Monday, February 24, 2014

Sundays Are Fun Days

By now you already know we're not a religious family. This gives us a lot of free time on Sundays, because we obviously don't go to church. Even if we were religious, I doubt we'd go to church anyway, because my husband and I are also very much not social animals. We have no desire whatsoever to involve ourselves in "fellowship." We're perfectly content to stay at home and do nothing whatsoever. Besides, we've started our own traditions and so far our girls have no complaints.

Cinnamon Roll Sunday! We started this tradition before the girls were even born. After a while, we got tired of the usual bowl of cereal or eggs and toast. Heck, especially after the girls were born. I don't often cook eggs and toast anymore, because it's just too much work for me to bother with in the morning. I am not a morning person. At all.

More than half my lifetime ago, I used to babysit this kid named Egan. I think I may have mentioned him before. Maybe not here. I don't remember. But! I learned to cook cinnamon rolls while babysitting him ages and ages ago. He's probably 30 by now. I wasn't that much older than him. In any case, those fond memories of sharing cinnamon rolls for breakfast with him reminded me of how simple a "meal" that is to make. So now, with my own family, we've made it a Sunday morning tradition to bust open the Pillsbury packaging and bake up some cinnamon and cream cheese icing goodness.

That's only the morning, however. We don't spend the entire day eating cinnamon rolls, I promise you. Our Sundays are ever-changing. Sometimes we stay at home and lounge around, but most of the time, without even thinking about it, we leave the house to embark on some sort of adventure or another. More often than not we wind up at the library, because . . . books. We are nerds. We like books. A lot. I think The Usurper likes them more than the rest of us, though, because every single morning she brings me or her daddy a dozen books to read. It's quite maddening, really. Love her to pieces. Love her love of books to pieces too, but for the love of all that is sacred, child, give us a break sometimes!

"Please you will to read for me?"

This past Sunday we went to the mall, instead of the library. There are, actually, two malls nearby. The one we went to on Sunday is 100% better than the other one, however. We spent this past week trying them both out, and decided on Sunday that the Summit Mall is by far better than it used to be. To be honest, it used to be quite boring, but things have changed since then.

The first store that drew us in like two opposing magnets was an unexpected gem called Recess. This place is a nerdling's paradise. No lie. The very instant we crossed the threshold, both girls were struggling and straining to get out of their stroller seats so they could check things out. To my pleasant surprise, this is a very child friendly store. The clerk was very nice and informative, and had a super not creepy adoration for children, I could tell.

A large selection of the merchandise consisted of wooden toys. I love wooden toys. Apparently my girls do, too. I'm pretty sure these toys are imported from Germany, but I'm not 100% positive. The packaging is German. My friend Kate could probably tell me for sure, since she lives over there. Hi, Kate! The Usurper, though, was enjoying this display table with these toys very, very much. If they weren't so darned expensive, I would have bought all the things right then and there.

There was another display for a wooden marble track that Your Future Overlord was practically permanently attached to. It took a lot of coaxing to pull her away from playing. I was reminded very much of a toy my sister-in-law's kids had; a plastic marble track that was all the rage for a week or so at their house. This one that my eldest was playing with was wood, and it was awesome, and again if I had a couple hundred dollars to spare I would have bought it for her.

In addition to oodles of fun wooden toys for kids, such as doll houses and play kitchens, this place also had a plethora of board games for all ages. Things like Settlers of Catan, which is all the rage and we have yet to own, and Arkham Horror, for which there are a half dozen more expansions I need to add to my collection. This store also had all the core D&D 4.0 source books, and a wall of preconstructed dice sets that would put any normal hobby shop to shame. I hope this place is still around by the time I start training my girls to nerd it up with tabletop so I can take them there to pick out their own sets.

The most wonderful bit of merchandise this place had, however, were Goldie Blox box sets. And the clerk actually knew what they were! I was so ecstatic. It took every ounce of willpower in every single fiber of my being to walk out of this store without buying a single thing. Because I wanted it all. Everything. Board games, card games, wooden toys, and Goldie Blox!

The fact that Goldie Blox are designed for ages 4-8, I think, is what helped me resist buying the two sets currently available right then and there. Now you all know what to get Your Future Overlord for her 4th birthday, though. Don't disappoint me, Internet.

After escaping Recess, we resumed our casual stroll through the mall. We almost did not complete our circle before something amazing very nearly stole my eldest away from me. It drew her in like a waiting Venus Fly Trap. Sweet, sweet playtime was just around the bend. I seriously had to physically restrain her from running off. Note to self: have long talk with her about the dangers of strangers with candy.

Some time in the last several years since we've been to Summit Mall, somebody got the brilliant idea to install a little kids playground. I wish I had taken a picture of the logo. I really wish this is a permanent structure, because my girls loved it. Your Future Overlord cried when we told her it was time for a potty break, so we could go home. Her daddy actually had to go in after her, because there were so many children enjoying herself that she was in no way going to be able to hear either of us calling for her.

The Usurper and I spent most of our time hanging out at this toy plane. She even figured out how to climb up into it all by herself, and would not leave. A sweet little girl came over and asked me, "Um. Can we play in this when she's done?" I melted, and picked Amelia up to go investigate some of the other attractions in the pit so that some other kids could have a turn. She's one. She would have never been done if I had not carried her away.

The giant foam house with the slide was the biggest attraction for all the kids who could walk on their own. Lilah kept climbing over the walls, and she wasn't the only one. Her baby sister tried crawling into the house once, but most of the bigger kids kept running her over and she quit fast. One sweet little girl tried stealing her binky, too. I laughed. Amelia cried. The other girl's mother apologized. Kids don't know any better, though, so I wasn't mad.

On the back wall there's a giant piano mounted. You can see it in the background of the above picture. It's an actual, working keyboard. The keys don't press in, but they make piano noises when you touch them. I thought it was awesome. The Usurper was not very impressed. She was much more interested in getting back to the giant foam plane to sit in and hog all to herself, haha!

I hope this little pit playground stays around for a long time. All around the interior are benches for adults to lounge on while the kids go wild. On two sides there are indentations and outlets to recharge phones and tablets and eReaders galore. There is also a recycling can and trash can right there. So you can stop to plug in your electronics for a recharge while setting the restless monsters loose to play. I can't wait to go back, but next time I think we'll go on a week day when the mall's less crowded.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ballet Fundraising Powers Activate

In today's American society, there seems to be this exaggerated expectation that children should be involved in at least one extracurricular activity. Billy must be enrolled in youth football as soon as he's old enough, so that he gets all the experience that he possibly can, so that he can earn a scholarship, otherwise he's never going to get into college. At least, that's the impression I get. For boys it's football. For girls it's cheerleading. That's always bothered me.

If my daughters want to be cheerleaders, that's a different story. But I don't want society pushing onto them this idea that the only way they'll ever get into college and be worth anything is if they are popular and captain of the cheerleading team. I'd rather them dance to the beat of their own drum and be girly on their own terms. That's why Your Future Overlord is enrolled in ballet class.

September 25, 2013 - she's the only one without a tutu.

I don't even remember where it came from. I think maybe there was an episode of Sesame Street she watched once that featured ballet. One of the Muppet characters takes ballet classes and is always wearing a tutu, twirling around the neighborhood. I think I vaguely recall her twirling around the living room mimicking the people on the TV. I tilted my head, watching her and all the joy she was expressing in the process, and asking, "Would you like to do that, honey? Do you think maybe you'd like to do ballet?" Of course she said yes. I'm not sure she fully understood my meaning, but that paved the way to where she is now.

Shortly after moving into our house and getting to know our neighbors, I learned that the girl next door is in ballet. I asked her mom which studio she goes to and got some information. Next thing I know I'm signing my eldest up for a summer class so she can test it out to see if she even likes it. She didn't like it. She loved it! So we signed her up for the youngest class for 2-3 year olds and have been going back every week since. Her first recital is in June. I am SO stupidly and girlishly excited, which is completely abnormal for me.

October 30, 2013 - Halloween Week. Pictured with class helper Miss Rachael.
I love this studio so much. Her instructor, Miss Elizabeth, is the sweetest, most tolerant woman in the entire universe. It takes a special kind of somebody to be able to direct the attentions of five rambunctious little girls and teach them the basics of ballet every single week. And I know mine is the most challenging and energetic of the entire bunch.

Lilah gets so excited every time we go to the studio. She runs down the hall to put down her bag, tear off her outerwear and shoes and put on her ballet slippers. She loves all of her "friends" who are in her class with her. She gives them hugs and squeals in delight when she sees them. I don't know if it's because we don't go out much during the winter, and don't socialize a whole lot with the outside world, or if she really does just genuinely love ballet class. I'm glad she still likes it, though. I'm glad she's sticking with it. I'm not so sure how I'm going to feel about it if she sticks with it for the next ten to twenty years, though. Haha! I've watched dozens of documentaries on the matter of ballet and learned that it's an expensive industry!

Which is a wonderful segue into my original purpose for this particular post. My daughter's dance studio is hosting a fundraiser.

This year the studio is working with a locally founded popcorn company that sells over 65 delicious and original flavors of gourmet popcorn. The name of the company is Nom Nom Popcorn. Come on. How can you not want to buy popcorn from a place geeky enough to call themselves NOM NOM? In addition to helping cover recital expenses, though, the top sellers can win some wonderful prizes, of which I have my sights set on being #1.

That's right. The number one grand prize for the number one top seller is a $150 tuition voucher for Tiny Tutus II, the next stage evolution of Your Future Overlord's beginning ballet career. I don't know if she's going to stick with it, but it would be wonderful to not have to pay a large chunk of her future tuition. Though I'd be perfectly satisfied with 3rd place, too, because that's $25 I won't have to spend on a recital DVD which I absolutely must have.

So this fundraiser takes place 100% online. There's no door-to-door sales. I don't get order forms. They did give me a stack of fliers to hand out to people, however, with the website printed on them and a step-by-step guide on the back that doesn't even really tell you how to do it. Turns out to be a little more complicated than it seems. I had to have my husband walk me through the process, and have since had someone else tell me they couldn't figure it out, so I am here to provide you with a handy walkthrough!

STEP 1:  Go to Look at all the delicious flavors and varieties of Nom Nom-alicious Popcorn. There is a large selection to browse through that is separated into categories. I suggest clicking the "Show All Products" option at the top of the page.

STEP 2:  Place an order. To do this you have to register an account, just as you would if you were signing up on any other website forum or email service or whatever. I know. It's weird. It's extra complicated. I have no idea why they set it up this way, but they did. To register, there is a link in the upper right hand corner of the page under the time limit ticker labeled "My Account." 

I have circled the link in the image above in red, drawn an arrow to it, and indicated that you should click it, as you can plainly see. Clicking on that link will bring you to a second page that looks like this:

You are a New Customer, unless you've actually bought product from the Nom Nom Popcorn company, which I doubt. For the purposes of this exercise, you are new and should fill in the form on the right accordingly. All the fields with a red asterisk beside them are required. You must input something there. I recommend you input your real name if you're going to have me deliver it to you personally. Otherwise feel free to have fun with the postal service. Or unless it's a nickname or inside joke I might possibly know. After you have filled in all the required fields, click the "Create Account" button. The screen will then change slightly to look like this:

I'm seriously going to find the person who created this website and slap them. I mean, really? In any case you will now be using the left hand forum. Type in your email address and the password you made up and click "Login." On the next screen you will see something like this:

STEP 3:  Go Shopping! You want to click that link to take you back to the page where all the delicious choices are. The rest sorts itself out. You click on something. You drool over its tasty image. You decide if you really want to spend $10 on a measly 6 cups worth of Cookies & Cream, aka: "Slam Dunk," gourmet popcorn, or if you want go calorie crazy on the $60 worth of 40 party favor bags! You may also decide you want more than one type of popcorn. Believe me. I know. There are so many tasty options, I want to eat them all. I'm sure you and your pocketbook will have to have a long talk, though. 

So you browse. You choose. You select your size. You select your quantity. You click "Add to Cart" if that's your final decision. And then you can either "Continue Shopping" or "Proceed to Checkout" like just about any other online store in existence. This is where it gets more complicated than it really needs to be. Your checkout screen will look something like this:

I've highlighted some key selection areas in red for you. As I said, there are two ways in which you can get your order. The default setting is to have your order "Ship to Group." This means it will be sent to the studio where I will have to pick it up and then personally deliver to you. If you are ordering from out of state, clearly this is not an ideal selection for you. If you select "Ship Directly to Me," the screen will change a little, deleting that block of text I have highlighted and replacing it with a new form to fill out for your shipping information. You'll also notice the receipt changing to include a shipping cost. For the purposes of this walkthrough, I selected a $10 item only. The shipping fee set itself to $7.95. I would assume that if you order larger quantities of delicious popcorn that the shipping fee will still only be $7.95. So if you, my out of state friends and family, really, really want to help out Your Future Overlord's dance studio and gorge on popcorn, go for it. I'll love you forever. Wait. I already do. Tell you what. As an added bonus, I'll make her draw you a thank you scribble. Of course, you'll have to tell me you ordered. Up to you!

Second Very Important Thing. You'll see where I also highlighted "Choose a person to receive credit for this sale:" in the picture above. After you fill out your name, address, credit card information, all that... make sure that you select a name from that list. Likely you're doing this for me, but if someone else you know directed you to my walkthrough here then by all means use them! If me, however, select "Miner 1" from that drop down menu so that I can get credit for the sale and hopefully win Lilah's next year tuition!

Once you've done all of that, click "Submit Order," and voila! You're done. The campaign ends in 17 days. If you're having your order shipped directly to you, it should arrive sometime during the week of the 10th of March. My experimental order form says 2-4 days after the end of the campaign, which is the 10th. I'm not sure if they got that calculated right, though, because if you selected ship to group it tells me I'll be getting my stuff to pick up on the 19th. So I'll just say you'll probably definitely be getting your popcorn by Spring, and that should cover it nicely.

Seriously, though. Don't do it for me. Do it for Your Future Overlord's love of dance.

January 29, 2014 - Your Future Prima Ballerina

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Introduction to Sharp and Pointy Things

The bravest thing I have ever done is willingly put a pair of safety scissors in my three-year-old's hands.

Allowing my daughter to play with scissors is a huge step along my path to conquering motherhood paranoia. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had frightening hallucinations of what could happen if either of my girls came charging into the kitchen while I was chopping vegetables. It's almost second nature now for me to always hold the cutlery high over my head as I'm moving around, even if they aren't even in the house!

My friend Stacy lets her daughter use knives! She lets her chop her own food up! The very thought of allowing my daughter anywhere near sharp pointy objects fills me with a terrible dread that I cannot even logically explain!

Something my sister-in-law said to me once sticks with me to this day, though. She's a child psychologist working for our area schools. It's her job to assess children to see if they're even ready for school or if they have any learning disabilities or may be gifted. She said to me once, "You'd be surprised the number of kids I see who don't know how to use scissors before Kindergarten."

I'll be honest here. I didn't know that was a requirement. I thought using scissors was a skill kids learned in Kindergarten! Not before they even started!

Though, it does bring back memories. I'm pretty sure I was the only kid in Kindergarten who didn't know how to tie her own shoes. I was the only one wearing Velcro. I'm pretty sure all the other kids were secretly making fun of me. I remember feeling embarrassed, for maybe the first and only time in my life, when my teacher said in an astounded voice, "You don't know how to tie your shoes?" It's the very same tone of astonishment Sarah Heren used when she asked me, in high school, "You don't believe in God?"

That's another story entirely, though.

Let's get back to talking about the terror of allowing my three-year-old to cut things. It turns out she's surprisingly very good.

It's also adorable that she has to open the scissors with both hands before she can squeeze them shut again to actually do any cutting. When we first bought her the scissors, we set her at the table with a piece of construction paper and let her go to town. But as I've been out and about at the book stores, browsing the learning sections with all the gorgeous workbooks (I wish I could afford every single one), I remember noticing one book that was all nothing but scissor skill projects.

Sunday I was sitting here at the computer working on something or other, and I thought, "Hm. I wonder if there are any free scissor skill projects online I can print?" Because we finally got more ink for our printer and why not put it to use, right? So I Googled "free scissor skills printables" and the search results came up with a large selection of web pages to browse. I clicked the first one for DLTK's Crafts for Kids to get the clown and balloons pictured above, and a small handful of other ones.

This week I learned just how frustrating it is to work with preschoolers. Maybe it's just my daughter, but she has the shortest attention span in the world. I had to tell her so many times to "stop looking at me and pay attention to what you're doing!" Trying desperately not to sound panicked because I was totally terrified that she was going to cut her fingers off. With safety scissors. I know.

The funny thing is that I found her using safety scissors even more terrifying than that one time I let her stand on the step stool and help me chop vegetables for dinner. Uh huh huh huh huh... Yeah. Not doing that again any time soon.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Usurper's Rise to Power

Today we celebrated Amelia's first birthday. I already told you about the day she was born, plus some, so I won't get all repetitive here. This past weekend we had family and friends join us in celebrating her day of birth a couple days earlier than the actual day. On this day in history, though, February 3rd, the future challenger to the Overlord's throne was born, and today we're going to talk about how we buttered her unsuspecting sister up by going out and having some private family fun.

Officially 1 year old today!
Apparently, my mentioning the birthday party that we had on Saturday inspired a bit of fun conversation in our secret Nerdling Moms group on Facebook. Mostly we talked about cakes, and shared a billion pictures of all the cakes all of us have ever made for all of our kids. Then we advanced into talking about birthday parties in general. One of my friends, Susan, told us about how she is absolutely drawing a blank on what to do for her daughter's upcoming 5th birthday. Housing the party off-site from her own house is a must, because she can't accommodate the number of guests she expects. In this bit of back and forth on suggestions and frustrations, she mentioned this place that I had never heard of, and now I'm going to tell you all about it.

Amelia's cake, by the way, was Daniel Tiger's face.
One of the biggest drawbacks about living in Ohio is that three months out of every year playing outdoors is pretty much not an option. It's cold, and when it's not snowy, it's slushy. Even if it's neither snowy nor slushy, it's still too cold to spend more time outside than it takes to lean out my door and collect the mail. We might as well be hibernating. In fact, I wish we could. Unfortunately, there are these things called jobs that people have in order to make money to pay for those things called bills. I don't work, but I still have these two little monsters to care fore every day.

Those two little monsters, by the way, love to play outside. When it's warm, I pop them in the double stroller and walk them either a mile to the park or a mile to the library, depending on my mood. The park is where it's at, though. They love to climb and swing and run around like lunatics. Especially now for the Usurper who only learned to run around like a lunatic about a month ago. Unfortunately, all that energy gets locked indoors during the winter. We can't go to the park because of the above-mentioned cold, and snow, and forget it.

My husband and I have talked about the significant lack of indoor activities for kids, particularly playgrounds. The nearest thing is the McDonald's Play Places, and those are steadily becoming extinct, I think mostly due to the increase in stupid people throwing lawsuits at the company because of their own stupidity. You know, like the coffee. But we (my husband and I) have talked about how awesome it would be to start our own business, if we could afford the start-up costs and get a loan, and build indoor playgrounds, because to the best of our knowledge they do not exist.

This brings me full circle back around to my moms' group conversation. Did you know that indoor playgrounds DO exist!? Neither did I! I knew about indoor giant inflatable parks, thanks to my friend Jen. But straight up playgrounds? No idea! Until this morning.

To make the Usurper's first birthday special for just the four of us, we took the girls to this awesome indoor jungle gym and party center known as Rockin' Robin's Amazone, in Medina. Mucho many supreme thanks to my friend Susan for informing me of its existence and dropping me a link. This place . . . is AMAZing! I think it's also the only place within a hundred mile radius that houses an entire video game arcade, the likes of which I haven't seen since Aladdin's Arcade in the mall, ages ago. They also have laser tag! It's like a freaking nerdling paradise up in there! And the girls LOVED it. And it only cost us $12 for as much time climbing and sliding as we wanted!

The prices are equally AMAZing! They have a large selection of snacks, pizza, and beverages to choose from at wonderfully reasonable prices. There are also a handful of special bundles and packs that include tokens to use in the video arcade. They had quite a fun selection of merchandise, too. I think my only complaint there is that they were lacking in baby and toddler apparel. I totally would have bought both my girls a shirt if they had them in their size.

She's never going to remember this day, so I took lots of pictures to show her. I know she had a lot of fun, though. Her sister did, too! On the way home, we stopped by Toys R Us to spend the gift card her Papou gave her for her birthday. Based on the things she didn't get, we finally made our decision to blow some money on a toy she's going to outgrow and got her this Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Crawl Around Car:

She likes this toy so much that every time her sister gets in it, she actually yells at her. Serious, flat out, screaming. I'm sure if she knew the words she'd be saying, "Lilah get out of my car!" And she has this adorable way of scrunching up her face, squeezing her eyes shut, and squealing in outrage. I need to get that on video some time.

Her second favorite toy was a gift from her Uncle Benji and Aunt Sarah: the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Song and Story Chair. Fisher Price has seriously been pumping out some really awesome toys lately. They aren't obnoxious noise-makers either. Except for the fact that this chair went all possessed this morning at about 6:00 AM, waking me up and forcing me to grumpily crawl out to the living room to shut it off. Virgil, our cat, was sitting on the back of the love seat staring at it in fascination, because it was just playing itself.

They really hit it out of the park with this toy, though. Two of Amelia's favorite things are sitting on chairs her size and books. She might not be able to actually read them yet, but she just loves flipping through the pages of every single tome she can get her grubby little hands on. And it's for that reason that we concluded that she has been upgraded from a Level 0 Human to a Level 1 Wizard. All I have to do now is put together her character sheet and build her a spell book. My fellow D&D nerds will know what I'm talking about, and yes I do seriously plan on putting together a toy spell book for her.

This leads me to the next best ingenious idea my husband and I came up with as a potential starter business. Starting with our own children, we plan on making them character sheets to update every time they have a birthday. Next year on this day, Amelia will level up to 2, and we'll edit accordingly. Lilah is already a level 3 something-or-other. We think bard because she's in ballet and loves to sing, horribly off-key, just like her mommy. Though that's an awfully cruel class to stick my kid with. Poor bards. Always with the negative reputations.

Over all, I'd say Amelia's first birthday party weekend was a roaring success. We had a larger domicile in which to accommodate all our guests. People enjoyed themselves immensely, as far as I could tell. The cake was delicious, though the Usurper didn't get to eat any. The food was spectacular, thanks to my wonderful husband. The presents were just perfect. Her big sister's unpredictable, unexplained emotional meltdown aside, we had a good weekend. And I'm awfully proud of myself for this little last minute corny idea that I had and put together.

And I'm grateful to everyone who put up with my craziness.