Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sockin' with 70s toys

Ahhh... another example of oldies but goodies. For some reason it makes me proud to see the toys of my generation available again on store shelves. Or maybe I just like being able to buy the toys I always wanted, but never got as a child.

When I first saw the Socker Boppers, I made the rookie mistake of buying a box of two. Silly me. I should have remembered you can't battle with just two. Either one kid has two of the inflatable boxing mitts and the other is left unarmed, or else each child has just one, and that simply doesn't work.

And so a few weeks passed with barely a bout until finally I was able to get back to the store and buy a second set. And then it was let's get ready to rumble!

As the kids went at it, it became clear that their excitement over the Socker Boppers was based on more than just my endorsement. Apparently a kid-targeted advertising campaign has been running. Because as Sydney and AJ came to blows, Sydney sang out a nice little jingle, "More fun than a pillow fight!"

Don't get me wrong – she's a creative kid. But not that creative. Or musically inclined. Clearly, she was mimicking a commercial.

AJ, meanwhile, enjoyed copying his favorite NHL players. I think he likes dropping gloves more than he likes punching with them.

I know parents who've been accused of living vicariously through their kids' talents. I'm perfectly content living vicariously through my kids' toys.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Poster Child part II

Andy Warhol once predicted that everyone would have 15 minutes of fame. But I have to wonder, does the clock start ticking if your moment of glory comes before you even start kindergarten?

Check it out! There's Sydney – larger than life!
The Children's Museum's new outdoor campaign debuted yesterday, and three of the billboards feature Sydney in all her finger painting glory. The above photo is just west of downtown and can be seen from I-35. She's also on a sign near the zoo, as well as a board in Cloquet. We took a trip last night to check it out.

Sydney was disappointed that I wouldn't let her run through the field so she could actually touch the sign.
A few hours earlier, Jeff had taken the kids to explore the new Museum, which opened yesterday. The new Dino-dig site earned top marks from both Sydney and AJ. With sand to sift through, goggles to wear and bones to uncover, what's not to love?

They were also quite excited to discover the Castle exhibit was back. I suspect AJ's interest in knights might suddenly be renewed.

At bedtime, AJ informed me he'd made some new friends but he couldn't remember their names and he probably wouldn't play with them much anymore. He then explained he had fun playing with other kids at the Museum.

Sydney enthused that she liked digging for dinosaurs, and they found one, but it was really buried and they couldn't get it out. She also liked the castle and the playhouse.

According to Jeff, she also really likes the Museum's president, whom she's met several times. When she spotted him, she grinned and waved. It's good when you can be the face of a product you fully endorse.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Poster child

Of course the goal is for every child to feel a connection to the Children's Museum when it opens its doors at its new location tomorrow. But for Sydney that bond is extra special.

Because of the work and volunteering I've been doing, she's already been through the new space several times, and now walks around like she owns the place. The most recent visit was last Friday. While I took photos, she made sure everything was in working order.

Oops. Sydney didn't seem to understand that finding balance was part of what she was supposed to learn through this exhibit.

The bank was a favorite spot. I wonder if she realizes that if there were such a thing as a bank teller gene, she probably inherited it.

Hopefully Jeff will be able to bring the kids to visit the Museum on its opening day. But the Museum isn't the only thing that will be making its debut Tuesday. Weather permitting, new billboards will also be posted around town featuring Sydney in all her fingerpainting glory. Thus, another reason she feels extra special.

I suggested to her we coulld have her birthday party at the Museum next month, and she's already imagining which friends will love certain exhibits the most. Now I just have to get my act together enough to pick a date and reserve the space.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

We remember

This weekend's cruddy weather has made it easy to remember that this holiday is a somber one that has nothing to do with barbecues, camping or that unofficial start to summer. Friday, as soon as AJ was done with school, we headed to the Cities and to the cemetaries where my uncle and other family members are buried.

My Dad came prepared with more than knives and clippers this year. He revved up the weedwhacker and made quick work of clearing the grass that had dared to encroach on the grave stones.

Sticking with tradition, my Mom took lots of pictures and Jessica showed remarkable patience with my kids. Sydney wanted to help carry a water-filled vase. Amazingly, she didn't spill, nor did she stab herself with the pointy bottom.

AJ paid a lot of attention to the years listed for birth and death on the various stones, making comparisons of who would be oldest and who had been dead the longest.

Staring at row after row of marble stones, I couldn't help but wonder how many lives are represented here. How much grief has been felt here.

And then it was time for the ultimate tradition. The annual photo opp at the large monument that's near several of the graves we visit. You know how some moms measure their kids and draw lines on the closet wall to track their children's growth? Not my sister. But if you look at photos taken each year at this same location, you'll see how much my nephew and niece have grown from year to year.

My kids, of course, wanted to be part of the action. Until they started climbing and realized how narrow the ledge is. Then AJ got a little scared.

But it's all good. It's traditions like these that connect my kids a little more with the ancestors they never had a chance to meet, not to mention with the family that's living.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sprinkles of fun

No, the headline has nothing to do with the rain that's been pouring down on us the last 48 hours. Once upon a time, about six days ago, we actually had hot and sunny weather.

And if you're a kid, is there any better turn-lemons-to-lemonade solution for hot and humid conditions than hooking up the sprinkler to the end of the garden hose, slipping into a swimsuit, and then going wild.

For whatever reason, the kids didn't want to just run through the sprinkler. They wanted to grab shovels, hockey sticks and anything else that could be used to divert the chilly stream of water. When the neighbor boys heard what the kids had planned, they quickly ran home to change into swimsuits and join us.

A sign that we need to clean our garage: it took at least ten minutes to locate the sprinkler. But if the laughter and shrieks from the kids were any indicator, the wait was totally worth it.

I can't help but look at these pictures and sigh. We now have standing water in our front yard and it's supposed to continue to rain all day. But how nice - and fleeting - as it was, the hot spell was a great unofficial kick-off for summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Good service

It was kind of by accident, but AJ got an awesome experience in community service Saturday night. My friend Jess was helping organize a pasta feed fundraiser for a boy at the school where she works who has a worsening hearing disorder (the goal was to raise enough money to purchase a special audio amplification system that his insurance wouldn't cover) and so she put out a call for volunteers.

I agreed to help and, because of Jeff's schedule, brought the kids with me. My friend Crystal also came with her boys. Sydney was content to play in the nursery, but the boys wanted to help. Or maybe they just wanted to wear the plastic food service gloves. Either way, we put them to work.

AJ and Carver rotated between handing out salad and bread sticks. Both decided bread stick duty was easier than scooping up the dressing-coated salad.

"I liked serving people, but I didn't like that there were so many people," was AJ's summary of the experience. And there were a lot of people. Jess is estimating in the 400-450 range.

AJ's personality was on full display. As people moved through the line, AJ greeted each one with a "Good evening", "Have a nice day", "Thank you for coming" or something similar. (And thankfully, since he knew we were in a church basement in Superior, he held back on jokes about the Green Bay Packers.)

When the boys grew tired of their work, Crystal and I shifted into their positions and sent them to play.

But I was very proud of them. Sure, there was the novelty factor of serving food, but they hung in there for a long time. How often do kids have an opportunity to help someone their own age in such a way? Community service for elementary students usually comes in the form of canvasing the block asking neighbors to buy cookie dough, wrapping paper and other items they really don't need, all to raise money for their school where they may not realize the direct result of their work. In this case, they met the boy and saw that he looks and acts just like them.

And best of all, by the end of the night, they knew they directly helped this boy. The fundraising goal had been achieved. (Okay, if you ask AJ, the best part was at the very end of the night we stopped at Culver's for a late dinner and frozen custard. After serving all evening, AJ wasn't in the mood for pasta and bread sticks.) It was an experience I'm glad he's had, and we'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Score one for the coconut

Compared to the dead crab my dad and I tried to bring home from a Florida beach as a souvenir when I was six, a couple of coconuts don't seem like all that bad of a gift. Sydney was certainly excited to receive the present from my snow-bird parents when they returned from their winter home in Florida.

I didn't mind all that much either. Coconuts, after all, don't leave a lasting stench in the trunk of your car the way a dead crab does. And they take up a lot less room than the massive palm frond that showed up in my garage last year.

And really, I didn't think we'd ever actually do anything with the coconuts, other than let them clutter up the kitchen counter for a few weeks. After all, AJ had experienced a coconut once, and let's just say his feedback was less than positive. I figured he'd warn Sydney about the nasty taste of coconut milk, and that'd be the end of it. Sydney still thinks her brother is infinitely wise.

But alas, AJ was unable to dampen her enthusiasm, and so after several days of her asking, I finally caved in and attempted to break into the coconut.

My dad had tried explaining how he'd seen work crews in their Florida neighborhood hack open the fruit with relative ease. But I admit, since I didn't think I'd actually be opening one, I wasn't really listening all that closely. I did recall hearing him use the word machete, and so I grabbed a knife and started hacking.

And it actually felt kind of a good. For context, we did this last Thursday evening, shortly after returning from the music concert I'd found out about on extremely short notice. And so chopping at the coconut was sort of therapeutic.

Even AJ grew curious to see what we might find inside.

What we found was a very hard, hollow interior with absolutely no milk inside. But considering I wasn't smart enough to shake the coconut to listen for liquid in the first place, I certainly didn't take this as a sign that the coconut was dried up. No. I continued hacking at it.

In the game of rock, paper, scissors; rocks beat scissors because they can crush the metal blades. Perhaps I should have remembered that before wielding my nice Pampered Chef butcher knife like a machete.

Suddenly there was a new noise, like metal hitting rock. I stared in horror at the massive chip that now appeared in the knife blade. Thank goodness for lifetime warranties!

We still have one more coconut sitting on the counter. I've shaken it and can hear liquid inside. I'm trying to decide if it's worth a second attempt. Right now the score stands at:
Butcher knife: 0
Coconut: 1

I'm not sure I'm ready to risk going 0 for 2.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Celebrating Moms... and cousins

Another from the "old news, but the photos are too good not to share" category...

Mother's Day was last Sunday. Less than a week ago, but it seems much longer. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the number of times I've yelled "Enough!" to quiet my two perfect children who love to antagonize each other.

But back to last Sunday, when the sun was shining and everyone was smiling. Here's Grandma Elouise with her brood. I think she had just volunteered to babysit the youngest four. Or maybe not.

The kids were very excited to visit Grandpa David and Grandma Elouise (and Dudley, too, though he wasn't allowed to come to the restaurant where we'd all gone for lunch), who had finally ventured back north after a winter in Florida.

Hugs for cousin Zane when it was time to leave...

Earlier, we'd gathered for lunch and gift/card openings. Zane was happy to help Grandma shred the wrapping paper.

AJ, meanwhile, was thrilled to escape the confines of the corner booth, crawling under the table to play with cousin Finn...

... who was totally fascinated by his bigger cousin Jonathon.

AJ wasn't the only one playing musical chairs. Zane shifted over to check out Sydney's Squinkies toy. I still don't understand the appeal for kids of these mini rubber figurines and clear plastic. What appeals to me is that they're relatively inexpensive and keep them busy for a long time.

Funny how Mothers Day still ends up being about the kids. Probably because they're cuter.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Do the hustle

Just a heads up... this blog post is about AJ's spring music program.

You now have received roughly the same amount of notice I did that AJ had something going on Thursday night.

Jeff called me yesterday a little before 5 p.m. as he was heading to work and I was preparing to leave my office. "Does AJ have a program tonight or something?"

"Not that I'm aware of. Why?"

One of his colleagues who lives in the same district mentioned a music program.

"His kids are a little older. Must be for the older grades," I confidently replied.

This was our one night all week with nothing on the calendar. I'd even commented about that to someone at work earlier in the day. No hockey for AJ. That had been Monday. No end-of-year picnics for Sydney. That was Tuesday. No dance for Sydney or baseball practice for AJ. Both of those had been Wednesday. And there's another dance class for Sydney tonight.

But there was nothing going on Thursday evening. Nothing to do but go home and get caught up on homework and housework after a way-too-busy week.

Fast forward 50 minutes. I'd survived the road construction-filled commute on I-35 and made it to pick up the kids from their after-school program. It was then (5:50 p.m) that AJ said, "Mom, I have to be in Mrs. Baird's room at 6:15 for my program. And I need to wear a bright shirt." He then pointed to the dark blue and red Twins shirt he was wearing. "Is this bright?"

How did I miss any announcement of this?!?

I turned to the Cool Kids staff person. "Do you know if the kids have a program tonight?"

"Yeah," she confirmed. "6:30 in the gym."

As I hustled the kids out the door, we passed another mom I know. She had come prepared and was armed with brightly colored shirts for her boys so they could go straight to the program. She offered to share a shirt because she had a spare. How nice. Could I feel any more inept?

On the way out of the building, we happened to pass AJ's teacher who was on her way in. I quickly explained my surprise and assured her we would be coming, though maybe a few minutes late.

During the short drive home, AJ asked if he could borrow Jeff's Magnum P.I. curly wig (an old Halloween costume) because "that's kind of disco."

"What does disco have to do with anything?" I asked.

"We can dress like disco," AJ answered.

"I thought you were supposed to wear bright colors."

"Or disco."

At that point I called my friend Crystal who confirmed the program had a disco theme, but otherwise bright colored clothes would be fine. Great. Just great.

In the house we went. I helped AJ find a shirt, grabbed a couple snacks for the kids, left for poor Gus still in his kennel, and headed right back out the door. We made it back to school with a couple minutes to spare. I dropped AJ in his room, and Sydney and I made our way to the gym, finding a spot to sit on the bleachers.

The kindergartners came in first singing and dancing (mostly dancing, not much singing) to "The Hustle". The woman sitting in front of me turned and smiled, "Wouldn't it be funny if some of the parents stood up and started doing the hustle."

I already did my version of the hustle, thank you very much. We wouldn't have made it otherwise.

Next up came the first graders. Here's AJ pretending to be John Travolta while waiting for the other classes to file in.

AJ told me later that it was a big deal to be able to stand on the top row of the risers. The music teacher figured out that all the kids wanted to stand in back, so she used that as an incentive. The best class got to be in the back row, and AJ's class won! Oh boy!

I feel horrible for saying this. And if this blogging website would let me upload a :30 second video clip I wouldn't have to because you'd be able to draw your own conclusion. But this was possibly the worst theme ever for an elementary choir concert. Sure the music was fun and the kids liked the dorky dance moves. But it was, in a word, awful. Call me grumpy, but first graders cannot hit the high notes of Funkytown. And the older grades similarly mutilated a whole range of songs from the era that should have remained bygone. If I wanted to hear singing like this, I would head to a karaoke bar, because at least there I could numb my nerves with alcohol.

Yes, definitely grumpy.

AJ's class finished their second song, Good Times, which we were not having. AJ apparently felt it appropriate to blow kisses to the crowd as thanks for their applause.

Next came the second graders, singing Kool and the Gangs' Celebration. I remember singing that song on the school bus when I was just a few years past second grade. Great! Now I'm OLD and grumpy.

The show continued with kids singing what I consider to be highly inappropriate lyrics for their age. Sydney grew ever more restless. My butt grew ever more sore from sitting on the wooden bleachers. And the person near me who badly needed deodorant grew ever more annoying.

At last it was time for the grand finale. The song when all the kids file back in to the gym and sing together. It's the music teachers' way to hold us all hostage until the very end. It takes at least five minutes to squeeze them all in to the gym in some semblance of order. The song? "We are Family."

Just to give you a feel of the magical moment:

And that's only the front third of the gym.

Where's AJ? If you click on the above picture to enlarge it, look near the doors on the right, straight down from the word "Attitudes", he's the blond in the red shirt.

Normally I love these music programs. It's fun to hear the kids. It's great to see all the families that come to watch. Next year, assuming I get more than 25 minutes advance notice, it should actually be easier to sit through the full show because Sydney will be singing, too. That means it'll be her teacher's job to keep her busy while the other grades are performing.

And so until next year, let's pack away the disco ball. Or maybe smash it to smithereens.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The big one

I was so proud of my kids this past weekend when we celebrated their cousin Finn's first birthday. Check out what you don't see in this picture as he opened his presents:

What don't you see? My kids! For the first time ever, they resisted the urge to pile in and "help" open gifts. Finn's big brother Zane was happy to step in and show how the toys work. As it should be. That's what big brothers are for, right?

AJ and Sydney weren't totally disinterested in the festivities. When the cake came out and it was time to sing, they crowded 'round the birthday boy.

Though it took some coaxing. Why? Because Uncle Eric and Aunt Sarah have a new storage container on their deck. Or is it a boat? Or a train car? So many possibilities!

Happy now-belated birthday Finn. It was fun to visit with you. I bet you'll be walking the next time we see you!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Celebrating at the Lake

Still playing catch up with stories and pictures from last week...

Sydney's graduation from preschool coincided nicely with a sunny and gorgeous 70+ degree day. More accurately, the afternoon I took off from work to go to Sydney's preschool program coincided nicely with a sunny and gorgeous 70+ degree day. And so to celebrate, when the school day was done, I took the kids to the Lake to play tourist for an afternoon.

They played the part perfectly.

Feeding popcorn to seagulls. Slurping on slushies. Shivering because we didn't bring jackets and the temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler than it'd been at home thanks to a breeze off the lake. Oh yeah, you'd never guess we're from around here and should know better.

We stayed warm by keeping moving. And climbing. The kids amazed me by asking to walk the full length of the pier. They wanted to climb the steps to the light house. And of course they had to climb on the anchors and other maritime artifacts displayed along the Lakewalk.

Who's excited to be done with preschool? Sydney raised her hand and shouted, "Me! Me! Me!"

Farther down the Lakewalk, we ventured off the path to search for fossils and throw rocks into the Lake.


How lucky we are to live so close to three quadrillion gallons of fresh water. How much luckier we would be if I could just remember to grab jackets when we see all that water up close.