Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cup is up

Can someone please explain to me what I'm missing here? What is the appeal of stacking cups? And how does this qualify as an activity for gym class?

But that's what AJ has been doing lately. In the same phy.ed. class, I might add, that earlier in the fall did a unit on yo-yos. If this is what passes for physical activity these days, is it any wonder why we're dealing with a childhood obesity epidemic? But I digress...

Fearing that I was sounding like a cranky old mom who didn't understand cool stuff, I asked AJ, "So, what's so fun about cup stacking?"

"You can stack cups."

Seriously. That was his response.

The Speed Stacks website proclaims cup stacking encourages kids to use both sides of their brain so they'll show academic improvement. Uh, yeah. I can see a vast improvement in AJ already.

And so I tried again. Pulling out some leftover party cups, I told AJ to show me the fun. You start out with six cups, he demonstrated.

Then, separating the cups and stacking them as quickly as possible, he explained, "I like to go 'three - two - up you go'.

Okay, so it looked a little cool. And I can appreciate that it's helping improve hand/eye coordination. But that's going to help his academic performance and be a "fantastic motivator for physical fitness?" (to quote the brochure that was sent home in his backpack, in case we want to order stacking cups of our own.)

Of course, watching her brother have fun was a fantastic motivator for Sydney to give it a try.

But then I noticed something that really didn't come as any sort of surprise. AJ didn't just want to stack and unstack the cups as quickly as possible. He just wanted to stack them, and keep stacking them. As evidenced by the continued stacking he did when given a chance to use all the plastic cups.

When they started to fall, I jokingly called, "Timber!"

"No, Mom," AJ patiently explained. "That's called a fumble."

I will never be cool enough for this pretend sport.

But I will remain a cool mom, because AJ proceeded to spend the next hour stacking his cups in various configurations.

An official set includes just 14 cups. I think my leftover plastic cups are way cooler.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Grate. Just grate!

I should know better than to allow a just-showered boy anywhere near chocolate. But he wanted so badly to help. And it involved using a hand-held grater, the single most cool kitchen utensil ever invented, in his mind, so how could I possibly say no?

Oh, chocolate, chocolate, everywhere! On his sleeve, on his chin, cheek and ear, and all over the counter and stove.

I was making pies last Saturday night for my family's belated Thanksgiving get-together. One of them was a layered chocolate pie - a recipe described as "Super quick, easy".

Mistake #1 was allowing AJ to lick out the mixing bowl. That's where most of the mess came from. Though how he got it on his sleeve near his elbow has me baffled.

Then he saw me working on the pie's final step - dusting it with grated semi-sweet chocolate. Just last week I'd allowed him to help grate some lemon zest. And he'd managed to do that without skinning his knuckles, so I figured this would be harmless enough. Certainly less messy than licking the bowl. Mistake #2. (Though his intense concentration provided such an adorable photo opp.)

Granted, he grated and sprinkled a tad more chocolate than was necessary, but who's ever going to complain about a pie  having too much chocolate?

At last I convinced him he'd grated enough. AJ handed me the grater and remaining chocolate chocolate chunk and stepped away. And that's when I discovered for all the chocolate he'd grated over the pie, he'd missed with almost an equal amount.

In all fairness, AJ's mess was nowhere near as bad as the one I created the year I dumped an unbaked pecan pie down the front of our oven and cupboards.

Also worth noting, of the three pies I brought to Thanksgiving: pecan, pumpkin and chocolate, the chocolate pie was by far the most popular.

It must have been AJ's magic touch.

Monday, November 28, 2011

C is for Can do it myself

I'm proud of Sydney's desire to do her homework without help. Really, I am. It just would have been nice if her independent streak had struck a couple weeks ago. In time for "I" week, for instance. That would have been appropriate. And a whole lot easier.

Sydney's preschool class focuses on a different letter each week. The kids are supposed to bring in a picture of something that starts with that letter. During "I" week, Sydney wanted to bring a picture of an ice cream cone. Of course that was the week our printer was out of ink, so I was stuck looking through old magazines for a picture of ice cream.

This week is "C" week. And of course C has to be for Cookie. Easy enough, I figured. Every magazine I receive is filled this month with pictures of Christmas cookies.

Oh, but wait. Why would Sydney want a picture of a tray full of beautiful cookies, just because I tore a page from a magazine? Who needs that when she can color a picture of a cookie? All by herself.

And not just color it, she can cut it out. With scissors. All by herself.

As she ever so slowly cut around the circle she had drawn, she repeated the phrase "I can do it myself," (or some close variation) on average about once every 23 seconds. Including while she was asking for help.

And when she was done, she proudly bragged, "I told you I could do it myself."

I sometimes doubt her attention span, but when she makes up her mind to do something, I never doubt she'll get it done, if for no other reason than to prove she can. C, afterall, is also for contrary.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Final Thanksgiving reflections

Tomorrow it's back to reality. It's back to school for AJ and back to work for me. AJ tried to make the argument that a four day weekend isn't long enough this time of year since the days are so short. I love his logic, but it probably wouldn't fly with his teacher or my boss.

As I checked his backpack and folder to make sure we weren't forgetting anything, I discovered a school project I somehow had missed earlier. Reading AJ's list, and the order in which he wrote it, regardless of how he spelled it, made me smile. And it made me proud.

In case you can't read it, the assignment was to list the things he's thankful for. He wrote, in this order:
  1. God
  2. Army
  3. Family
  4. Electricity
  5. Dog
  6. Food
  7. Freedom
  8. Help
Maybe, just maybe, I'm doing something right as a mom after all. And for that, I'm very thankful.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More décor

If some is good, more is better in Sydney's world. Especially when decorating her room for Christmas. During a quick trip to the store to pick up some replacement Christmas lights for the string that burned out, I let her pick some ornaments of her own.

While I was outside replacing the lights around her window, she went to work in her room. And she's very proud of the results.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, except for the total lack of snow and 45-degree temp

The clock is ticking away. We've just about made it through "Black Friday" without setting foot in a single retail establishment. It's bad enough that the true reason for Christmas gets buried under piles of presents. I refuse to lose Thanksgiving in the mad dash for doorbuster deals. Not at 5 a.m., and certainly not at midnight.

Soap box aside, we had a great day after Thanksgiving. We spent it decorating, inside and out, and are now just a Christmas tree away from having fully decked halls.

Sydney was ecstatic to help. Remembering how we did it last year, she repeatedly asked, "Can I decorate my table?" Out came the Playmobil nativity scene, plus Santa and his sleigh. Noting Gus in his kennel in the background, it scares me to think what these pieces will look like one month from now.

"I'm a great decorator!" She repeatedly told me. The nativity scene is about the only thing she wanted in the same place as last year. Everything else she just wanted in her room. For instance, the snowflakes that I hang from the lights above my bathroom mirror each year... Sydney found a much better spot for them.

And then there's the blessed dog that barks the tune to Jingle Bells. Sydney couldn't wait to set him rocking and barking. How I hate that dog. I wonder if I could encourage a certain other dog to show him some love. Hmmmm...

AJ couldn't resist either. The goofy pose, by the way, is AJ's impression of the Grinch riding in the sleigh pulled by the small dog.

When he wasn't being the Grinch, AJ was one Wild elf!

It's always so fun to pull out and dig through the decorations each year. I love that the kids' excitement mirrors my own. It seems to even have inspired Jeff this year, who helped me hang lights on the house this year. For the first time ever I have lights hanging from the roof! (And if you know the steep pitch of our roof, you know this was no simple task.) And I guessed the right number of strings to buy. On the first try.

Once the roof was done, I moved on to the easier-to-reach spots to light. It was then I discovered the consequences of last spring's careless storing of lights. The two strings of icicle lights that typically hang on the front porch railing - both are dead. And the snowflake lights I got last year to line Sydney's window - they don't work anymore either. I was tempted to run to the store and replace them, but then remembered my Black Friday boycott.

I can fix it tomorrow. So if you see someone outside rehanging lights in the middle of a snowstorm, you'll know who, and you'll know why.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving thanks - my turn

It's probably a good thing I waited until this morning to reflect on my many blessings. As exhausted as I was last night - by work, by kids, by a puppy that never stops chewing on things, by a way-too-hectic schedule - I'm afraid the top thing on my list of what I'm grateful for would have been a big glass of wine.

But now I've had almost eight hours of sleep. I awoke to find my husband sleeping next to me (and not snoring!) after his night of work. The puppy wasn't barking to get out of his kennel. AJ and Sydney were both still sleeping. And a big cup of coffee was just a push of the "brew" button away.

Yes, I am blessed.

We are healthy. We have jobs. We have a nice warm home. We are safe and we are all together.

Oh yeah, and it's an unseasonably warm day.

What more could we need?

Sure, there are plenty of things I still want. A quick scan through the Black Friday ads reminds me of that. But God has more than provided us with everything we need. He's definitely blessed me with more than I deserve.

Coincidentally, right as I was typing "blessed me with more than I deserve," Gus - who is in the back yard - went racing past the window, leaped up the step and crashed into the door. Thud! (Sigh) Yeah, that's probably more in line with what I deserve.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Giving thanks - by Sydney

Yesterday I focused on her big brother's list. Today, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I've asked Sydney to count her blessings.

It worked out rather nicely, because one of her "homework" assignments for preschool this week is to tell someone five things she's thankful for. Here's what she had to say:

"I'm thankful for hugs (pause)... turkeys. And I'm thankful to eat them and to go to houses."

I interrupted her, "what do you mean 'go to houses'?"

"Everybody's houses. Grandmas and grandpas, and cousins, and Uncle Steve's."

She then picked up where she left off. "I'm thankful for flowers. Those are all the five things I like."

How fun it is to get my kids' perspectives on the things that matter most. Tomorrow I'll try to compile a list of my own. It's probably going to be longer than just five things.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving thanks - by AJ

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I asked AJ what he's thankful for this year.

What has top of mind awareness with my six-year-old? Here's his list:
  • Freedom
  • Be free to play
  • Food
  • Family
I interrupted him, "Are you thankful for anything that doesn't start with the letter F?"

He added to his list, "Good will."

"Do you know what good will means?" I asked.

"It's when someone does good stuff to you. Right?"

He wrapped up his gratitude list with two more things, "I'm thankful for soldiers. And for money."

Sydney jumped in, "AJ wants to be rich."

"No Sydney," he argued. "Because if we didn't have money we'd never get to buy anything."

Tomorrow I'll give Sydney her chance to make a list.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Game night

What started with the girl with a million toys pouting because she couldn't possibly think of anything to do other than play Barbie games on the computer, turned into an oldies but goodies night at the Kazel house.

Behold the queen of Candy Land.

Six games in a row I played with her while Jeff was with AJ at hockey practice. And how many of those six games did I win? One. It's a game of pure luck, which always scares me because how do you make it easier for the child to win when the outcome is pure luck? But luck was on Sydney's side: When she played me, when she played AJ later in the evening, and when she played Daddy after supper.

While playing with me, the game was a friendly experience. Sydney was as excited to greet the girl characters along the route as she was to cross the finish line. Princess Frostine and Grandma Nutt were the favorites.

Of course, the game against Daddy turned into a trash-talking competition. "You're going down, clown!" and "Girls rule!" were among the taunts leading up to and during the board game battle.

When Daddy shouted with mock excitement, "I got the Princess Ice Cream card!" Sydney was outraged.

"That's Princess Frostine, Daddy!"

AJ, meanwhile, embraced game night with a request of his own. Battleship is his new favorite game, even though he doesn't fully seem to handle where to put the pegs. But it's war related, so it must be important, he figures.

And the ship with four holes in it, "Don't you think it looks kind of like the Titanic?" AJ asked. That makes it even cooler.

How I love the classics! There's a reason they've stood the test of time. I had a Candy Land game as a child, and the Battle Ship game actually is mine from childhood.

Still, I can't help but realize that this was just the first day of single digit temperatures. It's going to be a long winter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

When AJ is in charge

Change, my friends, is a comin'. When AJ grows up, no matter which profession he chooses, you can expect him to make some changes.

For instance, there will be no decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Walking into the fully decked mall yesterday, AJ announced, "When I'm president, if a store puts up Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving, I'll tell it it has to close for a week!"

Speaking of change, note the new eyeglasses, which was the reason for our trip to the mall.

These frames can bend and stretch in ways I didn't think possible. In other words, they're hopefully flexible enough to survive puppies and hockey helmets.

As we waited for the new glasses to be ready, we stopped for lunch in the food court. AJ, die-hard fan of Potato Olés that he is, chose Taco John's. Watching me fill our glasses with pop, AJ said, "Wouldn't it be nice if we had our own cups and we could get pop any time we wanted? If I owned a Taco John's, I would say that pop is free." He paused to analyze this business decision, then announced, with the wisdom of a six-year-old, "I'd still charge for children's drinks, but pop is free."

Coincidentally, the movie Big was on TV last night. AJ loved it. During a commercial break, as I attempted to take a nice photo of him in his new glasses, he made clear something else that would change if he was the one making decisions. You can look however you want in pictures:

The "pretending to sleep" pose

The "pretending to be shocked/scared by something on TV" pose

The "I crack myself up" smile

Yes, if AJ was in charge, there'd never be a dull moment. But come to think of it, that's not much of a change from how it is now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Snow + puppy + glove = "Mommy, help!"

The snow that's been predicted all week - first for Sunday, then for Saturday night into Sunday, then for Saturday afternoon - showed up Friday afternoon. It wasn't a lot, just enough to remind us about the fun of winter driving, and to get Sydney excited to play outside in her new (hand-me-down) snowpants and brand new gloves.

Of course Gus wanted to join her. He's gotten over his initial "What just happened?!?" shock of seeing snow on the ground, and now seems to enjoy playing outside more than ever. And so out the back door they went in search of accumulated snow.

That lasted about a minute and a half, and then Sydney was back at the door, "Moooommmmmm! Gus has my glove!"

We did our best to corner him, which didn't work at all.

Gus loved this game of chase, dodging us with ease and running around the yard.

I finally threw one of his toys at him, which shocked him enough that he dropped the glove. I grabbed it, put it back on Sydney and headed back inside. Just as I was taking off my coat, Sydney was back at the door, yelling for me and yelling at Gus. Back on went the coat as I headed back out to repeat the "chase, dodge, throw things at the dog" process. It took a little longer this time because Gus apparently wasn't as surprised anymore by the sight of toys hurtling his way.

At last I was able to retrieve the glove. I again put it on Sydney's hand and went back inside. Before I took my coat off, I turned around to see what she was playing with Gus. She was feeding him snow.

No wonder it was so easy for him to grab her glove! Here Gus, why don't you just take it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Report card time

RIT score. NWEA RIT Scale Norms. Lexile Range.


These are all words on AJ's standardized student progress report, which I received last night at a conference with his teacher. It's not just the terminology, but the grades that have me baffled. According to this standardized test, AJ is slightly above average in reading, and below average in math.

Below average? In math? This is the child who is constantly calculating numbers in his head. Maybe he's strategizing to set the bar low, so he'll show marked improvement by year's end. Even the teacher said his low score had surprised her.

And then I looked at the breakdown. When it comes to number sense, computation and measurement/geometry, he's in the top 80th percentile. In statistics/probability and algebra he's average. It's the problem solving - where he scored in the bottom 20 percent - that brought his overall grade way down. It's the longer questions, which he probably didn't understand to begin with because his mind started wandering, that he couldn't solve.

Self portrait of a first grader

That whole paying attention factor reared its ugly head a few times. Mrs. Baird says Alex is getting better at waiting his turn to talk, rather than blurt out whatever thought comes into his head, it's still affecting his ability to pay attention. She speculates that he's focusing so hard on his thoughts (so he doesn't forget them before he has a chance to share) that he's then missing whatever it is she's teaching.

I'd say she's got him pretty well figured out.

Moving on to the regular report card, the news was much more as I expected: top scores in math (which totally contradicts the results of the standardized test) science, music, art and phy. ed. He's good in language arts, with two exceptions. His handwriting is bad and there's a category called... of course... "Speaking & Listening." Alex has no problem speaking and expressing himself in front of the class or in small group settings, Mrs. Baird assured me. It's that darn listening part.

And time management. He wasn't graded on it, but here's an example of how well AJ works in "Centers" (small groups with minimal supervision). The assignment was to write all the letters of the alphabet, first in lowercase, then uppercase. He was given 10 minutes to finish. And he got this far:

I don't mean to sound overly negative. I know my son's strengths and weaknesses. I just find humor in the overly polite way educators try to explain the areas in which he struggles. For instance, in the area "listens attentively" the comment was:
Alex is often quiet during instruction, but when called upon randomly to answer a question or come to the board, he doesn't know what he's been asked to do.
For "displays self control", the teacher wrote:
Alex has improved, but should continue working on controlling his urge to talk or blurt out during instructions.
Despite all this, Mrs. Baird says AJ is doing great and she very much enjoys having him in class. She is as entertained as I am by the way his mind works.

Here are some other examples of what he's been doing during his first quarter in school:

Our neighborhood

My dad will appreciate this all-school art project focused on shading.

Here's a close up of AJ's contribution.
And this is just the first quarter of first grade. If we can get him to pay attention, the rest of the year should be just fine.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The unfairness of Christmas

For 2,000 years, the true story of Christmas has been shared, passed down from generation to generation. Biblical scholars, language experts and scientists alike have closely studied and compared even the finest details and variations between  the gospel accounts.

And yet, leave it to my six year old to raise a question I've never heard asked.

Sydney's choice for a bedtime story one recent night was a new paperback I'd picked up entitled "The Christmas Story".  AJ and I took turns – I'd read one page and he'd read the next.

As I read the page showing Mary riding on a donkey with Joseph walking along side on their way to Bethlehem, I commented, "Can you imagine walking all that way?"

A few pages later, Joseph and Mary had made it to the stable, and the picture and words described Joseph making a soft bed for Mary from the hay.

And that's when AJ interrupted, "Why does the girl always get the lucky stuff?"

He's such a gentleman! I'll be sure to share this story with his wife someday – ideally when she's nine months pregnant.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

With age comes wisdom

For as long as he can remember, AJ has always wanted to be bigger. To be older. Some of his best friends are six months older, and he wants to catch up to them. He knows he has to finish high school before he can be a brave Army soldier, and so he wants to grow old enough to do that.

But all of a sudden he's discovered that older isn't always better. "It's not fair," he told me as we arrived home last night. "I have to go to school five days a week, and Sydney only has to go three days."

And not only that, the homework he has to do in first grade isn't nearly fun as what his sister is bringing home from preschool. While he has to work on a spelling assignment...

Sydney gets to jump over boxes. Seriously. One of Sydney's take-home projects, obviously geared toward improving coordination and physical activity, was to find various sized boxes and jump over them.

As AJ struggled to understand the concept of creating a code - assigning numbers to letters and writing his spelling words in code, Sydney was leaping and laughing. And driving her brother crazy with jeaolousy.

Which made for a wonderful incentive. We saved the boxes for when AJ finished his assignment.

So AJ was happy in the end. But it got me thinking. When is it really better to be older? With age comes ever-increasing responsibility.Throughout school he will always have harder homework. And then he'll move on to college and into the real world, and - while he'll certainly enjoy more freedom - he'll again have greater responsibility than his little sister. The best he can look forward to is that someday she'll catch up. God forbid she somehow manages to retire before him. Then there'd be no justice in this world.

Hmmm... perhaps it's because I've often commented that being grown up isn't as fun as I'd thought it would be. That makes it kind of hard to offer comfort. I better just stick to offering boxes as a distraction.

Operation Mom Screwed Up Again

This is what happens when I try to do something good for myself like join an adult Sunday School class. I miss out on the kids' classes, and forget important things like coming prepared with a packed shoebox of toiletries and gifts for Operation Christmas Child.

And so on Sunday, which was a family Sunday School event, we spent the hour filling out the greeting sheets that will accompany our boxes.

Whichever children receive our boxes - if they know how to read, and if they speak English - will learn how old my kids are and that AJ likes Legos and Sydney likes to play on the computer. They'll also know what our house looks like because the kids drew pictures, which look exactly like our house looks. If our house was green (Sydney's version) or orange (AJ's version).

And then after Sunday School, Mommy and AJ raced to Walmart to pick out toothbrushes and toothpaste, washrags and soap (which we ended up replacing because AJ thought they were too stinky - thank goodness I still have plenty of hotel-size soaps that were leftover from last summer's vacation.) We also added crayons, markers, a small notebook, candy, a few small gender-specific toys and some other things.

Next it was time to pack our shoeboxes.

And then Mommy went in search of bigger shoeboxes so we could squeeze everything in.

At  last we were done and so headed back to church (the boxes aren't being picked up until tomorrow morning, I checked.) AJ hopped out of the mini-van, eager to help play Santa. 

And then we discovered the doors were locked, and so headed back to the mini-van. Jeff's going to try again to drop off the boxes this morning.

For all the hassles, it was a good lesson in charity for the kids. When AJ first heard about the program, he excitedly exclaimed, "I want to get a box!"

I explained to him that the box was the only gift many children would receive, his expression changed to one of horror. Who could imagine anything so horrible? Reality checks aren't always fun, but they sure are helpful when trying to teach kids to be grateful for the good life they take for granted.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

That was a FUN party!

It is a wonderful day (or in this case, evening) when children reach a certain age or stage of maturity. It's the stage when they happily play with friends, with little parental supervision or guidance needed.

Saturday night we invited our friends the Kilichowskis and the Kuklinskis (can you tell we live in Finn country?) over for a lasagna dinner. Is it any wonder why AJ enjoys playing with these boys? They came dressed and armed for battle. 

On the girl end of the spectrum, Sydney and Reese apparently found Sydney's tube of lip gloss and excitedly presented their glamorous new look.

I somehow managed to miss getting a picture of Avery. For the most part, she stuck with the boys, borrowing one of AJ's helmets and Nerf guns. But the tutu she was wearing didn't quite fit with the rest of the army theme.

And while the kids ran around the house battling foreign invaders, or hung out in Sydney's room playing princess or preparing snacks and treats, the grown ups got to sit and talk, watch a little TV, and just enjoy time with good friends.

The next morning, I surveyed the living room and was pleasantly surprised by how clean it had remained. And then I walked into Sydney's room.

Surveying the wreckage, Sydney smiled up at me and said, "That was a FUN party!"