Monthly Archives: July 2011

Happy Birthday E!

E had a wonderful birthday yesterday!  More details to come, but for now I just had to share one of the reasons turning 5 is so amazingly fantastic from a kids’ perspective.

Direct quote from E (to everyone she saw yesterday, while holding her five fingers up):

“Today is my birthday!!  I am FIVE!!  That means I am a WHOLE HAND!!!”

The only problems with this picture (other than the fact that the girl’s thumb is very high on her hand, isn’t it?) is that the girl is sitting.  E couldn’t say it without jumping up and down!

Can you believe it?!?!  E is a whole hand!!!!

It doesn’t get much more exciting than that!

We love you so much, E!  Happy Birthday!

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“My Goat in a Box”

Just finished mowing the lawn for E’s outdoor birthday celebration tomorrow.

When I started at 9am, it was 90 degrees out with a heat index of 98.

I am now thinking about returning the doll we got her as a birthday present and purchasing her a pet goat who will earn his keep in yardwork. (The goat could double as a belated anniversary gift for my husband, who usually mows the lawn but is out of town for work until this evening.)

I mean, if I presented it like this…

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"My Goat in a Box"

…how could they not love it?!

Mom tip of the day… “wine-tote” turned “sippy-cup-carrier”

A tip I have been meaning to post for a while, but had forgotten to write about until today when Nana, Uncle T, Aunt B and I took 6 kids to both the science museum and to an awesome early birthday dinner (with singing waiters and candles and sprinkles) for E (more birthday details soon!)…

The tip (presented as a set of easy-to-follow instructions)

(1)  Head to Whole Foods.

(2)  Buy 6 bottles of their $3 wine and get (a) a 10% “bulk” discount and (b) a free, divided wine tote to carry your bottles home.

(3)  Drive home.

(4)  Unpack the wine.

(5)  Use the empty tote to carry sippy cups!  The cups don’t fall over and leak in your bag, because the bag is designed to hold them upright.  Also, the straps are sturdy enough to hold the weight of multiple water bottles (I have some canvas bags that strain to do this, but these bags are specifically designed to hold big bottles of liquid.)

(6)  Bonus: If you don’t need space for six cups, the empty compartments are perfect for holding sunscreen and snacks (especially if you pack your snacks in those infant “puff” containers that are cylinder shaped).

(7) The Real Bonus: You now have six bottle of wine to drink.  Thanks to your handy tote, the kids have been hydrating all day.  Now it’s your turn.  Enjoy.

And a final note: Our day at the museum was fantastic (picture enthralled kids eating ice cream made with liquid nitrogen) and E loved her special dinner.  I was reminded of this mom-tip because we had six kids with us – a perfect number for our wine tote – not because we needed six bottles of wine after our trip.

(OK, the real final note:  During the time between the museum and the special dinner, our cousins rested while Nana and I took my 3 kids to the pool for E’s neighborhood Kindergarten meet & greet.  After 30 minutes on the pool deck getting everyone into suits and floaties, applying sunscreen, and convincing T to put on a swim diaper and sit in his boat (ably steered by captain Nana), everyone was in the pool except for me.  That is precisely the moment when another kid had an “incident” (i.e. puked in the water) that required the staff to close the pool.  I am still not sure which is worse: being one of the people in the water when this happens (what’s up, Nana!  Watch out for that oily patch moving toward you…), or being the only one who spent the entire trip on the blazing hot (100+ degrees) pool deck getting kids dressed for the water (hello hot 30 minutes) and then (30 more minutes!) getting them dressed to go home. For those not keeping track, that is a solid hour of heat with a small side of vomit.)

A cool glass/bottle/6 bottles of chardonnay, anyone?

Or how about 12 bottles?  I think I could use another wine tote…

Empathy (a shout out to family!) and Entropy (disorder reigns…)

Starting today’s post with a shout out to family members who have a lot going on today: Uncle B finishing the bar exam today (good luck!), Aunt A & Uncle B closing on a house tomorrow (busy couple!), Uncle T & crew moving to our state from Minnesota (arriving at our place tonight!)…

We were so exhausted just thinking about all you (our extended family) had to do today, that we decided to take a break on your behalf.  Yes, that means we skipped what should have been a busy morning of house cleaning & prep (company is coming!  Yippee!) and spent the morning with wonderful friends at library story time and eating free ice-cream.  (I know.  You are impressed with our ability to empathize…that such a tiring day for you would necessitate a break for us…what can I say?  we are sensitive people…)

We also decided we had earned a break because we have just reached milestones in two fairly massive projects in our house. We had several goals for the summer, including fostering some growth in the kids in terms of (1) independence (e.g. getting snacks, clothes, etc. for themselves) and (2) responsibility (e.g. chores around the house).  These projects involved both a massive shift in the layout of our house (rearranging all closets so kids can reach most of their everyday things, moving snack items into accessible kitchen drawers, etc.) and a lot of learning by both me and the kids (who is responsible for what?  How are roles reinforced?).

As of a few days ago, our projects were not going well: (1) the kitchen was a mess (ok, slightly messier than usual) as our kids became experts at fixing their snacks, but not cleaning up after (please ignore any comment my husband posts about where they might have learned this “the cook doesn’t clean!” kitchen behavior…crazy kids are way too perceptive) and (2) there were daily battles over picking up toys, which usually resulted in me surrendering, letting the toys pile up, then having to devote hours to a massive house overhaul that exhausted everyone.

I think the turning point came when E said, very simply during one such cleaning, “mom, this is just too much to pick up”.

She was right.  It was a lot for me to pick up, so I know it was overwhelming for the kids.

And while you could argue that a mess could be avoided with a “put one toy away before another comes out” policy, in our house (where dramatic play involves props from every corner of the house – creativity I encourage and a play-friendly atmosphere we enjoy) that kind of “put it up right away” policy wasn’t going to work for me, much less my kids.

So I had a talk with E & S.

Did they really think there were too many toys to pick up?  Yes.

Did they want fewer toys?  No.

What if the toys took turns?  Some in the attic for now, to be traded out later?

They were willing to give it try.

What was most amazing was that once we started, they got really excited.  We did not pick which toys would go to the attic.  Instead, we focused on which ones would stay.  Together, we went to every toy bin we had and they selected their favorites.  From the Barbie/Doll bin, each girl selected 2 barbies & 2 pieces of furniture.  From the kitchen bin, each girl selected 7 pieces of play food to keep.  I selected a few items from each bin too, which allowed me to keep items which for whatever reason were not selected that day, but which I knew would be requested shortly. Everything else went into boxes headed up to the attic.

I want to give credit here to a blog I read (http://www.buildingcathedrals.com/2011/07/07/less-is-more/) that (while using a different approach that removed and donated more than we did) highlighted how liberating it was to simply box things for an attic/basement without massive sorting.  In our determination to declutter the toy bins, we did not take the time to sort items into “trash/goodwill/future-hand-me-down/unused but too-sentimental to toss” piles.  We just picked out whatever the favorites were on that particular day and put everything else in unsealed boxes that the kids & I knew we could access later (or immediately, if it came to that).  That approach was the key for us.  Instead of debating (externally or internally) about what should go in which pile, we just poured lots of stuff into the box.  (FYI: I am very pro-sorting and goodwill; another post on how we’ll introduce that later…)

For now, I am acknowledging that we are very early in the game here, but celebrating even a small step in the right direction.  On a practical level, we don’t need to dump out a whole toy bin to see what’s there.  We don’t get overwhelmed as quickly.  And (please don’t misinterpret our new approach…we love toys, especially those that inspire creativity, but there were too many things we had outgrown or were not “favorites” at the moment) there is space for things the kids will really enjoy to come in (like the Jessie doll that Ella has been wishing for recently and will get for her birthday).  Still, on a philosophical level, the kids might be learning that sometimes “less is more”, and they are certainly learning that if you have lots of stuff, that means you are going to have to spend time taking care of it.

The last point hit home when it came to the toys in the girls rooms.  They play there during afternoon “quiet time”, but still wake up often enough at night that every evening, we need to make sure there is a clear path from their bed to the door.  This necessity meant every afternoon we had a fairly stressful post-quiet-time clean up.  However, since selecting a few quiet “room” items and moving other items downstairs or into the attic, they have both been very content with a few toys each, some art supplies, and lots of books.  I couldn’t believe it when S told me today that she would rather move some of the crayons from her room into the attic because she was tired of having to pick up so many after she finished coloring.  I asked her how many she wanted to keep in her room, and – I kid you not – she said “Take the whole box.  I just want these three.”  (Yes, I know this will change, but that’s what she wanted, so for now I have honored her request…)

I think part of it has also been that we introduced a chore chart 2 days ago that (so far) the kids are really excited about.  The chores are really basic, but the kids get to put a check on the chart when they do their jobs, which include (by title here, by picture on their chart…)

–       sheets, pillows & PJ’s on the bed

–       clear your breakfast dishes

–       clear your snack dishes

–       clean-up midday

–       clear your lunch dishes

–       clear your snack dishes

–       clean-up afternoon

–       clear your dinner dishes

–       clean-up afternoon

–       clothes in hamper

Two notes: (1) If we have snack at the park or something, I draw a line on those sections of the chart so there is no empty box and (2) There is a card next to the chart from my husband and me that says “E & S, thank you for helping our family!  Love, Mom and Dad”

The kids knew this chart was coming, and honestly, I think they have been partially motivated to make clean-up easier so they could write the little checks on their chart.

I am pausing to take a breath here (sorry for the long post) and also because I am going to make a confession.

Here it is: I think that part of the reason I am writing this today is because I fear the wheels are going to fall off the whole plan very soon.  I will get tired of rotating toys, or the same kids who love putting their check mark on the chore chart today will decide it’s not worth cleaning up to make that mark tomorrow.  So I am seizing the moment and celebrating what must be considered a valiant (though likely short-lived) attempt to teach a few lessons about independence, choices, stuff, responsibility and contributing to a household.

Further confession: This disclaimer is largely intended for my brother & sister-in-law, who will see the wonderful mess our crew still is as they visit with us this week and for our local friends who will wonder what on earth I am talking about if they make it through this incredibly long post, then wander into our house and see that chaos will win.

But here in print is at least proof that we tried!

Note to self (re: cookie dough buckets)

If a child has the stomach flu, do not give her the clean, empty, gallon-size, cookie dough container from Sam’s as the “emergency” bucket.

While it will do the job, and its disposable nature makes for incredibly easy clean-up, during almost every post-illness attempt to make cookies (even six months later, and certainly in front of company) her sibling will see you pull a new bucket of dough out of the fridge and ask, “is that the cookie dough bucket [my sister] threw up in?”

Fresh baked cookies, anyone?  How about a scoop of raw dough?

(And yes, for those who are wondering, we do buy cookie dough by the gallon.  The price is a steal! You can freeze the batter!  And company used to – emphasis on the past tense of that phrasing – used to enjoy eating cookies at our house!)

“Official Property of Niagara Falls” (which does make it a fairly unique garbage can, I guess)

After driving 700+ miles to Lockport, New York for a wedding, I realized we were within 20 miles of Niagara Falls.  Since our children (as I mentioned in a previous post) are ultra-impressed with even small and disgusting natural wonders (like bird poop), we could only imagine the impression something like Niagara Falls would make.  So after trading dad (who was brunching with cousins) for grandpa (my partner in several recent adventures), he, Nana and I loaded everyone back in the car and made the short trip.

It was amazing!  I must say, our kids were impressed by the falls, but even more impressed by the rainbow that is almost always there as the sun hits the mist created by the water.

However, they ended up being most impressed by (you will never guess it…) a garbage can.

I take the blame for this.  I went to falls as a kid and have two key memories about my trip: (1) refusing to wear a raincoat while viewing the base of the falls, getting drenched, and screaming “I’m NOT wet!” in denial/defiance at everyone staring at me (yes, as the mother of three, I get my daily comeuppance…) and (2) seeing a replica of the barrel used by some daredevil to (long ago) transport himself over the falls.

Well, we didn’t travel to the base of the falls this time (kids were amply impressed with the higher view) so I did not have to relive the raincoat disaster from the perspective of a parent (sorry, mom…).  However, I was absolutely determined to recreate my barrel viewing experience for the children.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find that exhibit anywhere (maybe it was on the Canadian side?  Or at the base?)  Anyway, I did find two pictures tucked away in a random corner of the museum (near the bathrooms) that I thought would work, and I showed them to the kids.

The first photo showed a barrel going over the falls (pretty incredible).

The second showed a man getting out of the barrel into the water after his successful trip down (even more incredible).

These photos were located near a large garbage can, so after showing the pictures, I told the girls that the barrel in the photo was about the same size as the can.

E’s response: That guy is crazy!  He went down that big waterfall?!?!

S’ response: That guy is really crazy!  He climbed in that stinky garbage can!!!!

I tried to explain, but it was little use, and the girls were so excited that we ended up spending more time that you would imagine hanging out by the garbage.  I imagine the other mothers thought I had the kids in some sort of smelly time out or something, but in truth they were very happy imagining themselves so much smarter than that crazy grown-up who climbed in with the garbage (and, as an afterthought, hurled himself over the falls).

As it turns out, the day we got home from our trip, the news reported that a lady had just fallen into a whirlpool in the river formed by the falls.  Praise God, she was saved by a very well-timed tour boat with an able captain and crew.  I showed the girls the video of the lady and her hero on my computer, and they decided she was (1) bad at following instructions (I mean, they had been shown the signs warning people about going near the water…didn’t she see them?), (2) blessed and lucky (That man found her?  He helped her breathe?!) and (3) still much smarter than the guy that climbed in the garbage can (yuck!!!).

Side note: I did try to explain again by going on a website that showed the actual barrels , and I think I have now gotten through.  However, I am glad I had to narrate the website for my not-yet readers, since some of the stories on there are crazy!  Did you know one man successfully went over the falls, then died years later after he slipped on an orange peel and subsequently contracted gangrene (I guess the wound got infected)?  That another thought it would be a good idea to put an anvil in the barrel with him for ballast and tie the anvil to himself for security?  They found the barrel later, with only his right arm inside.  If anyone woud like to join me in my new, creepy area of interest, here’s the link… http://www.niagarafallslive.com/daredevils_of_niagara_falls.htm

And if anyone would like to join us on our next roadtrip (we see and celebrate it all, even the garbage cans…), just let me know.  There is a seat available right next to the kids!

Notes to self . . . re: travel

– When traveling on a budget, the plan to stay at Marriott and pay with points is a good one.

– When on a 12+ hour drive with three children (i.e. with passengers who prevent any sort of accurate prediction of (a) how far you will get within a given timeframe or (b) what sort of timeframe you have before people melt down), the plan to “drive until we’re about to drop” then calling customer service to find the nearest Marriott is a good one.  (Hey, there are over 3,000 Marriotts in the US alone).

Despite this, a new note to self:

Self, when your trip is through hills of West Virginia, “just stopping at the next closest Marriott” is not the best plan.

It turns out that…

– only 13 of the 3000 Marriotts are in West Virginia

– only 2 of these are on the route from New York to home

– and (despite our eagerness to stop and the need to shower after being in the smelliest rest-area restroom ever with 2 children asking – at full volume – why the person in the next stall is making such a loud and stinky poop) the closest Marriott on our route will be over 100 miles away.

On the upside (for me), it was my husband who took the girls to the restroom (sorry for laughing at you, hon!), we made excellent time leaving the rest area (as you can imagine, with my horrified husband driving), and the hotel was lovely once we arrived.

Still lovin’ ya’, Marriott!  and our sincere apologies to whoever was having those GI issues in that West Virginia rest-stop restroom stall . . .

You would think raising 99 puppies would have prepared her…

You may recall E’s obsession with the 101 Dalmations movie.  Grammy is aware of this obsession and delighted E by giving her a Dalmation beanie baby (the “mommy” dog, named Perdita) during the family wedding weekend.

This transfer of ownership meant that Perdita rode to the wedding with Grammy (and likely enjoyed peace, sparkling conversation between Grammy and Grandpa, and something soothing on the radio) and away from the wedding with us (general chaos, conversational craziness, and something that appeals to rambunctious children on the radio).

Anyone curious as to how Perdita is adjusting?

Well, this is what we found when we went to help E crawl out of her carseat at our first stop.

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E has no idea how this appeared to our adult eyes, as in her wonderful imagination, she was simply watching Perdita play with the new leash and collar fashioned out of our jewelry making kit.

But it seemed to both me and my husband that Perdita had become quite suicidal. It also seemed to us to reveal something about the level of chaos we achieve on roadtrips.

I mean, at the end of her movie (during which she births 15 puppies, adopts 84 more and helps them all escape on foot from the evil Cruella deVille), Perdita is still dancing.  Three hours into our 12+ hour roadtrip, she has fashioned a noose!

Ask me again when we’re getting a real dog.

My answer:  Maybe sometime after we take the toy ones off suicide watch…

I promise you will learn to love us, Perdita!  We certainly love you!

We’re back! Ready for another road trip recap?

Road trip recap!!!  Another episode of shout-outs and boo-hiss…are you ready?

Shout outs:

–       to everyone involved with planning a wonderful wedding weekend (especially the bride and groom!)

–       to Nana (the ultimate road-trip companion!  Nana let us drive her car, showered us with fun surprises, entertained us during the 700+ miles to up-state NY, watched the kids during the wedding, took them to Friendly’s for ice-cream during the reception (“The ice-cream had a face!  The cone was the hat!”), woke with T at 6am every day of the trip, and insisted – with a straight face – that she would miss us as she boarded her flight out)

–       to Grammy (ever-wonderful with her toys for the kids and her attention to our crew…we arrived to find our mini-fridge stocked with whole milk for the kids and wine for us…how awesome is that?!?)

–       to Grandpa (who went with us to see Niagara Falls the morning of the wedding and gave the kids a quick tennis lesson between the wedding and the reception… again, how awesome is that?)

–       to the rest of the family (siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.) for making the trip – so fun to catch up with everyone and to meet our new baby cousin V!

–       to Pizzeria UNO, for letting the kids make their own pizzas, letting them go in the kitchen to see them being put into the oven, and giving them “chef” certificates that entitled us to two free make-your-own pizza meals, which we cashed in on the return trip)

–       to the kids, who were absolute champs…I love this age, where they are excited about everything, whether it’s making jewelry in the car, playing duck-duck-goose at the rest-area, or admiring the poop that that big bird just dropped on our window (and no…it doesn’t matter if it is right in the driver’s sight-line and you are out of windshield-washer fluid.  T’s asleep and the girls are happy, so enjoy the poop-filled view, driver-dad!)

–       to my husband, who has now spent both Father’s Day, and our anniversary, in the car.  On this outing he: made a mix of the kids’ favorite songs, drove the whole trip (squinting through poop for 100+ miles), danced with his wife at the reception whenever she asked (ok…he skipped “It’s Raining Men”, but we’re going to give him a pass on that one…), delayed departures so we could take over a hotel hot-tub at 8am (looks like a kiddie pool…not in fact a kiddie pool), delayed arrivals so we could pick dandelions at rest-areas and (in an impressive display of self-control) managed to keep his one comment about the length of our car-ride at a volume only I could hear.  (E, after using 20 dandelions to wish for her usual set of 101 Dalmations, used one to happily “wish this day would last forever…”  My husband, a smile on hour 9 of the day’s drive, and under his breath responds:  “Wish granted, E”

–       and to Marriott, who again let us stay using points and must be awarded the prize of “hotel with the most fantastic door hangers ever”.  They say, “I need some ‘me time’.  Please do not disturb.”  (Love it!) I put one on the back of my headrest for the entire return trip, but it didn’t work.  Maybe once the kids can read…

and Boo Hiss:

–       to the lady who gave us the finger after nearly hitting us on the interstate.  Our horn, and your subsequent swerve, are the only things that prevented a massive accident.   Please control your vehicle, and yourself.  We have three precious and impressionable children in the car.

–       To the empty construction sites…twice we sat in 5mph traffic for over an hour (T’s entire nap!) only to finally merge into the right lane where we could see the left lane – cut off by 100 cones to protect work on that side of the median…not the road – completely devoid of workers in the middle of a regular work day.  Seriously?  Couldn’t send in one guy to move the cones?

–       to any waitress who responds to a toddler’s spilled chocolate milk with anything other than an offer to refill the glass…

–       To the toddler moment that grabbed an otherwise sweet little girl at the hotel pool and made her tell S to “Stop Talking!”  . . . Kudos to S for insisting: “Girls can talk anytime they want!  I can talk anytime I want!” right to the child’s face (before turning and collapsing into tears into dad’s shoulder).  Kudos to the toddler’s mom for removing the child when she refused to apologize, despite the fact that ours were “the first kids she’s met since we relocated into this hotel a month ago from 7 states away”.  And Kudos to my husband for NOT losing it when an important call 24 hours later prompted us to ask all the kids for quiet in the car, to which S (now fully primed) responded (again, and at full volume) “Girls can talk anytime they want!  I can talk anytime I want!”      Heaven help us.

–       And to the hotel room’s previous patron who left the alarm set for 5am.  Thank goodness we caught it before falling asleep, as T would never have gone back to bed…

But again, never wanting to end on a sour note, I’ll emphasize that we had an amazing trip, enjoyed a wonderful wedding, and reconnected with so many good folks!  Lots more highlights to share, so look for upcoming posts on Niagara Falls, a “note to self” (travel version) and how the 101 Dalmations toy that Grammy gave to E did with the transition from Grammy’s (presumably peaceful) car to our car full of chaos!

‘til then!

On the road again…

We leave tomorrow on our second big road trip of the summer.  This time, Nana is coming with us for most of the trip!

I will be out of touch for almost a week, which should give you time to mull over the following question:

– Soon, Nana will be in the car with me, my husband and our three young children for a five hundred mile roadtrip to up-state New York (only a one way roadtrip for Nana, as she is very popular and is flying to visit others from there…)

– In the fall, Nana will be with her grown-up friends for a three week, fifteen-thousand mile, roundtrip, visit to China.

Which trip do you think will feel longer?

Hmmmm…

We all know the answer…

Glad you love our brand of chaos, Nana!  We’re going to have tons of fun!