Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Christmas Carol -- Bah!

I admit it; I have committed what a good friend terms a "Mommy Foul." I was not diligent enough in checking my creepy-radar before I took my nine-year-old to see "A Christmas Carol" this weekend. I carelessly assumed that a Disney movie with Jim Carrey targeted to kids would be .... well, not so creepy.

I envisioned more of an animated, humorous, Mary Poppins-like, don't-we-all-feel-like-a-Merry Christmas-now kind of movie. What we saw was a very dark, scary, and creepy version of this classic tale.

I know, I know. You're all shaking your fingers at me and thinking, "Hasn't she heard the story of 'A Christmas Carol' before?" Yes, of course I have, and yes, I knew it would have ghosts that visit, but I was fooled into thinking that they would be a happy, Casper-like ghosts, smiling and gently reminding our beloved Scrooge to be more giving and kind. These ghosts were more of the 'your-soul-is-bound-for-Hell' kind of ghosts and the scenes were actually pretty scary. Added to that, we watched it in 3-D so every twisted, dissolving corpse and ghoul-ridden chase seemed to land right in our laps.

To my credit, I did conduct some research before we went, and my kids are well-aware of the fact that "PG" means "Parental Guidance" and that it translates into "Mom and Dad get to decide."

I read the summaries (like this one) ...
Ebenezer Scrooge begins the Christmas holiday with his usual miserly contempt, barking at his faithful clerk and his cheery nephew. But when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come take him on an eye-opening journey revealing truths Old Scrooge is reluctant to face, he must open his heart to undo years of ill will before it’s too late.
And I was aware that it was rated PG for "scary sequences and images" but watching the previews of Scrooge flying through the air and sliding through an icy tunnel made it seem like the scenes would be more action-oriented that downright horrifying.

Even one of my favorite parent review sites, Common Sense Media, rated it as "ON" for 8+ kids at A Christmas Carol Review.

So imagine my surprise, and dismay, when rotting corpses and demented children (that crawl from under the robe of "Christmas Present") are featured in the film. Ugh. It goes without saying (but yes! I'll say it anyway!) that I recommend that you NOT take your kids to see this without some serious thought first. My almost-ten-year-old hasn't complained of nightmares yet, but it definitely was not the happy-holiday movie I envisioned.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mommy/Daddy Dates with Kids

Our family has (somewhat inadvertently) started a tradition that we've grown to absolutely love ... parent/child dates! These started out as "Daddy Dates" to ensure that both boys got their share of time with Dad before and after deployments but have grown into events for us both to enjoy with our kids. When Dad has a day with one child, I get my time with the other!

Last weekend, Nate took Trey for his day. They chose to hunt (at some ungodly hour in the morning), ate an early lunch at Ghengis Grill, came home for a quick rest, then off again to fish for the afternoon. Youngest and I followed the plan he made of: breakfast at a local doughnut shop, a trip to Barnes & Noble to read and pick up a favorite book, then back to the house for an afternoon of board games. He's quite the homebody, so it was no surprise he wanted to spend the afternoon home alone with Mom. It was a great time for us ... and we ended up tied at four wins each at Flippin' Frogs and played a few other unfinished games of chess and Sorry Sliders.

This weekend, Hubby and I are switching up. Youngest has a day of hunting and fishing planned with Dad while Oldest and I are planning the following: Breakfast at the doughnut shop, a fun birthday party at a bounce house for one of his friends (that he couldn't stand to miss), then to see the new Jim Carrey "Christmas Carol" in 3D. Youngest refuses to watch 3D movies so it's our chance to see a movie in 3D while it's just the two of us. Afterwards, we're debating a trip to The Domain in Austin for kid's events and the tree lighting or possibly an afternoon with books either in Barnes & Noble or the local library (which we love).

It has turned out to be such a fun event for us all with the kids planning their days (within reason -- I've already fielded questions like "Can we get to Hawaii and back in one day?" during our planning session tonight) and spending the time just being together. I'm excited for our day tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christmas Ornament Swap!

The more I get into the blogosphere, the more fun I have! Today I wanted to share a cute idea posted by “The Mrs.” at Trying Our Best. See her post: Christmas Ornament Swap Sign-Up to sign up for an ornament swap among bloggers!

I can't wait. I love, love, love Christmas! Besides the fact that we celebrate this as one of the top holidays for our faith, I love the entire season associated with it. I love tinsel and trees, lights and luminaries, wreaths and wrapping, ribbons and reindeer, snowmen and sparkles, bags and bows!

I also enjoy collecting ornaments. Each year, I try to talk Hubby into another tree (yes, not just more ornaments, but an entire new tree!). We have our main family tree with lots of fun ornaments from places we’ve been, kids’ crafts, and other ornament exchanges. A second tree is our patriotic tree … all white with ornaments that are shimmery, sparkly and (of course) red, white, or blue. A third smaller tree holds all of our hand-made ornaments from Korea. I have a fourth (tiny) tree in my kitchen with miniature gingerbread and peppermint ornaments and each of the boys has their own small tree for their room. Each year, they pick a new ornament to add to their trees. It’s fun to see the eclectic collection they’ve each accumulated (with everything from glass baseball and basketball ornaments to dinosaurs to a feathery blue bird!).

I would love to get a tall pencil-thin tree for our breakfast room to be our “snowman” tree. I have a collection of snowmen that are displayed in the breakfast area and need a tree to start a snowman ornament collection. (When Hubby reads this, I might just get the “need vs. want” discussion again!)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday After the Shooting

I've come to the conclusion that everyone deals with stress in their own way ... and that there are many 'right' and 'wrong' ways to do that. I have also discovered about myself that I tend to deal with immediate stress fairly well. Tragedies bring about a calm in me that seems uncharacteristic for my highly emotional normal self. I can make good decisions, help others, and present a reassuring demeanor on command. I think clearly and do not show any signs of panic in the heat of the moment.

But when the heat of the moment has cooled ... it's an entirely different story. After the danger is gone, the stress sets in. When my family and I spent the afternoon on Fort Hood on Thursday, there were wild rumors and inaccurate reports flying about. The news channels continually blared information about a shooter (or shooters) on post, reported shots fired in several additional locations, and detailed information about the entire post being on "lock down."

It was a stressful environment, not knowing what was going on, who might be next, and who had already been affected. Strangely, though, I did not feel the stress during the afternoon. I was able to talk Pokémon with my sons, chat with others in the clinic, and enjoy the fact that I was with my husband. Yes, it was tense, but I didn't feel the panic, fear, and stress that came later.

For me, today was the tough day. We're hearing the names of those killed and wounded, learning more about the shooter, and re-hashing the events of the day with friends around post. I learned today that a friend's battalion was largely affected by the shooting. They lost four Soldiers and have another eleven Soldiers being treated in local hospitals. My friend has spent the past hours volunteering as part of a CARE Team ... comforting Families who lost their Soldier in the attack, delivering food prepared for the Families, and organizing others who want to help. I felt my heart breaking all over again as I associated the actual Families affected with the more generic newscasts of the past days.

We spent the first half of the day today with lots of Army friends. An early-morning soccer game (where all the kids are Army kids and all the parents are friends) was followed by an end-of-season party, both of which allowed us some time to talk with others, get their perspective on the events of Thursday, and gain more personal accounts of the day. Afterwards, our kids had a fun event at church and my husband and I spent the afternoon together, having lunch and preparing for an upcoming camping trip.

Because the events of today were so mild, I was surprised at the physical strain I felt. I nursed a tension headache all day and felt exhausted by lunchtime. When we returned home, I decided to rest for a bit and ended up sleeping for three solid hours. I am now (finally?) showing signs of stress. Luckily, I have a fabulous husband who spent the afternoon entertaining our boys and was working on dinner when I woke from my nap. I have good friends and lots of support. I know I’ll be okay … and I wasn’t even directly impacted by this tragedy.

I sign off tonight with a plea for prayers for those who actually were directly impacted, who are experiencing a stress tonight that I cannot even imagine, and who have lost a large part of their support system. I will keep these Families in my prayers tonight and thank all of you who are doing the same. It’s true that our Army Family and our nation rallies around those in need and I am appreciative of that tonight.

A favorite quote from GEN Casey this week:
"The stories of courage and heroism I heard [about Fort Hood] make me proud to be a leader of this great Army. I am very proud, not only of the men and women here at Fort Hood, but of our whole Army. We take care of our own, we will grieve as a family, and we will maintain our focus on our missions around the world."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tragedy at Fort Hood: Seeking the Silver Lining

PHOTO: The line of cars leaving Fort Hood with us last night after the post was re-opened.

In a strange twist of fate, my husband and I were together with our two boys on Fort Hood on the afternoon of November 5, 2009. Killeen ISD had an early release day so we headed to post about 1:00 p.m. to get our H1N1 flu mists. We ended up being 'locked down' in the clinic for about six hours as we learned about the shootings taking place nearby and waited to hear resolution of the safety lock-down. It was a long afternoon of fear, rumors, and uncertainty.

Yet even within the tragic circumstances that were unfolding as we waited, we found many things for which to be thankful.

We were together. I can count on one hand the number to times that my kids and I have been with our Soldier on Fort Hood in the middle of a school day. I was so thankful that we were in the same place at the same time and had each other throughout the ordeal.

We had friends with us. We didn’t know anyone in the clinic when we got there, but six hours later, we could easily call each other friends. Enduring a stressful event has a way of bypassing the formalities of friendship and getting right to the heart of the matter. My children made at least three new friends (bonded by a common love of the game, Pokémon) and shared their snacks with everyone in the room.

We experienced great camaraderie. As we watched the news unfold, the group in our area became very friendly and helped keep things as calm as possible as we waited to hear what would come next.

We were well cared-for by the clinic staff. The staff at the clinic was simply wonderful. They remained calm, professional, and friendly throughout the day and resorted to creative means to help make us as comfortable as possible. In our time there, we had at least half-a-dozen staff members offer our children everything from carrots and dip to candy to veggie burgers! They were literally pulling their own snacks and meals and offering to share with those of us stuck there with them. Staff members also provided change for the vending machines, allowed us to use microwaves to pop popcorn, and kept us informed throughout the day.

We were surrounded by Soldiers. I cannot adequately describe my pride and love for our US Army Soldiers. I love being on post and being around these wonderful men and women who practice selfless courage, honor, and loyalty on a daily basis. Several young Soldiers were sitting in the area where we listened for the news and were the epitome of calm professionalism. I felt comforted just being surrounded by these uniformed heroes.

We experienced our Army installation taking care of its own. From the moment we were told that the clinic was ‘locked down’ to the time we drove off post, we saw Soldiers taking care of business. In our own location, Soldiers were stationed at each door to ensure that no one moved into or out of the clinic. For six long hours, those inside the clinic worked tirelessly to protect each other. We appreciated hearing our own Corps Commander giving us the latest details and facts as they came in and genuinely felt the concern for the safety of all on the installation.

We got to see our community in action. On our local television station, we heard a plea for volunteers to give blood at blood banks in Killeen and Waco. Blood was needed for those injured in this attack. Within a short period of time, the next report came out that the blood drives had been called off … there were too many responders to process them all! Subsequent interviews with those at the blood banks included Soldiers who could not get back on Fort Hood so decided to give blood, Army Family members (one who was said in essence, “Our military needs blood. Why wouldn’t I be here?”), and local supporters.

We experienced an outpouring of love and concern. Just as soon as the story of the shootings reached the airwaves, my husband and I received an endless stream of voicemail, Facebook posts, texts, and tweets from those concerned for our safety. From friends and family members to colleagues and co-workers to online blogging buddies, we felt the love of those concerned about the situation.

We touched base with Fort Hood friends. From phone calls to Facebook posts, we were able to get in touch with friends on Fort Hood to verify their safety. There was a flood of messages resulting in assurances that friends and neighbors were okay. This only strengthened an already amazing bond that Army Families share. When we begin to learn who was affected by this attack, the expression of help and love will only increase. Already we are asking, “What can we do? How can we help?”

We knew we were among helpmates. At one point, it was believed that we would be able to leave the clinic, but would not be able to leave post. Since we live off-post, we immediately started brainstorming what we might do. Our two children joined in with announcements of which of their friends lived on-post. We quickly came up with a long list of options … people we could call or show up at their doorstep and who would gladly let us in and provide whatever we might need.

Today I am heartbroken for those who lost loved ones yesterday. I am concerned and hopeful for those injured. I am shocked and stunned that this could occur on any Army installation and especially here, in my home. I am angry at an individual who would commit this most heinous of betrayals against those whose very lives protect him daily. But, ironically, mostly I am thankful. I am thankful for my own Family, for my Soldier, for my home, for Fort Hood and its leaders, and for the Army Family. The true spirit of the Army Family is one of perseverance, loyalty, and strength … and I am forever grateful to be a part of it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

1st Grade Writing: The Elifnt

1st grade stories
My first grader was excited when he came home from school today.  His teacher had asked the students to vote on their favorite creative writing stories and his story won first place ... "for the first time ever!"  The topic of the day was elephants and Joshua chose to write his story from the elephant's perspective.  His elephant has a little attitude but told a fun story of his life in the wild. 

I love this teacher's writing lessons.  She encourages creativity and works with each child individually to proofread, correct, and 'publish' a variety of stories.  Joshua is learning so much about the writing process and enjoys getting stories from his head onto paper.  Plus, I'm gathering lots of great stories to keep for myself in his 1st Grade classwork folder.  I love going back and seeing the progress my kids are making in school ... and it's fun for them to see their 'old' work, too.  Thanks, Mrs. Norman, for a wonderful set of 1st grade memories!

The introduction to Joshua's story

Hello!  I am an elephant.  First, allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Steelix because whenever I hit myself on the head, it does not hurt.  However, my body is also the color grey.  Second, let me get something straight.  I am in the wild, not in the zoo.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween 2009

We had a great time on Halloween!

We started by hosting a potluck dinner before trick-or-treating began. We provided a big pot of chili, cornbread muffins, and beverages. Friends brought some really fun side dishes to share.  Check out our menu and a few photos below.  The dishes turned out really cute!

I managed to talk Hubby into a vampire costume this year, I was a spidery witch and the boys chose alien and ninja warrior as their costumes.  It was a lot of fun.

The Menu

Count Chili
Crazy Cornbread
Monster Toes
Curdled Crab dip
Monster Mash guacamole
Hallow-bean dip
Monster Muffin Cups (cupcakes baked in ice cream cones)

Bloodshot Eggs:
Monster Bites:
Creepy Carrots:
Mummy Dogs:
Marshmallow Ghosts:

After everyone ate and we took a few photos, it was time to trick-or-treat together. We all had a really fun time and look forward to days (and weeks and months ...) of candy! =)

Our cute neighborhood kids before trick-or-treating: