Sunday, January 31, 2010

Work, Already!

Why don't things work anymore when you buy them?! I am so frustrated! Two of the things I bought Patrick for his birthday didn't work now.

The first one was a Klutz book that was about making toothbrush robots. It seemed like a cute idea, and it came with two already-robotized tothbrush heads. One worked really well, the other not so much. Ten minutes later, neither one was working at all. It totally sucked, because the kids were really excited about them. I wrote to the company, saying that I was disappointed, and saying that I was concerned that now their company was getting larger their products may not be as well made. I got a kind of snippy email back talking about how that product had won awards, and people really liked it, and that sometimes one out of thousands of things won't work. To their credit, they did offer to send me new brushbots, so I have to send them our address and we'll see what happens.

Even more annoying was the microscope we opened up today. Yes, he's had it for two weeks now, but we didn't open it until now. First of all, it wasn't the heavier-weight metal that it looked to be made of - it was *painted* like it was. The actual parts were lightweight, and the dials were cheap silver-painted plastic. Second, it wasn't a plug-in model like I had thought it was. It got light either from a tiny mirror that had to be positioned just right underneath or from a very small lightbulb that was supposed, according to the instructions, turn on automatically when the mirror side was turned down and the lightbulb faced upwards. It didn't work AT ALL. The lightbulb doesn't fit in the casing properly, and the electrical connection doesn't function, period. It's a total piece of junk. It wasn't a really cheap one, either - it was $50. So, we spent all that time getting everything out, and getting out the prepared slides I had bought him, and he got all excited, only to be disappointed again. WTF.

The thing is, I know that there are going to be some people who would hear this story and say, well, it was only $50, what did you expect? I think we've gotten to a point where we almost expect things to not work at all, and companies know that, and play on it. If a company can't make something well, why sell it? It seems like a lot of effort on everyone's part on what is basically a bet that the consumer is so brow-beaten that we won't bother to return faulty merchandise. I don't have the receipt for the thing, but I do have my bank statement, and since it's the only thing I bought there, I'm going to print out the page and bring it with me. I got it at a small hobby store about an hour from here, and they seemed like the kind of people who will respect that and give me a refund.

This just goes right along with the phone and internet problems I've had this month. Things don't work, and the companies don't seem to care. It's totally obnoxious!

So, once I return that, I will probably go to another store and get a more expensive one,

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thanks for the Extra White Hairs

I find as I get older, the number of things I'm afraid of has gotten smaller in some ways, but bigger in others.

For instance, I'm finally not afraid of the dark (which took longer than usual because of that damn Scream movie, which I can't even think about without feeling all squirmy inside). I'm not afraid to be alone at night when DH is on a trip, and our old house is creaking. I'm not afraid of spiders (although they're still GROSS). Things like that.

The things I *am* scared of, though, have gotten larger and much more specific. One of those things is that we'll have a Home Invasion. I'm not talking about a regular break-in, where someone takes your stuff and leaves; I'm talking about the kind our neighbors almost had, and that I hear about on the new sometimes - the kind where a group of men break into the house seemingly for the express purpose of hurting people. I don't know if this is some kind of gang thing, or what, but it seems that I hear about that kind of thing more and more lately.

I was actually laying in bed this morning after DH left for work at 6, thinking about this, when I heard a noise that wasn't the usual creaking of the pipes. It was a quite sound, one of those that you almost don't even really hear, but it was enough that Baci, sleeping next to me on the bed, lifted his head up, too. I had just decided that it was nothing when I heard a definite squeak of the back door opening downstairs. I sat up, and my heart started racing. No way, I thought. How can somebody be breaking in WHILE I'M WORRYING ABOUT SOMEONE BREAKING IN?! It flashed in my mind that DH had left about twenty minutes before, a similar circumstance as the attempted invasion across the street.

At the sound of a heavy footstep in the entryway, I sprang out of bed and flew to Josie's room, intending to pull her into Patrick's room and barricade the room shut with his bed. I grabbed the door, hearing what was obviously a man coming towards the stairs, and flung it open just as I heard, 'It's me - I forgot my wallet' from the landing.

I'm telling you, I almost collapsed. I shut Josie's door and grabbed onto the frame for dear life. All the adrenaline flooded out of me, and my whole body went cold. I had to get back onto the bed and sit down. I was too scared to even cry.

DH apologized up and down, saying he knew there would be no way to get in without scaring me, which isn't true because if he had SAID SOMETHING while he was downstairs everything would have been fine, but I couldn't even say that. Thank goodness he said something when he did, before I got to Josie and woke her up by telling her there was someone in the house. I was just so happy that no one was coming into our house, making their way straight to the upstairs, where the kids are, especially my daugher who is starting to look like a Girl, that I didn't even care. It took a good ten minutes for my heart to stop racing. Even writing this has me a little freaked out again.

You may have noticed that I didn't mention any barking, or growling, from the dogs. Those damn fools, who bark all day at people, dogs and birds going by the house, did not ONE THING? Baci didn't get up until I did, and even then stayed with me rather than running downstairs. Delilah didn't get up at all. A hundred and fifty pounds of teeth between them, and not one thing! And it wasn't that they knew it was him, either, because that would have had them up and running.

So, everything else seems really unimportant today. If I don't get a job when I graduate, if the IRS charges us an arm and a leg this year, whatever, I don't care. My babies got off to school safe and sound, and were none the wiser.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Just to make you laugh, my kids, who were off for three days following our last snowstorm even though the weather was gorgeous, are in school today, when it is sleeting and hailing. WTF.

Josie is actually at home for the second day. She has this coughing, snotty thing that won't go away. I took her to the dr yesterday, and it's nothing serious, just something gross. The thing is, she's perky and wants to go to school, but I wouldn't feel right subjecting the other kids and her teacher to whatever this is, so she's at home with me.

I actually am happy that she's been here. I love having her around. She's nearing eleven (hold on, I have to get out the paper bag... in...out.... OK), and she's so witty and perceptive and funny and just smart. I love to watch and listen to her. Plus, for an added benefit, she's still young enough to think that I'm brilliant and cool, so it's the best of both worlds.

So many of you have posted about your child's first kiss, or getting their periods, or whatever, and it got me thinking this morning about how she's starting middle school this fall. Holy sheet, people. It kind of wandered across my radar a few weeks ago when we were at the testing place for Patrick's magnet exam, because the woman talked about the middle school programs as well. She said that those of us with children in enrichment programs would be getting paperwork to enroll our kids in merit programs, which I take to be magnet-lite - they're not magnet programs, which she rather snottily said are only for the 'truly gifted' (nose in the air), but are still advanced, and we'll get a copy of our kid's potential schedule early as well.

I'm glad about getting her schedule early, and the merit paperwork, so I can ease into this whole thing. Josie didn't want to apply for magnet middle school because she wants to stay with her friends, who will also be merit, in her school. She would almost definitely get into the arts-language magnet program if she wanted to, but I respect her decision. With any luck, Patrick will be accepted into his choice.

However, I didn't appreciate the woman's tone about 'gifted kids'. "Let's face it, these kids are the ones who are going to get into the big universities. They're the ones who are going on to big things." Just the way she said it was so offensive to me, like they were better than other children and we were all in on some secret society, IF our children could make the cut. I have friends who haven't bothered to apply because they've talked to her and decided that they didn't want their kids to be part of whatever she's got going on and get big heads. On the one hand, it's flattering to be told that your child is Fabulous, but on the other, it feels like greasy pandering. It bothers me that someone in the dept of ed seems to place a higher value on some children while passively disparaging others.

So listen up, lady: my multi-challenged nephew will have a special place in this world, and so will all the special ed kids I've worked with, even if it's not a place you put value in.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Trifecta of Evil

OK, to sum up, this has been my past ten days with the trifecta of evil - Verizon, Direct TV, and Best Buy.

Dear Verizon,

Since you are the bearer of most of my problems, I will start with you. Oh, sweet allure of lower-cost service and integrated discounts with satellite TV, I could resist you no longer. Your one-hour install took seven, and still isn't what I'd call blazingly fast. Also, surprise, it's not fast enough to use with Direct's on-demand service without kicking us off the internet! Don't worry, I didn't want to be online anyway; my classes aren't that important. Whose idea was it to have people say 'I'm sorry for your inconvenience, ma'am' every five seconds'? They are not sorry, because without people like me, they wouldn't have a job over there in India, and also, they're not trained enough to solve my problems, and invariably transfer me back to the States, so it's like being in the way station for hell, where the demons are politely apoligizing as they poke you in the ass with their ethernet cables. I'm convinced this is true, because the woman on your phone service is definitely the devil, keeping me in endless loops of button pushing and number reciting until, finally, fifteen minutes later, you tire of our little game and either a) hang up on me or b) let one of your lesser minions play with me via live chat for awhile before being a) disconnected or b) pushed onto yet another demon. I'm getting off the ride, and going back to cable as soon as I can get it turned back on.


Dear Direct Tv,

I understand that I'm carrying a few extra pounds, and appreciate your attempts to help me with that by mis-programming my remote so I have to get up all the time to switch between the TV and DVD. Also, you are definitely fostering family interaction by kicking me off the internet every time you start to download something from on-demand. Your incredibly slow download time, which I understand is via partnership with Verizon's 'keep India's techs employed' program, makes sure that my husband and I get up to two hours of no-internet time as you download movies at the speed of snail. I know you tried to save me that trouble by not leaving me the wireless adapter for the DVR, so I couldn't download anything. Finally, I can see that your office appreciates their quiet time, too, as the installer unplugged all of my phones to use the outlets for the TV service, so I couldn't call out or get calls in until I realized that something must be wrong, and found my phones completely drained of power. That did at least save my internet for a few days, as I played phone games with your customer service folks, who gave me all sorts of strange information (no, you don't need a wireless connector for the DVR, it's MAGIC! and (no, we have one where you can just use the outlets - it's MAGIC!) before finally getting me to someone who told me that yes, I do need a wireless adapter, and yay! It's only $90! AND, thanks to him for recommending I go back to Best Buy and get a new wireless router, because DSL isn't actually fast enough to use your service as advertised! So, thanks, Direct, for making sure my family is forced to be together by removing our ability to phone, internet, and taking all our extra cash so we can't go out. You know just what we really need!

The Family that Does Everything Together, uh, Gets Sick of Each Other

Dear Best Buy,

Hello, dear friend. You were one of my favorite stores for years, with your shiny products and helpful employees. Sadly, I think you have one store that has fallen onto, shall we say, the Party Boat to Nowhere. I don't know who these lost souls are, but they know nothing about direct TV or, apparently, wireless networking, judging from the startled look on the face of the assistant (and I use that term loosely) that was listening to me explain my need for a wireless transmitter for my DVR. Yes, Dorothy, Oz has replaced the flying monkeys with wireless internet! I know I blew your little mind, but it's true! Sadly, the employee didn't believe me, and wouldn't get online and check, so I left the store empty-handed, to order it on the phone (again with the phone). I gave the store a chance to redeem itself later, when I returned to get a better wireless router for my DSL, and picked the router advertised as being $119 on the shelf. Imagine my shock when I found it was actually $169! I might have found out earlier that it was mis-shelved, but the entire department was too busy telling jokes and laughing to wait on any of the ten or so people shopping there at that time. They also might have been able to tell me that it wouldn't work with Vista 64-bit, saving me two hours' worth of frustration, but no matter. I needed the practice in non-explosive anger management techniques, anyway. I brought back your product, and you were amazed, but I figured you seem to like jokes so much, you would want to play one again on someone else. Have fun, and take care, because you and I won't be seeing each other for quite awhile!

Fool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice, Goodbye You!

Friday, January 15, 2010

... one other thing

I wanted to put this in its own post, because it's important.

My friend L has been in the process of adopting Em, 2, who is in foster care, for eighteen months. Em doesn't live with L full-time, because they didn't find her until after she was placed with another family that happened to be friends with L. However, over the past year and a half, they have lived together for longer and longer periods, spending all vacations, weekends, holidays, birthdays, field trips, everything, together - just her legal guardian is still the other family, so she has to spend some time living there as well.

The case was supposed to be settled on Halloween, which is both L's birthday and mine. It was continued for three months, the judge said to make sure that there would be no further action by her drug-addicted, alcoholic, in-and-out-of-jail birth parents. The final court date was scheduled for the 31st of this month.

Two days ago, L got a call that the state has found distant relatives for Em in NJ. The entire process may fall through.

There's a meeting with this newfound family member, social services, and L next Friday. If it goes well, L still has a chance. If it doesn't, L could lose the baby who is effectively her daughter, and who has been calling her Mommy for over a year, with no chance of ever seeing her again, in the blink of an eye.

So, please, whatever karma, meditation, prayer, omen, spell, or balloon-wish you can send her way, do it. She's been crying, obviously, since she got the call two days ago. She can't have biological children of her own, and this girl is all her hopes and dreams in one little curly-headed bundle.


So, after I sent the letter on Friday to Girl's mom, I didn't hear back. Nothing. I started freaking out a little, thinking maybe I'd totally misjudged her, etc, and getting scared that now the girls' friendship was totally screwed. Then, on Saturday late afternoon, Girl called and apologized. I'm telling you, it was like the skies had parted and there were angels singing and the whole bit. PHEW! Then, yesterday, I saw Girl's mother at the school, and she actually came over and thanked me for writing to her (again, almost passing out with relief). She said that Girl does the same thing at home, not knowing when to quit, and she had believed me immediately about the whole thing. She also said something interesting - Girl had the same thing done to her last year by her former best friend (AGAIN with the awful friends!), and didn't sleep a good night all last year because she was so sick over her friend treating her this way and not knowing what to do about it. (Incidentally, I know that other girl, who doesn't go to their school anymore, because she and Josie were on the same soccer team, and she's a total horror show, but so is her mother, and by the middle of the year she had been pulled out of school for 'personal issues'.)

So, it was interesting that Girl had had the same thing done to her, but of couse being young she didn't see that it was the same thing in reverse, because to her the awfulness she experienced (on a much greater level) the year before was nothing like the 'friendly teasing' she was doing. Her mother said that Girl had waited until the end of Sat to call because her brother wouldn't be around to hear her on the phone when she had to talk about it to Josie, and then she couldn't sleep all night on Sunday because she was so nervous to have to face Josie. I can imagine just how she felt, poor thing, because when I do something wrong inadvertently I feel just the same way. Anyway, of course things are fine now, and Josie's sleeping over there tonight.....

... because tonight is Patrick's birthday party!!!!!! (Josie doesn't want to deal with all the little boys, so she's not coming.) We're going to Pump It Up, a store-place that's filled with inflatables that the kids can bounce on for 90min. Phew! We're doing a Crazy 8 party, which is the birthday child and 8 friends, because on a weekday it's only $125, versus on the weekend you have to do a full-sized blowout and it's about $300. I know people who have paid that, and invited the whole class, and I think they're NUTS. (No offense if you've done that. ) We just can't afford that kind of thing. The only problem was that my nephew, who lives 90min away, would have had a hard time coming, and his mom was really upset with me (I understand her frustration, because Brandon doesn't have a lot of outside-school friends, and doesn't get invited places often, and I did feel bad, but what could I do?), but even that worked out because another cousin ended up scheduling a party for tomorrow, and he'll be going to that instead. Phew!

So, my boy is 7. I can't believe it. We did a family gathering last weekend, and then last night we gave him our gifts, which were legos, the game Camp, The Lego Book (which is AWESOME -it's a boxed set of two books, one that details lego from the beginning, how they made the movie sets, the backround of the lego video games, etc, and the other is a book of all the lego people ever made - they're all full of giant photos and color and are SO COOL!!! ahem.), a Pokemon visual guids, and - drumroll, please - a microscope and three sets of slides (one of different kind of bug wings, one of human body samples, and one of various bug parts). It's not a massive microscope, but it's a good starter one, I think. I hope. You can never really tell until you use it, I suppose.

Today is a half day of school, and we're going to do science experiments with his kit from Xmas, and go out and spend some of his gift cards. Then we'll stop at the bakery and he can pick out a cake to have his name put on, because I just haven't had time to make dirt cups for school for yesterday, get gifts, fight battles with new TV and internet services (more on that later), etc. I feel a little guilty, but what can you do? They won't care, anyway. :)

Friday, January 8, 2010

What I Did

Everybody, thank you so much for your comments!!! I was awake this morning after letting the dogs out at the ass-crack of dawn, trying desperately to go back to sleep already, thinking about all of this.

Sarah mentioned that reading groups of words at a time is called intuitive reading; I haven't looked that up yet, but that's *exactly* what I've always done, and I'm sure that's what Josie's doing as well. I didn't know there was a word for it! I'll bet that's what those 'read faster' companies teach, come to think of it. Anyway, cool that there's a term for it!

I read all your responses, and decided to ask Josie if it would be OK if I mentioned what was going on to Girl's mother, and she actually said yes, which I wasn't expecting. To be honest, I thought she'd say no, my entire dilemma would be a moot point, and I could move on, because she's not usually one to get riled up enough to want my help with anything. Generally, when people say things, she doesn't care, and brushes them off. That tells me that she's really, truly upset, which in turn made ME more upset about it.... so, you guessed it, I emailed Girl's mother.

I was very careful, and asked if she could do me a favor and talk to Girl about some things she'd been saying to Josie, and explained everything that had happened. I emphasized that we really like Girl, and that I know that this isn't her usual behavior, but that whatever is going on really needs to stop because Josie is either going to start yelling or crying pretty soon, and I didn't think that would be good for their friendship. I explained how hard Josie has worked, and that she's already really disapponted about the team having to be let go this year, and that I hadn't said anything before because I figured when meetings started that things would work themselves out, but since there aren't going to be meetings, and it's still happening, I decided to talk to her, and I hoped that that was OK.

I haven't heard back, and I'm trying not to be concerned about it. For all I know, she hadn't checked her email yet, which would be a little weird, but could happen, since they were having internet trouble earlier in the week. Josie said that Girl didn't bring it up at lunch today, which could either mean that Girl got tired of it, or her mother, who works there, caught her in the hallway and told her to cut it out. Whatever. It's funny what kind of monster rises up inside you when you think there's something going on with your kid, isn't it? I really don't care if Girl doesn't like me anymore, or if her mother is upset with me, or any of that, as long as my baby isn't getting picked at anymore. Well, maybe I care a little, but it's OK. My only concern is that Girl will be mad at Josie for telling me, and my getting her into trouble, if that's what happens, but I don't think that will happen. She's generally a nice girl, and I think she will be genuinely sorry once she realizes that this has been a Problem. I hope.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Have you ever had those friends who were really enemies in disguise? Those ones who, surely, were your besties, but really they were just junior-assholes-in-training? I've had a few of those over the years, most notably my high school best friend, Mary, who, as it played out, was trashing me to anyone and everyone she could, including her family, calling me everything from slut on down, etc. Not to mention, she DATED the guy who raped me, and FLAUNTED it. In fact, she tried to date every boyfriend I had, including ones that were still mine, by lying to them and just plain making stuff up. I realize now, looking back on it, that she is *exactly* like my mother, and I was probably friends with her because her treatment was familiar, and also because since she was nice to my face, I was getting affection by proxy from someone I had wanted it from for years. We haven't spoken for years; I stopped talking to her after she called me on 9/11 to ask, in a tell-me-more voice, what I'd seen, rather than if I, and everyone I knew, was OK (this was when we were living and working a few miles outside DC). I didn't tell her it was over, I just never called again.

At the moment, Josie has a friend who is getting on my NERVES. She's nothing like the girl I dealt with, but she's being a little bitch in her own way, and it's making me want to smack her. Josie is a great reader, and takes after me in that we both can easily read a book a day. Josie and this friend, along with another friend and a few other kids, were supposed to be in a Battle of the Books competition, which is run by libraries across the country and is kind of like being a mathlete, only with the questions surrounding a list of 20 children's classics. Between the time Josie got the list in November and now, she's read all the books but one. The team had to be disbanded because the woman in charge of it had a sudden schedule change, and they were short a few kids for the team. She's disappointed, but it's fine.

This friend, who is actually a girl that I like a lot, and whose mother I also know and like, has taken to DAILY making comments like, 'well, it's probably because no one was reading the books but Catherine and I, because Josie isn't really reading them, she's just skimming them.' EVERY DAY. Josie has explained to her over and over that no, she has actually read them, and cut it out, but nothing works. I told her that Girl is probably just jealous, because she's very competitive like Josie is, and she is having a hard time believing that anyone could be so much better at something than she is. Either that, or she's having fun getting Josie's goat. Regardless, Josie's starting to get really pissed, and so am I. This morning, I walked into the school with Girl and her mother, and we were talking about how it was too bad the team had to break up, and I mentioned that Josie had read all the books because she reads a book every day like I do, which is one of the only things I do really well. I said it in full hearing of Girl, hoping it would shut her up, but it didn't - same comments at lunch today.

I am tired of hearing this crap coming home, and am at the point where I want to Make it Stop. Josie worked really hard to get all of those books read, and she did a great job. I don't care why Girl feels the need to get on her all the time, but it has to end. I don't want Josie feeling like she has to put up with garbage like that from friends, and I don't want Girl, who is otherwise quite nice, to get the idea that her behavior is OK.

SO, what do I do? I see Girl all the time. Should I innocently start a conversation about reading myself and talk about how I finished Book on the Table in a day, and get the ball rolling there, not really mentioning her behavior specifically, but just generally talking about strengths, or should I go straight to her mother and explain what's been going on, and ask for her help to stop it? We're really friendly, and I also work with her when I sub. Or, do I stay out of it? The other option is to talk first to a mutual friend and see what she thinks, whether her opinion is that the mother would be open to that kind of conversation or not and how she thinks I should broach it. I *think* the mother would be OK with me telling her, but on the other hand, no one likes to hear bad things about their kids, so it might be thin ice.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Giving: Month One

As part of my resolution to be more giving, you will see to the right a new widget, created by the Network for Good, which I found via Kevin Bacon's charitible foundation 6degrees . The Network for Good allows people to buy donation cards as gifts, which the recipient can then use to donate to any one of almost two million charities listed on the website by logging on and selecting organizations and doling out their gift card's value. It's pretty cool, and I'll be using it a lot from now on, so those of you who actually get gifts from me in person, be prepared.

This month, I'm featuring the Salvation Army, specifically, the Salvation Army organizations of of Sumpter, SC and Little Rock, AR. As most people know, the SA has a religous basis, but does not discriminate as to who may receive services (eg, you don't have to be any particular faith, or any at all, to receive cold, disaster, or food aid, etc). All of us are probably the most familiar with them via their red kettles and bell ringers that are outside stores every Christmas season.

The reasons I have picked the SA are twofold.

First, disgustingly, a Salvation Army Major was murdered in front of his three small children outside of an SA facility in Little Rock, AR on Christmas eve. He was shot, and died, for the money in his kettle that he had collected for the poor. His killer remains at large.

Second, in December, the Sumpter branch of the SC SA was sent a donation, purportedly from a legitimate local company wanting to share its fuitful year, for $25,000. The branch used that money to further its December operations. Unfortunately, the check was part of a scam that was perpetrated on several charities in the area, and as a result the SA's SC operations are now in jeopardy for the winter season, due to the now-massive hole in their budget. This means that because of one sick individual, many may go cold or hungry that would not have otherwise.

The widget on the side should track the amount given from this site, and for this first month, I will match total donations up to $150. The link takes you to the Salvation Army's national headquarters donation site, and from there you are able to specify where you would like your donation to be sent / what programs you want to support.

Hopefully this first month will go well! Anything is better than nothing, right?


New year, new blog! :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy Brrrrr Year!

Let me first say that I don't mind the cold, and I actually prefer it to being hot. BUT, it's really cold!!!! The temperature isn't bad, but the wind is obnoxious!!!! We had 50mph winds several days straight last week, and even though that's died down, it's still blowing pretty hard out there. Our poor house is OLD, and drafty, so when it's windy like this, it's really hard to stay warm! Hello gas bill, goodbye bank account!

Everyone seems to be talking about their resolution soloutions, so I'll add me two cents' worth.

Last year:

1. Focus on our marriage.
It's not that we've had a bad marriage - far from it - but the past few years have been so much about the kids and the moves and whatnot that I feel like we had lost our way in paying real attention to each other, or at least I had. That's been going pretty well, I think; I definitely feel more connected and happier.

2. Walk the dog every day, weather permitting.
This one fell by the wayside somewhat, but there was good reason. When I wrote that, Baci didn't get enough exercise because his brother, Tyler, was too old to play and wrestle with him. After poor Tyler was put down, we got Delilah the Tasmanian Devil, and that problem went away. If anything, she wants to play even more than he does! So, the walking thing wasn't really important anymore. I still take them on walks together, just not every day, or even often at this time of year.

3. Focus on charity.
Done, and done. Aside from the recent project, I got involved in a lot of things through church, and did a lot with Heifer International. By the end of the year, we had donated what amounted to a small farm - bees, rabbits, chicks, ducks, geese, a sheep, and a goat, in varying numbers. I'm really proud of that, and hope to do even better this year.

My list is sometimes ongoing for the first weeks of January, but so far, I have:

1. Continue to give
By this I mean not only giving money to charity, but giving of myself. Sometimes the best thing is a warm body and an available ear. The Elf project, and starting the recycling program at chuch (which has recently expanded to include another building where the teenagers hang out) have really made me feel what I can only describe as joy inside.

2. Be more Ohm!
I'm stealing an idea here from MO Mommy. Last year, she picked a Focus Word for the year; hers had to do with quiet. I think this is a great idea, because it allows a person to aim for a state of being rather than at a Thing. Mine, I think, is going to be Serenity. I want to relax, take things as they come, and not get stressed out over things I can't control, which would be everything but me, anyway.

3. Fiscal responsibility.
We're working so hard to get out of debt. This year I want us to get there. I don't know if it will happen, with my not working very much (more on that another time) and school stuff, but I'm going to try really hard. It will depend on tax time this year; we may take a big hit in taxes this year because of a few various things, so if we end up with a big bill, there's no way we'll reach that goal in a year. Otherwise, it might just be doable. Cross your fingers for us! I'm trying not to think about tax time, a la #2, until it's here.

Like I said, I'll probably keep adding to the list for another few days, but I think this is a good start, and will probably be my core list. I'll put the final list up in my sidebar (when I redesign the page, which should be soon) when it's done.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Game Time

Our game cabinet, board games and playdoh on top, card games in the drawer.

We are a Gaming Family. Usually at least once a day someone will start asking who wants to play somethingorother, especially during vacations, when we'll sometimes play two or three board games a day. I love them because they're an easy way for us all to have fun together in an organized way. There's a beginning, middle and end, every person has something to do, there are turns, and generally there's no fighting because there's nothing to fight about.

Here's the lowdown on the games we got for Xmas, and the ones that we've had for awhile but still play all the time. I go out of my way to get new, interesting, educational, or even foreign games so we have a lot to choose from. Some I get from Amazon, and others from my favorite toy store, a little place called Child's Play, in Rockville, MD.

New Games for this year:

- The Munchkin series
We actually started playing the Munchkin card came about a month ago, but we added to it over Xmas, so I think it counts. Munchkin, a gaming-type card game with rules for boosting powers, attacks, race and class cards, etc, is hysterical because each set, which is completely compatible with all other sets, is a spoof of a set theme. For instance, Star Munchkin has cards in it that crack on any space reference you can think of; my favorite card is one of the monsters, "Level 12, Captain Quirk - bonus level to any female involved in taking him out'. We have the base card set, plus Pirate Booty, Star Munchkin and smaller booster packs. A few of the cards (mostly in the base set) have suggestive images and/or wording (ie Unbutton Top Button - distracts opponents, +2 in battle), and you could simply take them out, but the beauty is, most of the references go over kids' heads, but they're entertained by the cartoonish art anyway. Our kids LOVE this game, and have asked to play it almost every day since we got it a month ago. Takes about half an hour.

Also, I bought DH the Munchkin Quest board game, which may end up being an adult thing simply because it's pretty involved. Basically, you're exploring a dungeon, and add a room (cardboard link to the game board) each time you move. There are a lot more rules, though, and many steps per turn, so many kids may not have the patience. Once we get the whole thing down ourselves, though, we may be able to include them by skipping some steps and streamlining it somewhat.

-- Ten Days in Europe
This is one I picked up at the toy store I mentioned. The game board is a map of Europe (games for any continent are available, I just picked Europe because it has the most countries), and each player gets card holders with places for ten cards. You then have to make your way on a ten day trip around Europe in a way that makes sense. You can walk, fly or boat, depending on proximity (you can only walk to a neighboring country, and only boat to countries on the same body of water in a single voyage, and only between countries that have been assigned a similar color). You can't boat or fly for more than one day in a row (ie, days 2,4,6,8, but not 2&3), and you can't start or end your trip en route. It's fun, and a good way to learn geography. Also, each country card has population and capital information included. Josie really likes this, Patrick not as much.

-- Settlers of Catan, Cities and Knights extension
Last year, I got SoC on one of Amazon's Deals of the Day sales for less than half price, which was great because I'd been wanting to try it, but was unwilling to spend a lot of money on a game I had never played (they're about $40 regularly). We liked it, but it seemed to need a little more. This year, I got the Cities and Knights extension, which adds, obviously, a whole new dimension. Now, in addition to building settlements and collecting resources and evading the robber, we have tons of new buildings and incentives. To play SoC, you put together the board, which consists of a bunch of pentagonical shapes with numbers and pictures of resources on them. Each time, you can assemble it differently, so the game always changes. Players roll the dice, and whoever is next to the pentagons with that number on it gets to take resource cards, which can then be traded for roads, houses, etc. With knights and cities, you can upgrade from houses to cities, get knights to protect you from pirates and robbers, and steal things from each other. The game starts a little slow, but as you get a few turns in, and collect a few resources, your ability to collect even more increases, and it goes pretty fast after that. Our kids didn't like this one much last year, but that may be because we weren't proficient enough to teach them quickly, so we'll probably try it again with them. There are a lot of rules, and the rule book can be intimidating, but really it's a lot simpler than they make it sound.

-- Shut the Box
This is a Melissa & Doug game, and looks beautiful, but we haven't opened it yet. I'm hoping to play it this afternoon, actually. I have no idea what it's about yet, because it doesn't say anything on the box. M&D stuff is usually really good, though.

Other favorite games:

- The Scambled States of America - even little kids can play this geography game, but having someone play with them who can read helps. Ours have been playing since they were 3 or so. Very funny, and seven years later, we're still playing it. Takes about 20 minutes.

- The Enchanted Forest - a memory game mixed with a board game. Again, we've played this one consistently for about six years. Both kids like it; it's easy and straightforward. Takes 15-20 minutes.

-- Wizardology - based on the popular book. Not for very young children, simply because it's a little complex until you're used to it, and you have to have a good grasp of language. Takes 30-60 minutes.

-- Zooreka - you run a zoo, and collect resources based on dice and cards you draw monopoly-style when you land on certain spaces. Trade resources in for animals; get four animals and you win! Lots of animals to choose from, quick pace. Young kids can play pretty well, especially with an adult partner. Takes about 20-30 minutes.

-- and of course, Uno!

What do your kids love and ask for all the time?