Monthly Archives: December 2010

It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without…

…this angel that Junior made out of a toilet paper tube when he was 6 years old.  We were between houses that Christmas, renting a place until our house was finished being built.  All of our household goods were in storage, so when Christmas came around, we had to make all of our decorations by hand.  Junior surprised me by making this angel all on his own for my Christmas gift.  Even now, when we have all of our regular ornaments and decorations, this angel goes on the top of the mini tree we put up every year with most of the handmade ornaments from that Christmas.

I love unpacking that angel each year and remembering how we have made the best of things for many Christmases.  That’s part of what being a military family is about.  Many times, the holidays come, and you are separated from your loved one.  Thankfully, we have only experienced that a couple of times.  More often, we found ourselves far away from our extended family.  It was in those years that we developed our own traditions and some treasured memories.

In our first year in Hawaii, Darling Husband was deployed for Christmas.  We traveled to meet him at a port call in Singapore.  I carried a present or two for each kid in my suitcase to open on Christmas morning.  The kids loved telling their grandparents that their Christmas came first because they were over the International Dateline.  And Christmas clothes for the tropics looked a lot different from normal:

By the next year, we had orders moving us back to the Mainland 2 weeks after Christmas.  Nearly all of our things except for the bare-bones essentials had already been shipped ahead.  We had borrowed furniture.  Our Christmas tree that year was a scraggly, 2-foot potted Norfolk pine, decorated with just one string of lights and a few strings of popcorn and cranberries.  We remember that as the year of the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.”  All of the presents that couldn’t easily fit in a suitcase had to be crated up and sent to the Mainland, not to be seen again for 6 six weeks while they were in transit.

Without a doubt, the holidays can bring some really tough times for military families.  Sometimes, holidays in the military force you to get pretty creative in how you celebrate.  Years later, though, the memories of those unusual celebrations are the ones that really warm my heart.


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The Death-Trap in My Attic

Image from Pottery Barn

Now what am I supposed to do with it?  As of yesterday, my crib, along with millions of other drop-side cribs, has been outlawed from manufacture, sale, and resale.  I’ve been saving our crib in the attic “just in case” and also for potential grandchildren.  We got it in 1996, so that thing is ancient.  It’s a double drop-side, so I guess it’s twice as deadly.  Now I can’t give it away or sell it in a yard sale, and apparently I would have to be the worst mother on the earth to consider ever using it again.

This post by FreeRange Kids author Lenore Skenazy provides some great reaction to the issue of how deadly these cribs really are.  Skenazy points out that 3 deaths per year, which is the number attributed to drop-side cribs over the last nine years, is an incredibly small number when you consider that about 4 million babies are born each year in the United States.  Certainly, the death of a child is tragic, especially when it is due to a freakish accident.  And that’s exactly what these crib-related deaths are.  Do we need the government to step in with regulations to protect us from every possibly freak accident?  If so, stay tuned for rules regarding everything from zippers (It really hurts when you get skin caught in them!), stoves (They get HOT, you know.), Peanut M&Ms (They must be a choking hazard.), Snuggies (You could fall asleep under one and suffocate–or be late for something important!), and every other tool or device that separates us from animals.  

Getting back to the crib, though, I hate to think of the injuries that would have occurred if I had been forced to use a fixed-side crib.  I’m short with short arms, you see, so even with the drop-side, it was a reach for me to place a baby in the crib or take one out.  I spent many long hours in the middle of the night in the rocking chair wondering if baby was asleep soundly enough for me to risk dropping  laying her/him in the crib.  Often, I jumped the gun; then, back to the rocker we went.  Babysitters often are shorter than I am.  Imagine a petite, young sitter trying to put baby in a new, fixed-side crib gently.

It’s hard to believe that I, along with millions of other parents over the years, have been doing it wrong when it comes to putting our babies to sleep.  In fact, my kids both slept in my mom’s really ancient old crib without falling through the too-widely-spaced bars or getting stuck in its drop-side or even getting tangled up in its plush bumper.  What was I thinking?!!  I guess the only way to truly protect your baby from every protruding piece, collapsing part, or entanglement is to wear him/her in a sling all day and sleep with baby next to you all night.  But wait.  Some people have problems with that, too.  Now I’m really confused.

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The Super Deluxe Marriage Saver

Maybe we are the only couple in the world who end up singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” through gritted teeth as we put up our Christmas tree.  Maybe no one else is bothered by having to crawl under the tree to tighten those evil screws AGAIN because the tree moved in the stand, and now it’s crooked.  Perhaps I’m the only one who can’t stand getting under there every morning to water that lovely tree and emerge with needles in my hair and sap on my clothes.

That was our story until a few years ago, when we spent probably the best $15 ever on this:

This monstrosity is the best ever tree stand, purchased after Christmas at 75% off.  A plastic foot pedal fits into the front and turns the gears which tighten a cable around the tree trunk.  One person can hold the tree steady and tighten it in the stand all at once, while standing!!   And it holds 4 gallons of water.  No more crawling under!!

Such a silly, little thing, and yet what a difference it makes.  You see, when you combine an engineer, who must have everything in straight lines and right angles, with a liberal arts major, who looks at the big picture with all of its flaws, every little bit helps to keep the peace.  No one wants to fight over the Christmas tree.  It’s just that everyone has their expectations, whether it’s precision strings of lights perfectly parallel around a perfectly conical tree, or the natural randomness of lights woven around and through the branches of a fluffy, non-artificially shaped tree.

Darling husband and I have been married for 18 and a half years.  That’s more than a few Christmases trying to get the decorations up while keeping on speaking terms.  That tree stand would have been worth it even if it hadn’t been 75% off.

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Why We Homeschool… Part 3

It’s official.  The United States educational system has embarrassed itself on the international scene.  Out of 34 countries participating in the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, we came in at number…25, according to this report.  The world’s superpower didn’t even make it into the top half.  We came in behind Asian nations of China, Singapore, and South Korea.  No surprise there.  What is somewhat more alarming is that we ranked lower than Estonia and the Slovak Republic, 2 countries which are hardly major international players and are scarcely more than a generation away from the dark ages of Communism and the turmoil after its fall.

The Obama administration took this news as a clear sign that we need to spend more on education, even though Estonia spends about half what we do but still beat us.  It seems to me that every year, we throw more money at the public schools, and we see little return on our “investment,” as the Secretary of Education likes to call it.

So what do the Koreans know about education that we don’t?  According to this article, Korean parents “almost universally make their children’s education the family’s unquestioned priority.”  Certainly the South Korean government spends a lot on education, but parents there also realize that they have a critical role.  A public school principal noted the differences between Western families and those of his country:

“Foreigners may think it’s strange. I think the main difference between the Western and the Korean parents (is) their way of life is quite different from ordinary Westerners. They are ready to sacrifice themselves for their kids. Whereas ordinary Westerners are seeking their own happiness.”

What if parents in this country were willing to do whatever it takes to ensure a superior education for their children?  Shoot, what if parents were willing to do anything at all rather than just enroll the child at the local public school and then let the government take it from there?

So what brought about all of this attention on education?  SuzyQ received her PSAT scores in the mail this week.  As a homeschooling family, we don’t get many opportunities to evaluate our kids in relation to everyone else.  There’s no class ranking.  Her scores gave me a little affirmation that she’s doing just fine without the “benefits” of licensed teachers, group projects, and state-approved curricula.  Yes, even uncommon parents need a small morale boost here and there.

We continue to do what we can to make our kids’ education a priority.  Oh, and as someone with Slovak ancestry, I say, “Way to go, Slovak Republic!”

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A Day That Will Live in Infamy

I managed to get this in before the day is over.  Was there any mention in the news today of the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor? 

May those who lost their lives that day rest in peace.

May we never forget.


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Season’s Greedy

Advertising must be a tricky thing during the Christmas shopping season.  You’ve got to start hitting hard early.  You want something catchy and memorable.  But there’s all that darn political correctness to think about.  “Christmas” or “Holidays”?  Is a color scheme of red and green too Christmas-y?  All white says winter, right?  So I guess the Pac Sun store chain decided to avoid all of the over-thinking and just go for truth in advertising with its “Season’s Greedy” catch phrase.  When I saw this store window at the mall the other day, I nearly swallowed my gum.

This is a store I basically ignore, but I understand that it is a favorite of kids and teens as young as 11 or 12.  That’s not so far away from the age of writing letters to Santa.  I guess Pac Sun wants to be sure to clear up any ambiguity about the real meaning of Christmas.  They even include Santa in their displays. (If you look hard, you can see him in the background.)

So far, that’s the worst I’ve seen in terms of offensive advertising this year.  In a not-so-far-behind second place is the Sears “Be the Santa” slogan.  What does it mean?  There’s no such thing as Santa, so if you want Christmas you have to do it yourself?  Ho, ho. ho.  I’m also not a fan of using Christmas carols with advertising jingle lyrics.  The commercial with employees singing Overstock’s own version of  “Jingle Bells” comes to mind: “O, o, o, the great big O;!”  The only time in recent memory that this was successful was the Garmin GPS commercial:  “Get-a, get-a , get-a, get-a  Garmin” sung to “Carol of the Bells.”  It’s nearly impossible to top that.

There is some good news when it comes to advertising, though.  According to the National Retail Federation, the mention of Christmas is not so taboo this year.  An official at the organization was quoted here: “We see the word Christmas being used much more this year than three or four years ago. The pendulum seems to have swung back.”  So there are fewer “holiday trees” and “winter celebrations”  this year.  The idea that anyone would put up a decorated tree for any holiday other than Christmas is just silly, after all.  It’s either a Christmas tree or just a random fir in your living room.

If I had my choice between the edgy “Season’s Greedy” and the ultimate PC ad showing people in winter hats and scarves carrying packages wrapped in brown paper with a green bow, I would have to go with the politically correct.  At least with that option, I can read into it any holiday sentiment that makes me happy.  “Season’s Greedy” just leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth and a strong desire to seek out a Salvation Army bell ringer.  If only the mall had the guts to position a Toys for Tot donation site right next to that store window.

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