Monday, July 14, 2008

Too long to title

Perhaps I've mentioned I have a little catching up to do. Well, here you go. In no particular order, here's (some of) the stuff I've been meaning to tell you.

First off, we've had some birthdays around here, which were observed but not blogged. We celebrated Sam's fourth birthday with friends who joined us for an Independence Day pancake feast. Grandma and Grandpa Frogmorton and Aunt Daisy also made the long trip here and made Sam's day (in addition to saving my life re: party setup and execution). The party and Sam's new four-year-old attitude each deserve their own posts. So I'll just leave this little photographic teaser of Sam decked out in his poker dealer/pirate/spy/teacher regalia. (Special thanks to Dyson for the spy gear. It definitely comes in handy with all the high stakes espionage activity around here.)

Coach had a birthday too, also celebrated with help from Aunt Daisy. She came up to visit for the day, and watched the kids while Coach and I went out for dinner and a movie. (We saw Iron Man (good show) and ate at Red Robin (good food).) When the kids were in bed, we each enjoyed a slice of (you guessed it!) coconut cake (just the frozen Pepperidge Farms variety, not the delicious monstrosities Coach is now famous for). Still it was yummy. Just ask Grace, who gave it a try herself the next day, after Daddy had left for his niece's wedding in Utah.

Unfortunately for Coach, Grace (and her mommy) liked the cake so much that there wasn't any left for Coach when he returned from his trip. But seriously? Could you say no to a frosting-covered face like that?

Lucky for Coach, we didn't gobble up all his birthday surprises. This is the happy little fire pit we picked out for him. We've all enjoyed it a lot, especially when we can coax our friends into bringing over fixings for s'mores. Here's Sam with his friend Abygail, preparing for a future in pyromania.

And while we're on the topic of fueling fires, indulge me a moment as I brag about the new-and-improved poop situation in our home. I've mentioned before that the pounds of poop around here were getting a little unwieldy, and that the Schmopkins family was using much more than our fair share of landfill space for excrement disposal. Well, I am pleased to announce that my four-year-old Sam has now been reliably peeing and pooping in the potty long enough that I can pretty much call him potty trained. He certainly took his time getting around to "readiness," but when the time was right (for him, 3 and 3/4 years) and the motivation (Diego underwear) was in place, things went pretty well. He still has accidents when he's too busy playing to attend to business. But I'll take what I can get, can count my blessings to be down one generator of poop bombs.

But while human poop disposal was down, canine poop production was way up. For a few weeks in May we had this adorable pooch staying with us.

And while Clementine was sweet and agreeable and affectionate, I definitely noticed outdoor output was high -- doubled even! (On average.)

Poopy piles aside, we're glad to have good friends willing to trust us with their canine companion, who still like us (or so they say) even though I lost Clementine for a couple hours. But I got her back safe and sound, so there's no need to even mention the frantic drive around the neighborhood, or the 1:00 am call to the police. Right? What about how I nearly kissed the nice young man who saved her right on his double-pierced lips? Do I need to tell you about that? Or how, the next day, I was still just so grateful that I wanted to take him cookies, but decided against it thinking that on top of my exuberance the previous evening, cookies might give him the wrong idea.

Of course, just because I decided not to take cookies to that guy doesn't mean there hasn't been plenty of baking around here. Long-time readers will remember Sam's keen interest in the culinary arts. Turns out, he's still interested. The difference now is that giant piles of dirty ingredients aren't as endearing from a nearly-four-year-old as they were from a two-year-old.

I didn't get too cross with him for this mess because he was really proud of himself; he constructed this beautiful, mountainous terrain not for himself, but for his little pony to enjoy. And he was sure I'd be proud of him for making the mess on the table instead of the floor. (Apparently in previous discussions about this sort of thing I'd over emphasized the "dirty floor" portion of the lesson, so in his mind this dry-goods table scape should have been just fine.) Anyway, I couldn't argue with the look of contentment on Pony's face. She really did seem to enjoy her new home.

That is, until I started scooping up piles of ingredients for a baking bonanza. From the table pantry, I made two loaves of french bread, several dozen muffins, cookies, poppyseed bread, pizza dough, breadsticks, and cinnamon bread. Plus a giant bowl of smelly sludge. Despite the inexact proportions, everything but the smelly sludge (which I couldn't bring myself to taste) turned out well. At the end of the bakeathon, I looked around the kitchen and thought I might have some idea where Sam got the idea that making a giant mess while baking is OK.

The good news is the produce of this baking bonanza lasted us many weeks -- I just used the last of the frozen pizza dough yesterday. The bad news is, Sam got into the pantry again less than a week after the pony incident, and this time he wasn't so courteous about keeping ingredients separate and off the floor. I ended up throwing away pounds and pounds of drygoods, and I was very frustrated. I was so mad, in fact, that after seeing the mess (which I did not stop to photograph), I had to shut myself in the bathroom to cool off and come up with an appropriate consequence. I decided that I wanted Sam to understand that purposely making a mess is naughty, but being wasteful is even worse. So after I swept the pile of flour/sugar/beans/rice into the garbage, I brought Sam out of time-out and made him watch me throw his prized possession -- a set of kid-sized orange cones picked out at Dollar Tree after a week of successful pottying -- into the trash, right on top of all the ruined ingredients. Then I pulled the bag out, tied it up, and took it outside to the dumpster. He was horrified. I'll admit that I did find some satisfaction in this cruelty, although I think that if the cones had cost me any more than $1.00, I wouldn't have been able to toss them. Wasting is bad, no?

Sam cried and cried and cried. And for the rest of the afternoon he repeatedly asked "Why did you throw my cones away, Mom?" And commanded, "Never do that again!" And threatened "I'll put cramps in your tummy!" By the next day, he was no longer crying every time he remembered the trauma, and had transitioned to more gentle requests, "Can we get some more cones and the dollar store?"

"We'll see," was my answer. And to tell the truth, I still haven't officially decided. I'm ambivalent because I want to teach him that consequences stand. But he really was so adorable playing with those cones while he "operated" his bike, and cruel as I am, I do like to see the child happy every now and then.

As it is now, Sam speaks of the incident matter-of-factly. If you ask him about it, he'll tell you, "The cones got in the garbabe because I wasted the ingredients." He doesn't even mention the sadistic mommy who "got them" in the garbage. I thought I was really in for it at a ward activity a couple weeks ago when I saw that someone brought a couple sets to use for relay games. To my surprise, Sam handled it well. He played with the cones eagerly while at the church, even telling ward members about the orange cones he used to have at his house before they "got in the garbage." Once home, there was no mention of acquiring another set for himself.

It's probably a good thing that our local Dollar Tree no longer carries them, because that kind of maturity just makes me want to run out and get him everything he wants. So instead, I content myself buying stuff I want from the dollar store. Like this little beauty:

Lovely isn't it? This was the prize awarded to the lucky winner (me) of my wildly popular American Idol Guess-the-Song Challenge, brought to you by the letters Neil and Diamond. I've been using it as trash receptacle in the van. I like it because the bottom is flat so it stays upright and open between the seats. And it looks cute while storing used baby wipes and apple cores. And just think, all of this could have been yours, if only you'd won (or entered) my little contest. Let this be a lesson to you.

But let's move on from the subject of trash to trash reduction, shall we? As you may know, a year ago, we got off to a bit of a rocky start in our new house here in Buffalo. One complaint (among many) was that the previous owner of our home left a bunch of trash around the house and yard. Because we were slow to get settled in, and because we were naive about the whole process (which went much more smoothly with our home in Iowa, by the way. I love you, Iowa!) we didn't get him to get rid of it while we still had leverage. After all the papers were signed we got no response, despite repeated attempts to get it all straightened out. We decided we didn't want the hassle of taking it to small claims court, so we'd just have to get over it and get rid of the junk ourselves. As an exercise in personal therapy, I vowed to get as much use and/or money as I could out of every item he left. One year later, I'm pleased to report on our progress.

Two used and dusty kitchen cabinets left in the attic became toy chests for the kids' rooms.

Some cupboard doors left in the basement became picture frames.

And see that easel holding up the cabinet-door-picture-frame on the left? I dug that out of a corner in the basement.

This plate hanger was behind the tub in the upstairs bathroom. It was covered in years of nasty filth, but I cleaned it up and hung it in Grace's room to display the dress she was blessed in.

And speaking of nasty filth, some of you may remember last summer's rug saga. Here's the happy ending: after a good cleaning, I was able to make about $100 selling these on craigslist.

But probably my favorite lemons-to-lemonade saga from the past year is our upstairs bathroom, which had irritated me with its ugliness since we moved in.

But behold! With a new shower curtain, a little paint and a few accessories, our little eyesore isn't so bad afterall.
Of course, these before-and-after photos are completely unfair because I was already mid-renovation during the before picture. And the lighting was bad. But whatever. This is about trash reduction and personal healing, not scientific objectivity. And guess what else. See that glass apothecary jar filled with cotton balls? I found it in the basement, covered in fake holly disguised as a Christmas decoration. Doesn't it look smug there on the back of the toilet?

To tell you the truth, I'm a little smug too. Who knew another man's trash could look so great? Of course, there was some genuine trash in all of that trash. We threw out boxes of moldy books, a couple of baby gates that I couldn't ever get to close properly (despite too many hours with a screwdriver and a downloaded users' manual), and about a dozen old tires. And there's still some junk left to go. We have a bunch of old glass-paned interior doors in the basement, plus a one piece kitchen sink/cabinet. There's also a big pile of assorted molding and trim, and a couple boxes of tile -- including some marble tiles that I plan to use to make a "cold stone" just like J and M. I also have plans to make better use of a rickety card table and a little wooden stool left under the stairs. And there's a large file cabinet that would be perfect for all the folders full of random papers we're not ready to throw away yet. I just have to haul it out of the basement to give it a good hose-down.

Those projects will have to wait, however, because I had so much fun re-purposing the trash in my own house that I've started collecting everyone else's trash too. Earlier this spring our neighborhood had a bulk trash pickup day. Both of my kids had fallen asleep on the way home from somewhere, so I found myself driving around the block a few extra times to give them a few more minutes of shut-eye. I couldn't help but notice a few treasures in my neighbors' trash, and before I knew it I'd carted home two vanloads while my kids slept. These are just a few of my finds.

When I showed him my treasures, Coach's reaction was somewhere between dismay and disgust. He warmed up, however, when he saw a toddler-sized Adirondack chair among my stash. He'd been wanting a kid-sized chair to use for photo shoots, and after a few new screws it was perfectly stable. And comfortable, apparently.

It's become a little weathered from all the rain this summer, so I think I'll add a coat of paint one of these days. I have plenty left over from other projects, like this one.

I don't have a before picture, but imagine a rickety piece with a couple broken drawers and a sloppy coat of white paint over an outdated 70's composite wood finish. I'm not sure I'm in love with the pulls, but I'm definitely in love with the price. I spent less than $10 on paint, hardware and fabric, and now we have all the storage we needed for the bathroom stuff that won't fit in the bathroom.

This red planter used to be a home-made country curio cabinet. I ripped the door off and filled it with dirt; I like it a lot better this way.

This is one of my more useless acquisitions, but I still kind of like it. It was the base for one of those sets of folding TV tables. Sam uses it for lots of things in his various adventures, but I like to think of it as a child-sized valet. You know, to encourage kids to hang up their clothes. (Hasn't worked yet, but I'll let you know.)

I finished up these projects just in time for a visit from Coach's family, who arrived last week to see the sights of Buffalo and watch the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Their visit, the pageant, and all of our sight-seeing adventures deserve their own post, so watch for that sometime mid-November. Until then, Grandma & Grandpa Zootenhorst, L&T and L&S and families, we're so glad ya'll came. We just hope you had half as much fun as we did. Come again soon! And as for the rest of you: Why haven't YOU come to see us? I still haven't put the air mattresses away, so now's a good time. What are you waiting for?

Plus, is anyone else hungry? It seems like I've been at this computer a long time. And things are disturbingly quiet downstairs. Perhaps I should go check on that.