Friday, October 31, 2008

I Think We've All Caught What Ben Has

Today is Halloween. . . .

We've already celebrated with pumpkins,






and costumes!


When Ben woke up this morning he was dancing, jumping, and exclaiming "It's Halloween!"-- we couldn't help but catch some of the fever :) We hope all of you have a Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Did I Mention I Have a Master's in English?

The past few nights I have been getting to sleep pretty late. Ben and Janae have been in bed on time, and even Jason has gone to sleep, but I have stayed up with only my bedside lamp for light--even though I know I'm going to be too tired to get up in the morning. Why? I'm reading an incredibly suspenseful novel where each chapter ending is a cliff-hanger.

The other day it struck me as absurd that I am reading in this way--when the book was written almost 200 years ago. The story in its entirety has been sitting there in a book for two centuries, but I am still staying up late, reading until my eyes can't stay open another second, to find out what happens. Where have I been the past 200 years?


This particular novel is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, and I should have read it much earlier (it would have been great to draw upon in my master's thesis) but it's true that I'm reading it for the first time. It's also the first Victorian novel I've read in about three years, and it got me thinking about why I love that period of writing.

I've read a few modern novels this year that have been well written and very interesting, but a 19th century novel--well, it's just so much more.

I know many (probably most!) people would disagree--I've had lots of conversations with people who argue against the value of "the classics," but I thought I'd list a few reasons why I love Victorian novels. Any of you who'd rather not have an English lesson can stop reading now (You probably should have stopped reading after the title!).

The suspense: Victorian novels were written in periodical installments, so the authors had to keep their readers buying magazines to find out what would happen in the story. Oliver Twist has had scenes where people were about to tell secrets and then died, people who were supposed to have dangerous liaisons and then restrained so they could not attend--those types of things. These situations may sound cheesy, but the book is so well-written that I feel they are actually happening--and I have to find out how they will turn out.

The characterization: Victorian novels tend to be LONG, and this allows the authors to develop the characters into people who are very complex and real.

The descriptive writing: This relates to both of the above, but the settings, situations, and people are so well described that I feel drawn into the novel's world during the time I'm reading.

The absence of graphic language and scenes: Many gruesome things happen in 19th century novels, and the great themes of literature (which my students who complained about reading "the classics" used to summarize as death, insanity and adultery) are definitely there, but because of the authors' more subtle use of language, I find the material is treated in a more artistic (less offensively graphic) way.

The Great Novelists: The Victorian period was the era of the novel; my three favorite 19th century novelists are Charles Dickens, George Elliot, and Thomas Hardy (in alphabetical order because I can't rank them). I am amazed at how many intriguing characters and plots these three authors have created; one of my life's goals is to read everything they have written.

It's no secret that I love to read, and there is great literature from every time period, but I do still find it amazing that I can become so involved in stories written centuries ago.

I know this post is too long already, but I have to mention one more thing: tonight I'll be reading the last three chapters of Oliver Twist . . . so if in the past 200 years you have been able to find out what happens at the end, be sure to keep it to yourself for the next few hours :)


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween Fever


I don't think anyone loves Halloween as much as Benjamin :) Since the beginning of September he has been collecting Halloween items and making Halloween pictures, explaining that he wants to make our house "as spooky as can be." I can only imagine what our house would look like if Ben wasn't limited by the budget his mommy imposes!


He wanted to dress up as Horton the Elephant and fell in love with an elephant costume at the store. The largest size they had was a 4, and it is about two inches too small on both the arms and legs, but Benjamin LOVES it! He got to wear it to two Halloween parties last Saturday, and he'll wear it to a Halloween storytime, his preschool party, and--of course--trick or treating.


I have to admit that even I have contributed to Ben's Halloween fever. The other day I found a Thomas Halloween DVD (packaged with a "Haunted Caboose"!) that I thought would be a "must-have" for Ben's collection. I put it on his pillow for him to find after school. Janae fell asleep in the stroller on the walk home from school, so I was putting her to bed when Ben found the surprise. He knows to never come into Janae's room while I'm putting her down, but he tiptoed in very quietly and whispered, "I just want to say thank you!"

Now we only have three days to go (we know this because we are counting down pumpkins on a Halloween "advent" calendar I made for Ben). I hope Ben won't be disappointed after all the build-up, but something tells me he's going to love it as much as he thinks he will. It must be so fun to be 4!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Locked Out for a Little Perspective

I thought I was having a pretty hard morning. Jason was looking after both of the kids while I was getting ready, but instead of getting them dressed, brushing their teeth, making the beds, etc., he had put on a full-length movie and was watching it with Ben. (Plus, he has a beard!)

So a few minutes before we had to leave for preschool, I was still trying to get everyone ready (except Jason, of course, who had conveniently left for work by this time). Then when we were finally about to rush out the door for the 3-minute drive around the block, Janae decided to throw a fit because she wanted to wear a backpack like Ben. I tried giving Janae her purse (which was by the door), but she was screaming and flipping and flopping, so I picked up my daughter, the diaper bag, and the purse, locked the door and closed it behind us.

I guess I just needed some fresh air and exercise; I just didn't know it yet.

As soon as I closed the door I realized, of course, that I didn't have my keys. The house was locked, the car was locked, both strollers were locked away, and Ben had five minutes to get to school.

At this point I had to decide quickly: walk to school or stay home and try to get back into the house. Well, Ben had his backpack on and he was ready to go, so I grabbed his hand and we started the half walk/half run that I am famous for.

On sunny days I'd been walking with Janae to pick Ben up from preschool, so I know it's usually a 10-minute walk with the stroller, but somehow we made it there on time--with me carrying Janae and pulling Ben by the arm. We did take a short-cut through the high school playing field, so I'm sure that helped.

Anyway, on the way home, as Janae and I walked at a much more relaxed pace, I had lots of time to reflect on what had happened.


First of all, I have an easy life and should be grateful for it. Jason looks after the kids while I get ready for the day. Ben's school is only a few minutes away from home. I have a car, two strollers, a warm jacket, comfortable shoes, a healthy heart, and lots of energy for walking.

Next, today is a beautiful, sunny, fall day! If it had been raining, snowing, windy, or freezing cold, I would have been in a much more difficult situation.


I also have two healthy and happy kids. While we walked, Janae and Ben talked and sang songs. I felt really lucky that Janae was able to walk on the way home--if she had been 6 months old instead of 19 months, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did. Also, having her walk beside me--as opposed to riding in a car seat or stroller where she is closer to eye level--reminded me of how little she really is. She didn't understand why we couldn't go upstairs to get her backpack this morning; I shouldn't have been so frustrated with her.

I realized, too, that Ben is in PRESCHOOL; even if we'd been late, or if he'd had to miss the class, it would not have been the end of the world. His schoolwork has not yet become so advanced that I couldn't "catch him up" at home--I would actually feel pretty confident teaching the letter "B"!


I also learned to be a little less paranoid about walking near the high school. I usually think of high school students as juvenile delinquents and avoid walking too close to where they might be cutting class, swearing, smoking, vandalizing, dealing drugs or engaging in some other illegal or contemptible activity (I used to teach them once they got to college, so I know!). But the kids we passed actually seemed pretty okay.


And, finally, I have a good husband (with a cell phone) who came home to unlock the door for me. When I called him from the preschool he didn't say, "Why did you lock yourself out? That was stupid! You've ruined my whole day now!" He said, "I'll be right there." And he was already here by the time Janae and I got home! He may have a beard, but--like the high school students--he is not that bad.

We're definitely going to start walking to school more often!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

BEARDOFF--My Thought Exactly

I know Mom said not to hold my breath, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyway!

A few months ago, Jason was talking to Ted about growing beards until New Year's Day and then doing the polar bear swim (For any of you who don't know, that's when a bunch of crazy people--most of them drunk--go running into the ice-cold water of an ocean or lake to celebrate the new year). Presumably they would shave off the beards after the swim--I was only half listening; it was definitely guy talk.

Well, somehow I missed the detail that this beard-growing competition, or beard-off, would begin October 1. I found this out a couple of weeks ago when I started thinking about having a family picture taken for our Christmas cards. I was astounded when Jason mentioned that he would not be shaving.


Now, Jason has been known to grow a bit of scruff; in fact, he usually only shaves on Sunday mornings. But to not shave for THREE MONTHS--that's going to be a lot of scruff. It's going to be a BEARD.


Jason seems to realize this, but still, he won't shave. So, now I have to write a Christmas newsletter (instead of just sending cards) so I can explain to everyone why my husband looks like a--well, a bearded man--in the pictures. I have always sensed Jason's lack of enthusiasm regarding our family picture, but I never thought he would go to such extreme lengths (literally!) to sabotage it.


I've tried asking him to shave, threatening to shave him during the night, telling him about conversations I had with college roommates about how much we all hated beards, showing him pictures of how scruffy he looks--I don't know what else to do.

All I can say is BEARD, OFF!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Happy Ending


Anyone who read my blog yesterday probably felt pretty hopeless about Ben's situation (okay, that was probably just me), but I have some good news: the stutter has magically disappeared!

Almost as soon as I posted my write-up of the problem, it vanished. Since yesterday afternoon, Ben has said "pretend" at least 20 times, and he has only stuttered once. I love hearing him say it now, too--I can almost pretend none of the stuff I wrote about yesterday ever happened!

But it makes me wonder--if I wrote about Jason's beard, would that vanish, too? It may be worth a try :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Little Misguided Speech Therapy Goes a Long Way


Most of you who know Ben know that he's always been a little "slow to speak," but always full of great thoughts and ideas.

As Ben's language skills have developed, we have seen him outgrow many mispronuciations. For example, when he was two he called himself "Denjamin" instead of "Benjamin." I always felt a little embarrassed for him when people asked him his name and then couldn't understand him, but my linguistic education led me to believe that he would figure out the correct pronuciation without any intervention. This has definitely been the case as word by word and phrase by phrase, I found that Ben's speech was developing nicely.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I noticed he was adding an extra syllable to the words "because" and "pretend," saying "be-uh-cause" and "pre-uh-tend." I thought this was most likely a phase (just as Janae is currently adding an "a" to the end of words--saying "funny-uh" instead of "funny"--Ben had done this, too, as a toddler).

I'm not sure if it is because Ben is in school now or because I sometimes get tired of "pre-uh-tending" to be one of Thomas's engine friends (I am asked at least 50 times a day to pretend to be one of these characters), but for some reason, I abandoned my usual noninterventive approach and decided I needed to correct Ben's speech. I calmly explained that you say, "pretend . . . not pre-uh-tend." I went over this with Ben several times, having him repeat the correct pronunciation. (I cringe as I read this, picturing myself as a detestable schoolmaster you might find in a Charles Dickens novel.)

As Benjamin was trying to say "pretend," he had to really concentrate and work hard at it. This created a sort of stuttering effect as Ben tried his best not to add the "uh"--over and over again he said, "pre. . . pre. . . pre. . . tend." Most of you know Ben is always really eager to please, so this was right in character--he wanted to be sure to get the word right.

I thought this stuttering would go away by the next time Ben used the word, but no. Now, instead of "pretend" or even "pre-uh-tend," he is saying "pre. . . pre. . . pre. . . tend" every time--even when he talks to Janae.

Even worse, I looked up stuttering in one of my parenting books, and it emphasized the problems that come from parents drawing children's attention to speech characteristics that will correct themselves over time.

I feel horrible about the whole thing--not only have I made Ben more self-conscious about his speech, but I've caused him to develop a stutter. What good is an education in English and linguistics if I can't even apply what I've learned in the most important situations?

I'm finding it difficult not to correct the stutter, but I think this will be the best way to help Ben. I think I'll leave speech therapy to professionals and just work on being a loving mom . . . even if it does mean acting the part of an engine!


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Turkeys


Cheesy title, I know, but this post is NOT about the two Thanksgiving dinners we enjoyed over the weekend (that would have to be A Tale of a Turkey and a Ham--or a Kurki and a Lamb!).


It's also NOT about Ben and Janae, although both of them have been known to act like turkeys at times.

This is about Jason and me, and our failure once again to pack a very essential item in our DIAPER bag.

When we went to Jason's mom's for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, we stuffed the diaper bag so FULL we could hardly close it--we remembered our camera, the goldfish crackers and sippy cups. We remembered to pack the kids' pajamas in case they fell asleep on the car ride home, and at the last minute I remembered to bring Ben's teddy and Janae's kitty. We even remembered to refill the wet-wipe container--it was almost popping open with all the wipes Turkey #1 tried to cram in.

Yes, the diaper bag was full of everything except diapers.

It did have one diaper, but Turkey #2 was sure to use that up (changing only a moderately wet diaper) before the true diaper emergency arose.

And yes, it did arise, right before we were about to set out for home.

Jason and his mom drove to a convenience store, where Turkey #1 had to spend $20 on a package of 20 diapers--a dollar a diaper! But at a moment like that, you have to pay whatever they're charging. (And if you disagree, I can tell you another story about a plane ride we took with baby Benjamin and two turkeys who forgot to pack the diapers! Let me assure you--we were lucky that convenient store was open.)


On a happier note, Janae was able to ride home, then sleep all night, clean and dry.

Still, I don't think we'll do that again!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Auntie Lisa's Sweatshop


We had the girls here last night while Tina and Ted went out for dinner. I thought it would be fun to decorate some pumpkin cookies.


Ben and I made a double batch of sugar cookies during Janae's afternoon nap, then Manda and Becca helped me make orange and green icing.


Jason accused me of running a "cookie sweatshop," but I think everyone had fun :)


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our First Trip to the Dentist

Today I took both kids to the dentist for the first time. I can see already how life is different for the second child than the first--Ben went for his first checkup at age 4, and Janae had her first appointment at age 19 months.

Anyway, one of them did GREAT, while the other--shall we say--struggled. Any guesses?

If you guessed that Janae did great, you certainly don't know Janae :)


Janae did a great job brushing her teeth at home this morning, and that was the end of that! She enjoyed the fish tank in the waiting room, and also the pumpkin pie scented candle that was burning on the receptionist's desk. Actually, she wanted to sing "Happy Birthday" and then blow the candle out. I should have recognized this as a bad omen. (Actually, I shouldn't have needed an omen--I was taking a 19-MONTH OLD TO THE DENTIST.) Of course, Janae proceeded to scream (a high-pitched scream, too) every time the hygienist made any move on BEN.


Ben was a model dental patient, just as I expected him to be. It helped that there was a TV screen on the ceiling. The hygienist had trouble even getting Ben's attention when she wanted him to choose a floride flavor--he was so deep in his TV trance that he chose "cherry flavored" floride rather than "cookie dough," "marshmallow," or even "cotton candy." (I don't know if it's just a guy thing or if it's because I am such a TV nazi and restrict him to less than an hour a day!). He wasn't bothered by anything she wanted to do in his mouth.


Given Janae's shrieking, the dentist thought it would be a good idea to let her see the toy chest with Ben and not even have her sit in the chair. I think he was scared :) A nurse had given her a windmill during Ben's cleaning to help calm her down, and she wouldn't even pose with THAT when we got home. You can see how angry she was at the very idea!


Anyway, Ben's teeth are now sparkling clean and whiter than I've ever seen them. And Janae . . . well, we'll try again next time--if the dentist is feeling brave!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bust My Bumpers!


When we gave Benjamin his first Thomas Wooden Railway set for Christmas last year, we had no idea how this seemingly insignificant gift would affect our family.

I guess I shouldn't say insignificant, because from the start, we knew this railway was going to mean a lot to Ben. A few weeks before Christmas, on our way home from visiting a friend whose son has an extensive Thomas collection, Ben said--in a wistful little voice--"I wish I had lots of trains." I felt so sad for my little Ben, but at the same time so excited, because I knew Santa already had a starter set stashed away in the Christmas closet.


It wasn't long after Christmas, though, before we realized that a starter set was not going to do. This wasn't because Ben needed more trains--or even more track. We've trained Ben to be a grateful little boy (no pun intended!), and all our hard work usually pays off. He was happy to play with his Thomas, boxcar, and caboose on his wooden figure-8 track.

But Daddy . . . that was another question. Daddy wanted more track. He also wanted more trains. So after a few trips to Toys R Us that problem was solved--or so you would think. Unfortunately, each piece of Thomas wooden railway comes with a little catalogue craftily inserted. These catalogues show not only all the 200+ engines available (at no less than $15-25 dollars each!), but also all the buildings and other accessories that appear in the 200+ Thomas videos that we were starting to borrow from the library each week.


So now in addition to having Thomas, Percy, James, Gordon, Henry, and Toby, we also NEEDED to get the Sodor Bay Bridge, the Roundhouse, the windmill, the engine wash, and a multitude of other overpriced wooden items! Of course, we haven't bought all of these things--we wouldn't want Jason--oh, I mean Ben--to get spoiled. But they are on our list of must-have's for the future.

Oh, and then there's Janae, who wants to get Harold the Helicopter, and Mommy, who would really like to get Cranky the Crane (and I'm sure that's the only reason Jason sometimes uses that as a little nickname for me!).


But with all of this family-wide Thomas obsessing and overspending, there has been a lot of good to come from our Christmas purchase. We have had hours of creative fun as Ben and the rest of us have built amazing tracks, many moments of instruction as we have taught Janae not to throw trains or wreck the track, and lots of humorous new expressions that Ben has come out with.

For example, one day last week when I told Ben we would have to go upstairs and wake Janae up from her nap, Ben responded with, "Bust my bumpers! I wanted to play some more!" (He was playing Thomas--what else?). Some of my other favorite Thomasisms that Ben has adopted include "Rubbish!" "Cinders and Ashes!" "You have caused confusion and delay," and, of course, "Little engines CAN do big things!"

Ben's baths have become "washdowns," his bedroom his "shed," his feet "wheels," and any sore tummies, "boiler aches."

So, this Christmas? Well, we'll have to wait and see what Ben puts on his list, but you can bust my bumpers if Santa's elves aren't going to be hard at work on some wooden railway items!