Thursday, December 31, 2009

Light up the night

Before the Christmas season is completely behind us...

We, along with tens of thousands of other families around the region, took our kids to the amazing light display down by the Bayfront, better known as Bentleyville. For AJ, the highlights were the hot chocolate and getting to meet Rudolph.

The lowlight was just how very, very cold it was, compounded by the fact that Daddy didn't think to grab snow pants for the kids before bringing them into town to meet me after work. (Yes, I'm throwing Jeff under the bus on this one. For all the times I mock my mother-of-the-year moments, this definitely rules him out for father-of-the-year.)

Sydney probably should have had a stroller. She wasn't too thrilled to walk around in the dark with all those strangers. And the big costumed characters scared her.

She did like the marshmallows, at least. Though, something else for Jeff to remember next year...

Don't volunteer to give her a piggy back ride until after she's eaten the marshmallow. It makes for a sticky hat otherwise.

We'll do better next year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Merry Christmas - part 3

Could it be? Have we reached the end of our Christmas celebrations? We rounded out our Christmas 09 tour at the place where we normally start - gift opening with my family.

These pictures seemed to have loaded in the wrong order, so, for those of you who were there, forgive the backwards story telling. Here's a shot of the youngest cousins once gift opening was complete. I like the mirror nature of this shot. AJ is holding baby Zane, and Sydney is holding her own baby.

There's nothing like new toys to revert older children back to younger interests. For instance, AJ just had to check out one of Zane's new hammer toys.

And it doesn't even have to be new toys, as long as they're new to them. Note how nicely AJ and Sydney played "train" together on Zane's walking/riding toy. We have two similar toys at home, which they alternately ignore or fight over. Hmmm... do you suppose it was the promise of more gifts to open that inspired their happy teamwork?

Brunch at Eric and Sarah's (I told you these loaded backwards) consisted of crepes and an awesome egg dish. I can't exactly say that Sydney loved the crepes, because she didn't eat them, but she loved everything that went inside them: lots of fresh fruit and whipped cream.

After picking out all the goood stuff, she asked, "Can I have mo cweam, please?" And punctuated the request with a squinty smile. (We worked out a compromise. Yes, she got more cream, along with more bananas, strawberries and blueberries.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry Christmas - part 2

I understand the sentiments I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. Really, I do. But by mid-afternoon on Christmas Day, my dreams were turning in the opposite direction. We were three hours late getting to the Jaski celebration. That's about normal for us because usually we're traveling from the Cities. This year, it took us that long to clear our driveway, recover and then travel what should have been a 20 minute trip.

AJ and the other kids didn't seem to mind all the snow. Though their clothes were absolutely soaked by the time they came inside. Here he is with with Jake, who built a snowman that, from AJ's perspective, is bigger than life size.

Once inside, and after dinner was done, it was finally time to open gifts. It seemed like a cruel prank to the kids, but someone thought it would be a good idea for everyone to take turns unwrapping one present at a time. Oh, the agony of waiting!

The scene was chaos, as usual. This is the first year that Korey and Becky have hosted Christmas, and even though their living room is bigger than Gayle's, it still was packed with people and presents.

For AJ, the most exciting moment came when he unwrapped a gift whose tag said it was for him, from Brett Favre. "Mommy! Brett Favre gave me this!" AJ exclaimed, showing me his new sweatshirt. "He wants me to be on his team!"

There are plenty of little lies told to kids around Christmas. For AJ, right now, I think he'd be less disappointed to learn the truth about Santa Claus, than to find out the sweatshirt really came from Gayle.

As we were getting ready to leave, I suggested AJ give Gayle an extra hug, because she would make sure Brett knew just how much he liked the new sweatshirt.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas - part 1

Allow me to sit back, take a deep breath and... exhale. Phew! The 4-day whirlwind of gift opening, shoveling and traveling, otherwise known as Christmas 2009, is now over. To be more accurate, it was a 3-day blizzard packed with shoveling, gift opening, more shoveling, traveling, more gift opening, more traveling, still more gift opening and finally a return home. For our driveway's sake, we probably should have thrown one more shoveling activity into the mix, but for our back's sake, we decided it was good enough.

So here are a few photos from our first gift opening. Christmas Eve, in our own home.

Sydney excitedly opened her first present: some people and toys for her dollhouse. She would have been happy to end right after that. All she wanted to do was play with the new toy.

AJ was the opposite. All he wanted to do was tear open all the gifts, without paying much attention to what was inside.

Once all the presents were open and bedtime had arrived, AJ was happy to help me set out a plate of milk and cookies for Santa, plus some lettuce and carrots for the reindeer.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Story time

It's a curiosity that I'm sure any parent of a toddler can relate to: why do young children want to read the same books over and over again? And what is it about some books that make them so beloved?

One of Sydney's favorites is called The Goodnight Book. It's a story about a little girl's bedtime routine. We've read it so many times that I probably could recite it from memory. Turns out, I'm not the only one who knows it by heart.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A very white Christmas

In retrospect, yesterday's portion of the blizzard seems almost pleasant, with all those pretty, big white flakes swirling around.

That's because round two, which has been pounding us for the last 12 hours, sounds positively wicked. The wind is howling, heavy wet snow that might really be freezing rain is splattering against the house and all that white stuff has whipped around so much there is absolutely no evidence we even have a driveway, let alone that we spent a couple hours clearing it out yesterday. I am, quite frankly, amazed that we haven't lost a tree, and am extremely happy that our power is still on.

But enough of the negative. Let's just put all the current ugly images out of our mind and focus on yesterday's pretty snow. (Jeff, incidentally, likely does not share my upbeat memories. He was responsible for clearing the bulk - and it was a significant bulk - of snow from the driveway, sidewalk, porch, back step... and did I mention that all his work has been totally obliterated by this latest round of snow?)

Yesterday's snow gave the kids their first real opportunity for a snowball fight this year, and boy did they have fun.

I can't tell if AJ's expression in this photo should be attributed to devious plotting, or snow down his neck:

Our church cancelled all but it's 4 p.m. Christmas Eve service, something we learned at 3:08 p.m. I think we set a personal best for how quickly we showered, dressed and got out the door.

And so now, I guess, we wait for this storm to pass. It shouldn't be too tough to do, considering all the new toys the kids now have to play with.

I am grateful we are all home and safe. The only casualty so far has been an extension cord for our Christmas lights, which Jeff managed to snag and destroy with the snowblower. But even that has had a mysteriously positive outcome. I replaced the cord yesterday, and for some reason our light-up reindeer, whose antlers weren't lighting up this year, is suddenly blazing with all bulbs again. Go figure.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Snowed in!

Just when you think life is so hectic you couldn't possibly find time to slow down, Mother Nature has a way of forcing the issue. Here's a glimpse out our front door this morning:

The weather service has dubbed the blizzard "Big Bertha." Jeff is calling it "Snowmagedon." I'm trying to be a bit more poetic in my analogies. To me, it's like a scene inside a snow globe, with snow swirling all around.

And so on this Christmas Eve, which will be the first I've spent at home in the 15 years since I moved to Duluth, I'm looking around and counting my blessings. There are plenty of places we could/should be heading this morning, but nowhere that we have to be. Sitting at the breakfast table inside my cozy and warm home, surrounded by my husband and two chatty children, I actually got a bit choked up. (Not by breakfast. Jeff's eggs and sausage were awesome as always.) My life is so good!

AJ interrupted these thoughts to announce, "Hey, today is Jesus' birthday."

Holy cow! He has been listening. Important lessons are sinking in!

Of course, then Sydney created her own distraction with her telltale grunts that indicate she needs to go to the bathroom, but is trying desperately to hold it in. Hey - I didn't say life was perfect, but if that's the biggest struggle we face today, I'll take it.

So back to this crazy weather (alternately dubbed, "Sno-nami," by my better half) ... here's a look out the back door. That's Maggie attempting to make her way to the house. Poor thing had already reached the step, but I wanted to take a picture, so I threw her toy back into the yard and let her retriever tendencies take over.

Spike, meanwhile, remains the smarter of the pets. She happily nestled herself under the tree.

Wait - I have a happy update to share. After being pulled from the computer multiple times in the last half hour by Sydney's grunts, we have just had success!

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Choice words

Sydney's picked up this darling little phrase lately: "Never mind." Unfortunately, she tends to use it at inopportune times. For instance, when Mommy catches her climbing on a stool in the kitchen and asks, "Hey Sydney, what are you doing?"...

That's not the best time to answer, "Never mind."

And when Mommy repeats the question, "Sydney, what are you doing?", that's especially not the time to answer, "It's okay."

I think for the time being, we'll still let Mommy decide what's okay and what's not.

For example, now that Mommy's seen these pictures, she's decided it's probably not okay for Sydney to continue wearing this shirt. Call me a prude, but I think the toddler stage is a bit early to allow her to begin baring her midriff.

It's not supposed to look that way, but the outfit has shrunk in odd directions. It's size 24-months, but the pants are just now fitting her. Meanwhile, the shirt suffers from the combination problems of it shrunk, and the bottom tends to roll up. A helpful colleague suggested I just add a little ruffle or something to the bottom of the shirt to make it longer. Great idea!

Clearly my co-worker does not know me (and my lack of sewing abilities) as well as I thought. Any iron-on suggestions?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hooray for Hollywood

Admittedly, this is not a particularly flattering photo of any member of my family, and sadly, it's the best of three that I took. But it was in a dark theater, as we were waiting for the previews to begin, before AJ and Sydney's first movie ever.

AJ's preschool arranged for a special showing for their class on Saturday morning of the new Disney cartoon The Princess and the Frog. We've been wondering for a while if the kids were mature enough to sit through a full movie, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out. Not only were we surrounded by other families with small children, (which I suppose would be the case at any Disney showing) but we were also surrounded by friends. AJ's hockey teammate Owen sat next to us, some new friends from the Sunday School program were right behind us, and Avery and Hanna were just a few rows up. Perfect!

Sydney settled in like a pro. She had a bit of trouble keeping the seat from folding up on her, because of how little she is, but she seemed to get the hang of it. Part of the package price included each of us getting our own popcorn and beverage. That's something we will never do again. Not because of the cost, but because of the extra hassle of trying to balance all those containers.
As for the movie? It was surprisingly dark for a Disney film. The villain called on voodoo and powers "from the other side." Thankfully, the kids haven't really talked about it since, or had problems with bad dreams. But I guess that's another lesson: always pay attention to what the movie is about before you take two impressionable minds to see it. Don't make assumptions about appropriateness based on the production company.
The whole experience got Jeff and I thinking back, not just to how very, very long it's been since we saw a movie in a theatre (we're thinking it was our anniversary in 2006), but also to the first time we each saw a movie in a theatre. For me, I believe it was the Wilderness Family, and I think it was my Uncle Woody who brought us there during Christmas vacation. Jeff's first film was a B-Western with his dad. It took him a few minutes to remember the name, and of course, I've already forgotten it.
Ahhh... the magic of the movies.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Family fun

Any time my kids get together with any of their cousins, it's pretty much a given that they'll have a good time. But I think it came as a pleasant surprise for AJ this weekend to discover he also has a second cousin who's pretty fun.

Lily and AJ are just three weeks apart in age. It's hard to believe it was five years ago at this annual Larson/Lipke/Tate Christmas meal that my cousin Joy and I stood belly to belly for a photo showing how very pregnant we both were. It's more amazing to see what unique little people these two are turning out to be.

After some initial shyness, they quickly turned into happy playmates, chasing, tickling and pretending to be everything from pirates to cats. Their adventures included getting "locked" in the sunroom, which is what caused the "uh oh" expression on AJ's face in the above photo.
But it was all in good fun. And later, AJ summed it up as "a good, fun time."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Santa baby

The way Sydney nestled herself on Santa's knee, you'd never know she'd harbored any hesitancy about the jolly red elf.

All day she'd been telling me she wasn't going to sit on Santa's lap. She might give him a high-5, but she wasn't going any closer than that. But when Santa showed up at the LeVahn family Christmas, Sydney's stubborness all but disappeared.

She sat their quietly as, one by one, Santa pulled presents from his sack and called out children's names. Finally he got to the packages for AJ and Sydney.

If there were a prize for showing the most enthusiasm for a present, AJ would have won it, no contest. He was absolutely thrilled by his knights treasure play set. Sydney, meanwhile, doesn't too excited by the new Diego (the old one, even without a "rescue pack" is just fine, thank you.) But the Beanie Baby version of Baby Jaguar was much appreciated and instantly introduced to her original Diego doll.
While waiting for Santa's arrival, AJ and Sydney entertained themselves, and us, making the most of the stage that was at one of the room where we'd gathered. Sydney ran laps back and forth from where we sat to the stage and back, over and over again, giggling each time.
Fresh off his successful Christmas program, AJ seems to have gained a taste for the performance arts. He played the piano a bit, and did his best to help direct us when it came time to sing Christmas carols. Later, he proudly asked, "Did you like our play?"

Friday, December 18, 2009

A taste for art

Sydney loves to color. She definitely prefers markers to crayons as her medium of choice. She's also quite particular about which coloring books she uses, which I find rather humorous considering she scribbles so thoroughly that the original picture is nearly obscured.

I keep a bin of craft supplies under the desk where the laptop sits. Sydney will frequently come and grab her Sesame Street coloring book, along with her "mermaid purse" (a souvenir from the aquarium at the Mall of America, which we turned into a marker case.) She then climbs on a chair at the dining room table and goes to work.

When I look at these pictures, I can't help but think of something my dad told me once, about one of the reasons he loved teaching art.
When was the last time, I remember him asking, that you saw a kid get so engrossed in a math problem that their tongue started to hang out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Halleluia, It's done!

Bring down the lights. Close the curtains. Or just let the kids go home. The 2009 Christmas program is now just a memory. Good memory of bad memory? Let's just say it was an experience... an experience that has given me greater appreciation for George Beer, the man who directed me and about 30 kids in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

The show certainly went better than any of the practices. But there were at least a half dozen toddlers and preschoolers who ran off the risers into the crowd at various points in the program. And AJ was one of only two kids who'd bothered to memorize their lines. Thankfully, AJ made it through the show without picking his nose, which had been an issue during the rehearsals. His biggest problem was forgetting to stand along with the rest of the kids.

We tried using hand gestures to motion him to stand up, but he misinterpreted that as song choreography and started doing two thumbs up right along with us.

But when it came time for his line, he acted like a pro. He remembered to lower the microphone to his level, and spoke with relative confidence, even adding the "Amen" at the end.

The best surprise came after the show ended. When the lights came up, we discovered two surprise visitors in the audience.

AJ and Sydney were pretty excited that Grandpa and Grandma had made a special trip to see them. They were even more excited to learn that their visitors had brought cupcakes.

At bedtime, I asked AJ if he'd had fun, or if he was just glad it was done. He thought for a moment and then answered, "I'm just glad it's over."
Until next year...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

So much to learn

Poor AJ. Just about the time he's getting the hang of skating, they go and put orange cones in his path and expect him to maneuver around them.

And if that's not enough, he's got to do it with a hockey stick that's easily 1-2 feet too long for him. Why? Let's just chalk this one up as a rookie mistake. Mommy learned an important lesson on Sunday. It's not enough to just grab AJ's hockey bag. Be sure to grab the hockey stick, too.

This experience has renewed my thoughts that it's better being a soccer mom, than a hockey mom. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that sitting outside and watching a soccer game on a warm summer night is a heckuva lot more pleasant than standing inside a chilly ice arena. (And next month, we get to start practicing at an outdoor rink. That's gonna just be great!) Added to that, soccer has far less equipment to remember.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Visiting Santa

Ah... the talent of jolly old St. Nick! He can melt the stubborn will of even the orneriest of toddlers. Exactly one week after Sydney refused to even stand next to Santa unless Daddy was holding her, guess who was sitting (and even smiling) on the big guy's knee.

Standing in line at the Armory's Christmas party on Saturday, Sydney firmly stated she didn't want to sit on Santa's lap. I suggested a compromise: AJ could sit on Santa's lap, and Sydney could stand next to AJ and hold his hand. Sydney shot down that suggestion as well.

When it was our turn to step up, I asked Sydney to just give Santa a high-five. I figured that would at least put her close enough to him for me to snap a quick picture.

And that's when Santa demonstrated just how smooth he can be when dealing with hesitant youngsters who still need convincing that he's one of the good guys.

"You're going to give me a high five?" He asked Sydney. "Why don't you just shake my hand. Oh that's good. Now can you just turn and let Mommy take a picture? Oh that's really good. Let me just lift you up right here while Mommy takes your picture."

And just like that she was on his lap, outsmarted by the expert.

I imagine her thought process went something like this, "Well, as long as I'm up here, I guess I should tell you I want a Diego with a backpack, and Baby Jaguar."

So with the Sydney/Santa score now even at 1-1, I guess the tiebreaker will come next Saturday when Santa shows up at the LeVahn Christmas. Will she or won't she go near him?

Monday, December 14, 2009

You can dress 'em up, but...

As often as I refer to Sydney as my drama queen, I also owe her credit for the times she delivers to me a much-needed reality check.

She is, after all, a toddler. I can dress her up, I can style her hair into soft little curls. But she is still just a messy little toddler.

Saturday afternoon found us rushing from Christmas program practice at church to the Christmas party at the armory. We stopped home briefly to grab snacks because I knew it'd be a late lunch. And that's when I got the idea to try and curl Sydney's hair.

I sat her on a chair and handed her a blue/green fruit roll-up as a distraction/bribe, while I worked my way around her head with the curling iron. With the last adorable curl complete, I crouched down in front of her to admire what was sure to be a look worthy of a princess.

Toddler that she is, she gave me the biggest grin, completely lined with blue/green goo.

On a related "what was I thinking???" note... take a look at her darling sweater - a garage sale find from last summer. Cute, huh? And dry-clean only. Thankfully it's a dark color, so the chocolate milk she dumped down the front of it won't show when she wears it again next weekend.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Amen to that

It's a ritual that dates back generations. A dreaded rite of passage for children in Protestant churches that's sure to send any butterflies in the stomach into overdrive.

And on Wednesday evening, AJ will join the countless children who have gone before him in this time-honored tradition. He will march in line (hopefully) along with the rest of the Sunday School children, to take his place on stage for our church's Christmas program.

A friend talked me into helping with this year's performance. Initially, as they were assigning speaking roles, I said 'no way' to the idea of handing AJ a microphone in front of hundreds of people. But as the pool of children dwindled, and numerous speaking parts remained, I relented and chose a line I hoped he could handle.

His ability to memorize has impressed and, quite honestly, amazed me. But then at practice last weekend he froze up when it came his turn to speak. Over the course of the week, I've had him say his line once each evening. He's nailed it every time, and I've praised him profusely.

That seems to have been all the reassurance he needed. At yesterday's third and final practice, AJ hesitantly stepped forward and began. Stretching on his tip toes to reach the mic, he recited his line. His delivery was soft and a bit halting, but he didn't miss a word, "In Baptism... Jesus comes to us... and makes us his own dear children. Washing away are sin... and giving us... the gift... of faith."

And then, perhaps because he was unsure what to do next, or perhaps just because he's AJ and couldn't possibly leave the stage without making people smile... AJ stretched up on his tip toes one more time and proclaimed, "Amen."

I think it's safe to say, at this point, I'm more nervous than AJ is.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sleep it off

What you are looking at is a total lack of even the slightest glimmer of guilt after being caught sleeping on our bed.

Maggie took laziness to a new level Thursday. I was able to stop home briefly, late morning, when I normally would be at work. There she was, sprawled out across our bed.

Our ever-attentive watch dog used to look guilty if we came home and made it inside without waking her up. She'd come stumbling and stretching out of our bedroom, doing her best to pretend she'd known we were there.

But on this day, when the temperature was only in the single digits, Maggie not only didn't stumble out to see me, she didn't even get off the bed.

"Maggie," I asked several times, "do you want to go outside?"

She barely lifted her head. I took that as a no.

One last note about lazy pets at our house... In Maggie's defense, she's not the only one.

Just make yourselves comfortable.

Friday, December 11, 2009

(Hockey) practice makes perfect

AJ heads into his second week of hockey practice tonight. He made pretty impressive progress during his first three trips (bad pun) on the ice. Now, after four days off, it'll be interesting to see how much he's much retained.

So far, he's learned that playing hockey has its ups...

and downs.
But as long as you keep getting back up,

and work with your team mates,

you'll achieve your goal. Or at least reach the boards on the other side of the rink.

That smile on AJ's face says it all. He is having a lot of fun out there!