Saturday, June 30, 2012

My son, the scammer

My son amazes me with his ever growing knowledge, and he impresses me with his sensitivity. At the same time, however, I sometimes can't ignore the fact that he's turning into a bit of a scammer.

Friday night, he was invited to a friend's birthday party. Afterward, as we were driving home, he excitedly sorted through his goodie bag of treats, eventually pulling out a jawbreaker.

"We had a pinata, and guess what I got for you!" He excitedly told me as he reached forward and handed me the candy.

What a sweet and well-trained child! He remembered, thanks to countless parades, that I love jawbreakers, and in the midst of the scramble for candy when the pinata broke open, he actually thought to grab one for me.

Later in the evening, as bedtime neared, AJ approached me and revealed he'd actually gotten two additional jawbreakers.

"Mom, I'll let you have both of these if you let me stay up until 11 o'clock."

Friday, June 29, 2012

A perfectly, waterful evening

If beach volleyball can be an Olympic sport, can beach baseball be far behind?

Probably, yes.

Baseball fanatic that he is, AJ is no longer content to simply throw rocks into Lake Superior. He wants to hit them as far as he can. And with a plethora of drift wood still washing ashore daily since the flood, there's no shortage of "bats".

There also was no shortage of imagination. In this game between the Twins and the Royals, AJ served as pitcher, batter and play-by-play announcer, calling out the hits and estimating how many bases the runners reached at each at bat.

There's real concern in our town that last week's flood will scare away money-spending visitors at the peak of the tourist season. And so, civic-minded Duluth advocate that I am, I felt it was only right to take the kids to Canal Park after work for dinner and some play time.

Plus, I had zero desire to cook last night. So everybody wins. Except the kids when I make them pose for a picture in blinding sun.

The weather was simply stunning: 89 degrees by the Lake.

On the way back to the car, instead of retracing our steps on the Lakewalk, we played tourist in the center section of Canal Park.

Yes, I made them wash their hands when they were done.

We wrapped up the night with a stop at Dairy Queen. And then we stopped at two more Dairy Queens becuase as I left the first, I got the brilliant idea to pick up Dilly Bars for Jeff and his crew. But as hot as it was, I needed to find a DQ closer to headquarters. Of course the closest one doesn't sell boxes of Dilly Bars. So we headed to Hermantown and at last got the desired treats. As we were leaving, AJ proclaimed, "I guess this is a Dairy Queen night."

There are far worse things it could be.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

High five

Is there any age more fun to be than five? Sydney certainly doesn't think so. Suddenly she has countless new capabilities. And it's all because of her recent advance in age.

"Sydney, isn't that the Scooby Doo show that's too scary?"

"It's not too scary for me Mom, because I'm five."

Her new found bravery temporarily abandoned her last Friday when she had her five-year check-up with the pediatrician. She's been dreading the appointment ever since the last one, and has even asked if we could find a new doctor who didn't have "one of those pointy things." As she's been telling people, "I need three shots and then I can go to kindergarten."

As luck would have it, she only needed two. But getting her to sit calmly was still a challenge. At the nurse's suggestion, I had Sydney sit on my lap straddling my waist. This allowed me to hold her arms in a hug, plus prevented her from seeing when the needle was coming. She cried and squirmed and then, just like that, it was over.

Through big, gulping sobs, Sydney cried out, "THAT... WASN'T... SO... BAD!"

(The nurse was still laughing as she left the room.) 

With the shots out of the way (and no more needed until age 11) Sydney, by the next day, started asking, "Do I go to kindergarten today?"

More adventures with my five year old...

To get across the culvert that runs between the parking lot and the baseball field where AJ played a game last night, we had to walk across a 2 x 4 that's temporarily replaced the foot bridge, which was washed away in last week's storm. As Sydney attempted to cross, with arms out wide as if she was on the high wire, I asked, "Are you sure you don't need help?"

"I can do this. Because I'm five. And girls rule."

Her Cinderella doll now gets piggy back rides because five year olds are big enough to do that.

(Unrelated story: Cinderella was briefly nicknamed Cindy last night. But then I mistakenly noted that it was cute how Sydney was giving Cindy a ride. That was the end of that. Sydney already has developed a pet peeve - when people mistakenly pronounce her name as Cindy. Thus, she couldn't possibly call her doll that!)

The bedtime routine is another chance to demonstrate new skills.

She recognizes her limitations when it comes to scooping frozen ice cream from the carton. She's not strong enough yet (or patient enough to wait for it to melt and soften up). But she can pour syrup on it. All by herself.

It's a funny thing about independence and how our definition of it changes as we grow older. There's that classic song that starts:

When I was young
I never needed anyone...
And the chorus:
All by myself
Don't wanna be
All by myself

Sydney loves to proclaim she can do things all by herself. Because - whether she consciously realizes it or not - she's never really by herself. There's always someone close at hand as back up. And as old as she now is, she has no problem admitting defeat and humbly asking for help.

I suppose that will come. Probably when she's six.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fans gone Wild

It's kind of interesting to look at the stats of how readers find my blog. For instance, I know that a whole lot of people have trouble typing "imagination" when they do a good search to find my blog's web address. If you look at my most read stories (at right), it's not a list of my best-written pieces. It's a list of examples of key words that random strangers happen to use as search terms.

Example: When do I get the undying love and devotion - you wouldn't believe how many people search for "amputee barbie".

Example: Ho-ho-ho-hosanna - lots of people apparently want to know the lyrics to this traditional Sunday school song.

And the most popular example of them all: Brush with fame - more than 200 people have stumbled upon my blog while searching for a picture of Cal Clutterbuck.

So why am I writing about this now? Because two Minnesota Wild players were in town earlier this week on the summer fan tour. Jeff took the kids to get autographs, and DIDN'T TAKE ANY PICTURES OF THEM.

Talk about missed opportunities! Imagine the traffic to my blog if I had two more sports celebrity photos to share. Did Jeff really think I was suggesting he take the kids to this for the kids' sake? Silly.

So here's the best I can do. AJ got autographed pictures of Jason Zucker, Tom Reid and Nate Prosser. Note the commetary he added to the two current players.

He also brought a team poster, which they signed. Can you find them in the photo? Don't worry. Neither can AJ.

And a puck. How could you not want to get a puck autographed by Nate Prosser? (Never mind that if you flip it over you'll see it features a photo of Cal Clutterbuck.)

And just about the time I was wondering if AJ had slowed up the line while the players autographed a bazillion things for him, he showed me one more item. I think the black squiggly marks on the right shoulder say Nate Prosser.

Don't get them confused with all the other black squiggly marks on the back of the shirt. Those are the faded autographs of other players who are probably long gone. I bought the shirt at a  garage sale when AJ was about four. He's been wearing it ever since and refuses to part with it. Now, I suspect, he'll want to wear the too small shirt even longer.

AJ thought it was pretty cool to meet two more players. Sydney thought it was pretty cool just because her brother thought it was pretty cool.

I'll find it pretty cool to see how many people find this blog based on the key words I just repeated in this story.

Monday, June 25, 2012


In our increasingly high tech world, there's something wonderfully refreshing about the simple joy my kids get from bubbles.

Simple. Cheap. Bubbles. Making them. Catching them before they pop or float away. Or enticing the dog to jump and chase them. It's all good.

And if those bubbles happen to be super big, even better!

There's also something wonderful about seeing a smiling expression on your daughter's face on her birthday... a birthday marked with way too much rain and flooding, which led to Daddy having to work through most of what should have been her special day, and kept Mommy from getting to the store to pick up as many presents as she'd have liked.

But as luck would have it, one of the gifts Mommy had picked up ahead of time was a bottle of bubbles with two oversized wands. And that was enough to make this the best birthday ever, according to Sydney.

AJ initially was far too cool to join in the fun. Until he saw the size of the giant bubbles. Then he had to prove that he could make bubbles that were as impressive as his sister's.

And then he forgot about being competitive because he was too busy running around and having fun.

When rain sprinkles started again, we shifted our fun to the front porch. When the rain stopped a few minutes later, we headed out into the front yard. By then we'd figured out that running with the wand produced far more impressive bubbles than simply blowing on the wand did.

It didn't take long to blow through all of the bubble solution. Thankfully I found more in the garage, leftover from last summer, but that only lasted another day or two. Thank goodness for online recipes. For future reference, you can make wonderful homemade bubbles by mixing:

1 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 tablespoons dish soap

That makes enough bubbles to last 10-15 minutes. (Yes, it's cheaper to buy them. But when you're stranded at home due to washed out roads, this recipe is a life saver.)

AJ's competitive spirit apparently has returned. He just peeked over my shoulder to look at the pictures and commented, "Whoa! Sydney's like a professional, and I'm just a minor leaguer."

I highly doubt we'll ever see Bubble Blowing as an Olympic sport. If they do get added, I think I know a few athletes who'd like to try out for the team.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In the wake of a flood

Relatively speaking, we've been quite lucky this week. All around us are reminders that it could have been so much worse. That it IS so much worse for people just a short distance from us.

There have certainly been disruptions in our regular schedule. Jeff worked something like 39 hours over a three day period. His parents, who had to evacuate their home, still have no indication of when they might be able to safely return, which means they just spent their fifth night with us.

But our basement is dry and the river continues to retreat.

Later today, we'll be loading up 13 garbage bags and some other large items (note the tent, and the shelves in the background), to dump at the Materials Recovery Center.

There's nothing like water in the basement to accentuate the smell left behind by a cat's liberal definition of her litter box's boundaries. We cleared a lot out and washed the rest with bleach. (AJ's observation: "it smells like a pool in here.)

But in other words, the flood forced us to clean what we should have cleaned awhile ago. Compare that to what was loaded in a pickup truck that passed me yesterday: a mud-stained washer, drier and other large appliances.

I've got nothing to complain about.

Yesterday morning, it again started to rain. Sydney looked outside and said in an almost sing-song voice, "Oh no, rain. Mom's gonna have to work in the basement again."

Yes, there will be memories. But no traumatic ones.

Remember the picture I shared of our backyard Wednesday?

Here it is Thursday. The kids are standing where the water had been just 24 hours earlier.

In addition to water in the basement, the storm also brought me some patio furniture (which has since been identified by my next door neighbor.)

It felt somehow wrong to be able to walk where water had been flowing just a day prior. Less lucky people further up the river were using large dumpsters to clear out their flooded homes. At the same time, in my backyard, the tall grass and weeds had already popped back up.

It looked almost like nothing out of the ordinary had just taken place. But on closer inspection, I can see a brown stain on the vegetation. Remnants left behind when the river level dropped. In the photo below, AJ is pointing to the farthest inland spot showing the brown muck, while the still-high Midway River flowed behind him.

Friday was the first chance for the kids to venture from our yard since the rain started Tuesday night. Let me just say, AJ might have a future as a reporter or perhaps a lawyer. As we drove out of Esko, I pointed out to him first a house that had flooded, followed by a street near his school that had collapsed. After taking it all in, my normally sensitive child excitedly announced, "I can't wait to see more destruction!"

Later in the afternoon, we observed what might turn out to be the most devastating damage from the flood of all: a nearly deserted beach in Canal Park. On an absolutely gorgeous day. At what should be the height of tourist season.

Selfishly, it was kind of nice to have the beach to ourselves, but this will be horrible for the local economy. A whole lot of jobs depend on a whole lot of tourists visiting between Grandma's Marathon (last weekend) and mid-August.

Yes, we had to step over a couple rows of debris that had washed up on the beach, but the agate hunter in me couldn't wait to take a closer look at the rocks that had come with the driftwood. And yes, the water was more brown than blue, but what sane person swims in Lake Superior's chilly waters this early in the season anyway?

I'm fascinated by this satellite photo of the Lake, shared by one of our news stations, showing just how much mud has been carried into and stirred up in the water following the storm.

There's so much hardship around us. Everyone has a story. It's how those stories end that define us as victims or survivors.

I, for one, hope to continue our return to normalcy. I plan to go running later today. And then I'll take a glorious shower in our downstairs bathroom.

Why is the part about a shower worth noting? This flood has taught me things and revealed an unexpected benefit. With my in-laws sleeping in our room, I finally used the shower that we installed several years ago. And guess what? It's awesome! Incredible water pressure, practically instantly hot water. And no interruptions from kids.

It's heaven! Too bad it took a bit of hell and high water to realize it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Showing Dad he's special

Not so long ago, there was this special day. It was before all the rain and flood, and before Sydney's birthday. Though after her party and after we ran a half-marathon... (Just writing this is reminding me why I've been so tired this week).

It was a special day called Father's Day. And the kids were very excited to help me do special things for their Dad.

Except the kids slept in really late, so we couldn't serve Jeff breakfast in bed because he was already awake. So we did the next best thing: brunch on the couch.

AJ excitedly volunteered to help with the eggs. Amazingly I only had to fish one very small piece of shell from the bowl when he was done. Next, Sydney had a chance to fulfill one of her career goals: to be a "server girl".

Making it all the more special... nothing was spilled!

And then it was time to show Daddy what they love best about him... playing with him.

Sydney had gotten a squirt gun the day before as a birthday present. I had quickly figured out we'd need more because what fun is a squirt gun if no one else is armed to play with you. So the kids and I had bought not just one, but two more squirt guns (one for AJ, and one for a friend, babysitter, or... in this battle... Dad.)

The error in my logic is that we now have a total of three guns, for a family of four. I quickly became the designated squirt gun refiller. It wouldn't have been bad except I found myself the frequent victim of friendly fire.

Sydney didn't seem to mind when Jeff shot her, but she would scold her brother, "AJ, you got me all wet."

AJ, who apparently has listened to my sarcasm for far too long, would respond, "that tends to happen in a squirt gun battle."

What a beautiful day it was!

It also happens to be the last day I've seen Jeff at home... awake... for more than 20 minutes. Monday  we saw each other briefly at AJ's baseball practice as I was coming home from work and right before he left for work. Tuesday was the flood and the start of some marathon shifts for Jeff and his colleagues.

Listening to all he was dealing with at work, it kind of reminded me when he was deployed. Sure, I was dealing with craziness at home, but there was nothing he could have done to help and so I made light of the mess so that he could stay focused on the job he needed to be doing. I'm very proud of the incredible work that was done to keep everyone safe in this area the last few days: Unprecedented floods, and nobody died. I'm grateful for his willingness to serve, but right now I'm even more grateful that his 4-day shift has ended just in time for the weekend so we can relax, sleep, and spend time together again as a family. In a house with a dry basement.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Flooded with memories

Poor Sydney. What are the chances that her five-year birthday coincides with a 100-year flood?

Looking out the window, she declared, "I can't believe it's raining on my birthday. I hope they don't cancel my birthday."

On this big day, I should be writing something sweet and poignant about what an amazing girl she's turned out to be and about all the hopes and dreams I have for her.

But instead of encouraging her to reach for the stars, I've been too busy reaching for the wet vac. It's a 12-gallon model. I filled it at least ten times yesterday and twice more today. You do the math. Because I'm far too tired to do much of anything.

7.6 inches of rain in a 24-hour period will do that to you.

Here's a look at the culprit/battle I faced last night. A dysfunctional window well that filled with water and then drained into the basement. That water was at least a foot and a half deep. And it was all I could do to keep up with the flow.

Just about the time the water level would start to go down and I'd think I was winning, the rain would intensify and I'd have to start all over again.

The kids didn't understand the severity of it. At one point, I needed AJ to hold the wet vac for me while I ran upstairs for more towels and a bucket. In terror at being left in the basement alone, he screamed over the sound of the very loud machine, "How long are you going to be gone?!" (I was back in far less time than it would have taken me to explain to him where to find the towels.)

At one point, I think it was around 11 p.m. and I'd been sucking up water for about two hours, I exclaimed in frustration, "This is NOT a fun night!"

Sydney looked at me with innocent confusion. "It's not? Why not?"

"Well, let's see," I started. "The water keeps coming in. I'm sick of the wet vac. I discovered a place where Gus pooped inside and had to clean it up. What part of that is fun?"

She stared wide-eyed, then raised her hand excitedly, "I know a way to make it a fun night. Game night!"

Uh, yeah. Maybe some other time.

By morning's light, the normally calm Midway River was well beyond its banks. To put the below picture in perspective, normally you wouldn't see the river at all from this perspective. It should be beyond the tree line, and the leaves would block it from view.

Yet here it is, covering a good portion of our backyard. The water has continued to rise throughout the day. The kids have been brilliant in their observations. AJ stared in awe, "Whoa! It looks like a river."

Sydney, meanwhile, offered helpful updates, "Look, there's a stream in our backyard again!"

Our next door neighbor has marked in his backyard the 100-year flood mark. By early afternoon, the water level was within a foot and a half of the mark, and I've heard that the river is expected to rise another two feet before it starts to recede. Across the river from us and in other parts of the town, sandbagging efforts are underway.

It simply seems unreal. When we get walloped by Mother Nature, it's in the form of snowflakes, not this. Friends have shared photos and videos on Facebook showing homes that I routinely pass when I run. And they're now flooded or have had their driveway washed away.

Jeff has had to work through much of this. As he prepared to leave earlier today, he kissed Sydney goodbye and said, "I'm sorry your birthday is ruined."

Sydney looked at me sadly, "My birthday is ruined?"

"Not if you don't think so, sweetheart."

There was one very cool birthday coincidence/observation yesterday. (Was that really just yesterday?)

Jeff and I ran three miles as part of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run, a fundraiser for the special Olympics. The first time he did it was five years ago. I was extremely pregnant at the time and came out to cheer him on. One of the other officers had joked that if I went into labor, Jeff still had to finish the run. We had no idea at the time, but just five hours later I did go into labor.

I was remembering this story as we waited to start running yesterday. And then we got going and I looked up and saw on the side of the road...

... that same little sweetheart who, five years ago I had jokingly complained wasn't in a hurry to get on with the rest of her life. And here she is now, bigger than life on a billboard. Who could have imagined? 

Likewise, back to the present reality, who could have imagined the devastation that's rained down in the last 24-hours? Please pray that the worst is behind us. Even more important, pray for those who are enduring far worse than we are.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Party princess

Birthdays are a big deal when you're five (or about to turn five.)

After looking at the pictures I took of Sydney at her party this past weekend, I'm tempted to rephrase that to say birthdays are serious business. Or serious... something.

Here she is looking seriously patient waiting to open her first gift while her brother read aloud the birthday card.

And here she is looking serious while wearing a new tiara (note the one below is different than the one she started out wearing) and checking out a gift she really loved. Really. (Check back in coming days for some awesome shots of her and the squirt gun in action. We ended up buying two more... and probably need a fourth so that the entire family can be be armed.)

And here she is again... seriously concentrating as she unwrapped a cool tiara-making kit. She smiled plenty while making and modeling just about everything in the kit... just not while unwrapping it.

At least she's smiling here:

There it is! The smile that lights up my little princess' face:

Sydney was so excited to have grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins come to her house. After all that fun, her actual birthday - tomorrow - may seem like a let down. We'll have to see if we can get her to smile anyway.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Run for fun

Whew! Jeff and I survived running the half-marathon. I'm proud to say I have not needed a single ibuprofen. Though I would have appreciated if Mother Nature could have skipped the electrical storm last night. A soak in the hot tub would have been nice.

But this blog is about the kids. And they got in on the running action, too, this weekend. Friday afternoon was the annual Whipper Snapper races. AJ's done it a few times, but it was Sydney's first dash.

Of course, a big part of the race is seeing and posing with all the mascots that show up to market their brand to kids race. There was Subway:

And the Vikings. I saw the mascot at the finish line, but apparently the cheerleaders were more accessible. Do you suppose someday AJ will look at this photo and wonder why, with two gorgeous cheerleaders in the shot, he chose to cuddle up to his sister?

There was Harley from the Huskies baseball team. Sydney apparently thought he was a wolf and wanted nothing to do with him.

The Coca-Cola polar bear was okay, though.

Having worn the Aquarium's mascot costume before, I couldn't help but feel extremely sympathetic for whomever drew the short straw and ended up in the costumes. It was a hot and humid day. Maybe that's the norm for armadillos from Texas (Roadhouse.)

And the hometown favorite... Champ the Bulldog:

At last it was time for the big race. They break it up by age and gender, so Sydney, in the girls age 4 and younger (she beat the cut off by less than a week) was first. All afternoon she'd been battling nerves. She needed me to run with her. No, she could do it herself. Mommy, hold me. No, she was a brave girl. She could do it - the finish line wasn't so far. Mommy, please hold my hand.

We were part of the third wave. And when the air horn sounded, yes, she needed me to run with her. I kicked off my sandals and we were off. Can you see us?

Here's a little bit closer look. We're right in the center. Sydney's wearing my special running sunglasses that were supposed to make her brave, but didn't quite do the trick.

As we ran, I told her she could take off on her own if she wanted to at any point. About halfway to the finish, I could see the joy of running take over her. Her face break out into a huge grin and suddenly she was no longer holding my hand. She was all adrenaline and competitive spirit, racing for the finish line.

She even admitted later, "Mommy, you were right. I did have fun!"

Sydney is very proud of her ribbon. For a while, we pinned it to her shirt along with her number. Later, she wanted the number off, but the ribbon remained.

Next it was time to cheer on AJ, who was running in the much more competitive "Boys 7-8" category. It's worth clicking on the photo to enlarge it and see the expression on his face. He's trying so hard!

I wondered how he would take it if he didn't win. He's often questioned why Jeff and I would run a race that not only would we not win, we'd be beaten by a thousand or two other runners. I think now he knows. He jubilantly gave me a high five and announced, "I beat two second graders!"

How thankful I am for a family with healthy bodies, and for living in a community with opportunities like this that promote healthy activities for kids. I hope this becomes a passion for them as it's become for me. Though I can't help but wonder: how many years will it be until their young legs outpace mine? Probably sooner, not later. But as long as it means they're running regularly, I'll be okay with that.