Wednesday, January 30, 2013

T.N.M. - Tuesday Night Mansions

Holly and I continued our tour of American mansions last night.  We bought ourselves a small treat on a whim and then toured the stately residences along the Hudson river.  First, we toured Jay Gould's Gothic  castle-looking country residence.  Then, we saw Fredrick William Vanderbilt's mansion in Hyde Park.  Last, we looked at John Rockefeller mansion and its changes through the original Rockefeller, his son, and his grandson.  We felt the grandson did the worst to the property by peppering it with gaudy modern art pieces, but hey, what do we know about the finer things in life except that they sometimes look dumb.

File:Lyndhurst Tarrytown NY - front facade.jpg
Lyndhurst, Jay Gould's Gothic mansion in Tarrytown, NY

Of course  we understand that looking at these stately places through our big flat screen is not the same as visiting them.  But we could visit them someday.  They are historic sites now and it would be a good weekend trip sometime.  It's interesting; When we watched our first episode on my birthday, we saw southern plantation mansions that seems so over the top.  After seeing some of these places that were built in the Gilded Age, those southern manors seem downright charming and homey.  Holly and I would both prefer the southern plantation style to the Hudson river hideaways any day.

File:Rockefeller Kykuit.jpg
Kyuit, the mansion of the Rockefeller family

Of course, while both of us would love to own such places out of their sheer grandeur and monetary value, we would be terrified to live there.

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William Vanderbilt's mansion in Hyde Park

There are too many open rooms, hidden nooks, and wide spaces.  Just imagine, you could have sixty ax murderers hiding in a place like that and you wouldn't even know it.  And if you did know it and foolishly decided to go looking for them, all sixty could shuffle around the rooms while you looked for them and you wouldn't be any better off.  Of course, the same structural layout could work to your advantage by giving you plenty of places to hide should they decide to attack, but lets not split hairs.  The point is we would need to have lots of servants to keep track of the place and I know nothing about getting servants to do what I ask.  I can barely get my kids to do what I ask.  At the end of the day, Holly and I do have a healthy dose of real estate envy.  But not enough to shoot for the top.  No, give us a bigger house with fewer drafts, more closets, lots of shelves and storage, a wide finished basement, a pool and hot tub, a big, warm, wide, kitchen, two fire places (one for the living space, one aesthetic one of the master bedroom) a deep, green yard, a chess nook, a breakfast nook, a craft nook, and a few other minor bells and whistles and we will be happy.  No, we are not high maintenance at all.  At least, not high maintenance when compared to the three homesteads above.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday, Monday

After school today, Parker and I walked to the car and discovered it was covered in ice.  I set to work clearing it off, but Parker wanted to help.  So he did.

Later for Family Home Evening, Daisy came over with Nate and Annabelle.  We had chicken tacos and a lesson on baptism   Then, we rolled out pretzel dough to make homemade pretzels.  They turned out swell and tasted delicious.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Anderson and Carter

Anderson went into nursery for the first time in church today!  That and Carter went missing during sacrament meeting, but was later found going potty in the wrong restroom, after saying he was just going to get a drink.  No cries from Anderson in nursery, no screams from the ladies on Carter's mistake.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chicken Bacon Ranch

We were going to have grilled cheese and tomato soup today.  Then the missionaries called and wanted to come over for dinner.  They wanted Marks pizza.  (I can understand that!)  We said we would get the Mark's if they brought some 2 liter sodas.  They wanted Chicken Bacon Ranch pizza, one we had never tried before.  So we got it for them.  It is mine and Holly's new favorite.  We will be getting it for the Superbowl.

Chicken Bacon Ranch is now where it is at!

Parker and Carter came down from bed twice to have some.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Big 30

Holly's Power of Veto

I turned thirty yesterday.  After we put the kids to bed, Holly made an offer to let me pick dinner. This is a big deal because while she says this often, it usually comes intertwined with a veto power she mysteriously holds.  This time she promised not to veto anything.  So I picked Mark's pizza. (Some of my students made some good suggestions earlier in the day, but I wanted pizza and Mark's is my favorite.)  I also wanted it delivered so I wouldn't have to go out in the 7 degree cold spell.  That's what I would normally have to do because Holly doesn't like driving in the snow.  We settled on a Buffalo Chicken pizza with boneless chicken wings.

If this wasn't nice enough, Holly even decided to let me pick ANYTHING to watch on Netflix, again, without her ever-present power of veto.  At first, I considered an action movie with lots of car crashes, explosions, and heroic rescues.  But I knew Holly would just pretend to like it and then disappear into her laptop.  That's no fun.  Then I considered watching The Artist, the silent movie that won the Academy Award for best picture.  I knew Holly would like it once she got into it, but I wanted to be able to eat pizza and talk, not get overly engrossed in fine film.

The Artist, A fine film rejected on the premise there wouldn't be
ample opportunity to make colorful commentary with Holly.
So I picked a documentary on America's Mansions.  Holly said it looked interesting and I thought so too.  We watched two episodes with our pizza and toured through our television grand antebellum mansions in the South, and sprawling, lavish industrialist estates on Long Island.  We each picked our favorite.  I opted for Longwood, an unfinished Southern Mansion they say has a ghost haunting the unfinished upper floors.  The Civil War broke out during it's construction and the Northern workmen literally dropped their tools where they were standing and walked off once they heard.  Scaffolding was left in place, and lunch pails where left open.  The war wasn't kind.  The father grew depressed, walked the unfinished halls and died, leaving the widow to raise her family in near poverty in the finished basement of the mansion until she got a settlement from the US government for property damage after the war.

Longwood Mansion, in Mississippi, Brian's choice with it's
spooky stories and unfinished rooms to make his own.
Holly liked this French-names mansion lined with 300 year old oak trees.  It's a a big, white box of a house with a huge wrap around porch on both levels.  What we both didn't like was this gaudy Vanderbilt place on Long Island called "The Eagle's Nest."
So that was our birthday...eating pizza while admiring and mocking the real estate glass ceiling we will never hit.

The Morning After...
Anderson enjoying the leftovers of Dad's birthday dinner.

The Morning After II...
Anderson exploring the couch while Carter tries to
decide if he likes Buffalo Chicken pizza or not.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Moby Dick

Dad says read.  Someday.  You gotta.

So I had a dream last night.  I dreamed I was in front of a healthy class of community college kids and I was teaching a class.  The class was on Moby Dick.  That's it.  One novel for the whole semester.  The big times.  After being introduced by one of my former graduate advisers,  I started teaching and asked the class the BIG question.  Why Moby Dick?  I then started to pontificate on the importance of Moby Dick.  I don't recall what I said, but I was on a roll, saying really brilliant stuff.  Then I woke up. Moby Dick has been on my mind ever since. 

Moby Dick, the Big Whale, with long time pal Ahab, teaching us all valuable life lessons.

It's a brilliant novel.  My favorite novel, really.  Read it in community college myself.  First English class.  American literature to 1865.  Professor Baumann.  Great man.  Amazing novel.  My sons need to read it.  Can't read it yet.  Too young, for now.  But I want to share it with them.  So here, on the Steffen family blog, I intend to share a little Moby Dick with them to read someday.  Chapter by chapter, one day at a time.  So here we go.

Moby Dick Chapter 1:

My sons,
"Call me Ishmael " the novel opens.  Parker, we never actually know that this guy's name is Ishmael   It could be Bob for all we know.  Or it could be Parker, Carter, or Anderson. (Sometimes I like to think that.)  "Ishmael" is just saying that this name is as good as any, so let's use it.  So we do. It's a good name because Ishmael wanders the ocean in Moby Dick, which is what the Biblical Ishmael did a lot of, albeit on land.  Melville was probably unaware of it, but Ishmael is in the Book of Mormon too, who wanders away from Jerusalem with Lehi and his family to ultimately sail to the Americas across the waters.  Again, appropriate for our Moby Dick narrator.  Who spends his wandering on the waters. Boys, all you need to know is that Ishmael has a habit of getting to sea whenever he life begins to feel unsatisfying.  Unsatisfying in the sense that he finds himself "pausing in front of coffin shops" and using all his patient to keep himself from "knocking the hats off of passer-bys" just because he can.  So he decides to go.

Our man Ishmael (Biblically)

Here is what else you need to know: You need to get to sea yourself someday.  Not the real sea, although it could be.  But you need that escape that is yours for when life gets a little bit too much.  For your father that escape is teaching, reading, writing, running, and a good dose of chess.  For your mother, It's helping people (she is better than me) as well as crafting, and doulaing.  These activities are more than hobbies, my boys. Instead, they are tickets to high personal adventure as you seek to explore and perfect these interests.  So call yourself Ishmael and go wander into them.  Your mother and I don't want you living in our basement in twenty years.  We want you out and about.  And not just out and about because it is the "right" thing to do, but we want you out and about because if you weren't, you'd go crazy.  As President Hinckley said in General Conference before you were born, it's not just enough to be good, but to be good for something.  Make that happen. -Dad.

No E Needed

Parker playing Jenga, a few weeks before he charms
his father  by  writing Anderson without the E.

While I coached at chess club, today Parker wrote out a letter to his family. He wrote, "I love you mom and dad."  He wrote, "I love you Carter."  Then, he wrote, "I love you," and he stopped.  "Dad?" he asked.  "How do you spell Anderson?"  "Stretch it out," I said.  Well he did.  He wrote, "I love you Andrson."  No E needed.

Parker's 1st Love Letter
Afterwards, while I was making a phone call, Parker started running laps around the classroom.  I mean, he was moving fast.  Really booking it.  Even fell down a couple of times, brushed himself off, got back up, and continued his athletics.   I asked him what he was doing.  "Exercising," he said.  "So I can get big."  "I don't know if that's going to help you get big," I said.  Good old Parker just kept running.  "Get healthy, then," he said.  "Like you dad.  You run and you are healthy.  Just like you."  Aw, shucks, kid.  Yup, sport.  Just like me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snow Day 2013

Today was the first snow day of the season!  We cashed in on it as much as we could.  However, shortly after we discovered the day was liberated, the power went out in the front living room of our house.  I made a trip to the basement and thought I found the offending fuse.  I dug out the car and headed over to Lowes and got what I speculated to be a replacement.  I came home, trucked down to the basement and plugged the fuse in.

No go.  I came back upstairs frustrated and let Holly know how I felt.  She told to me to go on down and patiently try again.  Complaining about doesn't do any good, she reminded me.  So I went back into the basement grumbling.  All the fuses looked good.  So I took a gamble and randomly unplugged one and swapped it with another one I found in a box.  I only knew it was switching a 15 for a 15.  In it went and POP! the power went back on.  How do you like that?  Sometimes you just get lucky.

We put Anderson down for a nap and had a movie afternoon with the boys.  This means mom and dad get to pick the movie so we are not watching reruns of their favorite shows.  Mom spied Treasure Planet on Netflix.

Parker and Carter complained, but we sat them down to watch it together.  In the end, once they found out it had pirates, they enjoyed it.  We promised a treat for the snow day, so once it started getting dark in the afternoon, we ordered Mark's pizza with 3 orders of wings and "Sprite" soda. (It was Sierra Mist, but Parker settled for that.)  We set up camp in the living room and asked what we should watch now.  Parker said, "I know!"  Then he put Treasure Planet on again and we watched the movie a second time!  We knew they would enjoy it.

Halfway through dinner, Anderson started getting cranky in his high chair we had moved into the living room.  We tried giving him chicken (boneless) wings.  We gave him a drink of water.  We got him more pizza.  He was still ANGRY.  Finally, Holly decided to take him out of his chair and let him sit with Parker and Carter at their little table we moved into the living room.  Well, the little man walked right up to his seat, sat down with his brothers, smiled big, and started eating and watching the movie with them.  He just wanted to sit with his brothers.  It was cute. 

After the movie (where Jim Hawkins was once again triumphant) the boys helped clean up and went right up to bed.  It was a good day.  The weather is still predicted to be scary tomorrow.  Maybe we can have another snow day...

Snowy day.

First snow day of the year!

Love having my whole family home with no where to go.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Old School PBS

This is Carter on an unnamed street.

This is a stereotype of the 1970s

This is Carter's new favorite show to watch on Netflix.


Yup.  Vintage Sesame Street, Circa 1970s. Love that kid.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

He flies, throws bombs, opens secret doors, and uses a blaster.  
What more could you ask for?
Parker and Carter switch off and on playing the Lego Star Wars video game.  Parker gets to play it in the mornings and after school and Carter gets to play while Parker is at school.  They plot out strategies together.  Today, while Parker was at school, Carter succeed in getting 100,000 Lego-studs, enough to purchase the Boba Fett character.  (This has been a BIG goal since Sunday.)  When Parker saw Carter playing with the new character in the window as he walked up the steps this afternoon, he got all excited, yelling, "Dad!  Look at Carter!  He did it!"  Ahh, the accomplishments of childhood.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


What could it be?

Violent crying, screaming, and other wails of abuse came from the kitchen tonight.  I came in to cry silence and tell them I-don't-want-to-hear-who-did-what-just-stop-it.  But Holly, rational Supermom, looked at me and said, "Do you want to hear what happened?"  She then professionally outlined the following events:

Yesterday, Parker made a Lego car.

He was proud of it.

Since he was proud of it, he did the right thing and put it up high so Anderson wouldn't ruin in.

The Lego car, worthy of admiration, was put up high in the box with the other Legos.

Today, Carter wanted to play with Legos while Parker was at school.

Carter built an amazing car too.

Parker came home and Carter was excited to show his amazing car "for the family."

Parker sees Carter built his car out of his car.

Parker starts crying and takes pieces off of Carter's car to claim as his own.

Carter cries and the car crashes to the floor and pieces go everywhere.

Anderson became frightened and confused and started bawling.

And the horror began.

"So," Holly says, "Everyone is upset and everyone has a right to be."

Sometimes that's just the way it goes.
Broken Legos, Broken Hearts

Black on Black

Chess Colors
Parker insisted on playing a game of chess before school started.  The pieces were all mumbo-jumbo in a bag all mixed together: blue, red, green, gold, orange, black, purple, pink, etc.  As we were setting them up, Parker got the idea to play with both the same color.  Black on black.  So we did.  He didn't win, but he was able to play the game out. He only asked a couple of times which pieces were his.  Otherwise, he was able to keep most of it straight in his head.  It was 20 - 25 move game too.  Brilliant kid.


The Boy in Blue at 5 AM
For the first time in the 1,171 days since we came back to town, we had our first brush with the law.  Our town has a winter parking ban.  The ban used to be no one could park on the roads in the winter from 1 - 6 am.  This year, they changed it to parking on alternate sides of the street.  Tricky, tricky.  A brilliant strategy, really.  Well, someone forgot to move the car to the other side last night and we got our first parking violation.  And I even saw the officer pull away as I was waking up.  Never again.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Playoff Sunday

No Tom Brady Here...

I was all set to watch the playoff game between the Patriots and the Texans when Parker wanted to play his Star Wars video game.  Since the game had only started, Holly said he could play for ten minutes.  Well, Parker started playing with mommy on level 2 of Return of the Jedi where the Star Wars gang has to escape Jabba the Hutt's skiff and avoid being fed to the Sarlacc.  Before you knew it, ten minutes was over.  But Parker and Mommy had made such headway into the level that Parker was understandably reluctant to turn it off.  So Parker and Mommy plodded onward until they got stuck and Parker gave me a turn to try and beat the level with Mommy.  We thought we were done, and we were using R2D2 to load up this terrific gun to blow up some big power machine thingy.  We had blown up the other one so we figured we just needed to blow this one to the sky and we would be home free.  But we soon learned this power thingy was locked up under this protective case and then came lots of arguing, scrambling, and "Holy smokes, Brian this game is for ten year can't be that hard to figure out!"  Parker of course gave his share of aggressive kibitzing and the whole nuclear family dynamic was frantically unraveling.  We went up, we went down, we went inside things, pushed little boxes around, ran into little rooms and tunnels until finally forty minutes late, the protective shield came down and we BLEW the annoying thing up.  The Star Wars gang was safe.  Holly and I never felt so accpompished. A real family team.  Then the credits for the level rolled and I got to watch the second half of the playoff game.  You're welcome, Parker.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Playoff Saturday

We watched the playoffs on Saturday.  Brian was rooting for the Baltimore Ravens while I was cheering for the Broncos.  Brian doesn't really like the Ravens, but just carries some sort of grudge against the Manning family no rational reason. He is always cheering against the Broncos and the Giants these days.  Carter sided with Brian and Parker sided with me.  It was cute.  When Brian would cheer, Carter would jump up and down on the couch and shout, "Yes!  We're winning, we're winning!"  They enjoyed the game for a while and then disappeared into the dinning room.  When we looked in, they were all sitting at their table going through their church bags.  It was so cute.  Brian left to get KFC during the overtime and was pleased to discovered it still wasn't over when he got back.  He was even more thrilled when the Ravens won.  We then switched it to the 49ers vs the Packers.  Once again, we wanted different teams.  I obviously like Green Bay because my dad and little brother are Green Bay fans.  Brian, for some obscure, dubious reason, wanted the 49ers, even though he has liked the Packers before.  (He is the worst fan and has no logic.)  This "49er Fever," Brian justifies because he recalls his first Super Bowl being watched the 49ers play sitting in his parents basement by himself while his parents fought about something upstairs.  He recalls Steve Young playing in that game, too.  That is all. So on this dubious foundation, Brian cheered against Green Bay.The KFC was good.  We were going to grill because the weather was so nice today (50 degrees in January! :)) but decided to be lazy instead.  Parker and Carter were looking out the window today saying, "I can see grass!  I can see grass, Mom!  Winter is almost over!  It's almost over!"  Oh, how I wish that was the case!  The boys came down for a "taste" and we promised we would save them some.  I stayed up for the first half of the game then went to bed.  Brian stayed up to watch it while reading chess books on the couch.  (I promise you, NO other "fan" in world was doing THAT.)  He must have gone to bed happy because the 49ers won.  Tomorrow, we will watch the other playoff games.  I bought avocados to make guac.  It should be fun.


Tonight I was reminded how sweet my boys are. They really do love each other, and it's amazing to see. 

Anderson fell down. (Well fell over my knee.. we were all sitting on the floor playing) 

Parker RAN over to him and picked him up and held him, rubbing his head and saying, "shh, it's okay, Anderson." 

Carter was right behind him, giving him kisses and saying, "I love you, Anderson."
I love them. All three.
I am such a proud mommy.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Since Christmas, the boys have been watching Charlie Brown cartoons on Netflix.  Parker came up to me today and said, "Mom, Charlie Brown is really nice."  It melted my heart.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mom's always right.

We decided to go out for dinner at McDonald's (a big treat for the boys).  Parker and Carter enjoy playing the touch screen games attached to each booth. Grilled cheese for Parker and Anderson. Carter ate a cheeseburger.  After they ate, they went into the play place.  Brian saw a student of his while there.  Parker and Carter have no fear of the play place and climb up all the way up the tower.  We remember a time when Parker wouldn't go all the way up, let alone Carter.  Since Anderson is climbing all the way up the stairs all the time in the house we have no doubt he would make the trek to the top of the play place if only the second climbing step wasn't as tall as he is.  I think they put that step there just to keep little guys like him out.
Jeff and Wendy showed up later for ice cream.  The boys were a little silly but were calm enough to eat their ice cream cones.  Brian wanted a hot fudge sundae which he got.  If you know Brian, he is always eager to get started eating his food.  He started opening up his sundae to eat before even getting back to the table.  Since he had so much hot fudge, it started dripping onto the floor as he walked back to the table and he didn't even notice!  It was hysterical.  Brian ended up eating all of his sundae and the leftovers of the boys'.  I told him that would happen. ;).