All Together Now…

So, long time no post. I feel guilty. I do. It wouldn’t bother me except that I’m supposed to be chronicling my grandchildren’s formative years. If I don’t do it, who will? Nobody, that’s who.

It’s January, so obviously I didn’t get around to reporting on the annual school Christmas programs in a timely manner. I have five grandkids attending that grade school now. You’d think there’d be a prize or something, but so far zip.

Bret Jr. Is Enthusiastic


Boy Bret performed admirably in the preschool Christmas program. He sang when he was supposed to sing, sat when he was supposed to sit, and when it was time to hold their paper trees and stars aloft and sway to the music, he could have been conducting the William Tell Overture.

Cosette Speaks


The elementary school program, meanwhile, put all the classes on stage at the same time. None of that tedious shuffling back and forth we’ve seen in the past. Lined up front and center were the kindergartners, clueless as cattle, a pair of animal ears or horns stuck on each little head. Cosette was a cow. It was a speaking part. Which makes a lot of sense if you know her.

Grace Endures


The second-grade girls were little angels. No, really. They had wings. At one point between songs, I looked over and saw Grace sitting on the riser, chin in hand, looking about as bored as anyone wearing wings and a tinsel halo can.

Christian Is Good


There was less poking, nudging and tittering among the third grade boys than you might expect. Christian isn’t usually what you’d call a model of decorum, but he stood up straight, sang and didn’t cross his eyes once … which is more than I can say for some of his friends.

Oh My Maria


So there they were, the entire student body (it isn’t a big school) gathered on stage. I expected to be somewhat moved, surrounded as I was by progeny. What caught me off guard was seeing Maria wearing a little black dress and standing with the other seventh grade girls. I remembered her first Christmas program. She had her elf hat on backwards so the bell on top dangled down in her face. I looked over at Cosette standing amid a herd of pint-size sheep and donkeys. And I’ll tell you the truth, I could have wept.

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Let Freedom Ring…But Not Too Loud


Time again to celebrate America’s #1 national holiday and favorite excuse to let loose. While we proudly wave our flags and grill our brats (a German invention, I believe), let us not forget what the day is all about, i.e., our independence from those damn Brits, who wanted to tax us for things like tea and sugar. We’ve built a nice little country here, with an income tax rate of 10 to 35 percent admittedly, but at least we have our own flag and national bird.

In the meantime, be careful with those fireworks, which we used to have to buy across the border in Wisconsin but which are now available at fine retailers everywhere. Well, not the big stuff that’s capable of launching a small rowboat into outer space – this is still the state settled by serious Germans and Scandinavians after all – but nonexplosive, nonaerial things like sparklers and party poppers, which should be more than enough fun for anybody.

And while we’re on the subject, don’t forget to… Drive safely. Swim with a buddy. Use sunblock (SPF 30 or more). Don’t leave the potato salad out in the sun. Watch out for poison ivy (three serrated leaves per stem). Check the kids for ticks. Wear a life jacket in the boat (it’s the law). And if you haven’t had a tetanus shot within the last ten years, you might want to stop at the clinic before heading up North. The 4th of July – what fun!

Photo: Google Images,
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Holiday Roundup


Another round of holiday festivities is behind us. They always seem to wrap up just about the time you think you can’t take much more family fun.

Spent New Year’s Eve at an ice skating party with the grandkids. I don’t skate myself, for fear of breaking something I still need; I am there mostly to finance the venture. Along with the overpriced concessions, there were people dressed as cartoon characters and tables where local groups and businesses handed out free stuff. Which was nice, but it’s a little disturbing to see your 11-year-old granddaughter walking around wearing a bracelet that says “Recovery Works!” 

After the skating, daughter Gina and the grandkids came back to my house to spend the night. They donned party hats, played “Auntie Jessica’s Socks” (a game made up from materials at hand) and drank sparkling grape juice out of wine glasses (your choice, red or white). The toasting went on a while, as they really like the part where you clink glasses. 

Meanwhile, we didn’t have the usual Christmas Day brunch at my house. We had Lebanese food, which used to be our Christmas Eve tradition but wasn’t this year, a situation that did not sit well with the Daughters, who are like one-quarter Lebanese but you’d think they were all born under a cedar tree in the hills overlooking Beirut.

I’m accommodating. I dug out my 1972 Lebanese Cuisine and my mother’s old recipes (Mom was 100% German but a great Lebanese cook, probably because she knew when to stop already with the cumin). While cooking up a Lebanese storm, it dawned on me that just about every dish calls for onions and cinnamon. Throw in lamb and you can make just about anything you want. I don’t recall any of my relatives buying onions in bulk, but I chopped, grated and chopped more onions, until I started to wonder how my ancestors ever coupled with anyone outside their ethnic group. Thus a family tradition begins.

And of course, December is the month when school kids everywhere face the floodlights and sing. Cosette’s preschool program included the usual four-year-old boy who sat down and refused to participate and one girl who up and walked away during “Away in the Manger.” Cosette sang every word and did all the hand motions. When it’s time to step up, Cosette does not drop the ball.

Then came the elementary school program, an unstoppable stroll down Candy Cane Lane which put all the students in the school on stage simultaneously, most in their pajamas. I’m starting to think costuming may be the most important consideration when picking a grade-school script. Who can’t come up with Christmas pajamas? They’re colorful, themed and come in every size. Maria sat with the pajama-clad fifth-grade girls (enthusiastic singers all), Christian sat with the pajama-clad first-grade boys (not your most focused group), and Grace sat with the other animals in the kindergarten section. Gracie was a Kitten. Of course.

Forget the holidays. Time now to cocoon in our snug and cozy homes until winter relents and we can venture forth again. Time to make our New Year’s resolutions. And don’t think you can skip it this year. You are far from perfect.

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New Year’s with The Caramels – Chewy!

So I was idly surfing Google Images recently (and who doesn’t do that?) when I ran across this picture, which started me wondering what it might be like if the Daughters and I had taken up lounge singing. This is the kind of thing that happens when you don’t have a date for New Year’s Eve.


It’s true! The Caramels are back, out of rehab and performing live on stage this New Year’s Eve at the beautiful Weewahatchee VFW in beautiful Weewahatchee, Minnesota. Let us sweeten your night with all-new arrangements of our biggest hits, including “I’m Itching for You, Calomine,” “Walter on My Mind,” “I’m Just A Package Marked Fragile” and, of course, “You Don’t Know the Meaning of Auld Lang Syne.”

But hurry – tickets are going fast. Just $5 gets you a rollicking good time and all the champagne punch you can drink!

Tout Sweet!

Shades of Christmas Programs Past


Dec. 20, 2006
If I hadn’t had to work yesterday, I wouldn’t have been exhausted at my granddaughter’s Christmas program, even if it did go on and on…and on. Because why settle for one rendition of “Jingle Bells” when there are three? And if you’re paying good money for trombone and cymbal lessons, I suppose you want to hear the school band play 10 or 20 tunes with a general holiday flavor. Anyway, it was worth it to hear the kindergartners get through “Elfie the Elf.” Maria was the elf with her hat on backwards, so she was easy to spot. I have no complaints.

Dec. 21, 2007
Went to the always surprising school Christmas program last night. You may remember last year’s event, when the school band played no less than three versions of “Jingle Bells” and Maria distinguished herself by wearing her elf hat backwards with the bell dangling in front. This year I’m happy to report that the band was restricted to playing the overture and Maria not only sang but also attempted to keep the boy next to her on task despite vigorous resistance. This year’s program had a soccer theme – kind of a stretch, I thought, but having the advantage of minimal costuming, since jerseys and shorts took care of almost the entire cast.

So the evening should have been, and probably would have been, straightforward were it not for my other grandchildren – three under the age of four now, and all with no sense whatever of acceptable audience behavior. Christian ate all the candy meant to sustain them for the night in the first five minutes, while Grace never lost her fascination with flip-up auditorium seating. And you might think a three-month-old child somewhat limited – they sleep, they lie there, they cry. Not so. Cosette sings. Infant singing is a sort of unearthly sound that’s hard to describe, but it’s loud and won’t be deterred by some stupid pacifier.

All in all, an entertaining evening, and no more than I expected.

Dec. 29, 2008
Made it through the annual Christmas programs again. The elementary school put on a play about the true meaning of Christmas, which I’m sure inspired every parent and grandparent to rush home and return all those toys in the closet. It took me a long time to figure out what the girl in the bell costume was supposed to be. Until she started ding-donging, I was pretty sure she was a lampshade, but if you think about it, that makes no sense. Maria was in the choir. She is an excellent choir member.

Being an equal-opportunity grandma, I also went to the preschool Christmas program, where you can always count on seeing three- and four-year-olds not follow the script. There’s always one little girl who knows the words and motions to every song, a bunch of little ones who give it a half-hearted try, and a kid who won’t do a thing. I was pretty sure that kid would be Christian, but I was wrong. He sang and he didn’t fall off the steps.

When Christian first started preschool, my daughter Jill was a little alarmed by what you might call his anti-social behavior (I wouldn’t call it that but no one ever sides with me). Anyway, we were all happy when Christian made a friend. Elliot wears glasses and comes about to Christian’s chin. Elliot was the kid who wouldn’t do anything. Not one word, not one finger twitch. Elliot was a statue. I like Elliot.

Dec. 18, 2009
This year’s preschool Christmas program lived up to every expectation, largely due to the boys in the Teddy Bear class, who are three and four years old and have no attention span worth mentioning. My favorite kid this year was the boy who had his back to us for the entire concert. I suppose if you don’t plan on singing anyway, why look at your parents (and grandparents who came all the way from Burnsville) sitting hopefully in the audience?

Then about midway through “Building up a Temple,” another Teddy Bear, who apparently found just being there exhausting, decided to sit down on the step. This caught on quickly, of course, and pretty soon the boys on either side of him were sitting on the step too…until one of them decided to climb the steps to see how the boy who wouldn’t face the audience was doing. At this point Mrs. Olsen, the Teddy Bear teacher and no dummy, went on stage and restored order.

Meanwhile, the girls kept singing. My granddaughter Grace, who has a very small speaking voice, sings really loud, so we had no trouble at all hearing her. She had every word and gesture down too, and after the program Mrs. Olsen very kindly called her “our star,” which I think is pretty much what Gracie sees when she looks into the future.

After the Teddy Bears sat down, it was time for the Frog class to sing. Most of them are five and have been down this road before, so while the girls still carried the load, the boys endured. There was the kid who kept us up to date with announcements between each song (“This is the last one!”), but at least nobody gave up and sat down. Christian is big now. I waved at him like a lunatic and got half a smile. I still gave him lots of kisses afterward and told him how great he did. He didn’t care.

So that was it, and I don’t think you could spend a more enjoyable hour during the holiday season.

December 22, 2010
I went to Maria and Christian’s school Christmas program last night, which is usually one of the happier things I do during the holidays. This year’s performance had everything you’d expect and then some. You haven’t really heard “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” until you’ve heard it played on the recorder by a bunch of fourth graders. And the school band was in fine form, although the lack of a bass drum player meant one of the female flutists had to take over that instrument for “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The girl’s utter disdain for the bass drum was truly impressive. She could barely get out of her folding chair and drag herself over to it. And then you’d think the mallet weighed 50 pounds. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard “Here Comes Santa Claus” played more mournfully.
The bell ringers went on a little too long (four holiday tunes with no verses omitted), but I am loathe to criticize them lest Maria have bell-ringing in her future.
Christian’s kindergarten class did a commendable job, particularly on “Jingle Bells,” where they got to ring the little bells hanging around their necks at all the jingly spots. As they had to wait for their turn a good long while sitting on stage, the bells became objects of great fascination – first you examine your own bell, then you study your neighbor’s bell, then you hang the bell from your ears. 
In the finale, the fourth graders sang. That’s Maria’s class, and while most of the classes looked more resigned than merry, the fourth-grade girls were almost bouncy. They smiled, they knew all the words and they sang loud. I concluded that fourth-grade girls are a good way to wrap up a Christmas program.

For the Love of Grace

Went to the annual Trinity Baptist Preschool Christmas Program yesterday, always a treat. Grace, who jumped up to the Frog class this year, was of course up to the task. Gracie likes people, she likes preschool, the world is good and singing is her thing. In fact, all the Frogs (ages 4-5) did pretty well, or at least tried, unlike some malcontents in the Teddy Bear class (ages 3-4) who flat-out refused.

The Teddy Bears were up first, probably because it’s hard to keep them focused for more than five minutes. Two of the boys wouldn’t sing at all this year. The one in the front row was obviously ticked off from start to finish. The one in back stood silent for the first half of the program, then decided to sit down on the step, and finally just laid face-down and covered his head with his arms.

The Frogs, having attained a certain level of maturity, did better. All of them kind of moved their mouths and some did the motions. The one touch-and-go moment was during “The Five Days of Christmas,” when they took turns going up in groups to hang their ornaments on a little tree. The maneuvering involved in going up and down the steps, getting one’s ornament to stay on the tree, then meeting another group going the other way, was almost too suspenseful to watch. Still they all made it back to their assigned places. Sort of.

Turns out the boy who laid down on the step has a crush on Grace. I found this out from her father, who found out from Mrs. Wilson, the Frog class teacher, that the boy either kissed Grace or tried to (that part is a little vague), which is the kind of thing teachers have to report to parents nowadays. My son-in-law, Lynn, wasn’t too happy about it either. He told Gracie, “Next time you just tell him to shake your hand.” Seriously.

Anyway, it was another thoroughly enjoyable Christmas program. And everyone did really well at eating cookies, drinking juice and running around the gym afterward. No dropouts there.

More Tryptophan, Anyone?

Recap: Thanksgiving Day 2010

Gathered with the family again to give thanks and eat turkey (except for my son-in-law Lynn, who is a vegetarian), because we are, if nothing else, proud Americans.

No Butterball turkey this year, because Gina started a dairy-free diet last week in hopes of curing Baby Bret’s acid reflux, and Christian is allergic to butter along with everything else, and other people aren’t too sure but that they may be allergic to something too, so as I said, no butter in the turkey or the stuffing or on the green beans either. There was butter in the mashed potatoes, but Jessica stepped right up with her recipe for pureed cauliflower, which she swore tasted just like mashed potatoes, although let’s face it, they weren’t exactly flying out of the bowl.

Ten-year-old Maria was especially thankful that she has surpassed me in height. This is not a huge accomplishment for most ten-year-olds, but we made a big deal about it anyway.

Six-year-old Christian, once he was sure everyone was going to stay put and pay attention, moved us all with a stirring tale about the Indian Squanto, the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving.

Three-year-old Cosette wasn’t frightened by her older cousins this year. She has gone over and is one of Them now.

Four-month-old Baby Bret is a big, happy baby, fatter than the last time I saw him and he was plenty fat then. His cheeks are fat, his tummy is fat, and his little legs are fatter than you can imagine. It’s like lugging around a 16-pound, smiling turkey.

But the highlight of the day came when everyone settled in the living room to watch old home movies. Jessica, who was sitting next to five-year-old Grace, turned to her during the showing of one ancient tape and asked, “Does Auntie look different now?” “Yeah,” said Grace, “You didn’t have a moustache then.”

And that’s the kind of thing that makes the holidays special.