Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Go Twins!

For some reason, my laptop has frozen on me this morning when I try to do anything involving pictures. I somehow managed to upload one shot from our Sunday trip to Target Field, but that's all it's going to allow me to do.

Yes, we are standing on the warning track! Because I volunteered with the March of Dimes' March for Babies last spring, we were able to go to the Twins game and march around the field with the families who'd raised a lot of money for the organization.

AJ and Jeff made a quick stop in a souvenir shop to buy a batting helmet and marker in case they could get some autographs. Unfortunately, they struck out. Jeff spotted a couple players but a security guard directed us to keep moving. Bummer!

***Update: the computer is working again, so here's the rest of the story***

As we walked around the field, little did I know I'd just taken a photo of our seats. Look behind Sydney... way back... way, way back... on the left side of the picture, beneath the big sign for FSNorth.

Yessirreee! Our seats - listed innocently on the tickets as Row 16 of Section 331 - were in the very back row. (Lucky for us, our visit to Wrigley Field last month gave us plenty of practice climbing lots of steps to reach our seats. I'm sensing a pattern here!)

Despite the distance, we still had an amazing view. Of a game the Twins actually won. I'm pretty sure that's Jason Kubel in the next shot, hitting his two-run homer.

And really, for the kids, as long as we kept them stuffed with sugar, they were perfectly content.

One benefit to back row seats: if you get bored watching the game, you can always turn your attention to the trains and light rail transit passing behind you.

We stuck it through the seventh inning, but then had to dash. Jeff had to get home for a highly important appointment - a fantasy football draft. The Twins seemed to do just fine without us - the final score was 11-4.

All in all, it was a great afternoon: a fun game to watch and cheer for the Twins and a good opportunity to look around at the families sitting in our section - most of whom who've been touched in some way by premature birth - and be grateful for the two healthy children I am blessed to call my own.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Water battle

(In best Al Pacino as Tony Montana accent) Say hello to my little friend!

It was a battle of epic proportions. No-holds barred. Take no prisoners.

More than cliches were spouting Saturday when the squirt guns came out. It's a bit hard to characterize the teams (good versus evil, boys versus girls, big kids versus bigger kids) because people switched sides whenever it suited their mood. But the fighting was fierce.

The battleground and weapons belong to our friends the Radecki's. Jeralyn served as chief arms dealer, teaching the kids how to load and fire - usually at Jeff.

In the midst of the water warfare, the kids proved victorious in an even greater battle - the battle of nerves. Both kids overcame their fear of water quite nicely. Even AJ, by late in the game, had removed his life jacket. Gus, on the other hand, preferred to stay on dry land, despite the diving example set by the older and wiser Reagan.

Roll call! Who's having fun?

AJ? Check!

Sydney? Most definitely.

Gus? Hmmmm...

We got him in the water twice. Not by his choice. After that, he steered clear of the pool's edge any time we were in the water. I tried telling him he was supposed to like to swim, but he seemed less than convinced. We'll work on that. It's a good excuse for us all to go swimming again.

Monday, August 29, 2011

All's Fair

Phew! Busy weekend. No time to blog. And I don't even have a good excuse like dodging a hurricane. So without further ado, here's what we've been doing...

Nothing says Great Minnesota Get-together quite like a Pronto-Pop and ICEE. Sydney really would be smiling if her mouth wasn't so full of food.

Our annual Larson family visit – complete with the largest cast of characters to date – got off to a later than usual start. It's harder and harder each year to coordinate schedules for all of us to go on the same day. But by lunch time we all made it, welcoming cousin Finn to this crazy family tradition.

It was extremely hot Friday. (Or maybe I was just overly steamed by the hour we wasted trying to find parking at all-ready-full Park-and-Ride lots. Never again will I trust the map in the Star Tribune.) It was so hot, my predicted 5,000 calorie day probably didn't reach half that amount. The heat zapped my appetite. Thank goodness for the chocolate malts in the Empire Building.

The kids had fun on the rides. The big slide was a must see/do. Sydney (who would ride with me) had to trash talk her brother (who would ride with Jeff) on the way up the steps, telling him that we were going to go faster and beat them. Because girls rule. But as it turned out, we had to wait to find a spot at the top, so the guys got at least a 30-second head start. Undaunted, Sydney giggled all the way down, then looked at AJ and announced, "But we had more fun!"

Next up, the giant carousel: 

After that, we walked through far too many animal barns. My kids are past the point of awe at the sight of the big pig and row after row of cows. (At least that's the excuse I'm using to cover up the fact that I have no pictures of it.) AJ is far too practical. We were walking somewhere between the horses and goats when he complained, "I'm tired of having to watch for poop!"

His favorite part of the Fair was the Minnesota Twins display. He played in a mock-game:

And practiced his pitching.

As did Jeff.

(Jonathon and Jessica did too, but I'll be nice and not post the photos here.)

If I were giving out a prize for the most clever booth, it would go to Ocean Spray. Free samples of various types of juice, plus a mock cranberry bog.

Yup, check out what AJ, Jessica and her friend Maria are standing in. AJ was hesitant at first to join them, but once he was in, didn't want to get out.

Jonathon, standing off to the side, commented, "And that's where they make the juice you just sampled."

Sydney's favorite part of the fair was the discovery of a tutu at one of the many booths in the Bizarre. Amazingly, she chose a cream colored one instead of pink. Of course she simply had to wear it right away. It now includes remnants of the gooey chocolate chips from Sweet Martha's cookies (Mommy's favorite part of the fair), but those cookies make it totally worth it.

At last we made it to the "Kid-way". I'd bought tickets in advance, otherwise we probably would have skipped it, we were so tired by then. The kids were glad we stopped. And so am I, if for no other reason than it gave me the photo opp below:

I think this picture sums up my daughter's personality perfectly. Decked out in diva sunglasses, princess shirt and ballerina skirt, she can't hide her tomboyish tendencies. She headed straight for the motorcycle ride. It included fancy cars, but nope, she wanted the bike.

Another fun and exhausting year. The kids are already asking when we can go again.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The new playground

It's no wooden castle, but the new playground at AJ's school has won the approval of the two members of our family who are most likely to use it. After AJ's soccer game last night (ended in a 4-4 tie, AJ scored one of the goals) we let the kids test out the various slides, bridges and climbing areas.

It's bigger and better than I'd expected it to be. It makes me feel a little guilty that I didn't do more to help make it happen. Sure, I ran in a couple of 5K fundraiser races, but that's it. Our schedules were already booked back in June when they tore down the old structure and put together the new.

AJ was sad to say goodbye to the old wooden castle. He's been climbing on it since he was... well... old enough to climb. Really, though, his fascination with knights ended a while ago, so who needs a castle? It's much more fun right now to pretend to be a ship's captain, and the new playground includes several bridges that are just perfect to run across while yelling, "Iceberg! Dead ahead!" (Can you guess who recently checked out a library book about the Titanic?)

The wave see-saw was another favorite.

Whatever the shredded, recycled rubber material is that provides the padding on the ground - I love it! Not once did Sydney ask me to get rocks or sand out of her crocs.

Having once written a freelance article about the best playgrounds in the Northland, I feel I have a certain level of expertise in critiquing these child wonder lands. And I say this one is a winner. I suspect recess for AJ this year is going to even more fun than last year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dance steps

First position, plié, chassé and some kind of stretch pose that looked like a seal. My future prima ballerina attempted them all last night.

It wasn't her regular dance class, but rather an open house at the studio to encourage parents to register their kids for the coming year. That meant parents were invited to watch the mini dance lesson.

Below is a look at the seal pose. With a little guidance from the teacher, Sydney nailed it, arching her back so that her pointed toes touched the back of her head.

(Of course I had to try it when we got home. Let's just say Mommy's got some limbering up to do. Oh my overly stiff back! I'll bet there was a two foot gap between my toes and head.)

The teacher did a good job of making the dance lesson seem like child's play, and Sydney happily attempted to copy each move.

Her favorite move was the chassé, though she quickly bypassed the fancy terminology. As she moved sideways across the floor with arms stretched wide, she happily translated, "Gallop! Gallop! Gallop!"

Based on how much she's enjoyed herself so far, I registered her for the regular classes that begin next month. As part of it, she'll get ballet slippers and tap shoes. Plus, there'll be a real recital next spring. Those are, you know, the most important elements of learning to dance (at least to a 4-year-old.)

Meanwhile I'll be getting a whole lot of ideas for stretching.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Getting her fill(ing)

I'd been envisioning a scene both dramatic and traumatic: Jeff having to use his police training to restrain a screaming four-year-old in the chair, doing his best to pry her jaws apart for the dentist to do his work.

Either the dentistry profession has made remarkable strides in the last 35+ years, or my daughter has nerves made of a stronger substance than what was used to fill the cavity in her molar.

Say, "Aaaahhhh."
When I asked Sydney what happened at the dentist, she answered, "I got a prize."

"Did you get to wear sunglasses again?"

"They had pink glasses."

"You got to wear pink glasses?"

She nodded. "And I saw Ellie Chicos' mom!"

According to Jeff, the filling is in the farthest back tooth on the bottom on her left. (Um, yeah... I can't see it either.)

Getting Sydney to tell me about the visit was like... well... you know I absolutely have to use the was like pulling teeth.

"What did the dentist say?" Drawing on my reporter training, I continued asking Sydney questions. Surely something would trigger her to open up and give me some good blog material.

"Um, I don't know."

"What did it feel like when you got the filling?" I persisted.

"Um, I don't remember. (Slight pause.) I'm walking away now."

Seriously. The experience made that little of an impression on her. Jeff says they were in and out in five minutes. No Novocain needed. And before they left, Sydney was able to snag not just one, but two rings, plus an airplane toy for her brother.

Let's hope the bravery continues. At least for another week. That's when it's my turn to take Sydney for her first visit with the eye doctor. I'm not so good at the restraint holds.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Don't plant the seed

I came dangerously close to having to have that discussion with AJ last night. A night when Jeff was working.

Oh no, no, no, no, NO! I am so not ready to have "the talk" with my first born. Not. At. All!

It started innocently enough on our drive home from daycare. But like so many car ride conversations with my 6-year-old son, the topic often changes at break-neck speed. Last night, it then suddenly careened wildly out of control.

We were talking about babysitters and the fact that two of our favorites are both moving away this month. AJ suggested we call a former babysitter from a couple years ago. I reminded him that she'd gotten married and moved away.

"How old was she when she used to babysit us?" AJ asked.

"I don't know. Probably 20 or so."

"That's how long it's been since Dad was in the Gulf War."

Hang on! Rapid conversation shift #1. Nothing out of the ordinary, though. AJ is obsessed with soldiers and battles.

"Yup," I agreed.

"I'm sure glad Dad came home okay from  the Gulf War."

"Me too," I answered. (We've had this conversation before.) "Otherwise I'd have never met him and you wouldn't be here."

"Why wouldn't I?" AJ asked. "You'd still be here to be my mom."

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Somebody smack me upside the head! What was I thinking to voluntarily get him thinking along those lines?!?!

"Aaaahhhh..." Suddenly I was choosing my words very carefully. "Because babies need a mom and a dad."

"Oh," AJ answered, digesting for a moment what I'd just said. "Because Dad brings you food and takes care of you and stuff?"

"Um... yes! It's something like that," I answered, feeling not even the slightest bit guilty for agreeing with his simplistic answer.

In the rear view mirror, I could see AJ still looked slightly perplexed. And suspicious.

I relented, "It's a little more than that, but you need to be a little older before you'd understand."

"Okay," AJ answered. "Maybe when I'm eight."

"Eight is good!" I quickly agreed.

"Or nine."

"Nine would be just fine, too. You can pick."

"I think nine," AJ answered. He'd probably (hopefully) already lost interest in what we were talking about.

And that's perfectly fine by me. The birds and bees can wait. I just bought myself two to three more years. I hope.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Popeye card

Because, really. How better could you say "Happy Birthday" to a seven-year-old girl than with a Popeye card?

A few birthday parties ago, I started copying my friend Michelle's idea of letting the kids create birthday cards for their friends. I used to spend 20+ minutes stamping cards that, if I was lucky, got glanced at for...oh... maybe half a second. More often than not, the card never even made it out of the gift bag. Kids just don't care about cards. And it's not as if they need to look at one to identify who the present is from. Usually, the gift giver is bouncing up and down with excitement, "That one's from me! I got you that!"

That is how it came to be that AJ was put in charge of making a birthday card for our friend Addie.

He did it all in pencil because, as he explained, the Popeye cartoon from the library he'd watched the night before (we checked out a DVD of classics from the early 1940's) had been in black and white.

And really, who doesn't like Popeye?

You know... I need to slightly correct one of my earlier comments. There is one particular birthday card that AJ very much appreciates.

It's the handmade card he received from his Bianchi cousins. Every time he has to make a card, he uses it as a guide to spell "Happy Birthday." We've gone to four birthday parties in the last three weeks, so the card has pretty much taken up permanent residence on our craft table (also known as our dining room table.) AJ initially couldn't find the card when it came time to create his Popeye masterpiece, and so I spelled out "H-A-P-P-Y" as I looked around the table.

AJ picked  up his pencil, ready to go to work, then paused, "How do you spell 'H'?"

A little bit later, as he put the finishing touches on the front of the card, he noted, "Did you know Popeye was a vegetarian? Because all he eats is spinach."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Gus report - age 11 weeks

It's been four weeks since Gus joined our family. Four weeks since I've been able to sleep past 6:28 a.m. Four weeks since I've been able to sneak out of the house for an early morning run before anyone else wakes up. This morning, the puppy alarm went off at 6:13. That's five minutes better than yesterday's wake-up whimpering, which started at 6:08.

Who, me?

His expression seems to say, "Eewww! This is one of my toys. Why would I want to chew on it when there are so many other toys to destroy?"

Many people have commented to me recently that having a puppy is like having a baby.

No. No, it really isn't.

With babies, you get six to 12 weeks of maternity leave to adjust to this adorable little being that has totally disrupted your lifestyle. With babies, you get sympathetic reminders to "sleep when the baby sleeps." Plus, babies don't start out mobile. And they don't start out with a full set of razor sharp teeth.

Getting a puppy is more like adopting a toddler in full throes of the "terrible twos" stage... A toddler from an alien culture (that doesn't speak your language) where the traditional greeting is to bite ankles... A toddler who, thankfully, loves peanut butter. Ahhh. Savor the blessed moments of peace and calm that comes when you smear a little Skippy inside the rubber Kong toy.

I'd like to say we've made remarkable progress with him this week, but really, we haven't. His sleep patterns have remained unchanged. The house training is about the same. We've had only one urine accident in two weeks. Too bad it was on our bed. Restricting when he eats, based on the vet's advice, has made no difference in the number of pooping accidents.

And the chewing never stops. Sydney's soft rubber Disney Princesses and their dresses get pried from his mouth quite frequently. AJ's little green army men are another favorite. The unfortunate troops have sustained considerable casualties in their battle against a now 17-pound weapon of mass destruction.

When he's not busy chewing on us, Gus does seem to show an appreciation for some of our bedtime snacks. Licking out ice cream bowls is a big hit. Another, is popcorn.

Last night, we introduced him to that fine puppy delicacy and boy did he enjoy it! It took a couple failed leaps onto the couch to teach him to wait on the floor. As long as the kernels kept flying, he could be very attentive.

Earlier in the evening a thunderstorm had dumped quite a bit of rain on us. Shortly after it ended, I had taken Gus into the back yard for another potty break. Standing in the wet grass, with mosquitoes finding my ankles as delightful as Gus does, I happened to look across the river. Suddenly I discovered something good about the potty training process. If it wasn't for Gus, I would have totally missed this amazing view.

There's always a bright side to everything.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The best garage sale ever

I can count on one hand the number of garage sales we've visited this summer. Friday, at least for Sydney, we made up for lost time. In just one stop.

A former co-worker was having a sale. Knowing she has two daughters (who have gotten so big I just can't believe it), I figured this would be a sale that was worth a visit. And it was. We found the stuff of ballerina dreams.

Tulle and sequins and feathers and a bow. This dress has everything! Incidentally, I had to wait a few minutes to take a picture of Sydney in her new dress. "First I have to show you my talent," she explained, as she twirled around a few times.

In addition to a perfectly awesome ballerina dress, we also found a ballerina Barbie doll.

Even AJ found something he couldn't live without. How better to get ready for the return to school, than with your very own desk for homework and coloring projects. 

Other treasures included a winter coat for Sydney, pink baseball glove, Barbie puzzle, Disney Princess learn-to-read book, leotard, Aladdin movie (to replace the one our VCR ate a few months ago), pink tennis shoes and several shirts, pants and skirts. All for $20.

I guess it goes to show: one ballerina's trash is another ballerina's treasure.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Getting our kicks

Sydney's dance class doesn't offer much for photo opportunities. Parents are encouraged to wait in a side room and watch through a window, so as not to be a distraction. Thus, the first chance I had to take a picture of my ballerina wannabe was as she grabbed a piece of pizza shortly after class ended.

Did I mention one of the perks of the dance studio is that it's attached to the local pizza shop? As luck would have it, this week there was about an hour-long gap after Sydney's dance class, before AJ's soccer game. So we took advantage of the time and location to have a little dinner.

Then it was off to soccer, where we learned yet another new rule. In addition to playing with goalies and big nets, we also have to deal with referees and the random rules they choose to enforce. For instance, kids aren't allowed to wear glasses, unless they're secured with a strap. That would have been nice to know ahead of time. 

Poor AJ was clearly struggling... and squinting. Or maybe he was just hampered by an untied shoe.

As luck would have it, the father of one of AJ's teammates happened to have a strap for his sunglasses in his truck, and so ran to the parking lot to get it. I'd like to say that once AJ's vision was restored he was back in top form. But that's not exactly how it happened.

AJ's coach is really working to teach the kids to play positions, which has thrown AJ's comfort level all out of whack. I can tell he gets distracted trying to remember where exactly he's allowed to run.

A side note - AJ had informed the coach at one of the first practices that he'd prefer to be called Alex. During last night's game, on several occasions I could hear the coach hollering directions such as , "Alex, go to the net!" Often times those instructions seemed to go unheard, and so the coach would follow with, "AJ! Go to the net!"

Sadly, AJ's team lost again this week. AJ's friends Evan and Nicholas played on the opposing team, which made the loss slightly easier for him to accept. The coach gave the kids a pep talk when it was over.

And then they did what's become their tradition. Rather than standing in a huddle, stacking their hands in the center, he has them all grab a soccer ball and toss it in the air. (AJ's #43, if you can't tell.)