Monday, October 31, 2011

Jack-o-lantern artistry

Oh, orange pumpkin. Oh, orange pumpkin. How gooey are you inside?

Oh, orange pumpkin. Oh, orange pumpkin. How gooey are you inside?

AJ's fine with digging in.

But Sydney wants no part of it.

Oh, orange pumpkin. Oh, orange pumpkin. How gooey are you inside?

Have you figured out yet you can sing that to the tune of "Oh Christmas tree"? (And now that song will be stuck in your head the rest of the day. You're welcome.)

This was Sydney's first year showing any interest in joining this Larson family tradition. She was excited at first. Until she realized that meant sticking her hand inside the pumpkin and touching the wet, slippery seeds and other goo.

I believe I'm safe in predicting she will not pursue a career in large animal veterinary medicine.

We reached a compromise with her scooping out seeds, and me scraping out everything else. And then, somewhere along the way, she seemed to forget her aversion to slime and started digging in with the rest of us. 

She was excited to get to the carving part, because I'd promised we'd make a princess jack-o-lantern. That meant big eyes and eyelashes, a crown on top and hair.

I was so focused on helping Sydney I barely had time to note the activity all around us. AJ was busy creating Davy Jones, from Pirates of the Caribbean. Though he later decided it looked more like Captain Barbosa. (I have no clue if I'm spelling that correctly.)

Here's a look at the artists and their finished masterpieces.

Jessica's pumpkin (bottom left) wins for best teeth, and for subtle inclusion of her initials (which I didn't see until she showed mentioned them.) Jonathon's (bottom center) wins points for best peeled. And hey, at least he didn't hurt himself this year! Eric's jack-o-lantern (top right) showed particular creativity. If you flip it upside down, it shows another face. A cool concept, but who's going to flip over a pumpkin with a candle inside?

And now we can all start thinking about how to possibly top this next year. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Here we go again

It's been said that Minnesota has two seasons: winter and road construction. It'd be more accurate to list those seasons as hockey and road construction. The Mega-project on I-35, bane of my existence, is at last done. Winter isn't quite here. But hockey season is.

AJ's been in a week-long hockey school in Cloquet, and this morning was the grand-finale game. Did I mention this was our last week of calm before the insanity of the regular hockey season begins?
Do I know how to complicate our lives, or what?

And as long as I'm focusing on the inconveniences to me, rather than the joy it brings my child to be back on the ice, let me also complain about the hockey arena. Cloquet has two arenas built side by side. One is really nice and modern. And heated. The other, appropriately, is named "the Barn". Anytime I have to watch a game in there, I feel like someone's pulled a bait-and-switch on us. Last summer's hockey school was played in the nice arena. This school took place in the Barn. (I suspect the summer school has to take place in the nice arena. With the lack of insulation in the Barn, it'd be about as easy maintaining a sheet of ice there in the summer as it would on an outdoor rink.)

Did I mention that some sort of frozen condensation fell from the rafters periodically throughout the game? Good thing the players wore helmets!

But this isn't about me and my frostbitten toes. It's about AJ. And AJ really liked playing this week, and he loved today's game. It was a non-stop scoring fest. AJ had nine goals and a couple of assists. And other kids had similar score counts. I'm not sure if that's a sign the kids are ready for goalies or to play on the full rink (instead of half), but they sure were having fun.

You'd think with all those opportunities, that I'd have gotten a great picture of AJ scoring. Sadly, this is the best I got:

Really, those are AJ's legs. It took me a few minutes to start recognizing AJ on the ice. He's got a new jersey, breezers, gloves and skates. One of the other mom's joked that AJ can't get a new mouth guard, that's her only way of remembering which one he is. Apparently he's the only one with a red mouth guard. Jeff calls it the Cootie guard. (Think of what the tongue looks like in the game Cooties.)

I was really proud watching AJ today. He's started passing the puck (occasionally), and I saw him skate backwards a couple times. His hockey stops are getting better, too. So if nothing else, this school was a good refesher course - for AJ's skills, and my body temperature. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

1st grade and picture perfect

Here he is... my big first grader!

Call me biased, but I think he's a pretty good looking kid. Even without his two front teeth.

Glasses are straight. Hair is too short to be messy. And his clothes stayed clean.

I was fearing something much messier. Some highly intelligent being had scheduled the first grade photo shoot at 1 p.m. What a great plan, because everyone knows six- and seven-year-olds are great at staying neat through snack time, lunch and recess. AJ's teacher is a miracle worker.

A note about AJ's clothing choice. This is his favorite shirt because "it's like a police man's shirt." He was rather disappointed that I wouldn't let him add one of his "junior officer" badge-shaped stickers to the front pocket.

As many pictures as I take of my kids every week, I still can't help but pause when I see a professional portrait. It's like an official reminder that my little boy isn't so little any more. His face is thinning out and he just looks older than I'm ready for him to be. Thank goodness the dimple remains!

It doesn't help that the "timeline" we'd made earlier this fall came back home in his backpack. It's covered with pictures of him from birth to present. It makes the age progression even more obvious. I asked AJ if he'd like me to hang it on his wall. No, he told me. He has bigger plans for it. "I think we should put it in our time capsule."

Um... sure. That's something I was planning on creating in all my spare time. Right. I can't remember where I set down my car keys last night. Does he really think I'll remember where we buried a time capsule forty years from now?

He still has the innocence of youth.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Four and fearless

Whoa! In the space of a month, Sydney has just about conquered all of her early childhood fears.

It started the day she came how from daycare wearing... (Gasp!)... (Rub the eyes - am I seeing this right?)... a Band-aid! Unlike her brother who still thinks Band-aids make injuries feel better, Sydney hates them. At doctor appointments, she has cried harder at the site of the nurse offering a Band-Aid, than at the nurse who gave her the shot. She's not totally past this particular fear - she still didn't want a Band-aid the last time Gus scratched her hand and made it bleed. - but somehow she's determined that Band-aids from her school don't hurt.

It's a start.

She's made far greater progress with regard to costumed mascots. A few weeks ago, while trick-or-treating during Boo at the Zoo, Sydney spotted the Texas Roadhouse armadillo (at least I think that's what the oversized mascot was supposed to be.) She wrapped herself around my leg as we made a very wide a circle to avoid him.

"Don't worry," I assured her, "you don't have to go near them if you're scared."

Apparently, she took that as a challenge. Later in the afternoon, we spotted the Zoo's extremely grungy polar bear mascot. It was walking around carrying a chalkboard announcing a costume contest. Sydney stopped and stared, and then hesitantly waved.

The mascot must not have noticed, because it ignored her, which must have emboldened her. The next thing I knew, Sydney let go of my hand and lunged at the crusty creature. She wrapped her arms around its waist, gave it a quick hug, and then raced back to me with a look of wonder and triumph on her face. She'd done it! She. Hugged. A mascot!

Driving home, savoring this personal victory, Sydney started imagining other possibilities now that she' no longer hindered by this fear. "I can't wait for Easter! I'm going to go to AJ's school and sit on the Easter bunny's lap."

Then on Tuesday, she came home from a field trip with pink smudges on each cheek. She'd gotten her face painted! Another first!

I believe the above smudged artwork had been a ladybug. There's a crown on the other cheek. (I forgot to take a picture until she was in the tub and we were about to wash it off. Thus the tightly cropped photo.)

Fresh off that fete of bravery, Sydney surprised me again. Last night she overcame her aversion to stickers.

"Mommy, come see my room!" she excitedly called.

She then proudly displayed her handiwork: her bookcase is now covered with Barbie Fairy Princess stickers.

Sydney has always hated stickers. (For no particular reason that I can think of other than they're sticky like Band-aids.) And yet she suddenly was able to pull them from a long forgotten activity book and plaster them on her bookcase. delightful! (There were also some stickers on the wall by her bathroom, so we had a quick talk about where it's okay to put stickers. Bookcase - yes. Walls - no.

Band-aids and stickers, face painting and costumed mascots. I can't think of any other irrational fears for her to overcome. And that scares me a little. How will she next decide to demonstrate her new-found bravery?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

There's a bathtub under all those toys!

There's nothing like a night in a clutter-free hotel room to inspire me to clean when I get home.

Last Friday night, Jeff and I enjoyed an overnight away from the kids. We decided to splurge, renting a hotel suite with a king size bed and whirlpool. It was definitely a very nice hotel room, but as I looked around, I couldn't help but realize just how ridiculous it was for us to spend that much money to enjoy the same accomodations we have at home.

And so, Sunday was anythign but a day of rest at our house. I bought two clear plastic bins (with drainage holes), and put the kids to work.

The instructions were basic. Each kid got a basket and needed to fill it with any of their toys they wanted to keep. Anything that didn't go in a basket needed to be put away or it'd be thrown away.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well they worked together. (As long as you ignore how much time AJ wasted playing with his Spiderman snorkling mask.) See the big orange lobster scoop? I could have sworn it was AJ's, but both kids agreed it was Sydney's. Until she announced she didn't want it, and then it found a home in AJ's basket and everyone was happy.

I'm certainly no one to criticize the kids for the mess. I had piles of my own to clean: magazines, dirty clothes and even a basket of old kids' books, which I'd used to keep AJ busy when he was young. It was a set of Sesame Street books my mom had picked up at a garage sale - each book highlighted a different letter of the alphabet. AJ had loved the books when he was younger, but Sydney had never been as interested in them as her brother was. And so over the years they've collected dust and been buried under clothes and other objects I was just too lazy to put away.

AJ couldn't possibly have known I was planning to box up and donate those old books. But somehow, just as he did last spring when I was gathering treasures for a garage sale, he seemed to know the books were going away. The next thing I knew, he had gathered a stack of the books and was showing a renewed interest in them, suddenly able to read them himself.

I have a long way to go for my housekeeping skills to be next to godliness. But my new goal is to clean a new room or space each weekend day. During the week, meanwhile, I will go through a magazine a day, tearing out recipes and any other article I may decide is worth keeping, and recyling the rest.

It's an ambitious goal, and if I stick with it, I may finally see a clutter free house by the new year. But I doubt it.That's what hotel rooms are for - to enable my denial.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Land that I love

There's something about sitting in a crowded gym with horrible acoustics. It doesn't matter if you're up on the hard wooden bleachers that make your butt go numb, or down at ground level on chairs so far from the kids you need your camera's zoom lens to capture the action.

Each time I come away feeling thankful for our small town, the school and the people.

Last Wednesday, AJ's elementary school performed its annual Grandparents Day program. This year's concert had a patriotic theme. (Add to my list of things to be grateful for - no special costumes for this show! The kids were told to wear red, white and/or blue.)

Looking around the gymnasium, I spotted several neighbors as well as many parents I know from church, AJ's sports and other activities. It was the middle of the work day, and yet all of them had prioritized taking a few hours off to be there for their kids.

And the kids are good kids. To AJ's right is Cale from baseball and hockey. Straight down from Cale is Drew, from church. Directly below AJ is Evan T., his best friend from kindergarten. I also see Matthew and Parker in the front row, both of whom have played soccer with AJ in years past.

I'm thrilled that our school district supports the arts with such an active music program, and I'm proud that the music teachers felt it important to teach the kids songs about patriotism and honoring our troops. And when I replayed the video, I realized something far more important. Listen to the words:

"Thank God for the flag... Thank God for your country..."

Thank God we live in a school district where kids are still allowed to thank God in a public venue.

Jeff and I, along with Grandpa Bill and Grandma Jo, all listened as the kids sang. Meanwhile, a short distance away in the bleachers, AJ had another fan.

Sydney's preschool class did an impressive job sitting through the hour-long performance. More accurately, Sydney's teachers did an incredible job of keeping her class quiet throughout the show. Just about every time I looked over it seemed that at least half the kids had changed positions, shifting rows and who sat on which teacher/aid's lap. But clearly, the program made an impression on Sydney. Even last night she was asking, "When can I sing like AJ?"

If I'm remembering correctly, she will get to be in a show this spring. And no special costumes are needed for that show either. Thank God.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Shopping adventures

I went shopping Sunday with the best of intentions. Sydney just wanted shoes. (And considering the toes on her black shoes are colored in with Sharpie marker to hide the scuffs, I'd say she's entitled.)

But first, we needed to replace the broken handle on our sliding door. I'd been told - a long time ago - that in order to do so, I needed to know the serial number, which is printed somewhere on the door. I finally found and wrote down the serial number, and so off to Home Depot we went. Only to find out Home Depot doesn't carry that brand of door. I guess we'll be visiting Menard's next.
Luckily, we did find corn stalks to decorate the porch, and a new spray bottle to replace the one AJ broke.

So the trip wasn't a complete waste of time. (Jeff, who was not with us, may tell you otherwise.)

Riding through the store, Sydney sprayed the corn stalk with the empty bottle. She announced it was going to grow into a magic bean stalk. I reminded her it was a corn stalk, which wasn't quite as exciting, but she continued spraying it just in case.

With the very long corn stalk at last loaded into the minivan, I gave Sydney the choice, asking, "Should we go to Target or Cub next?"

"The one with the shoes!"

"Target it is."

Pink sparkle shoes can do anything! She demonstrated her favorite ballerina moves (i.e. the only ones she knows). First position, plie and chasse, then declared, "I love 'em!"

Sparkle shoes, corn stalks and a spray bottle. How can you not call that a successful shopping trip?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cool cousins

After "doing gym" (lifting weights) with his cousin Jonathon, AJ was excited to show me his new muscles.

I just don't know how to tell him those "six-pack abs" are really his rib cage.

AJ's not the only one with a sense of idol worship after spending the night with his cousins. Sydney thinks her cousin Jessica is pretty cool too. Especially playing dolls with her, which says something about just how patient Jessica is. Because she never really liked dolls when she was younger, and now years later she willingly plays with them just to entertain Sydney.

These pictures are from "the morning after." My sister graciously volunteered to babysit overnight so Jeff and I could enjoy a belated anniversary get-away. Saturday morning they brought the kids to our hotel for a little swimming before check out time.

I know Jeff and I had a really fun evening. But I suspect the kids enjoyed the night as much as we did. Less than five minutes into the ride home, Sydney asked, "Some day can we go back to Auntie Lisa's house again?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Notes from teachers

To have a child in elementary school is to be inundated with paper. Everyday, the already-tattered folder comes home in AJ's backpack, filled with recent examples of spelling and vocabulary and math assignments. Notes about upcoming events and projects are also common - almost as common as requests for money for those upcoming events and projects: $5 to rent roller skates, $7 for a yo-yo, $10 for miscellaneous art supplies. Music concerts, community ed. events, field trips, weekly and monthly re-caps: I have no right to ever complain that I am uninformed.

The pastel rainbow of notes never stops. They come daily, get read and then clutter up the dining room table or kitchen counter until I get ambitious and at least clean up and move them to the recycling bin.

And now that Sydney is in pre-school, I see double the tree carnage.

But of all the notes, my favorites are the personal comments from the kids' teachers.

After Sydney's first full week of preschool, this is what her teacher was able to tell us:
Sydney was so excited to be at school. She was loving using scissors. She said she's never used scissors and is so excited! Remind her to cut with thumb on top ("Thumbs up for good cut")
Meanwhile, AJ gives his teacher all sorts of content to write home about. A recent e-mail included: 
I wanted to let you know Alex has been doing a wonderful job of not talking when I'm talking or teaching in the classroom. We're still working on listening to directions, such as when I'm teaching and I want the kids to come to the board and do something... he has a hard time listening, and therefore knowing what to do when it's his turn. We're working on it though! And I'm learning more about him and his love for learning, history, etc. every day. He's so much fun to have in the room!
My personal favorite was a note jotted on a homework assignment of AJ's. The teacher had read a book to the class about "Big rigs", and the kids were supposed to write sentences about what they'd learned. AJ's sentences included "Big rigs drive to Florida." and "They drive very, very fast." The teacher gave him credit for using his imagination, writing:
This is nice, but we didn't learn this in the story.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fire drill

And what must the neighbors think this time?

"Oh those weird Kazels. What are they doing now? It's not even daylight and they've got their kids outside. And with no coats!"

What were we doing? Fulfilling yet another homework assignment for one of our kids. By having a fire drill. As part of fire prevention week, AJ and his classmates were each supposed to practice with their families, what to do in the event of fire.

We'd talked with the kids ahead of time, quizzing them on what to do. We decided our mailbox would be a good meeting place. Next, we talked through some scenarios:
  • What if they heard the alarm and didn't have shoes on? (Answer: forget shoes and just get out of the house.)
  • What if they it was really cold and they didn't have their coat on? (Answer: forget the coat and just get out of the house.)  
  • What if the fire is by the front door and you can't get outside that way? (Answer: use a different door or a window.)
Then the tough one: What if Gus was running around the couch and didn't come when they called? Both kids insisted, "We have to get Gus!" It took more talking, but finally we convinced them to not worry about Gus. Mommy or Daddy would get him. Their job was to yell to everyone else and then head outside to the mailbox.

At last they were ready. More specifically, we had to send the signed slip back by Wednesday saying we'd practiced, and so we just had to get it done. Wednesday morning, we woke the kids as usual, helped them dress and got them set at the table eating breakfast. They didn't note the oddness that we'd told them to put their shoes on, or that Daddy had Gus's leash in hand.

As they started to eat, Jeff snuck into Sydney's room and hit the test button on her smoke detector. Loud, piercing beeps rang out.

Wonderful surprise - there was no panic. Maybe it's because they've been through drills at school. Very calmly, AJ slid out of his chair and headed for the door. Sydney looked confused for a moment but quickly caught on and followed her brother.

Nobody yelled "Fire" to notify everyone else. We probably should work on that. Instead, AJ called out the most important instruction of all from his first grader point of view.

"One line! Get in ONE LINE!"

Out the door we headed. AJ was in the lead with Sydney close behind. I was next, followed by Jeff and AJ. We were almost to the mailbox when Sydney made the observation I was dreading.

"We didn't get Spike."

"That's okay," I told her. "We got Gus."

Amazingly, she let it go at that and changed the subject. "I didn't get a bite of my Cocoa Puffs."

"You can eat them as soon as we go back inside. You guys did a really good job. Let's go back in the house."

Back at the breakfast table, Sydney brought up the cat again, "Why didn't Spike come outside?"

"I just knew she didn't really want to come outside. The firefighters would find her."

How do you explain to a four-year-old that in the event of fire, the odds of survival wouldn't be too good for an 18-year-old cat that hangs out in the basement to avoid the dog, tends to hide when scared and is - I suspect - deaf and going blind?

Let's just hope our newly learned evacuation skills are never put to the test.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The balancing act of motherhood

Dedicated, supportive mother? Or crazy lady humming circus tunes while skipping down the driveway?

It's a fine line that separates the two.

A line drawn in chalk on our driveway. 

Sydney's "homework" called for her to draw a long line on the driveway and walk along it with her arms outstretched, pretending it's a tightrope. We started up by the garage, where I had her draw a line that was about 15 feet long. Sydney started her balancing act walk, with me following a few feet behind her.

To make it more fun, I started humming a circus song (which doesn't exactly translate into words, considering my version started, "Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da... yeah, I'm sure you know exactly the one I'm talking about.) But it was very lively and inspiring, so when Sydney reached the end of her "rope," I told her to turn around and this time run along the line. She happily did so, with me again following and copying her.

When she reached the end this time, she surprised me in the most wonderful way. Turning around, she took charge, announcing "Unicycle! And juggle!"

But my little circus performer wasn't doesn't yet. She next decided our tight rope needed to be longer. Much, much longer.

All the way down the driveway, she extended her line until she was nearly out of chalk. And then we started over again: walking, running and, yes, even pretending to ride a unicycle while juggling.

Oh, what must the neighbors have thought? The four-year-old tightrope walker looked pretty cute. The 41-year-old performer, meanwhile, looked sort of... um... you can imagine. I'm glad Sydney was having so much fun she didn't stop and ask to take my picture.

Let's just hope our version of the greatest show on earth went unseen and heard.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The difference between boys and girls: Halloween edition

AJ complained last night that we didn't have any Halloween decorations outside, and so he decided to make a ghost. Assuming he wanted something 3-D, I started looking around for a styrofoam ball that could be wrapped in tissue paper. AJ, meanwhile, had a much simpler vision. He drew a ghost on a piece of paper and cut it out with scissors. Ta da!

The story could have ended there, but then AJ noticed the styrofoam ball I had at last dug out from the bottom of the bucket of craft supplies. Suddenly his mind started racing with possibilities. I showed him how to wrap tissue paper around it to create a ghost.And that was the last I touched it. AJ's imagination went into overdrive.

It was about that time when Sydney looked over and noticed her brother was having fun and getting to use scissors and tape. So of course she had to join us and make a ghost of her own. With no other styrofoam balls available, I taught her how to ball up old newspaper for stuffing. (Sound effects are key. You must say "crumple, crumple crumple" as you do it.) She decided her ghost needed to be a girl, and so I tied it off with a pink pipe cleaner and then let Sydney take it from there.

Behold - their finished masterpieces:

AJ created "Beetlejuice." He's never watched the movie, but apparently has seen posters or pictures or something. To him, Beetlejuice represents the perfect Halloween cross between a skeleton and a ghost - a little spooky, but not too scary. Using additional tissue paper and about a half a roll of tape, he added arms, a bow tie and hat. He then cut a hole in a piece of paper so that "Beetlejuice" looks like he's climbing out of a grave. Note the tombstone, the colored grass and (it's hard to see) the brown dirt right around the edge of the grave. He even added birth and death years on the tombstone. Talk about detail!

On the opposite end of the detail spectrum, Sydney's friendly, girl ghost needed hair. Of course. Sydney found another pink pipecleaner and asked me to help her tape it on. Impatiently she waited, eager to color in eyes and a mouth. After that it was sparkly sticker time. I counted ten flower shaped stickers at the point I first asked if I could take a picture.

"Not yet, Mom, I'm not finished," was her reply.

(It was hearing his sister's desire to add more decorations that prompted AJ to determine he needed to color in some dirt .)

At last they finished and agreed to let me take their pictures. If you're curious about AJ's body language, it's supposed to be crying, "Help! Beetlejuice is trying to get me!"

Sydney was quite disappointed that bedtime arrived before she had a chance to make a boy ghost to accompany her creation. Now you know what she'll be doing tonight.

So we never did resolve the original complaint of no outside decorations. I actually do have some, but have just been too lazy to dig them out. Perhaps AJ's next craft can involve making a ghost out of something more weather resistant. I can't wait to see what his imagination can do to enhance a white plastic garbage bag.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Gus at four months

He's actually a week or so passed the four month mark, but who's counting. If I'm tallying anything, it's the number of toys he's demolished or the extra number of times I have to vacuum to clean up the evidence of chewed up toys, Kleenex, paper, wrappers he's pulled from the garbage... you get the idea.

Here he is: our 35-pound shredding machine:

I'm not sure which is harder to believe: he's four times the size he was when we brought him home, and he's still going to double in size one more time.

Thirty-five pounds was his official weight Friday at his final puppy check-up. He's now fully immunized and doesn't have to go back to the vet until next fall. (At least not for shots. He'll be making an overnight visit in the next month or so, after which I hope his puppy testosterone will forever be in check. AJ may think Gus likes to hug his leg, but, um... yeah...) I suspect Gus weighs a pound or two more than what the vet's scale recorded. The morning of his visit, my little billy goat threw up. A lot. Pardon the too much information, but it's truly quite amazing how much grossness can come out of a dog this size.

I was concerned at first. Then I remembered the various shredded items I'd been picking up that morning. Let's see... there was the foam sword, a rubber snake and the plastic love of the Little Mermaid's life - Prince Eric. (It's okay in the underwater kingdom. Listening to Sydney play, Ariel didn't grieve for long, she's already moved on to Cinderella's turf and is happily dating Prince Charming.)

The toy snacks were in addition to the cat food and cat litter he snarfed on a sneak visit to the basement. I just can't imagine... what could possibly have upset Gus's stomach?

Overcoming his fear of steps and going downstairs is Gus's newest accomplishment. Much to the cat's dismay. Poor Spike has nowhere safe to hide anymore.

In Gus's defense, he's gotten much better in many areas. He's been fully house-trained for at least a month and generally let's me sleep until 6:55 a.m. on the weekends. He's remarkably consistent in timing when he sounds the alarm that he's been in his kennel too long and can't wait another moment for us to wake up and play with him.

He's also very gentle with the kids. We've needed a few Band-aids for accidental scratches from sharp teeth and claws, but rarely does he get so rough I feel a need to intervene. And he's a very good snuggler.

AJ now expects Gus to wake him each morning for school. The routine is as follows:
  1. I lift up Gus and put him on AJ's bed.
  2. Gus runs across the bed, stepping on AJ a couple times and nudging him with his nose.
  3. AJ sleepily tries to wrap his arm around Gus while Gus checks for anything he can chew up on the shelf of AJ's headboard.
  4. AJ at last succeeds in putting Gus in a submission hold so Gus lays down next to him.
  5. I return a few minutes later and remind Gus he was supposed to get AJ out of bed.
There's a reason dogs are called man's (or boy's) best friend.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

12 years of wedded bliss have brought us to this day

It's kind of ironic the movie I was trying to watch on TV last night was called "Just go with it".

Jeff was working and I was exhausted. All evening, the kids had somehow managed to be even louder than usual, alternating between running around and wrestling with Gus, and complaining to me that he was getting too wild.

Finally, with the blessed peace of bedtime looming, I'd sent AJ into the bathroom to take a shower. Sydney and Gus had followed.

And then... quiet. Ahhh... such an amazing moment. I should have been suspicious, but I was too thankful and busy savoring the calm.

Which was probably good, because it came to an all too abrupt end when AJ - in somewhat of a state of undress because he'd been getting ready to shower - ran into the living room. "Mom, Sydney did something. She needs you. Come quick!"

And so into the bathroom I ran. I'm sure the final few minutes of the movie weren't that good anyway... the couple just finally gets together and lives happily ever after. I reached the scene of the disaster, and there Sydney huddled on the edge of our tub, tightly gripping a mirror and moaning. My little vain one loves looking in that mirror. Had she somehow broken it? Had she cut herself on the broken shards?

I wrapped my hand around hers and gently pulled the mirror away, fearing the blood that would be revealed. Instead, I saw this:

"Mommy," she said, her voice quiet and apologetic, "I used your black stuff."

I really, really wanted to sound stern in my response. But all I could do was laugh. Sydney looked so worried. And then she found a silver lining, "Hey, I kind of look like Daddy now."

Why yes, I guess I do see a bit of a resemblance between her thick, blackened brows and Jeff's.

Did I mention today's our anniversary? Thank you, sweetheart, for the last 12 years. As we so often say to each other, thanks for putting up with me. I love you!

 Looking back on that magical day, we pledged our love for better or worse. We had so many dreams for the future. So many hopes for happily ever after. I'm fairly certain none of them involved a preschooler getting into mommy's make-up bag, but overall I wouldn't change a thing.

P.S. No I did not grab a camera before running into the bathroom to check on my daughter's welfare. I did that afterward and made her re-create the scene. She might as well learn that if she makes a mess that big, it's gonna end up on the blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Costume dress rehearsal

It feels good this morning to wake up and know I definitely made the right call. On this chilly 36-degree morning, which is supposed to only warm up to a 47-degree afternoon, I don't have to figure out how to fit my kids' Halloween costumes under or over a winter coat to go trick-or-treating at Boo at the Zoo. (It's an annual fundraising event at our local zoo that's held two Saturdays in October.)

Last Saturday morning, when I heard the forecast was 70+ degrees, I'd raced around to find and assemble costumes so we could go that day. I knew we couldn't possibly get that lucky two weeks in a row.

Meet the Halloween princess and the Army soldier.

This is shaping up to be the most inexpensive Halloween ever. Two costumes for less than $10 bucks! Sydney wants to wear "the same pretty dress" she wore last year. I'm okay with that! And AJ wants to be a soldier. He already has a pair of camouflage pants, and I was able to find a $9.95 shirt at WalMart. Jeff pulled out an old Army hat, plus the patches off an old uniform. I used Stitch Witchery (my new favorite product - way cooler than a hot glue gun!) to adhere the four patches to the shirt. His black winter boots completed the ensemble.

Mr. Perfectionist was a little concerned by the relatively dark color and large pattern on his uniform, He remembers Jeff's final uniform (the more modern version) had a more pixilated design and was more tan in color. Thinking quickly (I am a spin doctor!), I pulled out a photo album from when Jeff deployed to Bosnia. There he was in the darker uniform with an identical hat to the one AJ was wearing. Oh yeah! Suddenly the costume was definitely cool!

The day wasn't just about candy and costumes. We actually did spend a little time looking at the animals. I noticed the coin-operated treat dispenser in the petting zoo had been removed. I wonder if they needed to protect the animals from over-eating.

When we hit the play areas, AJ was quick to find comrades in similar costumes to play with him.

I don't recall what Sydney was declaring in the photo below. Probably something like "Trick or Treat!". It gives me chills on this very cold morning, to look at her bare legs. Hard to believe that just one week ago, I'd questioned if the long sleeves would be too warm.

It also gave me chills to see AJ in a fairly realistic soldier uniform. If his current fascination to be "a brave Army soldier like Dad was" lasts, I could see him dressed like this for real in less than 12 years. If that day comes, I hope I will be brave enough to support his decision to serve his country in such an important way. Right now, the thought scares me to death.

Let's all take a moment to pray for world peace. Wouldn't that be the most amazing treat!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gum chewing 101

Now that's she's a bus-riding preschooler who's even done real homework, there's just no end to the things Sydney is willing to try.

Digging through her bag of candy from last weekend's Boo at the Zoo (I'll try to finally write about it tomorrow), she found a piece of gum that somehow hadn't already been handed over to her brother. She and AJ negotiated some sort of deal awhile back - he gets all the gum and she gets the Dum-Dum suckers.

I suspect their treat treaty has just hit a snag, because Sydney made an important discovery this week.

Sydney: "I do like gum!"

Me: "Then where is it?"

"It's in my tummy."

"You're not supposed to swallow it, remember?"

"I didn't swallow it?"

"Then how did it get in your tummy?"

"I ate it."

I reminded her that she's just supposed to chew gum, and when she's tired of chewing, then she should spit it in the garbage.

"Oh. Can I try again?"

"I suppose."

She picked out a new piece, carefully unwrapped it and popped it in her mouth. Less than five seconds later she leaned over the garbage can and - with all the force she could muster - spit out her gum.

"There, I'm done."

Satified, she walked away. Some day we'll work on the cliche of walking and chewing gum at the same time. I don't think she's ready for that yet. For now, we'll just focus on chewing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Once upon a time, they liked homework

Oh how Sydney has dreamed of this day!

On more than a few occasions, she's pretended she's had projects that must get done, busying herself coloring or painting at the dining room table while AJ works on spelling or math. And now... at last... she has real, honest-to-goodness homework of her own!

Wouldn't the world just be a so much happier place if all homework assignments involved Play-Doh?

The note from her teacher explained we have a week to finish the five activities listed. Projects range from looking for leaves to reading books. The purpose is to get parents and kids working together and having fun learning. As a side note, it says "Some children like to call these sheets their 'Homework'."

Yes, she most definitely does!

As AJ worked on writing this week's spelling list, Sydney followed directions, rolling Play-Doh into little balls and pumpkins.

She surprised and impressed me when she showed me how she could line them up big-little-big-little, "Look! It's a pattern!" Next she started lining up patterns based on colors. She was on a roll, doing way more than she was expected. But she knew Mommy and Daddy were proud, and that was all the encouragement she needed.

AJ was rather jealous. His homework involved writing words and then outlining them with colored pencils. (I don't quite get the purpose. Somehow this is supposed to improve his penmanship or ability to remember how to spell. Or something) The promise of Play-Doh became a powerful incentive for him to finish his project and join his sister's fun.

Together they molded hockey pucks, dinosaur skulls and more and more little balls. Neither wanted to stop for a silly little thing called bedtime.

Years from now, I know we'll have plenty of frustrating nights of algebra and chemistry homework that will baffle me even more than the kids. And when that happens, I'll fondly look back at this night, remembering that once upon a time, homework was exciting and fun.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bus ride

It's one thing to be big enough to go to Miss Tina's class. But nothing says "big girl" quite like your first ride home on a real school bus.

Even if your older brother thinks you can't manage the stairs by yourself and doesn't give you the chance to prove that you can.

Oh yeah! Who's the big girl now?!? Have you ever seen such an expression of delight and accomplishment?

Day three for Sydney at preschool, as fun as it was, clearly got overshadowed by the ride home. I'd picked her up and brought her home the first day, and she had to go to the after-school daycare program the second day, so this was her first time riding the bus with the big kids.

Jeff brought the kids to me at work this evening on his way to work, and before she was even in the door, Sydney blurted, "I rode the bus home and Dad took my picture!"

AJ was surprisingly unexcited to have his sister on the bus. When I asked him if he liked having her along he answered, "Not really. Miss Jill (Miss Tina's assistant) made me sit next to Sydney, and she was really annoying. She just kept talking all the way home."

Our next door neighbor Jolene sat near them and talked with Sydney during the ride. I've told AJ that from now on, anytime Jolene sits by Sydney, then he doesn't have to.

I have a sneaking suspicion that once he's given a choice, his big brother instincts will kick in and he'll complain if she doesn't sit by him.