Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ninja time!

Imagine yourself in this scenario: You've spent the afternoon outside playing hockey. When you return, you take off the pads but continue wearing your long johns, all of which are black. And then you happen to see two long cardboard tubes leftover from some wrapping paper.

I ask you - who wouldn't recognize the ninja opportunities?

Happy New Year to all and best wishes that your 2012 is full of imagination and fun!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Day marathon

Day two of multiple gift openings dawned a little earlier than I would have liked (thanks a lot, Gus) but it was probably a good thing. We had lots of places to be, people to see and presents to unwrap.

Breakfast brought more cousin time as we headed to my brother and sister-in-law's for crepes. Here they are: all six of them in front of Zane's "really big tree".

Two highlights for Alex: an art set and a Minnesota Wild hat (How obsessed is he with the Minnesota Wild right now? The first words out of his mouth this morning were: "Guess what! The Wild finally won last night!" Later, while riding in the car, he spotted the temperature gauge which read 22 degrees. To which he noted, "22! That's Cal Clutterbuck's number!")

Turns out the art set was a hit with more than just Alex.

Finn sat happily in awe of all the commotion.

And, as all good babies should do, he was as thrilled with the wrapping paper as he was with the gifts.

And then it was time to take off and head back north. With barely enough time to run in the house, drop off our gifts and load up another basket of gifts to give; we headed for our next destination - the Jaski's.

My poor camera battery simply couldn't keep up with so many gift openings. Sadly, after just one shot, it was done. So no pictures this year of the chaos in the living room as way too many people crowd into way too small of a space for a flying wrapping paper free-for-all. Despite that, I think I can again use thequality over quantity argument. This adorable shot features the newest family member: five-month-old Zoe.

The two-day marathon caught up with us way too soon, and so we headed home where yet even more gifts awaited. Santa had shown up overnight and at last the kids had a chance to dig through their stockings.

 Every year I vow we're going to simplify the holidays and spend a little more time at home. But I've yet to figure out what I'm willing to eliminate to make that happen. And so I will wrap up my Christmas reflections by focusing on my many blessings. I am thankful for the miracle of Christ's birth. And I am thankful for good health, weather, roads and the love of family and friends.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Eve marathon

I don't even know where to begin. Multiple gift openings in multiple towns and homes over two days. The kids, of course, love it. Jeff and I, meanwhile, are exhausted.

It might have had something to do with having to stay up until 2:30 in the morning trying to wrap presents and assemble "My delightful dollhouse" for Sydney. (Clearly, "delightful" refers to the child's reaction to the three-story Barbie house, not the assemblers'.)

So it seemed that Christmas Eve dawned all too early for those of us who'd stayed up way too late. But the kids' excitement could not be contained, and we had places to go and people to see, and so we let them rip into their gifts.

Quite possibly the most exciting gift ever! The Lego police station Alex has been begging for since last summer.

Most of Sydney's gifts were Barbie-related, but she loved the Cinderella doll that can be friends with her Belle and Rapunzel.

And then it was time to get going. As Jeff and I packed, the ids took care of one important order of business... the spreading of magic reindeer food (oatmeal mixed with glitter) to make sure Santa and his entourage would have no problem finding our house. This seems to be a preschool tradition because I recall Alex bringing home a similar bag of supposed reindeer treats. Alex seemed to have a strategy for placement of said oatmeal/glitter this year. Rather than sprinkling it along the sidewalk, they dumped half the bag in the snow outside Sydney's window and the other half outside of Alex's.

And then it was off to the Cities, first for the candlelight service at my parents' church.

Followed by a birthday dinner for my brother-in-law. And then at last, the moment the kids had been waiting for: more presents.

Discovering the joy of giving, Sydney seemed as excited to help Bella (the chihuahua) open her carefully selected presents, as she was to open her own.

The highlight for Alex: a real army surplus helmet. With a little help from Dad, he figured out how to strap it on, and how to hold his hand for a salute.

After the gift opening, we broke with tradition a bit. Instead of staying up late watching a movie, we stayed up late playing Wii bowling.

At last we headed back to my parents' house where my overly energized kids managed to stay awake past midnight. It may have been even later, but that's when I fell asleep on the living room floor. And
that's just the first half of our mad holiday scramble. More tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Baking cookies

It's not misleading to say we baked cookies if we used store-bought dough, right? Because, technically, we did still bake the cookies.

And in this instance, we even added a little flour to the cookie dough, so there was some mixing involved.

Granted, we did it all by hand - no mixer needed - but it was enough to give Sydney's 4.5-year-old attention span a taste of what a cookie-baking experience is like.
And she loved it! And she did it herself. (Except when she needed Mommy's help.)

The motivation for all of this was an angel-shaped, metal cookie cutter that we'd picked up a week earlier while Christmas shopping. Sydney had been putting in daily requests to finally get a chance to use it. So I picked up some sugar cookie dough and put her to work.

We used half the dough for angel cookies. The other half, we rolled into balls, which we then rolled in sugar. (After they baked, we topped them with Hershey Kisses.)

Oddly enough, now that they're done, Sydney's only eaten one or two of them. Mommy, Alex and Grandma Lynne certainly are appreciating them. (Daddy has stronger will-power.)

Maybe next year we'll set aside an afternoon for some real, start-to-finish, baking. If only we could find something to make that's not so fattening.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Turn off the lights. Christmas is over.

And just like that, the party's over. Christmas 2011 has come and gone. The insanity of gift buying and wrapping, Christmas cards and other preparations has given way to the insanity of cleaning up wrapping paper and boxes, trying to find space for all the kids' new toys, and sorting what to throw in the garbage versus recycling.

Thankfully, in the midst of the hectic craziness, we found time to enjoy each other. For instance, Friday night we toured Bentleyville.

I think we picked the best night possible to walk through this incredible display of lights. It had snowed Friday... not a lot, but the most we've seen all season, so the ground was covered at last. And the temperatures stayed mild, so we didn't feel a need to rush to stay warm.

The giant tree was beautiful, and I love the new star on top.

AJ was excited to roast marshmallows. Sydney, meanwhile, was... well... not so excited.

Sydney didn't want to waste time by the fire. She had something to prove.

She had someone to find. 


Last year, we'd taken a picture of AJ with Bentleyville's iconic mascot. At the time, Sydney had been too scared. I'd forgotten about that but, clearly, she hadn't. This was one more item on her checklist to prove how brave she is now that she's four and a half.

Mission accomplished!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to all

I'm going to spend at least the next 36 hours focusing on my family (and no doubt gathering ideas for many blog posts to come.)

Here's a look at our Christmas card picture and letter.

I've been stalling for a week, trying to summarize the 2011 chapter of our lives in a way that's     concise and interesting to anyone other than us. Coming up dry, I turned to my two greatest          sources of inspiration and asked them what we should write in our Christmas letter.

"Merry Christmas. I'm sure you're on the good list." That was the suggestion from Alex, our first grader formerly known as AJ who's now decided he wants more letters in his name.
Sydney's idea: "Let's put in something that gives them good luck. Not bad luck." Our well-intentioned almost four and a half year old then headed into the kitchen in search of something lucky to put in the letter.

"How about if we just write 'We wish you good luck in the New Year'?" I suggested to her.
"No," Sydney wrinkled her nose. "Maybe we should just give them something to eat."

"That'd probably be too messy," I started to explain.
"No, Gus, NOOOOO!" Sydney shrieked, suddenly distracted. "Mom, Gus has something in his mouth!"

And there's your glimpse of life in the Kazel house in 2011.
It's been a busy year. The kids keep us running four nights a week. Alex is in hockey and Sydney has started dance class. When we are home, we're chasing the newest addition to the family, a stubborn but loveable six-month-old golden retriever named Gus who chews on anything and everything and recently managed to pull over our 10-foot Christmas tree.

Whose idea was it to get a puppy?
In his defense, Gus has the very difficult job of following in the paw prints of Maggie, our much-loved golden who died last spring. Our ever-cranky 17-year-old cat, Spike, isn't too pleased to have a puppy in her house. But Gus is adapting well, and the kids adore him. When he's not destroying their toys.
So what else is there to tell? The children, of course, remain brilliant, adorable and perfectly behaved. Sometimes.
In school, Alex likes recess best, followed by math, reading and anything related to history. World War II and the Titanic are favorite topics for library books. "Because that's important," he tells us. He wishes his social studies class could focus more on history. "All we learned is where St. Paul is and the Mississippi River," was a recent complaint.
Sydney, meanwhile, is in the school readiness preschool program and is quite excited when she can do "homework" and craft projects at the dining room table. She loves anything connected to Barbie and Disney princesses, and will very proudly tell you she's not afraid of mascots anymore. She even posed for a picture with Champ the Bulldog at a UMD hockey game.
As for Jeff and me, we just keep doing our best to keep up with the kids and enjoy this wonderful, crazy life with which we've been blessed. And so, as 2011 draws to a close, we wish a Merry Christmas, and New Year filled with good luck...  to all of you who've earned a spot on the nice list.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mite 1 * Year 3

When Alex started hockey, I brought my camera to just about every practice and certainly to every game. I took dozens of pictures each time showing Alex's progress learning to skate and the fundamentals of the game.

Last year, I still did a pretty good job in the role of proud hockey mom. Not quite as many pictures, but still plenty.

Now it's year three. We're about halfway through the season. And I finally remembered to bring the camera.


Here he is at practice. He's the one in the white helmet. It seems like just yesterday he was one of the boys in the middle of the rink, pushing a chair for balance. And now he's the tallest kid on his team, skating faster and more comfortably than I can. (Can I use that as my excuse for the lack of photos? It's tough to get a clear shot of him now that he's so fast. Almost as tough as it is to take a picture when you forget the camera at home for two months.)

The biggest thing Alex needs to work on is his aggresiveness. More specifically - his lack there of. He skates fast and shoots well, but if there's a group of kids swarming for a puck, Alex is much happier waiting back in hopes his team gets the puck and passes it to him. Among the shouts I hear from his coaches: "Get in there! Fight for it, AJ! We don't have goalies in this game." (The coaches still call him AJ, most of the time. They've figured out, as I have, that while he prefers to be called Alex, he responds more quickly to AJ.)

Next year, when he advances to Mite 2s, which uses goalies, guess what position Alex hopes to play. I wonder if he realizes he'll have to confront all kinds of skaters in that position?

Last Saturday, he played in his first tournament. We missed three of the four games due to family Christmas events. (Who thought it'd be a good idea to schedule a tournament on the weekend before Christmas? That's such a calm weekend. Nobody has anything better to do that weekend like shopping, wrapping presents, baking, Christmas programs, Christmas parties, etc. Brilliant!)

Anyway... here's a look at how he's doing. Sorry for the blurry video. My camera's not used to having to focus in cold ice arenas.

In theory, practice moves to the outdoor rink right after the New Year. As warm as the weather has been, we'll have to see how that goes. But I'll be sure to take plenty of pictures. Maybe not of Alex, but of Sydney, who will be starting in the Learn to Skate program.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Such a blessing!

I wonder if I could get away with a look like this: wide-eyed, unblinking daze with small bubbles of saliva on the verge of running down the cheeks. 

The next time I have to sit through a meeting that's running way too long, or listen to a client who clearly doesn't understand what's in their best interest, I think I'll give it a try. Wish me luck. I'll let you know if it works for me.

It's a look that definitely works for my sweet and adorable nephew Finn. Though I suspect he was trying to communicate something as well. Perhaps he was suggesting that he'd had his picture taken one too many times. Or maybe he was just tired of well-intentioned family members showering him with a little too much affection on his baptism day.

I have to say, Finn was wonderfully behaved and made the event go much more easily than perhaps we deserved. You see, there's a little history here. And if Karma were to play a role, then Jeff and I should have been stuck in front of hundreds of people holding a screaming baby.

Because that's what Sydney did to Eric and Sarah, her godparents, when she was baptised.

But as it turned out, Finn's baptism took place in a side room after church, with his parents - not his godparents - holding him as holy water trickled over his head. And he remained happy throughout.

My kids thought the whole thing was great. They got a front row spot to watch it all. Alex thought it was quite funny to hear the story of his sister's baptism melt-down. (To call it a "crying fit" seems too gentle of a description. "Exorcism screams" might be more accurate.) I wonder if enough time has passed that Eric and Sarah might find humor in it too? When we got home Sunday night, Alex asked to hear more about his own baptism, and was excited to look through an old photo album at pictures of himself as a baby.

God bless you, Finn. Jeff and I are honored to be your godparents.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The hockey practice/lost tooth incident

Alex came home from hockey practice with a special souvenir Monday. And I'm not talking about the trophy he belatedly received from playing in a tournament in Two Harbors last weekend.

Baby tooth #5 has departed from his jaw.

Before I could congratulate him on becoming a real hockey player - Wow! That must have been some practice if he got a tooth knocked out!?! - Alex explained the tooth had been really loose and he'd been wiggling it with his tongue while waiting for practice to start. One bump as he put in his mouth guard was all it took for the tooth to come out.

I credit one of his coaches with quick and resourceful thinking. Do you see the tooth?

Look closely at the tag. "Coach Bob" apparently grabbed a piece of hockey tape and stuck the tooth to Alex's bag. Hooray! The tooth made it home safely to be presented to the tooth fairy.

Alex didn't seem to fully appreciate or comprehend all that Coach Bob did for him. He was too focused on one small detail.

"I had to play hockey with blood in my mouth," Alex told me.

Oh. My. Goodness! I bet he's the only hockey player ever to have that experience. (If I'm remembering correctly, I believe Jeff's comment was, "Join the club.")

This morning, Alex actually seemed disappointed to find a dollar under his pillow.

"Some of my friends get $2, and Hannah once got a $20!" He told me.

I pointed out that I used to get a dime for each tooth.

So here are my newest tooth fairy rules:
  • Unless a parent is totally out of smaller bills and is desperate, there's absolutely no excuse for giving your child a $20. You're simply setting unreasonable expectations for the rest of us. 
  • If you're organized enough to have a stash of $2 bills on hand for such occasions, I like you even less. 
  • And most important rule of all... the tooth fairy should not be expected to put in an appearance during the same week as Santa Claus.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Picture perfect family gatherings

It's a good thing I'm not the family historian. Sunday afternoon we spent several very enjoyable hours with the uncles, aunts and cousins on my dad's branch of the family tree. And when all was said and done (and uploaded), I'd taken exactly... count 'em... (or should I say count it)... one photo. 

At least I can make an argument about quality is more important than quantity, because I captured an awesome, unstaged moment.

My cousin Joy's daughter, who is just a few weeks younger than Alex, had been given an early Christmas present - a Squinkies toy. It just so happens that Squinkies are one of about 23,000 toys on my daughter's wish list this year. And Lily was gracious enough to allow Sydney to play with her and the new toy.

Note the look of concentration on the girls' faces as they tried to figure out how to get the little toy-filled balls to come rolling out of the house/dispenser. Even better, note how Lily has sweetly wrapped her hand over Sydney's. Too precious! (Assuming that's a friendly, gentle hand-holding moment and not Lily's subtle attempt to keep Sydney's hands off her new toys. Yes, I like the sweet/precious interpretation much better!) 

So never mind that I have absolutely no pictures of the rest of the family. No shots of Jeff in the basement where we'd smuggled Gus for the afternoon. No pictures of my brother's two adorable boys. No photos of my cousin's 19-month-old son Sawyer who'd just had yet another surgery and was as happy as could be. No recorded images of Alex yelling "you're the headless horseman!" at his cousin Jonathon who patiently continued playing with him anyway.

The Squinkies shot is it. At least it was a moment of peace and harmony. Perfect for Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Christmas magic begins

We don't quite get 12 days of Christmas, but if you add up all the holiday gatherings we attend each year, it seems we get pretty close.

Saturday night was the first of those events - the annual LeVahn family Christmas. The adults may look at the evening as a time to visit with family and savor their Swedish heritage. But for the kids, this gathering has always been about one thing - Santa. 

This year was no different. We'd barely set foot inside the church when my kids started asking when Santa was going to get there. "After dinner," I told them.

They snarfed down their food in record time. "Now is Santa coming?"

"Not yet. I'm sure it will be soon," I said, staring around the room at the adults still busy talking.

At last, dishes were cleared and the singing began. That's always a good sign that Santa must be on his way. My little entertainers, happy to have an audience, were more than willing to sing along.

Pardon the blurry video at the beginning, and the laughter-inducing shakiness midway through. Sydney's reaction is simply too awesome...

My kids came prepared to charm old St. Nick. Each had created a craft project just for him, and eagerly presented him with their art work.

At last came the moment they'd been waiting for. Santa opened his sack and started calling names. Oh, the excitement! I question if Sydney even remembered what she had asked for. But she was thrilled to rip off the wrapping paper and find Barbie from Princess Charm School.

AJ, meanwhile, was almost shaking with excitement. A Lego police boat. And it was his!

Amazingly, 24 hours after opening their gifts, all the pieces are still present and accounted for. It's a Christmas miracle!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The best homework ever

In the history of homework assignments, not to mention all that are to come, none will ever be more perfect than what Sydney was supposed to do last night. It started with cutting out pictures from catalogs and magazines of things she'd like and then gluing them to a piece of paper.

After that, we headed downstairs to "play holiday music and dance."

It just so happened that Sydney had been at dance class earlier in the evening and so was already wearing the perfect outfit, and was more than happy to teach Mommy some of her moves. Though sometimes she prefered, instead of dancing, to pretend she was a beautiful skater.

On a side note, Jeff deserves credit for getting her ready for dance class, and not doing anything ridiculously silly or wrong. Leotard, tights, leg warmers and even a hair band (the necklace was a treat from preschool that she has yet to take off) - Jeff did good.

Alex of course had to again complain about the absolute unfairness of the homework assignments. He had to write all of his spelling words. Five times. And that was way too hard. A little hockey in the basement was the perfect incentive for him to stop whining and get his work done.

Basement hockey is the winter equivalent of front yard football in the fall, I've decided. It's one of those things that I tell myself I don't have the energy to do. And then when I finally start playing, I discover myself having fun and becoming more energized than I was at the beginning.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Alex time

In some ways, my children are so different, and in other ways they share universal priorities. After spending a few hours Christmas shopping with Sydney last Friday, I repeated the one-on-one shopping adventures with Alex the next day.

My son was fine with skipping the stores featuring Christmas decorations. It was much more fun to visit stores with Legos.

Of course the high point of the day, as had been the case with his sister, was stopping for lunch at a restaurant. I talked him out of McDonald's since that's where I'd dined with Sydney the day before. He picked Taco John's at the mall food court, but at the last minute, as we turned into the mall parking lot, he spotted Culver's, and so we quickly changed course. Potato Olés are wonderful, but they just can't compete with frozen custard.

We at last reached the mall, where we first focused on finding a gift for Alex to give to his sister. After that, we picked up a few more items on my list. "Am I the hero?" he asked after successfully spotting a shirt we'd been seeking in the right size hanging on a display.

The last of our stops was at JCPenney. I found the gift I needed and then, because I still had a coupon left, suggested we look at clothes for Alex. I figured he could use one more sweater to get him through the many family gatherings we'll be attending in the next few weeks.

Alex wasn't interested in a sweater, however. My six-year-old instead chose...

Your eyes are not deceiving you. Alex was beyond excited to have his very own dress shirt, tie and pin-striped pants. The only disappointment for him was that we didn't pick up a suit coat at the same time.

Of course, once you're dressed for success, you must accessorize. "I need that thing you carry to work. A briefcase."

(Never mind that neither Jeff nor I carry a briefcase to work.) I dug out Jeff's old one from his insurance-selling days and told Alex to be careful not to get dust on his new pants.

He's not ready to give up on his dreams of being a soldier and a cop. But if this is his preferred style of dress, I might have to suggest he become a detective.