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Countdown Ends on Christmas Day!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The kids were kind enough to wait until after 7 am before waking us up and then it was a frenzy of tearing paper and squeals of delight. I had the video camera set up on a tripod but didn't realize until halfway through that I had never turned it on. *sigh*

The kids got new Scooters from Santa. Karl's is electric, but Emma asked for a push one. She likes the big wheels, which apparently navigate the sidewalk cracks far better than her old scooter. Karl has already taken his for a spin several times, coming in only when he gets too cold and/or needs to re-charge the batteries.

So you can imagine that there has been a lot of competition for their attention today, but I did finally get them interested in finishing the Clues.

ME: Why don't you guys do your very last clue?

KARL: The last one?! But December isn't over!

ME: It's a Countdown to Christmas, Karl. Today is Christmas.

KARL: Oh. Right.

KARL: It's Christmas Day! We feel love in our hearts, In our lungs, in our kidneys . . . (both kids laugh)

I should interject to say that I wasn't sure if either of them remembered that the buttons that control the sound of the pump organ are called "stops", so I added in an additional clue in the form of actual organs. (heart, lungs, kidneys) It was a totally brilliant and completely unnecessary plan.

Oh, and I should also explain, if any of you are wondering, much like my sister was during our Face Time chat this morning, why Karl has the strings of his hoodie in his ears - they each received headphone-hoodies from their grandparents, with the headphones built-in.

KARL: . . .and in all other parts, Some clues were perfect, others were flops, For double your charity money, I pulled out all the stops! FINALLY, it's the ORGAN!

He went right over and opened it up. Not even the slightest hesitation. 

EMMA: Wow! You solved that fast, Karl.

ME: Present me with your charity envelopes and I will match the money and send a check to your charity.

EMMA: Here you go! It's $50!

KARL: Mine is only $26.

ME: Any amount will be appreciated by your charities. Well done.

And hey - at least Karl got the true spirit on his last day - he donated both dollars today to charity! 

One last piece of business before I close the chapter on this fun 25-days of treasure-hunting.

The peppernuts.

Both kids helped make the dough, but when it came time to cut and bake them, Karl was too busy doing something else.

Emma rolled and cut most of them.

We waited anxiously for the first batch to bake:

Now many have tried and failed to match the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of Mimi's peppernuts. I recall that she has tweaked the recipe when, say, she moves to a new elevation/climate or has to switch to a different brand of cream. Even the quality of the cookie sheet matters, as we discovered when our second batch, on the cheap sheet, was cooked unevenly and half were burnt.

In the end, though, other than one sheet of dog food (Lucy, following in the tradition of all family dogs before her, loves peppernuts) we absolutely SLAYED this experiment. 

Our peppernuts are delicious, and if not quite as uniformly-shaped as Mimi's, have excellent flavor and texture!

Emma and I have shared fist bumps, chest bumps and a series of high 5's celebrating our accomplishment. We're thinking of having tee-shirts made! Heh.

And so the 25 Clues of Christmas 2011 comes to a close. It's been a joyous month of getting to know my kids even better and I can think of no better gift to myself! Bring on 2012!

Merry Christmas!

Countdown Day 24 - The Eve!

John and I spent the morning leisurely wrapping the rest of the kids' gifts, knowing that they would be sleeping in for hours after our rollicking game night with the Schmidts. 

Gretchen and I had agreed that the menu should be easy and casual, so as not to take away time from the games and merriment. John (with a handy assist from Kevin) grilled up burgers, brats and chicken. 

While the chefs were finishing eating, the girls got their Soccer on. 


The bigger girls got their gift-exchange on. We both chose purple scarves for each other! How cute are we? I also received a beautiful jewelry set and a scoring board. Thanks,G!

Now if we look a little, uh, happy in the above photo, it may have something to do with the wine and rum&dietcokes with which we were toasting the holiday season.

That might also explain why I have no pictures of the evening after this one! We played Wits & Wagers and Reverse Charades and made a noble effort with concerto holiday crackers that each came with a differenty-tuned whistle so that, with one person (Kenna) being the conductor, we could make beautiful music together. 

It wasn't beautiful music.

It wasn't even music at all!

It sounded like eight dying geese!

But it was fun! And that's really all that matters!

OK, so back to today. The kids and I decided that today we will try our hand at making Mimi's famous peppernuts. My mother has been baking and sending out these kibble-sized gingerbread treats for over 35 years! This year she decided not to make them, much to Emma's dismay. However, we really need the next generation to carry this on - it's been passed down for 3 generations so far - so the time is right for us to figure out how to bake them ourselves.

But first, we needed to get the Clue done:

EMMA: . . . its color is ali the rage . . 

KARL: Ali?

EMMA: That's what it says . . . ali the rage.

ME: Oh, the wax took some of the letter off - that's supposed to say "all the rage"

Karl took over and read the clue through.

EMMA: Huh. I have no idea.

KARL: Oh! Ten speeds - I know what it is. It's the mixer, Emma.

EMMA: The mixer?

KARL: Yeah, the big one - it has ten speeds.

The number of mixing speeds on the KitchenAid is exactly the type of thing my son would remember. What he WOULDN'T remember, is where we keep it!

Finally they figured it out:

As the clue said, this mixer has been used for making peppernuts for many years. I can't remember how old I was when Mom got this mixer, but I'm going to guess under 10. Mom gave it to me many years ago when she upgraded to the larger KitchenAid. It's still running strong!

We mixed up the peppernut dough and it is currently chilling. The kids decided to play Rock Paper Scissors to decide who could lick the beater.

Emma won!

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone! I have one more clue for tomorrow and we all know where the money will be hidden!

The question is . . . will they know?! 


Countdown Day 23 - hand-me-downs!

KARL: ...which of you will be next? Huh? I have no idea.

And then, if I'm lying, I'm buying:

KARL: Maybe the organ?

The organ AGAIN?!!! That's it! Crafting a clue to lead them to the organ will be a fitting end to the clues on Christmas day! Stay tuned for that!

EMMA: Hmmm. Let me see that, Karl. (reads) Oh! I know what it is. She told me this story the other day. It's those bells that hang on the stairs!

They started at the bottom and methodically worked their way to the top.



But apparently the money must have really blended in with the greenery, because, despite a dollar being clipped to four different bells, they missed all of it.

EMMA: Karl - go downstairs and look up and see if you spot anything.

KARL: Nothing.

Finally I had to do a "cold, cold, warmer, warm, hot, blazing!" game with them to lead them to the right bells and they found the cash.


If I remember correctly, my mother bought these plastic bells at a garage sale when I was very young. We had an archway in our house growing up and these bells spanned the archway perfectly. Sometimes I would turn on just the bells and the tree and sit quietly marveling at how pretty everything looked.

Those giant lights from the 70's got so hot, though, that a lot of the red plastic melted. We've replaced the greenery, the light strand, and every year John patches the bells for me with red electrical tape so they can be hung.

To me, those bells ARE Christmas, but perhaps the enthusiasm skips a generation. My kids don't seem nearly as enamored!

But they ARE enamored with our second annual "Christmas Game Night with the Schmidts", which starts in just a couple of hours! I have already told Gretchen that I expect this legendary night of food, friends and merriment to be the star of her December Daily album! 

Merry Christmas Eve Eve!

Countdown Day 22 - sharp and pointy!

They had no idea. (Yes!!!)

Karl is usually the one who reads the clue aloud. He's very good with reading with the emphasis on the right syllables. 

First they checked the nutcracker.

EMMA: Karl - she wouldn't use the same thing twice!

KARL: But if you . . . HEY!

ME: Don't argue, you two.

KARL: But she PINCHED ME with the Nutcracker!

ME: Oh. Well is your finger bleeding?


ME: Well then you've eliminated the Nutcracker, since you used it wrong and your finger is not bleeding.

To me, this was a totally brilliant comment, but both kids just sneered and grumbled.

I went the the kitchen and came back with something.

ME: Hold out your hands.

EMMA: Why?

ME: I'm depositing some "chocolate cheer" to lighten the mood. (I dumped four pretzel M&M's into her outstretched hand)

EMMA: YUM! (tossed all four into her mouth and held out her hand again) I'm going to need an additional deposit.

ME: Well then I expect EXTRA cheerful behavior!

On a chocolate high, they continued on their quest. (Much more cheerfully, I might add)

Karl checked some ornaments on the tree while Emma examined the stocking hangers.

ME: Hmmm. I think you guys might need to read the clue a little closer. You're not looking just for holiday items that are sharp, but ones that if you were to USE them incorrectly, they would cut you.

KARL & EMMA: blank stares

Emma strolled over to the tree and grabbed a pointy Santa Claus ornament and jokingly made a stabbing motion toward her brother. They both laughed.

ME: OK, look, what are the things we do every year at Christmas.

KARL: These Clues.

ME: OK, but think more globally. We put up a tree. We hang stockings. We put things under the tree . . .

EMMA: Presents!

ME: Yes, and how is it that you can't tell what they are?

EMMA: They're wrapped.



(blank stares)


EMMA: Hey Karl, let's check the wrapping paper. It could give you a paper cut!

(atta girl!)

She looked through the paper rolls while Karl realized something else.

KARL: What about the scissors for wrapping packages?

They started to root through the basket of ribbons when he spied the cash.

KARL: Hey! What's this? Here it is, Emma!

I had wrapped the cash around our Ribbon Shredder, which is actually a favorite tool for the kids. They love to be the ones to shred the ribbon.

I did, by the way, make Karl change his belly shirt before we left. I told them they could see a movie today since I have some work to do.

We had about an hour before we had to leave for the movies so we decided to play a few rounds of Crazy 8's. Check out my hand!

I thought three 8's was pretty spectacular and I did win that round, but then a few hands later Karl got dealt ALL FOUR 8's and beat us soundly.

Conversation was naturally very KarlEmma -

ME: Hey kids! Did you notice that I added the musical snowflakes to the dining room table?

I spied these battery-operated musical snowflake lights last year at Home Depot. You push a button and they light up and play "Carol of the Bells" I just loved them!

Last year:

ME: John - look at these cool snowflake lights I got? (press button, big grin)

JOHN: One word . . .

ME: "Awesome!"?

JOHN: "Why?"

ME: You don't like them?

JOHN: They're a bit garish, don't you think?

ME: (snorting) I think nothing of the sort!

I scouted around for a place to hang them and didn't really find any suitable locations. Just to annoy him I hung them across the bottom of the tree and took great delight in pushing the button any time he was in the room.

This year I noticed that the snowflake lights were left in the bottom of a bin that HE had emptied.

ME: Hey! You accidentally left the snowflake lights in the bin!

JOHN: You're not giving up on those?

ME: As if! Fine! If you don't appreciate them I will hang them in my office. So there!

I flounced off.

Of course I didn't hang the snowflake lights in my office. I would have had to hang hooks or something, and that was really too labor-intensive. They were stuck in a corner until yesterday, when I had the brilliant idea to incorporate them into the table display. 

So back to my conversation with the kids:

ME: Hey kids! Did you notice that I added the musical snowflakes to the dining room table?

KARL: Did you know that snow doesn't fall in individual flakes? There's only a 1% chance of an individual flake falling. 99% of the time they fall in flake clusters. But of course on TV and in the media they always show individual flakes. Why is that?

ME: Well maybe people don't want to sing "Let it snow clusters! Let it snow clusters! Let it snow clusters!"

EMMA: Well it's not like they're singing "Let it snowFLAKES" either, Mom. They just sing "Let it snow".

ME: The point is still valid. Clusters aren't pretty. They're lumpy.

KARL: In "The Grinch" they show all these individual flakes falling from the sky. That's very unrealistic.

EMMA: Karl, it's a show that features green people and Who's that eat "roast beast"!

KARL: It's not roast BEEF, Emma, it's roast BEAST!

EMMA: That's what I said. Roast BEAST. In any case, it's very rare.

ME: The "rare" doesn't mean it's hard to find - it means it's undercooked.


Countdown Day 21 - I just think clues should be written properly!

Anyone who's read my blog for years knows about my friend Evelyn. She was my neighbor in Colorado Springs and we had many blogventures together. Her husband is in the Air Force and they moved to Florida about a year before we moved to Texas.

Katy is on the driving route between Florida and San Antonio, where Ev's parents live, so I was thrilled to hear that she and the boys, plus one of her girlfriends and her son, would be passing through town today. They came to our house for lunch. It was awesome seeing her again!


Now if my office looks quite tidy it is because my morning was spent feverishly cleaning it before she arrived. There may or may not be a giant Rubbermaid bin of the stuff I didn't quite get to that may or may not be tucked into a closet!

Perhaps, with all my feverish cleaning, I inhaled some cleaning fumes or something. I have no other explanation for my behavior this morning when Emma came out of her room and said:

EMMA: Mom, did you put a pair of jeans on my ceiling fan?

Now if I had a dime for every time I'd been asked that question . . . I'd have ten cents!

ME: Huh?

EMMA: Well I woke up and saw something blue on the fan. I turned it on and the item went flying and it was a pair of jeans. How do you think they got up there?

ME: I have no idea!

And I suddenly remembered a loud "thump" that I'd heard in the night. It was one of those thumps that wasn't quite "I'd better investigate" severity, but I had wondered what it was.

ME: Did you make a loud "thump" in the middle of the night?

EMMA: Huh?

We were getting nowhere.

I have no idea why reason left me at this moment, but what leapt to mind was that Karl had not made an appearance yet, and his door was closed, and I really had no idea if he was truly in there. What if the thump and the jeans on the fan were made by kidnappers? The "Blue Jean Teen Thiefs" who break into occupied houses and leave all the valuable electronics behind to, instead, haul away 100-pound teens, leaving only a pair of jeans on a ceiling fan as a calling card? It could happen! (It really couldn't)

I scurried to Karl's door, opened it with a burst and called out -

ME: Karl?! Are you OK?

KARL: (waking up, rolling over, groaning) Huh?

ME: Oh. Sorry. Say - do you know how a pair of jeans got on Emma's ceiling fan?

KARL: (groggily) I was aiming for her bed.

Mystery solved.

Because our morning was spent preparing for our friends' visit, we didn't do the clue until the afternoon, after they had left. (sniff)

Probably a good thing, because this one was a dud!

I really should get added points for the rhyme. Put the emphasis on "stop" and say it quickly like this: STOP-her-see and it rhymes(ish) with "properly". Brilliant!

Except that I forgot that we don't watch no stinkin' commercials.

KARL: You got any idea, Emma?

EMMA: Nope.

ME: (in a very bad English accent) I just think things ought to work properly!

KARL: Yeah? That's what it says - so?

ME: Don't you know that commercial?


ME: Oh. Well I guess you'd better Google it then.

They went up to Karl's room:

I looked over their shoulders and noticed that I didn't even have the slogan right!

ME: Oh. Kids - I wrote it wrong. It's supposed to say "should" instead of "ought to".

EMMA: (looks at screen) Oh there it is! Come on Karl - it's Dyson.

They went to the closet and found the money on top of the vacuum cleaner.

The whole thing was completely underwhelming. 


Countdown Day 20 - oh come on!

Last night:

ME: Emma, your brother seemed a little bothered yesterday that you have been solving so many of the clues. I think I will try to make tomorrow's something that he knows more than you, but even if you DO solve it, can you just let him find it?

EMMA: Sure!


At first there was no charity involved, because neither kid had any idea. Karl saw the word "antique" and immediately suggested the organ. (Again with the organ! I really ought to write a clue in its honor!)

After finding nothing in the organ they both settled into the chair (with Lucy very put out that they were sitting in "her" chair) to discuss.

KARL: What's the Spanish word for "goodbye"?

EMMA: Adios.

ME: Is there another way to say it?

EMMA: Hasta luego. Hasta manana.

ME: Anything else?

KARL: Hasta la vista?

Emma sat up straight with immediate understanding. She got up and headed for the stairs. I caught her eye and shook my head just slightly. She stopped and waited for Karl.

EMMA: Karl, what was that word you just said?

KARL: Veesta.

EMMA: Is there a way to say it in English?

KARL: Vista.

EMMA: Doesn't that mean a great view?

KARL: Yeah, but we don't have any great views here.

Emma looked at me with a look that clearly communicated "oh come on!"

They sat down.

EMMA: Don't we call something the "Vista"?

KARL: The computer!

At this point I was seriously thinking that my son might need to start drinking coffee. That boy's brain is muddled in the a.m., yo! He is the primary user of our desktop computer, affectionately nicknamed "The Vista" because of its operating system. Karl considers it a quaint antique, and is always impressed when software will work on it. "This even works on the Vista!" he'll announce, as though he were reconstructing a dinosaur from ancient mosquitoes.

And then, even after Emma lobbed the answer at him, he couldn't find the cash!

He looked all around the computer, picking up all the stuff that he'd littered messily on the table, even trying to lift the monitor and opening both CD drives, but couldn't find it.

At this point I was shaking my head and not even disguising my "oh come on!" thoughts.

Finally, Emma thought to lift the keyboard:


Countdown Day 19 - eyes skyward!

I can't believe how much, (and yet so little) I've managed to accomplish in the month of December! This is the first year that I've actually blogged the 25 Clues of Christmas and I must say that I'm having a blast doing it. Scrapbooking has really taken the back burner in my life since the pop-up dies came out. Cards are just easier to produce and travel with. Plus, as the kids get older and spend less time running amok, I thought there were fewer scrapbook-worthy things happening in our day-to-day lives. But this process of chasing them around with a camera and a notepad has shown me otherwise. What a great Christmas gift to myself!

Thank you to everyone who had been reading along. I also love the comments - thank you!

This weekend was a busy one because I was teaching on Saturday. Last week's kit preparations, plus the kids having Finals, really put all the Christmas prep on pause, so John went out shopping on Saturday to get several things on our list for the kids and to do his shopping for me.

When I got home from teaching we grilled the steaks from the Day 16 clue, and sat down to eat.

ME: Emma, would you like some more steak?

EMMA: No, thanks. No offense, but the piece I got was a little chewy.

KARL: Mom, please pack your knives and go!

Sheesh! Tough crowd!

Then, as John and I were cleaning up the kitchen:

JOHN: How many gifts did you get for me?

ME: That would be a big fat zero, so far.

JOHN: (shocked) You haven't STARTED?

ME: Well I had a few things in my Amazon cart for you but I had to remove them when we were looking together for the kids' stuff. Don't worry, I've thought of a lot of good ideas.

JOHN: Well it's the thought that counts.

ME: Exactly.

JOHN: But think harder!

ME: Ok! Ok! Don't worry - they have these things in our area called "stores" and you can actually drive there in these things called "vehicles" and come home with presents the very same day. It's a week till Christmas. Chillax!

Now while we were discussing, I had dumped the leftover potatoes into a servin' saver, but couldn't find the lid.

ME: Oh geez. I managed to pick the one servin' saver without a lid.

JOHN: Rookie move. You really have to verify lid existence before putting the food in. (pause) But hey - why dont you just put it in the fridge without a lid? You THOUGHT about the lid, so that's really enough.

ME: (laughing) You really feel pretty superior for a person who, just five hours ago, had not purchased a single gift either!

JOHN: (grinning) I know! I love it!

My plan for Sunday was to sleep in. I'd been working really hard for a week and planned a luxurious day of ignoring the computer, spending time with family, doing our annual "all four of us shop for each other with the silly logistical nightmare of loading the van without anyone seeing their gifts" outing, and finishing the day with all of us watching the Survivor finale.

But what actually happened is that I woke up with a start at 5:30 am after having a disturbing nightmare and couldn't go back to sleep.

We were out of coffee and had maybe a quarter cup of milk left. Rut roh! I decided to run out to Kroger and get three things: coffee, milk and postage stamps for our photo cards.

But what happened is that I went to Kroger hungry, so what I came home with was: coffee, milk, three kinds of yogurt, a box of frozen waffles, two boxes of cereal, two packages of bagels, instant oatmeal and, for some strange reason; a dozen donuts! (I completely forgot the postage stamps, naturally)

John and I were sitting at the table reading the Sunday paper when I heard the kids upstairs.

EMMA: Karl, we should go down for breakfast.

KARL: We're out of milk. What are we going to eat?

ME: (calling upstairs) The Breakfast Fairy came!

EMMA & KARL: What?

ME: (a little louder) THE BREAKFAST FAIRY CAME!




Now as the kids were coming down the stairs I was shooting dirty looks at John from across the table.

JOHN: (looking up) What? You were just going to keep repeating the "Breakfast Fairy" thing until they understood?

ME: Yes.

So by then the kids had made it to the kitchen and I heard gasps of delight.

EMMA: Karl, look! Donuts!!!!

JOHN: (calling into the kitchen) The Breakfast Fairy brought those. Those are from the Breakfast Fairy.

KARL: Wow! How many can we have?! (gets plate from cabinet)

ME: Well let's put it this way - you won't need that giant plate!

KARL: Awww.

They brought their donuts to the table to eat.

JOHN: I hope you realize that those are from the Breakfast Fairy. Did I mention that?

ME: John. The horse is dead.

Now the donut high did not last, because, if you will reKarl (instead of recall - see what I did there?) my son was very put out by yesterday's challenging clue and its deep dent into the hours he had set aside for mindless lumpiness, so, in his honor, I decided to do this for today's:

It was actually quite comical to watch them wander through the house with eyes skyward.

Karl had just started up the stairs when Emma spied the cash rubber-banded to one of the Christmas stars that are hanging in the breakfast room.

EMMA: Karl! I got it! I got it!

And now, I really need to mail those photo cards!

Countdown Day 18 - A real puzzler!

Stumped 'em!

Stumped 'em good!



EMMA: Hmmm. Red, Yellow and Blue - what could that be?

KARL: This makes no sense. Things can't be neither straight nor curvy.

ME: It's actually BOTH straight and curvy.

KARL: That's impossible. If something's just a little bit curvy then it's curvy.

Let me just interject here to say that these types of discussions are not rare with these children. Just Friday we were sitting at the table, celebrating their early dismissal with drive-thru Whataburger, when this conversation ensued:

KARL: If a tree falls in the woods and nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound? Yes, because sound is waves. It happens whether anyone is around or not.

EMMA: But the waves have to be received to be heard. Therefore, there is no sound if nobody's there to hear it.

ME: These fries are tasty.

KARL: But sound IS waves, so yes, there is a sound.

EMMA: No -

ME: (noticing both kids getting heated) Emma, he's saying that the way he defines "sound" is the actual waves themselves, so he says their production is a "sound" irrespective of whether anyone receives them. It's like saying "Are you visible if everyone is blind?"

EMMA: Well no one can really say. I mean, we only know we're alive if someone confirms it by talking to us.

ME: (staring, fry frozen midway to mouth) That's deep, Emma.

EMMA: Don't blame me. Blame the physicist who put the cat in the box!

Dude. I don't make it up. I just write it down.

Of course, the conversation can just as easily float into the shallow end of the pool:

KARL: You know that term LOL? Well they're adding the word LAWL for people with a country accent.

EMMA: Karl! Don't make fun of people from other countries!


Back to the clue hunt. Emma decided to check her stocking because it was blue and it "hadn't been touched yet".

No dice.

EMMA: Can Dad help?

ME: Sure. You can ask Dad.



JOHN: Hmmm. Red, Yellow and Blue -

KARL: I think it's levels in a video game.


No luck!

JOHN: How about the game of Twister?

KARL: I don't think we have that game anymore.

But John's suggestion did lead them to the Game Room, where they decided to check some games:

I started giving some hints. I told them it wasn't on any of the game shelves (because they would have been there all day tearing into games) but that it WAS in the room somewhere.

Emma glanced over at the game table. She, of anyone, should have been able to solve this clue, and I thought maybe she was about to.

But she dropped to the floor to check (???) underneath the table.

We bought the Charlie Brown Christmas puzzle a few years ago. Like the checkers game, it comes out in December and it's usually me who puts most of it together, but Emma surprised me by getting it started earlier this week and then asking for my help. She did the edges and then Red (easy), we worked on Yellow together (not as easy because part Lucy, part Sally) and we were leaving the Blue (sky) till the end.

ME: I'll give you guys another hint. Emma, of anyone, is the person most likely to solve this clue. Oh, and I guess the "blue" has been touched a little, but not a lot.

It should have been obvious to her, but she still wasn't getting it. Karl, in exasperation, randomly dug his hands into the box of puzzle pieces and uncovered the money.


Emma was impressed with the clue once she understood it, even giving me a high-5 and a hug. Karl, on the other hand, was too surly to even pose for a victory photo.

KARL: It's not fun to do this if the clues are so hard.

ME: Most of the clues have been easy.

KARL: Well I like the easy ones. I don't want to spend all day solving it.

JOHN: It's been 7 minutes.

KARL: Still.

Countdown Day 17 - Rewind!

Before I get to today's clue, let me talk about last night.

It was very late, because I was still finishing up prep work on my class kits for today, when John stepped outside to turn off the Christmas lights.

I heard him do one of those gasp-laughs and then he said "You've got to come see this."

Apparently someone (I am going to guess teenagers) thought our grazing reindeer scene needed a little, er, creative adjustment.

(click on the thumbnail - WARNING - CRUDE!)


I let out that same gasp-laugh and then ran for my camera.

Pushing out thoughts of how long our display had been so, uh, altered, and how many cars and pedestrians had driven or walked by during that time, I was very impressed with the creativity! I was also very thankful that one of our reindeer had developed a short and was only flickering on every once in a while, rather than, say, blazing bright for all to see.

JOHN: (laughing) It's even animated!

When the reindeer are set up properly, they will serenely move their heads up and down, appearing to graze. When the reindeer are not set up properly . . . uh . . . 

Oh boy.

Moving on to today's clue:


I was not sure if this was going to be the easiest clue ever, or the hardest. Would they figure out that I was talking about the Countdown House itself:


They slept in quite late (because it's the first day of Christmas Break) and by then I was desperately hoping for a quick solve since I was packing up to go demo and teach at Novel Approach today.

KARL: (reads clue) . . go back to where you started . . . I wonder wha-

EMMA: (opens Door #1 and grabs money) Here you go.

KARL: I barely had a chance to breathe before you found that, Emma!

EMMA: (smugly) It has doors but just one window. I thought to myself - 

ME: (interrupting) Yes, you're very smart. Say "cheese" - I gotta get out of here!

KIDS: Cheese!


Countdown Day 16 - what's the opposite of an elephant?

As Karl and I were walking yesterday morning -

ME: I'm out of clues. I need to write the one for tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow - it's a half day and then the start of Christmas Break!

KARL: Yeah!

ME: Hmmm. What rhymes with "break"? Make, cake, steak . . .

KARL: Ha! If you used "steak" that would be pretty easy. I mean, if you put steak in the fridge with money on top I think we'd see it!

I decided to test my son's memory. 


I got steaks out of the freezer last night and transferred them to the Tupperware container that I use for marinating. 

JOHN: What are you doing?

ME: Just getting some steaks out to defrost for tomorrow.

JOHN: (suspiciously) For TOMORROW?!

OK, so I have never, unless company's coming, been known to think about tomorrow's dinner today. Heck, most of the time I'm pulling meat out of the freezer for tonight's dinner at 4 pm. 

ME: Where are the kids?

JOHN: Upstairs, why?

ME: (whispering) It's part of the clue.


This morning was surprisingly hectic, for the final day of school, a half-day, where I didn't have to make lunches. I realized when I saw the Starbucks gift cards sitting on the bar that I hadn't made cards for Karl's two PASS teachers. (PASS is an acronym for something. I think the P might be for "Positive". It's a program for kids like Karl, who mostly do fine in mainstream classes but might need a little support now and then) It seemed like the lamest thing since "Hey kids - I'm making your favorite for dinner - Macaroni and Hamburger Cheese!" for me to send those gift cards to school without a handmade card to accompany them.

ME: Emma! Oh good, you're done with your shower. Grab a tape runner - we need to do some mad power-crafting!

Emma helped me whip up two simple pop-up cards to put the gift cards in. We even glittered the trees! (insert shameless plug for pop-up die here) Thank goodness for the Sizzix Pop-up Scalloped Circle Insert Die, finally back in stock after months! (exit shameless plug for pop-up die)

I mentally breathed a sigh of relief that the clue was going to be so easy to solve! We were down to 5 minutes before school.

KARL: (reads clue) Huh? We never had this conversation.

ME: We had this conversation yesterday.

EMMA: I was not involved in this conversation.

KARL: It didn't happen.

ME: It happened yesterday.

Karl flopped onto the ottoman to rack his brain. Apparently Lucy thought she could help.

Karl decided to go check an online rhyming dictionary for things that rhyme with "Christmas Break" while Emma started thinking.

EMMA: What rhymes with "break"? Snake. Steak. Bake. (she checked the oven) Lake. Wake.

ME: In the interest of time I will give you a hint. It has to do with dinner.

It was all the hint she needed.

On the way to school:

ME: Karl, you actually said just yesterday that steak in the fridge with money on top would be simple.

KARL: Oh yeah. I remember now. (pauses) Hey, did you know that nothing really rhymes with "Christmas"?