Monday, May 30, 2011

And then there were six

If the punchline weren't so adorable, I'd suggest it sounds like the start of a joke: What do you get when you put a Finn in a room full of Swedes?

a: A brunette and five blonds
b: Six Larson grand kids
c: All of the above

The correct answer, of course, is all of the above. This past weekend, the kids got to meet their newest cousin, Finn David Larson. He's a pretty amazing little guy - wide awake and perfectly content despite being passed around to a whole lot of people who all wanted to hold him.

There's something so precious about a tiny baby. Even young kids (i.e. my children) seem to instinctively know they must be gentle while holding something so small.

And then... just like that... they revert back to their wild and goofy selves.

Wild and goofy? I wonder where they could have learned that?

The good news for Zane in all of this is my kids finally seem ready to call him by just his name. Up until now he's always been Baby Zane to them, (no matter that he's become an extremely active toddler.) Now they can attach the "Baby" title to a new guy. Welcome to the family, Baby Finn.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Technically, AJ's still a kindergartener for eight more days, but in his mind, he's ready for first grade. He has, afterall, now gone through a graduation ceremony with the rest of the class of... get ready to feel old... 2023.

With Pomp and Circumstance playing through the auditorium speakers, the kids marched onto the stage wearing special caps and corsages. Peering out into the audience, AJ happily waved when he discovered us sitting there.

As part of the ceremony, each child stepped to the microphone and introduced themself, then listed their favorite thing about kindergarten, and their ultimate career goal.

A cop? This from the child who for the longest time aspired to be President, and then a month or so ago changed his mind to instead be a General. Now he wants to be a cop?

I asked him when he changed his mind. "At the first practice," he informed me. "I decided I wanted to be Dad." (And no, that's not a typo. He didn't say he wanted to be like his Dad. He's wants to be his Dad.)

The kids also sang a bunch of songs. Below is AJ's favorite. I've been listening to him practice it for weeks.

At the end, each child got a diploma (which AJ revealed later to me was "a fake".)

And then they recessed out, once again to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance. It'll be interesting to look back at these pictures in 12 years. How many of these kids will still be together wearing real caps and gowns when that music plays again. I managed to make it through this ceremony without needing a kleenex. I wonder if I'll be as composed in 2023.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Graveside ceremony

There's a tradition in my family that I've managed to avoid most of my adult life. It's the annual trip to the cemetery to clean up around family grave stones. My parents and my sister's family faithfully pay their respects each year, but - quite honestly - I can't remember the last time I joined them.

Lately, however, AJ has been asking a lot about cemeteries, and specifically my uncle who was killed in the Korean War. So this year, we made it a priority to travel down to the cities and take part.

Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate with the one brief window of time that seemed to fit every one's schedule. And so we stood and worked in the rain. At least AJ got to see what he'd come for - the headstone of Grandma's brother.

I have to confess much of my willingness to help was motivated not by respect for the dead, but rather to speed up the process so we could get out of the rain. Sydney didn't seem to mind too much. Her jacket somehow disappeared over the course of the day, so she stood in Daddy's oversized coat, which added a certain novelty to the occasion. And there were flowers involved, so what could be more fun?

We got through it, and despite the miserable weather I think it was an important experience for my kids. Though I admit it also reminded me why I'd prefer to be cremated.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Play ball!

The late Bob Lemon, former baseball player and manager (I had to look it up), is quoted as saying, "Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up."

I'd say that was the case in my front yard Wednesday night, though the kids didn't seem to mind.

Our friends Addie and Lily stopped over to pick up their tables left over from last weekend's garage sale. AJ managed to convince Addie to do what he'd been trying to talk me into all evening - play baseball with him. 

The problem is, when you only have two players (Sydney and Lily were happier hosting a tea party inside the house), as soon as someone gets on base, you're out of batters. And so Jess and I joined in the fun.

The make up of each team changed constantly. For a while it was AJ against everyone. Then it was kids versus grown-ups (or so I thought until Jess scored a run for the kids' team.) I did my best to minimize my role. My flip flop sandals weren't my smartest choice for footware.

Bottom line, the kids had such a great time it was hard for Jess to pull Addie away. And once they left, AJ managed to recruit two neighbor kids so the game could continue.

Some of my best memories of my neighborhood and neighbor kids in Brooklyn Center center around the pick-up games of baseball, kickball and hot box. Sometimes we played in the field across the street from our house, sometimes in the field behind us (neither of which exist anymore), but mostly it was in our front yard. It's the national past time brought down to a very local level, and it's the stuff that memories are made of.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The dreaded drops

This was supposed to be the easy eye doctor appointment. Just a quick vision test and we'd be on our way. No eye drops needed.

In the past, that's how it's always worked. An appointment every six months. One involves drops, the other doesn't. AJ had to endure drops at the last appointment, so this should have been a quick visit. AJ's sought constant reassurance ever since hearing about the appointment, asking me repeatedly... last night, this morning, on the way into the eye doctor's office... "Do I need to get drops?"

"I don't think so," was my answer each time.

Physician Assistant #1 did a quick vision test. "Do I need to get drops?" was all AJ wanted to know. Correction - that's the question he asked the most. He also wanted to know what the eyeball model on the counter was for, and what happened to the racetrack game that used to decorate the wall, and when did he get to put the bird on the doctor's nose (a trick to get him to sit still and focus his eyes in one direction), and what was the black thing on the counter that looked like a hockey puck, and on and on he chattered.

Incidentally, P.A. #1 told him she didn't think he needed drops since he'd gotten them the last time. She also managed to squeeze in a question to AJ. "Are you having any problems with your eyes?"

I was about to answer no for him, but AJ spoke first, "Just one thing."

That was news to me.

"And what problem is that?" she asked.

Rubbing his eyes as if to demonstrate, AJ answered, "Sometimes I get something in my eyes, and it kind of pokes."

That is a problem all right.

And then the doctor and Physician Assistant #2 arrived. "Do I need to get drops? was the first thing out of AJ's mouth.

"Well, we'll see," the doctor answered. "I don't think so."

But then, as AJ struggled through the vision test it became painfully clear. Yes, he needed drops. His vision has changed significantly enough that he needs a new prescription.

AJ started whimpering, and even my reminders of how brave he'd been the last time didn't calm him. P.A #2 took his cues from me, emphasizing that if he's six now, then surely he must be braver than when he was five. Finally, I spoke the magic words.

"AJ, if you can get through this without crying, we'll get some ice cream afterward."

It wasn't enough to relax him, but he settled down enough for P.A. #2 to successfully go two for two getting the drops in his eyes on the first try.

As proud as I am of AJ, I must admit I'm a bit nervous about our next visit. That's because the patient next time isn't going to be AJ, it'll be Sydney. At her 3-year check-up, and again at her preschool screening, she was disinterested enough in the vision test that neither could conclusively determine if her eyesight is okay. She isn't suffering from lazy eye, which was what first tipped us off that AJ had a problem, but considering the history of bad vision in her gene pool, we figure it's better to be safe than sorry.

And so I made an appointment for her. It'll be next month, a few days after her birthday. AJ, of course, had just one question. "Does Sydney have to get drops?"

Yes, she most likely will. As we departed, the eye doctor's parting words to AJ were a warning. "Don't scare your sister about the drops."

Yeah... this next visit is going to be interesting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Snippets of prayer

Dear Jesus, please help me not to laugh at bedtime as the children say their prayers to you.

Among the praise from AJ last night: "Thank you for making animals for us to kill and eat..."

A little later, his favorite plea, "And please let it be 70 degrees tomorrow."

Sydney started off her prayer as she often does, correcting herself without ever missing a beat: "Thank you for my Mom, and thank you for my Dad, and thank you for my brother and thank you for Maggie and thank you for... oh yeah... Maggie's dead. And thank you for Spike, and..."

Is there anything more honest than a child's prayer?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stop bugging your sister!

It's hard to decide which is more annoying: the tiny (less than a quarter-inch long) black bug that took flight inside our mini-van, or the six-year-old boy who couldn't resist pointing it out to his sister.

Driving home from church Sunday, AJ noticed what looked to me like a very small beetle flying across the interior of our new vehicle.

"Mom, there's a bug in here," he called out.

Looking back, I couldn't see anything so, to keep the peace, I calmly answered, "that happens sometimes."

"Where is it?" Sydney asked.

"I don't know," I answered, adding a well-intentioned lie, "maybe it already flew away."

"No," AJ assured her, "it's over by your window."

That's all Sydney needed to hear. "I don't like bugs," she declared in a clearly panicked voice.

"You're fine," I told her as I at last spotted the bug on the window just behind her head.

"Where is it?" Sydney asked again. By now her voice was almost a whimper.

And then the ultimate horror. The bug took flight and landed (gasp, gasp) on her hand.

Sydney let out a shriek that evolved into a high pitched sob, frantically waving her arms.

"It's on you, Sydney, it's on you," AJ helpfully updated her.

More screams of terror. Sydney continued flailing her arms as she attempted to twist in her tightly-buckled car seat.

"AJ, keep quiet. Sydney, it's okay," I tried to calm her as I unhooked my seat belt to try and climb back to her. By now the bug was nowhere to be seen. It definitely wasn't on her hand anymore, though where it landed I have no idea.

Eventually Sydney's cries calmed again to whimpers. Just in time for AJ to ask in a concerned voice, "Does your skin itch now, Sydney?"

"Enough!" Jeff and I shouted in unison.

AJ definitely knows how to bug his sister. The thing is, I don't think that's his intent. Yet. (I'm sure it will be soon enough.) Hopefully, by then, Sydney will learn not to give him such an easy target

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's out-a here!

Garage sale 2011 is behind us. As hectic as the last two weeks of preparation have been (gotta love those last minute decisions to hold one), I think I prefer it to last year when we spent more than a month pulling it together. And now it's Monday and I can finally relax... by going back to work.

Friday's weather was perfect and the crowds turned out in huge numbers. AJ was quite disappointed he couldn't skip school for the event. While waiting for his bus, he did his best to sell what I think was one of my old stuffed toys.

He held up the 10-cent treasure to two older women and said, "Isn't this an adorable puppy?"

The women gave him a nice smile, but didn't seem particularly interested. Thinking quickly, AJ held the toy by it's long floppy ears, "Or it could be a bunny."

Amazingly, the puppy/bunny is still with us.

Sydney alternated between befriending and playing with children while their parents shopped... and doing her best to scare them away. "That's mine," I heard her tell one little girl. "You can't have it."

As she tap danced around the driveway in a pair of lovely black new-to-her shoes that likely will fit her next Christmas, I desperately wanted to tape a sign to her back reading, "I've been outside all day. Her daddy dressed her."

All in all, we did quite well. We didn't earn as much as last year, but sold a much larger percentage of the stuff we put out there. And that's the best part of all - much less to bring back inside. I am down to just one bin of boys clothes for sizes newborn through 4T, and three bins of girls clothes. At the end of the sale, I commented that I'll never again say never to a garage sale, but it'll likely be at least a year before I'll have enough stuff to do another one.

But then we decided to continue our decluttering efforts yesterday. Looking around, I couldn't help but notice the various "to be sorted" piles that seem to be popping up (and falling over) everywhere. Jeff and I hunkered down and cleared out a whole lot more. Much of it's paperwork that's now in the recycling bin or will be used to kindle our next bonfire. But there were lots of little kid toys, books and puzzles. And that's just from one room. In other words, garage sale 2012 is looking more and more likely.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Three years old. Imagine that!

It was three years ago today I finally stopped thinking, "I should start a blog sometime so I can write down all the cute things my kids say." And finally did it. (Thank you, Jess, for getting me started!)

Three years and 925 stories inspired by my kids' awesome imaginations.

My, how they've changed. To take a look back at some of their earliest stories, check out the archive section on the right and click on the triangles next to the year and/or month to expand the list. To see AJ's first appearance on the blog, you can click here. For Sydney, click here.

I've always written this blog with three audiences in mind: family/friends, myself and, eventually, my kids. I hope someday they will appreciate looking back. (Especially considering I've pretty much stopped scrapbooking since starting this blog.)  Hopefully they won't find it embarrassing.

Last night, as I was writing this, AJ came over to see what I was doing. He wondered what I meant when I said, as I've done many times before, "I need to take your picture for the blog." And so I let him see the pictures, and read to him a few of the stories from May 2008.

He laughed and asked to see a few more.

And that's all the encouragement I need to continue doing this.

Here's to many more years of inspiring imaginations!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How great thou art

AJ apparently has never heard the term "starving artist." In his never-ending quest for money, he seems to think his best shot at income is through art. Reliable sources (here's a hint: the husband of AJ's teacher works with Jeff) tell us that AJ has been attempting to sell his art projects to his classmates for $2 each.

So far, he's earned a quarter, paid by his teacher who found his efforts charming.

She could have saved her money. AJ is equally happy to give her his masterpieces. "Look at the spider I made for Mrs. Boese," he said, showing me a creation made from pipe cleaners and a pom pom.

Note, the photo above is the good one. The one below he needed me to re-take. "Oh wait," he said, rotating his sculpture a half turn. "That side was its butt."

How did I not recognize that?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Old news

Bear with me today... I'm veering off from my normal topic of my kids to write about an evening filled with old friends. Denny Anderson is retiring this month, and the station hosted a party in his honor. What fun to see so many dear friends after so many years.

Back row L-R: Deb Anderson, Julie Moravchik, Lisa Neitzel, Pam Fish, Colleen Mahoney, Sarah Kemp Front row: me, Dennis Anderson, Sue Sayovitz
I was 23 years old when I started at the station. Moving to Duluth for this job was my first time living on my own. In many ways I grew up with the people in this picture, discovering who I am and who I wanted to be.

They shared in so many of the defining moments of my life: I met Jeff while reporting a story. When he proposed to me live on the air, many of them had been in on the secret, helping set me up for the wonderful surprise. And when Jeff and I got married, it was Denny who officiated the service, with just about every one of these lovely ladies sitting in the church and sharing in our joy. 

Deb... who I heard stories about long before we ever met because, coincidentally, her father and my great uncle were best friends.
Julie... who job shadowed me for a day before later being hired as a fellow reporter, leading to a friendship that's lasted more than 15 years. 
Lisa... how many weekends did we spend in her "Barbie car"? I still think of her each time I hear Alanis Morrisette sing Jagged little pill.
Pam... I learned more from her than she'll ever realize. Pam forced me to be a better reporter, simply because I wanted to make sure I could answer her questions. She also set such a wonderful example of balancing career and motherhood. 
Colleen... I've known her the longest of all... dating back to our senior year at the U of M, going through the broadcast program and putting together the weekly "University Report."
Sarah... We started at the station a week a part, but she wised up faster than the rest of us and has been out of the business the longest.
Denny... How do you sum him up in a few sentences? He's a legend, whether he wants to be or not. More importantly, he is a dear, dear man, and I'm honored to call him a friend.
Sue... Once Denny retires, she'll be the only one in our group left at the station. We didn't like each other at first (jealousy over a guy), but later became good friends and volleyball teammates. Her son and AJ now go to the same school and are a grade a part. It amazes me how our lives and friendship have evolved.

What an honor to be part of this group, and to be allowed to join in the tributes to Denny. He is channel 10 - not just the face of the news department, but the very heart and soul.

Some people refer to working in small market TV as paying your dues. It's hard work and long hours for very little pay. But I also recall a college professor who told me to savor the time, because it would be the most fun I'd ever have as a reporter. Not that I have larger market experience to compare it to, but I believe she was right. In small market TV, most people are fairly new to the profession and still have an idealistic enthusiasm to - as another professor once taught - comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It was an exciting and fun job most of the time, with Denny always there... part dad, part teacher to us all.

I have absolutely no desire to return to the TV news business, but in the same breath let me add, I wouldn't have missed the experience for anything. Enjoy your retirement, Denny!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Not so smooth sale-ing

I'm pretty sure I vowed last year I'd never again hold a garage sale. They're so much work. And yet here I am again, frantically identifying "treasures" to offer up to others for a tenth of their value, slapping prices on them left and right while trying to figure out sources for tables to display them and signs to direct bargain hunters our way.

Complicating it all: two children who have drastically different views of what the garage sale represents.  

AJ is seeing only dollar signs and would sell everything in his room if we let him. He wants a $20 bill to put in his wallet and will do whatever it takes to earn one. What he doesn't understand is that an item is only worth as much as someone else is willing to pay for it. If you zoom in on the picture above, you'll see a $3 price tag he stuck on a Happy Meal toy. Good luck with that, my boy!

Sydney, meanwhile, doesn't want to get rid of anything. Sandals that are too small, toys she's never played with, all are suddenly treasured possessions from which she can't bear to part. Note the stuffed pig she's clutching tightly in the picture. At the risk of offending whoever gave it to us, I will admit, neither of my children have ever paid it even a moment of attention. Until now.

"That's mine, Mommy. Don't sell my pig."

"You've never played with this pig, Sydney."

"Yes I have," she insisted.

"Sydney, it's an ugly pig. And no, you have never played with it," I told her.

"It's my ugly pig. Don't sell it."

The sale is scheduled for Friday. I still have a lot of items to price. I suspect I will be doing the bulk of the work after the kids' bedtime.

It's going to be an interesting week.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

One more run with Maggie

Any runner will tell you the sport is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. For me, Saturday, as I pounded my way along a five-mile route, the run became spiritual.

I started out thinking about Maggie, and quickly realized she was right there with me every step of the way, tugging on an imaginary leash and pulling me along. She ran as she always did, about ten steps ahead of me, tail held high, contentedly wagging side to side. Every so often I could see her turn back, tongue happily hanging from her mouth as she panted encouragement to me to keep going.

And it worked. I finished in 44:17. Lately I've been happy to run a 9:15 mile. Saturday, with Maggie's help, I maintained an 8:53/mile pace for five miles.

Maggie always was my best running partner and trainer. These pictures are from 2003, while Jeff was in Bosnia. The significance of the timer in the above photo is it's displaying we ran two miles in 15:54. We'd broken the 8-minute mile mark.

Maggie never learned how to pace herself, which is what made her the best kind of running partner. A two or three mile run was a piece of cake for her. She'd start out fast, forcing me to pick up my pace to try and keep up. Tugs on the leash and pleas to slow down generally didn't sway her. She had far too much energy and enthusiasm, and it was my job to match it. If I remember right, our fastest time ever was 15:37 for a two mile run. (The mean black dog that chased us the last half mile probably deserves some of the credit for our speed, but we did it.)

It used to be if Maggie saw me in running clothes, she'd start dancing around, knowing I'd be grabbing the leash soon and calling for her. How I loved that special time with her!

Friday, I'd also gone running, and happened to see a woman running with her dog. I watched them with a mix of jealousy and bitterness, knowing I would never again be able to share this experience with my best running partner. Little did I know at the time, Maggie had just a couple hours left to live.

And so when she showed up for my run Saturday, I took it as a sign. Either God or Maggie wanted me to know that Maggie is happy and whole again. Her pain is gone. It doesn't ease my pain of missing her, but it eases my mind. Despite the comforting words I've told the kids (and myself these last few days), I've never really believed animals could go to Heaven. Now, I'm not so sure.

Note that I did not title this "One last run with Maggie". If she wants to join me again, she's always welcome. Since one of the things I enjoy about running is the time it gives me to think, I'm sure my running buddy will be in my thoughts a lot. But if this was her last time with me, I'll understand. I'll assume it means she's found happier trails to follow filled with an endless supply of tennis balls to chase. She is at peace. And so am I.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Farewell, sweet Maggie

Our Maggie is gone. Beautiful, happy, loyal Mag-dog, Mag-girl, Maggie-puppy. My sweet, sweet baby! She no longer hurts. She no longer is trapped in a cancer-crippled body that prevents her from running and doing all the things she couldn't understand why we limited her from attempting.

I woke up this morning wishing it was all just a dream. But one look at the blood spatters on my pants, and my puffy-eyed reflection in the mirror, and I knew I needn't worry about tripping over Maggie as I headed into the bathroom. Nor would I find her in her favorite sleeping pose: on her back with legs sprawled in whichever direction gravity took them in the corner of our room by my side of the bed. The scratched paint - from her claws when she would awkwardly try to right herself - will likely be there awhile. But Maggie is gone forever.

Last night she developed a severe nose bleed. If you've never seen a dog with a bloody nose, count yourself lucky. It's horrifying and messy, because it's impossible to get the dog to lay still for you to apply an ice pack, and the only way the dog knows to clear her nostrils is to sneeze, which sends blood spraying everywhere.

The vet had warned us that Maggie's cancer would spread to her lungs, so of course we feared the worst. And of course, this all started 45 minutes after our vet's office closed for the weekend. Jeff hustled Maggie outside and did his best to calm her, as I called the emergency vet service in town to see if they could reach our vet - they couldn't - and to ask for advice. They recommended keeping her calm, applying ice if she let us, and then warned it could be a long night.)

A half-hour later, Maggie was no better, and in fact was now occasionally making choking sounds. I called the emergency vet service back and said we were bringing her in. We dropped the kids at friends (Thanks Crystal and Joel!) and headed for what we both seemed to know would be our last trip with her. I drove, while Jeff sat in back trying to calm her. If nothing else, I think Maggie appreciated her final hour was spent with just her "mom and dad."

The emergency vet took out his stethoscope and tried to listen for anything that would help him diagnose what was happening. Maggie did him no favors, alternating between panting and emitting a low growl if he pressed the stethoscope too hard on a sensitive spot.

The vet explained that he had no way of knowing if the cancer had reached her lungs. However, she'd already surpassed the typical osteosarcoma survival rate of three months. He said the cancer also has the ability to affect platelets and her liver's ability to produce whatever is needed to help blood to clot.

Having watched Maggie's reaction to the gentle nudges of his stethoscope, we knew we didn't want her poked and prodded any longer. And so with a shaky hand I signed the consent form to have her euthanized.

We stayed with her throughout, petting her, letting her lick our hands, telling her ridiculously false words of comfort like, "It's okay. You're okay."

It's not okay.  She'll never be okay. And we're left to grieve and try to comfort two grieving children who have never known life without her.

I cannot say enough good things about how kind and sensitive the vet and his staff were. They gave us our choice to stay with Maggie or not, and what to do with her remains (we chose cremation and they can dispose of her ashes.) They didn't rush us and left us to say our goodbyes before they returned to start the process. They explained what they were doing each step of the way, and when it was over, they again left us to cry and spend a few final moments with the dog who brought so much joy into our lives.

Maggie seemed happy right up until the end (other than her brief sneezing fits.) She was with the two people she loved most and was the sole focus of our attention. In some ways that made it easier, but it also made it harder. I have no doubt it was her ever-enthusiastic spirit that kept her with us this long. I now have to believe she has a soul and it is in a better place, running free, chasing a ball and mooching popcorn and any other treat she can get tossed her way.

We told the kids she's in heaven with Maddie. It my very liberal interpretation of the verse about no tears in Heaven. Doesn't that mean that everything and every creature who brings us joy will be there?

There were a lot of tears from the kids last night. I feel guilty for not giving them the chance to say goodbye, but at the same time know it would have been horribly unfair to have asked my friends to have watched two children who were just starting to grieve. I also wish I'd waited until we were back in the car to have broken the news to them, instead of creating the sobbing scene as we tried to leave our friends' house. I knew AJ would be devastated, but was surprised by Sydney's level of grief and understanding.

And so now we are a house with just a cat. Poor Spike is wondering what's going on. She always had a love/hate relationship with Maggie, and suddenly Maggie isn't here to annoy her, and in her place are two kids who want to shower her with all their love and affection, something she has never appreciated.

We will definitely get another dog, and right now are thinking it'd be best to get two. Jeff has said he needs some time, so we're telling the kids we'll wait until after our vacation in July, and then adopt. Those puppies are going to have some enormous paws to fill!

I know, with time, the tears will stop and the pain will ease. Someday the sight of chewed up tennis balls, the no-longer-needed dog food scoop, and leftover soft cat food that Maggie was always happy to finish... someday those things will inspire happy memories. I know this is the inevitable outcome of life, and I accept it and will no doubt repeat it, because when weighing this grief versus the 10+ years of joy Maggie gave us, the joy wins.

Farewell, sweet Maggie. Thank you for the happiness. We will never forget you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Muppet show

No one will ever accuse the music teachers at AJ's school of being unambitious. I may have lost track, but I think we just sat through our third concert of the year. This time it was a Muppet/Sesame Street theme. Sixteen songs (two for each grade, grades K-6, plus two songs that all the kids sang together.) That's a whole lot of Muppet music.

I'm guessing the sixth graders weren't as enthusiastic about the theme as the kindergartners. One of the songs AJ's class sang was the Ernie and Bert classic, "Rubber Duckie." Of course the highlight of the song for the kids was when they all got to squeeze their little toy ducks.

Their other song was the theme from Elmo's World. Here's a portion. (Pardon the shakiness midway through. Jeff didn't realize I was shooting right over his shoulder and accidentally knocked the camera.)

It's only taken three concerts and two class performances, but I finally learned an important lesson. As soon as the note came home encouraging the kids to wear a Muppet themed shirt, I turned to e-Bay. No late night sewing sessions or fruitless searches of local stores. (Incidentally, the shirt is so big that if the school ever repeats this theme anytime between now and when AJ graduates, we'll be ready.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Flower finds

Oh, for joy! Finally we have flowers sprouting in our garden. (I can tell right now I will have to make it clear to her that these are the only flowers it's okay to pick to surprise Mommy.)

And once you find one pretty flower, well, you can't stop there. As I continued to clean up after dinner, Sydney ran back outside where AJ and Daddy were playing. A few minutes later she was back, proudly presenting me with another one.

As she headed back out for a third time, I suggested she take a small bowl with her. What a great idea! She happily went out in search of more "beautiful flowers." I suspect the boys were ready to come inside before she was.

But then tragedy struck. Somehow she lost her bowl of flowers. I was in another room, and missed the early part of the drama. She figured she'd left the bowl in the garden. But Jeff told her it was too late to go back outside. Bring on the tears!

Because I'd already decided to write about her flower hunting, and needed pictures, too, we bent the rules. And so Mommy and Sydney headed outside in search of the bowl of flowers.

It wasn't in the garden.

It wasn't on the porch.

It wasn't in the garage. 

Finally in defeat we headed inside. And that's when I happened to look in on the bathroom counter. There they were.

"Hey, Sydney," I called. "Did you by chance come inside to go potty and leave your flowers in here?"

Sydney ran into the bathroom, thrilled to find her missing treasure, happily proclaiming, "I found it!"

I warned her they'd be shriveled by morning and suggested we press them instead. She would have none of that! So I waited until after she went to bed and did it then. Thank goodness for heavy leftover college text books. For some reason (before the age of the Internet) I'd figured the biology and geogography text books would be good resources to keep. At least they've finally come to some good use.

And if Sydney happens to remember the flowers and notice they're missing, at least there will be plenty more to pick from. We just need another sunny day and the pretty weeds will be in full bloom.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Happy days

What is it about human nature? We get so caught up in the stress of work and petty, day-to-day annoyances, that we lose sight of the big picture that shows just how good our life really is.

Here's my big picture:

How very, very blessed I am!

I took this photo one evening last week. The weather was fairly nice, Jeff had the night off, and Maggie was doing relatively well. What more could I ever want?

I think I've always done a pretty good job recognizing and savoring the simple moments of fun with my kids, knowing they will grow up all too quickly. For the last three months, I've especially treasured each day - counting each as a bonus - that Maggie remains with us. And now I'm reminded again of lucky I am that Jeff is home with us.

The soldiers in his old unit leave tomorrow for a year-long deployment.

Suddenly Jeff's work schedule doesn't seem so bad. The piles of dirty clothes in the bathroom and by his side of the bed? Who cares? I remember when he was deployed to Bosnia, listening to friends innocently complain about whatever latest annoying thing their husband had done, and thinking to myself, "how I wish Jeff were here to bug me."

So many families will be torn apart for the next year. For some, it is the second and even third time they've been forced to put plans and lives on hold. How lucky I am to have only gone through this once, and never with kids. That raw ache of grief, the stomach-twisting hurt in the center of your being that kills the appetite and blots out your peripheral vision, preventing you from focusing on anything else. While Jeff was away, I couldn't see a "big picture." It consumed my energy just to get through each day.

These are all just distant memories to me, but are painfully real and present for too many of my friends.

How grateful I am that the ones I love most are all within arms' reach. My big picture is beautiful.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The story behind the story

Sure, sure... we've all heard the line that a picture is worth a thousand words. But it's equally true that sometimes a picture just doesn't do justice in portraying a particular scene. Such was the case Saturday night when we tried to get five cousins to sit still for what is likely the last photo before Larson grandchildren #6 enters the fray.

Above is the best of the "good" photos. I'd promised the kids our usual deal: sit nice for a photo, and then we'll take a goofy photo. They've got the crazy poses down to an art form.

But really, that's just part of the story. The far more entertaining portion took place immediately prior to the picture-taking, trying to get all five onto the couch in the first place. Here's a 40-second glimpse of the fun.

... and, Smile!

Sooner or later they'll learn. When cameras come out in this family, it's futile to resist. It's far faster and easier to grin and bear it, and then get back to whatever it was you were doing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Backyard gifts

It's the thought that counts.

The line is cliche, but oh so true. Especially when describing gifts given by children.

One look at the dandelions growing in my parents' back yard and Sydney was on a mission. "I'm picking beautiful flowers, Mom. They're for you."

And if some is good, more is better. Once she finished picking a bouquet for me, she gathered a similar arrangement for my Mom. In the hands of a smiling preschooler, dandelions aren't weeds. They're pretty yellow flowers. In fact, to Sydney, they're far better than the carefully cultivated perennials blooming in the garden, because she knows she can pick the dandelions without fear of getting in trouble.

And where was AJ all this time? Discovering other treasures on the shores of Diamond Lake.

"Mom! I found fish poop!"

"That's pretty exciting," I answered. "Are you sure it's not bird poop?"

"Maybe it is," he conceded. "It's probably goose poop."

He seemed slighly disappointed. Apparently goose poop isn't as rare or exciting as fish poop. But at least it was poop. And when you're six, that's always a fun (and funny) topic to discuss.

AJ next found a stick and started swirling it in the water. To his delight, he managed to stir up some sea weed. and lift it with the stick.

"Mom, look! I caught some sea weed for you!"

Dandelions and sea weed. Happy Mothers Day! What a lucky mom I am.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Royal drama

So much for the idea of living Happily Ever After.

Sydney's fairy tale characters are enduring all sorts of trials and tribulations, lost accessories, and even an unexpected bedtime swim.

It started with the Little Mermaid - the bridal version (standing on the left of the photo above.) Sydney took her in the van while we ran some errands, and by the time we got home, the veil was nowhere to be found. How can you possibly be a fairy princess bride without a veil? It's just a tragedy beyond all imagination.

Since Jeff and AJ were outside playing, I sent Sydney to Daddy to ask if he'd unlock the van door and help her look.

No veil.

Oh, the tears!

So the veil you see on Ariel is Mommy's make-do creativity. By the way, if you happen to see Sydney's tulle/lace head wrap from last year's Olde Worlde Fair and notice it's a tad shorter, don't say anything.

Meanwhile, Snow White's Prince (the guy in the purple) is probably wishing he only had to contend with a poisoned apple. Last night, I told Sydney she needed to go potty before bedtime. She whined for help, even though she's perfectly capable of completing the task on her own. (The lights in the bathroom were off, which tends to inspire her helplessness.) I insisted she could go by herself.

Suddenly a blood curdling scream!

I ran into the bathroom where Sydney stood crying as she tried to flush the toilet.

"What happened?" I asked.

Sydney held up the Prince and Snow White. Through her sobs, not to mention dripping evidence at the scene, I figured it out. She'd accidentally dropped her toys in the toilet. By the time I reached her, she'd already fished them out, getting the sleeve of her nightgown wet in the process.

It can be so hard not to laugh sometimes.

I gently pried Snow White and her Prince from Sydney's wet hands and carried them to the sink. I next got her nightgown off, and washed her hands and arms. I sent her to her room to find new pajamas, while I gave a hot, soapy bath to our unlucky hero and heroine.

Sydney returned a few minutes later, already dressed. Daddy had helped her. I handed her the cleaned toys, and that set off a new set of tears.

"Mommy, Snow White is wet!"

"Yes," I told her, "I had to wash her. She'll dry."

"But Snow White didn't fall in the toilet!" She wailed.

Apparently it was only the prince who'd taken the unexpected dip. Jeff, who had followed Sydney into the bathroom to see what was going on, bent his head and buried it in his elbow to muffle the laughs. Not helping!

"Why don't you go put Snow White and the Prince with the rest of your princesses," I suggested. "By the time you wake up, they'll be dry."

Of course, seeing the other princesses reminded her that Ariel was still wearing a make-shift veil, which set off a new round of tears. It's so hard to deal with hardship when you're three and overly tired.

I promised to take a second look in the van in the morning. That, along with the promise of a good-as-new Snow White who'd be waiting when she awoke, was enough to calm her. And at last my little princess went to sleep.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Holes in his story

Another one bites the dust.

Or perhaps it's more accurate to say another one meets the pavement on the playground.

I'm writing about, if you hadn't guessed, AJ's pants. The third pair in as many weeks now has a gaping hole in the knee. This particular pair is barely a month old!

"I have sharp knees," was AJ's first attempt at an excuse.

I don't recall a conversation with the second pair - they were an older pair that, quite frankly, surprised me for lasting as long as they had. But when I caught a flash of skin peeking through the third pair, I finally had it.

"AJ! What are you doing to your pants? What's it going to take for you to be more careful?"

"Mom," he started to protest, clearly nervous by the tone of my voice, "it's Dad's fault. Sometimes we wrestle..."

My look of disbelief must have convinced him that argument probably wasn't going to get him very far.

"I mean, sometimes on the playground I just fall down."

Ever since he was big enough to move, AJ has given his clothes a workout. About the only pants he hasn't destroyed are the ones he's outgrown before he could wear them for long. Even AJ is aware of how rough he is on anything that covers his knees. Two summers ago, he didn't want to wear shorts for fear of skinning his knees. He wanted the fabric as an extra layer of protection.

My new strategy is to make him wear pants he doesn't like. That way if he wrecks them, I won't care as much. He has several pairs of wind pants with words or brand names printed on them. AJ hates wearing clothes bearing letters or numbers because "pirates don't wear things like that."

Day one was a success.

"I didn't get any holes today," he told me after school.

We'll see how long this idea... and his pants... last.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eating her words

Don't you hate it when you goof around and stall so much at dinner that your food gets cold and then it tastes even worse than it did to begin with, which is why you were goofing around and stalling in the first place?

That's the situation Sydney has found herself in right now as I write this. The rest of us have been done eating for at least a half hour, but Sydney has decided she only wants watermelon tonight. Too bad for her.

Her reason for not eating that least piece of steak? "It's too hot." (Never mind it's been sitting on her plate for at least 45 minutes.)

And the last cucumber slice? "It's too poisonous." (I do not make this up.)

"I guess I need to go to the hospital," she calmly told me.

She did briefly end up going to her room. Not by her choice. After several minutes of crying and an "I'm sorry Mommy," she's now back and seemingly more willing to clean her plate.

I'm trying my hardest not to laugh - I don't want to encourage her behavior. But right now she's eating the noodles one at a time, holding each one up and calling out, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair."

Our plan was to take a walk after dinner. Good thing the sun is setting later and later these days.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Truck news

Today marks the 10th anniversary of my "retirement" from the TV news business. It's been a decade since I last signed off, "I'm Dana Larson, for Eyewitness News."

And what better way to celebrate than to buy my own news truck? Yes, I've joined the ranks of minivan moms. And not just any minivan. As fate would have it, the used vehicle that's loaded with every cool feature we could ever possibly want... is white. Slap a logo on the door. I'm ready to chase spot news.

The kids had no idea we were in the market for a new vehicle. I took a couple hours off work this afternoon to meet Jeff, who'd already taken the truck for a test drive and knew it was the one he wanted. It is an awesome truck: heated leather seats, drop-down DVD players, blue-tooth technology, a warning back-up camera, remote starter, you name it. I signed my name a bunch of times and left Jeff to finish the rest of the paperwork as I headed back to work.  

A fun side note. Our next door neighbor, Tim - the same awesome neighbor that helped rescue AJ the day I forgot to send a note with after-school instructions - is the salesman who helped us buy the van. Jeff had to take off midway through the process to pick up AJ after school. He called a few minutes later to say he didn't think he could beat the bus home, so Tim started calling his son, who has a cell phone, to alert him to stay with AJ until Jeff got home. Talk about service above and beyond!

Jeff took AJ back to the dealership to finish the paperwork and then drove the minivan to pick up Sydney from daycare. So when I walked in the door tonight, I was greeted by excited shouts from Sydney, "Mom, we got a new van!"

Feigning surprise, I asked, "We did? Where is it?"

"It's in the driveway. And it has a TV in it!" (Not really. It's a DVD player.)

Bye, bye to the black truck after almost 10 years. It's been a fun ride and has kept me safe through more blizzards and snowstorms than I can count, not to mention a spin-out on black ice.

But now I'm looking forward to the road trips and other adventures that await us in the new minivan. And I'm trying to stop thinking of it as a news truck. To be honest, the stations around here have moved away from minivans, replacing them with white SUVs.

Monday, May 2, 2011

More Sydney-isms

"Mommy, you can't find me!"

Have I mentioned lately how much my kids make me laugh? I am really going to miss this stage, when all it takes is a tickle to make them laugh and shriek with delight.

Sydney's mind is full of fun observations right now. She updates me each morning on the number of good or bad dreams she had the night before. (I suspect it's a totally made up figure, because any time I ask her what her dream was about, she has no answer.) One recent morning, as she stumbled from her room, not quite awake and with hair all askew, she smiled up at me with squinty eyes and said, "I didn't have no dreams last night. Just sleeps."

Her recaps of how she spent her day are equally fun. One day last week, (I was at work. Jeff had the day off.) Jeff took the kids to the zoo, McDonald's and a store that had toys. They also played outside for a while. That evening, I asked Sydney what she'd done that day.

"I got poop on my shoe! But Daddy wiped it off."

Always good to know which events turn into lasting memories.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hockey stars

AJ has been looking forward to his end-of-the-season hockey banquet since before the end of the season. His reason can be summed up in one word: trophy. At last year's banquet he got his first ever trophy, and he was sure he'd be getting another one for his fine efforts this year. (Afterall, as he tells anyone who will listen, he did score three goals in his last game.)

At last the banquet night arrived. And sure enough, there was a table full of trophies. But it turns out the award took back seat to something else far more exciting.

AJ got to meet - and get autographs from - two of the UMD Bulldogs, including the guy who scored the winning goal to win the national championship. (Don't ask me for names. I can't read their signatures. They're both from Hermantown: #7 and #26)

That's #26 in the photo above, answering kids' questions. I held my breath, waiting for AJ to reveal that his mom liked the Gophers better than the Bulldogs. But thankfully he instead asked something about how many goals the guy had scored this year. (Answer: Zero. He's a defenseman.)

An autograph session followed, and then at last it was trophy time.

A bobblehead trophy and a bag full of left-over goodies from the rink's concession stand. From AJ's perspective, it was the perfect end to the season.

I, meanwhile, can't help but do the math. We've got just six more months before it starts all over again.