Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thank goodness it's only once a year....

Christmas post-children really just absolutely kills me. It saps my strength. It makes me crazy. I feel like all I do is spend spend spend and bake bake bake and wrap wrap wrap. When it's all over it takes me days to recover.

It's exhausting.

Our second Oregon Christmas was full of new challenges this year. The big news was the mini-blizzard that hit our area - the Columbia Rive Gorge saw the largest snowfall in over forty years. Kbear got an extra week off from preschool and Banana had late starts until six fresh inches fell on Wednesday and they finally threw in the towel for the last two days before break.

People in Chicago may have scoffed at our measly 18-22 inches of snow (depending on where in the yard you stuck your tape measurer) but let me tell you Midwesterners something; when you get rid of road salt, your whole damn world gets turned upside down. Tree hugging hippies in the Pacific Northwest don't use road salt - they apparently prefer to see how many 360s assorted motorists of all ages can do on their way to the grocery store. And when it snows that much, EVERYONE goes to the grocery store! Then you've got to understand the plowing situation....there isn't one. The entire week that the snow came down, I saw ONE actual snowplow. ONE. The rest of the time I watched people use everything from pickups and four wheelers with plows attached to them to a friggin' BACKHOE in a collective attempt to move the white stuff from our roads and driveways.

And then there was the situation out on the one major interstate that leads through town. It's the only way to get in or out of town in any direction.


We had no mail service for almost a week. UPS and FedEx took an extended local holiday - the WEEK OF CHRISTMAS. It was horribly frustrating and made me happy that I haven't joined the ranks of hard-core online shoppers just yet, because let me tell you, they were screwed.

It also meant that freight couldn't come in or out of town. And after awhile, Fred Meyer and Safeway both had a very "Children of the Corn" feel to them as supplies dwindled. But December 22nd, here's what you saw if you went to the store.

No baby oranges

No sour cream

And no milk.

Freaky huh? And to this native Chicagoan who knows snow, it was downright bizarre.

But hey, we survived. This year the kiddos had a fantastic Christmas. Santa did what he was supposed to do, and both Grandmas actually respected our request for a scaled back year and gave each munchkin just a few practical fun gifts. Skippy restrained himself quite admirably during his last minute bonanza, and I managed to pull it all together pretty damn beautifully if I do say so myself. Among my personal stash I managed to score some new fuzzy socks courtesy of my kids, an armband for my iPod and a HUGE Itunes card among other goodies from my hubby, and all sorts of other assorted loot. Banana digs her (cheap) MP3 player and Kbear loves her keyboard, although I have a bit of buyer's remorse over that particularly loud gift, especially after the Chunk discovered the power switch. Chunk is happiest on his ride-on firetruck that I discovered has no off switch, and although I love it when my child is happy, someday my sister-in-law will pay ever so dearly for that particular present.

But overall it was a great year. And in the end, I was so happy that Skippy kept me from breaking out the sleds that we had bought for under the tree a few days early - with the snow falling I was dying to give them to the kids before the big day but the wait was so worth it when we took them all up and down the hill a few times. Plus, Dixie managed to take my new favorite family picture.

It was a good year. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Christmas Eve tradition....

Christmas of 2001 (like, totally forever ago) was the first Christmas that I spent out of my parents' home. It was a somewhat surreal experience. I was 23 years old, three months pregnant, and living in sin with Skippy while we sang Jingle Bells and coordinated plans for our I-refuse-to-call-it-a-shotgun-wedding, which was just a little over three weeks away.

Skippy being the sensitive soul that he is (stop laughing) knew that I was feeling out of sorts. At twenty three years old, I was still fully into waking up on Christmas morning in my twin bed at my parents' house, and opening presents all over the family room while mom made her signature blueberry-muffins-from-a-box. It was TRADITION. And I loved it.

So he rolled up his sleeves and endeavored to make my first Christmas out of the 'rents house a smashing success, embracing his mile wide romantic streak (seriously, stop laughing).

He was determined to spoil me. We tackled the mall, drank sparkling cider, and wrapped gifts. Two nights before Christmas, we went out and got the most Charlie Brown-i-est looking tree you'd ever seen from Frank's Nursery in Naperville (alas, no longer in business) and decorated it with white and red lights that we found in the bargain bin at Target - the very same lights that made me almost burst into tears when I went to put them on the tree this year and realized that two strings were now officially half dead. He made every effort to cater to my mood swings, meet my cravings, and hold my hair back when morning sickness struck. He was the poster fiance and Daddy-to-be. And deep down inside, he still worried that I'd find my Christmas lacking. It was the only one we would ever spend as "Skippy and Amy" - by the time the next one rolled around, the bump in my belly would be six months old. And he wanted it to be special.

Somewhere in the craziness, we began a tradition that has survived almost seven years of marriage, four residential addresses, and three kids. We began our Christmas Eve gift exchange.

Skippy absolutely can NOT keep a gift a secret. I mean...he CAN, but he wiggles around like a squirrel on pixie sticks and taunts you from the moment he makes the purchase until the last ribbon comes off on Christmas morning. The man loves to give gifts, and adores coordinating surprises. And as his legal spouse, this has its perks.

That one single child-free Christmas Eve night, we decided that we would each pick one gift for the other to open. This felt like sacrilege to me - immediate family gifts were to be opened on CHRISTMAS DAY AND NO OTHER in mom and dad's house. But it was sweet and romantic and fun to begin a new tradition while we teetered on the cusp of a life and a family together. And as the years have passed, it has become one of my favorite few moments of the holiday season. We always wait until all of the kids are in bed - then it's just the two of us like it was during that first Christmas Eve night. Sometimes we make a few drinks and open gifts by the red and white lights of the tree. Sometimes, we grab them haphazardly a few minutes before midnight while in the midst of baking cookies together or arguing over the consistency of the fudge.

And sometimes, Skippy still manages to outdo himself.

This year inspiration struck my sweet husband. I think he was really striving to do something special to shake me out of my holiday funk. Admittedly, Christmas wasn't as sparkly for me this year, having lost my holiday motivation in my quest to mope about being in a house for a second Christmas that I swore we'd only spend one Christmas in. I didn't do much decorating and I'm still up to my ass in chocolate chips from all of the baking I didn't do. And Skippy being Skippy, with his huge heart and his romantic streak, went out of his way to make me happy.

We arrived home from Laura's Finger Food Festivities around quarter to six on Christmas Eve night. I had my Mother-in-law's favorite potato soup simmering on the stove and Skippy rushed me through a bowl of it, saying only that we had a time constraint that we had to meet.

So feeling somewhat annoyed, I slurped my way through the soup and bread as quickly as I could. My kids were giggly - they weren't in on the surprise but they knew that something was up. My Mother-in-law kept grinning at me. I burned my tongue on the last bite and wondered what would happen next.

A package appeared on the table at my place. It was small, and it was cold. Later I found out that it had been in the fridge. I glanced around at all the smiling faces and unwrapped it while Skippy slipped outside and started up the minivan.

Inside was a bag of apple slices and a note:

Your Instructions:
1. Put on your boots.
2. Put on your hat, gloves, and coat.
3. Put these in your pocket.
4. Get in the van.
5. Don't ask questions.

Totally intriguing right? I quickly followed my directions and slid into the barely-warm passenger seat of the van, next to a grinning husband.

If you know me, you know that I absolutely suck at receiving surprises. Of course I started asking questions and of course, they weren't answered. But after a few moments, a light bulb as bright as the dang old star of Bethlehem went off inside my head.


He raises an eyebrow at me. "Why would I do that? It's Christmas Eve. Fred's is closed Ame."

"BECAUSE THERE IS A HORSE AT FRED MEYER!" Apparently I was trying to shatter the van's windows in my excitement.

Mr. Cool-as-a-cucumber replied, "Why on earth would there be a HORSE at Fred Meyer? It's a grocery store silly!"

Of course by then we were only blocks away and everything was as clear as the three foot icicles hanging off my porch at home. I lowered my voice several octaves and played along, answering "Because the horse at Fred Meyer gives CARRIAGE RIDES!"

And sure enough, there they were in the empty and snow covered parking lot at Freddie's, waiting for us. Skippy treated me to a half hour horse drawn carriage ride around town, with his arm warm around me and cozy blankets over our laps while we admired the miscellaneous holiday decorations everyone had up. People waved from inside their houses, and little kids squealed, "LOOKIT mommy, it's a horse!" and pressed their noses up against car windows as we passed in intersections.

And after our ride, of course we fed our trusty steed his apple slices.

Skippy may rarely get his underwear in the laundry basket. His favorite computer game annoys the hell out of me. He doesn't always help with the dishes and he has a knack for passing along a poopie baby.

But the man knows how to keep a Christmas tradition alive.

Love you babe.

More holiday blogging to come!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's almost that time!

The W Family would like to wish you and yours and very happy, very merry Christmas this year! It would appear that most of us are under some form of cold precipitation, and we apologize to those of you who will be receiving presents and cards late this year due to the suspended mail service out here in Oregon, but you are most absolutely in our thoughts! Be safe and be merry!

With love from Amy, Skippy, Banana, KBear, and Chunk

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How to survive your first Oregon blizzard

Let's get something straight...

We do not (despite what my cousin Erin believes) live completely in the middle of nowhere. I mean, we have next door neighbors on both sides. We have a post office, two grocery stores, two tattoo parlors, a PetCo, Starbucks, and McDonald's WITH a playplace, among many other things.

But after growing up in the Chicago suburbs (where 'burbs means 60 miles away from the city and still sprawling), Oregon has been an adjustment. One of the biggest issues has been the weather. It's weird and different. You think Chicago weather is unpredictable? You ain't seen nuthin' sister.

After the novelty of having to explain the concept of a "heat index" to our new friends wore off, I started working on getting used to the often windy and extreme weather that the Pacific Northwest regularly treats us to. This summer we had several days above 110 degrees. In the spring, it rains. In the fall, it rains. And in the winter, it usually rains and VERY occasionally snows.

When we first moved here, I thought that Oregon was full of wussies because the sparse snow would often immediately close school for the day. I didn't get it. I was used to bundling up and trudging off to school in minus twenty degree winds, feeling my damp hair freeze on my way to the bus stop! Two inches of snow equals no school? What was WRONG with these people?

Then I realized a few things:
1. Oregon has hills. Lots of them.

2. There are very few snowplows, unless you live on a road that is en route to a ski resort.

3. Road salt is a foreign concept to the hippie tree hugging goodness that is Oregon.

As time has passed, the snow issue has become quite a point of contention between Oregon and me. I LOVE snow. I really do. I have fond memories of playing outside in the snow with brother and sister while my Mom watched from the kitchen window (smart lady) and I still remember my Dad taking me to THE BIG SLED HILL in Naperville for a few runs after a good storm. I like to shovel. I really really do. It's good cardio. And last year I thought it was pretty cool here that we could see the grass at our house, covered in nothing but frost and flurries, and then drive a half hour and have snow to our butts on Mt. Hood. That is COOL STUFF.

Cue this year. Our first full winter in Oregon. Apparently, we are currently experiencing THE STORM OF STORMS *cue ominous music* and I've got to tell you, it's caught me off guard ass over teakettle.

We currently have nineteen inches of snow in our front yard. And it's still falling. We are officially under a winter storm warning / blizzard watch until sometime Monday. Friends who live higher up than we do already have FEET of snow piled against their houses. They are literally snowed in, Little House style. Yesterday I almost got into a fight with a lady Black Friday style over the last bag of Nestle Milk Chocolate Morsels at Fred's because let's face it, why use the store brand when you can hit senior citizens over the head with your Cheerios for the last bag of Nestle goodness?

All of this leads me to my latest blog entry, complete with pictures:

How to survive your first Oregon blizzard.

First of all, steal your husband's bitchin' ski hat, as modeled above. You know which one - the one that he simply had to have for the Google ski trip last year. The one that you made fun of for days. Because if there's gonna be a blizzard, you're gonna need a hat.

Next, proceed to check the weather channel's site constantly on both your computer and your phone. Sprint down the hallway shrieking THE SKY IS FALLING (while wearing your hat of course) and inform your husband that you need to run out for candles, flashlight batteries, and Doritos. Throw a slipper at him when he laughs at you about everything except the Doritos.

Brave the roads in your minivan that does NOT have snow tires or four wheel drive and accompany the rest of town to the grocery store. Circle the parking lot at least six times before deciding to go hit the Dutch Brother's hut for coffee because really, who needs food? Get your son a chocolate milk to prevent pure mutiny later on when it's time to be strapped into the shopping cart.

Next, beat up old ladies for chocolate chips (see above) and stock up on bread, milk, and Doritos. And eggs. And flour. And all sorts of stuff that will do you absolutely no good if the power goes out unless you are the Ma Ingalls incarnate.

Go home and stack firewood in the house. Attempt to rescue outside toys from snowdrifts. Laugh at the poor dog when she tries to pee. Make a list of things that you fully intend on baking. Procrastinate baking. Do crafts with your kids (thanks for the kits Nana!) and drink hot chocolate. Make snow angels.

Rest assured that if any homeless degenerates try to barge into your house in search of warmth, you have several large icicles at your disposal for all of your stabbing and beating home defense needs.

And try not to worry about losing power.

After all, you bought flashlights.

And besides...

You can always fire up the grill.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vacation Bible School and the Mechanical Bull...not your typical Saturday.

And so another weekend flies by in the W household - it seems as if I just settle in to enjoy them and they are over. But hey, things are busy. It's a busy time of year. Saturday alone was jam-packed full of stuff!

Saturday dawned bright and early with a one day "Christmas For Kids" vacation bible school being held at one of the churches in town. Now if you know us at all, you know that we typically don't attend church. In Skippy's case, we outright AVOID church. But we have said from the start that we want to let our kids explore all different beliefs and faiths, so when an opportunity comes up for a little youth ministry (especially around the holidays), we usually take it. Not to mention the added bonus (at least in my mind) of being able to go Christmas shopping with just my two handsome boys and no girlies with a mega case of the Christmas "I Wants."

So it was with a light heart that I dropped the girls off at 9:30, smiling as they skipped off to decorate cookies and sing carols. From there, I went straight downtown to get a haircut - a truly extraordinary event considering my last trim had been in Chicago in July. To say the least, I was badly overdue for some hair TLC. And once my new coif was dry, fuzzy, and stuffed under my awesome blue knit hat, I cruised back up the hill and picked up my big man and my little man and we beat a path to Hood River, 20 miles away and the site of the nearest WalMart.

Apparently, everyone else had the same idea that we did - we ran into various fellow-parents who were also kiddo-free thanks to Vacation Bible School and we got into a minor argument while debating the merits of various sleds for the kids. Chunk be-bopped to the carols being broadcast and Skippy picked out a dashing new Christmas shirt for the party we were attending later in the day. We shopped. We chatted. We had lunch (just me and my boys!) and then we cruised back to town just in time to stash our new purchases in the garage and pick up the girl children, who chattered all the way home about the Christmas star and singing Silent Night until we tossed them all into bed for a quick snooze.

Then just a few hours later, we were heading out the door again - only this time I was wearing make up AND my *good* bra! It was truly a miraculous Christmas miracle - my boobs were where they belonged! Our first stop was Laura's house - Laura my parenting soul mate was braving all three of my children for multiple hours while my husband and I hit the Google Holiday Party. She is a brave soul...or possibly just a huge glutton for punishment. But either way, she was stuck - we had watched one of her munchkins overnight the weekend before and we both felt that one of her kids for 24 hours was about equal to three of my kids for four hours, so it all worked out.

Blissfully child-free, we coasted down the hill to the Civic Auditorium in town. It's hard to feel cool and sexy on a date with your husband when you're in an empty minivan and an empty McDonald's french fry carton keeps bumping into your foot when you turn, but I was really working to persevere. Then after Skippy made fun of my parking job (you try parking with a french fry carton constantly annoying YOU) we made our way up to the ballroom.

Just like the year before, the decorations in the lobby and up the stairs were gorgeous. The smell of food wafted out to meet us at the entrance and my stomach grumbled. The tables were set. You could hear the tinkling of ice in glass as the bar organized itself. The DJ was in place.....

And there was a huge inflatable pool with a mechanical bull set up prominently in one entire corner of the ballroom.


Talk about disconcerting. But it was just too much fun for words - just SEEING it there was enough to make me giggle. The thing was HUGE. And the "pool" was just too far over the top forget sawdust on a dirty bar floor - this bull had STYLE! He had even brought his own landing pad!

Thus my second Google Christmas party kicked off. We ate, we drank, we mingled. We entered raffles and admired a brand new baby. We held hands and we ate and drank some more. Skippy played a few hands of blackjack. I socialized with all of our friends.

Then my husband decided he was going to ride the bull.




Yeah....that didn't last long.

So we ate and drank and socialized some more.

And finally, at the late LATE hour of TEN O'CLOCK (ohhhhh party animals beware) we picked up our sweaty overwound kids from an exhausted Laura and we headed home.

So yeah. Bible School and a Bull. Just a Saturday in W World.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Technology Sucks Sometimes.....

I know, an ironic statement from a woman who pays the bills with Google money, right?

But seriously, I am feeling very anti-technology this week. Here's the deal - last Tuesday, my dryer decided that it was going to stop getting hot, thus not drying any clothes. This minor bump in the road of life has led to several alternative solutions in the quest to keep my family in clean underwear while we wait for our warranty service call:

Solution One: I can wash my laundry here at home and then take it to dry at Laura's house. Laura's house is nice because there is always coffee on, I feel like I can show up in pajama pants, and no one cares if my kids act like rabid monkeys. After all, as mentioned before Laura is my parenting soulmate. The drawback is that I have to work it around school bus pick up, preschool, and nap time. This can be a hassle.

Solution Two: I can wash my laundry here at home and then take it to dry at Charlotte's house. Now Charlotte's house is nice because I go there in the evening after my kids and her kids are in bed and we sit around and play around with picasa and drink strawberry daquris while my laundry dries. The drawback to this is that no matter how genuinely welcoming they are, I feel like I'm encroaching on their evening...and I occassionally wake up with a laundry hangover the next day.

This brings us to Solution Three: I can wash my laundry at home and then take it to the laundramat to dry. I have done this three times this week. This is nice because I can dry everything I have in under a half hour. That is the one and only nice thing about it.

The laundramat is a strange, sad, depressing place.

First of all there's the "laundramat supervisor," who peers over your shoulder while you fold your husband's underwear in between foggy sessions of chainsmoking just outside the door before meticulously vacuuming up all of the lint from the inside and outside of each and every dryer while humming the theme to Days of Our Lives.

And then of course there are your intereting (and often disconcerting) quarter-carrying fellow landramat patrons who either want to talk your ear off or make you feel instantly uneasy while you watch your towels and socks tumble 'round and 'round and count down each and every minute on the timer.

So yeah......having a broken dryer sucks.

Of course, you may be asking yourself why I don't use my clothesline. After all it's been sunny and pleasant here in Oregon considering that it's December. And believe it or not, I've actually utilized it a few times this week for a few blankets. But that's as far as I'll go. For one thing, I don't like my skivvies hanging out there flapping in the breeze for all the world to see. And for another, my name isn't Laura Freaking Ingalls. I have a beautiful shiny blue front loader that simplifies my life. I don't need no dang clothesline.


Then to add insult to injury, on Friday the one and only TV in the house decided to poop out on us. AGAIN. This is the second time in less than 18 months that it's gone kaput. It's like a huge black lemon that intermitedly lets me watch Boston Legal. And NOOOOOO Mr. Customer Service Dude That I Waited Forty Minutes To Talk To, NOOOOO we don't have an extended warranty. Why? WHY? Because my Daddy raised me to believe that they are a ripoff scam and besides, who expects their pretty shiny new TV to crap out twice in a year and a half ANYWAY???????

>Deep Breaths<

So after a long Dora-The-Explorer-free weekend of kiddos playing with legos at 6:15 each morning, today I finally got to talk to a manager who agreed to cover the repair for free. But after that if the dang thing breaks again, we will be the proud owners of a very heavy 42 inch paperweight. Nice huh?

That just about sums it up. No dryer, no TV. My normal evenings filled with watching sitcoms while folding my family's assorted wardrobes are indefinitely on hold. And as if that's not enough, over the weekend my eight year old hair dryer decided that it had blown dry its last head of hair. It's limping along if I'm gentle with it, but I know that it's only a matter of time before it too joins the great appliance junk pile in the sky.