Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Under seige

Sydney stayed overnight at her friend Elizabeth's house a few nights ago. That same night, AJ had two friends, Noah and Jordan, stay at our house. I heard stories the next day of the girls playing dolls and dress up. At their wildest, they played hide-and-seek.

Meanwhile, at my house, the boys were strategizing for war.

They had the gear and the weapons, and even attempted to recruit a K-9 (without much success).

All they needed was an enemy. But this other, bigger boy was late showing up, which messed up their carefully strategized plan for an ambush. At last he showed his evil self, and the battle was on.

The troops fought hard, but when it was done, agreed to pose.

Show me your mean face:

Oh, yeah, it's all good.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

At least he doesn't want to keep them

AJ had a couple friends stay overnight about a week ago. They were having a great time playing in the yard, and then the next thing I knew, one of the boys, Noah, was proudly showing off a rather large frog he'd captured from a nearby pond. 

Suddenly, catching frogs was all that AJ wanted to do. I wanted to blame this all on Noah, (And, yes, I realize there are far worse ways he could influence my son.) but then Jeff casually mentioned that he was the one who'd suggested the boys go searching for the frog.

Way to go, Dad!

Within a relatively short amount of time, the boys were asking for help scavenging through the garage in search of frog hunting equipment - a net (after they finally conceded that AJ's toy robot claw was not the best choice in gear) and an empty flower pot (it was the best I could come up with) with a make-do lid.

The boys were far more successful than I could have hoped in their quest for frogs. They thought it was pretty cool that the giant critters were coming from the same pond where AJ had released his tadpoles just a few weeks earlier. Surely that meant these were the tadpoles all grown up. In just a couple weeks.

Later that day, Noah went home and family members arrived for Sydney's birthday party. The frogs were quite a hit!

And AJ was very proud to show them off. They were big enough to hop out of the flower pot any time the lid was removed. No worries. AJ just scooped them up again with the net.

Sydney did not share her brother's enthusiasm for the frogs, though at the same time, she was fascinated by them. Until they hopped out. (And no, there was no chance she'd kiss one to see if it turned into Prince Charming.)

Here's a look at one of them, next to AJ's hand for a size comparison.

Thankfully, AJ did not form a particular attachment to the frogs. When I suggested he let them go at the end of the day, he was fine with that. It was Sydney, bizarrely enough considering she didn't want to touch them, who thought we should keep them as pets.

And so AJ headed back to the pond where he let them go.

And then he moved along. In search of more frogs.

Knowing that he's willing to go with a catch and release approach, I think this has turned into a great summertime activity. It just seems like one of those simple things that all kids should do - a rite of passage as part of their childhood. No electricity or technology required. Instead, they only need their imaginations and a desire for adventure.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Barbie cake

Disclaimer: no Barbies were harmed in the making of this blog post. Or in the making of the cake.

Sydney wanted a Barbie-themed birthday this year. And so, as any good mom would do, I checked out the sheet cake options at our local grocery store's bakery. But no luck. Apparently Barbie isn't one of the licensed characters they're allowed to reproduce.

So then I thought about cupcakes, figuring I could buy Barbie rings to stick in each of them. But again, on short notice (i.e. no time to buy online) I struck out. It was right about the time I was staring at the lack of Barbie party favors in the party supply row at Target that it hit me.


If Sydney wants a Barbie cake, I'll make her a REAL Barbie cake.

All I needed was a victim. And Target had plenty of those.

Sydney was quite excited to see the Barbie on the counter. Until I told her she couldn't play with it because it was for her cake.

"You're not putting my Barbie on my cake," she told me with conviction.

"That's right," I assured her before throwing the curveball, "I'm putting Barbie IN your cake."

Sydney looked horrified, so I googled "Barbie cake" and showed her some examples. 

I shouldn't have done that.

Talk about setting the bar impossibly high! Sydney was fascinated as she clicked through the expertly decorated examples of fondant- and frosting rose-covered doll cakes.

The morning of her party, I started baking cakes. Pampered Chef offers a recipe using one of their mixing bowls, which I have. But it requires baking two cakes, each for an hour and 15 minutes. I'm not that patient. Reading the recipe, I saw that you only use the bottom half of the second cake, to give it enough height. 

I decided to improvise. Looking at the cake mix box, it listed options for two 9" round cakes or 24 cupcakes. Perfect, I thought. I'll bake one 9" round for the bottom of the cake, and then make 12 cupcakes, which are easier to serve, anyway.

Problem: a nine-inch round cake is only about an inch tall. Which means, when you stack the pampered chef bowl cake on top of it and then stick Barbie in the middle, the cake only reaches her mid-thigh.

Improvising again, I cut off the excess width from the round cake, and started piecing it together around Barbie's hips, using frosting to hold it all in place.

It was right about that time Jeff walked by and said, "That looks really good, Hon."

No it doesn't! It looked horrible, and now I'm questioning what I really looked like on all those occasions when he's sweetly told me that I look really good.

But the nice thing, I quickly discovered, about making a Barbie cake is that what matters most is the frosting. And so if something isn't working/looking right, you just add more frosting. And I've never heard a kid complain about a cake with too much frosting.

Ta dah! The finished product. In all its frosted glory:

It was by no means good, but I've seen far worse. I let Sydney frost the cupcakes, to which we added homemade Barbie decorations. (Thanks, Pinterest!) Rather than stick candles in the cake and risk setting the doll's hair aflame, we used a corner cupcake.

The moment of truth:


And now she wants me to make another one for her party for her friends next weekend. Should be a piece of cake.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Party time

This has been one of the most hectic weeks of my life. Highlights include a birthday party and Father's Day celebrations last weekend, two large media events at work, with a significant communications crisis thrown in for good measure, three nights of kids' sporting events, a groundbreaking for our community's new sports facilities and a birthday celebration for Sydney on the big day. (And let's not forget about a little thing called a half-marathon tomorrow, followed by an out of town trip for an extended family gathering.)

But despite heavy rains overnight (that fell eerily on the anniversary of last year's flood) my basement is dry. I'm counting my blessings.

One of those blessings, of course, is my amazing six year old.

The birthday celebrations began, as mentioned last Saturday with family and gifts. AJ happily volunteered to help Sydney read her cards, until I reminded both kids that Sydney (with a little help) probably could do that herself now.

Cousin Zane was excited to show Sydney the present he'd help pick out. He also helpfully explained, as Sydney looked at the birthday card, which included small stickers, "My dad says girls like to put stickers like that on their toe nails."

New Lego girls sets, clothes for her favorite doll and for her, and fun gear to help in the kitchen. What a perfect day!

And there was cake (the story of the Barbie doll cake will have to wait for another day.)

Of course, the big day was actually yesterday. I felt bad leaving for work in the morning while my birthday girl was still sleeping, but figured Sydney, who is not a morning person, probably wouldn't appreciate being woken up just for a birthday greeting. I did tell the babysitter to feel free to spoil her for me. When I got home last night, Sydney asked, "Is it my birthday today?"

"It is," I confirmed. "You've been six ALL DAY."

Oh, boy, did that make her smile.

A plus side to the heavy rain yesterday was that AJ's baseball game was cancelled, which freed us up to go out to dinner. Sydney, who loves Texas Roadhouse and dancing with the servers there, totally shocked me by choosing instead the Osaka Grill for her birthday meal.

Apparently she felt a need to prove her new-found bravery now that she's six. The hibachi grill cooks, as part of the show, send flames high into the air, which usually sends Sydney diving under the table in fear.

But now she's six, so, oh yeah, she can handle it.

Or maybe not.

The look of relief on her face when it was done was awesome. She'd done it! And that left only good things to come: eating (she loves the food!) and the disco ball. The restaurant flashes brightly colored lights while piping in the happy birthday song and presenting the celebrant with a dough-wrapped ice cream treat.

Oh, yeah, It's all good!

When we got home, we let her open the gifts we'd gotten here. But the party hasn't stopped yet. Sydney's been saying for weeks that she wants breakfast in bed for her birthday. So if she ever decides to wake up (I told you she's not a  morning person), I'll be putting together something for her. Plus, she's still got a party for friends - we'll be rollerskating - next weekend.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lucky #6

It was her number in hockey and now baseball. And now it's her age. My baby. Is six years old.

And she's certainly not a baby any more. She made that clear last night, getting a solid base hit. (And based on the photo, she apparently did it with her eyes closed.)

Later that evening, she performed a bit of a water ballet in the front yard. Again with eyes closed at point of impact.

And now that I look back at other memorable photos from recent days, including when AJ tried showing her and Grandma Elouise the frogs he'd been catching... well, the pattern continues.

She may close her eyes at key times, but she sure doesn't miss a thing. And she's definitely opened my eyes. Being with Sydney, it's impossible not to notice the simple joys of life, the beauty that's all around us, and the power of a sincere smile and compliment. Because Sydney notices and points these things out. And as competitive as she is, especially with her brother, she's always the first to remind, "the most important thing is to have fun!"

She is happy and confident and fun. And now she is six. How blessed I am that she's my daughter.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It started out as a great gift idea

AJ was so proud of himself. And I was pretty impressed, too. Right about the time Mother's Day rolled around, he started thinking about Father's Day and gift ideas for Jeff. He came up with a great plan. He wanted to give Jeff tickets to a Duluth Huskies baseball team. 

AJ calculated the cost of the tickets and suggested he could pay for two of them if I'd pay the rest. I dragged my feet a bit, knowing how busy our schedule is, but at last looked, and sure enough, there was a home game on Father's Day. I waited a little longer until I could see a weather forecast for that day. It called for sunny skies, so AJ and I went online and bought the tickets. We looked at the stadium's seating chart and were able to get them right over the dug out. Or so we thought.

All went went until we got to the stadium. And that's when we realized our seats actually were right above a walkway. With a big railing obstructing our view.

And did you notice what was going on out on the field? Those are the players doubling as the grounds crew. A bunch of unexpected showers kept popping up, and the game ended up being delayed TWO HOURS.

And just to make the experience complete, there was a special promotion on this night. Everyone got a set of "Bam Bams". What's a bam bam, you might ask? It's a set of inflatable tubes that makes an obnoxious echoing sound when banged together - a sound that becomes almost unbearable when made by dozens of children who are bored to death while waiting TWO HOURS for a game to start.

On a brighter note, the bam bams provide a wonderful distraction when you send the kids off and suggest they have a sword fight.

And still we waited. (They'd initially only announced a one hour delay. It wasn't until that hour was up that we realized it'd take at least another hour to clear the tarp, use an industrial strength shop vac to suck up the standing water that was covering the path between second and third base, add more dirt and then re-paint all the baselines.) 

Recognizing what a fiasco the evening was turning into, the Huskies invited all the kids to come out on the field and dance with the mascot.

Sydney enjoyed that more than AJ did.

But the evening wasn't a complete loss. During the very long wait, AJ and Sydney managed to scam two different people into giving them three used baseballs. Oh, boy!

AJ also got a bunch of autographs. And I have to say one player in particular really impressed me. AJ held out his program and asked for an autograph. The guy not only signed it, but then took it to an area AJ wouldn't have access to and got more than a dozen other players to sign it. When there are rain delays, they have time to do things like that, I guess. But what a wonderful gesture!

At last the game started. Worse than having an obstructed view, we were seated behind protective netting, which meant AJ couldn't catch any pop flies. So at last he convinced Jeff to go with him and Sydney to sit in an empty spot where they might catch something.

No pop flies came their way, and as late as it now was, we left after the top of the fifth inning. But we saw enough of the game to watch the Huskies take a big lead, which they held through the remaining innings to win the game.

And AJ got a bunch of autographs and three used baseballs. Plus Sydney got a hot dog and ice cream. So really, what else could you want from a baseball game?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Every day is Father's Day

We were so busy on Father's Day, I've got enough material to last me all week, or at least until Sydney's birthday.

After a morning that included making Jeff a special breakfast of scrambled eggs, we spent part of the afternoon visiting his dad and going for a boat ride on the St. Louis River.

The sun was shining, and there was just the right hint of a breeze. What a perfect afternoon to be on the water.

Or so we thought. A few minutes passed, during which Grandpa Bill allowed AJ to drive the boat. AJ did a great job, right up until the point when we got stuck in water that's now too shallow due to all the runoff that ended up in the river after last summer's flood.

See that dark cloud in the background? It represents more than just a metaphorical storm cloud.
Bill tried unsuccessfully to restart the motor numerous times. Eventually we went to plan B, which involved Bill paddling while Jeff got the trolling motor into the water. Ever so slowly, we attempted to travel back up the river.

And then it started to rain. The kids, amazingly, were wonderful throughout, never once commenting on the weather or asking how much longer until we got back.

Oh, who am I kidding? They wouldn't shut up. I finally threatened AJ I was going to thrown him overboard so that he could help kick to get us back faster.

At last, the engine started, and the rain stopped. We let Sydney have a turn as captain.

Her attention span was shorter than the next round of rain, so at last we headed back to the dock. Hopefully the kids learning a valuable lesson about being prepared for anything because the weather can change quickly on the water. But I doubt it. By the time we reached land, they were far more interested in figuring out what snacks and treats they could convince us to give them.


Father's Day egg-stravaganza

 She had the occasion (Father's Day), the new gear (apron, chef's hat and utensils given to her for her birthday) and the leftovers (various meats and cheeses from her birthday party). How could Sydney not make scrambled eggs for breakfast Sunday?

After checking with Jeff multiple times on what ingredients he'd like whisked into his scrambled eggs, she was ready to get to work. I think she cracked six of the eggs, and I only had to fish out one small piece of shell. Not bad!

Next up, stirring in the "santro" (cilantro) and onions that we had set to go in her new prep cups. And then it was time to use her new whisk.

And last but not least, her new spatula. Which she decided to name Patch. But she's NOT naming it like Sponge Bob named his spatula in a recent episode she watched. Because he named his spatula Fifi, and a spatula named Patch is totally different.

At last it was time for the most exciting part of the process. Serving breakfast on the couch to her favorite customer.

Nice photobomb, AJ!
As she brought Jeff his breakfast, Sydney spoke in what I think was supposed to be an English accent. Because that apparently makes it more formal and special.

And then she gave him a big hug and returned to a more normal voice as she wished him a happy Father's Day. Which really was the most special part of all.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Relax, it's summer vacation

How lucky we are to have a hot tub. It's such a great way to relax. And the kids, Jeff and the dog definitely need it. Because they've had so much stress in their lives during this first week of summer vacation.

Or not.

Though Sydney needed it. Because she was filthy and it's much easier to get her in the hot tub than in the bathtub or shower. And I needed it, because I was sore from the previous day's workout and I knew I'd be working out again the next day. 

I asked everyone if they wanted to join me. Sydney was an enthusiastic yes. Jeff and AJ both declined. I told Sydney to give me a couple minutes to finish what I was working on, and then we could put on our suits and have some girl time. By the time I changed, Sydney was ready to go, as were Jeff and AJ who'd apparently changed their minds.

Sydney requested a slushie to drink in the tub. She's watched us enough to know how to soak in style. Cheers!

Thankfully, AJ has a short attention span and so doesn't last in the tub for long, which gives us that much more space and calmness.

What a blessing to be together, and to finally experience summer.