Monday, November 30, 2009

Decoration declarations

I'm sure I'm not the first person to figure this out, but half the fun of putting up Christmas decorations is recalling the special memories attached to each piece. The last couple years, it's been especially fun for me to see my kids enjoy the various ornaments. What a great reminder of how my life has evolved. And definitely for the better!

Take for instance the small stuffed dog that has captured Sydney's affections.

That puppy has been to Bosnia and back. Squeeze it in the middle and it plays We wish you a merry Christmas. I found it in a small store in Fitgers the year Jeff was deployed, and sent it to him as a gift from Maggie, our "child" at the time (four-legged golden retriever though she may be). That was such a tough Christmas. I certainly couldn't have envisioned back then the many wonderful Christmases to follow, especially the one just six years later when a little blonde girl would run around squeezing the puppy until you just don't want to hear that song ever again.

Other decorations haven't been with us long enough to inspire such sentimental thoughts. But by the end of the season, I'm sure there will be plenty of stories to tell about the Playmobil nativity and the many adventures the figures have endured.

By day 2, Santa was giving sleigh rides to Mary and baby Jesus. Meanwhile, the nutcracker, something I bought last year at AJ's request, served as the source of great confusion for my high-tech toddler.

I showed her how to move the lever in back to move the jaw up and down, but it all seemed pointless to Sydney. She finally looked at me with an expression that can best be described as asking, So what's the point? As she moved on to the next toy she commented, "It no have buttons."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Picking up the slack

It seems shallow to write about the loss of a cat, just one day after writing about how much the Jaski's are missing their father and husband. But I can't help but feel Maddie's absence as I set out the Christmas decorations this year.

As I unpacked the bin of ornaments for the living room, there was her small stocking with her name in glitter and hot glue. (Tacky, yes. But it seemed like a such cute idea back before I had kids.) Next came time to hang the long strings of beads. These were Maddie's favorite. Nothing inspired the emergence of her inner kitten like the chance to slide across the kitchen floor entangled in a string of beads.

Lucky for me, I barely had time to dwell on such sentimental thoughts before the apparently magical beads attracted two new volunteers who were more than eager to carry on Maddie's tradition.

Sydney was having so much fun I actually had to break open the box of Christmas tree ornaments (we won't be getting the tree for another week), to get her to part with the turquoise and red beads I was trying to weave through the fake evergreen boughs atop the kitchen cupboards.

AJ, of course, needed the beads for a more gruesome purpose. "Look Mom, I have a mummy hand!"

That's the way to make it a tradition of his own! I don't recall Maddie ever playing the mummy game. At least not with beads.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Be thankful

As we gathered at the Jaski's on Thanksgiving, we couldn't help but feel the absence of the very important man who was missing from this "guy" photo, and from the lives of so many who love him.

Bob Jaski's legacy, however, was very much apparent. Not just in his sons and grandchildren, but also in the rich traditions and values he taught them.

With polka music sounding from the CD player, the kids clapped and "danced." When an accordion solo was featured, someone invariably shouted, "That's Bumpa's part."

As I reflect on the many blessings I have to be thankful for, it's difficult to focus on the positives rather than the losses. Rather than being sad that Bob is no longer with us, I should be thankful for the many years he welcomed Jeff and the rest of us into his family.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Father/son bonding

Oh how sweet... Daddy and AJ sharing a special moment. A passing on of interests from one generation to the next. With AJ on his lap, Daddy imparted to him a small portion of his vast knowledge and experience. Together they watched, and enjoyed... the muppets sang Bohemian Rhapsody on YouTube.

If you can't tell, that's Miss Piggy in the screen shot. She's singing "Nothing really matters... but moi!"
Over and over they watched it. Laughing at the characters and music of Daddy's youth, as Jeff helped him learn the difference between Animal, Beaker, Fozzie Bear and a host of other Jim Henson creatures that I didn't know even had names. (By the way, if anyone wants to see this lovely classic, here's a link.)
I suppose I shouldn't be too worried about any warping effect this may have on my child. After all, I have many fond memories of watching the Muppets on TV with my Dad. And I turned out okay, right? Right?
Happy Thanksgiving to all. Use this day to make memories with those you love!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nativity naivete

We're a few days early with Christmas decorations, but practice for our church's Christmas program is already underway, so I figured it wasn't too soon to bring out Mommy's newest addition to the decoration collection: a nativity set made of Playmobil figures.

Sydney, at her young age, already seems to have grasped the humbleness of Christ's birth. I showed her the manger and asked, "Does that look like a very comfortable bed for baby Jesus?"

"No!" was her strong reply. She then grabbed the figure and ran from the table. As I continued setting up the nativity scene, I could hear her over by her doll house, offering comfort. "Don't worry baby Jesus. I got you."

AJ, meanwhile, is also enjoying the new set, though he's introduced a whole new level of drama to the night of Jesus' birth. For instance, at bedtime I found the three wise men "being guarded" by some of his knights.

I just don't seem to recall that part of the Christmas story. And the animals in the manger have taken on some new roles. Or at least some new passengers. What's the point of having a cow and a camel if no one's going to ride them?

AJ was quite frustrated to see that all the nativity characters were dressed in robes. (i.e. they had no legs to straddle the animals.) So again, a few more knights have entered the story.
Anyone want to place bets on how many pieces to "Mommy's" set will survive through the end of the season?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The toy solution

With the Christmas season almost upon us. (Okay, walking through the stores, you'd swear it's already in full swing.) AJ can't help but focus on that magical place where all good toys come from. It's a place that's a bit of a mystery to him. He hears all about it. But who's really ever been there?

Santa's workshop at the North Pole? No. E-bay.

"Mommy, where's e-bay?" AJ asked the other day.

He's been the recipient of enough of Mommy's great finds, that I suppose he wonders.

"E-bay is kind of like a garage sale on the computer," I tried to explain.

"I want to go there!" was his enthusiastic response. I told him that wasn't possible, but I did let him sit on my lap as we scanned through the listings of Playmobil toys.

Now it's quite common for him to ask if we can look at "play sets" on e-bay. And when we're shopping, if I tell him we're not going to buy something because it's too expensive, his usual response is, "maybe we can find one on e-bay." He is the eternal optimist.

Jeff has maintained a rather cynical view of my recent obsession with this online shopping source. But I think he's coming around. On Sunday, while trying to navigate the still-under-construction roads in the mall area, along with about five million other shoppers, Jeff began to sing. "It's beginning to look like an e-bay Christmas..."

Another convert.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Girl power!

Behold the amazing, almost magical abilities of a two-year-old.

Can you think of anyone else who could convince Jeff to get down on the floor and play with dolls? And she does it with such seeming ease. All it took was a simple request: "Daddy, will you play wif me?"

The bottom picture is my favorite. What a contrast between what Jeff's wearing, and what he's doing. Here he is - a certified self defense instructor - conversing with Sydney about her Little Tikes people and dollhouse.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Time out

Yes, it's a very good thing that no one kept score (officially) during AJ's soccer games last summer. He doesn't handle losing well. Take for example his reaction when Daddy's hockey team lost during a tournament this weekend.

Those are real tears. He was so sad for Daddy. It took awhile to calm him down.

And what else did we learn at this hockey tournament? That we're very lucky to be experiencing an unseasonably warm November. If an Arctic front moved in tomorrow, we'd be horribly unprepared. I made that discovery while trying to dress the kids for an hour inside a cold ice arena.
Sydney has not mittens. AJ can't find any of his half-dozen or so hats. Neither of them has a pair of warm boots.

As for the tournament, let's just say this was not Jeff's team's finest performance. Here's Jeff watching the action from an exclusive front row seat... the penalty box. He swears that it was only an accident when he tripped the other guy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hop to bed

No, no, Sydney. Mommy said it's time to hop into bed. Into. Not hop on your bed.

I needed a quick, cute close up shot of Sydney for a blog post (which will now be waiting at least a day.) My little queen of stalling instantly sensed and made the most of her opportunity to not put her head on her pillow.

I can almost imagine her thought process: "Hmmm... Mommy wants cute? I'll give her cute. Lots and lots of cute. That ought to buy me time..."

As I put the camera away and told her it was time to calm down, the leaps, falls and giggles came to an end. Sydney then looked at me, as if grading her own performance, and proclaimed, "That was a super jump!"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Top picks

Does anyone else have children who assign names to dinner prayers? Names other than just the first line of the prayer?

At our house, we used to let AJ select which prayer we would say at mealtime: God is great, Thank you for the world so sweet, or Come Lord Jesus. The latter was known for a long time as Addie's prayer, in honor of our friend Addie from whom he first heard it.

Now, Sydney wants to get in on the action.

She doesn't know many of the words. But she's good at closing her eyes. (Never mind that she often interrupts the last line of the prayer to announce, "I close my EYES.") She's starting to fold her hands. And she loves alternating with her brother on selecting which prayer to say.

So for the last couple months, we start each meal with, "Who's turn is it to pick?" Two arms shoot up in the air in hopeful anticipation. (Thank you to AJ's preschool for teaching the good manners, which were then passed along to Sydney.) For the longest time, it was pretty predictable. AJ always chose Come Lord Jesus. Sydney picked God is great.

Not too long ago, AJ pointed out that this was getting boring. We gave him a chance that night to say his own prayer. I wish I'd written down what he said. As I recall, the future preacher had lots to be thankful for besides just the food. The next night, I reminded him of Thank you for the world so sweet, so we said that a few nights in a row until he seemed to get the hang of it again.

This is where the "I don't get it" part comes in. When it's Sydney's turn to pick, she now always chooses "Jesus." Don't make the mistaken assumption as we did that this means Come Lord Jesus. She will interrupt in protest. The Jesus prayer, to her, is Thank you for the World so sweet. Huh? Let's review the words:

Thank you for the world so sweet.
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing.
Thank you God for everything. Amen.

The name Jesus is never mentioned. Perhaps I should just be thrilled that she's making the connection of the various names for our Savior.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What a relief!

Forget the school of hard knocks. For AJ, it's been the preschool of hard flushes.

In his first six weeks at preschool and the Cool Kids daycare program, AJ has been fairly positive and upbeat about his experiences there. He's not so wild about the hot lunches, but he likes his teachers and he loves that he no longer has to take a nap.

So it came as a bit of a surprise late last week when he suddenly announced he didn't like Cool Kids at all and didn't want to go back. He pleaded with us to just send him to preschool and then come pick him up.

Figuring that something must up, Mommy drew on her former reporter skills to question why the sudden change in attitude. No, he wasn't having problems with any of the other kids. Yes, he still liked all his teachers. No, he hadn't gotten in trouble for anything. By this point, tears were streaming down AJ's face as he sobbed that he just didn't want to go back. But still we pressed on until finally we got to the heart of the matter. More accurately, it was about his ears and his bladder.

The reason AJ no longer wanted to go to Cool Kids was because he didn't like going to the bathroom there. Why? Because the toilet was so loud when it flushed that it scared him.


It was so loud he thought a monster was coming to get him. A vivid imagination is not always a good thing.

With Daddy assuring him that no monsters were hiding in the bathroom, and Mommy promising to ask the teacher if there was a different bathroom he could use, we finally succeeded in calming him down. And so, Tuesday morning when I dropped him off, I spoke with the teachers and explained what AJ had told us. I said, "I don't know if there's anything you can do to accomodate this, but you should be aware..."

The teacher told me they'd been wondering if something was up because lately AJ would come tearing out of the bathroom when he was done. (It's just a single stall bathroom connected to the classroom.) She acknowledged that something was wrong with the toilet that made it so loud. And then she suggested the perfect solution for my very scared little boy.

"AJ," she said, "Just don't flush when you're done. Tell us, and we'll go in and flush it for you."

You should have seen the smile that spread across AJ's face. Such a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders! He nodded happily and ran off to play.

I'd hesitated whether to fight this battle for AJ. Obviously at some point he's going to have to toughen up, or he'll become the butt of jokes from his classmates. But at four years old, I think the far more important lesson is that he can talk to his parents about absolutely anything that's bothering him.

And it turns out I needn't have worried about his friends teasing him. His true friends were more than happy to come to his aid.

In the evening, I asked AJ if everything had gone all right at Cool Kids. Yes, he nodded.

"Did the teacher flush the toilet for you?" I asked.

"No," answered AJ. "I just told Gino and he flushed it for me."

To borrow from the late Charles Schultz: Happiness is... a best friend who will flush the scary toilet for you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Need a little help there?

Perhaps now she'll appreciate some of what we do for her. But probably not.

Crab legs have long been a favorite for the two little seafood lovers at my house. Thankfully, their taste buds aren't overly sophisticated, and we can fool them with imitation crab meat. It's cheaper, and it gives Jeff and me a chance to crack and eat our own crag legs while they're still warm. Otherwise, we're too busy helping the kids.

On Sunday evening, I was rushing to simply get the food on the table. I divided up the crab legs and dished out the rest of the meal, and then carried the plates to the table. I always do the kids plates first because it gives their food an extra minute or so to cool. Jeff meanwhile, loaded Sydney into her high chair. What I forgot to do was add the fake crab meat.

It took Sydney maybe three seconds to make that discovery. There were crab legs on her plate. She knew there was good stuff inside them, but clearly didn't know how to get it out. With a horror stricken look on her face, she held the crab legs high and proclaimed, "Oh no!"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Birthday splash

The water park is called The Edge. Perhaps as in, spend four hours there with 12 children, and it will push you to the edge of insanity.

But that's what we did on Sunday, for a birthday party for AJ's friend Avery (fifth from the right in the pink and yellow life jacket.) Except for an hour when we were eating pizza and cake, and opening gifts, we were in the water pretty much non-stop.

The good news is, the water was relatively warm, which meant Sydney suddenly overcame her fear of water. This picture is fairly misleading. About the only time my little mermaid was willing to get out of the water was when I asked her to sit on the step so that I could take her picture. Otherwise, I was holding her while she held the ball and kicked around.

AJ, meanwhile, had a blast doing "battle" with Hanna's and Avery's dads.

Overall, I was pretty happy with how the afternoon went. It started out rather choppy with neither of the kids wanting to get into the water. AJ suggested we just sit in the hot tub, (That's my boy!) while Sydney was too scared to even put on her swimsuit.

And why was she frightened? Because for some insane reason, the water park's designers thought it would be a cool feature to include a giant bucket of water two stories up that tips over and drenches the kids below. Bigger kids seem to find this cool. Little kids are terrified of it. So where did they put it? Directly over the little kids' play area. What were they thinking?

Sydney saw the bucket dump shortly after we walked in and froze in place. She refused to go in the wading area out of fear. I had to shield her every time we walked by it. That meant there was no wading for her. She would only "swim" with the bigger kids, which meant Mommy had to hold her. Talk about a total body workout!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Go Diego go!

A few days ago, I found an old Diego doll in the bottom of AJ's toy box. AJ was happy to give it to his little sister, and when she saw it, you would have thought it was Christmas morning.

"AJ give me Diego," she tells me, with a nod of her head each time, as if to reaffirm the doll is hers for keeps. Sydney and Diego have been inseparable ever since. She's started calling him her good friend, and tells me, "I make him happy. Not sad. He happy."

Jeff and I continue to wonder if this is a glimpse of what's to come. She threw a fit the other night when we said she couldn't watch another Diego movie. It's as if we were saying, "You're seeing too much of that boy."

But it turns out Sydney's love for Diego is more maternal in nature. Either that or she's going to spoil some man someday, by waiting on him hand and foot.

Sydney reports that Diego likes cheeseburgers, french fries and milk. But he doesn't like waffles.

What a good little mommy/obsessed fan.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Grandpa David and Grandma Elouise came for a visit today so that Grandpa could enable us to become even bigger pack rats. (He installed more shelves in our garage.) Grandma forgot her camera, so we had to take at least one shot to prove they were here.

Sit next to each other. Don't move. Look at the camera. Smile.
It shouldn't have been that hard. But when it involves my two children and their fourth child, of course it never quite works out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The magic trick

I leave the kids home with Daddy for a day and what do I come home to? A dismembered finger.

Because of the Veteran's Day holiday, Jeff was off from work, which meant we could keep the kids home from daycare. Apparently the thought occurred to Daddy that a constructive use of their time would be to learn magic tricks. What he did not teach AJ, however, is that magicians don't like to reveal how their tricks work.

AJ was so excited to show me this great trick. Grandpa David and Grandma Elouise be warned – AJ is looking forward to showing it to you, too, when you visit here tomorrow.

Though he'll have to perform this amazing feat when Sydney is not in the room. His little sister, for some reason, hates the "trick" and goes into crying fits if AJ so much as shows her the box. It took about 15 minutes to calm her down last night. And even an hour later she sought reassurance.

"AJ no do trick."

"Nope, we put the trick away."

"All gone."

"Yes, Sydney, the trick is all gone."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The boyfriend

Sydney has a new love. I'd say her infatuation has reached obsession level. The subject of her affections is a young man named Diego, and he's an animal rescuer with a really cool rescue pack. Have you figured out by now that he's a cartoon? Diego is the cousin of Sydney's previous favorite, Dora the Explorer, who suddenly seems to have lost her appeal. (Though, thankfully, the Dora boots are still the favorite footwear of this fickle toddler.)

It's as if she's saying, "I can't be bothered with pictures right now, Mom. Can't you see I'm busy watching Diego?"

I hope this isn't an indication of how she'll act with teen crushes.

On the plus side, we can accommodate this obsession quite easily (and inexpensively.) AJ once loved Diego, too. So we're already well equipped with Diego toys and DVDs.

Another plus: when Sydney watches Diego, she does more more than just sit and stare. She's an active participant, which makes me feel a little less guilty about TV time. It's pretty adorable to hear her answering back at the appropriate cues and attempt to sing, "Go Diego go. Go Diego go. Al rescate amigo. To the rescue my friend!"

P.S. If any of the song lyrics are misspelled, it's because I'm trying to spell them like she pronounces them. It's certainly not because I might have forgotten any of my Spanish language lessons. That would never happen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

South for the winter

I could consider this another sign of fall, except this annual goodbye usually happens about a month sooner.

Grandpa Bill and Grandma Jo are heading south, so last night they stopped by to give the kids one more big hug to last until spring.

As we snuggled last night at bedtime, AJ proved what a strong memory he has. Anytime he asks about particular poisonous snakes, spiders and other critters, I tell him not to worry because they only live down south where it's warmer. He obviously took those comments seriously because he told me, "I don't want Grandpa and Grandma to go to Texas. I will miss them. And I don't want them to get bit by a scorpion."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Banana buster

Suddenly, Sydney loves bananas again. All summer long, she refused to eat them, preferring various fresh berries instead. But all at once, she's asking for them again.
Maggie is thrilled by this development. Maggie loves bananas too, and knows that typically Sydney can't eat an entire banana. This means it's usually not too tough for Maggie to convince Sydney to share.

Saturday morning, however, Sydney was not in a sharing mood. As I was washing dishes, I could hear Sydney ordering, "Go lay down Maggie!" Maggie apparently was ignoring her, because the next thing I heard out of my 2-year-old's mouth was, "Back off Buster!"

(Of course, Maggie was only too happy to lay down and mind once the camera came out.)

I asked Sydney where she learned a line like that, because it's not something either Jeff or I say. It was from her daycare teacher. Sydney answered, "Sheri say 'back off buster!'"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Winter can wait

Twins baseball hat? Check.
Twins baseball shirt? Check.
Warm and sunny afternoon? Check.

You could almost be fooled into thinking this was summer. Which made Saturday a perfect day to play baseball and enjoy a picnic lunch outside.

I've given up trying to make sense of this year's weather. Cold all summer, it warmed up just in time for September. October was rainy and miserable. And now, just when we should be experiencing the gales of November, we're getting awesome days to be outside instead.

Sydney and I took a nice long walk around the neighborhood after lunch. Walking through our wooded development this time of year, I couldn't help but feel a little nosy. With all the leaves off the trees, I could suddenly see backyards and other home and landscaping features that are normally blocked. I also could see at least a half dozen neighbors up on their roofs, taking advantage of this unseasonably warm day to prepare for the next season. By hanging Christmas lights.

Friday, November 6, 2009

All the world's their stage

Outside the library in downtown Duluth is a wonderful stage. The stage itself isn't in the greatest condition. But the fact that it's there is a wonderful thing. Because after 45 minutes of constant reminders to Ssshhh! inside the library, it's a great place to burn off stored up energy.

The fact that we're a week into November and the kids didn't need winter coats was just an added bonus.
And so they ran and marched and reveled in the way their voices echoed in the cavernous space.
To days like these, I say, "Encore!"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A star is... worn (out)

AJ's reign as Star of the Week has come to an end. He thinks he has to return his special necklace for next week's Star to wear. I'm fairly certain he gets to keep it, otherwise I doubt it would have been sent home with him.

AJ definitely enjoyed the extra attention that accompanied his Star designation. (His preschool rotates the honor in alphabetical order based on first names. Aidric was first, followed by AJ, and next week it will be on to Ava.) Each day he's wanted to skip his time at Cool Kids and go straight to preschool.

Wednesday, I got to spend the last half hour with him in class, sitting on a tiny chair in front of everyone while AJ showed off his All About Me poster. (The teacher told me she couldn't help but smile every time she looked at it, because she loved the pictures of AJ smiling.)

And then it was time to read Dino-Hockey. Amid instructions for the kids to sit "criss-cross applesauce," (I suppose it's no longer politically correct to tell children to sit Indian style. That's how I was taught to sit cross-legged.) I got to read one of AJ's favorite stories. The kids loved the play-by-play story of a hockey game between the meat-eating and veggie-loving dinosaurs, and when we finished, AJ wrapped his arms around my neck in a great big hug. I can't help but wonder how much longer he'll be willing to show such enthusiastic displays of affection in front of his friends.

The end of storytime meant the end of class for the day. Rather than bring AJ back to Cool Kids, so that I could return to work, we both played hooky for the rest of the afternoon. It was kind of fun to be able to focus just on him for a couple hours. Call it star treatment.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dream kitchen

Can you picture how adorable Sydney would look playing with a kitchen like this? More important, can you imagine how many hours of fun she would have?

I can. And so I'm blogging about it, to give her a chance to win it.

If you've never heard of Melissa and Doug toys, then you probably don't have kids. I happened to be checking out their Web site in search of a couple items for Sydney for Christmas, when I stumbled upon their blog and this contest.

By coincidence, just last week I helped present a seminar on social media for our clients at work, and so reading through the rules of this contest makes me realize that the marketing folks at Melissa and Doug are as clever as the toy designers.

Keep your fingers crossed for Sydney!