearby park where only a few other skaters were. Ava, the more cautious, aimed not to fall. Calvin, now free of the “walker,” aimed to fall as much as possible at high speeds.  I skated with them. We all ended up in the snow banks surrounding the rink from time to time.


4:  Pic-a-nic Baskets: Yogi Bear. I knew I couldn’t stomach this one in 3D (I think 3D in general doesn’t work for me). We found a non-3D version at none other than the MOA and I had to convince my daughter to go. Movie was what you’d expect and it entertainingly passed the time, but I didn’t hear much post show. Three days later, my son is talking like Boo-Boo.


3:  Rumpelstiltskins: This would be the home viewing of Shrek 4. The kids were thoughtful enough to get this for their Papa for Christmas. Rumpelstiltskin has three wigs he calls his servants to don, based on the situation, his mood and temperament:  business wig, victory wig and angry wig. Part Pinball Wizard meets Marie Antoinette, girl.com notes.


2.  Trips to the Mall: I’m sure it was more, but two the kids actually liked. MOA for Legoland and Southdale for Tangled. While people tweeted and facebooked away about being super crazed to venture near one local mall in particular, I found it not to be a worry. I think I’m outnumbered.


1.  Squeezy Burp from Junie B. Jones: We went to this play prior to Christmas at the Hopkins Theater. Talented little actors and Junie B. was all Ava and her friend had imagined she’d B. It’s a good starter theater for kids – shorter play run times and no intermission, plus reasonably priced at $12. A much better deal than the coveted Squeezy Burp (think whoopie cushion) that Junie worked hard to round up $5 to buy for herself for Christmas, which she eventually gave to her arch enemy, May.


This Holiday Breakdown brought to you buy one tired parent who now needs to catch up on some sleep.
(answer key: a: 10; b: 1; c: 3; d: 12; e: 9; f: 8; g: 7; h: 5; i: 6; j: 2; k: 4; l: 11.)


Lego of Your Santa Gift Expectations December 29, 2010

Filed under: Outings,The Unknown — edamomie @ 11:15 am
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O and U: Outings; Unknown

Despite what you know is good for your children, when it comes to Christmas, the rules don’t apply. This may have been one of the last years to use “the elves are watching” threats to my advantage and most importantly live vicariously through their belief that Santa still exists.  And I blew it.

Lego Calendar, T-shirt and Truck

Lego Calendar, T-shirt and Truck


My logic got the best of me. My 7-yr-old wanted a DQ Blizzard Maker. It was the only thing she asked of Santa. Rather than buy this cheap piece of plastic, I searched out other ways to recreate the experience. Luckily, when Christmas morning arrived, the explanatory note from Santa justified the ice cream sprinkle toppings, two special ice cream bowls and directions to the ice box where smoothie mix and ice cream awaited.  Santa said our blender would work just fine to create magical ice cream treats. She seemed happy and nary a mention of the missing blizzard maker have I heard.


My 5-yr-old asked Santa for Legos and Hotwheels. After comparing gift purchases with the family and learning that they were getting him every variation of gifts in these areas (from PJs and T-shirts to calendars), I decided to go my own route. I got him a castle. He was astonished on Christmas morning. Baffled. Didn’t Santa understand his wishes? What about sugar-plum dreams of Legos and Hotwheels? He wouldn’t go near the castle, he insisted it was a mistake and must have been meant for his sister. How spoiled, right? Regardless, I still felt bad.


Larger-Than-Life Legoed Woody

Larger-Than-Life Legoed Woody

After all, we had just visited the new unveiling of the new Lego store at the Mall of America two nights prior. There was a huge Legoed Toy-Story Woody and a clear Legoed wall with each circle half-open for reaching in for Legos by shape and color – a Lego collectors dream. Surely, there were many items there he envisioned getting from Santa.


Which brings me to the conclusion that the Santa gift is the all-important, most anticipated one for children who still believe. It’s our job as parents to make that happen. I should have swapped out some other stuff, insisted that a massive 1,333 piece Lego masterpiece arrive via Santa. I have regrets.


Lego Wall Mosaic

Lego Wall Mosaic

Later on Christmas Day as the sleepless night prior kicked in for my son, we had a talk about graciousness in accepting a gift, Santa’s gift in particular. He was a bit stubborn and held out, “why did we go see Santa and tell him our wishes if he was just going to get us what he wanted to anyway?” He had a point. A bit more discussion and he came around to see it to my advantage, finally falling into a deep post-Christmas slumber.


The battle of wood (castle) vs. plastic (legos)

The battle of wood (castle) vs. plastic (legos)

I am glad I didn’t give into making up some creative gift exchange/return clause for Santa gifts. I was close. The next morning, both kids happily played with their new castle from Wonderment. I am feeling better about it now  – choosing to believe that maybe Santa did know best.


A Prime Climate for the Cookie December 14, 2010

Filed under: Eats — edamomie @ 10:08 pm
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E: Eats

Probably the coolest thing I can think of to do in the winter is quit talking about it. Remain unflappable and resilient to the temptation to begin each conversation with “OMG it is so cold out.” If someone attempts to draw you in to their weather small talk, be prepared with an, “oh it’s negative ten? I hadn’t noticed,” comeback or just be super stubborn and let your wardrobe speak for itself (open-toed shoes, a light-weight stylish jacket, mittenless). Or you could embrace the climate and all of the activities it affords so you’re primed with some great conversation starters.


Sure there are countless things one could do outside to enjoy winter at the 45th parallel, but I’m going to stick with what I know – indoor activities. It’s no surprise Minneapolis and St. Paul have a ton of  bakeries to choose from as our climate is conducive to baking and consuming these treats, particularly in the winter. Enter the cookie. Specifically the Christmas Sugar Cookie.


Cookie Mixologists

Cookie Mixologists

I have been making sugar cookies every Christmas since I was about 8 years old – it’s a tradition. My mom is quite the baker, but for this tough cookie, my aunt took me under her wing and schooled me on its art. Let’s just say after 3 decades or so of experience and with the help of new technology, I’ve got this down pat.


I’ve enlisted both kids’ help for this for several years now. My oldest at 7, Ava, is getting pretty adept at it.  The recipe I use is pretty simple, but I’ve never questioned it. It makes about 8 dozen cookies, which used to take me days to complete – there were a lot of do-overs.  Now I purposely break it into 3 parts: making the dough (20 min); rolling out, cutting and baking the cookies (1.5hrs); and decorating (1.5hrs). Perfect for a Fri – Sun activity on a winter weekend. With snow.


Day 1: We all chip in to make the dough – remembering to mix liquids and dry ingredients separately before combining them. Super important for baking. I remind the kids of the figure 8 fold-in motion, not straight-up stirring, so flour flying everywhere is reduced to a minimum. They sample way too much dough as usual – always trying to one-up the other. Calvin, my 5-year-old, notes it tastes a bit salty to him. It chills.


Cookie Line-Up for Sprinkles

Cookie Line-Up for Sprinkles

Day 2: I bring out the pastry mat (this is the technology I referred to earlier). This is year 3 using it. Makes all the difference in the world. The kids are pretty good with roll out duty, although it’s difficult for them to get a consistent thickness to it.  I make some final adjustments and we’re ready to cut. The best cookie cutters are those not too fussy and those not too small or too big. We use stars, christmas trees, candy canes, holly, snowflakes, stockings and two exceptions to the prior rule: 2 detailed, large Santa cookies and a few mini-candy canes. We’re on a 400 degree oven with 6 minutes per cookie sheet, so we’re moving quickly. When it’s all done and cookies are cooled, we move them into two 10 x 10″ tupperware containers with wax sheets in between.


Day 3: I’ve tried making my own frosting and none is really worth the work compared to store-bought cream cheese frosting. I buy two containers and use about 1.5. I like frosting, but don’t like it overpowering my cookie. I microwave it just a bit and work quickly spreading the frosting, which is thinner because it’s been heated up. This is followed by Ava who is on sprinkle detail. To avoid spending lots of money on colored frosting in the tubes ($5 per tube), I change up the color of the frosting from the can with food coloring (7 colors) and stick to colored sprinkles and 2-3 writing tubes of frosting (red and green in this case).


The Stars Align

The Stars Align

We mix up the cookies when putting them back in the containers, so we can pull out a few over the holidays to take to parties and deserving neighbors. They go immediately into the freezer for safe-keeping. Ava helps me keep watch over them and has learned to scold others who try to eat more than their share. She is a quick study.


And there you have it. A Christmas cookie years in the making and a reminder that baking with kids equals messy fun and creativity. We laugh about the cookies that don’t look quite as perfect and have a Misfit Cookie and Tea Party on Day 3, humming “since there’s no place to go (due to huge snow drifts and freezing cold temps), let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”


So sorry to those Floridian and Californian homemakers, trying so hard to create Christmas memories and traditions, baking away while their kids frolic in the outdoor pool, the Minnesotan cookie-baking experience may have you beat by about 20 parallels.


Camp Christmas: Real or Fake? December 6, 2010

Filed under: Activities,Outings — edamomie @ 10:40 pm
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O: Outings and A: Activities

I grew up with fake, my husband with real. Thus the ongoing family conversations about what’s better and why. For the record in this household, real wins out. And yes, as you might have guessed since it’s December, I’m talking about O Christmas Tree and her lovely branches.


It was the much anticipated day when Tannenbaum was to be chosen.  But first, the kids had enough of their decorating wits about them to insist that the Halloween bats and scarecrows must come down. With the living room prepped and ready, we set out to select the tree from the Richfield Farmer’s Market.  The grandparents have been with on this occasion before. Although they have always enjoyed it, they are never really able to lend any direction to tree selection (although Dad likes to endlessly speculate on the height of each tree – and he’s pretty accurate). They were and always will be, fake tree owners.


The Family Locates our Tree

The Family Locates our Tree

I’ll admit I switched over to camp real after a few holidays with my husband. Growing up, I remember sorting the branches by letter and inserting them into the tree accordingly. And while the end result produces similar results the process differs. Possibly the important part.


To this day, I don’t quite yet have the most critical eye for picking out the best tree in the lot. I leave that up to the husband.  The kids run around the tree lot. We discuss different branches and tree-types, always coming back to the tried and true Frasier Fir. To make matters more challenging, some trees have been on the truck or in storage for days. Their branches are all folded in like a collapsed umbrella. One year, we ended up with a tree growing out of the side of a tree we purchased. A bit odd, but we still loved it.


Tannenbaum Comes Home

Tannenbaum Comes Home

Upon agreeing on the final selection, the base is cut off and its netted for the short journey home. Ava loves this tree already. I think she really wants a pet. Or at least to show me how much she can love something that we pick up, pay for and bring home to care for as our own.


Turns out – it’s a beautiful tree when the branches are all settled. No one is jumping at the task of daily maintenance, however. “I am not your Tree Waterer,” Ava defiantly states. Luckily, it’s just an act. She’s watered it everyday since we got it home without complaints. A right of passage I tell her. And just like that, after 9 years, I’m no longer the waterer.  But I’m still the light stringer.


No matter how carefully I put away the lights last year and pre-tested days ago for this season, by the time I’m ready to put the lights on, at least one strand doesn’t work. I consider doing only popcorn strings and cranberries, but way too real for this city girl. I make due with what we have, promising to fill in any missing spots with more lights later on.  Decorating must not be delayed.


Final Decor

Final Decor

I don’t take decorating lightly. There must be Christmas music, a real fire in the fireplace and hot chocolate with marshmallows. By day two of Tannebaum’s stay, the antsy children override my wishes and they begin without the circumstance I envisioned. I’ve got an ornament for every occasion. In recent years, we’ve upped our game with personalized ornaments for every family / friend combination possible. The kids even recently presented uncle Pauly and his girlfriend with two bashful blushing reindeer swooning over each other. Really, consider it for everyone on your list. It’s like Hallmark with a card for every occasion.


We play I-Spy when the ornaments are all up, quizzing each other on where stuff came from and if the kids were alive when the ornament first landed on the tree. A few nights later, we actually have a fire and enjoy the realness of that and the tree. The relaxation of the evergreen, joy the kids have had throughout this process and smell of a real fire just reaffirm which camp I’m in. For real.


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