Tag Archives: kids

Encyclopedia Brown

On the basis of an off-topic recommendation on a podcast, I ordered the first book in the Encyclopedia Brown series from the library, for Oldest.

He enjoyed it, then I read it. Call it an “after-the-horse-has-bolted what’s-my-kid-actually-reading” check.

The format is straightforward. Encyclopedia Brown (“Encyclopedia” isn’t his real name, but everyone except his parents call him that because he’s so smart) is the son of the police chief, and is actually the secret weapon reason so many crimes get solved.

There are a bunch of short chapters, set around Encyclopedia, his friends, enemies, and clients, and each time there’s some sort of puzzle, which Encyclopedia works out from the information presented. The answer and explanation are given in the back of the book, to give you a better opportunity to really think about it and work it out.

Oldest enjoyed the book, but he said he didn’t try and figure the answers out, he just looked at the back. I enjoyed it, and did manage to figure the answers to most of them out, and the explanations for most of those answers.

Recommended, I’ll probably look for more in the series, for Oldest, at some point. Not yet, still giving prime time to the new books from Christmas.

Christmas Traditions, Part 6

I had a busy day today, sweeping and mopping upstairs, and tidying and sweeping in the basement. Youngest tried helping with the mopping, wiping a soaking mop around the floor, creating a sizable puddle, then later dumping the mop bucket on the floor, creating a giant mess. Thankfully we managed to contain the spill enough to keep it from getting anywhere important (like the nearby stack of presents, the one stack that is actually on the floor).

I write these at the end of the day, so talking about “tomorrow”, I mean Thursday, but in local time it has already turned into Thursday. So tomorrow, then, in the last full day of getting ready for the Brunch, we take a pause and go out for lunch. This lunch, pizza, is also a celebration of the birthday of a member of the household, one whom I am particularly fond of. I think we’ve done this every Christmas Eve since we moved back here.

So there you go, that’s a pretty cool Christmas tradition :)

Christmas Traditions, Part 5

A big part of Christmas, and certainly the most exciting part for the children, is presents. Middlest has been attempting to wrap mundane objects into any papery material she can find, because she wants to give presents to people. Youngest understands that some of the presents, that are currently decorating the living room, are for him, but so far neither he, nor his siblings, have tried prematurely opening anything.

Which leads me to talking about rituals for opening presents. In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned that when I was a child, my family opened their stockings in my parents’ bed. Now, stockings are available for opening in a less organised manner, which we tend to do before the final final Brunch preparations.

The main presents have always been saved til later. These days, after some initial Brunch cleanup. In times past, a church service would take a chunk of the morning, then presents would probably be after lunch. I’ve got a feeling that sometimes even after it got dark. For many years, we lived close to at least one set of grandparents, so I remember gift-giving times at their houses.

So there has always been an aspect of waiting for presents. I’m sure there are a variety of inspirational messages that can be drawn out: “good things come to those who wait”, “save the best til last” or some such. As a kid, I didn’t like the waiting. Now, I do better. I think my kids do better than I did.

Getting to church on Christmas morning, other kids asking “what did you get for Christmas?” Well, I don’t know yet. Wonder how many of those also had to wait. I heard of the “one main present before church” thing, but I don’t remember if we ever tried it.

I’m not sure when it started, but I have come to really enjoy choosing and buying presents for people. Making people happy is fun. Hope I managed to, this year. Guess I’ll find out soon.

Christmas Traditions, Part 4

In the old/new pattern that has sufficed so far in this series (and which may fall apart tomorrow), today is a New day. Today’s tradition is still relatively new to me, but my family-in-law have been doing this for rather a lot of years.

Today I write about the Christmas Brunch.

A whole load of food is made, by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Biscuits and gravy (a dish which sounds really weird to a Brit, because it’s not how it sounds to us), quiche, cinnamon rolls, cracker toffee, and more.

I’m hungry already.

We invite a bunch of people to come over on Christmas Day, to help eat it (and hang out with us, of course). And come they do.

Being more used to getting together with close family for Christmas festivities, it seems like this ought not to work. The roads aren’t always nice, and it seems like people might just want to congregate with their families. But that assumption does not seem to be borne out by the facts: people come, they even sometimes bring their families and out-of-town guests. And perhaps it ought not to work on our part: it’s already a fairly substantial day, and adding a lot more people to that adds a lot of work, social interaction and so on. But the people who come over are people we like, so we have fun hanging out, and hosting. The kids enjoy hosting, too (even when they wish they could get into their presents).

So preparations have been slowly building, but this week it really kicks in. Cleaning, tidying, rearranging, temporarily removing things from the living area. Temporarily adding more tables and seating. Already the construction of chocolate-related treats.

So, if you happen to know us in real life, and happen to be in the area, you’re invited (but you probably already knew that). And if you just happened to stumble onto this blog, it sounds crazy, but if you like cooking for that many people, give it a try!

Christmas Traditions, Part 2

After kicking off the series yesterday with a long-ago tradition, how about today I write about a more recent one.

My sister-in-law has, for the past few years, organised a gift-wrapping party. The one for this year just happened to be today, other years has been a bit earlier in the month.

I think I usually have most of my presents wrapped before the party, this time I had some from my sister, for people-not-me, that I needed to wrap. I also had one for my wife, which I need to say not-too-much about at this stage, in order to preserve a surprise.

I know of one more thing that’s still-to-come which I’ll need to do, and another thing I’ve been working on which needs finished up.

Timing the wrapping party can be tricky: too early, and people won’t have got the presents yet; too late, and they’ll already have wrapped them. Notification time could also affect turnout. We had some friends come round to join in the wrapping today, so we could officially call it a party :)

So I wrapped the things, and also took kids for a show downstairs so other things could be wrapped (I think mostly for me: the kids had watched Elf with their Grampa for the beginning of the party, so their stuff was mostly done). We watched “The Snowman” – I was surprised that Youngest, at no point during the show, said “Summer”. Most times, when he sees a snowman, he says “it’s Summer!”, because of Olaf the snowman in Frozen, singing “In Summer”.

Now our living room is really decorated with presents. It’s getting close…

Christmas Traditions, Part 1

As a particular annual holiday approaches, I thought I’d write a little series on Christmas traditions from my past and my present.

I say “I thought I’d write”, it was actually a suggestion from my wife, as I was not having any ideas congeal into a suitable post topic this evening. So, many thanks to my wonderful wife.

When we were kids, my sister and I would get up early on Christmas Day, and on birthdays, and climb into my parents’ bed. I’ve got a feeling that sometimes we opened our stockings there, but my memory is vaguer on that point. I also think that sometimes the radio would be on, I seem to recall listening to the 25th Anniversary episode of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (which was broadcast on Christmas Day).

I think that this may be why I tolerate the older kids in bed better than my wife does. They don’t join us often, and it can be tricky to keep them quiet enough and not-wriggly enough to not disturb everyone.

Controversy, Plague, And A Nursery Rhyme

Some things about England:

In England, Bob The Builder is called Robert The Construction Engineer.

In England, Spongebob Squarepants is translated into the local dialect as “Spongerobert Squaretrousers”.

These facts have two things in common: 1) that they are fun to say, and 2) they are completely untrue.

But there are occasionally cultural differences that I bump into.

Over here, there is this nursery rhyme:

Ring around the rosie,
A pocket full of posey,
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down.

To someone used to a different version, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, like it came to American English from British English through a third-party language.

Of course, the version I grew up with doesn’t make much sense without the commonly-held explanation (which I also grew up with).

(A) Ring, a ring of roses
A pocket full of posies
Atishoo, atishoo,
We all fall down.

The commonly-held explanation is that it refers to The Black Death, Bubonic Plague, or the Great Plague Of London.
The theory goes that a red circular rash (the “ring of roses”) was a symptom of the disease, as was sneezing. The bunch of flowers was some uneducated attempt to keep the disease away, and the falling down was the afflicted patient falling off the mortal coil. So to speak. The “ashes” from the American version may be associated with cremation, according to Wikipedia, and the “posey” is written as “posies” in the American version, too, so it could just be that the kids are singing it slightly wrong. Though “posie” in the singular is found on Snopes.

Wikipedia says that folklorists now dispute this association, but the short version of the explanation that appears there, isn’t entirely convincing. Not that it’s necessarily wrong, but doesn’t necessarily take everything into account, either.

1. The plague explanation didn’t appear until the mid-20th Century.
Seems to be the best point they make. No mention is made of where the Opies got that association: whether it was received, or whether they connected some dots and reached that conclusion.

2. The symptoms don’t correspond very well to the disease in question.
The footnote says the Opies (the ones who first published the connection between rhyme and disease) “note that neither cure nor symptoms (except for death) feature prominently in contemporary or near contemporary accounts of the plague.”
I find this to be interesting, because if the Opies were coming to this conclusion by dots-joining, wouldn’t this discrepancy lead them to some other conclusion instead?
There are some interesting things to note with this, too:
Another commonly-held belief about the spread of the plague, is that it was spread by rats and their fleas. You’d think that flea bites, while technically not a symptom of the plague itself, might leave itchy red spots.
And while the flowers may not have been an effective cure, or talismanic barrier, the Wikipedia page on the Bubonic plague mentions “There were many ethno-medical beliefs for avoiding the Black Death. One of the most famous was that by walking around with flowers in or around their nose people would be able to “ward off the stench and perhaps the evil that afflicted them”.”
So, that would be the pocket full of posies accounted for in the explanation, and not the detraction.
I didn’t spot sneezing per se as a symptom, but coughing is mentioned (which would also require use of a handkerchief). Also, “The plague is also known to spread to the lungs and become the disease known as the pneumonic plague.” Pneumonic also lists coughing but not sneezing. One could imagine a conflation…

3. There are rather a lot of forms of the song, and only a few could have this meaning applied to them.
How often is there a song, and someone modifies the lyrics to it? There are plenty of examples of popular songs being reworded for advertising purposes. To claim (as both Wikipedia and Snopes do) that for this version of the song to have this meaning, it must be the original version, and other versions must be divergences from it, doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Other printed variants may not see much use today as culture homogenises, but before such things as mass media and standardised education, local variants of things could hold on quite tenaciously. The number of versions of this song that are mentioned rather attest to this.
So I wouldn’t say the articles are necessarily wrong that this version of the song is unlikely to be the original, the trunk from which the others split. That does not necessarily preclude the possibility that it’s a local branch that gained more widespread popularity in later years. And if the interpretation was a received one, rather than formulated, then it’s pretty likely to have come through the same locality.

4. Talks about European variants, and other English 19th Century variants, which end up mattering not a bit if this version and its explanation are a localised branch variant.

Snopes on the subject goes on about mostly about trying to tie the American variant with the plague, which is trickier. “Ashes”, it notes, could either be a corruption of the sound in other variants (atishoo, hush, and several others), or it can mean “ashes” and have an explanation for that. which is a fair point if you’re talking about “Ring Around The Rosie”, and not a version that actually has “atishoo” in it.

Snopes also has a paragraph looking down its snooty nose about the late publication date of the rhyme in any form. I’m just going to copy the lengthy paragraph:

[“Ring Around the Rosie” is sometimes said to have originated with a later outbreak of the plague which occurred in London in 1665, to which all of the following reasoning applies as well.]

Although folklorists have been collecting and setting down in print bits of oral tradition such as nursery rhymes and fairy tales for hundreds of years, the earliest print appearance of “Ring Around the Rosie” did not occur until the publication of Kate Greenaway’s Mother Goose or The Old Nursery Rhymes in 1881. For the “plague” explanation of “Ring Around the Rosie” to be true, we have to believe that children were reciting this nursery rhyme continuously for over five centuries, yet not one person in that five hundred year span found it popular enough to merit writing it down. (How anyone could credibly assert that a rhyme which didn’t appear in print until 1881 actually “began about 1347″ is a mystery. If the rhyme were really this old, then “Ring Around the Rosie” antedates even Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and therefore we would have examples of this rhyme in Middle English as well as Modern English forms.)

With a few earlier exceptions, nursery rhymes weren’t really documented on any scale until the end of the 18th Century, with most of the work done in the 19th. And the geography factor would be an issue. A different version with the same tune is mentioned at the beginning of this period, according to Wikipedia. So while some 17th century plays started noting down nursery rhymes, it wouldn’t be surprising that a large proportion of popular rhymes weren’t recorded there, and were only documented later.

Also, there’s the literacy factor (writing rhymes for the wider population when a lot of them can’t read), the preservation factor (exactly what percentage of writings from 350-ish years ago do you think actually survive, that you can make such a blanket statement about all of them). Could there be a class factor? If the locality of this version of the rhyme being popular, was at the low end of the social scale (anyone doubt there were areas like that in London?) how long would it take, after publishing nursery rhymes became a thing, for such a rhyme (or version of one) to appear on the radar?

That’s the thing about history. It’s messy, and most of it’s missing. I don’t spend a lot of time on Snopes, I don’t like its tone. The heavy-handed “you’d have to be stupid to believe this” tone evidenced above, is far too common. And it didn’t take a lot of research, and wasn’t exactly hard, to find any number of possible reasons for the shortage of documentary evidence. We Westerners love stuff in print, but it’s historically ignorant to expect to see absolutely everything documented down to the smallest degree.

Is there any truth to the association between one particular version of this rhyme, to its commonly-held meaning? Much as some would like to, I don’t think that it can be dismissed out of hand. One way or the other, there’s some extant pieces of the puzzle, but I think we can only speculate about the final picture.

Start Of Christmas Decorating

We started Christmas decorating this evening. I think it’s later than we have done it in the past, but a bunch of things needed worked out, some hardware for the room needed to arrive and be put up, and everybody’s had plenty on their plates.

The sideboard we had the tree and presents on last year, this year has the CD players and record player sprawled out over it. This got a little reorganised and condensed a few days ago, then Oldest did dusting round there. Today I brought the tree and decorations up, and we managed to put it in the space it occupied last year. My wife put the lights on it, and helped the kids pick out decorations that wouldn’t smash if they fell off.

For some reason, the tree that was, for the most part, decorated by an 8-year old, a 6-year-old and a 2-year old, looks like it was decorated by an 8-year old, a 6-year-old and a 2-year old. Hopefully, Youngest can be convinced to not keep playing with the decorations, or to try and redecorate the tree.

Need to find some creative new space for presents. Big family, and the sideboard was full of them last year. Think they’ll be all over a bunch of surfaces this year. Which will have the benefit of not leaving space for all the clutter that tends to find its way onto those surfaces.

We recently got some curtain rods for the living room, with the aim of replacing the blinds. The blinds don’t seem to clean very well, and Youngest destroyed a small section of one set, a few months ago. We put the rods up a night or two ago, and while I’m not sure any final decision has been made, I hear that curtains could be arriving this week. Anyway, I heard that decoration could happen once the curtain rods were up, and they are, and one window now has lights in. And we should be able to get the curtains on, the lights being tucked behind.

The piano and the mantelpiece usually get decorated, and probably still will, more of a gradual cleaning-and-decorating process this year.

Now I have more of an urge to get the presents wrapped.

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving. An American holiday, packed with food, family, fankfulness (if you’ll forgive my brief descent into Estuary English), and f-

Hmm, must be some way to start this with an “f”.

Ah, filling up shopping carts.

There we go.

Naturally, we had some tidying to do before company came over, but thanks to the game night we had the other week, the mess wasn’t deeply entrenched. Company came, and fun was had. Food was served in the afternoon. It was breakfast to me, as I knew there’d be a lot of food, and I wanted a lot of it. Also, it was probably good policy to not get in the way of the wonderful cooks, who are people I’m very thankful for.

After the main course, we took a break before dessert. In that break, games were played. The kids played Loopin’ Louie, and sometime before that (you know how days go, could have been before eating), they played Twister. I played two games of Blokus with my parents-in-law, the first also with Oldest, and the second with my sister-in-law. During the second game, I got distracted a couple of times helping youngest play Dixit. He’s not really old enough to play, so I picked a card from his hand and asked him to say a word the card made him think of. The picture was of a treasure chest in a castle, with tentacles extruding from something inhabiting the chest, and the shadow of a treasure-hunter seen through a door, he’s coming down some stairs to the room.

The clue that Youngest gave to this image, was “three”.

So it was fun hearing all that. And despite the distractions, I managed to win both games. Sometimes I worry that if I do that too much, people won’t want to play with me.

In-laws and games, I’m thankful for those.

In the evening, some of us went to Wal-Mart. Say what you want about their Black Friday sale (and many do), it’s a good opportunity to pick up Christmas presents.

Last year, they staggered the sales, so some started at 6, some at 8, some at 10, and some the next morning. Or perhaps the 110 was the next morning. Anyhoo, this time the flyer was set up in a similar way, only all the times were 6pm, pretty much. Our store seems a little too large for the area, so often when you go in, it feels pretty empty. Tonight, everyone could get around, though sometimes the main aisles took a bit of time. I think they opened their doors around 4pm, but people couldn’t check out with the Black Friday items until 6. We got there just after 6, so missed the initial rush.

In the end, I didn’t get much. My mother-in-law expected to see me with a stack of DVDs as long as my arm, and I kind of expected that, too, but not much really grabbed me. I ended up with 3 DVDs, a couple of USB flash drives (it’s amazing how the price of those things has been dropping – it was only a year or two ago that I got 16GB for what I paid for 32GB today), and some headphones.

We left there at about 8, and the extra divisions between the checkout lines, were being taken down as we queued. The big rush, for them, was already over. Black Friday had almost ended at 8 on Thursday.

Was almost tempted by 3 seasons of NCIS. I know I’ll enjoy it if I sit down and watch it, in fact part of an episode I caught before we moved here, intrigued me enough that it’s on my radar. Don’t think I’ve actually caught more than one full episode, though. Maybe one day.

Also, I did catch a bunch of deals on Amazon, in the morning. Missed out on “Inside Out”, being waitlisted when I clicked “add to cart” as soon as it was available. Got one lightning deal, and a few other things that were just cheap. Still got my eye on a couple of things that I hope will dramatically drop in price, as both did at around this time of year, last year.

The waiting game.

This evening, after coming home, I played some jigsaw puzzles with Youngest. He’s getting the hang of lifting pieces and putting them in, rather than trying to ram them together, flat on the table. Still trying to figure out turning them just that little bit more to make them fit right. Still, happy with the improvement.

My kids and wife, I’m really thankful for.

There’s been snow on the ground for a week, or maybe two (not the best at keeping track of time). This has prompted me to sing “White Thanksgiving” to the tune of “White Christmas”.

And may all your Thanksgivings be white…

On Christmas Shopping

I’m one of those annoying people who starts Christmas shopping months in advance. Indeed, I’ve now at least ordered something for everybody in the house. The last person to be ordered for was Youngest, who really doesn’t need much (with access to many toys and books from his older siblings), but I wanted to get him something, and one of those play mats with roads and buildings on, came on a reasonably good sale, and he loves him some cars.

There’s still a thing or two I’m planning to pick up (one may be dependent on whether or not it goes on a good sale this week). And I haven’t started thinking about those outside the house, yet.

I have gottent to the point of rather enjoying buying presents for people, and I think I’m getting reasonably good at choosing what people will like. Some of it’s down to observation: that thing you mentioned that you liked the look of six months ago? Probably went on a hidden Amazon wishlist, so I would remember it.

This is definitely a skill I had to develop. Cue shameful anecdote:

One year, my sister had said something she wanted for Christmas. I didn’t make adequate note, and forgot what it was (it was a chocolate fondue set – NOW I remember). Closer to Christmas, I said I’d forgotten what it was she wanted, please could she remind me. I think she thought I was joking, but alas, no. I believe I asked a couple more times (could be wrong about that, long time ago), but she wouldn’t tell me. So I didn’t get her anything.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go over very well with anyone. It was either her birthday or the following Christmas that I attempted to make up for the incident by getting her a large, expensive present. (I hope she liked it…) Anyway, we’re on speaking terms, so hopefully there’s no remaining grudge.

So there you go: keep your ears open for what your people want, make sure you don’t forget, plan ahead so you can take advantage of sales. And have a good hiding place or two, to keep the purchases where the intended recipient won’t find them.