Monday, December 31, 2012

Getting a little behind

No, the headline is not among my new year's resolutions. I've been working out for several months and am actually pretty proud of the results. I just realized it's New Year's Eve and I still haven't gotten around to writing about Christmas. Part of it can be blamed on me forgetting my camera at our last Christmas gathering, which meant I couldn't share the pictures I'd taken. But, well, let's just move on and pretend I posted this last week...
 
Santa and his reindeer have totally trashed my house! Returning from two days in the Cities, there was wrapping paper everywhere, piles of stuff, empty boxes... and I just can't imagine where it all came from. Unless maybe we forgot to clean before we left. I hate when that happens!
 

My kids are so spoiled! Not just with gifts, which they are, but because we let them open presents from us a full day early, so we don't have to lug them in the car.

 
And as always, it was a wrapping paper free-for-all, with pauses happening only when Sydney needed help reading something.


Barbies and Legos and Lalaloopsie dolls and hockey gear and Disney Princesses and baseball cards and... the list goes on and on. These kids scored big! (And that's mostly thanks to presents sent by extended family in other states. We chose to got the "fewer, bigger" gift route this year.)

 
For AJ, the big gift was waiting in the basement. Can't tell what it is?

 
Here's a better shot once he was able to put it to use. (Jeff assembled it in the basement. I'm still not sure how we'll be getting it up/out to the driveway.)
 
 
Meanwhile, you can see Sydney tightly clutching her big gift. Here's some video of her opening it:
 
video
 
She initially named the doll Starlight, but later had second thoughts about such an untraditional moniker. She's not all Hollywood yet! She seemed stumped, and so I helped her brainstorm. Since it's an A-MERican Girl doll, and we say MERRY Christmas, she ultimately decided to name her doll Mary. It wasn't until much later that I realized when I was little, my favorite doll was also named Mary.

Hopefully I'll post more Christmas memories in the coming days. But I must admit that one of my resolutions for 2013 will be to blog less and play more. Yes, it may mean I'll forget some stories in the future, but the memories of the feelings we had will be far more important.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

AJ's perspective on goals

No one could have predicted the strange series of events that culminated in AJ playing goalie tonight. Just as I never would have predicted the upbeat attitude he would adopt after losing a total blowout.

 
It started two weeks ago, when the regular goalie fell (off the ice) and broke his arm. It just so happened that AJ had been playing as goalie that night at practice, and so we hung on to the gear. We were supposed to bring the gear to another boy to wear tonight, but then got a call from the coach saying they'd switched up the schedule, and so AJ ended up in the net. His dream come true.
 
Until the puck dropped.
 
The match up was so lopsided it wasn't even funny. I think the final score was something like 30-1.
 
 
AJ made some great saves. He certainly had plenty of opportunities considering how many shots the Hermantown team was able to take.

 
During intermission, AJ skated over to us, looking upset. To cheer him up, Jeff told him the opponents were probably one of the best teams in the state. Meanwhile, I told him to focus on how many shots he'd been able to block.
 
The pep talk helped, and off he skated for another 20 minutes of target practice.
 
video
 
I was proud of him for never quitting, and expected we'd need to repeat our efforts to cheer him up after the game.
 
There was no need.
 
AJ summed up the experience as "It was awesome! They were one of the best teams in the state, so I must be one of the best goalies in the state."

We'll just let him keep thinking that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And that's why a still fresh and lovely tree has to leave my house the day after Christmas

It happened. Again.
 
For the second year in a row, I've switched from singing Oh, Christmas Tree to Oh, Cr**! as I stared at what remained of said tannenbaum after it tipped over in my living room.
 
New this year: I can't blame an old and feeble tree stand tasked with holding too large of a tree. And apparently I can't even blame this guy:
 
 
This year, it wasn't Gus' fault. Chalk it up instead to operator error.
 
I'd been in the kids' rooms, putting them to bed, and so didn't see it happen. Surprisingly, I didn't even hear it happen. (So, if a tree falls in the living room... sorry, couldn't resist) Most surprising of all, I didn't hear Jeff's reaction after it happened. He'd been sitting relatively close to it (playing AJ's new Xbox hockey game since AJ had finally gone to bed) with Gus resting next to him (which is how he knows Gus is innocent) when it came down.
 
By the time I learned of it, Jeff had re-uprighted the tree. Sort of.

 
It's about as straight as it was before.
 
The tree had been so fresh that the trunk was almost soft. That meant the tree stand's screws slid a bit and didn't hold it all that well. And let's just say that over the last few weeks, it wasn't just the kids with gift ideas that I saw listing.

Jeff is now questioning whether I've been unfairly blaming Gus for last year's tree tipping, since I didn't actually see  him pull it over. This is not a criminal court case requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I still say he's guilty.

But back to this year... Jeff picked up the fallen ornaments and told me none were broken, except maybe the star which had tumbled from the top to midway down the tree. I also suspect the ornament hook next to it that has no ornament might be a casualty.


(Sigh.) If ever there was a sign that Christmas is over, I guess this is it.

On to the New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

For anyone who regularly reads this blog, my Christmas letter probably is redundant. Especially if you already received one in the mail. I sent it out last week (thus the reference to the Mayans. I knew I was right!)


For several weeks I've brainstormed (translation: struggled), to think of a clever way to start this letter. By last week I was cursing Shutterfly for being so efficient. The cards and envelopes arrived, taking away my last excuse for stalling on the letter. So then I started rationalizing. These are Christmas cards. I should intentionally wait and send them out as close to Christmas as possible. I wouldn't send a birthday card several weeks ahead of time. So that's it. I am remembering the real reason for Christmas – Jesus' birthday. It would be wrong to mail our cards any earlier than December 22 or so. But then I worried about the Mayans. If they're right, then I'll have wasted all this energy on a letter and you'll never get to read about our fantastic year.
        Sydney started kindergarten. And gymnastics. And soccer. And hockey. She's learning to read, which is exciting and annoying. She loves to look over my shoulder and point out "the", "to", "my" and the other dozen or so words she now recognizes. The energy and effort she puts into everything she sets her mind to is great fun to watch. Oh, yes, and she got to be on a billboard earlier this year, as a model for the Duluth Children's Museum.
        AJ  is extremely jealous he didn't get to be on a billboard. But he's moved past that, focusing instead on cross-overs, hoisting and other hockey moves that are way beyond my skill level. He's now a Mite 2, which means they use goalies and bigger nets, AND they keep score. AJ loves it! The only thing that would make him happier is if the NHL would have a season, too. He's doing great in second grade, and found time for soccer and baseball earlier in the year.
        Jeff took a new position with the police department, which has wonderful M-F, daytime hours. After two years of overnight patrol shifts, it's such a treat to spend evenings and weekends together. He also found time this year to coach AJ's baseball team and run his first half marathon.
        And me? In July, I became the Communications Manager for St. Louis County, and am very happy with this new chapter in my career.  I ran the half marathon, too. And – perhaps my biggest accomplishment of the year ­– I stopped biting my fingernails! (a bad habit I've had since age four.)
        Gus, our ever hyper golden retriever, has left the Christmas tree alone this year. So far. And Spike, the cranky old cat that will never die, recently celebrated her 18th birthday.
        We escaped the flood relatively unscathed (though Jeff, who was working that night, has some fun stories to share.) For a vacation we road tripped it to South Dakota, followed by an extended weekend playing tourist in the Twin Cities where we went to a Twins' games (AJ's favorite part) and the Mall of America (Sydney's favorite part.) 
        As I said, it's been a fantastic year. We are well aware of how very much God has blessed us, and we wish you as much happiness and more in 2013. (Because really I'm not too worried about the Mayans.)  Merry Christmas!  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What's in a box?

I understand the importance of buying locally, and I did buy at least a few Christmas presents at non-big-box stores. But I must admit the convenience of shopping from my home computer won out for the majority of the gifts I'll be giving this year. And that has created a whole new kind of big box experience for my kids.
 

Because when all those online purchases started arriving last week, they came in big boxes. Boxes that my kids were practically salivating at the thought of re-using.

 
In the photo above, AJ was carving out a hole for cannons. The kids named and re-named their creation numerous times as they cut and taped it together. Eventually they settled on Fort Tysington.The name Tysington didn't seem to have any particular significance other than it started with a T, the same shape as the fort.
 
 
As the kids worked/played, I was busy wrapping presents. And when I used up a roll of wrapping paper, that created all sorts of new possibilities.

 
Every fort needs a chimney, don't you know?

 
By this point, AJ had lost interest in the project.  He only wanted to build, not to play with the creation beyond that. This was a serious concern for Sydney who wanted to make sure they shared it equally. Everything must be fair, don't you know? I suggested she use two of the "rooms" and leave the rest for AJ to inhabit later. Sydney thought this was a great idea and quickly designated one of her two spaces for stuffed animals and the other for LaLaLoopsie.

 
And so we deemed the project complete and Sydney went in search of Dad to present their masterpiece. Dad, of course, was suitably impressed with what they'd done. But it turns out he's built his share of forts in his day, and with that background, he noticed one key thing they'd forgotten to do. Apparently you can't have a fort without a flag on top. And so AJ rejoined our efforts.

 
And Sydney decided her chimney could do double duty as a flagpole.

 
A few weeks ago, I posted a photo on Facebook of AJ playing in a box he'd decided was a pirate ship. A friend who saw it mentioned I should check out a new company in St. Paul called Play from Scratch. This company makes and sells cardboard boxes and tubes especially for kids to use for creating and playing. How perfect?! Ironically, two of the boxes that the kids used in their fort are the ones their Box of Boxes and Tube of Tubes were shipped in.
 
After watching the fun they had Friday night, I'm more excited than ever to give them these gifts. (And I can feel good, because even though I bought it online, I'm still supporting a small business owner.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's good to be home

The Shack is back! The last time I was inside the Esko hockey shack was July, as a bunch of parents worked to tear apart and save the moldy, flood-damaged building. (Note that I'm admitting I've done none of the work since.) But some very dedicated people have been putting in a whole lot of labor, and when I walked in the door last night, I could only say 'wow'. It looks better than it did before the storm.
 
 
The fact that the first game of the year just happened to take place exactly six months after the flood gave me goose bumps.
 
And then we stepped outside and felt the frigidly cold temperature and even colder windchill, and I quickly remembered what goose bumps really are.

 
It was Sydney's team that had a game, which meant as Mite 1s there was the typical humor of watching them attempt to change lines without falling down. (Sydney's the white helmet in the background, not the child who fell down. By the time it was Sydney's turn, the coach started lifting the children onto the ice.)

 
It was a particularly un-intense game, which was good, because my camera did not appreciate the cold weather any more than I did, and so typically focused and captured the picture about 2-3 seconds after I pressed the button.

 
Part way through the first period, an exciting thing for Sydney happened. No, she didn't score, but her brother, who'd been hanging out and skating on the upper rink, was asked to help officiate the game. (Translation: skate around a straighten the nets every time the kids bump into them.)
 
That's Sydney in front, and AJ in back.
At halftime, Sydney skated off the ice to warm up, declaring in wonder (and with a mouth guard still in place) "I can't beliebe my big brobber was my referee."
 
As ref, AJ had one other important duty: helping the players - in this case his sister - off the ice when their toes got too cold to skate any longer.
 
 
On the to do list today: buy some hand and foot warmers to slip into their skates.
 
But it sure felt good to gather in that building with so many other equally excited kids and parents. And it just so happens that the Duluth team we were playing also had been flooded out - and remains flooded out because their facilities haven't been rebuilt - another reminder of just how much our community accomplished.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Don't judge a drink by its carton

Sydney's making great progress learning to read. She's learning the sounds letters make, and (very) slowly, but surely, is learning how those letters sound together. At the same time,she's learned a new "sight word" each week.

Unfortunately for her, none of those words has been "milk." This became apparent when, unbeknownst to me, she decided to help herself to a drink. I was on the other side of the house when I heard her gag slightly and then exclaim, "It's not milk."

"What Sydney?"

"It's not milk. It doesn't taste like milk!"

It was hard to understand her because it seemed she had her jaws clenched in an attempt not to spit out something extremely distasteful.

I headed into the kitchen to see what she'd been drinking, wondering if one of the cartons of milk I'd purchased the day before was bad.

No, the problem was that Sydney had grabbed a small carton that looks kind of like the ones they serve at lunchtime in the school cafeteria.


I looked over at Sydney who still had her jaws clamped together.

"It's okay if you want to spit it out," I told her, surprised that she hadn't already done so.

She quickly walked to the sink and spit. I then poured her a glass of real milk to help her get rid of the taste in her mouth.

At last she spoke, somewhat haltingly, "Why... would they... put it... in a carton... that looks... like milk?"

It was really, really hard not to laugh at her distress. At least it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The whipping cream is only a week old. She could have grabbed the carton of buttermilk I found in the door of the refrigerator right after this incident - the buttermilk that expired more than a month ago. Yes, it could have been so very much worse.

Yes, it's time to teach her how to read the word "milk".

Monday, December 17, 2012

The reluctant angel

A month or so ago, when the kids started practicing for their Sunday School Christmas program, both came home announcing they had volunteered to be angels. I didn't think much of it, other than to note neither of them had speaking lines to memorize.
 
Apparently AJ didn't think much about the implications either. For instance, he didn't notice that he was the only boy who raised his hand to be an angel. He also didn't think about what the costume would involve.
 
So imagine his horror when he arrived at church and learned he was going to have to wear - in his words - "fairy wings".
 
 
Surprisingly, the halo head piece didn't bother him. It was just the wings. He was sure the other kids would laugh at him. I tried to cheer him up, pointing out that all the boys dressed as shepherds were basically wearing long dresses. That seemed to work. And so with a parting reminder to not let anyone else bother him, I went to take my seat.
 
A short time later the kids came out and took their places on the stage. And AJ, I could tell, was fighting back tears.

 
Sydney, meanwhile, was adorable and excited and.. I have to say a bit like the royal cousin who wore the odd hat to Prince William's and Princess Kate's wedding. How she got her halo to tilt at that angle is beyond me. It was straight at the moment I'd left her.
 
 
The show dragged on. With each passing song, fewer and fewer kids seemed to know the words. It was confusing to me to see the kids basically divided into three groups: angels, shepherds and street clothes. There were no special songs sung by just the angels or just the shepherds. Had AJ spoken up to one of the adults involved with the show, there was no reason he couldn't have just skipped the costume.
 
On a brighter note, as the show stretched on, AJ's mood seemed to brighten.
 
 
While Sydney just got bored and started making strange faces.

 
At last the show ended and I was able to tell AJ how proud I was of him for being brave enough to go on stage in a costume he didn't want to wear. "The kids laughed at me," he confirmed.
 
"Which ones?" I asked. "Your friends?"
 
"Not my friends. The girls."
 
"Which girls?"
 
It turns out it was only two girls. And the one that started it was none other than this one:


Not such an angel after all.

So what are the lessons learned? AJ will be paying more attention next year to which part he volunteers for, and what that part involves. He's already said he wants a speaking part. Meanwhile I need to volunteer to help so that I know what the show involves before the night of the performance. And hopefully Sydney has learned that she needs to look out for her big brother the same way he looks out for her.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The magic of Santa

Oh, boy, did we have a sad morning Saturday. Sydney learned that bad weather (i.e. slippery roads) was forcing us to cancel our trip to the Cities. Which meant we wouldn't be able to go to the special family dinner where Santa shows up each year. Despite assurances that Santa would leave a present for her with Grandma and Grandpa, which they could certainly send up to us, Sydney couldn't stop the tears.
 
But then something wonderful happened. Call it a little Christmas magic. Or call it being in the right place at the right time.
 
We made a quick stop at Cub to pick up some milk and other groceries we'd need if we were going to be iced in for a day or so. And guess who was there!
 
 
Mommy quickly explained to Santa why Sydney was feeling so sad, and asked if maybe he could have a helper drop off her and AJ's presents at our house instead. The jolly old elf (who actually looked rather young) was happy to nod his head and smile and agree.
 
When we got home, Sydney quickly found the cookies she'd made the night before and poured a glass of milk (because what else do you do when you hear Santa is coming?) Mommy, meanwhile, headed on a quick search to find and wrap two presents.
 
Since we didn't actually have a helper who could stop by, and I didn't want to make the kids wait until the next morning to get their gifts, I snuck around and set them on the front porch. I then called the house from my cell phone, which Jeff answered. He then told the kids that Grandma had called to say she'd talked with Santa and he wanted to make sure we saw the presents. He must have gotten there before we got home from shopping, and so he left them on the porch.
 

The kids were thrilled. Sydney got her Lalaloopsy doll and AJ got his the batting gloves he'd asked for.


Thankfully, Santa had realized that a pair of batting gloves in the middle of winter wouldn't be the most exciting gift, and so threw in a pack of baseball cards, as well.


 
Once the excitement of the new presents wore off, Sydney thought of something new to be sad about. Santa didn't get his cookies.
 
I told her we could set out some more when he comes back to fill their stockings on Christmas. I then suggested she could eat the ones she'd set out now. No argument there!

 
It's a merry, even if slippery, start to Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What elementary students should be thinking about

Like every parent in America, like any parent anywhere who has heard the news of what happened yesterday at an elementary school in Connecticut, my heart is breaking. I could not wait to hug my children and tell them again how much I love them and am thankful for them.
 
To imagine what those poor children saw and heard and experienced, the fear and shock the survivors must still feel and will have to deal with... I cannot stop the tears. The agonizing horror of the parents waiting for word - who then learned the worst possible news, and then couldn't gather their baby in their arms even one last time. My tears have started again.
 
Contrast that pain with the wonder and enthusiasm I got to share with my elementary students yesterday.
 
 
The kindergarten class performed Twelve bells for Santa. This is what young children should be thinking about right now. Christmas and Santa and the presents they soon will receive. They should be this innocent. They should be this excited and charming (even out of tune). 
 
video
 
Sydney doesn't know why Mommy suddenly wanted nothing more than to play with her all afternoon and evening. But she seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. Making cookies for Santa - that's what young children should be doing right now.
 
 
She frosted each one with care, and fretted when she accidentally pushed too hard and broke one in half. When I showed her how the frosting would hold the broken pieces together, she giggled with delight and then moved on to burying each in sprinkles.

 
And then she made me fight back tears because she started talking about her upcoming Sunday School Christmas program and how excited she is to be an angel. And all I could think of is the 20 little angels who will never again sing for their families here on earth.

 
 
 
So much innocence lost. Among those who were killed. Among those who survived whose lives have been changed forever. Someday that school building will be cleaned, repaired and re-opened. If I were a parent there, I don't think I could ever let my child go again.
 
Moving forward, I know there will be endless debate about gun control, and how people could not see warning signs that the killer could commit such evil. People will look for lessons to make sure this doesn't happen again. I, meanwhile, have already learned my lesson. And that is to savor every moment with my children. Nothing is more important than reading with them at bedtime, followed by talking and snuggling after the lights had been turned off. I usually do that, but on Thursday night I didn't. I was working on Christmas cards and some work I had brought home with me. How thankful I am to have had Friday night with my children. And will have Saturday night. And every night in the future that I will not take for granted.
 
May we all hug and love and listen a little more. The extra attention we give to our kids - hopefully they won't know why, they'll just know they appreciate it. Because happy times with family - that is what young people should be thinking about.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Biting words

Have I shared yet the story of the super embarrassing playdate my children had a few weeks back? There's a new family that moved to our district over the summer, and by coincidence they have two kids who happen to be the same age and gender and in the same classes as my kids. They're all very nice, so it seems perfect that we become friends.

A few weeks ago, AJ and Sydney were invited over for a playdate at their house. We worked it all out - Jeff brought the kids over after school and I would pick them up on my way home from work. When I got there, the kids all seemed to be having fun, and Sarah (the mom) said they'd all behaved themselves.

Seems perfect, right? It was. Until - as I stood talking with Sarah - Sydney decided for some odd reason to suddenly bite her brother.

You read that right.

Sydney, who never bit anyone as a toddler or preschooler, chose that moment to sink her teeth into her brother's arm.

AJ let out a shriek. Sydney started sobbing. And I could only stare in horror.

How do you respond - in front of another parent you don't know all that well - when your five-year-old suddenly reverts back to a very bad behavior she should have outgrown three years earlier?

I think (the memory is a blur I'm trying to repress) I quickly separated them and then loudly/sternly questioned Sydney, "What were you thinking?!?"

What I do remember all to clearly is what Sydney did next. She threw herself across their couch and wailed, "I'M A BAD GIRL!"

Because I wasn't already embarrassed enough.

On the drive home, I warned her that if she ever bit anyone ever again, I would stick a bar of soap in her mouth. That started a whole new round of tears as she pleaded with me not to do that. Pointing out the logical solution of "Don't bite anyone and you've got nothing to worry about," did nothing to calm her down.

So why am I finally telling this story now?

Because Sydney woke up one morning this week looking very upset. I asked her if she'd had a bad dream. No, she solemnly shook her head. She then buried her face in her hands and started to sob, "I
bit Caitlin's hair."

I think Caitlin is a girl in her class. It's no one I really know.

"Why would you bite her hair?" I asked.

Sydney couldn't answer, she was crying too hard.

"Did you try to bite her hair?" I asked, "or did it just blow in your mouth?"

Sydney continued to cry. "It was an accident."

"Did you say 'sorry'?"

"No, (deep gulping breath) I forgot."

"Does Caitlin even know that you bit her hair?"

"No."

"Then don't worry about it. Accidents happen. As long as you didn't do it on purpose, you're not in trouble. I'm proud of you for telling me."

At last Sydney got up. We finished getting her dressed and she headed to the kitchen to eat breakfast. But clearly she wasn't ready to give up on the topic.

"Mom?" She asked, "can I bite robbers?

"What?" I assumed I hadn't heard her correctly.

"Is it okay to bite robbers?"

"No, you shouldn't bite robbers. You should call 9-1-1 if you see a robber."

"But we don't need to call 9-1-1 because we've got big daddy."

I don't even know how to end this story, other than to say I hope this is the end of the story. I'm picturing my daughter becoming a vigilante biter. She'll be hailed as a hero for bringing down bad guys with her teeth. And then some reporter will ask her why she does it, and she'll answer, "well, I really wanted to bite someone and figured the only way I could get away with it without having a bar of soap stuck in my mouth was to bit someone really bad."

Let's hope there are no new developments to this story. And I am happy to report that Sydney's behavior didn't scare off the new family. They still seem interested in being friends.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

And this is why Santa is better than an elf

Friday marks an annual holiday tradition at my kids' school. It's the kindergarten production of 12 Bells for Santa. (At least I think that's what it's called.)
 
All the kids have parts. Only three involve speaking lines, everyone else sings in the chorus. But they're divided into categories, each of which needs a costume of varying difficulty to make. I'm pretty sure the teachers do this to get even with the parents for all the times our kids misbehave in class. Because we aren't busy enough already at this time of year. And then they taunt us with a letter that says something like "Don't put a great deal of effort into the costume. Just have fun with it."
 
Right.
 
Because that's possible when you know you're competing with 80 other parents and you want to live up to your child's expectations.
 
When AJ was in it, he chose to be an elf. Why? Because he wanted to get a cool elf costume.

 
(Note that I had wised up by that point in the year. The only part of his costume that required any kind of craftiness was the belt.)
 
Now it's Sydney's turn.
 
Have I mentioned how much I love my wonderful, practical daughter?
 
She chose to be one of the Santas. Why was this her pick? Because she knew she already had a Mrs. Claus dress and wanted to wear it again.


Did you catch that? She considered what she already had in her closet and thought about how she could make the most of it.

Translation: Mom doesn't have to sew or shop.

How do I get her to teach this skill to AJ? What a gift that would be!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Oh, Christmas tree - 2012

It's still standing. After 72 hours. It's my own special Christmas miracle.
 
I'm talking about our Christmas tree, which we set up Saturday morning and decorated Sunday afternoon. We've caught Gus sniffing, but he seems to remember the lesson from last year.
 
I was debating, as I do each year, whether this should be the year we hike into the woods as a family to cut down a tree ourselves. But again, I knew someone would have been very disappointed to miss his annual conversation about a sword.
 
 
I finally got a picture of it! This is AJ and the guy we've bought our tree from the last few years. And the sword that hangs on the garage wall, which the guy let AJ hold and take out of its sheath.
 
How could we pass up this moment? Because really, what says Merry Christmas more than an antique sword?
 
And it turns out AJ isn't the only one looking forward to this weird tradition. The gentleman who sells the trees, whose name I don't know, came walking from a shed in back as we looked through his selection of trees. One look at AJ and he commented, "I bet someone wants to see the sword."
 
Thankfully, the rest of the tree-buying experience was un-noteworthy. We found a decent size tree at a decent price (we too remembered lessons learned last year), brought the tree home and set it up in the stand.
 
And then we left it alone for a day. Just to make sure Gus would leave it alone, too.
 
At last, on Sunday, it was time to bring out the ornaments. Both kids took an active role in the decorating this year.



Just once, it'd be nice if AJ would dress normally for this heavily photographed event. And by "normal," I mean based on my standards. Since he adds some weird costume every year, he probably thinks it is normal. Oh well. At least I can torment him some day with pictures of him wearing a foam Bulldogs hockey helmet.

 The kids get taller and more daring each year, standing on stools to reach the tall branches.



Here's the finished product. hopefully we'll only be decorating it once this year.