Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pacifier Progress

Thought I'd update on the Big Operation going down in our area of the world. No, not that operation. I'm not going there. You can either guess my thoughts or you probably don't want to know (and that's the closest I'm hopefully ever going to come to discussing politics on my blog). I was more referring to this operation. Hey, it feels big when you're living it, okay?

So, the first night, ZL cried for 45 minutes. Seriously, he looked like a little addict going through withdrawal, thrashing around on his bed. It was pitiful. And I thought of Jackie Pullinger as I prayed over him. Fortunately, sleep came eventually. And when he woke up at 5:30 the next morning and got into bed with us (something he does when we're sleeping in), he went back to sleep quickly. No problem.

Night two: he cried for 5-10 minutes. Yay! Only, when he came into our bed at 4:45, he wouldn't go back to sleep. So, I put him back in his bed. And he came back to ours. And ML put him back in his. And he came back to ours. And I put him back in his. This went on until I finally got up with him at about 7:00. Not fun.

Night three: he cried for 2-3 minutes. Whoopee! And when he came into our room in the middle of the night, I took him straight back to his own bed, and he fell asleep. And slept until we got him up this morning.

Okay, so we seem to have the nighttime part of the routine down. Only one problem: Z hasn't taken a nap since we took the paci away. He just will not give in and go to sleep. It's like he's tired enough at night time to make it through not having the paci, but not at nap time. And he's seriously grumpy as a result. As if his recent obsession with the word "no" wasn't enough.

I'm not ready for him to give up naps. And I really don't think he is either. Here's hoping that he'll regain that skill sans paci.

And, for posterity, some classic Z-with-paci pictures.

A classic ZL picture all around. ZL gets overwhelmed in social settings, and we have allowed him to retreat to a Blue's Clues episode on my iPod when necessary. This particular day was on our vacation a little over a year ago, and it had been a long no-nap day. Lunch was late, so we let him chill while we waited for our food.

At the end of a visit to the Children's Museum. Either after ZL was tired of walking or Mommy and Daddy were tired of chasing him. One or the other.

At Wartburg Castle at the end of our trip to Germany this summer. I thought this particular picture was an appropriate representation of this particular week for Z. He spent a lot of time in the stroller. There were just too, too many people for him to process. And it was his first experience (in his memory) with organized childcare. They ended up parking the stroller, with his pacifier and B in it, at the door of his classroom. He would play with the other children and the teachers until it just became too overwhelming, at which point he would retreat to the stroller until he was ready to "face the world" again. A rather creative solution I thought, both on the part of the teachers and Z himself.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Love that Middle Eastern tradition!

Today, the kids played Santa and his elves. They delivered plates of homemade goodies to our neighbors (red plates with Santa napkins decorating them).

"Today?" you say. Yes, today. Because, you see, in the Middle East a holiday starts the day of the holiday but extends past the day itself 3-5 days. Basically, the opposite of Western tradition of the season leading up to the day and ending on the calendar day.

I love it, because it means we prepare ourselves and our family (with Advent and shopping and gift unwrapping, etc.) in the days leading up to Christmas. We celebrate with our ex-pat friends the day of. And then we host guests and deliver presents and treats to our local friends and neighbors afterwards.

It spreads the season (read: the busyness) out perfectly.

Deck the halls!

And you thought I'd forgotten to post pictures of the decorations! Okay, so I had, but I remembered...finally.

And here they are. (Fair warning: they're not stellar, but they pretty much get the point across.)

Standing inside our front door, looking through the doorways to our Christmas tree.

Looking from our family area into the dining area. The sole point of this picture is to show off our Texas-tribute pepper lights (which quit lighting up a couple of days ago :-( ).

And the tree itself. Decidedly not "Eat at Joe's," but definitely less perfectionistic than years past.

Our nativity collection: Palestine (top), Mexico (bottom left), and Honduras (bottom right) and two of the kids' stockings (temporary, until Mommy gives up and turns the whole project over to DeeDah [get ready, Mom, they're all yours now]).

The kids' tree. More on the Eat at Joe's end of the spectrum.

See, I let them have colored lights (and all the ornaments that belong to them, plus those that didn't quite "make" the family tree :-).

And, last but not least, our Advent calendar (see a previous post for the Advent wreath, too). This was given to us by ML's mom one Christmas when MS was a toddler, and it has been a fun part of our Christmas celebration ever since (okay, so hot-gluing all the pieces back to their velcro got a little old the first couple of years, but they're now permanently affixed). The kids take turns placing the day's figure. And the rule is that, whomever's day it is to place the figure gets to choose where to place it, no criticism or re-placing allowed (look again, and you'll see what I mean).

The end of Christmas

"The end of Christmas" sounds so dire, but we've had a really good Christmas season, and it's okay for it to come to an end. It wouldn't be special if it was all year long (and it's certainly felt like that as long as we've kept our house decorated in years past :-/).

So, on Christmas Eve, we went (courtesy of my and ML's Christmas gift money from my parents) to a Christian village outside of the capital to eat dinner and see the town Christmas tree and the decorated houses. I mentioned this in another post, but now I have a picture!

The tree in the town's main circle

The food was delicious (Lebanese, so a twist on the standard restaurant fare that we would get), the fellowship was sweet (we went with the family whom we've been working with since we came overseas 9+ years ago), and the lights were beautiful (both the tree and the decorated houses).

I mentioned most of our Christmas day but promised pictures. Seems like pretty much everyone was too busy having fun (and eating Mexican food and desserts) to take pictures, just like we were.

There were two cute ones of ZL in his Christmas gift from the G family...a giraffe costume.

Grumpy Giraffe

Happy Giraffe

Ever though there is no pictorial proof, trust us that we had a fun time. We all enjoyed our presents, and we even got to talk to DeeDah and GranJack (my parents) on the computer in the midst of it all.

Speaking of, we also got to Ina and Boba (ML's parents) the next day, and Saturday night we were able to see and say hi to all of GranJack's extended family, including Nanny, his mother, and Gabriela, his niece, for whom the purple dragon is named. They were gathered in Austin at my cousin's house (and had been at my brother's house, as well) for their Christmas celebrations. Since we were able to see and say hi to all of ML's extended family at Thanksgiving, we feel very, very blessed by the internet and webcams and the way they help us stay connected.

And now, I need a nap.

We did it! We did it!

Okay, three guesses as to what we finally accomplished last night. And the first two don't count.

(And he only cried for 45 minutes, poor guy. I tried to lay down with him, but it seemed to just be keeping him awake, so ML just sat in the hall to make sure he wasn't getting out of bed, since that's what our others did. He never even tried. Just cried. Hopefully tonight will be better. Especially since he's pretty grumpy today.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

On the forty-seventh day of Christmas...

Okay, so it didn't feel like the forty-seventh day, but I felt like I've written about that many posts so far. :-P

We got home way too late on Christmas Eve to open our last presents, so on Christmas morning, we...

celebrated Advent (the Christmas Day readings from our K Family Advent Service),

raided our stockings,

had breakfast from them (sorry, no pictures, but everyone picks a cereal box or breakfast bar [no Pop Tarts to be found this year :-(], and we scramble eggs),

and then opened presents.

From our name-drawing on ML's side of the family, we got...

an Aquadoodle mat from Cousin Liselle,

a new Hermie DVD and a Webkinz ballet costume from Cousin Noelle,

a Webkinz monkey figurine and two very cool Wall-E t-shirts from Cousin Luke,

and a Webkinz camo outfit and extremely cool book, Art Fraud Detective from Cousin Charis (in spite of the fact that he looks rather non-plussed in the picture, he took his fully camo-decked-out koala and his book with us to our big Christmas party :-).

ML got two very nice shirts from his brother-in-law, Aaron, and I got an awesome knitting book (Mason-Dixon Knitting, supposed to be very funny and helpful/practical) and a great DVD (Ever After) from ML's sister, Mindy.

Thank you so much, everyone!

After present opening, we did some mad wrapping and last-minute preparations for our big Christmas celebration with our ex-pat friends here (fortunately, I'd already cooked my main contributions, refried beans and el charro beans, ahead of time in the crockpot). We had such a wonderful time eating Mexican food, opening presents, swapping white elephant gifts and playing Worst Case Scenario that we forgot to take any pictures. I'm going to try to round some up so that I can post them. That and a picture of the largest Christmas tree in-country that we visited on Christmas Eve. Our camera was out of battery, so we're going to need to get that from a friend.

So, I haven't completely blogged Christmas, but I think I get some prize for number of posts today, don't you? Maybe I can finish tomorrow. Right now, though, I've got to exercise, shower and get the kids ready to head to our friends' house for a Numb3rs watching session. ML will join us after his guest leaves.

Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good night! (Or afternoon! Or whatever time of the day it is when you read this!)

On the fifth day of Christmas...

There. I decided to forego the table for now. We'll be eating on it between now and when the guest comes, anyway. So, I ordered children around and washed some dishes. Not that you can tell. There's still a mound on the counter. That's what happens when you do Christmas baking, leave the house for the majority of the time for 48 hours, have no water for the following 24 hours, and still have pesky family members who actually want to eat in the midst of it all.

I realized as I went to tell about this day that I'd forgotten to mention one family present we'd opened the first day: a family membership to the children's museum in the capital from Nanny (my dad's mom). I went looking for a post to link to, thinking that I'd blogged about the museum, but apparently I haven't. I'll try to do that soon (in the meantime, I've included a few pictures). It's an amazing place. When the museum opened, we asked about memberships, but they weren't available. Now they are, so we're going to join. Only we're going to wait until we get back from the States in June so we don't waste three months of our membership while we're gone. We're very grateful to have Christmas money to spend on a treat we might not be able to afford otherwise right now. And we look forward to many, many hours of fun enjoying it. :-) Thank you, Nanny!

Now, for our presents from DeeDah and GranJack (my parents)...

ML had the brilliant idea of getting an easel for ZL this year. You see, he apparently enjoys drawing while standing up over drawing with paper on a flat surface like the dining table. Consequently, the walls of our house have suffered a tad (which is a huge understatement :-/). Fortunately, he's finally submitted to the "gentle persuasion" of his parents and has stopped drawing on the walls, but we still thought an easel would be an excellent gift for him. And he has thoroughly enjoyed it already.

For "The Bigs," DeeDah and GranJack gave magazine subscriptions. We have had success paying a little extra for shipping and actually having children's magazines delivered to our P.O. Box here, so we're hoping it will work with this company, as well. The kids love receiving things in the mail, so this will be a special treat. MA is pictured here with a certificate for Ladybug Magazine. Upon further inspection, we realized that Ladybug was a little too juvenile for her, so we're getting her Spider Magazine, instead.

JW was originally slated to get Spider, but we decided that he would more greatly appreciate Ask Magazine, which is science-related.

And the magazine that started it all: Cricket Magazine for MS. ML and I both enjoyed this magazine as older children, and I'm trying to confirm this, but I'm remembering it's one of the few venues where I've ever actually published writing. Anyway, we showed him several pages of a sample copy on-line, and he's very excited.

Before we opened presents this particular evening, we did have a brief discussion of and vocabulary lesson pertaining to the meaning of "non-immediate gratification." They did well. :-)

Thank you, DeeDah and GranJack!!!

On the fourth day of Christmas...

Okay. I'm back.

The fourth day this year was the toy/game from Daddy and Mommy. We had a hard time coming up with what we wanted to give JW and MS. Two years out from visiting the States, I had nothing left stashed, and nothing available locally was wowing us. After several brainstorming sessions, though, we were pleased with what we came up with. And so were they, fortunately.

What I did have stashed was this Noah's ark set of lacing cards. ZL is getting the hang of them, although, I have to admit, they wowed MA more, and we had to fend her off of them so that he had our traditional three-day-exclusivity possession of his new gift (each child gets three days to play with a new toy without having to share; this is enforced more strictly with some things than others, depending on the nature of the gift and the child).

Another gift I pulled from the stash was a Melissa and Doug wooden food set complete with cutting board and (wooden) knife. The pieces of the food are velcro'd together, so that you can "cut" them with the knife. I wasn't totally sure that MA hadn't passed this stage yet. I mean, she's been wanting a more elaborate play kitchen, but this was "just" wooden food with a knife. Boy, was I wrong. This was the feel-good hit of the winter. She absolutely loved it. And has played with it consistently each day since she got it.

We stretched the definition of toy/game on this one, but we knew JW would be totally blessed by a season of Fetch With Ruff Ruffman, a show all three older kids enjoy (and, shhh, learn from). He was. And Mommy is blessed by all they're learning in the process.

A last-minute inspiration, I remembered that MS has been drooling over some of the downloadable games available on the Wii Shop Channel. Unfortunately, you can't buy printable gift certificates on-line. Fortunately, Daddy could easily make one. He was extremely please (even though he'd peaked and seen the certificate several days earlier in Daddy's satchel :-/) and has already bought one of the original Zelda games. (And, yes, I know that this is not the best picture of him. The other one was worse. :-P It was late, and we needed to get the kids in bed, so I don't think we were being very discerning about picture quality at this point.)

Now, I'm going to go sweep and wipe down the dining table. Any other moms out there ever get discouraged by the never-ending battle to keep the table clean?

On the third day of Christmas...

I'm going to try to blow through the rest of our Christmas by making several posts today so that you're not still reading about our Christmas traditions on Groundhogs Day. We'll see if I have time to, though, because it's also straighten-the-house-because-we-have-guests-over-the-next-couple-of-days-visiting-us-for-our-holiday day at the K house. While the kids can do a decent amount on their own, I don't think it would be completely fair to direct them from behind the computer (at least not the whole day).

The third day, this year, was "sibling presents." When MS turned seven, we instituted the tradition that your seven-year-old Christmas was the year you started buying presents for your brothers and sisters. He had a great time shopping for them, and has selected some special gifts over the past couple of Christmases and birthdays. JW was a little more problematic, as he does not like to spend money, and he has trouble making decisions for himself, much less others (he's much more of a slow, internal processor; he comes by it naturally). We managed to work around that, though, and they were all appreciative of what they got.

ZL received two new Dr. Seuss books, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and There's a Wocket in My Pocket from his brothers. He's been very into Seuss and similar rhyming books, and I've wanted us to have the full versions of these two for a while (as opposed to the board book versions, which are abridged), so he really cleaned up.

While at an ex-pat rummage sale a few weeks ago, MS found this purple dragon for MA. She loves it and has named it Gabriela after my cousin's daughter whom she had a wonderful time playing with...2-3 years ago. MA has her mother's memory for detail. She also received a gift certificate from JW to purchase a book at one of the bookstores in the capital and bought two new Berenstain Bears books when we were there yesterday.

Knowing JW well, MS chose a book for him. We eventually managed to tear him away from it to put him to bed.

Sticking with the gift certificate theme, JW got MS a certificate to the same bookstore, and he, too, picked out a book yesterday.

Think I'll go sweep under the dining table now...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On the second day of Christmas...

Our second day of present opening, which has traditionally been the DVD.

This year...

ZL got a season of Super Why! on iTunes. He loved the one episode we'd bought previously to check it out (after MA learned about it playing the game on And it's where he is in the learning-to-read process. He knows his letter sounds but needs to sit on how letters go together to make words. The show teaches phonics and word families in a really fun way through familiar stories (Three Little Pigs, Rapunzel, etc.) with a twist.

We weren't sure how Z was going to do with the whole "gift certificate" concept, and I actually meant to have a couple of the episodes already downloaded so that he could go watch one immediately, but I forgot. Fortunately, he was *super* excited! He loved the picture of Alpha Pig and his buddies. He went to sleep with the paper that night and still carries it around the house when he finds it. :-P (Oh, and he's enjoyed a couple of new episodes so far, too. :-)

And while we're on the topic of ZL and Christmas, this kid has really gotten into present opening. He digs the whole open-it-up-get-something-new thing. We have to be careful when he's around other people's presents, or he'll tear into them, too. And the boy who normally does not like being torn away from whatever it is he's doing to do anything else (we're working on that) will come running when we announce it's time to open presents. We all love to call him and watching him speed in.

MA got a Jungle Book DVD. It has both English and Arabic soundtracks, so after the kids (and ML and I) watch it a couple of times, we'll watch it in Arabic occasionally for help with language. Disney is one of the few companies that consistently does quality dubbing into Arabic (most just have subtitles), so we try to get the best of their movies with the dual track option as a fun way to increase our learning.

Honestly, I was hoping for Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella or another of the classic princess movies. MA would have been thrilled. But we only know of one store in-country that consistently sells the original DVD's (there's not much market when they're all available pirated), and they didn't have any of those options. She was slightly non-plussed, but I think once we watch it, she'll be pleased.

The Muppets have long been a family favorite dating back to when my own mom was in grad school and my dad and I would watch the Muppets together on her "class night" each week. My kids love them, and I had to stop myself from going broke buying the horribly expensive three-episode-per-DVD editions they were putting out a few years ago. The seasons are much more affordable. We bought Season 1 as soon as it came out and have fully enjoyed it as a family. So, JW, who chuckles and guffaws almost the whole time we're watching each time, got Season 2 as his DVD gift this year (and they already know that Season 3 is waiting for them to watch at DeeDah's house when we go to visit, so they feel pretty blessed).

And MS got...silly. What you get for asking a 9-year-old boy to smile for the camera.

Actually, he got an Incredibles DVD, which also has Arabic and English soundtracks. We watched it (in English) the other night as a family. I don't think we'd seen it since we went to see it in the theater, and ML and I had forgotten how much we liked it. I look forward to watching it again, both in English and in Arabic. But first, we have to watch the Pixar shorts that ML wouldn't let us watch without him when he had to go to work the other day. :-)

Monday, December 22, 2008


GfG asked if we all opened presents each day or just one person. It's actually just the kids, and they all open each day. But explaining that made me realize that I left out a tradition: ML and just get each other stocking stuffers. Then, we spend the money we would have spent on each other on something for the home. Preferably something that we will both enjoy/get use out of.

This year, we got new curtains in our bedroom (which actually blesses ML, for those wondering; he has a true appreciation for decor and ambiance), and we're getting a new stereo for the van (which actually blesses me, since I'll be able to plug my iPod directly into it and play stuff on family trips and as I drive around). So he and I only have presents to open on Christmas Eve, usually (from the gift-exchange from dh's family; we draw names). From my family, we usually have gifts that arrive via e-mail (iTunes certificates from my brother) or bank account (my parents). And we tend to save/combine the bank account ones to spend, so they don't go under the tree, either.

For example, we're using our money from my parents to go out to eat as a family on Christmas Eve with some ex-pat friends in a Christian village that has a large Christmas tree and lots of lighted homes. So, we'll eat dinner (at a Lebanese restaurant), and then drive around and see the tree and lights. Finances being what they are this year, we are extremely blessed to be able to have Christmas money that allows us to do this.

On the first day of Christmas

We usually start with the "book" present of our three gifts from Mommy and Daddy. As much as books are treasured, we wanted to make sure they didn't get overlooked among the more flashy gifts. As our children have grown, I have come to realize we needn't worry about that. Books *are* flashy to them. But we've stuck with the tradition.

ZL's book is actually one ML's mom bought for him several years ago when his older cousin was going through a phase of loving this particular type of book. I put it back, because I just didn't think he'd be interested yet. Well, this was the *perfect* year to give it to him. He has loved it. It has removable figures that depict the story (not that he's sat still for the story yet :-) and can be played with in the bathtub, too, since it's foam rubber. He opened it with gusto, and then played with it with gusto. We even have a cute video. If I ever figure out how to convert and post the videos from our camera, I'll do so.

I saw MA looking at this book at one of the bookstores here and thought it fit her well. Pink. Glittery. Large vocabulary words. That's my girl to a "T." She didn't even remember looking at it previously but has enjoyed it.

JW marches to the beat of his own drummer. And he has definite opinions and preferences. He thinks it's a waste to use wrapping paper just once. I mean, we save gift sacks and tissue paper (as dictated by the genes from the maternal segment of my family), why waste wrapping paper after only one use? This first night, he meticulously removed each piece of tape (you can see the pile on the chair next to him, if you look closely at the second picture). After *all* tape was extracted, he unwrapped the paper and took a look at the book. It was a bit excruciating for some of the members of the family. Others of us found it amusing. Either way, he was very pleased with the present, an Astrix book.

MS also received an Astrix book. Daddy's childhood love for yet another series is being passed on. They finished their own books and promptly exchanged.