Notes for when I take over

Went to the grocery store today; glanced at my receipt on the way out and saw that, through my store's Loyalty Card scheme, I have saved $436 on groceries this year. And it occurred to me to wish that they gave you an option -- you could either save this money on your purchases throughout the year, OR, you can pay full price for your groceries, but then get a rebate check for the amount you WOULD have saved at the end of the year. Would that be awesome or what? Paying $10 extra per grocery trip wouldn't be that bad if I could get a $500 check around Christmastime.

Teachers should be disallowed from giving two major tests in one week, especially when one of the students is so excited about her upcoming birthday that she can barely breathe. (Studying for a 4th grade science test is just as exciting at age 39 as it was at age 9 (in other words, not). Mallory always manages to lighten things up though. She gave this example of a food chain: "Grass...hamburger...me...a shark!")

Employers should release their employees one and a half hours early each working day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This would be more effective if I had more examples, but now I'm going to bed.


What I'm thankful for:

A mother who taught me the importance of a homemade pie crust, and a father who perfected the art of applying vanilla ice cream to a piece of pie. Streusel topping for when the top crust just doesn't come together. A daughter who loves to bake, who's almost old enough to bake things by herself, but who still asks questions like, "This says I need three-slash-four cups of sugar...how much is three-slash-four?" Another daughter who is finally old enough to play games that require reading, but who is still young enough to say "cimmanon" and "bekfrast." A job to go to, even when I have to go there the day before Thanksgiving. A house to live in, no matter how messy. The internet, so I don't have to go shopping for reals tomorrow. In-laws who have always welcomed me with open arms, and who gave me the job of making desserts, rather than vegetables, for Thanksgiving dinner. Two sisters and a brother who feel close even when we're far apart. A husband who always makes me laugh, and who tolerates me when I'm not in a laughing mood. Happy Thanksgiving to you!


5th member of Kemple family

We got a blue beta fish last night at petco. Did you know that NONE of the fish were dead? We prayed on the way over there for all of the fish to be healthy and God preformed a miracle! Mallory came up with the name Blue Berry Kemple. She is reading him a story now. She is very happy.Happy Birthday Mallory! [This post was written by Mallory]


Recipe for Disaster

So I've been hunting around on online recipe websites for some Thanksgiving inspiration. I love being able to search for recipes online and am thinking about doing away with cookbooks altogether. I really like the reviews that most sites have - it's useful when someone comments that, for example, the recipe called for 1 TBSP of salt when it should be 1 TSP, or that someone else substituted chicken thighs for chicken breasts and the recipe still turned out delicious.

But. It drives me nuts when someone gives a recipe a bad rating and then says:

This recipe was terrible! It was so bland! I left out the garlic and onion because I don't like those, and it had no flavor at all. Plus I left out the cheese and sour cream to save on fat but cooked it as directed and it got really dried out!

Well, guess what, you didn't really make this recipe. You changed the recipe, and it turned out terrible, but that's not the recipe's fault.

This kind of thing is even worse:

This was delicious! I made it as written, except that I added a bunch of different seasonings, plus some link sausage, plus I shortened the cooking time but amped up the heat a little bit. I didn't use the sauce recommended, I used another sauce that my grandma taught me how to make, and it turned out great! Five stars!

If it's so delicious the way you made it, then post your own recipe!

It also bugs me when people give books a bad rating on Amazon because the book may have been damaged in shipping, or because they thought the price was too high, or because of some other reason that has nothing to do with the book.

People. What are you gonna do.



I don't pretend to know anything about how government works, but this is what I'm picturing in my head about the supercommittee meetings:

Democrats: We need to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Republicans: No.

Democrats: But [list reasons, some of them valid, why this is a good idea].

Republicans: No.

[Break for lunch]

Republicans: We need to cut entitlements.

Democrats: No.

Republicans: But [list reasons, some of them valid, why this is a good idea].

Democrats: No.

[Break for the day. Tell members of the press that the gridlock is the other side's fault.]

The end.



When she was about 18 months old, Phoebe somehow chipped her front tooth. We had it capped at the dentist -- a procedure that involved me holding her body on my lap while a dental hygienist held her head and the dentist worked (very slowly) and Phoebe writhed and screamed like we were killing her -- but two days later, she bit into a bagel and the cap came off. Of course.

So we decided to let it be. After all, it was a baby tooth, it was going to fall out eventually. I remember thinking, though, that five or six years was going to be a long time, looking at that awful chipped tooth every day.

It wasn't a long time at all. And it stopped being awful:

And now it's gone:


Mrs. Neill

I found out today that my third grade teacher, Mrs. Neill, has died.

She was one of the best. She's what every teacher should be.

I hate to even mention this story in the same post as Mrs. Neill, but still -- I would bet that Mrs. Neill wouldn't have run away and called her dad and asked what she should do about an unsettling thing she saw in the locker room. I would bet that Mrs. Neill would've hauled back and given that person a solid punch in the jaw. Without having to think twice about it.

I like to think that, having been taught by her, I would do the same thing.


The dollhouse dilemma

For her second Christmas, Mallory got a very nice wooden dollhouse from Santa. Her grandparents and aunts chipped in to get all the associated furnishings and dolls.

She played with it fairly regularly for a while, but then when Phoebe came along, we had to rearrange some things in her room and it kind of got pushed back to an inaccessible corner. Later, we moved it into our attic playroom, but by that point, they were both more interested in Polly Pockets and Barbies, and the dollhouse got very little use. I estimate they play with it once or twice a year.

I would like to get rid of this dollhouse. I think it's a wonderful toy, it's high-quality, it's a great thing -- but my kids don't play with it and it's taking up quite a bit of space and gathering dust. I've considered saving it for my grandchildren, but that assumes that I'll have grandchildren that will be interested in a dollhouse, which really is a tall assumption, and we don't really have the storage space to hang on to this for 20 years or so. I have thought I'd either try to sell it on craigslist (thus generating a bit of cash for this year's Christmas presents) or offering it to a friend of mine who just had a baby girl.

However, when I mentioned to the girls that I was thinking the dollhouse had to go, they protested. They love the dollhouse! The dollhouse is their favorite! The dollhouse is very special to them! How can I consider giving away the dollhouse!

Except, they don't love it, except in an abstract way. I understand that it's upsetting to lose childhood toys, but we've gone through this before (selling Little People playsets at garage sales, donating stuffed animals to charity) and within days they've forgotten all about the toys they no longer have. It would seriously not be a deprivation for them to be without this toy.

On the other hand, I do feel that dollhouses ARE special, and have a kind of symbolic importance. I would be a little sad if we didn't have this dollhouse around anymore.

So, what wins out here? Practicality or sentimentality? What would you do?


Can you believe we had even MORE fall fun?

Really, I just can't stop with the weekend activities. My kids have been enriched to death the past month or so.

This weekend, we went downtown Raleigh for a double-header. First up: the North Carolina History Festival, which I hoped would get Mallory excited about the enormous NC Social Studies project she's working on. That night: Tickets to the ballet, a few blocks away from the festival. In between: About an hour and a half of down time (poor planning).

The festival was fine. We saw sculptures and a real dugout canoe and a replica Cherokee longhouse and the girls made bonnets and paper cardinals.

Much more exciting than history, however, was riding bus between venues:

Then, to kill time, we had an ice cream cone and wandered back to the garage where we'd parked the car. In the elevator, to be whimsical, I pushed 6 even though we were only on 3. The sixth floor level turned out to be empty of cars and the girls thought this was the best thing ever. A photo shoot ensued:

It WAS a lovely view:

We rode up and down in the elevator a few more times. I suggested that they pursue careers as Elevator Inspectors. "I didn't know that could be a job!" Phoebe exclaimed. Mallory expressed enthusiasm too, but then caution intervened: "If I ride an elevator in a really tall building, will my ears pop?"

Our parking garage fun wasn't over; next we went to our car to change clothes for the ballet. (The other option was schlepping over to the theatre, changing clothes in the restroom, and schlepping back to the car to put away our other things -- not appealing. It was cold out, and I'm lazy.) This turned out to be quite an adventure, because of course the people in the car next to ours walked up at the very moment the girls removed their shirts. Our windows are tinted so I don't think anyone could see anything, but the girls shrieked and dove under their seats anyway. "This is the worst idea ever!" Phoebe said.

Still, they cleaned up nicely:

The ballet was based on the Fancy Nancy books, which Phoebe adores. The series illustrator was there, looking very glamorous, and Phoebe got an autograph and a picture:

The girls insisted on sitting at the very tippy top of the balcony section, and then proceeded to wiggle and squirm throughout the performance. "What did you think?" I asked Phoebe when it was over.

She said: "I think ballet would be better if there was popcorn."

I think she's probably right.

We ended the night with dinner at IHOP. I know that my kids will remember the wrong things from this day -- they won't remember what a Cherokee home looks like, or what the North Carolina state reptile is, or the music from the ballet. They'll remember frolicking on a parking garage roof and chocolate chip pancakes. But I guess as long as they remember that we were there together, that's okay with me.


That'll cheer you up

As a break from my list of depressing reads, I turned to Anne Frank.

Yeah, I know. It's like continuing to eat spicy food while complaining that your mouth's on fire.

Mallory asked me about Hitler the other day. How do you explain Hitler to a 9-year-old? Her main concern seemed to be whether such a thing could ever happen again. She didn't seem comforted by my answer ("I hope not") but what else can you say?

Anyway, in an attempt to bring things down to her level, I told her about Anne Frank. Then I ordered a book for her -- "Who Was Anne Frank?" -- one of a series of biographies for children. (I think I've mentioned before how much I loved the biographical series in my elementary school's library. They were all bound in hideous orange. My favorite was Jane Addams: Little Lame Girl.) I thought this summation of Anne Frank's life would be easier for Mallory -- who does not like to read -- to digest than the actual diary.

I read The Diary of a Young Girl when I was...ten or eleven, maybe? And I thought it was dull, honestly, although I would like to believe I was sufficiently saddened at the end. But then in 7th grade, as part of an "Accelerated Learning" project in Language Arts, I "got" to read the play "Anne Frank." I don't remember much about the play itself, but I do remember the series of exhausting questions in my literature book that I was forced to answer. "What was the basis of the conflict between Anne and her mother? Cite three examples." "The basis of the conflict between Anne and her mother was...One example is in Act One..." It seems that I spent weeks answering these questions. It kind of turned me off Anne Frank, to be honest.

But after reading the short book I got for Mallory, I was intrigued anew. I tried without success to get the Diary for my nook; so instead I downloaded a book about the Diary, Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose. This is a fascinating book; it details how the book we now know as Anne Frank's diary wasn't just the diary of a young girl; Anne actually spent a great deal of time and effort (although, what else did she have but time, while hiding in the secret anenx) revising and polishing her book into a true memoir. It relates eye-witness accounts of Anne's last days in Bergen-Belsen, which were, of course, horrifyingly awful. And it talks about how odd it is that what most people know about, or take away from, the diary is that famous line about how "in spite of everything, I still believe that people are truly good at heart." In fact, that quote is usually lifted out of context -- Anne may have believed that, but she also believed that the world could be a pretty terrible place. And even if she had believed whole-heartedly in the goodness of people -- the fact is, she was proven wrong, wasn't she? She lost two years of her life hiding in an attic; and then she was found and spent the next six months in a concentration camp; then she died a horrible death. Good people didn't make that happen.

On the other hand. Of course the last line in Mallory's dumbed-down version of Anne Frank's life is that very quote. And if that's what Mallory, for now, takes away from this story -- that there was once a girl who was persecuted through no fault of her own, but who managed to be brave and optimistic in spite of everything, and whose words have inspired other people to be more tolerant and fight against injustice and oppression -- well, actually, that's a big take-away, but if she gets even just a little bit of that -- I guess that's enough. For now.


Almost two digits

Mallory is busily creating her birthday party invitation. It was difficult to rein her in, to say, no, you can't invite your friends to a movie AND go swimming AND go for ice cream and no, as an alternative you can't invite every girl in your class (except the one you don't like) to the Tumble Gym.

It's even more difficult to wrap my head around the fact that she's going to be ten.



So I've just read a string of really depressing books, y'all. (I don't know why I just called you y'all.) In the past month or so, I've read:

We Need to Talk about Kevin -- A mother writes about the lead-up to, and aftermath of, a school massacre perpetrated by her son, Kevin. I simultaneously hated this book and couldn't put it down. All the characters behaved in a completely unrealistic fashion. (Hi, I've suspected my son is a psychopath since the day he was born, but I'll let him babysit my daughter anyway.) It obviously doesn't end well and left me feeling ooky for days.

The Night Circus -- Depressing because I thought I would like it more than I did

The Grief of Others -- stillborn baby, enough said

Please Look After Mom -- An elderly Korean woman disappears in a subway station; her daughter, son, and husband ruminate about how little they appreciated her and how badly they treated her. Nice.

Nightwoods -- Children witness brutal murder of their mother, then lots of people tromp around in the woods on various missions with varying degrees of success. Really not very uplifting at all.

Have you read anything light-hearted lately that you would recommend?


The day after

My kids' school doesn't "do" Halloween, but as a "fun" alternative, they allow require students to dress up as saints for All Saints Day (November 1). How does one dress a child up as a saint, you may ask? Answer: I don't know, but apparently wrapping them up in veils and shawls does the trick well enough:

Don't they look happy to be saints? Phoebe is St Catherine of Siena (which is the name of their school, but it was chosen because Phoebe's middle name is Catherine) and Mallory is St Maria Goretti, who was murdered at the age of 12 and beatified because she forgave her murderer on her deathbed. Which is a nice story, right?

Still, they're getting a good education. Phoebe had to write sentences with selected "sight words" last night; the sentences had to be at least 5 words long. One of her words was "does." "I can't think of a does sentence!" she said. Then she said, "Oh wait -- how about, 'Does potatoes grow in gardens?' No...that sounds wrong. That would be 'do', not 'does'. It should be: 'Does a potato grow in a garden?'" My heart swelled with pride. Only six and she's nailed subject-verb agreement.

For the word "Who," she wrote: "Who are my parents?" I pointed out that sentence was only four words long. She erased and wrote something else and brought it to me. The sentence now read: "Who are my parents well who?"




What you don't want to happen on Halloween night is, you don't want it to rain. Rain ruins everything. Rain means that either your kids' costumes (that you spent hours making or dollars buying) get ruined, or that your kids wear a raincoat that covers up their costumes (that you spent hours making or dollars buying). Rain gets their candy buckets damp. Rain makes their face paint run. Rain deters other children from trick or treating, which means that you only manage to unload one of the five bags of candy that you bought. Rain means that you, too, have to slog around the neighborhood, wrangling umbrellas, bumping into other parents carrying umbrellas, resenting parents who opt to drive their precious snowflakes from house to house, feeling your socks get increasingly soggy. "Being a parent sucks sometimes," I texted my sister from under my umbrella.

But honestly -- I wouldn't have it any other way.