Monday, October 28, 2013

Daisy dreams come true at last

Getting through the last few weeks has been almost as tough as the countdown to Christmas or a birthday. Sydney has been asking to be a Girl Scout for about nine months now - since about midway through last hockey season. It's been getting closer and closer. We signed her up. And then I signed up to be a troop leader. And then I had to go to several meetings to be certified to be able to be a leader. And all Sydney could do was wait.

She would stare longingly at the piles of paperwork and three-ring binder I accumulated at my various meetings. Never mind how overwhelmed I was at all the hoops that had to be jumped through. To her, as long as I was going to meetings, it meant that I got to be in Girl Scouts and she couldn't yet, even though it had been her idea.

But at last tonight was the night. Sydney's excitement turned into inspiration as she made up several songs on the spot to welcome her fellow Daisy troop members. She gave hugs to the girls she already knew, and asked at least a dozen times if she could help set out markers for the crafts. 

We don't yet have the official uniforms for the girls. (That's one of my tasks for the next two weeks.) But she still came home loaded up with souvenirs (thanks to the organization of my co-leader, Jackie. She focused on the girls tonight while I met with the parents and handed out lots of paperwork.)

The girls, there are eight in all, colored pictures, and decorated folders and pumpkins. They also made a cute craft to help remember the Scout Law. 

When we got home tonight, Sydney excitedly announced to Jeff she was going to show him the pledge of allegiance for Girl Scouts. "On my honor, I will try..."

"You mean the Girl Scout Law?" I reminded her of the correct name.

"Yes," she quickly agreed. "The Girl Scout Law poem is my favorite."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A head of Halloween

My son, it turns out, does not appreciate my Halloween decorations. To be blunt, he thinks they're lame. Apparently pumpkins and my various candles just aren't scary.

In the spirit of compromise, I decided to let him choose some decorations to add to the collection. Which is why we now have a mini graveyard in our front yard.

But before setting it all out, he had a great idea. "Look, I should have thought of this for a costume," he exclaimed, stuffing the skull half into his shirt. "I look like I was born with a skull attached to my body."

"You do have a skull attached to your body," I reminded. "It's called your head."


And so we went to work.

It wasn't enough to simply lay the bone pieces on the ground like is shown on the package. No, AJ wanted to make it look like the skeleton was trying to claw it's way out of its grave.

Two tombstones, a couple of bones, some small plastic gates (thank goodness the ground isn't frozen yet or there's no way we could set it up) followed by fake spider webs wrapped around it all.

Last but not least, an overacting model to make it all complete. We set it up just enough to the side that hopefully no trick-or-treaters will trip on it as they come up to our house.

Meanwhile, the kids got to give their costumes a practice run this afternoon. It was the "Harvest festival" at their school. Once again, I've got one child going for the grotesque and the other trying to be a princess. How is it that these two could possibly come from the same gene pool?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Making homework fun

It is taking Sydney forever to finish her homework tonight. But she doesn't seem to mind.

Her assignment is to write each of her spelling words five times. Were she to write them in a notebook, it probably would have taken five minutes max. But she whined when I reminded her of the homework because she wanted to play with her American Girl doll. And so we found the perfect solution.

Class is in session with Mrs. Glass at the chalkboard (a name she picked at random. I, meanwhile, became her assistant, named Miss Julie in honor of the secretary in her real life principal's office.)

For some reason, Mrs. Glass speaks in a weird accent - I think it's supposed to be English. I, meanwhile, was given the job of providing voice to Mary, the doll. Because Mary had to read the words out loud after Mrs. Glass wrote them on the chalkboard. Miss Julie's other job was to erase the chalkboard each time Mrs. Glass needed to write the words again.

Like all good teachers apparently do, Mrs. Glass would tap the chalk on the board repeatedly to make a point. She also made sure to get down on her student's level in order to be more engaged.

Mrs. Glass seems to struggle with which direction the letter 'c' is supposed to face. Hopefully Sydney will have been luck remembering on the spelling test. Luckily only one word, 'call', has the letter 'c' in it. Based on how this assignment went, I suspect she'll either ace the test or get, at most, just one wrong.

Class dismissed.

Slide. Splash. Repeat.

One of the reasons I started this blog waaaaayyyy back when is because I'd fallen so far behind in scrapbooking that by the time I finally got around to putting pictures in albums, I'd forgotten the cute stories that went with them. And now that same problem seems to be striking my blogging efforts.

A couple weeks ago, while visiting family in the Twin Cities, we stayed at a hotel/waterpark near Elk River. I'm sure my kids made some wonderfully cute comments, but I didn't write them down, and now I can't remember them.

What I do recall is that Syndey - no surprise - was in the water constantly.

She's been asking if/when we could go on vacation again to Michigan, pretty much ever since we left Michigan last summer, primarily because she wants to return to the waterpark there.

Meanwhile, AJ discovered a big slide that wasn't too scary for his overly cautious nerves. And suddenly he was the one who couldn't be stopped. Up the steps, down the slide, into the water, and repeat. Again. And again.

And again.

And again. This is the face of a boy who's not just having fun, but who has conquered a longstanding fear.

And where was Sydney all this time? Playing in the water. Any water she could find. The kiddie area. The water basketball area. The floating path. The hot tub with Mom. It was all good.

And of course they're now asking when we can go back. As a waterpark it wasn't bad, but the rest of the hotel was about as basic as they come. For instance, good luck getting a pizza delivered to your room. There was no phone book in the room. And once the pizza was ordered and delivered, good luck signing the credit card slip because there was no pen in the room. What hotel room doesn't include a cheap plastic pen and small pad of paper? Not this one.

Though the shampoo smelled really good. So it's all about priorities, I guess.

AJ, I suspect, will always have fond memories of this place, if for no other reason than he finally felt brave.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It lives to drive another day

It's almost 10 years old and topped 150,000 miles earlier this fall. It's cluttered and unwashed (which is normal) and now smells like an oily machine shop (Bonus!)

But it's home in my garage again. And it starts. And it drives. And I'm very, very happy because I really wasn't ready to say goodbye to it quite yet.

It's silly to feel an attachment to a car. Especially to a car I once argued we shouldn't buy because it was too expensive and I'm a cheapskate. But Jeff really wanted it. "It's probably the only time in my life I'll ever be able to buy a new car," he said.

And he'd just returned from an overseas deployment, and I was so happy to have him home that I said, "Fine, dear. We'll get it. Even with the heated seats, which is absolutely a luxury we don't need."

But then somehow I ended up being the one to drive it most of the time. And soon I was asking why we hadn't splurged to get the heated steering wheel, too.

This car brought us to the hospital the night AJ was born, and brought our new family home a few days later. (I think it also provided our transportation when Sydney was born, but between the labor pains and subsequent sleep deprivation, I can't remember for sure.)

But what makes this vehicle the most special is what it taught me in the last two weeks: to trust that God is always watching over me.

The adventure started two weeks ago. Driving home from work, I was focused on stopping at the school to register AJ for hockey. Suddenly the car started making a weird noise. It wasn't the radio or anything rattling in the console. I hit the gas and the noise got louder. I hit the brakes and it got a little quieter, but not much. Just as I reached the main intersection in town, I braked to stop and, boy, did the car ever stop. The battery light came on and something - either smoke or steam - started billowing out from under the hood.

I jumped out of the car, reaching back in to turn on the hazard lights and grab my cell phone. Almost immediately, (either the first or second car to come upon me) a random stranger stopped and offered to help push me out of the intersection. Before he had a chance to do that, by wonderful coincidence, my next door neighbor happened to show up in his tow truck and asked if I needed a lift. Then, while he was busy hooking up my car, AJ's old hockey coach happened to drive by and stopped to see if I needed help. Who has luck like this?!? 

As he drove me home, Cory theorized it the problem was a serpentine belt, something he'd be able to fix that night. But a short time later he called with the bad news. It wasn't that. He suspected the engine was shot and offered to tow it wherever we wanted for a second opinion. He also offered to let us use their spare car until we figured out what we were going to do.

My mind was still reeling trying to figure out how we could afford two car payments, but I gratefully accepted his offer.

Meanwhile, Jeff got on the phone with our other neighbor - the one who works at a car dealership and helped us buy our minivan. Tim immediately offered to start looking for a used car for us. And then asked if we'd like to borrow one of their cars.

Again, I ask, who has luck like this?!? We are so blessed to have such good neighbors.

My mind continued to race. We'd just ordered carpet to replace what our old cat had damaged. It was scheduled to be installed the following week, but I was wishing we'd waited another week so the charge would go on the following month's credit card bill. And we'd just bought tickets to see Don Rickles perform at Mystic Lake. Add up the cost of the tickets, hotel stay, dinner and drinks and it'd probably be a $300-$400 evening.

And that's when I noticed the message light blinking on our phone. Voice mail message #1 was from the flooring place, apologizing that the carpet we'd ordered was on back order and we'd need to push back installation by a week. Voice mail message #2 was from the Mystic Lake box office, regretfully informing us that the Don Rickles performance and assuring us we'd get a full refund.

At that point I knew we'd get through this.

Over the next few days, talking with friends and colleagues, we heard about a place that fixes engines, and got an estimate for a used engine: $2,300. Meanwhile, we talked with Tim next door and asked about the trade in value for the car. As it - $100. Get it fixed - $2,400. 

Could there be a more obvious sign from God?

Despite this, when Sunday rolled around, I considered cutting back on our normal offering amount. I knew we'd be cutting back on everything else, and tried rationalizing in my mind that it'd be okay. But I couldn't quite justify it and so wrote out the check for the normal amount.

The next day, Cory towed our car to the repair shop. Later that afternoon, I got a call from them asking who'd told us the engine was the problem, because the car started right up for them. It no doubt had serious problems, but it wasn't the engine.

The next day (last Tuesday) they ran whatever diagnostic tests they do and determined the frost plug blew out, damaging the starter in the process. The head gasket also was shot. But bottom line... estimate for repairs was $1,200. So in the space of a week we went from needing a new car, to a $2,300 repair, to the relatively bargain priced $1,200 fix.

And today, when at last the car was ready to be picked up, the final price was $1,143 - and they'd changed the oil and done a few other things as part of that total cost.

Did I mention all this happened during the relatively calm few weeks in between soccer and hockey? God will not give us more than we can handle. If ever I need a reminder, I just have to take a drive. In the car that I'm so thankful to be able to continue driving.


Friday, October 18, 2013

In good times and bad, and fire safety drills

I started this post on Wednesday, and by "started" I mean I loaded a picture and video clip, but didn't quite get around to writing anything.

It's been an interesting week. Mostly good. Though I was really hoping to include a photo of me behind the wheel of my car, but I can't, because it's still not fixed. So I guess that story will have to wait until some time next week.

But I choose to focus on the good, which included wedding anniversary number 14 for Jeff and me. We tried really hard to be creative and re-create one of our wedding photo poses. But instead I ended up looking like I was blinking, and I can't help but notice how badly the picture frame behind us needs to be straightened.

To be fair, the original photographer was a professional. And our current photographer is eight and a half. 

Other exciting news of the week: it was fire safety week for first graders, which meant we got to do a family fire drill. Those are so much fun! We haven't gotten to do one of those since AJ was in first grade

This time around we weren't quite so organized. During dinner one night this week, Sydney reminded us we were supposed to have already signed the slip saying we'd done the drill and sent it back to school with her. Once again, it's the curse of being the second child. With AJ, we carefully plotted a time to catch the kids off guard and Jeff snuck out of the room to trigger the smoke detector. With Sydney, after she reminded us, I looked at Jeff and said, "Now's as good a time as any," and then did my best to make fire alarm sound.

The good news: the kids remembered to head to the mailbox, AJ did not yell at everyone to get into one line, the dog responded relatively calmly and waited for me to clip on his leash, and now that the cat is gone, no one feels guilty about heading out of the house without her.

So all in all it was a successful drill.

When we returned to the house, Sydney demonstrated what else she's learned as part of fire safety week:

I noticed she added a move beyond the traditional "stop, drop and roll" and asked her why she covered her face with her hands.

"So smoke wouldn't get in your face."

Smart kid. Let's hope we never have to do this for real.

Now if I could just get my car back, all would be well.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Inspired to write

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Or anyone. Or anything.

When you're talking about inspiration to write, each writer's source is different. For me, it's sometimes a need to express myself. Writing helps me work through complicated thoughts or feelings. Sometimes I'm inspired by my audience and the desire to share with them something I think they will find interesting.

For Sydney, inspiration must come from the tooth fairy. Because twice now, when she's lost a tooth, (and pretty much no other time) she's reached for her diary to record this most exciting news.

Dear Diary, I lost my second tooth.

For weeks now, Sydney has wiggled her finger around on her tooth, insisting that the tooth is loose. She's requested apples for snacks and corn on the cob for dinner, but the tooth remained firmly in her mouth.

In recent days, I could at last tell it was loose. Sydney could twist it in her mouth. But still it stayed in place.

Finally this past weekend, with little fanfare and thankfully little blood, the tooth came out. Sydney wiggled or twisted it just enough and out it came. She of course has since had to tell just about everyone she's seen, "I pulled out my tooth myself."

When you're six, there's nothing like a lost tooth to remind me you that all is right with the world. And once she recorded this this history news in her diary, she went on to ask for help spelling the other major development in her life.
I am finally in girl scouts.
If you see her, don't let on that you know all this. It's very important that no one peak at the top secret stories in her diary. I'm the only one who knows, and I'm sure that will only last for as long as she needs help with spelling.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hockey during the off season and other things that make life hectic

The longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get started. Should I just jump in with the latest news as if I haven't had a two week absence? Should I try to write one massive post about everything that's been going on? Or do I try to pick up where I left off and eventually I'll get caught up?

Maybe I'll just start writing and see what happens next. And by "what's next", I'm hoping that doesn't mean another two week absence.

This is supposed to be our calm month. We're in between soccer and hockey seasons, which should translate into a slower-paced schedule. Except in the last week one of our cars died. (Three days after we got a flat tire on our other vehicle.) There was hockey registration, and Girl Scout leader training (that's going to be my next adventure) and, oh yes, even though it's not hockey season, we still had hockey. Six straight days of it.

We signed AJ up for a week long camp in Cloquet. We were able to register him as a Squirt, which means he was skating with kids who were one or two years older and bigger than he was. It was a good challenge for him, and for the most part he held his own.

One unexpected bonus of the camp was one of the coaches who showed up. Jamie Langenbrunner - a Cloquet native who just wrapped up a nearly 10 year career in the NHL (and who apparently had a son skating in the same camp.)

How many eight-year-olds can say they skated with a professional hockey player? After the third practice, AJ dug through his hockey cards, and sure enough! Armed with the card and sharpie marker, AJ couldn't wait to head back to the rink where, on the next night, he got it autographed.

And a picture! Note the gloves in the photo below and in the picture on the card. "He was wearing the same gloves!" AJ noted in awe.

Another fun part of the camp - getting to skate with a new friend. AJ's buddy Lucas, who just moved her from Superior, also registered for the camp. The boys will be on the same team come winter, and had a great time practicing together.

But now we're done, and should have three hockey-free weeks ahead of us. With all that spare time, I'll hopefully find time to write.