Monday, January 31, 2011

Downhill fun

It's amazing how an hour of family fun can recharge the spirit and fade the stress of a the past week to a distant memory. It's equally amazing how something as simple as a new sled can remind our winter-weary selves of the positives of living in this brutally cold environment.

Here's a look at the fun we had Saturday afternoon on the gentle slope in our backyard. If we were a bit more stylish, I could see some of these pictures in an Eddie Bauer or L.L. Bean catalog.

Clearly , the kids weren't the only ones having fun. In fact, on Sunday afternoon, when I needed some quiet time to finish a freelance assignment, Jeff quickly volunteered to take the kids sledding again.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Armed for... ?

Parents can be so paranoid. Their children can be playing together just fine in another room, and if they happen to get too quiet, what do parents assume? That they're doing something they shouldn't.

In reality, it could just be that they're preparing to give you a really good laugh. (Whether they intended to, or not.)

Take for example AJ and Sydney. They disappeared into AJ's room Saturday afternoon. (I was in the kitchen, Jeff was in the living room.) I could barely hear, but not really understand, AJ giving muffled instructions to his sister.

A few minutes later, I heard - quite clearly - AJ and Sydney come marching out, with AJ singing a made-up chant, "We're rea-dy... for bat-tle." The next thing I heard was Jeff's loud laughter. Here's why:

The kids had been wrestling with Jeff, and apparently AJ wanted to notch up the battle. He'd found his knight's "mail" and sword, and somehow convinced Sydney to be his ally versus Daddy. But what could the little princess wear that was comparable to her brother's? Hmmm... AJ's "Little Frankenstein" hood (that he wore for Halloween as a toddler) is kind of the same shape. And the Hulk fists are the same color. Voila!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Independence Day

This probably would have been more accurately headlined as Independence Evening. There were many points during the day when they asked me for help doing things they certainly could have accomplished themselves. But come evening, it was a different story...

Ask a preschooler a rhetorical question and you'll get a very proud answer.

"So, um, Sydney? Did you adjust your hair band?" I asked.

Sydney happily confirmed, "I did it all myself!"

Meanwhile, my almost 6-year-old master chef has just about mastered the creation of microwave popcorn. He still needs a little help with the plastic wrap, and a reminder of which side goes down. But after that, he's got it!

This just may be the first practical use for his newly learned reading skills. He can find the button that says Popcorn, followed by the button that says Start.

I recently purchased the Double Delicious cookbook (sequel to Deceptively Delicious). It emphasizes use of healthier ingredients and getting kids involved in the cooking process, because they're more likely to eat and enjoy food that they helped prepare.

Making your own popcorn. Hmm... probably not exactly what they were suggesting.

Friday, January 28, 2011

President's (birth)Day

How is it that my son doesn't like normal characters and themes like other boys his age? I celebrate his uniqueness. I really do. But once a year - specifically around the time I'm planning his birthday party - I kinda wish he'd like Cars or Star Wars or Transformers. There are plenty of party supplies out there for those themes.

Alas, the same independent thinker who wanted a Peter Pan party the year the boy who would never grow up was locked safely in the Disney vault, and the same child whose Scooby Doo fascination had me shopping on e-bay last year, has outdone himself. For birthday #6, he wants a Presidents' theme.

I was fairly certain I wouldn't find much at the party supply store - maybe a few red, white and blue leftovers from the 4th of July, or perhaps some pretend money that would have pictures of presidents on it. I held out hope that perhaps the coming President's Day holiday might help my cause. But no. Nobody seems to celebrate President's Day anymore. At least not like my son wants to do.

The one thing we found was a glittery Uncle Sam hat. I'm pretty sure half of that glitter is now in the back seat of my car. But AJ loves it.

What's with the brown curly hair, you might ask? That's so he looks more like Abraham Lincoln. Without the beard, of course. (That wig actually came with a moustache, not a beard. It's a leftover from a Halloween party when Jeff dressed as Magnum P.I.)

On a positive note, AJ's creativity helped me figure out what to do for party invitations. Here's a look at the cover:

The inside reads "for Birthday Boy" and invites kids to come to his political birthday party and let their voices be heard. I was able to order a whole bunch of red, white and blue party supplies online. I figure between Memorial Day, Flag Day and the 4th of July, we'll have plenty of opportunity for re-use. 

Eight days until the big day. This campaign has me exhausted!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Life choices

Whoever Dr. Wayne Dyer is, he's been quoted as saying "Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made." I agree with that statement and would even expand on it by saying we make some of those choices through planning, while other choices we allow to be made for us as a result of lack of planning.

I've always been a planner. I set a goal and figure out how to achieve it. Some of those goals have changed over the years, and my planning has adapted accordingly.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Robert Burns. He's the poet who penned, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

How else do you explain a day like yesterday? It started with an argument with Sydney. She wanted to wear her new big girl underwear with the Little Mermaid on them, but - God forbid - I'd picked out a pair featuring Dora the Explorer. What was I thinking?

I made it to work where I was faced with critically important issues such as inserting proper click tags in a series of online ads so that newspaper websites could accurately measure how many people clicked on our client's ads.


An hour of my life is gone. I will never get it back. All so that these media organizations can - at the end of the month - report that - if lucky - three people clicked on the ad and were linked to the client's website. Pardon my cynicism, but this is information that should have been provided to us. It's only because my art director and I wasted several more hours of our lives on this same issue last year that we knew to ask now, rather than try to fix later.

The question led to a flurry of phone calls and e-mails throughout the day. With the end-of-day deadline drawing near, I again called the client to see what had been learned. Imagine my surprise to learn she'd e-mailed me the information an hour earlier. Wonderful. Our e-mail wasn't working. Desperate to leave to pick up the kids, I gave her my home e-mail address, which I can access remotely.

Guess what! It wasn't working either.

Right about that time, Jeff decided to stop in for a surprise visit before he headed to work. And I barely had time to say hi.

I should have been running out the door to pick up the kids from daycare, and instead I was stuck at work trying to figure out how to insert a single line of "code" into an online ad... an ad that even if we figured out how to fix it we wouldn't be able to send to the client because our e-mail wasn't working.

So where exactly did my planning go awry? Was it choosing to have kids? Choosing to continue working a full time job after having kids? Choosing to work four 10-hour days rather than five 8-hour stints? Choosing to live the lifestyle we do, which requires me to earn a full time income?

Days like this make me think something's gotta give, and I sure hope the "something" isn't my sanity. How do other moms do it?

To borrow a phrase from another client, guess it's time for me to pull up my big girl underwear. It's time I focus on the many blessings in my life... such as the husband who loves me enough to make a special stop to see me despite a job filled with crisis that actually matter... and the son who ran across the classroom and wrapped his arms around my waist excitedly shouting "Mom-my!" when I finally got to school to pick him up... and the sweet little girl who interrupted me a few minutes ago to climb into my lap for a hug saying, "I just want a snuggle."

When I think about it, if life is a series of choices, I'd say my choices have been pretty close to perfect.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In order to stall...

I can appreciate a young child's need for order. AJ used to line up all of his rubber ducks on the edge of the bathtub. Sydney insists on a particular seating order for all of her princess dolls. And several of the kids' books feature characters lining up their toys in a parade.

Never the less, I'm pretty suspicious about Sydney's latest obsession with lining up her stuffed toys. Why is it she only needs to inventory their where-abouts at bedtime?

The newest cast of characters that Sydney simply can't fall asleep without include:
  •  "Bunny" - really a stuffed dog that's missing part of its nose thanks to a little too much affection from our real dog
  • "Baby" - part teddy bear, part blanket; it's a toy Sydney ignored until I tried selling it last year at a garage sale
  • Racoon - I have no clue where this critter came from
  • Lambie - a baptism gift from the Bianchi's, Sydney found it last week and has carried it with her just about everywhere she goes.
Regular readers of this blog may be curious what happened to the little animals Sydney was so obsessed with earlier this month. What can I tell you? They were soooo last week. They were packed in a purse to accompany us on a trip to somewhere, and suddenly fell victim to "out of sight, out of mind syndrome."

The two constants through all of this have been Sydney's pink blanket, and her unicorn pillow pet. Everything else, I guess, is just a fad.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Dad-day

It's Jeff's birthday (yesterday). AJ was quite disappointed that didn't translate into a day off from school. "It's a holiday," he reasoned.

So we did the next best thing to commemorate this very important day. We celebrated with dinner at a restaurant The decision-making process on where to eat went something like this.

Jeff: We should try Texas Roadhouse. We still haven't been there.

Me: That sounds good.

Sydney: Does it have a playground?

AJ: No, Sydney, they don't have a playground 'cause it's where people go on dates.

Ultimately, Jeff ended up changing his mind. After having leftover steak for lunch, he decided seafood would be better for dinner, and so we headed to Red Lobster instead.

My little crab leg lovers were quite excited by this turn of events. AJ informed our server, "I'll probably be back in 13 days, because that's when it's my birthday."

The server laughed, and AJ continued, "I might pick McDonald's, but I think I like this better.

"I like this better, too," the server told him.

For dessert, we split something with lava in the name. It was basically a chocolate chip cookie filled with melted chocolate and topped with ice cream.  Battling with their forks was half the fun.

I felt a bit sorry for the young couple sitting across the aisle from us. My kids were rather hyper last night. As were the kids at two other tables near us. I figured the hostess had purposely seated all of the families in one area so as not to disturb the rest of the diners. I appreciate that – it makes me less self-conscious when the kids get loud. But it made no sense for that one young couple to be seated smack in the middle of the chaos. I question if the hostess had determined they needed a lesson on the importance of birth control.

Once home, we let Daddy open his presents. AJ had picked out a musical card that played the theme from Rocky. I wish I'd had a camera to record AJ's face as he tried to sign the card without giving away the surprise. Every time he opened the card to sign it, of course it would start playing music. I finally assured AJ that Daddy was in another part of the house, and so if he wrote quickly, the secret would remain safe.

It was a fun evening. Jeff liked his presents (new hockey gear.) And most important of all, from AJ's perspective, we've moved one day closer to his birthday.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Is there a doctor in the house? "Lucky" for me, I have two young medical providers who are happy to treat all sorts of ailments, from "owies" to pneumonia. 

Most often, treatment involves a shot, followed by a Band-aid. Using the stethoscope is important, but always is preceded by the question, "Mommy, where's your heart?" For Doctor Sydney, taking the patient's temperature is also key.

As my check-up dragged on, Doctor AJ determined that I was pregnant. Lovely! He then handed me one of Sydney's dolls and said, "Here's your baby."

I quickly recognized the opportunity for a break and suggested they take care of the baby for a while. Doctor AJ was fine switching to the roll of pediatrician.

But Sydney quickly turned into a concerned Mommy. Let's not forget whose baby this doll really is. There will be no shots given to this baby. Or maybe the outrage stemmed from when AJ suggested the doll was a boy, not a girl. Talk about unimaginable insults!

Cuddling the now bandaged "baby," Sydney rocked her from side to side, reassuring her that all was all right.
Don't mess with Mama Sydney!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brrrr-ing it on!

Living in a community where the school teams are known as the Eskomos, I question if it's a coincidence that Mother Nature seems to test the toughness of our residents, even at the Mite level. Last year, it was a blizzard that challenged AJ and his teammates during the Esko hockey tournament. This year, it was frigid temperatures.

Air temperature at game time was -11 degrees. Thankfully there was little wind and bright sun. We dressed him in layers and stuffed hand warmers in his skates.

As we headed out the door, AJ commented, "It's a nice day, isn't it?"

I responded, "You just keep telling yourself that."

By the time game two rolled around, the temperature had warmed to a balmy 3 degrees above zero. I would have taken more photos, but the cold zapped my battery. Here's a glimpse of AJ (white helmet, #3) in action:

An interesting side note: while I understand how our school's nickname evolved from the town's name, I started wondering about the origins of the name Esko. I know it's a Finnish name, but that's about it. Searching online, I discovered a book project is in the works to tell the history of Esko, and while the website for the project reveals plenty about the town's background, it doesn't explain the origin of the name.

I looked a little more and finally found a reference on the town's official website, on a page about the local historical society, the location is listed as on "the heart of the Alex Esko farm."

AJ thinks that's a pretty cool coincidence.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The bedtime prayer

Snuggled together. Fast asleep. Don't they just look so sweet and precious?

Sure they are. Now that they're finally asleep. In my bed.

This past Tuesday night, AJ woke up some time between 2-3 a.m., followed by Sydney around 4 a.m. Jeff was working, so I'd let each of them join me in my bed. By the time Jeff made it home - I think a little after 5 a.m. - there was no room left for him.
And this all happened after a tougher than usual bedtime routine.

Because of this week's frigid weather, AJ's class must have had a discussion about dressing appropriately and being careful in the cold. I'm guessing the conversation focused on frostbite, but of course kindergarten minds jumped to the worst-case scenario of freezing to death.

Ever the overly cautious one, AJ was pretty shook up by this never-before-thought-of threat to his health and well being. I did my best to reassure him that he would be fine - that we always made sure he was dressed warmly enough, and that Mom and Dad, his bus driver, his teacher and all the 0ther grown-ups at his school would make sure he didn't spend too much time outside when the temperatures were so cold.

Nothing worked. AJ was seriously worried. Finally I suggested we pray together. He happily agreed, repeating after me:

"Dear Jesus,
Please keep me safe from the cold.
And protect all the people I love, too."

At this point, I suggested he finish the prayer with anything else he wanted to say. And so he continued:

"And please make all the people who are dead, come back alive.
And let them have skin.

At some point I'll need to remind him that not all prayers get answered in the way we want. But that can be a conversation for a different, warmer day.

Incidentally, as I get ready to head for bed right now, the temperature outside my door is -17 degrees. I'm predicting AJ's school, which for some reason is only in session for a half-day on Friday, is going to end up cancelling classes all together.

***Friday morning update***
School was not cancelled, despite the -27 degree weather. As I bundled AJ up to head out the door, I told him to keep his hat on and hood up. Jeff also weighed in with advice: "Don't touch anything metal. Don't lick anything metal."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Building strategy skills

If I were wearing the hat I don 40+ hours a week at my day job, I'd tell the execs at LEGO, "Brilliant job on the brand extension." They've successfully expanded their legendary building bricks to now include a line of LEGO games.

But sitting at my dining room table for the buzzilionth night in a row, with the hat for the other 128 hours perched on my head, I can only shake my weary head and ask my beloved son, "You want to play Minotaurus again?"

Silly me for asking. The answer is always yes.

Minotaurus is a pretty basic game involving a little strategy and a lot of luck. What makes it special is that the game board is a maze made out of LEGOs. According to the box, it's geared toward kids ages 7+, but other than needing help assembling it, my 5-year-old has been playing it non-stop.

And he's pretty good at it. Not to mention, extremely lucky.

Roll the special die, four sides of which have numbers, the other two sides have colored squares. If you get a number, you move one of your playing pieces. Roll the side with a grey square and you get to move one of those grey pieces on the edge of the board to block your opponent as they weave through the maze. Roll the black square and you get to move the evil Minotaur and try to land on your opponent, sending them back to the start.

AJ is smart enough to understand the strategy of where to place the grey pieces to block Mommy's game pieces, and lucky enough to roll the grey and black squares often. So I guess that's one good thing about the game. I can honestly try to win. Because even with me trying, he's currently proving to be the Minotaur master.

But I'm fairly certain I'll get another chance at it tonight.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The bad dream

All the stuffed animals in the world didn't protect Sydney from some middle-of-the-night terror.

I was awakened rather abruptly by the sound of Sydney crying out. Not even pausing to find my glasses, I ran for her room, hoping to quiet her before she woke her brother. By the time I reached the kitchen, she was crying out quite loudly. She wasn't saying anything in particular, just making a lot of noise. Clearly she was upset.

I couldn't tell if she was scared, perhaps a bad dream? Or maybe she was horrified to wake up and discover she'd wet the bed? Bracing for the worst, I made it to her room, just as she screamed with perfect clarity, "It's coming right at me!"

"Sydney, it's okay. Mommy's here." I quickly started doing my best to calm her, relieved that I didn't have wet sheets to clean. "Honey, it was just a bad dream. You're okay."

I laid down next to her, unsure if I should just try to get her to go back to sleep (would that send her back to the same dream?) or should I try to get her to talk about it so that I could explain it was just a dream, in which case she'd likely stay awake for at least an hour? I chose the first option, climbing into bed next to her and rubbing her back.

My mind raced, trying to figure out what could have inspired such terror, not to mention a line straight out of a horror movie. Could it have been Scooby Doo or some other cartoon her brother was watching? She hadn't watched TV at all that day, and in fact, because of AJ's crazy hockey schedule, had barely watched any TV the last few days.

Sydney answered the question a few minutes later. I thought she'd fallen back asleep, but her mind was obviously still racing, too.

"Mommy?" she asked. "Are there spiders in my room?"

All that terror... inspired by an imaginary spider.

"No, Sydney," I answered, "There aren't any spiders here. They all go away in the winter."

It seems to me that when AJ was this age, he used to come home from daycare talking about hunting for spiders and squishing them with his friends. I guess it's safe to assume I won't be hearing similar stories from Sydney.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Silly unicorn

We had some serious drama/trauma at bedtime one evening last week. (And it had nothing to do with Sydney's newest attempt to batter her face. The scab on her chin came courtesy of a playground wipe out at daycare.)

No, the tragedy centered around a tiny stuffed animal that had become lost. Sydney couldn't possibly fall asleep without "Little Unicorn." Little Unicorn had arrived in our house just two days earlier via a McDonald's Happy Meal, and had quickly claimed a spot in Sydney's heart.

(To give you an idea of Little Unicorn's size, it's one of three critters Sydney is holding in the photo above.) The other two animals are known simply as Elephant and Lion. Little Unicorn needed the added name to distinguish it from her unicorn Pillow Pet.

Keeping all that straight? These are important details when you're three.

Sydney so loved Little Unicorn that she insisted on bringing it to daycare with her. Bringing toys is a no-no, and so we compromised and said she could bring him with in the car, but couldn't bring him inside. I helped her squeeze Little Unicorn into her coat pocket, and sent her off with Jeff.

That was in the morning.

By bedtime, Little Unicorn was nowhere to be found. Oh, the tears! She was in no mood to hear a "this is why we don't take our favorite toys out of the house" lesson. I told Sydney her Little Unicorn must be sleeping in the black truck (which Jeff had driven to his weekly rink-flooding duties) and that we would find it in the morning.

Finally she calmed down and was close to falling asleep when, as (bad) luck would have it, Jeff arrived home. If Daddy is home, then so is the black truck, which means Little Unicorn should be home, too. It's amazing all the connections her three-year-old mind can make.

"Daddy," she called. "Can you find Little Unicorn?"

Jeff headed out to look, returning a few minutes later. No Little Unicorn.

The tears started again.

"Did you sneak Little Unicorn into school with you?" I asked.

She never really answered, which I interpreted to be a confession of guilt. To again try and calm her down, I told her Little Unicorn must be sleeping in her cubby at school, and that Daddy would help her find it in the morning. This glimmer of hope wasn't enough to immediately stop the tears, but eventually calmed her enough and she slept.

The next morning, finding Little Unicorn was all Sydney could talk about. She fully cooperated with getting out of bed, dressing and eating breakfast - all so she could get to school and find her little friend.

As I zipped up her coat, a thought occurred to me. Check the pockets. Yes! Little Unicorn had been there all along.

Sydney giggled: a mix of joyous relief and excitement. "Silly Unicorn," she proclaimed. "He was snuggling in my pocket."

She then wrapped her arms around my neck, "I'm so happy!"

I just can't wait for the teenage drama years.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sunday at the skating rink

If you're going to live in a region where snow covers the ground in winter for more months than leaves cover the trees in summer... where even when the sun shines brightly the temperatures can't rise above single digits... you better learn to make the best of it.

And so Sunday afternoon, our family - that's right, all four of us - laced up our skates and headed to the local hockey rink.

For most of the time, we were the only ones on the ice. Apparently not everyone in our god-forsaken neck of the tundra is embracing this frigid January weather. Seriously, the single digit temperatures didn't seem too bad. Bundled up and moving around, with very little wind, I really wasn't cold.

A little while after recording this video, I borrowed Jeff's hockey stick for a little one-on-one action with AJ. And all I can say is "Wow!" He beat me. And I wasn't letting him win. It's amazing how much he's improved this year. I blamed it on having to use Jeff's hockey stick, which shoots left. If I had a stick that shot right, I'd have done just fine. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Though on my priority list of hockey gear I need, shin guards rank far above a hockey stick. I wiped out just once, tripping over AJ when he went down. My right leg landed just wrong on his skate blade. Ouch!

Bumps and bruises aside, this was still one of the days I'll forever treasure. The kind of day that makes me so thankful for my family and our good health. I have a feeling I'll look back at this video in years to come and miss the days when our family bonded in such crazy ways.

As we loaded the kids into the car afterward and buckled them into their seats, I told AJ that skating was probably my favorite part of the day. (At bedtime, we often reflect on what was our favorite thing we did that day.) AJ grinned and nodded and said it was his favorite thing too. Then he asked, "but Mom, could we go to Florida some day?"

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The early birthday non-surprise

Meet Rip.

Rip is a Pillow Pet. (Roll him up, he's a stuffed animal. Flatten him out, he's a pillow.)

AJ has wanted a Pillow Pet for quite some time. He's wanted one with a longing that was deeply intensified when his sister received a Unicorn Pillow Pet for Christmas from their uncle and aunt in New York.

And so, with AJ's birthday just around the corner, it seemed like the perfect idea to have Sydney give AJ a Pillow Pet as a gift. My favorite grocery store had a large bin full of them, leftover from Christmas, and so I've been watching in case they marked them on clearance.

The price of them has not gone down, however the quantity has. And so last Friday while shopping with Sydney, I told her to pick out the one she thought her brother would like best.

Sydney is not ready to be involved in gift-buying decisions.

She proudly carried the Pillow Pet through the store and in the car on the ride home. I reminded her that it was not hers, that we were going to hide it when we got home, and give it to her brother later on his birthday.

She remembered the part about giving it to her brother.

Friday afternoon I got volunteered to work a shift in the concession stand at the Esko Hockey rink. Sydney and I headed there directly from the grocery store. Jeff met us a while later, took Sydney skating, and then took her home. By the time I got home, trunk still full of groceries, AJ had just gotten off the bus a few minutes earlier.

Sydney met me at the door. "Where's the surprise for my brother?"

"It's still in the car. Remember, it's a secret."

Jeff came to the door next, "It's not a secret anymore. Sydney probably doesn't have much of a future as a spy."

And so AJ got his first birthday present just a few weeks early.

He chose the name "Rip", because he'd just worked on an assignment at school involving a dog named Rip. Slightly more advanced than "Run, Spot, run.", this booklet included such lines as: "Rip can sit. I like to sit here. Rip can fit here. I like to pat Rip."

Incidentally, we also picked up Jeff's birthday present that day. Sydney promptly told him we'd bought him a present. She then told him it was a shirt. Which it wasn't. So I just grinned as I told Jeff, "Yes, that's right. We got you a shirt for your birthday."

Secrets are not Sydney's strong point.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What are you packing?

Just about every female I know who's ever traveled with a male, has had something less than positive to say about the man's (in)ability to pack. Most complaints center around the man's lack of planning or lack of thinking about what kinds of things they'll need during their trip.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised to learn this fundamental difference between males and females doesn't suddenly rear its ugly head at the onset of adulthood. No. This difference is already apparent in early childhood. At least with my two kids it is, as I compare how my five-year-old boy versus my three-year-old girl readied for our trip last weekend to Silver Bay.

"AJ," I called out as I was packing clothes, "pick out which toys you want to bring with you."

A few minutes later, as I continued packing, I found he hadn't moved from his spot on the couch. I decided to cut him some slack considering he'd just been sick the day before. "AJ," I said, as if it was for the first time, "go find whatever toys you want to play with in the car."

AJ didn't move. "It's not that long of a drive."

"It's an hour-and-a-half drive. You're going to get bored," I predicted. "Go pick out some toys."

Sydney, by this time, was dancing around, getting in my way. "I want to help pack," she enthusiastically announced.

"You do?" I asked in surprise. "That's awesome. Go pick the toys you want to bring."

She clasped her hands in excitement. The wheels were already turning inside her head. Suddenly she threw her arms open wide and announced, "I'm going to get my purse!"

Once she selected and located the perfect container, it took her no time at all to fill it with plastic princess figurines and other small toys. Next she asked if she could put some fruit treats in her purse to eat in the car. This girl can plan.

And where was AJ all this time? He'd managed to move off the couch and was now leaning on the half-wall divider between the living room and dining room. "AJ," I said in exasperation, "Go pick out some toys or you're not going to have anything to do in the car."

"I did!" he responded with equal frustration.

That caught me off guard. I hadn't seen him grab anything. "What did you pack?" I asked.

Mr. Know-it-all flashed me his billfold. "I packed my wallet. So I can buy some candy at the hockey game."

"And how is that going to give you something to do on the car ride up there?"

"I can play with my wallet," he defended.


With that, my enabling nature kicked in. I grabbed a box of Playmobil soldiers and added a few more of his favorite characters. He happily played with them in the car both on the ride up, and on the return home, plus was excited to show them to his friends at the hotel. Not once did he remember to bring his billfold to the arena.

Next time I'm going to let him learn the hardway. Will he sit in the car in boredom? Or try to convince his sister to share her princess dolls? I sense future blog material.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tea party

Hear ye! Hear ye!

By royal decree, all princesses in the kingdom are cordially invited to an afternoon tea party to be hosted by her royal highness Princess Sydney.The menu will include tea with cream and sugar sprinkles, and will be served on Lady Sydney's finest new Tinkerbell place settings.

Responding to the invitation last Friday were, left to right: "Baby Rapunzel (who earned baby status to differentiate her from the bigger, glowing hair version on the right), Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Cinderella and Rapunzel. Not shown is Baby Sleeping Beauty, who is physically bigger than the Barbie version of Sleeping Beauty, but designed to look like a baby, so she had to sit in a high chair and really isn't big enough for tea anyway; plus yours truly. Incidentally, on occasions such as this, Princess Sydney often tells me I'm the Queen.

Back to the event at hand... All plastic princesses should take note that very specific rules will be in place and strictly enforced regarding who sits where, how much tea can be consumed, and at one point cookies can be eaten. If Princess Sydney notices anything amiss, she will immediately point out the error in etiquette.

Do not attempt to stir your own tea. Princess Sydney will take care of that, ensuring that just the right amount of cream and sugar sprinkles are added.

The princess will also be more than happy to serve each of her guests. Literally.

For all of her brother's political aspirations, I have to say, Sydney does not seem to have a one. Which is probably a good thing. Because in Sydney's version of the Tea Party, she is in a purely dictatorial position.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's an urgency

While making supper one recent evening, trying to keep tabs on the frying pan of meat as well as the pot of boiling noodles, I was interrupted by not just one, but both of my children. They have such uncanny timing.

"Mom. Mom." Sydney called from the living room.

"Mom," AJ called from my bedroom, where he was watching TV.

"Mom," Sydney repeated, "I need help."

"Mom," AJ again called from my bedroom.

"Hang on AJ." I made the decision that Sydney sounded more desperate.

"Mom, I broke it, but it was an accident," Sydney said.

"Mom," AJ called for the third time. Patience is not one of his strong points.

"Mom, it was an accident," Sydney repeated.

By this point I'd reached her, only to see that a toy of AJ's that easily snaps together, had unsnapped. Not a problem at all.

I headed to the bedroom as AJ again called, "Mom!"

I finally reaching the bedroom door. AJ was laying on my bed watching Sponge Bob on TV. Right at that moment Squidward was storming across the screen, obviously frustrated by something Sponge Bob had just said or done.

"What is it?" I asked.

"How long is it until November 28th?"

Knowing that I had a pot of noodles on the verge of boiling over, I clenched my fists, rolled my eyes and headed for the kitchen, no doubt mimicking the cartoon cephalopod I'd just witnessed.

I called over my shoulder, "About 1o months."

Once supper was safely in the oven, my curiosity got the best of me. I returned to my room and asked, "Why do you need to know when November 28th is?"

"Because there's going to be an awesome new Sponge Bob on November 28th."

"Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all." I told myself.

Jeff had joined me by this point. "Do you mean January 28th?" he asked.

At last AJ looked sheepish. "Yeah, I guess January 28th."

And the children wonder why I sometimes wear my iPod while cooking dinner.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Slide - splash - slide - splash

Ask anyone on AJ's team what the best part of the Silver Bay hockey jamboree was, and I think it's a safe bet their answer wouldn't have anything to do with hockey. The highlight, of course, was staying at a hotel with a swimming pool.

The wading pool with a frog slide, which had been pretty intimidating to Sydney last year, kept her busy for a very, very long time.

The hotel also has a large slide, and in fact has measured it out and created a contest. Apparently, 48 trips down the big slide equals a mile. I think Sydney slid the equivalent of a mile going down the frog's tongue.

Not only was the wading pool fun, it gave her a valid excuse to avoid the colder water and much more loud and crowded conditions in the big pool.

Which was fine with me. The water in the wading pool seemd at least ten degrees warmer than it had been last year, allowing me to sit on the sidelines with just my feet in the water, as opposed to having to fully immerse myself in the big pool to help her swim. A little later, she happily joined me in the hot tub.
It's kind of nice that her tastes in swimming activities so far are remarkably similar to mine.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spills and thrills

The downside of becoming a better, faster skater is that when you go down, you go down hard.

It's only because he wasn't hurt, that I can marvel at the photo below. AJ had been racing into the corner after the puck. I focused the camera and clicked, expecting a great action shot. In the split-second time delay of my digital camera actually capturing the picture, the scene changed dramatically. AJ wiped out and crashed into the boards, creating a booming sound that echoed through the arena.

And then he got right back up, totally oblivious to the scare he'd just given us. Thank goodness for helmets and pads.

At the end of the game, each child got "just a medal" (ever since AJ got a trophy at the end of last season, any other award seems trivial to him.) I have to wonder if the tradition of hockey players banging their sticks on the ice as a show of enthusiasm - got its start at the Mite level.

As the announcer called out each player's name and number to come forward to get their medal, all the players happily banged away with their sticks. What fun to use your hockey stick to make as much noise as possible! The show of good sportsmanship was just an added bonus.

AJ almost missed when it was his turn to go forward. "Number 3, Alex," the announcer called. I don't think AJ pays much attention to jersey numbers, and in hockey, everyone still calls him AJ. But eventually he figured it out.
He must have liked the medal more than he thought he would. Once we got home, he stripped off all his hockey gear, but I noticed he continued to wear the medal around his neck.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back at full strength

As mentioned in the last blog post, it's tough to keep a good man down. AJ proved that this weekend. One day after coming home sick from school, he was on the ice with the rest of his team, playing hockey in the Silver Bay Jamboree.

I'd debated what to do on Friday. The kids were so excited to go to a motel, they'd have been more upset about missing that than the tournament. So I figured, as long as AJ was done throwing up, we'd at least make the trip and then play it by ear on whether he'd have the energy to play.

I needn't have worried. AJ woke up Saturday, at a normal size breakfast and then asked for more. Clearly, his stomach had settled and his appetite returned.

He played in two games Saturday, returning to the bench after each 2-minute shift and giving his coach an update on how many goals and assists he'd scored. (For the record, he had one assist in the first game, and a goal and two assists in game two.)

At lunch, in between games, he snarfed down a quarter-pound size cheeseburger. By evening, he was running around the pool area like a crazy child, along with the rest of his team.

Yes, he's doing just fine.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sick day

You can't keep a good man down. Isn't that how the saying goes? That may be true, but it seems the fear of throwing up can keep even the toughest kid planted firmly on the couch.

This morning AJ didn't have much of an appetite, but other than that acted fine, so off to school he went. About an hour later I got a phone call. You just know it can't be good when you get a call that starts like this: "Hi, is this AJ's mom? This is his school nursing calling."

She went on to say that AJ had just thrown up. So I roused Sydney out of bed and off we headed to retrieve my sick kindergartner.

When we reached the nurse's office, I found him sitting with an ice cream bucket in his lap and a dazed look on his face.

"How are you doing?" I asked.

"Not so well," he answered with all the melodrama he could muster.

According to the nurse, AJ had told his teacher he had a tummy ache. He was on his way to the nurse when he vomited in the hallway. He walked into the office with a horrified look on his face and explained, "I've never done that in my entire life." (He's close to accurate on that. The only other time he's thrown up was as a toddler, so he wouldn't remember.)

Over the course of the morning his stomach seemed to settle, so I took him with Sydney and I as we set off on a couple of errands.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Driving home he threw up again. At least I'd been smart enough to pack a bucket for him, so there was little mess to clean up.

Sydney looked quite concerned as she noted, "AJ, you're leaking"

We made it home and I directed AJ to the couch to take it easy. As the afternoon wore on, he complained of being hungry, but no matter what I offered, he refused, for fear of throwing up again. I finally convinced him to try a small bowl of soup. He did so begrudgingly, but only after positioning a "throw up bucket" right next to himself.

Considering he told me that his favorite friend in school, who sits at the same table as AJ, wasn't in class today; I'm fairly certain I know where AJ caught this latest stomach bug. Let's just hope it leaves as quickly as it arrived. AJ is supposed to play in an out-of-town hockey tournament this weekend. We'll have to see if he's up for it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More Christmas memories

I just realized a post I'd started several weeks ago never got finished. Must be something to do with the craziness of the holidays. So let's take a trip down memory lane...

Our early Christmas continued on the Sunday before Christmas with a breakfast for Jeff (whose work schedule will keep him from joining us) and lunch with my Dad's side of the family.

But before we got started, Sydney had to share a few moments with her "uncle" Dudley. (Is that the appropriate relation, since we jokingly refer to my parents' dog as their fourth child?)

After church, we headed to McDonalds where the kids ran and climbed around the Playland, and even took a few bites of breakfast. Next they helped Daddy unwrap his Christmas gifts.

Next up on our over-eating tour, we headed to my uncle and aunt's home for the annual Larson family gathering. There we forced the kids to pose for the annual "cousins" photo. (I remember doing this with my cousins on the steps of my uncle and aunt's previous home when I was little.)

Another relationship question... are the children of cousins considered second cousins? Or first cousins once removed? Regardless, Sydney and her (whatever the exact term is) cousin Lily bonded right away. This is the first year Sydney has wanted to play with people, rather than simply by their side. It was adorable to watch Sydney and Lily walk through the house holding hands. The next day Sydney asked if someday she could play with her new friend Lily again.
Another special moment came when I got to meet my new (whatever the exact relation is - he's the son of my cousin) Sawyer for the first time.

This not-so-little guy (My arm ached after holding him. How have I so quickly forgotten how heavy babies can be?) is quite a fighter and has overcome some incredible odds to be with us this Christmas. A lot of people say Christmas is the season of miracles, but Sawyer is proof that miracles happen all year long.

Sydney time

Behold the magic of a bright orange tent. When you're three and a half, (and quite possibly when you're older than that) any game or activity instantly becomes more fun when played inside a secret fort.

Monday night I could hear bursts of giggles coming from the tent. I looked over just in time to see a piece of popcorn come flying out from behind one of the flaps, only to be quickly gobbled up by a very attentive golden retriever. Whatever the game was, Maggie loved it.

As I grabbed my camera and tried to focus on the ever shaking and shifing tent, the game changed. Suddenly the rules apparently were to peak out at Mom for as long as possible without ever letting her actually get a decent photo.

It took about a dozen tries, but eventually I timed it right.

Sydney's been full of charm the last few days... and nights. For some reason she's woken up each of the last two nights. Once awake, she just wants to snuggle. And engage in girl talk.

Sunday night was the worst. Awake at 2:45, she didn't fall back asleep until almost 6:15. I tried laying down with her in her bed. Eventually, to show I was ignoring her, I rolled over on my side so that my back was to her. She tapped me on the shoulder in protest and said, "but Mommy, I want your other side."

By 4:30 a.m., I brought her into our bed so that I could be there when the alarm went off. She laid there quietly but didn't fall asleep. Once it was time for me to get up, I left her there with Jeff. About the time I was stepping out of the shower, Jeff came in to use the bathroom. It was right then I heard a terrified cry from our darkened room. I rushed to the bed to calm down Sydney and asked her what was wrong.

She wailed, "Nobody was here to find me."

If she keeps this up, maybe I'll let her sleep in the orange tent. Perhaps it's magical powers will keep her asleep all through the night.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ice princess

Am I really surprised?

My stubborn young offspring (the female version) has set her mind to something and seems determined to prove me wrong.

One day after suggesting that hockey isn't going to be her sport, Sydney has talked of little else. And so tonight while AJ skated at hockey practice, Sydney got in some practice time of her own.

With a balance bar to help her stay upright, there was no stopping her. Back and forth we went around the "little rink". She impressed me not only by how naturally she started pushing off with her skates, but also by her positive attitude. The few times she fell, she'd grin and say, "That's okay. I can do it." And then she'd pull herself up and start off again.

I was also happy with her willingness to keep going, with no whining about how cold it was outside. The temperature was in the single digits.

"I'm doing it Mom," she'd tell me again and again.

I'm holding strong on the "no pink skates" policy. She can continue wearing AJ's hand-me-downs. But if she keeps this up, she just may earn herself a pink helmet.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ice, ice, baby

Perhaps hockey isn't going to be Sydney's sport.

When I heard there was free skating this afternoon at the new Amsoil Arena, I thought what a great chance for AJ to skate where the Bulldog hockey team now calls home. And when I discovered AJ's old skates fit Sydney, I knew this was an opportunity we couldn't pass up.

Sydney was plenty excited when I told them the plan this morning. (Nothing like a little implied bribery to inspire good behavior at church.) Her enthusiasm waned slightly when she spotted AJ's used hockey skates on the kitchen table. "Mo-om," she protested, "but I wanted pink skates."

She also was quick to question why she didn't get to wear elbow pads and a helmet like her brother. It's all about the gear, I guess. I placated her with one of AJ's old hockey jerseys, and at last we were ready to go.

She did a pretty good job walking on the skates from the locker room to the rink. And she even giggled a bit for the first few seconds we were on the ice. And then we went down. She landed on her knees. I landed on my rear. Less than four feet from the entrance.

Whose idea was it to attempt her skating debut on a very public, Division 1 hockey rink?

We got up and slowly made our way down the ice. I held on to Sydney under her arm pits, pushing her along. To her credit, Sydney quickly figured out that it worked better to lean forward, but there was a lot of wobbling and flailing of legs.

By this point, AJ was literally skating circles around us, encouraging Sydney to take his hand. I suggested we stop for the obligatory photo opp.

And down she went again.

And again.

At last she gained her balance, but by this point she'd had enough.

It didn't help that AJ spotted Champ the Bulldog skating around the rink. Of course he wanted his picture taken with him. I had to set Sydney in the entryway to the announcer's box, so that I could snap a photo of AJ.
Poor Sydney sat cowering in fear. Santa Claus may have risen to "Good Guy" level in her opinion, but apparently big furry mascots remain on the scary list.
Sydney and I completed two full laps of the rink before she declared she needed to rest. Thank goodness we happened to run into an old army wife friend who kept an eye on Sydney so that I could skate a bit more with AJ.
I continue to be amazed at AJ's progress on skates. He raced around like he owned the place. I could still beat him in a race, but his confidence level knows no end. So perhaps there's still hope for Sydney. It was just two winters ago that AJ was at her level, and look at his comfort level now.

By evening, Sydney was again expressing interest in skating. This could be a good thing. There's a small rink next to the warming house at the Esko hockey complex. While AJ's at hockey practice, Mommy and Sydney could lace up and do some practicing of our own.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What's new?

Happy 1-1-11!

Our new year is off to a good start. We enjoyed crab legs for dinner - our traditional New Year's Eve meal a day late. AJ is gettting more capable at cracking his own shells, which is nice because it means we can spend more time eating and less time helping him. It also provides an abundance of photo opportunities.

Earlier in the day the kids kept busy doing arts and crafts. I was pleasantly surprised... correct that... I was downright amazed by how quietly they played this morning, allowing Jeff to get some much needed sleep.

Sydney's masterpiece, she explained, is called a fairy tale. She added a skull and cross bones sticker to it, she told me, because pirates are cool. This burst of crayon creativity followed earlier work with paint, paper shapes, glue sticks and glitter.

AJ, meanwhile, set to work with construction paper, scissors and glue. And a little bit of tape. Midway through his project he pleaded, "I need tape to fix something."
Sydney immediately piped up, "I need a little tape, too, to fix something."
When you're three, is there anything as fun as Scotch tape?
AJ seems to be exploring his interests in architecture. Those are houses he's working on, though who he's planning on giving them to keeps changing. First they were for me, then Jeff. Most recently he's decided to bring them to school next week and give them to his teacher.

And that would be just fine with me. One of my resolutions this year is to reduce the clutter in our house. (Not to say his artwork is clutter, but I have more than enough samples of his work to inflict on his future wife some day.)
One thing was evident watching the kids' creativity today. I should have no trouble keeping this blog going in 2011, because they certainly have no shortage of imagination.