Sunday, June 29, 2008

Celebrating Number Two!

I know you have all been waiting for the party update - and perhaps some pictures to go along with it, so here goes!

M absolutely LOVES to play in her sandbox - which happens to be the same turtle sandbox that my sister played in when she was a kid. You know, the big plastic kind with the lid. Yes, we still have it (a true testament to 1- my family's inability to throw away something that may be useful again "someday" and 2- the truth to the statement that plastic will not break down for millenia). But I digress....

M LOVES to play in her sandbox, so I decided to expand that idea a little bit for her birthday party and have 3 sandboxes and some other fun outdoor toys - it was Extreme Playdate: Birthday Edition! I used 2 small plastic kiddie pools, 200 pounds of sand, 5 sand pails , 4 super-duper shovels, 3 gigantic pinwheels, 2 track-making toy trucks, 1 gigantic beach blanket and more to complete the theme.

It was just a little bit warm outside, and as morning moved into noontime, our shade quickly disappeared. We had plenty of drinks on hand (40 juice pouches, 24 bottles of water, and four 2-liter drinks, to continue the counting theme....) to keep both kids and parents cool, refreshed, and happy. See that smile on our youngest party guest?

After some light snacks, we got down to business - time to blow out the candles and cut the cake!

See that birthday cake? Made by Grandma RL, it's the famous turtle sandbox in miniature! By the way, that's not really sand. Now, take a close look at the pink bucket on the table - the one that barely made it into the shot. For two birthdays in a row (yes, for those of you out there counting, that would be both of Miss M's birthdays) I have provided a non-traditional sort of cake. My Mom thinks you have to have something to actually cut, so she provides the baked-in-the-oven sort to complement the party theme. Again, I digress.... That pink bucket holds my creation - Sand Cake! It was loads of fun to make, and yummy, too (not just patting myself on the back, there, either!). It, too, was made with "fake" sand - aka Vanilla Wafers pulverized to sand-sized bits by the food processor. Hooray for small kitchen appliances!

To all the folks who had cameras at the party - if you have a family shot with no eyes winking and fingers pointing, could you email it my way? I know there's no way to make my hair look any better (in addition to hot, it was also humid...). For those of you wondering, my kids really can't sit still for pictures. J will either wink, give a thumbs up, or cut his eyes away at just the "right moment." M will wink, reach for the camera to "see it" even though you haven't had the chance to snap the shot, or just generally wiggle and try to get away. It's like trying to photograph that crazy squirrel from Over the Hedge.... If anyone did get the "miracle shot" though, would you email it to me?

Maggie is great at blowing out the candles, but instead I decided to include a shot to show you how much Miss M enjoyed the "cuttable" cake (and prove to you that it wasn't really sand on the cake!).

Finally, some shout-outs to the folks who really helped make the day extra-special:
Grandma RL and Aunt L - for helping with the day-before-the-party shopping and other prep work, especially the turtle sandbox cake
Grandpa H and MeMaw M.A. - for making a (long) day trip to come and celebrate with us (can't wait to see you at the beach - and see the new bikes)
Grandma and Grandpa R - for also making a (long) day trip to come and celebrate with us (by the way, J wants to come and play on your swingset soon - he forgot to tell you until you were already driving away!)
Of course, all of our friends - our local "family" - who came to celebrate with us. In the hustle and bustle of the party, and of daily life in general, I know we don't tell you often enough how much each and every one of you means to each of us. With our parents and siblings living so far away, you truly are family to us. We are so thankful that you are a part of our lives, and treasure you so very much. Thank you for helping us to celebrate another milestone in our lives, and in the life of our sweet Miss M.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Miss M is 2 Today!

Happy Birthday to You!
Happy Birthday to You!
Happy Birthday Miss M!
Happy Birthday to You!

Hitting the ground running

Well, I got as close to hitting the ground running as I could, considering the 3 hour time difference from here to California and the 4am wake-up call to catch a 7:15am flight. After a few very hot (113 degrees!) but fun-filled days, I made it home. In addition to catching up with some of my former colleagues during my trip, I also got to dip my toes in the Pacific, play on the beach, and spend a few hours at Disneyland. Thanks to my MIL for coming to town to help Big J for a couple of days while I was having some west coast fun!

Now that I'm home, I'm spending my days preparing for M's birthday party on Saturday, and spending my evenings at Vacation Bible School. I didn't do much on Tuesday - just tried to get a little extra rest by taking it easy with the kids. But now we are full steam ahead - grocery shopping, cooking, and planning the final party details. This is the most exciting part for me - getting down to the finishing touches!

Speaking of, I have to get back to those details before time just runs out!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Goin' to Cali

I'm about to have a Mom Milestone ... I'm leaving the family for a few days to head west for a conference. It's the first time I've left both kids for more than a few hours, and the first time I've taken a trip by myself since 2003. I will admit that I am looking forward to a little peace and quiet in the evenings, but I also know that I'm going to miss Big J, Mister J, and Miss M terribly. I know that when I get home, Miss M's smile will be different - those three teeth that are just barely poking through her gums will be noticeably closer to their final destination. Mister J will be able to kick a soccer ball even further than before I left. And while I know that my kids will be in good hands - they'll be having a great time with Daddy - I will still worry about them. It's just what a mother does. And the wife part of me worries about Big J, too - these two kiddos are a handful! While I don't doubt his ability to care for them - he is often able to remain calm in situations where I'm about to lose my cool, and in general he's way more laid back - I know just what a tough job it can be sometimes!

I am doing the best I can to prepare the family for my absence. The freezer is full of Dream Dinners, and there are already a few thawing for the coming few days. I went to the grocery store on Saturday. We have started a new grocery list since then, but perhaps that's an excursion for Big J and the little ones. I'm talking to (little) J each day about my trip, preparing him for the few days that Dad is in charge. Big J is slowly taking over some of the routine with Miss M so she can adjust in her own way. Most importantly, I've performed the requested "brain dump" - put the most important things Big J needs to know on paper. I don't think that there is a way to prepare myself, other than to think about the trip itself - What do I need to pack? Did I remember to print my e-ticket? Should I check in online the night before? (That's a big YES, since I have to be at the airport at 6am....)

At dinner time each night I'm gone, I know that I'll be calling home to check in with the fam, tell the little ones goodnight (due to the 3-hour time difference), and count down the number of days until I'm home. Thank goodness for the "all-you-can-call" cell phone plan. I imagine there will be plenty of text and pix messages, too - that's what we did when Big J was on a business trip. Surely then I will know how hard it was for Big J to be away from us for a week, and I'll decide that perhaps next year, we will all go to the conference together again. It'll be in Boston - a much more manageable family trip.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Paint My Numbers

J is very interested in numbers. He likes to count things, read numbers, and has been known to ask, "What number are you?" No, it's not like asking, "Hey, what's your sign?" It's his way of asking how old you are. He also asks, "How many ____s until ____?" For example, how many days until Grandma gets to our house? Since he is so interested in numbers, I drew him a big number chart on a piece of poster board, and now we are decorating it. We started today with watercolors - only had a bit little of time while M caught a quick nap. While my goal is to have J work on it as much as possible to encourage his creativity. I also let him practice his management skills today and tell me what color to paint and where to paint it. He asked me, "How do you do that (stay in the lines)?" so we got to talk about working slowly and practicing to get better at something. And, he got to practice cleaning up. We were sitting on the kitchen floor with the paints and this big poster, and he got paint on the floor a few times, so we kept a box of wipes nearby. Amazingly, he didn't complain about cleaning up!

I am so surprised by the things we talked about today - but glad that he is hopefully learning some good lessons in the quiet time we have together.

By the way, I will post pictures soon - some in-progress shots and another once it's complete.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Exciting Experiment

Another food-related post - but this time no photos.

Many of you know that Miss M has some food allergies, including peanuts. In fact, we avoid all nuts, foods processed on equipment that also processes nuts, and foods processed/packaged in a facility in which also processes foods containing nuts. I do a LOT of label reading! You may or may not know that one of my favorite foods is - you guessed it - peanut butter. My favorite candy? Reese's peanut butter cups. I like M&Ms too - and even the nut-free varieties are off limits due to "shared equipment" warnings. In fact, pretty much any candy containing caramel or chocolate, and many types of cookies, cereals, and most granola bars are not a part of our diet due to this restriction. What's a peanut butter lover to do?

When M's allergies were diagnosed, her allergist recommended SunButter as an alternative. It's made from sunflower seeds, so it's a safe alternative. (OK, all you brainiacs, a peanut is technically a legume, and all the other things we avoid are truly nuts - but that's a convo for another day.) I talked with other parents of food-allergic kids, and got another recommendation for SunButter. All of the allergy websites out there listed it as a peanut butter alternative. "It can't be too bad," I thought, so we gave it a try. If you have ever tried SunButter - or any of the generic equivalents that are popping up out there - you know that it's just not the same. It's not bad, just not the same. Personally, I don't think it's good with jelly, but I will eat a plain SB sandwich or toast. The kids love SB&Js. Mister J made the switch very easily, and Miss M has really never known anything else. For my husband, however, we still keep a jar of real PB sequestered on a top shelf - and it only comes down when M is asleep.

"So," you are thinking, "When is she getting to the exciting part?" Right now! I was grocery shopping with the kids a couple of days ago, and we needed more grape jelly. As I do every time I walk down the aisle with the PB and all of the jams, jellies, and preserves, I gazed longingly at the jars of PB. And then I saw it - a jar I had glanced at before, but never seriously considered purchasing. I took it down off of the shelf, read the label again (I had read it at least once before), and put it in my shopping cart. I thought, "Why not give it a try? How bad can it be? And, if we hate it, it even has a satisfaction guarantee on the side...." That jar was soy butter.

I brought it home, set it out on the counter, and kept glancing at it as I put the groceries away, unloaded the dishwasher, reloaded the dishwasher, and started thinking about dinner. When my husband got home he looked at the jar, read the label, and got an expression of doubt that this experiment would turn out well. I waited as long as I could - about 2 hours, max - and finally opened the lid, peeled off the foil inner lid, and scooped up some of the soy butter with the tip of my (clean!) finger. Time for the plunge - just taste it! And, man oh man, was it ever ... good! When Big J came back to the kitchen, I told him to taste it. He wasn't sure if the grin on my face was good or bad, but he was a sport and tried the soy butter. It wasn't just my imagination - he was impressed. Actually, we both wonder a teensy bit if they didn't actually put PB in there by mistake! I haven't given it to the kids yet - I'm afraid that if I do, they won't want to finish the jar of sunflower butter that's still in the pantry! My other worry is that the soy butter has such a similar texture and consistency to PB that if Miss M ever encountered real PB she might not realize the difference - and that would not be good....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We tried 'em out... They work!

Day One of the healthy lunch experiment! Well, not really, but Day One with the Laptop Lunch boxes. I wanted to try them out at home to see how the kids would handle them before we hit the road with them. I had a few questions to answer - Could Mister J get it open ok? What would Miss M think about it? Plus, I just needed (wanted!!!) to practice packing it. There was nothing but excitement on their faces as they opened up the LLBs and checked out what was inside! Of course, you know I took some pictures ;)

They had pasta with olive oil and herbs, fresh fruit, veggies and hummus (those are carrots and cucumbers), and Mister J got some cheese bites and a little dessert of 2 Tootsie Rolls (like I said yesterday, healthier lunches - I'm not perfect!).

Mister J had no problem opening the containers - the yellow (fruit) and purple (hummus) containers come with lids. He still needs a little help with the lid to the outer box (the blue part) - mainly because he holds the lid down with one hand while trying to open it with the other - but I am sure he'll get the hang of it soon. Miss M won't be going anywhere on her own for lunch anytime soon, so I didn't test her lid-opening skills. I just set the open box in front of her and let her go to town! She ate most of the fruit, pretty well ignored the noodles (which she had previously enjoyed at lunch 2 days ago....), picked at the veggies, and ate the hummus with a spoon. Then, she dumped two of the inner containers out into the big box and proceeded to build a tower. Mister J ate more veggies than usual (he actually ate some of the cucumber!), downed most of the fruit (left some blueberries), and ate some of the pasta. He asked me to save the leftover veggies for later. They snacked a little before lunch - I was doing some cooking this morning, and they were doing some tasting - so I didn't expect they'd finish everything. However, this was also my first opportunity to see how much the LLBs really hold. It's a LOT! I could pack an entire lunch for myself in one of these, so I probably served a bit too much for their meals. Overall, a fun and interesting lunch, and I'm extremely pleased with today's trial run of the LLBs.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Woo hoo! They're here!

Ok, I am one crazy lady! I know this, I accept it, and I thank my husband for loving me anyway.
I am excited because, after waiting a week for them to get here from California, my kids' new lunchboxes have arrived! I bet know what you are thinking, "Lunchboxes? Ok, so I knew she had her own little '-isms', but I am now sure that she has lost it. Totally. How does he trust her to raise his children?!?"

Well, they are not just any lunchboxes - they are Laptop Lunch Systems! And I'm excited because they are an important part of achieving a few of my current goals:

1) save money by eating out less
2) eat healthier meals
3) help my kids to eat a wider variety of foods

In our efforts to save money, we have cut eating out to once or twice a week (most weeks). I am, of course, buying more groceries since we are eating at home more. I have been buying lots of fresh fruits, serving fewer processed foods, and reading labels much more closely. I'm expanding the kids' diets slowly, starting with the fun stuff (fruit and healthier snacks) and trying out new recipes. Jonah will also be helping me out in the kitchen more. I know that my biggest challenge this summer will come as we start going to more storytimes and playdates. The temptation is always to grab lunch at a convenient drive-thru or a restaurant with an indoor playground, but at $12-15 to feed an adult and 2 kids, that really adds up! I'm hoping that in addition to saving money, the kids will think it's fun to eat from their new lunchboxes and be willing to try out the new foods they find inside. As added bonus, I can get rid of all of the random lunchbags stashed in my pantry and all of the assorted containers and lids (that didn't fit well into the lunch bags, anyway). There will be more room in the pantry for all of those groceries! And, I'll be using fewer plastic baggies, pre-packaged single-serve items, and juice boxes - which helps me feel better about doing my part for the environment (I could write a whole post about that!).

In an effort to stay true to these goals, look for posts and pictures about our latest mealtime advenutres - triumphs and flops. I'm excited to start on this new lunchtime (mealtime) adventure!

PS - Aren't those lunch boxes CUTE and COLORFUL? Jonah wanted to take his upstairs at naptime! I think we will try to use them at lunch tomorrow, even though we will be eating at home, just to see what the kids think and to practice packing them!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Catching up....

You've probably noticed that there are a few new posts up here at once - and you may wonder why they are mixed in with posts you have already read. I've been drafting some blogs this week while Daddy/Big J was out of town, but I wasn't quite ready to post them. So, I'm finishing them all up and posting them now that Big J is home (yay!). The following is from an email reply I sent to a friend who emailed me mid-week. I think it's a pretty good illustration of what days are like around here - call it normal, call it crazy, but I call it a pretty good day for the middle of a long week!

Monday and Tuesday were ROUGH - but we are doing better now. I don't know how single parents do it - except that they probably aren't home with the kids all day since someone has to pay the bills! I gave myself a bit of a break and we have used paper plates and bowls all week - that's saved a ton of work! J and I teamed up to tackle the toy mess yesterday - he loves to sort stuff, for which I am very thankful! The kids also thought it was pretty cool to rearrange the furniture in the den - they liked "riding" the chairs around the room. We've had plenty fun, too - arts and crafts, playing outside, and cuddling on the couch. J is really missing Daddy - he won't let me tuck him in at night since I don't do it "right." We do call Daddy every night at bedtime, though, to just check in and talk about the day. Truth be told, I think Daddy is really missing them, too. So, we are all looking forward to him coming home tomorrow :) It'll be late when he gets home, kids will probably already be in bed, so they will be anxious to spend Saturday with him.

At this particular moment, I'm eating my lunch and working on the laptop at the kitchen table. The kids finished their lunches before I ever sat down. J is crashing Matchbox cars under the table, and Maggie keeps coming over to steal " 'matoes " and " 'cumbers " off of my salad. I asked J if he could stop crashing for a few minutes and he said no, because his rescue trucks need something to do. I am sure we are quite a sight, but for the most part we are happy and having a good day!

NB: The kids were not in bed when Daddy got home, thanks to some long, late-in-the-day naps. J was thrilled - especially since he got a tuck from Daddy tonight!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


A few weeks back, Grandma and Grandpa R came for a visit and brought us some daylilies. They'd thinned theirs out, and knew we would be interested in any low-main-
tenance color we could add to our all-green landscaping. (Or, as the helpful lady at a local nursery put it, these are "plants that can handle neglect." Gee, thanks... I'd rather worry about feeding and watering my kids, thankyouverymuch.)

J was very excited about helping plant the daylilies, and was equally excited about the prospect of helping water them daily (well, almost daily... and sometimes Mother Nature gives us a hand....). Seeing as how he was so excited, Grandma was a little worried that they might not bloom. These lilies were being transplanted north, and they'd already bloomed before they were dug up and split. Plus, maybe they would just be mad about being dug up. Well, apparently the growing season here is a few weeks behind and they like their new home.... We have flowers!

When Only Dad Will Do

After visiting Grandma for a few days, we came home to be with Daddy for a few days before he went to Texas on a business trip. Since he left, I have answered lots of questions about how Daddy got to Texas (on an airplane), about how airports work (Daddy did not take his car to Texas with him on the airplane - he parked it, walked into the airport, then walked out of a very special door to get on the airplane), and why Daddy had to go to Texas (to go to school and be a teacher). Daddy even sent us some pictures of airplanes and some video of airplanes taking off - ah, the wonders of technology!

I've been able to satisfy J with my answers to most of his questions. But what I can't do is tuck him in at bedtime. His bedtime routine includes, among other things, a story, a song, and a bedtime prayer, which Mommy does most nights. Then, after a kiss from Mommy, he asks for a tuck and a kiss from Daddy. While Daddy is gone, I have offered to tuck him in, and he has refused each night. Refused! I was surprised, a little sad that I wasn't "enough," but also glad that he and Daddy have that bond.

Each night at bedtime we call Daddy to talk about the day and say goodnight. Still, after our bedtime routine J asks, "can you tell Daddy to come tuck me in and give me a kiss?" It breaks my heart a little bit each time.... So, we are counting down the nights until Daddy gets back home. J is a little sad each day that it's not "today." And, even though it will be past bedtime when Daddy gets home, and J will probably already be asleep, Daddy has promised that he will go in and give J a tuck and a kiss.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Girl, the Wolf, and the Book

I know what you are thinking - Little Red Riding Hood - but that's not it. Nope! That is not who came to find me in the wee hours of the morning, dragging her blanket along. Miss M has been waking up in the night and coming to climb into bed with Mom and Dad. Being wired for mommyhood as I am, I cannot turn her away. I have always loved to snuggle with my kids, and since she's not much of snuggler in daylight hours, I take what I can get - even at 2am. So this morning, when she came to my room with the little stuffed animal (that might actually be a dog instead of a wolf - but it wouldn't sound as good) and a tiny little book from Grandma, and quietly called, "Mommy....Mommy..." I could not say no. In less than 5 minutes she was back asleep - and I realized this morning that she had not even brought her paci with her!

As much as I love to snuggle with them, I have to admit it can sometimes be a little uncomfortable. Miss M likes to sleep sideways with her feet in my back, or upside down (I have been woken many mornings by a kick in the face - ouch!). She even had her own side of the bed last night - Daddy was away - and still ended up so close that I couldn't roll over. And, that tiny little book from Grandma that is one of her never-put-it-down favorites right now had sharp corners! But - if that's what it takes to earn her snuggles, I'll do what it takes to get them.

Monday, June 2, 2008

I am summer camp....

Yes, I am saying this to myself a la the Lightning McQueen mantra and hoping that it gives me strength, patience, courage, and overflowing creativity, craftiness, and imagination. If that sounds like a tall order, read on....

Since the kids aren't in camps this summer, I'm trying to provide them with at least a taste of the activities they enjoyed in preschool - art, music, and of course, playtime. Well, the playtime is easy enough - playdates, the backyard swingset, and our outdoor toys provide plenty of play and exercise (for Mommy, too!). We also have a jog stroller, tricycle, and bubble mower - so we are set for many forms of outdoor fun. The music is also not a stretch for me. We have lots of kids' music, several music instruments that the kids can use to play along, and of course if we clean up enough we have a dance floor in the den. It's the art that leaves me anxious. When it comes to crayons and stickers, I'm ok. When it comes to projects - with stuff like markers, glue, or paint - that's where I get a little nervous. I am afraid of getting messy and staining things. I am most anxious about setting my kids loose with paint and brushes, but I still bought them some paint yesterday. In the best case, we will paint outdoors on a nice day, and I will try to find old t-shirts for the kids to wear. I bought washable paint, so how bad can it really be? That's what I am afraid of. I need a little courage. I need some craftiness (well, more than I have). And I need a little more imagination - to help me imagine how much fun it can be so I can get excited!

I am glad to say that I survived our first attempt at craft hour this morning! I found some cute foam sunglasses and foam stickers during our craft supply adventure. They turned out really cute (check out the before-and-after-and-afters below)! J had to do his twice (he's a bit of a perfectionist) and M lost interest in about 12.5 seconds, so she played with the foam stickers while I decorated her glasses with a little help from J. As you can see, she didn't want to wear them for an "official" portrait, so J took the picture with me wearing her glasses. Don't I look like the coolest mom around?

I am curious about what I will learn from the kids and this experience over the summer. I have already learned that J, not surprisingly, is good at sorting. He will gladly sort things and package them up in the process. Yep, he helped me clean up the art project! I just didn't call it "cleaning up" - lesson 1 of Project Summer Camp. I'll keep you posted on what else I learn - including if J is as good (read: neat) a painter as his preschool teacher said!