Sunday, October 27, 2013

Slumber Can Be Tricky

My  11 year old can sleep anywhere, anytime
No matter what age I am, sleep is a problem. When I was a teenager, I couldn't get enough. Getting up for school during my high school years was pure miserable torture. I especially remember routinely falling asleep doing my utterly boring Algebra homework. I tried. so. hard. to stay awake, but the next thing I knew my mom was throwing open my bedroom door and saying "time to get up" and I would groan, roll over and realize that my pencil was stuck to my cheek and I was still wearing yesterday's clothes. 

Following my high school graduation I was working at McDonalds and going to San Antonio Junior College and doing my best to party as much as possible. There was no time for sleep on a regular basis.  My hours were crazy, life was full, and experiences were to be had at any cost.  Some days I would "open" at McDonalds which meant I had to be there at 4 am. Other days I closed and didn't leave until 2 am.  A few times I opened and closed in the same day.  I averaged about 2 hours of sleep a day.  I think I survived because of the binge sleep days that occurred about 3 -4 times a month when I would sleep 12-14 straight hours. Ah, to be so young and indestructible!

My first pregnancy, in 1987-1988, was a sleep nightmare. That whole waking up 26 times a night to pee thing might be good preparation for the getting up with a newborn every 2 hours, but it nearly drove me insane.  9 months of never sleeping through the night followed by 6 months of the same, but with an infant!  Having a baby at age 22 and dealing with the brutal infancy stage was, in retrospect, a piece of cake, though. A 22 year old is resilient and strong. Later when I had my third child at 36 I became stupid from the lack of sleep immediately after her birth. She had acid reflux and for the first 2 months it was rare for her to sleep more than 20 minutes at a time.  Someone finally told me to take the wheels off of half of her crib so she would be at a slight incline.  I wish I could remember who told me that because I think they saved my life. 

But it was with the middle kid (I was 27) that the lack of sleep infancy stage was at it's most sad, but kinda funny.  I was (still) in college and, determined to graduate (on the 10 year plan) as well as determined to provide my oldest with a sibling, I timed my pregnancy so that the birth would occur in the few weeks between the end of the spring semester and the beginning of the first summer session. I was exhausted and my husband went on a long TDY in the Air Force about 4 weeks after she was born.  There was this dog next door that would bark all night long.  One night I was sitting in the rocking chair nursing and started actually hallucinating from a lack of sleep. There were ghostly shapes flying all over the room.  I freaked out and called my husband sobbing and he told me to calm down and go next door and ask the neighbors to do something about the dog.  I knocked on their door (it's like 2 am) and I babbled some incoherent story about seeing ghosts and hearing barking and I know they thought I was going off the deep end.  But they brought the dog in and I never heard it bark again. 

The consequences of spacing my kids out (they are now 25, 20 and 11) were that it wasn't until about 6 years ago that the opportunity to sleep straight 8 uninterrupted hours on a regular basis became possible again. No infants needing to be fed, no toddlers getting out of bed, no nightmares and requests for drinks of water.  No fevers or ear infections or upset tummies.  I think I had one good year of sleep and then, I turned 40.   Suddenly I was waking up at 3 am for no good reason?  Wide awake.  I asked my doctor about it and he said this was common for women over 40.  What the heck?!  This was cruel and usual. For about 3 or 4 years I tried everyone's suggestions:  make sure the room is cool and dark, keep to a schedule (as if), don't eat or drink anything several hours before bed,etc.  Nothing really worked.  And then, for no apparent reason, I just started sleeping better again.

Sometimes I still wake up at 3 am but I fall back asleep.  These days I feel like I've come full circle  - back to those Algebra homework days, only with books.  I have so many books I want to read and the only time I have to read is at bedtime.  I try. so. hard. to stay awake and read but generally I'm snoozing after only a paragraph.  And the next thing I know my alarm clock is going off at 6 am and I groan and wish for the weekend (when I wake up at 6 am anyway, but at least I can go back to reading my book!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

From Me To You

Shelf of Love: Gifts my kids made me in school over the years
This is the story of how I came to be in the process of opening a gift store focused on a child's shopping experience in the Rolling Oaks Mall this year.

During the holiday season of 1997 I participated in the absolute best PTA fundraiser ever. My oldest daughter brought home a flyer in her backpack that said:

"Bring your child to Santa's PTA Holiday Gift Store tonight to shop for his/her family, friends and teacher!" 

Despite the short notice (don't get me started - see previous blog post), I was intrigued. At this point in my life I had a 4th grader and a 4 year old, we had moved 9 times in 11 years as a military family, and I was tired and pretty close to running out of innovative kid gift giving ideas. Here are a few of  our holiday gift-giving ideas for gifts from the kids: 

A poem from 5 year old Ariel to me
  • Draw pictures
  • Write songs
  • Write poems
  • Exchange stuffed animals 
  • Coupon books
  • Things they brought home from school
  • Dollar Store
  • Walmart
My oldest was an accomplished artist very early on, so the picture drawing was always fun for her. You'd think it was a cheap option too- but it always seemed to involve an expensive trip to Michaels for special paper, pencils, and all the trimmings. Poems and songs were fun too.  I've framed and hung some of the poems and pictures in the house over the years. 

The year where we discovered the "coupon book" was awesome, and we've used that one many times since. My current coupon book is a little low on foot massages. I may have to start dropping hints to Zoe for Christmas 2013.

Exchanging stuffed animals only works when they are really little and it can't be that special one, of course. But the selection, wrapping and giving process was pretty neat. The girls did adoption certificates for each others' animals along with "Care and Feeding Instructions." 

The stuff they sporadically brought home from school was usually just for me, mom; a couple of years, dad got lucky too.

The harder years were when they got a little older and started throwing around words like "allowance." They seemed to think I should give them a budget and turn them loose in the store with cash. Which I've done. Those were not the best years.  They usually involved crowds of people in Wal-Mart.  Ugh. 

Another favorite:  Have you ever taken your kid to the store, pretended not to "look" while they picked out your gift AND while you stood in line and paid for it?!  Well, I have. Sure there were a few years their father took them, but the burden was usually mine. 

So, back to that intriguing flyer. We decided to go to the school gym for this fundraiser. Here's what happened: we walked in the door where we were greeted by a high school student "Elf" who took both the 4th grader and the 4 year old (bonus!) to a small table to fill out a "gift wish list."  I was asked by one of the PTA organizers what my child's "gift budget" was (i.e. what was the amount I was willing to donate to the PTA). The Elf was told what my child's budget was and they completed the wish list.

Then they disappeared behind a curtain to "Santa's Shop."  About 15 minutes later the 4th grader emerged, proudly toting a big brown paper bag with a straw handle, followed by the 4 year old toddling behind her with a similar bag. These bags were filled with small clumsily, but lovingly wrapped gifts for me, my husband, each other and their teachers. The kids each had a bag of "under the tree ready" Christmas presents! Oh the joy! Oh the happiness! They were beaming. 

Both girls were so very proud and pleased with themselves after their trip to Santa's Gift Shoppe. On Christmas morning they were so excited when we opened the gifts. Mine was a mug. I think it said "mom." I don't remember any of the other gifts, but I'll never forget the girl's faces.

I only lived in Virginia that one year. In 1998 I was back in San Antonio and have been looking for that kid-shopping-gift-giving opportunity ever since. 

To be honest, what actually happened that night at the fundraiser and what I've filled in and embellished over the years are all jumbled together now and comprise my vision for our store: "From Me To You": care/of Big Brothers Big Sisters.  I've thought about trying it as a fundraiser for so many years that I've added to it for 15 years and now it's going to happen. :) 

Save Your Pennies, Kids!
Next Saturday, October 26, 2013, we are having a "preview" of this store (if we manage to be ready in time.) The mall has an event called "Boo Bash" and a thousand kids have been invited. We are inviting everyone we know too and giving out piggy banks to all the kids and inviting them back for our Grand Opening on Black Friday. They'll be able to see samples of what we'll be selling, and we want their feedback on gifts we might not have thought of. We'll also be asking parents what they think of our comfy waiting room and how we can improve that for them. The store is separated into 2 halves: the gift shop and the waiting room. Both sides are visible from outside the store through the mall's glass shop windows.

I will be posting pictures as soon as I have them. 

"From Me To You" care/of Big Brothers Big Sisters Gift Store
The store will only be open for 26 days, until Christmas Eve. 100% of the proceeds will go to Big Brothers Big Sisters and all contributions towards a child's shopping budget are tax deductible. Donations can also be made to the organization in honor of anyone you'd like to buy a holiday gift for. You'll be helping an at risk kid get a life saving, life changing Big Brother or Big Sister however you choose to participate. 

Hope to see you all there! 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Baubles and Trinkets and Knick-knacks, Oh My!

Mind control marketing
So, orange is really not even a color I particularly like, except in October for some reason. When the stores start setting up those enticing displays of pumpkin, witch and ghost related trinkets some uncontrollable chemical reaction goes off in my brain and I start to fill my cart. Granted, these displays start showing up now in August. I saw Halloween stuff out in the stores before school supplies this year!  And I so virtuously avoided buying anything first.  I would resist and then send victory pictures to Lacey, my number one addiction counselor (see earlier blog post "A Problem with Pumpkins"). She would dutifully congratulate me: "Yay, Mommy!" or "I'm so proud of you." And I would smirk that virtuous smirk all the while knowing I wasn't fooling anyone. But I don't think I broke down and bought anything this year until mid-September at least!  Now that's restraint!

So anyway, as a result of years of this cart filling, I've now filled a large house with Halloween baubles and knick-knacks galore. And I have to admit that I'm not some creative genius who has arranged artful groupings of carefully selected pieces around in strategic places to create pleasing holiday visuals for the eyes. No, it's just stuff. Everywhere. I've packed away all the normal things I usually have out during the rest of the year on counters and shelves and tables to make room. It's kind of like a store. In a house.

To be clear, we have particular preferences for our Halloween stuff. We like the smiling pumpkins and the not too scary witches, the white, friendly ghosts and the dancing skeletons. Not the scary stuff, ugly monsters, skulls, bloody anything or anything with scars.  And nothing too angry looking. That's right, we keep the Happy in Halloween in our house! The older two kids were never really into the too-scary and Zoe still clings to me in Party City during the season. So we keep it light. 
We especially love Halloween sno-globes and picture frames and candles, oh! the candles, all those delicious fall scents: pumpkin, cinnamon, cider, apples, berries, nutmeg, hazelnut, caramel, rum and all the vanillas.  Also, any decoration that dances is good.  Here are a few fun pictures of the current decor.  Inside decor, that is - outside to be highlighted in a future post.  As a new neighbor that I just met at National Night Out told me, "I know what house you live in, it's the one with all that Halloween stuff."  (This from a man who puts a giant spider in his front yard.) 

Happy Halloween!

More Happiness!
Halloween happiness in the kitchen window sill


Mr Potato Head Ghost
Random baubles
On the wall, in the kitchen
Witches live here

Halloween Village
You can "blow out" the flame :)

He's so cute, right?!
In the library
A Must Have, of course
This is scary as we get
Is this too much...?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cackles, Cauldrons and Cobwebs: our Costume Craze

I'm a witch!
I think I'm about 7 years old in this Halloween picture from my childhood.  My brothers and I look pretty happy, don't we?  Halloween still makes me pretty happy.  My transformation from normal, happy Halloween-is-fun type person to certified addict happened gradually, over time - but there were a few important catalysts (and by catalyst I mean where we should place the blame).  

First, there was my oldest daughter's competitive streak, discovered in 1998 when we found out that our new neighborhood had a Halloween Costume Contest.  Ariel decided to enter, and win. This competitiveness came out of the blue; to my knowledge she had never participated in a contest before. Here she is in 1998, in that first contest, with her sister.  Not only did she not win, but her little sister won an honorable mention ribbon because the judges thought her Aladdin's lamp was so cute.  This was valuable insight:  judges love the accessories. 

Jeannie and Jasmine
The next year Ariel took it up a notch as Cleopatra, and won second place.  

Cleo and Minnie
In 2000 she finally took home a first place trophy as a Gypsy, incorporating some serious "accessorizing:"  This was also my first and last experience with purchasing and handling dry ice. 
It bubbled up pretty cool and she offered to tell the judges their fortunes.
After the dry ice debacle, I thought it couldn't get more challenging, but then Ariel decided to be Amelia Earhart in 2001.  I thought she was crazy, but she won first place again.  Lacey also took home her first trophy that year. 

Ariel brandishing her trophy.  Lacey, aka the Wizard, never broke character.
This was only the beginning, as you know if you have read my blog post that began with a picture of the Trophies My Kids Have Won in Costume Contests.  That 1998 contest started a solid 10 year period of intense competition that resulted in the 19 trophies that I still put up on the mantle each year.  Here are a couple of my other favorite costumes from over the years:  
Dr Loco and Trailer Trash Barbie (on her own "stand"!)

Lacey as Happy Grapes!

The best costume ever - Zoe the Baby Turkey (costume by my talented sister in law)
We have also done a lot of recycling over the years.  All three of the girls have been witches and bunnies and fairies.  Cleopatra,  Raggedy Ann and Little Red Riding Hood have had a lot of play as well.  

Zoe as Cleopatra (6 years later recycled headdress)
Ariel, age 3 in 1991, left and Zoe, age 2, in 2004 as Raggedy Ann

Lacey Red Riding Hood and her big bad wolf (granny-father lol)

I have to admit that the costume making and wearing did not start in 1998.  Here is one of my favorite Halloween costume combos from early on, this one of Ariel and Lacey in 1995.  
Ariel, the witch, and her black cat, Lacey

Ariel is 25 now and living in Ft Lauderdale, Florida working as a journalist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, but she is still dressing up.  She is very involved with a local "Live Action Role Play" (LARP) group, which I understand is vampire-inspired.
Ariel, age 17 in 2005

 Ariel and Lacey were more competitive but these days Zoe "just wants to dress up."  So we haven't done any contests since 2009.  All the fun and none of the pressure, that's Zoe!  :)  Here are a few of Zoe: 

Zoe Red Riding Hood

Zoe the Flapper

Zoe the Leprechaun with her pot of gold

Zoe as a Pirate

Zoe as Flamenco Dancer

And of course I cant leave out Bramble, whom you may have met in an earlier post:  "Just a Stuffed Rabbit."  He has been dressing up since 2006 when he was a "witch ghost."  If you follow him on Facebook you can vote for his 2013 costume.   
Bramble as: Devil, Bee, Pharaoh, Pirate, Jester, and Witch Ghost
I havent done as much dressing up myself over the years as I have dressing up others.  But one year, Christian, my "Little Brother" asked me if I would be a cheerleader to his football player, so of course I had to do that!  
Chris and Me
And I have famously worn my "pumpkin dress" many, many times over the past 20 years.  
Ariel, me and Lacey in 1994
So the first thing that intensified my Halloween obsession was the costume contests - but the second was the sudden proliferation and widespread availability of cool, cheap Halloween stuff everywhere. I started to see cute little orange baubles at every turn --and I could not resist.  Stay tuned for more on that in my next blog post:  "Baubles and Trinkets and Knick-knacks, Oh My!"

Costumes over the years...