My mother- and father-in-law and Amy have arranged a Big Surprise for the girls, and told them Saturday night that the Big Surprise will be revealed on Wednesday (which is also Mallory's birthday, but that's mostly incidental). So the girls, of course, have been begging us to tell them what the Big Surprise is. "Just a hint?" they say. "No," we say. "Mommy, can't we just play Hot and Cold about the Surprise?" Mallory said. "No," I said. "But it's just Hot and Cold! You don't have to really tell me," she said. "No," I said. "Well, I don't really understand how Hot and Cold works anyway," she said.

These are Mallory's guesses:

Going to Disney World
Going to an aquarium
Going to a hotel water park
A puppy
Meeting Hannah Montana
A chocolate pie as big as our house
A sleepover with her friends (not likely)

These are Phoebe's guesses:

The Beatles are coming to our house ("Phoebe, don't you know that two of the Beatles are dead?" Mallory asked. "What?" Phoebe said.)
Dora the Explorer is coming to our house
A giant apple will come and everyone will get a slice of the apple and it's really big and we'll eat it

SOME of these guesses are, in fact, going to come true, but they are not the Big Surprise. ONE guess is the correct one. If you would like to guess yourself, please do so. But you may have to wait until Thursday to find out what the Big Surprise is. Because today is the last day of November, and I am over and out.



Best invention ever:

Look at those uniformly sliced apples (5 Cortland 2 Macintosh, 1 accidental Honeycrisp)

The slicing went so quickly that my crust didn't chill quite long enough. But, I had this pie-crust-rolling-out-thingy to help:

This for aesthetic purposes:

which came in handy; I used all the little apple cutouts to patch the cracks and bare spots. Somehow I didn't end up with quite enough crust:

Still, it turned out okay:

For maximum enjoyment, microwave each slice for exactly 32 seconds, then top with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.


The Return of the Lithuanian Spy

When I was in high school, and when I received a phone call at home, I would drag the phone (cord and all) into my bedroom and close the door firmly and sit with my back against the door, to keep out all the people in my house who were dying to overhear my conversations. "Are you conducting secret business in there?" my father asked in reference to this behavior. "Are you a Lithuanian spy?" When the phone rang and it was for me, he would say: "Tell Krista the Lithuanian embassy is on the line!"

Now Mallory, whenever she receives or makes a phone call, immediately ducks into the bathroom with the phone and closes the door. Could it be that this characteristic is inherited? Did she receive it genetically along with my hazel eyes and Chris's long fingers?

She does have it easier; our phones are cordless, at least.


Flashback Friday: The Childhood Pets Edition

This is Spunky:

Spunky is a dog who showed up at our house (out in the country) one day and hung around with us intermittently. Sometimes he'd stay on our porch for weeks at a time, and sometimes he'd disappear for several days and then come back. Other times he'd come home with a little black dog, a female, whom we named Josie. (I suspect there were many Josie x Spunky puppies at one time as well.) One Christmas Day we came home from my grandma's house to find Spunky in our yard, all bloody and limping. He'd either gotten into a fight with another dog or kicked by a cow (did I mention we lived on a farm?). We brought him inside and cleaned him up and let him sleep by my sister's bed all night. I went to sleep crying, sure that he'd be dead in the morning, but no, he was perfectly fine when the sun came up. And then the day came when he disappeared and never came back. I like to think that he found another family to temporarily adopt. He was a good boy.

This is Rusty:

Rusty was the only dog we ever had who got to stay in the house, because we got him as a puppy in the wintertime. I was the one who talked Mom into getting him, so he was mostly my dog. Every night I had to lay newspapers all over the floor of our utility room, and then rig up a gate so he would stay there til morning. This was kind of a pain. But, on weekend mornings I'd wake up early and bring him to my bedroom and we'd have all sorts of fun. Rusty was hit by a car and killed when he was still very young. It was the first time I had to deal with the death of a pet. Rusty was a very good boy.

This is Noodle:

I wish I had a better picture of Noodle. He was a half-brother of Rusty, and we actually brought him home with one of his littermates, a black dog named, originally enough, Blackie. Blackie was also hit by a car when he was two or three years old; Noodle was the only dog we ever had with the sense not to chase cars. He was a happy dog. He loved to go on walks with my mom; he could be off doing who knows what, no where in sight when she started out, but somehow he could sense when she was walking and he'd always zoom along and catch up with her. He had a very long life for a farm dog; he died just a few weeks after Aimee and Casey left for college. It was as though he knew his job -- watching over his kids -- was done. He was a very very good boy.

These are two calves we had to feed:

The thing on my brother's head was not a pet (ha!):

And this is especially for Aimee:

Evil bunny! Run!


Thanksgiving disaster, narrowly averted

It is perhaps not such a good idea to store your vanilla extract right next to your soy sauce.

I caught myself just in time.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Count your blessings very carefully

Mallory made up a Thanksgiving song last night. She sang:

"I'm thankful for my Mommy
I'm thankful for my Daddy
I'm thankful for all my grandmas
And my grandpas too.
I'm thankful for my aunts and uncles
I'm thankful for my cousins.
I'm thankful for my house
I'm thankful for my toys.
I'm thankful for my eyes and nose
I'm thankful for my clothes--"

and then Phoebe leaned toward her and whispered:

"Psst! Hey Mallory! You forgot to say your sister!"


My New Ring

Amy hosted a jewelry party a few weeks ago and I bought this ring:

(It's hard to take a good picture of your own hand.)

The ring is kind of gaudy and flashy and totally unlike anything else I own. It probably doesn't look that good on my short stubby fingers or with my standard outfit of a long-sleeved v-neck t-shirt and khaki pants.

But I've still been wearing it every day, and every time I see it, I feel pretty.

I don't feel pretty very often. And I've realized that when you don't feel that pretty, you can get into a spiral of habits that make you feel even less pretty. I hate all my clothes, but I don't want to buy new clothes on the off chance that I might lose weight. Or I should find a new way to do my makeup, but what's the point when I just sit in my cubicle all day. And there are other issues: I should exercise, but that would take time away from the kids. Or I should go to a real hairdresser and get a real hairstyle, but that would be expensive, and the kids need new shoes. Or I should eat better, but what's the point of cooking healthy meals when no one else in the house will eat them.

I haven't really made taking care of myself a priority, for the past several years.

But when I look at this ring, I start to feel like I might be the kind of person who deserves to feel like she deserves to wear a ring like this.

And maybe that's a good place to start.


So tired

Still recovering from slumber party. Dealt with two cranky kids all day long. Who wouldn't leave me alone -- I had to play games and do crafts with them because they were sooo sad that the fun was over. "You still have to do what I want you to," Mallory said, "because it's my birthday party that's over now." Phoebe kept crying because Mallory wouldn't share her birthday presents, and I kept explaining that you don't always have to share birthday presents because they're special. Then we went to another birthday party (Chris's cousin) and two members of that family have what seemed suspiciously like swine flu, so now we have the spectre of that contagion looming over us. I don't know if any of this has made sense. I need to unload the dishwasher and fold some laundry but I'm so tired that I may just go to sle


Slumber Party!

There are four little girls in my house, hyped up after building-a-bear and ice cream sundaes, who are convinced that they're going to stay up until midnight. I think I'm going to go around and set all the clocks two hours ahead and then put them to bed. Wish me luck.


Close enough

Phoebe loves the Fancy Nancy books and, as a result, often asks how to say things in French, like Nancy does. So last night as I was tucking her in I said, "Je t'aime. That means I love you in French."

"Oh!" she said. Then she said, "Pah jem! No, I mean, bah chim. No, I mean...how do you say it again?"

"Je t'aime," I said again.

"Ma chim! No, pah tim. No, I mean, cha chem. No, I mean..."

"I love you too," I said.

(Flashback Friday has been postponed due to technical problems. A shame, it was going to be a good one today.)


One Thing We Did Right

“Mommy, you’d just better be glad that you had Phoebe,” Mallory said a few days ago.

“Well, I am glad, but why do you say so?” I asked.

“Because if you hadn’t, I would’ve been stomping around the house every single day, so mad at you that you didn’t give me a baby sister.”

Admittedly, I wanted a second child mostly because I didn’t want Mallory to grow up without a sibling (which speaks well of my own siblings, doesn’t it?). I also realized, though, that whether or not you will have a good relationship with your sibling is largely a matter of luck and innate personality, no matter what the experts may say about child spacing and birth order and so forth. And, luckily, my girls do seem to get along about eighty percent of the time – not bad, really.

Mallory has always been impressed by Phoebe and Phoebe’s accomplishments. I remember how excited she would get when Phoebe met a milestone as a baby – held her own toy, sat up, learned to crawl. Now Mallory will sometimes share an indulgent smile or a conspiratorial giggle with me and Chris when Phoebe is being unintentionally adorable (telling herself a story, mispronouncing a word, twirling). The other night, when Phoebe said, “I know how to say brown in Spanish – cafĂ©!”, Mallory was just flabbergasted. “Phoebe’s so smart!” she said. Then Phoebe said something about taking all of her young daughters to Argentina, and Mallory said, “How does she know about Argentina? That is so smart! Phoebe should be in the Olympics of Smart!”

Phoebe, on the other hand, appears less worshipful of her big sister than I remember being of my big sister – I think because Phoebe is so very…self-possessed? Self-sufficient? She doesn’t automatically want to do everything that Mallory does, or like everything that Mallory likes. But nothing makes her sadder than when Mallory won’t play with her, and nothing makes her more indignant than when Mallory accuses her of wrong-doing.

I remember sitting on the front porch one afternoon a few weeks after Phoebe was born. Mallory was playing in her wading pool – or rather, she was scooping up cups of water from her wading pool and dumping them out along the curb. Phoebe was sleeping in her carseat next to me. I was thinking about how I was now a mother of two, and reflecting on my fear – before Phoebe was born – of how I would manage to love them both. Suddenly I was just overcome with a wave of fondness for Mallory, for the familiarly of her and her three-year-old antics; and I realized how different that was from the fiercely protective love I felt for Phoebe, of whom, I admit, I was not that fond, in part because she was only three weeks old and not an easy baby, but mostly just because I didn’t know her well enough yet. I regarded my two girls and thought, as I often think, I just want them to be happy. And, I just want them to be happy with each other.

So far, that’s working out okay.


As promised, the rest of the story

The prinses and the real body of the frog and a special supris

Once apon a time there was a prinses and a prince.

Befor the prince was just a frog.

Thanks to the princes becaus wen she kissed the frog the frog turnd
into a prince

Just then they noticed something so great
Theyr gowing to have a baby girl.

Then the baby was born.

The end.


Lessons in Theology

"I'm hungry for lunch," I remarked on the way home from church on Sunday.

"I know why you're hungry," Mallory said.

"Okay, why?" I said.

"Because at church, you saw the priest hold up the bread, and it made you hungry to look at it, but you couldn't have any because you're a public school kid, and that's why you're still hungry now," she said.

"Oh," I said. "Well. Well, no, actually, I'm just hungry because it's lunchtime."

Mallory performed in the choir at church, wearing a very fancy new dress. It's possibly a little bit too fancy for church, but it was the only dress I could find that was not a) strapless b) made for a girl much skinnier than my daughter c) slutty or d) decorated with skulls or weird looking monkeys. Girls' clothes are awful these days. Anyway, she loves her dress. And even though I'm just a "public school kid" (someday I'll teach her the word "Protestant," which is more to the point), I was still suitably impressed with this group of young children singing, in Latin no less. I'm not sure what "Magnificat" means, but it sure sounds pretty when sung in a round by a bunch of 7 and 8 year old girls.


Technology Makes Us Stupid: My Story

A few months ago I pushed a cart full of groceries to my minivan and clicked my key remote to unlock the back door. It didn't unlock. I punched the button again. It didn't unlock. I went around to the front door, opened it, and pushed the automatic door lock button. The back door still wouldn't open. I went around to the other front door and pushed that button. The back door still wouldn't open. I crammed the groceries in through the side door and drove to my inlaws' house to pick up the kids. "My back door won't unlock," I told my father-in-law. "I tried the remote and the buttons on the door, and nothing happened."

"Huh," he said. "Did you try using the key?"

(the key worked)

(and yes, Mallory was the fifth brownie)


Five Little Brownies

...took an ice skating lesson.

The FIRST little brownie listened carefully to the instructor, performed all the steps with a grimly determined look on her face (but not a single smile), made it twice across the rink, and clumped off the ice at the end of the lesson. "That was hard, and not very fun," she said.

The SECOND little brownie attacked the ice with glee, skinny little legs flailing wildly. She fell a lot, but laughed each time and got right back up. Her technique was not the greatest, but she managed to fly across the ice anyway. She stayed on the rink after the lesson was over, and begged her mom to stay even longer after the allotted two hour Girl-Scout skate was up.

The THIRD little brownie has some kind of natural athleticism which allowed her to grasp proper ice-skating concepts right away. She was cautious, but she was good.

The FOURTH little brownie had spaghetti legs and just could not stay up. She spent most of the lesson falling over or being dragged bonelessly along by the instructor. When the lesson was over she was crying tears of frustration. "But you tried," we told her, "you were so brave for trying!"

The FIFTH little brownie sat quietly through the safety lesson and then burst into tears when it was time to line up to go out on the rink. "I don't want to I don't want to I don't want to," she sobbed, and neither her leaders nor her troop members could change her mind. "You won't get an Ice Skating patch for your vest," the troop leader warned. "I don't care I don't care," she sobbed. So her skates came off and she spent two hours sitting on the bleachers. Occasionally she would say, "Can I really not have a patch?" On the way home she said, "What if you take me ice skating tomorrow? Will I get the patch THEN?" She couldn't understand why the troop leader said no.

Mallory is one of these Five Little Brownies...any guesses as to which?


My other daughter is also a writer

Phoebe has learned to write her name:

Overheard while she was working on this: "Now for my name. P H O E B E. There. Hmm...no, it needs a swirl. There. Perfect."

She also tried her hand at writing a story. She would draw a picture, hand the paper to me, and say, rather imperiously, "I want it to be said..." Her story turned out a bit abstract. One page, for examnple, said "There once was a queen who met a butterfly named Spots." Two pages later, she dictated, "There was a pony by the old crib, and the baby was asleep." A few pages later, it was "I want it to be said...Motherhood and cupcakes." I said, "Motherhood and cupcakes?" and she said, "Yes, of course."

She drew this picture at school:

It's Phoebe herself, with a Golden Bechiever.


Flashback Friday!

This was me, the night I graduated from high school (or, as one of my more pedantic professors would have it, the night I was graduated from high school):

Good heavens, I was skinny. My hair was bigger than my waist.

Me and Chris on one of our first big dates. It was my birthday, he took me to the Melting Pot. The next day he went and bought himself his first new car. Which he is still driving today!

Chris talking on the phone in my old apartment in Chapel Hill. I don't know who he was talking to or why he looks so annoyed. The point of this picture is the kitchen. That there, right behind Chris? That was my entire kitchen. I had about 10 inches of counter space. Directly across from the avocado oven was an avocado refrigerator -- the kind you actually had to defrost, once in a while -- and then a small open area for a table. It was living.

This picture is blurry. It is of a time -- also blurry in memory -- when Chris and I got to go on vacation by ourselves. Also it features lovely North Carolina fall foliage, which I've been meaning to write about for a while. So look! Pretty leaves.

Aimee's wedding. Awww. We looked good. Seeing this picture makes me think I should have bangs again.

Have a good weekend!


In all other respects I like this person

How is it that in this year of 2009, a woman of my same age, with approximately the same level of education and work experience as me, does not yet know that it is not appropriate to use the word "retarded" when she means, instead, stupid or annoying or ridiculous?

And why is it that I don't have the guts to ask her to refrain?


A story for you

The prinses and the frog
by Mallory
Whach it on Mackt Up Home only if your a reg guest

Once opon a time ther was a princes
the princeses father wants her to be marid

One day the prinses saw a baby frog
Its now my pet said the princes
Your name is Jumps

They went inside and the princes sang
The frog was very very very very happy

When the frog grew up he said if you kiss me I'll turn into a prince
Wow its like a fairy tale!
I will, said the princes.

And they did.
The end.

Next week: The thrilling sequel!


The Lost

“They were killed by the Nazis,” is all Daniel Mendelsohn’s grandfather would say about his brother Shmiel and Shmiel’s wife and four daughters. The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million tells how Mendelsohn managed, sixty years after the fact, to piece together a handful of memories and rumors to create a narrative of the fate of his relatives.

It was an enormously difficult task, not least because of the passage of time. Shmiel and his family lived in a town called Bolechow, which was sometimes Polish and sometimes Russian and sometimes Ukrainian. Of the six thousand Jews in Bolechow in 1939, only forty-eight remained in 1945. Forty-eight. Of those forty-eight, only a handful were alive in 2001, when Mendelsohn began his search in earnest. It was through years of far-flung travels, and interviews with survivors, and strange coincidences and twists of fate, that the story of Mendelsohn’s family was uncovered.

Mendelsohn’s beloved grandfather carried a long brown wallet in his pocket every day of his life. Upon his death, Mendelsohn discovered the contents of the wallet – letters from Shmiel written in the earliest days of the war. The tone of the letters grew increasingly desperate with the passage of time. Send papers, send money, appeal to the President, get us all out, get my children out, get at least one of my daughters out – until the letters stopped for good. One of the things that was “impossible to know” (a phrase used often throughout the book) was how Mendelsohn’s grandfather, and Shmiel’s other siblings and cousins, out of harm’s way in America, responded to those letters. Of course they did everything they could to help, Mendelsohn was told by other family members, but the passage of time, the deaths of people who were actually there, leaves the question in doubt.

Because the family did not escape in time, they were “liquidated” (a chilling word, used often in this book) along with the rest of the Bolechow Jews. The mother and three daughters were killed early on; the father and another daughter survived almost to the end. With the help of a Polish Catholic boy who loved the daughter, they were hidden in a hole beneath the house of a schoolteacher until a suspicious neighbor denounced them. Then they were all – Shmiel and his daughter, the boy and the teacher – shot.

I’ve always avoided reading much about the Holocaust; it’s too horrible, too enormously awful. Even as I was reading this book I was distancing myself from the contents, from some of the descriptions of what happened to the people in Bolechow. There was one story that broke down my detachment, though – and honestly, if you are at all sensitive to very sad stories, you probably just want to stop reading right now. In a way I feel it’s not even my place to tell it – but what happened was this. There was a group of Jews hiding in a house during one of the “Aktions” – when the Germans rounded up the Jews of the town for mass executions. The group in hiding included a woman with her two children, aged two and four. The two-year-old was crying, and the others were afraid that the crying would reveal their position. The mother was forced to hold a pillow over the child’s face; the child suffocated, and the group was found anyway. They were put on cattle cars for transport to a camp with gas chambers. During the journey, the mother saw an opportunity to jump off the car – so she did, leaving her four-year-old behind.

When I read that, I thought, of course, of Phoebe, my four-year-old, and my immediate reaction was – never, never, never, would I have abandoned her like that. Even in this situation, when I knew that both of us would die; even when I knew that nothing I could do would save her; even when I knew that my presence would be no protection for her – I would not leave her side. But then I thought – and Mendelsohn in fact pointed out, several times during the relaying of stories like these – that I simply cannot know what I would have done, having never been in that situation; and because of that I cannot judge.

One thing I hadn’t known was that the gas chambers – the “final solution” – came about, in part, because German soldiers were “emotionally traumatized” from having to shoot so many women and children in the mass executions. The gas chambers were therefore not just efficient, but anonymous, easier for the soldiers to bear. When I read that, I thought – the soldiers were traumatized? Boo-freaking-hoo! They should have been traumatized! They should have been ashamed! They should have thrown down their guns and walked away and refused to take part in the atrocities. And I realized that this was part of the tragedy of the Holocaust. The main tragedy, of course, was the death of 6 million people – the loss of not just those lives, as Mendelsohn points out in a very moving passage, but of all those families, and of all those futures – children that would never be born, stories that would never be told, art never created, music never sung, problems never solved – but it was a tragedy, too, that so many other people were made to be complicit in those deaths. That Germans (and Ukrainians, and Poles, and others) killed Jews (and Ukrainians, and Poles, and others). That we (humans) killed them (humans).

It occurred to me to wonder, too, what part distant members of my family would have played during this awful time. My father’s family – my great-grandfather and great-grandmother – came from a little town that was probably very much like Bolechow, a town that was sometimes German and sometimes Russian. Most of them emigrated long before World War II , but it’s possible that someone related to me, however distantly, some Renner or Kruegel or Ehrlich, was still there. What did he do, this hypothetical cousin of mine? He wasn’t Jewish, that much I know. Did he help march Jews into a forest and raise his gun? Was he off with the army, fighting other battles? Did he lay low in his cottage, attempting to make it through the war unseen and unscathed? Did he, maybe, cut a trapdoor in his kitchen floor, clear out a living space, and hide a Jewish family there, risking his own life and the lives of his own wife and children as he did so? Or did he notice a neighbor behaving strangely, did he suspect that neighbor of harboring Jews, and did he report his suspicions, hoping that by highlighting that neighbor’s “betrayal” he would ensure his own survival?

Impossible to know.


Wish she was always this easy to please at dinnertime

Phoebe: Mommy, can we have pancakes for dinner tonight?

Me (because I had no other ideas): Sure, I guess.

Phoebe: Yay! I love pancakes!


Phoebe: Mommy, why do I smell bacon?

Me: Because I'm cooking bacon.

Phoebe: Oh, I love bacon!

Me: Yes, I know.

Phoebe: What are we having with the bacon? Oh! I know! We can have biscuits! I love biscuits!

Me: No, we're having pancakes, remember? Because you asked for pancakes?

Phoebe: We're having pancakes? I love pancakes!

Phoebe eschews all condiments -- no ketchup for this child, no syrup, no mustard or mayonnaise. She does love butter, but that's the dairy source in her diet, not just a condiment. When she's eating french fries, however, she will sometimes ask for some pretend ketchup, and one of us will pretend to squirt a pretend dollop of ketchup on her plate. A few weeks ago, when, it is important to add, she was eating off of one of those kids' plates with the divided compartments, she made this request of Chris. "Here you go," he said. She looked at her plate and said: "Which dish did you put it in, Daddy?"


New Math

This word problem was on Mallory's math homework last week:

Lesia has 32 stickers. Diana has a few stickers. Lesia adds their stickers. She has to regroup when she adds. How many stickers does Lesia have? Circle the number.

We puzzled til our puzzlers were sore, but we still couldn't figure out the answer. I wrote a note beside the problem: "Mrs. G., this problem didn't make sense to either Mallory or her parents."

The next day the paper came back with a note from Mrs. G. She circled the last line of the problem and wrote:

"Misprint! This should have said Diana."

Okay! Whew! I was relieved to know that I wasn't, in fact, dumber than a second grader.

Except then I realized that I still didn't understand how the answer could be 3, 5, 6, or 8.*

I can't wait til she gets to algebra.

*Unless what they're calling "regrouping" is what we used to call "carrying the ones." In which case the answer would be 8. I think. Maybe.


This was a funny line

in a really good book:

If you think of the world without people it's about the most perfect thing there ever is. It's all balanced....But then come the people, and they #*^$ it up. It's like you got Aretha Franklin in your bedroom and she's just giving it her all, she's singing just for you, she's on fire, this is a special request for [you] and then all of a sudden out pops Barry Manilow from behind the curtains. -- Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

(Yes, this is cheating. I should write something original, but I spent the day roller skating, repairing a closet shelf, and helping Chris de-spiderize the garage. I'm having a glass of wine and going to bed.)


Flashback Friday!

It's time for that 1-year-old tradition of posting old photos instead of blogging!
Sorry they're all weirdly sized; I don't have the time or inclination to fix them.

This is one of those pictures where my kid looks so pretty it's hard to believe she's real:


And this is a more typical expression:


Happy baby:



Sad baby:


All the babies:


First steps!


Again with the prettiness:



Which is which?



Happy weekend!