Friday, December 30, 2011

Parenting Fail

*sigh*  Yup.  We have failed as parents.  *hanging head in shame*

Lainy Ann noticed that Caskey's wallpaper on his phone is the Statue of Liberty.  He took the picture when he was in New York City a few months ago.  Lainy Ann commented, "I love the Statue of Liberty.  It is so great going to Las Vegas and visiting it."  *sigh*

In my defense the poor child has been to Las Vegas nearly a dozen times in her short life, mostly because its close and we have family there.  She has never been to New York, although we talk about it quite a bit.

Its clearly time to broaden her horizons.  Maybe a cross-country trip is in order.

Hampton's Inn

I originally intended this to be a pan, but now I am not so sure, so I will just tell the story and see where it goes.

While we were in Las Vegas, NV this time we stayed at Hampton's Inn.  They have a free pet-policy and my mother has gone crazy in her old age and now needs to travel with her cat because apparently having 5 children tagging along isn't enough responsibility.  When I made the reservations we were quoted the price of $94/night no extra fee for a cat.  The stay was fair.  The food was poor.  It was definitely dated, but clean.  Nothing to write home about, but the AAA rate was $84 so I figured it was tolerable.

When I checked my bill I realized I was being charged $109.  That is quite a difference from the price I thought it was going to be.  After a bit of discussion with the front desk it turns out I was charged a higher price since it was one adult and 3 kids in my room.  However, 2 adults and one cat are cheaper.  I am pretty sure my kids aren't going to spray the carpet or scratch the furniture.  Why on earth would they be more costly?!

The front desk clerk tried to make it right and ended up charging me $98/night.  Then to apologize for the confusion gave me a Starbucks gift card.  She tried hard to fix things, but I am certainly not going to frequent a hotel that charges by the person.  We have stayed at quite a few hotels over the years and have rarely been charged by the person especially as a low-end hotel.

Its really too bad.  They have a rewards program I already belong too and I was hoping to acquire some points.  I am hoping that it is a franchise issue rather than corporate policy.

Jealous? Then Plan.

I was clicking through Schemer the other day looking for new adventures; with and without the kids.  One person posted "travel by car through 21 states in 40 days".  While I don't have that exact wish, we do love to road trip and I plan on conquering our own United States (and Canada) before we start traveling internationally.  I added that idea to my to-do list and realized that the person had posted a blog link.  I clicked on over to GeekDad prepared to read about this adventure a man had with his two children.  I kept reading and was quite surprised to find that a mother had written the article on GeekDad and more surprising than that; she had taken the kids on their 40 day adventure by herself (minus 2 weeks when her husband joined them).

I started pouring over her blog to figure out how exactly she accomplished this feat alone.  I do quite a bit of road tripping just me and the kids; but its exhausting, and boring.  But since this is something I truly aspire to and Caskey just doesn't have the 40 days to be out of work I am going to start working on  achieving this quest.

I am quite amazed that she was able to accomplish this feat.  Quite frankly I am jealous.  So in order to make myself feel better I enumerated the ways she was able to make it work that will not work for me.

1. She only has 2 children and they are aged 10 and 7.  That means they potty, bathe and carry their own bags.  They are also far more capable of understanding "hold on" and "pee now, the next rest stop is in 3 hours".

2. Her and the kids are able to squeeze into one hotel room.  

3. She has tons of family and friends through out her route which enabled her to save on hotels and a place to land for a few days (including laundry facilities).

But I am not about to let the size of our family or age range stop us.  But a few minor things will need to happen to make us successful.  

The kids needs to grow up a little.  Traveling for that long with 2 really little kids is a recipe for disaster.  Perhaps when Eleanor is 3 years old we can tackle a really long road trip, until then we will stay a 2 day drive from home.

The Monster Van needs some upgrades.

This week we took a 3 day trip to Las Vegas.  We traveled 'light', no swim gear or winter gear.   But even so I had a large over-filled shoulder bag, toiletry bag, play pen, box of toys and books, my purse and my laptop.  I can't imagine having to lug around luggage for 10 days for 7 people - that is 70 outfits!

-My solution to this is installing a dresser in the trunk of the Monster Van.  I would then put all the clean clothes in the dresser (drawers will be much easier to organize and easier to find things).  Then each night I arrive at a hotel I will gather the clothes we will need for the duration of our stay (one or two nights) and put them in a small duffle bag.  I was thinking I need a drawer dedicated solely to food as well.  I like to have healthy snacks on hand, but don't want to be shopping every day.

-We will also need better lighting in the van so I can root around for all the clothes and dropped toys.

- Entertainment for me.  It is incredibly boring and tiring for me to drive many miles by myself.  Although we have separate entertainment systems for the front and back of the van I don't have any media I can use.  Its great when I can tune into talk radio, but most of the time its static or I am distracted fiddling with the radio.  I have my favorite music, but I have memorized the playlist and it puts me to sleep.  I wonder if I can save books on tape to a thumb drive.  I bet a good book would make the corn fields of Kansas more appealing.

- A plan!  I am getting started on that now, thanks to Google Maps.  I will be mapping all of my must-see sights.  Then I will be able to group them into one or two or four different trips.  

+Caskey Dickson here is your Monster Van to do list.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And This is Why We Travel . . . .

Today's Lessons:

1.  What it really means to live in the middle of nowhere as we were stuck in traffic between Baker, CA and Primm, NV.  The kids wanted to just stop and get out of the car.  So I asked them, "where?"  They were well behaved after that but understandably tired of being cooped up.

2.  We saw really really big tires today on the back of a flat bed truck.  They were seriously bigger than my car and there were 6 of them.  I wonder what they were for?

3.  The children got to see and thank service men and women traveling over the holidays.  I tell them that there are people who don't get to be with their families at Christmas, but they actually got to see those men and women and thank them.  I hope this lesson and reminder stays with them for the rest of their lives.

4.  Connor learned to hand wash socks.  He forgot to pack his so I taught him to use a bar of soap and scrub them clean.  They are now hanging over the shower rod drying.

5.  Last but not least, to not be afraid of adventure.  We spent very little time packing and even less planning.  We jumped in the car sans Daddy (who has a hard deadline at work) and drove off for Las Vegas.  Not sure what's on the agenda, but we love adventure and we love our family.  We will get a little of both over the next 3 days.

We Found Jesus!

and Mary!

But its not quite what you think.  I hate losing pieces and parts of things.  It drives me crazy.  But darling Eleanor, like the 4 siblings before her, is going through the snag and drop phase.  She finds something that grabs her attention, carries it through the house and drops it randomly.  I am missing quite a few containers of carmex, wii motes, tv remotes and most recently our Little People Mary and Jesus.  I thought it would be great for the kids to really play with and enjoy and remember the true meaning of Christmas.  What it turned into was me chasing down the angel and 3 wise men every few minutes.  But then Mary and Jesus went missing.  For 2 weeks.  I cajoled the kids into helping me look. No luck.  Then I told them if we can't find Jesus then we can't celebrate his birthday with presents.  They didn't believe that one at all.  So, yesterday as we were walking out the door to spend the kids Christmas money on Skylanders I put a bounty on their head; $5 each.  That is half a Skylander!

I gave a few hints; under the couch, next to Alexander's bed, under William's bed.  Connor was victorious.  He had found Jesus.  I happily gave him $5 to spend on Skylanders, because let's be honest. I was just going to buy them for him anyway.   This way he feels he earned the money and spent it on his own.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dear Leslie 2012

You made a great effort at living every day of Advent in 2011.  I really commend you.  You worked hard at really focusing on faith, family and charity every single day.  But the only way to improve upon your performance is with a little constructive criticism.  So here it is.

1. Don't buy Advent calendars.
First of all, they aren't *Advent* calendars, they are count down calendars.  They only count from December 1st to December 24th.  It is really confusing to the kids when you say "Let's celebrate Advent" and there aren't enough numbered doors.
Second, its too much stuff!  You spent a lot of time moving, sorting, checking and keeping track of FIVE count down calendars - yes, five, you insisted that Eleanor have one as well and she only ate about 1/3 of the candy.  You ate the other 2/3 and it wasn't even very good.
Third, you don't like the kids to have candy!  HELLO!  Have you not met yourself?!  I don't know why you thought this was a good idea.  So every day you tried to figure out the best time to feed 5 children candy.  Meal time was the easiest time to remember, but then your choices were; right before school, right before naps or right before bed.  So what really ended up happening is you would put the kids off for days (and they are such good kids, they hardly ever got upset at all) and then they would get to eat 3 or 4 pieces all at once.

2. Be Flexible
You spent a lot of time in the middle of November searching for great ideas of things to do during Advent.  But then something would come up; like a wind storm and no electricity, and the plan would have to change.  Its okay.  I know you don't like to just fly by the seat of your pants, but sometimes its necessary.

3.  Be Creative
You planned TOO MUCH.  Once December 1st rolled around your empty calendar filled up fast.  It is okay to 'double count' activities.  For instance, when the whole family when to Girl Scout Craft Night and shared a meal and painted ornaments, that counts as an Advent activity.  You are still celebrating with your family.  When the cub scouts Scouted for Food, that counts as charity.  When the church made stockings and then delivered them to the convalescent home, that also counts as charity.  Even though it wasn't on the list you are still living the Advent Season.

4.  Bible Stories
Although you focused on faith and discussing Jesus's birth, the wise men, the Advent wreath, St. Nicholas Day, etc, you did not do any Bible readings.  Its important for children to read the stories directly from the Bible and know where they came from, especially for the older children.

All in all it was a successful Advent season.  You and the children celebrated St. Nicholas Day and surprised your closest friends and family with treats and the children chose gifts for toys for tots.  Santa visited and delivered letters for the children along with his magical non-melting snow.  We baked, made fudge, decorated, made ornaments, sang carols, surprised friends with gifts, watched Christmas movies together, and read books.  We really did a great job of focusing on family.  It has been a memorable Advent season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa Letters

Christmas hasn't gone as planned this year.  With the winds, a husband and wife weekend and a very busy end of quarter we didn't get things Christmassy and decorated as soon as I would have liked.  We finally got our tree and stockings and decorations up in the house.  It was a lot of fun listening to the kids ooh and aah over the ornaments and exclaim, "I remember this one" and "Where is my blue one?".

Once the house was decorated Santa made is annual visit and delivered letters of encouragement to the children.  They awoke to nicely wrapped letters on the kitchen table with magical un-melting snow sprinkled all over (yeah, thanks for the clean up Santa).  Lainy Ann was so excited to find the letters that she woke up the two little boys.  There was squealing and jingling all morning long.  Lainy Ann decided she HAD to take her letter to school, so we let her.  We let our 8 1/2 year old daughter take her Santa letter to show her 4th grade friends.  We had to.  

At the end of the day I received this email from a parent I don't know, but she apparently knows us.  

Thought you may want to know...     
This morning, your daughter told some of her classmates that Santa paid her home a visit.  Despite some doubts from some of her classmates, she was confident enough that she told them, "I have proof!"  She quickly showed her letter from Santa to her friends.  With red ink and all, her friends questioned her less.  When the assembly was over, she excitedly walked back to class with strong pride and believe of Santa on her mind.
I think it's really nice to see young kids with strong Christmas spirit. 
Speaking of Christmas spirit, you may enjoy this story.... 
I was so touched by Lainy Ann's strong believe that I mentioned the story to my pest control guy whom happened to come by today.  In return, he shared his story with me.  He said one time he visited a friend with two young daughters to drop off some gifts at their house.  The girls enthusiastically told him that Santa gave them two bikes. They too were so certain that they were from Santa that they proudly pointed the "reindeer paw prints" on their bikes to him.  After the girls walked away, he went up to his friend and said, "You know, those are rat prints.  You need to put some rat traps in your garage." 
In any case, hope you guys have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I took away many things from this email.  Number 1, my daughter is a strong, confidant young woman who does not allow peer pressure to sway her opinion and belief.  That will serve her well in the rest of her life.  Number 2, our Christmas spirit has once again touched someone outside of our family. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Elf

This boy is trouble. Truly. You see that grin and adorableness. He knows it too. After we made a fuss about how cute he looked in his Christmas jammies he wore them all night with his Santa hat. 

Even Eleanor noticed all the attention he was getting. After Alexander wandered off she crawled into my lap so I wouldn't forget about her cuteness.


Dear Jordan's Mom,

I know William is adorable. We like him too. But please don't steal my child. I know you think you are helping me by walking him to my car. But walking him to my car and putting him in your car and driving him to our house WITHOUT TELLING ME is not the same. Its kidnapping. You owe me, my family and most importantly +Lainy Cullen an apology. Thanks for giving us all a few more gray hairs. Also, thanks for reminding me to have another 'stranger danger' talk with my son. 


William's Mom

Yeah, this is not what I meant when I said I wanted more Parental Adventures.  *sigh*  This was my Google+ status today.  I get a panicked text from Aunt Lainy about not being able to find William and that Jordan's mom had taken him to our home.  It took me a few seconds to place Jordan's mom since we are not friends.  I don't know her last name and we have not exchanged phone numbers.  After about 20 minutes it was sorted out.   The school was able to call her on her cell phone and tell her to bring William back.  *sigh* Just when I was starting to get comfortable with leaving the kids with babysitters.  

Robbin's Nest Holiday

Alexander had his Robbin's Nest Holiday Festival this past weekend.  It was hard going this year and I feel bad for that.  First of all Alexander missed 2 days of school (and practice) right before the concert.  And since we only have one child at Robbin's Nest this year it kind of feels weird to bring all 5 kids along for this, especially when the crafts and activities are definitely for the younger kids.  Even Connor did a bit of whining in the morning about having to go.  But I was bound and determined to treat him like child #1 instead of #4 and be excited about his activities.  Even Grandma Lou came to watch him.  He sang all the regular songs; Chubby Little Snowman, Up on the Housetop, Jingle Bells.  Then we made the rounds as the children made Reindeer Food (dry cereal and raisins), necklaces, paper hats, and ornaments.

My mom remarked, "Boy, it sure is nice to be here this year.  The kids are really growing up."  And she is right.  There was a lot less hovering and gently steering this year.  My mom, Caskey and I chatted outside the classroom and watched Eleanor toddle around while the other four crafted.  Connor and Lainy Ann certainly don't need any help and William is on his way to independence as well.  Lainy Ann and the teachers were there to assist Alexander in tying knots in necklaces.  The kids had a great time and I am enjoying watching the fun rather than having to make the fun.

I do wish I had gotten a picture of all 5 of them together.  I have definitely noticed myself slacking in that department as the children get older.

Parental Adventures

We spend a lot of time talking about all the adventures the kids participate in.  But I realized that Adventure isn't just for them.  This weekend Caskey and I are celebrating our 10 year anniversary, out of town, for 2 nights, with no kids.  That in itself is an adventure.  I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I am going to be away from my kids.  So I spent most of the week ignoring the fact that we would be leaving.  I spent the time doing Christmas chores and packing the kids.  Well, that really showed when I discovered the night before we were going away that I had nothing to wear.  Oops.

Our first adventure was to go shopping.  I was looking for something fashionable, easy to wear, warm and comfortable.  I spent 2 hours shopping, and then failing.  Caskey felt bad too, he was sorry he couldn't be more helpful in finding the right clothes.

The next morning we got up early (or normal for those parenting types) and got all the children readied for the Robbin's Nest Holiday Festival.  But once the kids had made all of their crafts and sung their songs we were outta-there!  We dropped the kids at Grandma  Lou's house and set off on our next adventure.  We went to attend Accomplice Hollywood.

I would like to tell you about all the fun and antics and laughter and my sore feet.  But I was sworn to secrecy.  So let me tell you this.  Get your closest and funest friends together and go.  Its worth it.  Wear tennis shoes and be prepared to have fun.  Its kind of like a mystery train ride but walking and in Hollywood.  Its part scavenger hunt and part live-theater.  Its 100% fun!  I want to go to NYC now for the East Coast version.

Then we drove to SLS Hotel where we would be staying the night.  I did little to no research on the hotel since it was where the Google Party was being held.  The goal was to be able to have lots of fun and not have to drive home.  That part worked, but the hotel. . . . . while it wasn't gross or bad it just wasn't my style.  It was designer, which is the nicest word I can think of using.  Every surface was mirrored or reflective, but with the low lighting I just felt like someone was following me around.  Plus the room was small and poorly arranged so Caskey and I kept bumping into each other.  Just strange over all.  It was not functional - finding a convenient outlet was a challenge.  Then there was the 2nd mirrored door into the bathroom.  I guess it was so you could brush your teeth and look at the person in bed?!  You couldn't see the tv from the bathroom, so I'm not sure why there was a sliding door you couldn't use.  Oh well, it was only one night and the bed was comfortable.

Sunday night was a concert.  I don't normally go to concerts.  I'm a little ADD.  I feel like music is something you do in addition to something else; music while driving, music while doing housework, music while dressing.  Sitting and watching music is boring for me.  So I was worried I would feel that way again and my Mother's Day Tickets would be a big waste of money.  Well, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Straight No Chaser was a fabulously entertaining group.  They are an accapella group who have some original arrangements, but they also cover older songs, but switch it up.  Kind of like dueling singers, plus bad dancing.  It helps that they are cuties too!  Caskey was not looking forward to 2 1/2 hours of Christmas music, but he even got into it as they covered Michael Jackson and Cello Green.

Our hotel the 2nd night was more my speed.  Lots of nice dry wall, a regular bathtub and toilet.  Lamps on every night stand with a plug.  The bonus is the balcony with a view of the ocean.  Beautiful.  *I* had set the heat before we left the room (something that is not normally allowed) and we came back to a sweltering room.  It was literally 80* in the room (which is why I'm not allowed to touch the heat).  So we opened the balcony doors and closed the blinds and went to bed.  We could hear the waves from our bed.  It was lovely and relaxing and so quiet.  I am rarely around that kind of silence.

Today is our last planned day of adventure.  We were going to attend a tv show taping, but I am feeling anxious and nervous because Lainy Ann has a science test I want to help her study for.  But its only fitting that I cut our 10 year anniversary short since I cut our honeymoon short as well.  I miss my kids when I'm not with them.  I think we will go back early, maybe see a movie, get a Christmas Tree and study for the science test.  Not exactly romantic, but definitely a parental adventure.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

San Fran

We went to San Francisco just after Thanksgiving.  I have wanted to take the kids for a while and do a ton of touristy stuff; Alcatraz, Coit Lighthouse, Kids Museum, Golden Gate Park, the list goes on.  But we were dropping Caskey off at work and then driving the rest of the way home by ourselves.  We had to amend our trip considerably.  We planned a single drive around the most interesting parts of the city, a trolley cable car ride, and then a meal at Google for lunch.  Included in our drive was a trip over both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge.

I expected to talk to my kids about urban versus suburban, something Connor is currently learning about in second grade.  I expected to talk to Lainy Ann about California Landmarks and the missions since she is studying California history.  We talked about ports and shipping.  We talked about architecture in the old buildings (scroll work and columns).

But we got a lesson in homelessness too.

We were parked in the not-so-great area of the city while Caskey walked 2 blocks to buy our cable car tickets.  Its so strange that the 'bad area' of the city can be just 3 blocks from the 'nice area'.  But its true.  While we were waiting Lainy Ann asks me, "What is that man in green doing?"  I knew right away who she was talking about.  He was only one of a dozen people I was watching in case we needed to drive away.  He was standing in the middle of the street waving his arms and yelling.  But I didn't want to have that hard conversation with her.  Our kids are so sheltered.  We talk about people who are less-fortunate, we donate to those people, but they never actually see it.  So I answered, "He is crossing the street, slowly."  She didn't accept that answer.  So I told her, "He is crazy, Lainy Ann."  I got that multi-syllabic 'mom' that children are so adept as saying "Mo-o-om".  I sadly told her, "No, really Lainy Ann, he is crazy.  He has a sickness in his brain that makes him crazy.  Because of that he can't get a job and work.  He doesn't have family to take care of him so he sleeps on the streets."  I wanted to cry.  Why does she have to know about these hard parts of life?

Caskey had a similar experience with Connor as we were walking the streets.

I spent a bit of time with my suburban kids in downtown San Francisco today.
Probably the most poignant moment for me was when my oldest boy asked "why was that man digging in the trash can?"

I told him that he was probably looking for either food or cans to recycle. I then explained homelessness and that sometimes people don't have enough to live.
The person in question was choosing to dig through garbage in search of cans which can be redeemed (in California) for a nickel. We discussed the fact that some people choose to sit at the intersections asking for a handout while others are busy digging through the garbage.

My son was able to come to his own appropriate conclusion as to which was the better way to be ... begging for coins or getting off your ass and gathering a resource to sell back for money.

I'm proud of him.

After we explained to the kids that some people do actually live and sleep on the streets Connor almost tripped over a man in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk.  He didn't even notice the man as he ran down the sidewalk looking at the tall buildings.  I'm kind of glad we saw the man sleeping on the ground.  Not because I am glad people do actually sleep on the sidewalk, but we tease our kids so much that I was afraid they didn't believe us when we were explaining homelessness.  

It always amazes me what kind of lessons present themselves as we travel.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent, focusing on the reason

In an effort to focus on the reason for the season our family will be doing a series of Advent activities.  Our focus is on faith, family and charity.  I have spent a few weeks pouring over our family calendar and reading other's suggested lists as well, so I in no way take full credit for this list.  I have compiled the list here for more ideas for other families.

Go Tele-Caroling
Start Listening to Christmas Music
Start Decorate
Saint Nick's Day (December 5th/December 6th)
Make Fudge (and give it away)
Make Cookies (and give them away)
Ding Dong Christmas (kind of like Ding Dong Ditch, but when a Christmas treat)
Sing Joy to the World outside as loud as you can
Christmas Family Movie Night
Christmas Friends Movie Night
Toys for Tots - pick out toys at the toy store and take them to the police station
Choose charitable donation for the year
Look at Christmas Lights
Make cards for soldiers
Make Gingerbread
Put up Christmas Lights
Read Matthew 1-2 to your family
Read John 1
Look at old christmas pictures
Make Christmas ornaments

This isn't quite 4 weeks of Christmas since we are doubling up on a few of the activities.  A few Ding Dong Christmases and lots of family baking.  It occurs to me that we have stopped short of the Annunciation (January 8th).  I will need to go back and ensure we have activities through Christmas day and into January.

I am hoping in a few years I will have a reusable advent calendar that I can put slips of paper into so the kids are surprised each day with the focus of that day.  But this is a great start.  If you have any terrific ideas, please share them with me.  Or if you would rather, join us for movie night or baking.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Popping Cranberries

I'm going to tell you something embarrassing, but sometimes we have to do the embarrassing stuff to get to the good stuff. Kind of like learning from your mistakes.

 I like to let the kids try new foods. Think of it as a culinary adventure. In the summer I will pick up interesting new fruits like apple-pears or star fruit. Recently I picked up pomegranate seeds. The kids thought they were yummy, except for the seed part. In the fall I get a variety of squash and we examine or sometimes even bake them. I saw a big bag of cranberries in the store and I thought to myself, wow, what a great treat. After all they love cran-raisins. So after school one day I poured a heaping bowl of fresh cranberries for each child They were so excited. They look red and plump, a little like grapes. Fun. Um, or not. Each child 'ewwwed' and promptly spit it out.

 I was so surprised that they didn't like them. Lainy Ann said, "You should try them, mom." So I did. And then I ewwwed and spit it out. Yuck! While the texture was pleasant they were so sour and bitter. And I laughed and remembered the primary ingredient in my mother's cranberry sauce is sugar. I gathered up all the cranberries and put them away to be used in some other fashion.

 A few days later we decided to have an early Thanksgiving dinner with Grandma Lou. All of our favorite foods abbreviated for a week night; chicken breast instead of turkey, canned candied yams, a Costco pumpkin pie, and canned cranberry sauce. But then I remembered I had raw cranberries in the fridge. So Connor and I set out on another adventure. We followed the recipe on the back of the bag, but honestly I had no idea what I was doing. The recipe said to boil one cup water and one cup sugar. Then add the cranberries until they pop. Then let the mixture simmer to thicken. I don't recall covering 'popping cranberries' in my foods course and my mother makes a very delicious raw cranberry sauce, so her cranberries don't pop either. We decided to just jump right in and if the mixture was horrible then we still had our back up canned cranberry sauce.

 We combined, boiled and then added the cranberries. We waited for them to 'pop'. I was thinking it was going to be kind of like a turkey when the meat thermometer pops out, but honestly I had no idea. Connor became bored with staring at the pot for 10 minutes and started to wander off when POP! Sugar water went flying into the air. POP! POP! POP! More cranberries were popping. We had a crowd at the stove trying to peer into the pot. But not wanting to get too close in fear of the splattering sugar water. The cranberries were literally splitting open from the pressure inside of them created by the heat of the pan. Its was quite fascinating. Connor got his first lesson in splattering food and how much it hurts. When the popping settled down I turned the stove down to simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Once it cooled we had a mixture that was jellied with whole cranberries inside. It was wonderful, and so very easy. I found a variety of recipes online including adding crushed pineapple or pecans. It definitely seems like a recipe I can dress up for the future.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Car Key Miracle

I have seen many miracles in my life but none as pronounced as today. I was not sure whether to laugh or cry. As we were packing for our Thanksgiving road trip to Oregon we discovered the keys to the Monster Van were missing. We cleared the cobwebs from our brain as we back tracked and tried to remember the last time we saw them and where they were. That's when I vaguely remembered Alexander standing on the couch playing with the switchblade action on the key. He started to wander off with the key and I made a half-hearted attempt to stop him. As he got down off the couch I thought to myself, "that's going to be a problem later . . . . "

Turns out 'later' was today, the day we were packing the car for our road trip. Caskey was ready to pull the car forward so we could load up the back. Two hours later we had torn the house apart. Caskey and I have very different searching strategies. Caskey's strategy is dump everything, sort and walk away. My strategy is clean until everything is in its place and then you will have eliminated that spot. Clearly my way is the better way, especially when dealing with a small object. My strategy also has the added bonus of cleanliness even if you don't find the lost item. So we set out going through the house; Caskey first and I following (cleaning). We searched out all the hidey holes; under the bed, behind the chair, in the toy baskets. Eleanor was in heaven. She thought we were playing with her, so she would sit with us to get in on the fun. She also managed to sample some dusty bunnies along the way.

We gave up when it was time for the Thanksgiving Feast at Robbin's Nest and then at Monte Vista. Eleanor and I enjoyed the feast and indian hats. I smiled and made small talk while I was still racking my brain as to where we hadn't looked. I also continued to update Facebook with my woes, because misery does love company. My friends were very sympathetic and offered up prayers to St. Anthony. I started praying too. After all the eating, visiting and gathering of Thanksgiving crafts William and I headed home to see how the hunt was progressing.

At preschool I had already interrogated Alexander as to the whereabouts of the key and he gave me his I-am-too-cute-to-be-in-trouble-smile. So I decided to ask him again, thinking that being at the scene of the crime would help him remember. We walked into his bedroom where he started asking me about how clean his room was and that his bed had been moved. I told him I had done all that so I could look for the key. He points to the floor, the exact spot I had previously been sitting and digging books out from under the bed, and says, "There it is. The key." I have no other explanation than St. Anthony placed the key there on the floor for us to find, and more importantly for Alexander to find, so he could redeem his actions. I turned to Alexander, "So. Do we play with Mommy's keys?" He answers, "Yes." With that I-am-too-cute-to-be-in-trouble-smile.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Red Soccer

Lainy Ann is just about to complete her 2nd fall season of soccer. Last fall she played U8 and liked it so much that she followed up with a Graduate Season (a season that focused on the rule changes from U8 to U10) and a Spring Season (which was a no practice, no trophies season). Can you believe every uniform has been red so far? *sigh* I was really hoping for some pink with pigtails.

 I wasn't sure she was going to enjoy soccer last year when we signed her up. We have tried many sports for her over the years; ballet, dance, and gymnastics. But when it comes down to it she has energy and loves to be constantly moving. Dance and ballet required too much wait time between turns. Gymnastics requires a tad more coordination than she has (Thanks, Aunt Lainy). But with soccer she really shines.

 At the beginning of the season she told her coach, "I want to be goalie" and he seemed excited about it. Since U10 is a scored league I was sure to pull him aside and explain that Lainy Ann is an enthusiastic player, code for, lots of will not a lot of skill. Coach assured me he would assess everyone's skill level and place them accordingly. I was just worried Lainy Ann would cause the team to lose games. She has done just the opposite. She has blossomed.

 When AYSO announced there would be a free optional goalie clinic every Friday night from 8 to 9:30 pm she jumped at the chance to go. She didn't miss a single practice. She learned to 'boot' the ball, dive block it, and a variety of other techniques I don't know the name of. Occasionally I would suggest she skip a practice since she also had a game at 8 am. Nope. She always wanted to go, even when it was 55* outside. One particular Friday she had school until 2:30, Girl Scouts until 4:30, speech until 5:30, Cub Scouts until 8 pm and then the Goalie Clinic. She would not miss it.

 She has shown such maturity as she plays. She has kept track of all her gear, been able to ready herself and her things before and after games and practices. She has even taken a few hard hits and not given up. I remember one week she got a ball to the face as she was blocking the goal. I thought for sure she would walk off the field and opt for a low-impact sport. Nope, she shook it off and kept playing. As the season comes to a close I have realized she is not the same player she was in August. At the last game the coach had to have her sit out a quarter (as required by the league). I overheard the other players complaining, "but she is the best. Don't sit her out." Then as she walked off the field other parents told her "Good job. Great block" Later another father said in reference to his daughter and to Lainy Ann" . . . . look at the two best players sitting out in the last quarter."

 I have said it before; I'm not really a sports fan. But I am a Lainy-Ann-Fan. I have loved watching her play. She is so true when she plays. All the business, vibrations and silliness fall away and a young lady stands out there on the field who holds herself accountable to her coach and her team. She is quite a wonderful young lady.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Polite Obstinance

"Me don't want to talk right now" was the reply from the bedroom this morning after Caskey inquired as to what Alexander was doing. He has previously been in trouble twice for not getting dressed for school. He was wandering around the house Donald-Duck-Style, bottomless with a shirt on. But the allure of Legos and trains was too much for him. Each time he was sent into his room to dress he would invariably end up playing instead. So Caskey again inquired as to how he was doing in regards to dressing. He replied with, "Me busy, daddy." Of course he was. He was busy *not* getting dressed. At least he was polite about it rather than just ignoring us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Food Connections

I really do love to be in the kitchen. I prefer to bake, but I have also been known to make Thanksgiving dinner. Its amazing how cooking really connects me to people, sometimes to people I don't even know. I like to show my love for someone through food. I find myself thinking and deciding on a special birthday cake months before a persons birthday. And other times when I am following a specific recipe I think of the person who gave me the recipe. My grandmother, who passed away 7 years ago, is always in my kitchen when we make Snowflake cookies. I hope that my children will remember their grandmother whenever they make Snowflake cookies. I think of my mom when I make turkey dinner and her famous cranberry sauce. I think of Caskey's grandmother when I make pumpkin pie or fudge - neither of which are as good as hers. Tonight I was making a new cupcake recipe, altered just a tad. It came to me without a name and since I changed it just a tad I feel like I should get to name it now. Ellie's Cupcakes, Elephant Cupcakes, in honor of the occasion we are making them for, hmmmm . . . . Next cake occasion is Papa's birthday. I think I really outdid myself with last years Peanut Butter Brittle cake. I wonder how I can top that?

Chore Day

At the onset Chore Day doesn't sound like much fun. Invariably the kids complain and drag their feet and grumble. So I set out with clear expectations and a reward at the end. The always have the *option* of not participating in chores, but the alternative is less than fun - napping - no one wants to do that. Today we are doing chores in anticipation of Eleanor's First Birthday Party tomorrow. Rain is possible and although we have only invited our very closest family and friends, it still number 30 people; over half of those are children. Well, we don't live in a house that is fit for entertaining 30 people indoors. Therefore, we are working extra hard at clearing every extra inch of space, just in case. Connor has helped by making banana bread all on his own. Lainy Ann and Caskey had the unfortunate job of getting rid of squishy mildewy pumpkins. William helps intermittently, but I feel his primary job is to keep Alexander and Eleanor entertained. As we have processed through the day there have been gems of laughter and learning. Connor volunteered to clean the couch cushions. He even vacuumed it out and then vacuumed the rug. We taught him to use the vacuum properly, what all the knobs and switches do and how to even wrap up the cord correctly. Lainy Ann decided to learn how to make macaroni and cheese (the blue box). She made the entire dinner, minus draining the pasta. We had a few laughs too. Caskey spent a long time cleaning the desk and got a little territorial about it. I think he even growled when I tried to put some mail on the desk. Tensions ran high so there was no better way to break it than give Caskey a purple mustache. A nice twirly handlebar mustache! Don't worry, it was washable. The boys became jealous of his mustache so he mustached them as well, but their are in Sharpie! All in all it was a great chore day; banana bread, cupcakes, dinner, and a clean house, learning about cooking and vacuuming, and some mustache fun.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkins for my Pumpkins





For the first time in 8 years I took my kids to the pumpkin patch. I normally get out of this duty because Grandma Lou and Papa Tom have the kids for a sleep over and then take them to the pumpkin patch while Caskey and I get a little adult time. But this particular fall has been busy, for everyone. We almost just skipped the whole thing and opted for pumpkins from the grocery store. But because of all my wonderful blog posts Grandma started feeling guilty. She was going to take 4 of them all by herself, but I had pity on her and we all went together.

First of all, OMG! Its is EXPENSIVE. The pumpkins aren't, they are very reasonable. it is the cost for the pony ride (the pony goes in a circle), the train ride (yeah, its not a train) and even the corn maze. It really is over the top. But its one of the ways that Grandma likes to indulge the kids, so they got to do it all.

My favorite part of the whole day was the scarecrow competition they have displayed in the sunflower alley. It was pretty comical for the younger age groups and down right scary for the older age groups. Some of my favorites were ghoulgle earth and angry birds.

As is the way of southern California fall, its was blaringly hot. The kids had a blast though climbing a pyramid of hay, getting their faces painted and pouring over hundreds of pumpkins for the best/most perfect one. I had a great time with the kids and sharing something new with them. It was a lot of fun being with my mom too and letting her teach me something about the kids. However, if they offer another sleep over followed by a trip to the pumpkin patch without the kids . . . . you bet I will be taking that deal.
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cooks in the Kitchen

I remember as a young child helping my mother in the kitchen. She had the horribly ugly avocado-green pyrex nesting bowls. They were the perfect size and had a spout for pouring batter. Its funny that I ended up furnishing my own kitchen with modern versions of utensils in my mother's kitchen. In fact I went on an ebay hunt shortly after I was married for pink not-ugly pyrex nesting bowls. We mostly baked in my mother's kitchen, which is probably why I mostly bake now. I always knew I wanted to cook and bake for my children. Its such a good way to spend time together, demonstrate your love, and a yummy end result. When Lainy Ann was 9 months old I plopped her in the high chair in our first house so she could 'help' me bake banana bread, a Christmas favorite from my childhood. I mashed up some banana for her to eat while I made several loaves of banana bread. I still love making banana bread today and there are quite a few family members that want a small loaf whenever I get to baking. I even have one friend who is highly allergic to bananas, but she says my banana bread is worth the allergic reaction. So every Christmas the kids have helped with the holiday baking, as I did with my mother. But Connor has been enjoying baking so much that he will join me in the kitchen for no reason at all. We have started making muffins once a week. We make a double batch and store them for breakfast for a week or two. Connor is getting so good at reading a recipe that he does the majority of the work now. I help with filling the muffin tins and taking them out of the oven, but he does the rest himself, INCLUDING the clean up. I have even invited him into the kitchen to help be collaborate on birthday cakes. I wonder what his next kitchen accomplishment will be. Maybe I should teach him to make an entree.


Eleanor will be one in just a week. I just can't believe it. I am sure its because she is our last baby, but its just seems like this last year has flown by. I can't believe she was ever so little that I could put her somewhere and she would stay still. Nowadays she fights, yells and cries if I try to change her diaper or change her clothes. It seems she wants nothing to do with me, unless of course I am using the computer, in which case she wants to 'help'. She, just like the others, thinks she is big. She crawls into the boys rooms and will play legos with them or watch a movie with them. I find I get a lot of chores done in the kitchen in the early afternoon because she will follow around William and Alexander and play with them. Even when the kids are playing Just Dance on the Wii she will stand and dance with them. I am starting to think that the first year was the easy year. All the cuteness and bows and squishy loving. She would cuddle in my arms for hours. She would fall asleep anywhere. She was clean and perfect all the time. Now she prefers to sleep in her crib on her belly. So even though she is exhausted she will stay awake if we are away from home. She has stayed up until 10 pm just because she was so interested in the world around her. Fortunately she isn't too crabby either, she just kept trying to burrow into me and sleep. She is expressing her opinion, throwing tantrums, exploring the world around her. She gets dirty and pulls her bows off her head. She is no longer clean. But she has personality. She loves to laugh with Alexander. She loves to eat, everything. She is definitely learning. Her newest tricks are climbing stairs, nodding her head yes, listening to the word no and waving bye-bye. I think this next year will be interesting. I am so glad she is part of our family. She is still by far our easiest going child. I can leave her in the stroller for an hour at soccer practice or in the classroom while I volunteer. She isn't timid and is happy to be held by most everyone. As long as she is with her siblings she is perfectly happy. I look forward to getting to know Eleanor. But knowing her siblings and her personality so far, I know she will fit in just fine!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Scarred for Life?

Lainy Ann asking lots of questions about the rat dying. Being brave enough to look at it in the trap and listening to is squeak. I thought for sure she was going to cry or say ewww gross or be otherwise creeped out but she was very brave. In fact, she was braver than I. I was standing on the porch, much closer to the front door than the rat trap kind of peering towards the trap, but happily not able to see anything. But when I realized that Lainy Ann was courageously walking toward the rat with no fear I realized I had to brave too. For no other reason than to be able answer her questions later. I felt badly because some people keep rats as pets. Lainy Ann mentioned that. So we talked about domesticated pets versus wild animals and disease. I still felt like we had traumatized our child. But then I realized there are lots of children who start hunting at young ages. There are even more children raised on farms and aware of the need to kill animals for food or pest control (as in this case). I guess we sheltered her long enough. And since she han't asked about it since I guess it was time.


Its all Orange and Green. Its why WIlliam had a*green* puppy cake for his birthday and Alexander had an *orange* A. Its why every day after school Alexander hands me drawing done with an orange crayon. Its why William goes to school in a green shirt most days and Alexander goes to school in an orange shirt.

I feel a little bad for them, honestly. We randomly assigned the colors to keep track of their bath towels. Then if I am buying 4 flashlights I make sure to give the green one to William and the orange one to Alexander, just so I can remember which belongs to who. But they have really latched on to these random colors. If we see something green at the store - a cup or toy - Alexander will tell me, "William needs this because its green." Just recently Alexander dissolved into screams in church during the Homily because William wouldn't take the green pencil. "William's pencil is GREEEEEEEEEN!!!!!" Connor was assigned blue, as the first born boy. Currently if he has a color choice it is red, or black or grey (which is just a light black). And Lainy Ann, who was assigned pink, has recently started preferring turquoise or yellow. Yellow happens to be her bff's favorite color. Eleanor has been assigned purple. I wonder how all that will work out. Especially since most days she is wearing pink.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Weird Love

Who knew that on January 1st, 1994 we would start on the adventure of our lifetime?

10 years of marriage is 7 children, 2 homes, 5 jobs, 1 Bachelor's Degree, 3 Master's Degrees, 5 baptisms, 43 birthdays, and one funeral. Its our anniversary by the numbers. We have been married for 10 years. But we have been together for 17 years. So, why does it feel like we are still newly in love? Why is it that nothing is more fun than making the other person laugh? Why is it that we are always on an adventure or being goofy?

I can't imagine a better partner in life. We truly are a team. We make one another better. We make it worth while. We make it fun.

I ran across this quote today. And I can't think of a better quote for us and for our marriage.

“We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”
― Dr. Seuss

So, the next time you see us wearing mustaches, having a water fight, telling one another 'I don't like you' or 'I can't wait until we can have separate bedrooms'. Just know that we have found our mutual weird partner and called it love.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Growing up

Do you hear that sound? Ssshhh. Listen closely. Yup, that's the sound of my heartbreaking. I remember breaking up with a boyfriend in high school and I thought *that* was heartbreak. Nope. Heartbreak is letting your kids grow up even though you want to swaddle them in a blanket and rock them to sleep at night, even if they are 8 years old.

Lainy Ann got her very own cell phone today. This summer we had experienced with a pre-paid phone and that went pretty well. She only uses it when we drop her off at lessons. She can't call her friends on the phone and she can't give out the number. When the phone is not in use it belongs in the communal cell phone area. We discovered buying her a new phone and paying the monthly on it would actually be cheaper than re-loading her pre-paid phone every few months. So, she is the proud owner of the $10 phone that had a full keyboard. It technically can do internet too, but don't tell her that. Maybe, some day, when she has 2 numbers in her age we *might* allow her to email from her phone. Maybe. But right now she can call and text a handful of trusted adults. Those same people that I put on the emergency list at school. She of course is ecstatic. As soon as we got home from the store she went and changed clothes so she would have a pocket for her phone. She has been chattering on and on about how to be responsible with it and has already been texting mom and dad. If this will keep up communication and teach her proper phone etiquette for her teen years, then its all worth it.

Connor also decided to break my heart today. He asked to stay home alone while I dropped Lainy Ann off at soccer practice. I wanted to say no, but then I remembered that Lainy Ann was 7 years old when she started staying home by herself for short periods of time. Even Lainy Ann advocated for him and said that he should be able to do (I am in trouble when they are both teens). So we went through the rules, I quizzed him and since it was a quick drop off and Caskey was going to meet me at the field I let him stay home. he should be home alone for 30 minutes at the most.

I called him halfway through his stay to make sure he was okay. He was so confident and sure of himself. He told me he had made himself a sandwich and was playing video games. Then he said goodbye and hung up on me.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Remodeling: The Castle

Caskey proclaimed his little princess needed a castle when we first moved into this house. It took about a year to get it built. Lainy Ann 'helped' by fetching tools and painting with colored water while Connor watched from his exersaucer. Lainy Ann mostly ran and jumped and entertained Connor while Daddy worked.

Its been a few years and the castle needs to be updated. We are going to strip it to the studs, perhaps redesign a few pieces and recover it. We are debating on recovering with canvas versus plywood again. We are also going to do something different with the floor so the debris doesn't collect in it quite so much.

As with all things in our family, this project, although mainly Caskey's, has become a family affair. Caskey put Connor and Alexander to work pulling nails out of the studs and collecting them so they wouldn't be stepped on or get sucked up by the lawn mower. Connor has learned how to pull out nails properly at Adventure Park this summer. So they set to work, Connor using his muscle and Alexander organizing and counting on the walkway (William was at soccer). It was funny to think that when the castle was first built Connor had to sit idly by as an observer, but this time he will actually be able to participate in the demolition and construction. Eleanor will be the observer this time.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bear Hunting

Caskey has told me over and over again that his sole job in our marriage is to protect me from bears. And since I have never been attacked by a bear (even in Big Bear while camping) that must mean that he is doing a good job. Um, yeah, us living in suburbia one mile from the wilderness has nothing to do with it.

Recently he has told me that a rat is hanging around our house at night, primarily near the trash can after dark. Well, its hard to *do* anything about it because its outside. The rat isn't living in the house. The rat can't get into our cans. So I have just been ignoring it more than anything else. Well, today we discovered a 'nest' of sort with apple pieces, oranges and a caprisun pouch on my engine under my hood. Apparently Mr. Rat hasn't been enjoying the cooler temperatures.

I'm done. I don't want it invading my car, even if its the outside of my car. So I told Caskey, "Well, you know, rats are just tiny bears." So my endearing husband has gotten us a rat trap and the kids are learning about the not-so-nice parts of life. He is saving me from the rats too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Napping for moms

It was late afternoon when I sat down on the floor to sort and fold clean socks. The floor is the best place for this because we need 7 piles of socks and underwear. Then the baby wanted to nurse and I realized, I could nurse her while I lay down. So I laid on the floor with a pillow and nursed. When she was done she thought it was pretty funny I was laying on the floor. She kneeled over me, pulled my hair a bit and pinched my nose, she also poked me in the eye. In all fairness though, she does this whenever she is within arms distance of my face. She lost interest and crawled off in search of more exciting big kids.

I stayed on the floor.

With my eyes closed.

Lainy Ann saw me on the floor, asked me a question. I answered it, eyes closed, she left. Apparently its no big deal I was on the floor.

William came bounding over. He took great care to step over me (rather than go around). He asked me why I was on the floor, what was I doing with the blanket (covering up, of course). Once I satisfied his curiousity he wandered off.

Connor came over to ask a few questions too about the chores he was doing. He was very polite about bending down towards me to ask the questions. I answered them, he left. No mention of my lying on the floor.

Alexander came over. He also took great care to step over me, and succeeded. He pulled up my eyelid, peered in my eye, giggled, told me I was silly. He took my blanket away, laughed some more. Then he pulled the pillow out from under my head. *thud* Ow! He jumped on me a bit. I gave up. I got up.

I bent over to pick up my remaining laundry where he spanked me on the butt. *sigh* I like to think its his age of 3 years old, but he is also the funny guy, so maybe he was trying to get a laugh.

Oh well, nap over.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Student of the Month


I used to be so jealous of those moms that have a row of Student of the Month stickers on the back of their car. Well, it seems we are on our way to a row of stickers! William was the Student of the Month for the month of September for demonstrating Responsibility. His teacher said that normally she just picks a student because it kindergarten children cannot really grasp the character traits and demonstrate them, but that wasn't the case with William this year. And I believe her. For as busy and agressive and passionate he is. He is also responsible and helpful and considerate. I guess I have a hard time seeing that part of him because he spends most of his time moving. Its hard to see through the busyness and see the well-mannered child that he is. I certainly am thankful for the teachers in his life that give me the opportunity to see another side of him.
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Paternity Leave in the Beginning

I put my foot down. I told Caskey he had to take paternity leave this month. I know, I sound like an evil demanding wife, but I had a good reason. I promise. When Lainy Ann was born Caskey was around a lot. I was able to take nearly 8 weeks of maternity leave because of my vacation schedule. Let me tell you, I used those 8 weeks. I was a first time mom. Caskey was going to school for his undergraduate degree at LMU, so although he was busy, his schedule was pretty flexible and allowed for a lot of 2:1 parenting. Add to that a doting grandma, aunt and uncle, well, we had plenty of help. When Connor and William (and the twins) were born, Caskey was working for LMU as a professor and Lab Manager. LMU was a very family friendly employer and felt that he should spend as much time as he could at home as long as his job got done. He was able to do a great deal of work from home and occasionally go down to LMU late at night after we had already gone to bed. They were also very accommodating to have the family tag along and bother him at work. Then when Alexander was born I was REALLY spoiled. Caskey took a full 6 weeks paternity leave and then gave 2 weeks notice. He was home forever. It was wonderful (and drove me a little crazy too). So when Eleanor was born I was expecting similar reinforcements. But instead he went to San Francisco when Eleanor was 2 weeks old. It was hard. It has continued to be hard for the last 10 months. Between activities for 4 children, staying home all summer, and long days, well, its been exhausting. Caskey has been working extra hard at work too as a Noogler. My mom and Tom pitch in from time to time, but its really rough doing the daily routine from 6 am to 8:30 pm (including bedtime) alone 5 days a week. Unfortunately, Caskey said to me "um, if I am going to take my paternity leave (7 weeks at 100% pay) I need to do it before Eleanor turns one." Well, he didn't have to tell me twice. I looked at the calendar, counted up all the important days; birthdays and Halloween and booked his paternity leave for the whole month of October. All of my friends have wished me luck. They say, "You will either love it or hate it." Here is to hoping I will love it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

22 Belt Loops in 12 months

Last week was our first pack meeting of the new year. It was so strange to be sitting in the wolf section and seeing all the new tigers; young and excited and confused. I remember sitting there last year. Everyone seemed to know what was going on, the difference between a loop, patch and pin. They all raised their hand in the air when the cub master said, "Let's give him a big hand." (Get it, a 'hand' instead of applause. Har Har) This year sitting with the wolves, greeting everyone we hadn't seen over the long summer, hearing about popcorn sales and rocket day. It was all familiar. Connor worked hard over the summer and received 11 new belt loops, 4 pins and 3 patches, more than any other person in the pack. In 12 months he has earned 22 belt loops, 6 pins and another half dozen patches. I am so proud of all he has learned in the last year. And I am a little worried as to where we will put all the new belt loops.

Two Weeks

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Two weeks. It has been two weeks since Eleanor started crawling forward. She was doing this kind of shuffle backwards that always ended with her sitting on her bottom in the seated position. But when my dad and his family were visiting two weeks ago, (after she stopped crying hysterically at his bearded face) she crawled across the kitchen floor towards me. I was so glad that my dad and step-mom were here to witness it. Since they live in a different state they don't get to be around much for the 'firsts'.

In those two weeks Eleanor has become very adventurous. She has discovered the other rooms in the house and how much fun the boys room is. She has learned to pull to a standing position, cruise around the furniture and now she is starting to let go while she stands. I can't believe we went from crawling to standing unassisted in two short weeks.

But she still won't say mama . . . .

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Daddy and his Princess

Caskey and Eleanor were sitting on the couch and Eleanor started "asking" for some of his chips, in her "ah! ah!" yell that she does. He was eating those yucky spicy chips; dijon mustard flavored. Yuck! He allowed her one chip because our kids are "spicy" he said. I figured one lick and that chip would come right back out of her mouth. So I watched closely. And it was gone. Eleanor needed another. "Ah! Ah!" with a point of the finger. This continued for a few minutes. He finally cut her off and said, "no more". I was prepared with a bit of sandwich to distract her.

But when Daddy said 'no' her world came crashing down. In slow motion she got the big eyes and the big frown and burst into full on tears! I couldn't believe it. I was so surprised that she is now understanding language and not getting what she wants.

But Caskey surprised me even more after that. He immediately rushed to her aid and said, "Don't cry, Princess" and gave her another chip. Daddy's are such softies with their daughters.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cooking Frogs

A few years ago I was infuriated that there was no homework the first few weeks of school. If there was homework it seemed to be review from the first semester of the previous grade. Of course I would extrapolate that to mean that the entire year would be underachieving. I would work myself up into a tizzy about how my child wasn't going to be challenged and that the year was going to be awful. I would rant and rave about our society and education today. I would hunt down private schools, peruse homeschooling websites and generally drive everyone around me crazy. One year I ended up in the principal's office in tears.

I have relaxed over the years. Just a little. For a few reasons; I realized I was just causing myself a lot of stress and there was truly nothing to be done. The second reason is the big one. Every single June I have looked back on the entire year and been happy with my child's education and experience, but I also remembered how worried I was in September. So I decided to just trust these teachers.

This year I am doing much better. I have taken advantage of the first few weeks of school by hanging onto a little bit of summer; video games and outings. We are getting into our routine slowly. I have given the kids 'my homework' to make sure they are still being challenged. Its been an enjoyable few weeks. Fourth grade is quite a bit more challenging and Lainy Ann has had some work, but still pretty minor so we have been focusing on getting school supplies and just getting into the swing of things.

But I read a blog about cooking frogs and how this homeschool mother takes that approach when she eases back into the school year. When you cook frogs you put the frog in room temperature water and slowly turn up the heat. If you put the frog into boiling water then the frogs will simply jump out. This mother teachers school in much the same way. She introduces a few subjects at a time over a three-week period. It occurred to me, that is exactly what my children's teachers are doing. They are all cooking frogs.

Happy 35th!


Daddy turned 35 a few weeks ago. He has been pretty busy with work so we drove down to Google to have lunch and cake with him. The kids were so cute. The night before they all 'helped' with decorating the cake. Connor kept checking my work and giving me suggestions. The morning of daddy's birthday the kids all dressed in 'Googley' colors. They wanted to be festive for him.

I love this picture because I think it really captures our family. Lainy Ann in her fluffy tutu. She is up for any challenge as long as she can wear a frilly dress and bow. Connor in his astronaut shirt. He always tells me he will be an inventor one day. William in his monster shirt . . . . because . . . well, you know. Ellie covered in bows, ribbons and ric-rac and Alexander wearing a Formula One shirt that was handed down through all three boys.

Happy 35th Birthday, Caskey! I can't wait to start the next part of our adventure together.
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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hands in the Air

Today was a regular day; church and chores. Nothing special planned. After church we decided to go out for breakfast. The oldest 2 kids wanted to ride in Grandma Lou's convertible. Poor William is struggling with being big now that he is in Kindergarten with the 'big kids'. So he cried until he got to ride with Grandma too, which meant that Alexander started crying.

I drove behind them as we headed to our next destination. I remember when my mother first got a convertible. I swore the kids wouldn't ride in it because it wasn't safe. I did a bit of research and a lot of relaxing and I sure am glad I did. All the kids were riding in the car with their arms up in the air like they were on a roller coaster. They were going down the hill, with the top down, with their hands in the air. They would wave at me and turn around with silly grins on their faces. Caskey would lovingly say, "our kids are such idiots". I'm glad the kids can have so much fun on a simple trip down the hill.

140 characters

I had a wonderful day. We started off the morning at church, went out for my favorite breakfast, spent the afternoon crafting Lego invites with Grandma (Happy almost 7th birthday, Connor) and we spent the evening with our closest friends having pizza and enjoying a summer rain storm. We got home late and sat in the driveway and watched the sky for lightening, something we rarely see in California. Tomorrow is supposed to be another day filled with fun. My life is truly blessed. I have more blessings than some people can ever hope for.

So, why then, does a simple announcement (on Facebook) shock me, like a slap in the face. There is no reason this should bother me. This announcement came from someone I knew in high school, someone I barely knew, someone I haven't seen in over 15 years. We have nothing in common, in fact, I'm not sure why we are even Facebook friends. I wish now that we weren't.

It was announced that in 7 months he will be having quadruplets. Let me tell you a little secret: while this news sounds very exciting and wonderful to be expecting multiples, it is not. John and Kate and Octomom have made multiple births a desired thing. They are not a blessing, they are worrisome. The human body was not designed to carry more than one child. In fact, even having a twin pregnancy is worrisome. But the media has portrayed multiple births as something to strive for, something wonderful and easy and carefree.

When this person announced their good news all I could think is, "maybe". I know there are no "for sures" when it comes to pregnancy. Any one who has experienced a miscarriage will tell you that. But someone who has experienced a twin-loss (or more) will tell you that multiples aren't 'for sure' either. And even if (big IF) the babies are born, the chances that they have life-long medical problems are high.

So I stopped. I stopped feeling angry and sad (well, not right away). I started to pray. I prayed that this woman who I have never met will never feel the pain I felt. I prayed that she will not hold her living daughter and grieve over the babies she has lost. I pray that she will feel God by her side as she undergoes a stressful and complicated pregnancy. And I pray I have the strength to not relive the death of my twins through the celebration, worry, journey she will embark over the next several months.

I want to live for my five living children. I don't want to be shocked and surprised and have my breath taken away when the reality of twins/multiples sneaks up on me. I should be spending my night remembering the fun that was had today. Not crying about what I have lost and the scary road ahead for this woman. Or the jealousy I will experience if she beats the odds and gives birth to 4 completely healthy full-term babies.

6 years. You would think after 6 years something so minor, just 140 characters, couldn't be so jarring.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First Day of School

The first day of school went great. Several weeks before school started we headed to Target for school supplies. I had consolidated the lists (3 of them) into one master list that had items and quantities. It took about 15 minutes of time, but so worth it. Since all the kids are getting bigger they were able to help gather supplies, "Lainy Ann, get 3 yellow highlighters". "Connor, you need 4 boxes of Tigonderoga pencils". "William, go get 4 packs of post-it notes". Caskey came with us so it was the ultimate tag-teaming. We were there at 8 am on a weekday so it went great.

Then a few days before school started we were able to meet the kindergarten teacher. That really helped put William (and me) at ease. He got to see the classroom, was excited about the bunny in his room, and I got to drop off the 15 pounds of school supplies (40 oz of hand sanitizer!!). Again, since the kids are getting older, they spent a good part of one days separating the remaining school supplies and putting them in their backpacks. They had a list so they worked together to count out pens and markers and sharpen pencils. Finally, the burden of school was transferring to them. I even had Lainy Ann help me pack Alexander's emergency bag for school (extra clothing).

On the first day of school I awoke refreshed at 6:30 am. Ellie nursed and went back to sleep so I could ready everyone in peace and quiet. I got up before everyone else that morning and lovingly made sandwiches for lunch, then I started on breakfast; scrambled eggs, sausage, and biscuits. Children got up one at a time and I directed them to the clothing I had laid out for them. I continued to pack lunches and made breakfast, sure the sausage was a little brown, but I was sending my kids off to school with a hot meal. We all sat at the table, all 6 of us, and ate breakfast together. A rarity in this house.

We got into the car and each child was delivered to their classroom on time, thanks to the new system of posting class lists the night before. The children greeted their friends and put their supplies away. I took several more pictures with my camer and phone so I could update the internet world on our going-ons. I had clever antecdotes to caption every photo. The first day of school was a success.

The second day of school: Eleanor woke up all night long every 2 hours. I woke up groggy but still determined to prepare breakfast and lunch for my family. This morning was bagels and fruit. I had gotten these bagels on sale and frozen them and defrosted them the night before. See, now I was a thrifty mom too. I started to slice the bagels and then my finger. My good mood was wilting. Now the kids are getting demanding, "Why isn't there peanut butter on my bagel?" "Because mommy is bleeding, dear." Except I may have yelled that last part.

I manage to muddle through the rest of my morning routine with only 9 fingers. We headed out the door mostly on time. Today I dropped the kids off and Lainy Ann and Connor were responsible for walking WIlliam to class. I watched them as I drove down the street. It seemed to be going okay. I tried to revive my good attitude by having a little one-on-one time with Alexander. We talked about his school and teacher. He is trying to remember her name. We worked on his enunciation. And then as I drove through an intersection the coin drawer (ashtray) in my car exploded. Money went flying everywhere and it made quite a ruckus. It starteld me so I slammed on my brakes. I started to look for the cause of the explosion. I hear a tiny voice from the back of the car, "sorry, mommy". Apparently he had a ball and decided to throw it into the passenger seat of the car. Except he missed and almost caused a car accident. They say cell phones are distracting, try driving around with 5 cranky kids. That should be illegal.

What happened to my great mommy-powers of getting everyone cared for with a good attitude? Maybe they will return tomorrow. Or maybe the first day of school magic allowed me to be super-mommy and now I am just me. I wonder what the 3rd day of school will bring . . ..

Monday, August 29, 2011

Feather Wars


I received this picture as a birthday gift recently. You know you're old when you don't even remember a picture getting taken. It took a bit of hunting to put the pieces together. The date stamp says it is April 1995, we met January 1994. The craft glue and feathers tell you that we were doing some sort of project for Margaret once again. It could have been for her REP class or some other group she works with. She is always eliciting the help of her friends in some sort of charity project. Apparently, that day she used the teen helpers in her house.

But the part I like most about that picture is that it is a foreshadowing of our future. We are still silly and fun and outrageous. Most people don't get us. That's fine. It only matters that we get each other. Over the years we have done some outrageous things; usually involving chasing and empty wrapping paper tubes. Off the top of my head we have done crazy things like breaking a reclining chair (Sorry, Lainy). Something about tackling the other person and then falling onto the chair causing it to break. Another time I ended up in the pool fully clothed. There have been lots of in between fun too. Caskey is famous for his 'mustaches'. Usually he gets one from the gum ball machine, but he has been known to get one via sharpie (by me).

I love how full of life and passionate we are about everything. We have brought that into our marriage and have taught that to our children as well. Examples of this include the time I almost broke my arm when chasing around the house with ice and more recently the water fight at Alexander and William's birthday party.
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

SUMMER: A Review

I wasn't looking forward to this summer. Last summer, pregnant with my 5th child was really really hard. It was hot (or at least I was hot) and I was so uncomfortable we didn't go anywhere. The kids were bored and I was cranky.

This year I vowed summer would be different, but on a budget. We canceled all of our normal summer trips (Vegas, Arizona, a family trip) and stayed home is the pursuit of savings. I scoured all the libraries, zoos, museums, and community events to find ways for us to keep busy. And we did. We went on a 'field trip' once a week and did science experiments at home. We did a lot. So to all my kids teachers, when you ask "what did you do this summer?" and they respond "nothing". Here is the list.

National History Museum: Caskey won a family membership to this museum, so we went 3 times. We ran out of summer or we would have gone more. Its a huge museum with plenty to do and plenty of activities during the whole year, so we will probably make another visit or two before the year is over.

Belt Loops: Someone asked me why we were doing so many belt loops this summer, was I an overachiever? Nope. I used our scout book and belt loops as an easy guide for things to do this summer. In all, Connor earned 10 belt loops and completed about half of his Wolf requirements for next year. I am thinking it will make for a more relaxing fall.

Camping: With the scouts of course. There is no way I would go otherwise. Although we were only gone for a few days, the packing and unpacking stretched it to a full week. It only cost us $50 (if you don't count gear and food) so it was a pretty inexpensive activity. It was also a great experience for all of us.

Bowling: For a Belt Loop - of course. We found some coupons for cheaper bowling. Also many bowling alleys have free bowling for kids during the summer. Plus its air conditioned. Bonus!

Ultimate Frisbee: For a Belt Loop. We found 2 Ultimate Frisbee courses; one nearby and one further away. We played one game and learned the rules. It took up an afternoon and we learned something new. It was great fun for the whole family. The bonus is we did it with another family, playdate!

Adventure Park: This was by far one of my most favorite activities. I can't wait to go again next year. It was a bit of a drive down to Long Beach, but so worth it. The whole park was beautiful. We definitely need to go back there again soon.

Legoland: Coupons! We had not planned on doing a trip. But once we found out there was a buy-one get 4-days free deal we went. We stayed with my uncle and the whole trip only cost about $500 for a family of 6 (hubby stayed home). You can't beat that.

Science Experiments: We did several science experiments. I had ambition to do one each week, but we got busy, then lazy, then I was content to just let them play in the front yard. .. . yada, yada. But the most memorable ones were Invisible Ink (a Wolf requirement) and Volcanoes (just plain fun).

VBS: Cheap! Fun! Need I say more?

Scout Camp: Our local chapters held one cub scout and one girl scout camp locally. They were also super inexpensive. More belt loops and patches were earned.

Zoo: Free coupons!

Library program: We live near two great libraries, even more if you are willing to leave the city. We signed up for the book reading program so the children could read and get prizes. We tried going to the library once a week to get new books and return old ones. Plus they had a puppet show, animal show, Mad Science show and much more that we didn't attend.

Chess Club: Our local YMCA has a local Chess club for children ages 5 years and older. We went for several weeks in a row to practice our Chess skills. Also for the Belt Loop.

Free Lego Day: I don't even want to post this here. But on the first Tuesday of every month Lego has free Lego's. They just give them out. A little kit for the kids to put together and keep! Of course you can't go to the mall if you don't go to Red Robin. So this one may not have been that cheap, but we have to eat, right?

Getty Museum: Did you know the Getty Museum is absolutely free? I didn't. They have beautiful gardens and architecture. A fine restaurant. Parking is $15 though. And I wouldn't exactly consider it kid-friendly. But it was still fun to ride the monorail from the parking structure to the museum. The kids had a great time rolling down the grass and looking at all the fountains.

Birthdays: I must have done something right (or wrong). We celebrate 4 birthdays in the summer. It keeps us busy with family and friends; baking cakes, having parties and celebrating. It costs less in the summer because we can just have some good food in the front yard.

Lowe's and Home Depot Kids projects: These are free kids projects that are held 1-2 times a month. They are free. You must sign up for them about a month in advance to make sure you will get a spot. The website says they are for children 5+, but I saw young children there as well and I think we are going to let Alexander try next time.

JPL: JPL offers free family tours, as long as you book it far in advance. We took the whole family for a weekday 3 hour tour where we had the opportunity to see the new Mar's Rover Curiosity. Plus we are space nerds so it was pretty cool!

Vegas Baby: I just remembered, we did go to Vegas, for 24 hours. We had an errand to run in relation to Allyson's upcoming nuptials. But since it wasn't in the budget to go we stayed just one night and stayed at the Orleans. I have never stayed off strip before and it worked out great. I don't really need to be near the strip, so it was just fine for us. The rooms were cheap, but clean and since there was a food court downstairs the food was cheap too. The kids had a great time in the kiddie pool and full counting cacti across the desert.

Building: About halfway through the summer Connor ended up with a tool box and scrap wood. Its kept them busy for HOURS.

Things I would do differently:

Plan. I got lazy near the end of the summer and we didn't do quite as much in regards to school work, library visits and science experiments.

Be realistic. I planned on the kids doing far more school work than they did. I'm not saying we were lazy. They were definitely always learning, cooking, measuring, doing chores, reading, etc. But I had a much bigger idea as to what we would actually accomplish in the workbooks. But I am not going to be hard on myself. They learned far more valuable lessons on their 'building' days with wood and nails in the front yard or baking pumpkin muffins than they would have in a workbook.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Five Years

I used to set aside a birthday party day and the actual birthday day for each child to make them feel special. But that is getting more and more difficult. This year we had to celebrate William's 5th birthday at the Google Company Picnic at the beach. We started the day off at IHOP where he had ice cream for breakfast. I tried to convince him he needed pancakes, but daddy overruled that one and he had ice cream. Then we loaded up the car and went to one of the places I loathe the most - the beach. I dislike the beach. a lot. The sand, the heat (I burn) and we were going with a baby would get sand in all the crevices. Blech.

But we went and it was fabulous. I think it was one of the best birthday's William has had. The loved playing in the sand with his good buddies (another family was able to join us). There were games, and kites, all you can eat Italian Ice. A band of pirates came to the party for a meet and greet. And for the first time ever William spoke to a person in costume. Normally he runs screaming and crying at Halloween and Disneyland, but he actually hugged a pirate at the party.

It was such a perfect day. We had a bed, umbrellas, chairs and a canopy. The Eleanor and Courtney napped in the ocean breeze. Honestly, there is nothing better than that. William had such a great day that he thought the whole beach party was just for him. They even announced that it was his birthday over the loud speaker so people would come up to him and say "Happy Birthday, William".







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I'm excited about this next stage of his life. He has been teaching himself to read this summer and knows about 100 words. He will be starting Kindergarten at the same school as Lainy Ann and Connor, and since its a half day program he and I will get some one-one-one time which will be very good for him. He is starting his 2nd year of soccer and he just loves being on the field. He is also becoming a pretty great big brother to Alexander; their relationship is really developing and they are becoming partners in crime (which is bad for us). I can't wait to see who William becomes as he continues to grow up.