Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

I'm ringing in 2011 with a couple of junior party animals. We'll have to see if they make it until midnight.

With Jeff working, I let the kids choose what we would have for supper. In past years we've dined on crab legs, shrimp and porterhouse steak.

Not this year.

This year, the kids picked... drumroll please... hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls.

Paired with sparkling pomegranite apple juice, this was fine dining!
We picked up the hat, tiara and noisemakers during a quick trip to the store this morning. I'm questioning how I possibly thought the noisemakers would be a good idea. Our dog is ready to shred them if given the chance.
AJ has been wearing his hat ever since he got it, drawing smiles from everyone who sees him. Sydney has been equally charming. On several occasions, as strangers passed AJ in his hat and wished him a happy New Year, Sydney would respond, "Happy Merry Christmas!"
This is the second time I haven't been able to celebrate the New Year with Jeff. The last time was seven years ago, and remembering those circumstances puts it all in perspective for me. This year, Jeff's working overnight in Duluth. Back when 2003 turned to 2004, he was halfway around the world, serving in Bosnia.
And so we improvised. No, we won't be able to share a kiss at midnight in our time zone. Instead, our New Year's kiss took place before he left for work. Ironically enough, it was probably right about the time 2011 dawned in Bosnia.
Best wishes to all for a new year filled with happiness, good health and love.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Loops and laces

Christmas vacation is drawing to a close, and AJ's big homework assignment apparently has been weighing heavily on his mind.

"Mom, I still don't know how to tie my shoes," he reminded me tonight.

And so I had him practice. Over and over and over again.

The initial crossing of laces is no problem for him. But making the first loop was a different story.

I would show him, talking as I did it: "Little loop, close to where the laces crossed, and leave a long tail at the end."

When it was his turn, he'd either make a big loop with no tail, or a little loop at the very end of the lace.

Finally he started remembering, and so then we moved to the cross over. He still can't do it without help, but I could tell he was getting frustrated and so I suggested he "do it for real."

With the shoe on his foot, we started again.

He's not quite there yet, but we made enough progress for one night. I'll be curious how much of it he remembers tomorrow.

I teased him that once he masters tying his shoes, it'll be time for him to start tying his hockey skates.

He wasn't amused.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Day

If I had to identify the three greatest gifts I received this Christmas, the list would go like this:
  1. The birth of Christ
  2. My family's health and happiness
  3. Good travel weather

I'm so thankful the weather and roads allowed me and the kids to get to all the places we wanted to go this Christmas. It meant we made it home Christmas Day by shortly after Jeff woke up. Just in time for the kids to open even more presents.

If you've been keeping count through the last few days' blog posts, the stockings were the third gift opening event for the kids.

Among Santa's latest treats were books, candy, a few more Playmobil soldiers for AJ, and - much to Sydney's great delight - a flashlight.

From there we moved on to gift event #4: Christmas at the Jaski's. As always, it included a whole lot of people and a whole lot of presents in a pretty small space.

AJ again tried to distribute gifts from his big red Santa bag. But he quickly realized he couldn't do it alone. From across the room I could hear him say, "I need help." After a pause he clarified, "I need help from someone who can read."
As always, it was a fun evening. The kids all played together so well that Jeff and I actually got to both sit and talk with the other adults. I can't remember the last time that happened. This year was made even more special by the news that Jeff's friend Tim had just gotten engaged. The perfect ending to a wonderful Christmas celebration.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gift opening - part 2

Talk about a gift opening marathon! What started in our living room at noon, culminated seven hours and 130+ miles away in my brother's basement.

AJ came prepared. Proof that sometimes it's the silliest little things that bring the most joy, note the "Santa sack" in the photo below. It was a gift from a media rep to my ad agency that I won in a drawing last week. For AJ, the bag, along with the elf hat he wore in his school play, were among his Christmas highlights.

It wasn't enough to carry our gifts in the bag. He wanted to squeeze in everyone else's presents too. This meant it took even longer than usual to distribute the gifts for the kids to start opening. Sydney was not amused.

She did her best to be patient. At one point she positioned all her gifts in a half circle around her, declaring, "I'm in the middle."

At last the kids were given the go-ahead to begin. We tried to have the kids open their presents one at a time so we could see who gave them what. But it didn't work out very well.

We made sure to talk with Jeff by phone throughout the evening. His absence because of work was probably the only negative thing about this Christmas.
The kids are at such perfect ages. Everything about Christmas seems magical and fun to them. Add in their cousin Zane, and it was impossible to look around the room and not smile. Their excitement and joy is so pure and sincere, it's contagious. They appreciate every gift and happily respond with hugs.
I know it's supposed to be better to give than to receive. But in this case it's better to do both. By giving these kids even simple gifts, we received the best smiles ever.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gift opening - part 1

Christmas Eve was anything but traditional this year. Though as young as the kids are, and the fact that a blizzard kept us from our traditional Christmas Eve activities last year, they probably don't really know what our traditions are.

Jeff's work schedule meant we couldn't be together Christmas Eve night. It also meant he needed to sleep in on Christmas Eve morning. I managed to hold off the kids until shortly after noon, before allowing them to wake him. "Daddy, I can't wait any longer!"
There was certainly no shortage of presents to be unwrapped. To make it interesting, Jeff told the kids they had to say something they liked about Christmas before opening each gift. Their answers ranged from snowmen and Christmas songs to penguins (not sure where the little princess came up with that one.)

AJ was surprisingly methodical as he unwrapped his gifts, lining up the newly revealed presents as he went. Since I was busy taking pictures, and Sydney was keeping Jeff busy helping her, AJ was pretty much on his own, wrestling with ribbons and tape.
And he did just fine.

One of the nice things about the toys the kids received this year is that very few involved those blasted twist ties that have irritated me during Christmases past. Another bonus: the toys are becoming more fun. I'm guessing this is the first Barbie Doll that Jeff has played with.

Be sure to look closely. I doubt Rapunzel's hair will ever be that untangled again. Sydney has been showing her a lot of love.
We never made it to church, and our family lunch came from the McDonald's drive-thru. But we were able to spend at least a few hours together and for that I am thankful.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gifts galore!

As much fun as it is for me to write about my kids, it's even more fun to play with them. And that's made it tough to find time to keep this blog up to date.

For two days, we've been opening gifts and then forcing the children to leave them behind as we rush off to yet another Christmas gathering. This afternoon, they finally had a chance to enjoy their holiday haul. For Sydney, that meant arts and craft time: a little painting, a little stamping and a lot of mixing colors.

AJ finally got to try out his Criss Cross Crash set. There wasn't quite as much crashing as he seems to have been hoping for, but he's fascinated by it, none the less. As luck would have it, the two cars that do the best job staying on the tracks are a race car and a police car, so we've had more than a few police chases in our kitchen over the course of the day. I've lost count of how many times I've heard AJ excitedly shout, "Look it, Mom. Look it!" when he's got more than one car racing at a time.

Other favorites: a "Dora house" (as Sydney excitedly exclaimed when she opened it) and unicorn Pillow Pet. AJ also seems to like the fort, though he uses it as a hide-away in the midst of battles with Dad...

... who has been having way too much fun with AJ's new dart blaster guns.

The Playmobil ghost pirate ship that AJ's been wanting for the last year so far seems to be more work than it was worth. I'm pretty sure I've spent more time assembling it than he's spent playing with it. The ghost pirate clam, on the other hand, saw quite a bit of action, used in conjunction with the Kung Zhu pets, which I have to admit have held AJ's attention far longer than I'd expected. The ghost pirate clam had just swallowed one of the battery-operated rodents right before I snapped the photo.
Sydney's new folding table appears to be the gift that will get the most use. Based on the number of activities it played a part in today, it's probably not going to get folded away very often. So far we've decorated cupcakes, dressed a princess doll, played with a Safari set and ate a real lunch on it.

Maggie seems to like it too. It puts the activities (and food) that much closer to her level.
Lucky for the kids, Jeff has the next few days off, which means they'll have even more time to play with all their fun new treasures.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

At last... Santa!

Such a good little Swede. At an early family Christmas last Saturday, AJ loved the pickled herring (for the one millionth time let me emphasize how I don't influence my children's tastes.)

Or maybe he was just demonstrating his best behavior because he knew a particular visitor was about to arrive. While waiting for Santa, the kids grew tired of the adults singing Christmas carols. They didn't know the words and can't read the lyric sheets to join in. And so AJ took matters into his own hands, climbing on stage and performing a song from his school's Christmas program. When even that didn't bring Santa to the room, AJ enlisted the help of his sister and cousin. Thank goodness everyone seemed willing to tollerate my little show-offs.

And then at last, the man of the hour arrived. Sydney was enchanted.

Could this possibly be the same little girl who threw a fit last year and refused to go near St. Nick?

Santa didn't disappoint. Though once again I was left wondering why Santa always seems to bring toys with so many pieces. One of these years I'm going to have to have a talk with that guy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The most wonderful time of the year

When you're five and a half, you just don't get many days better than the one AJ had on Saturday. It started with a hockey game, and ended with a visit - and present - from Santa. (More on that tomorrow.)

It was a pretty exciting moment for him, putting on his game jersey for the first time. He was a little disappointed to be #3 this year - after all, his sister is three years old. But then I reminded him he was only #2 last year, so he must be getting better! (It'll be a sad day when my spin doctor skills no longer work with him.)

The kids played together as a team much better than last year. AJ scored two goals and two assists. He's getting a little frustrated by the lack of score keeping.
Jeff gets major Dad-of-the-Year points for his dedication. After getting home from work at 4:30 in the morning, he was up at 8 a.m. to take AJ to the game and help behind the bench.

Sydney and I arrived at the game about 15 minutes late. As we trudged through the parking lot with falling snow pelting us in the face, I looked at Sydney and asked, "Whose idea was it to live in such a crazy place?"
She looked back at me and answered, "AJ's."
"So we're blaming this on your brother?" I asked.
She nodded, "He's hockeying."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Be prepared... or elf!

The note came home several weeks ago. AJ's class was performing a Christmas play, and AJ had chosen to be an elf. (Other choices were Santa, reindeer or snowman.) The note specifically said to not stress out, but we were responsible for creating our child's costume.

With memories of tie-dying a t-shirt at midnight still fresh in my mind, I set off early in search of the materials needed to make a simple, no-stress elf costume. And so with almost two weeks to spare, I had the pieces I needed: long sleeve red t-shirt, short sleeve green t-shirt, red velvet ribbon and black felt, plus an elf hat and socks.

And then, for more than a week the materials sat on the dining room table. Until Tuesday morning when I saw the next note, which stated costumes were needed by the following day for a dress rehearsal. So much for being organized! Once again I was up late, attempting to assemble a costume. My plans to iron the belt together with Stich Witchery proved faulty when the iron melted the red ribbon.

Wednesday evening I asked AJ how his elf costume worked. He responded with a blank stare. They hadn't had a dress rehearsal afterall.

Friday afternoon at last arrived and we crowded into the auditorium to watch AJ take the stage. And that's about all we saw of him. From where we were sitting on the far right side of the audience, we couldn't see him at all, standing on the risers on far-stage left.

Finally the elves had their moment in the spotlight. AJ's favorite part of the show, he told me later, was playing the air guitar.

The show, as a whole, was quite cute. One of the joys of living in a small town is knowing so many of the families through sports, church and other community and school events. For instance, AJ and his fellow elf Drew were introduced to each other in church when they were just a few weeks old.

Two of the other kindergartners had been part of a baby massage class I'd taken with AJ when he was about two months old.
I did feel bad that Grandpa David and Grandma Elouise traveled so far to see so little of AJ in the show. But he was delighted when he discovered them in the audience, which of course was the real reason for their trip.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Different channels

What does it say about my five-year-old's priorities that he's figured out how to use the remote control, and yet still cannot tie his own shoes?

Today after school, AJ informed me, "You better hurry up and teach me how to tie my shoes."

"Excuse me?" I asked. "How about if you hurry up and learn how to tie your shoes."

"Mrs. Boese says after Christmas she's not tying my shoes anymore."

This wasn't the only conversation that made me question my parenting skills. AJ had the choice between two Christmas specials on TV: A Charlie Brown Christmas or A Johnny Bravo Christmas. And he chose Johnny Bravo.

Where did I go wrong?

Not that it matters which show he watched. He pays more attention to the commercials anyway. Tonight he called to me from the living room, "Mom, can we go back to Target some day?"

"Probably. Why?"

"Because they have Ov Gloves. And we could get one for our fireplace."

"What's an Ov Glove?"

"We need it for our fireplace, so, like, Dad could wear it and fix the fireplace."

I explained that we have a gas fireplace, so whatever this amazing product is, we probably don't need it. Secretly, I was just happy that my little sponge thinks that if anything ever does go wrong with the fireplace, it'll be Dad's job to fix it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Groggy girl

She may have the looks of a sweet little princess, but when Sydney doesn't want to wake up in the morning, her personality is more in line with what you would expect from a fairy tale's stereotypical evil/ugly step-sister.

"Mommy!" she mumbled without opening her eyes one recent morning. "I want to still sleep."

"I know you do," I told her, "but Mommy has to go to work, so give me a hug before I go."

Her eyes remained closed. Her body didn't move. Instead, she puckered up and blew me an air kiss. She then stalled for time, over enunciating, "Go hug goodbye my brother Alex."

"Sydney, let's go," I insisted.

"Mommy," she answered back with equal firmness, "don't wake up me."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

You stuck your what to what?

It's amazing the things kids learn in kindergarten these days. AJ's already doing math and learning to read and write. He has music class and computer time and gym.

Never-the-less, there are also certain lessons as old as time that he is learning. The hard way.

For instance, AJ learned Monday why licking the metal window frame on his school bus, when the temperature is -11 degrees, isn't such a good idea. His teacher sent me an e-mail midway through the day that included:

"He had apparently stuck his tongue to the bus and it got stuck there because it was so cold out. He was ushered into the nurse's office because it was bleeding. It still is a little sore."

Out the window went my maternal instincts. All I could do was laugh. Really hard.
It wasn't until later in the evening, after hockey practice, that I had a chance to question AJ about what happened. He showed me his tongue, which really didn't show signs of damage. The conversation then went something like this.
Me: So what did you lick?
AJ: That thing that holds the window in.
Me: Did someone tell you to lick it?
AJ (looking confused): Dad asked me that too.
Me: So why did you do it?
AJ: I just didn't know it was sticky.
I guess I'm relieved to know it happened inside the bus. Based on the initial note from his teacher, I'd been envisioning him sticking his tongue to the dirty, road-salt-coated exterior of the bus, which creates all sorts of horrible scenarios when you imagine the bus starting to drive away. So compared to that, the metal window frame isn't so bad. After all, what germs can survive on metal when the temperature is in the double digits below zero?
He must get this from his father.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Star Spangled Christmas

Once he got past his disappointment that he wouldn't be meeting the president at the Armory's Christmas party (don't ask me where he got that idea), AJ focused instead on the thrill of seeing so many soldiers in one place. He is, after all, planning to be a soldier some day, himself. It's all part of his career path that will some day take him to the White House, he figures.

This year's party was actually the best organized one we've ever attended. Small toys for the children were placed at each table, as were crayons. The kids were encouraged to color right on the table cloth.

Not to discourge his military/political plans, but I think AJ just may have a future as a performance artist. Listen to him sing as he colors. I especially like the sound effects he adds in for the fireworks.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Armory Christmas

The third time's the charm. I'm wondering if that's what the kids are thinking after getting to see Santa at the armory Saturday.

It was, after all, the third time they've consulted with him this year. The first two times they only got to tell him what they wanted for Christmas. This time, they got presents on the spot.

Sydney got a Barbie mermaid, which was so exciting she asked to take a bath as soon as we got home. As for AJ, we had to explain this was a bonus present. That's the reason he got a bunch of Matchbox cars instead of the Playmobil playset he's been requesting.

Jeff got a call a few days before the party, inviting us to attend. It turns out, there was a special reason for the invitation. The unit wanted to present Jeff with a special award. In honor of his 20 years of service, he was "knighted."

He had been in the middle of a conversation and almost missed it when he was summoned to the stage. Once there, he was presented with the Order of St. George, an honor given to those who've lead Cavalry and Armor Units.

I'm curious - if Jeff is now a knight, does that make me a lady? A dame? Hmmm...

It's only been 10 months since Jeff retired from the Guards, so it was surprising how few people I recognized at the party. It's also a bit embarassing how quickly I've set aside the stress and fear that goes along with being a soldier's wife. Jeff's old unit is slated to deploy next spring, which means way too many of the children at the party this year will be missing a parent next Christmas. While I'm thankful for Jeff's willingness to serve, I'm selfishly far more thankful that he's done.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Kindergarten Christmas

I'm really enjoying the extra holiday spirit that comes with having a child in kindergarten. AJ's class celebrated its Christmas Festival last Friday, and each child was allowed to bring a parent or family member to join in the fun. Since Jeff had been the featured guest during AJ's week as VIP, it was my turn to visit the school.

"Stations" are the system in AJ's class. In other words, a different activity awaits at each table in the room. It was our job to visit each station and complete the assigned task.

That included a Countdown-to-Christmas calendar, on which AJ glued a cotton ball on Santa's beard for each day so far in December. He also had to count how many days are left until Christmas, so we could bring enough cotton balls home to finish the project.

Next up: some sort of reindeer-attracting goodies. Apparently if you mix oatmeal and glitter, and then sprinkle it on your sidewalk, it makes it easier for Santa's reindeer to find your house. Who knew?

Other projects included painting Christmas ornaments, and gluing glitter on pine cones. (As an added "bonus", AJ's pine cone now also has a dusting of "snow". That's what happens when you put a not-fully-dry glued pine cone in the same bag as a calendar with cotton balls. AJ didn't seem to buy in to my efforts at putting a positive spin on the situation. Oops!)
Last up: a cup of cocoa project. AJ decorated his with a message to Santa, telling him, "I love you".

Once we finished the stations, we were rewarded with a sugar rush. AJ tried to tell me he was loading up his plate with extras for Daddy and Sydney. Sure. He's going to save them to bring home.

The holiday festivities at AJ's school are far from over. We still have an elementary choir concert, and a kindergarten-specific play/musical in the week to come. Based on the number of songs I've heard in singing recently, both promise to be entertaining events.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lessons in gingerbread

The requests started about a month ago. AJ saw a gingerbread house kit at the grocery store and wanted to make one. I said no - it was ridiculously expensive.

Then he saw a kit at a different store. Again I said no. Who has time to decorate a gingerbread house?

But then I noticed how the kids are wanting to be much more involved in Christmas traditions this year. They're at such a fun age. And I found a kit on clearance for just $5, and it was right at the start of a weekend when we just might have the time to put it together. And so I bought it.

AJ's interest held for... oh... about 90 seconds. Just long enough for him to look at the pieces and ask when he could eat them. I explained that you don't eat gingerbread houses. They're more for decoration. And so off he went to play while I finished decorating it myself.

AJ then figured out that what he really wanted to make was gingerbread men - cookies he could actually eat. And so I found a recipe and bought some molasses and attempted to make gingerbread cookies for the first time.

I was somewhere between step 2 and step 3 when I realized I'd mis-read the recipe. I needed more flour, and so off I headed to the store. Ultimately I finished mixing it all together and allowed it to chill in the fridge.

For the next steps, both kids wanted to help, and so I had them take turns. Sydney started. First I showed her how to roll out the dough and pat it to be about a quarter-inch thick.

Then it was AJ's turn. I let them choose from four cookie cutter shapes. I tried to teach him to strategically place the cookie cutters to create the most cookies, but he was far too excited to listen.
After baking and allowing them to cool, it was at last time for the most exciting part: decorating! I helped them put frosting on the cookies, to act as adhesive for the candy decorations, and they took it from there. M&Ms, chocolate chips, candy sprinkles, sugar sprinkles and marshmallows. They had so much fun!

At last, Sydney couldn't wait any longer. "Can I have a cookie, Mommy?"
"Of course you can," I told her.

She licked off the frosting and candy, and then at last took a bite of the gingerbread.
"I don't like this cookie," she said, putting it down. "Can I get down?"

AJ, meanwhile, decided he was going to save the cookies for Daddy, who was at work. And so he never even ate one.
Several days passed. The cookies have sat uneaten where we left them. Last night I decided to throw out the ones that hadn't been decorated. I managed to tip the tray just wrong, and down the cookies slid, crashing to the floor. None of them broke. They now are about as hard as hockey pucks.
This sure was a great project! While I enjoyed the process (other than the last minute trip to the grocery store) and am glad to have given the kids the experience, I think the ultimate lesson for me is - next time - I'm making sugar cookies.