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Saturday, December 24, 2011

So much Christmas

So much happened over the last few days Christmas-wise that it's hard to know where to begin and I'm bound to miss something amusing or interesting that I really want to write about. . .

For starters we finally got up to Hiroshima to see Dreamination. Dreamination is a yearly Christmas light's display. It's fairly impressive and it has been on my to do list for awhile. It runs from the beginning of December until the first week or so in January. It took longer to get there than it did to see the whole display, but Coryn loved it. We took a train to Hiroshima then got onto a crowded trolley (I've seen worse, but its always awkward to be packed in like that) that we rode down to the displays, several city blocks with different light sculptures. Some you could run through or under or even climb on. Coryn liked the "blue castle" the best. I liked one that looked like a phoenix. Some had plaques which I'm sure explained a more in depth theme, but since I don't read Japanese, I'm not sure what they said.

Afterwards we stopped at a Starbucks for a coffee and a hot chocolate (Matt didn't want anything). My grande caramel macchiato probably cost about $7 with the exchange rate. It is not cheap to live in Japan.

That was Thursday. Friday was our 5th anniversary which really deserves a post in itself. I never really had any doubts Matt and I would make it to five years (I still am pretty confident we can take this "til death do us part"), but it's really reassuring just to be here with someone I still love as much as I love him. The short story is that we went to dinner and a movie while Coryn stayed with her friend Dominic who she intends to marry someday, apparently.

My husband's work schedule has been awful lately, long hours, incomplete weekends, working holidays. He thinks it is partially because he is the only Marine trained on approach (This is air traffic control stuff; I have a slight grasp on the subject from hearing him talk about work, but I'm not really sure I could explain it) right now and partially because they know he has less than three months left here (part of which he'll be spending on paternity leave once little bitty Claire gets here) and they want to use him while they can. Matt has always assured me that the next time he gets promotion there will be "less work." He told me this when we first got married and he was a corporal, when I was pregnant with Coryn and he picked up Sergeant, and last year when he made it to Staff Sergeant. . .by that time I'd figured out that this whole, "People of higher rank than me work less" thing is an illusion. Maybe some of them do, but Matt certainly doesn't. Of course a few days ago this man was moaning that he wouldn't get a chance to go to Afghanistan. You'd think two tours in Iraq would've gotten it out of his system, but no, he "didn't join the Marines to sit on his rear" (He didn't say rear) and apparently he wants another deployment. I wonder if he remembers how much he hated the last two. It must be like childbirth, where you start to forget how awful it is after a bit.

So my husband worked Christmas day. My family has always unwrapped our presents the evening of Christmas Eve, but with Christmas Eve here being the 23rd there, it feels a little earlier, plus there we still had enough family to spread everything out comfortably over two days, and with there only being the three of us, everything is over so quickly. Still, this year, we did the Christmas Eve unwrap. I spent the morning tidying up the house, heading to the commissary to pick up anything we needed for dinner, or at all for the next two days because the commissary was closed Christmas Day and the day after Christmas, and there really aren't any off base grocery stores in what I consider walking distance (I don't have a SOFA status license which would allow me to drive a car in Japan; I could've gotten one, but I kept putting it off and now we're leaving in a few months and there isn't any point). We had a snack style dinner with deli meats and cheeses, a tray of shrimp (which apparently Coryn likes, this surprised me a little), and other bite sized treats.

After that, Coryn kept asking whether it was time to open presents or not. She asked me. I told her when Daddy was ready. She asked Daddy a few times. . .We finally gave in a little before 5PM. Not because we had a set time we had planned to do this at. I just didn't want Christmas to be over and once the presents are open, it feels like there isn't much left to do. Well, it took us about twenty minutes altogether to rip through the presents. She got a toy princess tent, a barn with dozens of tiny toy plastic animals, a "Don't Break The Ice Game," a Leaptop Computer, a Vtech Camera, two pairs of pajamas, two Disney Princess Barbies (a Rapunzel and a Cinderella), a set of jumbo sized plastic dinosaurs, about a dozen new story books (I get carried away buying books and she also got a few from her Aunt Robin and Grandma Tawny), and it felt like there was a lot more, but I can't remember anything specific.

Initially the barn (from my mom) was the biggest hit. She sat there and looked at all the pieces then launched into an hour quiet play session, making the animal and farmer-figures talk to each other. I set up her toy tent, but she really didn't get into it until I agreed to play with her. Then we filled it with blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals and alternately pretended to sleep inside and then ran into the computer room (where Matt had of course settled, thanks to his new found Star Wars: The Old Republic addiction) and attacked her daddy with foam swords and butterfly nets. We kept this up for an hour or so. She also slept in the tent that night, and a few nights since. I tried to get a good picture, but I didn't really want to risk waking her up by turning on all the lights in her room and my camera (which sturdy and serviceable) doesn't handle poor lighting well.

I'm proud of her imagination, though. She knows how to turn a princess game into an adventure with dinosaurs guarding the outside of the tent and raids on a grumpy old giant named Daddy.

Since then the tent and the barn have remained her favorite gifts. The barn's endless supply of small pieces has been my nemesis, of course. I keep telling her if she doesn't remember to pick up better I'll end up vacuuming up some of them (the set came with three ridiculously tiny barn mice and some baby rabbits that look a lot like carpet debris from a few feet away). The cat is crazy jealous of the tent. I've caught her inside it a few times, but if Coryn catches her, she banishes her immediately, so Kamikaze only manages to tent crash if she's being sneaky or Coryn is distracted.

Oh, Matt doesn't like Christmas. Don't ask me why, I don't quite know the reason. He thinks Coryn has too many toys as it is. He doesn't appreciate the disruption from his normal schedule. He has memories of it being inconvenient and disappointing as a child. . .these are his excuses anyway. I've never really been able to get to the heart of the matter. He "puts up with it" for mine and Coryn's sake, but she is aware that he doesn't care for it much and has told me that "Daddy doesn't like Christmas."

I'd been jokingly calling him the Grinch, but then we watched the tail end of the Jim Carry live action Grinch movie and his "Grinch-heart-growth-scene" made Coryn very nervous. If you haven't seen this particular version or for some reason aren't familiar with the classic story in any form, at the end of the story the Grinch's small heart grows three sizes, and the way the live action version portrays this makes it look almost like the Grinch is having a heart attack. He clutches his chest. He falls on the ground. He cries out in pain. . .of course, he pops up a few seconds later, almost cartoon style, and is ready to go, but Coryn had turned away from the screen with a very worried face at this point. Later that night she crawled up into her father's arms and I heard him laughing.

"She just told me she's afraid that my heart is too small," Matt smirked. That's because you are a Grinch, dear.

Oh, but he lets me put on a pretty good Christmas and he got me a Weird Al cd and some awesome (I'm afraid to ask how much they cost) emerald earrings . . . super sparkly. I mostly got him World of Warcraft logo gear, t-shirts and a hoodie. . .though it looks like next year he'll be upgrading to Star Wars gear: WoW is on the way out; SW:ToR is up and coming.

Christmas Day, Matt had to head into work fairly early, before either myself or the girl was up, so Coryn and I attended church and came home to make Christmas dinner, which he said he'd be home in plenty of time with. I tried out several new recipes: one for fennel seed and mustard encrusted pork tenderloin (a hit); one for cheddar biscuits (needed more cheese, but they were good); and one for Brussels sprouts that was supposed to make Brussels sprouts good even for haters of Brussels sprouts (they lied). Plus I made an apple pie because that is Matt's favorite. Everything went well (though we wasted a lot of Brussels sprouts. After everyone had taken a few token bites they went into the trash.) except for a stupid mistake I made. I seared the pork in a large skillet then popped it into the oven. Afterward I took it out of the oven, and several minutes later I made a mistake I have made before, but never to such an awful extent, when skillet cooking. Because a skillet has a handle, I always forget that I can't just pick it up by the handle when the entire skillet has been in a hot oven for the last twenty minutes or so. Yeah, I burned my right hand, not badly, but certainly painfully. If I remember correctly from first aid babysitting class, a first degree burn turns your skin red, a second bubbles up, and third is where you have your skin literally charred off. If so my burn was only a first degree. I released it quickly (and I discovered that even when truly in agony the worst I'll yell out is "That's stupid!" referring, I guess, to my own action of grabbing a pan handle I should've know would be hot, but it was pretty instinctive so I could've just been berating life in general), and Matt came over to assist. He really wanted me to put ice on it, but ice hurt so I sat with my hand under the faucet for awhile, eyes watering. I didn't really want to do anything for the rest of the day, at least not anything that involved my right hand. I did give into his ice pack solution (as he said, if you muscle through the part where the ice is hurting you, eventually your hand goes numb) and thawed out two sleeves of ground turkey, some frozen spinach, and a bunch of ice cubes. I even tried vapor rub on my palm (which also stung like the dickens going on but after I'd washed it off my hand went numb for at least ten minutes so it worked like the ice in a way) while I was waiting for something to refreeze. Matt wrapped up the left overs on his own and told me he'd help with dishes when he got home from work the next day, but the next morning my hand felt better and I cleaned up in the morning instead.

I guess that's it. There's probably a lot more to say. I'm sure I forgot something Coryn did that was ridiculously cute, but this was a quick over view of our Christmas holiday. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Musings

It's hard to find good Christmas picture books. There is a glut of Santa books. A few are okay, but Santa makes up about 5% of our Christmas activities but takes up about 95% of the media exposure kids receive for Christmas. I'm not going to deprive my child of classics like Rudolf and Santa Claus is Coming to Town but I still want to try and find some facets of the holiday that aren't wearing a big red suit.

To me Christmas is three fold and you can't really divorce/amputate anyone part of it. There's the spiritual side, the Nativity story, the least flashy but most essential part of Christmas. Then there is tradition; if I had to pick a symbol for this it would be the tree. Why? Well the tree does have religious symbolism built in if you dig back far enough (so do the eggs at Easter and the clovers at St Patrick's day) but they are more about tradition and beauty in practice. Tradition is about family coming together. It's about making memories that kids will cherish. Santa seeps in here and religion is pervasive if you take the time to make it be. You only have to scratch the surface on most holiday traditions (from candy canes to the songs to gift giving) to find something that circles back to the nativity. Traditions are the best part, in my opinion, because after all, Jesus is with us year round. He's not (or shouldn't be) boxed into Christmas and Easter. We can have Jesus whenever we want Him. How often do we have an excuse to over decorate our homes, over indulge or sweet tooth, and over (if possible) expose ourselves to family?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Crochet Christmas

I have mentioned my crochet habit a few times, mostly incidentally, but it's a little more than a habit. In fact, it is a serious addiction and I can't concentrate if I haven't had a yarn fix. I may also be developing wrist strain and though Matt mocks my "callouses" I swear they are there.

At first he mocked my hobby in general and was a little bit put out when I made my first $80 yarn purchase (at $3 a skein it adds up quickly). Then I went to a craft fair with my creations and came back with almost $400. He hasn't questioned it much since then except to occasionally complain when the yarn and unsold creations (there aren't that many craft fairs open to non-Japanese speaking folk like myself in my area and in between the fairs my stock really builds up) creep like a glacier, so slowly that you don't even notice them moving, devouring closet space and eventually floor space in the middle of the living room. . .at which point I buy a new bin of some sort and push them back into hiding.

It's fun to be able to make things on demand, however. Today I'm trying to decide what items to make for a few friends I'd like to give a homemade ornament to for Christmas. I'm going through patterns I've book marked or pinned on Pinterest and I have come up with a few options. I've made two so far this afternoon and will probably try at least one more pattern today and a few tomorrow before I settle on a final pick.

There are a ton of free patterns available online. The first I tried was a snowman from a blog I discovered (on pinterest). He came out looking a little evil so I moved on to a star pattern that was more of a pain than I thought it would be but I'm going to blame that on my choice to use "homespun style" yarn which is always a pain to work with even though it is really pretty.

I also made (by piecing together different free patterns from lionbrand.com and just winging it) my daughter a Santa hat she'd been requesting and we took turns wearing it all morning. She looks like the front of a Christmas card, does she not?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Keeping Christmas

I'm taking this from A Classic Nativity Devotional compiled by James Stuart Bell with the justification that Henry Van Dyke (the original author) has been dead nearly a hundred years so it has to be public domain, right? I hope so. If not, my bad, but this really is something I felt like sharing.

Keeping Christmas

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is keeping Christmas.
Are you willing . . .
  • to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;
  • to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;
  • to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;
  • to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy.
  • to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life but what you are going to give to life;
  • to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness?

Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing . . .
  • to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children;
  • to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;
  • to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough;
  • to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;
  • to try and understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;
  • to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;
  • to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open?
Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing . . . .
  • to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world-
  • stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death-
  • and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?
Then you can keep Christmas.
And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?
But you can never keep it alone.

-Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How Lucky We Are . . .

Lately Coryn's favorite story has been Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Suess. It is a classic book. She likes the page about the man who sleeps a few blocks worth of twisty stairs away from his bathroom. She won't let me leave this page until she has traced the route from bedroom to bathroom with her finger. My personal favorite page goes, "And suppose that you lived in that forest in France where the average young person just hasn't a chance to escape from the perilous pants-eating-plants! But your pants are safe! You're a fortunate guy. And you ought to be shouting, "How lucky am I!"

Suess is always full of good old common sensical wisdom, and it is nice for kids to know that there are more important things to grumble about in the world. After all, no plants are eating their pants; they aren't watching that watcher watch watching that bee; and they have intact shadows. Also, this book is just a ton of fun. There is one rhyme devoted to a man who has a "Borfin" (a machine of unexplained and unimaginable purpose) that "shlumps." Coryn and I have to "shlump" whenever the "Borfin" does.

Last night I was reading it when a little parrot voice started finishing my sentence and reciting along word for word right behind me. I stopped and looked at her and she announced proudly, "See, Mom, I can read!" That's the first time she's ever done this with a book (though she will repeat important lines of dialog in certain stories, like "And someone has been sleeping in my bed. . ."), and she's had a rotating series of "favorite books" for the longest time. She's going to be four next month, and I'm really looking forward to trying to gently ease into reading. I'm not sure she's "ready" but I like to trot out the phonics every few months and test the waters. Attention span is the biggest problem, but reading is a gift I want to give her as soon as possible.

Oh, the other day I found Christmas tree ice cube trays. I'd seen a picture of "rainbow punch" which is just multi-colored ice cubes floating in a glass of 7-up or some other random clear soda, so I bought the tray and tried to make "green ice trees." It was a good idea, but the moment I put the green ice cubes into water they dyed it green . . .I tried again with chilled water. That lasted marginally longer before it again dissolved into green trees in green water. . . Matt says I'd have to freeze the trees into a larger clear ice cube. I haven't quite figured out what I would use to do this with. I'm not deterred, however, and will be trying again soon.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wrapping paper and paper snowflakes

I actually like my paper to be mismatched. I think it looks bland when all the paper under the tree is the same pattern or color or what-not, so most years I pick out two contrasting papers. Last year it was silver with candy canes and green with holly leaves. This year, however, the exchange on base only seemed to have two pricing options, 69 cent paper and 6 dollar paper. Of course, being cheap, I was going to only buy the 69 cent variety (though I had to run the rolls under the price scanner to make sure what I was getting was 69 cents. . .as usual everything was mixed around and mislabeled or simply not priced) and of that there were only two prints that appealed to my particular aesthetics, both of which happened to be light blue with snowmen. Of course, they were different snowmen. One had cartoonish snowmen and the other more artfully drawn snowmen in hats and scarves playing musical instruments. Still, even if they were different snowmen on slightly different paper, they were still very similar. .. but oh well. I had enough paper left over from last year to wrap a few small presents and get some variety in there, and my family back home would be sending presents, normally already wrapped, so I bought the two snowmen rolls and headed home.

Then my grandmother sent packages. . .wrapped in, again, slightly different snowman themed paper (hers was on a slightly darker blue background). . .followed by my mother (her snowmen were elongated and accompanied by green pine trees. . .on a light blue background.), so in spite of my eclectic desires I have the world's most one note set of wrapped presents. Yeah, there are a few contrasting gift bags and the smaller packages I managed to wrap in the green holly leaves and the silver candy canes, but all and all, this year, my gifts have been overwhelmed by snowmen.

It's probably because my family knows I like blue and there are only so many Christmassy designs that look good against blue (Were snowflakes too much to ask this year, wrapping paper designers?). I'm pretty much done wrapping (I like seeing my presents under the tree), so I guess I'm stuck with snowmen for now, but next year, I think I'm going to make my own wrapping paper just to have something unique.

Also tonight I tried to get Coryn involved with making and decorating paper snowflakes, something I've always loved doing. She's too little to cut out snowflakes, but I'd bought her some glitter glue to decorate them. It went well at first, but like she does in many things, she got carried away with the glue and was gobbing it all over and soon just smearing it around on a piece of paper. We had a decent time of it, though, before it just got way too messy.