Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve, 2010

Thoughts of family and friends, near and far (Christmas card pics on pantry doors):

Rousing game of pre-dinner Twister:

Too many presents under the tree:

Hope yours is just as happy! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'll Pay the $0.44

This Huffington Post article made me oddly sad today.

I accept change - I have been known to embrace new technologies - but does the new stuff have to mean we let ALL the old things go?

I don't want to imagine a world with no bookstores, no paper mail, NO HANDWRITTEN LETTERS.

Recently Harper (with encouragement) sent out thank you notes for her birthday gifts. More than one person who received said notes mentioned to me how her writing had improved from last year - you can't do that by email people!

I am a firm believer in the power of a hand written letter and I refuse to stop sending them. Maybe most of those cards/letters/notes wind up in people's recycling bins, but maybe one or two of them hold words that are important to someone, words that they want to reach into a drawer or pocket or bag to reread, to hold in their hands.

I may have mentioned here that I have been cleaning out boxes of memorabilia from my pre-adult life. Among the cards I found a birthday card that my brother signed in his grade school handwriting. It made me cry.

I can let Michael bang on the computer keys to produce a string of nonsense, but it sure isn't the same thing as the marks he makes with a crayon on paper.

So you can call me a dinosaur and tell me I need to let go of old ways. Or you can accept that I'm going to pay for the stamp. If we're good friends you probably have a piece of handwritten mail somewhere to prove it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Did They Cry? (A Visit with Santa)

The Santa Visit - How did it go?

Well Harper had no trouble, which is not a surprise. She knows that not all mall Santas are real, but she was pretty sure that ours was the "really real" Santa, because of the mailbox where you could leave letters for the North Pole. God love her, she really does want to believe - thank goodness, or she would have seen through the holes in our facade by now!

Also not surprising? Michael was not a big fan:

He did, however, venture a few steps from Santa's lap to say that he wants a matching game for Christmas. A matching game! How much do I love that kid? AND we had already purchased a sort of matching game for him so that was a lucky twist.

In the interest of fairness I feel I should remind you that Harper wasn't Santa's biggest fan when she was two either. This is still one of my favorite photos of all time:

By next year we might be done with the screaming/crying...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best Christmas Card Yet

You will have to see if you can click on that picture to enlarge it - then maybe you'll be able to read Harper's hilarious note to her gym teacher. We were working on Christmas cards for her teachers today and this was by far the best one. I only provided minimal spelling assistance as, for once, she was on a roll coming up with her own thoughts to add to the notes.

Just in case you can't make it out it says:
Dear Mrs. D Christmas treats so yummy and sweet just like gym teachers Love Harper

Then she drew a heart with Rudolph and Santa's sleigh and added the words, "you'll go down in History".

Love it!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas Tidbits

Things that are mostly checked off my list:

-the Christmas music mixes
-cards mailed (waiting on one address)

Things I have not begun at all:

-holiday notes to teachers
-wrapping anything
-baking anything
-cleaning the house
-figuring out how to keep peace between my children

Oh look, there they are, fighting over the nativity again:

Well, they probably aren't fighting in that picture but surely it was a momentary lapse into good behavior.

Michael goes two days a week to a Jewish Community Center preschool. He can't say Christmas clearly, but Hanukkah rolls right off his tongue! :-)

One of the highlights of the children's day is when one of them gets to put the ornament on the magnetic Christmas countdown tree. Or, on Michael's day, the "ormament." (He also calls it the "diming room" instead of dining room. Hee!)

When they do attempt to play cooperatively with the nativity set, Harper trades pieces like they are baseball cards. Example: "Michael, I'll give you these two shepherds and a donkey if you give me back the angel and Mary." Nothing like bartering with the Holy Family and friends!

Michael is excited about the snow and happily announces all the places it has landed, "Yook! No (snow) on my maybok (mailbox)!" But he won't step in it... could be a long winter.

If we're driving in the dark Michael screams with joy whenever he sees Christmas lights.

Harper likes to warn Michael that Santa won't bring him presents anytime he even looks like he's going to do something he shouldn't - despite my (sometimes) gentle reminders that this is not her job.

How are the holidays progressing at your house?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Did you think I'd forgotten about the Christmas music giveaway?

Since there were more than 20 comments I chose two winners and they are:

Emily from Chaos: Party of Five

and Cortney (who I will have to track down!)

Congratulations ladies! I'll send you an email to find out some of your music preferences!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Holding My Tongue

Okay, before I forget, a couple of notes about yesterday's Christmas craft:

1. Contact paper should be with shelf paper - I got some at Walmart, but I think grocery stores, maybe hardware stores, etc. probably have some too. It does come in a roll.

2. Tissue paper I also got at Walmart. I am thinking a craft or education supply store might have precut squares, but I just chopped up some wrapping tissue. I got a "value" pack that had about 50 sheets for under five dollars. I ended up using about an eighth of one sheet of 10 different colors. I'm glad I bought the value pack for the variety of colors but we probably only used the equivalent of two sheets of tissue paper. And knowing how haphazardly my kids would use it, I did not fret over how the tissue was cut. I was going for squares but I really just hacked it up quickly while they finished their lunches.

3. They had pizza for lunch.

And now for today's story...

It seems that most years Harper will find herself drawn to one particular boy in her class and talk about loving and marrying him. Her very first preschool love, when she was 3!, was B. And now B's brother P is in her kindergarten class. (B was a couple of years older than Harper). For a while Harper thought she might want to be in love with P, but apparently P wasn't terribly interested. (Can you imagine how much their teacher must be loving this?)

So we're in the car the other day and Harper says, "I'm not doing that thing with P anymore, now I'm kind of on to E."

"What thing?" I ask.

"Moo-oom," Harper replies, completely exasperated that I can't read her thoughts, "The love thing? Remember?"

Oh, I did remember. And I didn't say much more about it right then.

When I taught (first grade) and the kids would start talking about this stuff I would tell them, "You aren't old enough to date until you're old enough to drive!" So when Harper tells me about her kindergarten love, a big part of me wants to respond by telling her that she's just too young for all of that. But here's the difference - she's talking to me about it. And I can't help feeling like there is a kernel of importance in that, that it is something I want to honor. If I am dismissive of her boy-feelings (or any feelings) now, will she be less likely to talk to me when she's older and there's more at stake? I feel like these little tidbits and nearly-nothing interactions will all add up, even subconsciously, and make a difference when she's older.

Oh, I'm not an idiot. I know she isn't likely to tell me anything when she's a teenager, or even when she's ten, but if I can somehow tip the scales in my favor, I'm going to do it.

Today she got in the car and said, "Mom, E says I'm in a crush with him."

Oh dear.

There is ONE MORE DAY to enter the Christmas music giveaway - what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Easy Christmas Craft

It's December!

We received our first Christmas card in the mail!

It snowed for the first time!

I put my "Kids in the Car" Christmas mix in the van and Harper kept saying, "I love this song!"

I'm officially a fan of today. I even felt patient enough to embark on a little Christmas craft with the kids. I modified an idea I had from something Michael brought home from preschool. This is intended to be a window decoration so if, "Kids' stuff stuck haphazardly on the walls" isn't your decorating style, it might not be for you...

First I cut out some outlines of "shapes" from red and green construction paper. (Note to self: maybe don't freehand w/ the scissors next time.) Then I stuck the empty shapes onto squares of clear contact paper and Harper and Michael filled them in with tissue paper squares.

Observe (enlarge the photos to look at the children's faces and guess what we had for lunch):

Harper's first shape was a Christmas tree, while Michael tackled a loose representation of an ornament.

Here's what a few of them look like, stuck to our front windows. The kids were watching it SNOW!

Here is a closeup of something resembling an angel:

Harper and I ran outside to see them from another vantage point. They didn't look that great in the daylight, probably won't even be noticeable from the street. Later tonight, when Harper and I had to go out for a bit, they actually looked kind of cool with the kitchen light shining through them. You'll have to use your imagination.

The only thing that could even remotely be construed as mess with this project was a few stray tissue paper squares on the kitchen floor. Maybe we'll make them for every holiday/season...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It is Finished

Woo hoo! We made it through NaBloPoMo. (Is the internet going to fall silent tomorrow?) Maybe now that I'm done posting daily, I'll have time to catch up on all the blog reading I haven't be able to keep up with.

To answer a couple of simple reader questions:

1) If I had to pick games or puzzles and say which I think is better for children, I guess I'd say games? I do think puzzles are really beneficial and probably help strengthen spacial awareness, but there is a much broader skill set that can be address through game playing. BUT thank goodness I don't have to actually choose between the two because I could not do it. Incidentally, the sitcom Better With You had "competitive puzzling" on last week's episode and the concept was really funny. I will not be introducing the idea to Harper, ahem.

2) Best non-annoying children's holiday CD? Well my hands-down favorite is John Denver and the Muppets. If you don't like the Muppets I probably can't help you! Oh, I think Raffi's Christmas album is nice, I almost forgot that one. I can take or leave most of the Kidz Bop type stuff, but others may have more recommendations - add yours in the comments!

Some of the bigger questions will have to wait!

Three days left to enter the Christmas music giveaway... if you want a kid-centric CD, that's what I'll make you!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Remember how we were just discussing puzzles?

Michael got a 24 piece wooden jigsaw puzzle at Harper's birthday. It is covered with cars and trucks so he immediately fell in love with it. Up until now he'd really only been doing the type of puzzles where there are a handful of pieces and each goes into its own spot. I thought the wooden jigsaw puzzles in a tray would be a good transition to table top puzzles, since you get to work them within the frame, and I put some on Michael's wish list for Christmas.

I was pleased to have the new puzzle for him but figured it would be quite some time before he was ready to tackle a jigsaw puzzle like that. For a little while he just enjoyed taking all the pieces out and eventually Harper or I would put it back together and stick it back in the puzzles basket. Then he started showing an interest in actually putting it together. So I helped him with it, handing him one piece at a time and pointing out where they went while he worked on the fine motor skills of actually putting the pieces together. Still, I thought it would be a very long time before he could really attempt it on his own.

This weekend, however, I found him on the floor with the puzzle like this:

He put about 1/4 of it together before getting frustrated and sort of growling and taking the pieces back out - it was kind of hilarious. I was truly surprised that he could even do that much of it. Eventually he brought it to me and we finished it together.

But he went back to it again and again and yesterday put it together with only some gentle verbal coaching from me. Mostly me suggesting that he try another piece if he was determined to put one somewhere it didn't belong. The best thing about watching him work at it is that he talks to himself while he does it... "Dis piece goes wite dere," puts the piece together, "Wite!" And then he gives himself a little cheer - so cute.

Today he brought the puzzle to the table before dinner and did it twice all by himself! I was shocked and so proud.

I know he can do it on his own only because we did it together so many times. He recognizes where in the puzzle the pieces belong. I know if I handed him a brand new 24 piece puzzle he wouldn't figure it out by himself. But I was still really excited for him.

The thing about Michael's speech delay is that it is really only very recently that I have any idea what is going through his head. Now I'm starting to see that his brain was just churning away while we were waiting for him to figure out how to express himself. He really has been putting the pieces together all along.


There are still a few days left in the Christmas music giveaway!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Buying Stock in Kleenex

Okay, if the holidays keep going like this I'm going to need lots and lots of tissues.

Reason the first?

We're all mildly sick. I already keep a box of tissues in every room in the house and lately it doesn't seem like enough. We are a family of dripping noses. It will probably be like this all winter.

Reason the second?

This year the holiday season is feeling totally bittersweet to me. Some years this just happens. I LOVE Christmas and everything that comes with it so I am happy that we are firmly in the holiday season. We're enjoying holiday books and music and gift-buying and surprise-plotting. My guess is that by the end of December you'll all be sick of hearing how the holidays this year are making me agonize over the fleeting nature of childhood. Harper asked me to read The Polar Express tonight and I happily obliged, until the last page. I wasn't just getting choked up, I was practically sobbing. Of course she's a total believer and could not imagine what I found sad about those last few sentences. Needless to say I didn't want to enter into a conversation about people who don't believe in Santa Claus.

That's just it. Some years I can't read The Polar Express without crying*. It looks like this is going to be one of those years.


*Other things I can rarely read aloud without crying include the last sentence of Charlotte's Web (and also the part where she dies), and Love You Forever (which I know is kind of creepy, but it still makes me bawl). Surely there are others but those are the two that immediately come to mind.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Another Thing I Never Thought I'd Say

There is a plastic nativity set under our tree. It is there for the kids to play with. This afternoon the kids were fighting over the pieces (lots of Christmas spirit there!) and Michael threw one in frustration, which is when I had to pipe up and say, "We don't throw baby Jesus."

Friday, November 26, 2010

We Need a Little Christmas...

In true day after Thanksgiving style, our house has been decorated for Christmas. The CDs, movies, and books have come out of storage, as well as the stockings and snowmen for the mantel, assorted candles and Santas, and the photos of the kids as babies on Santa's lap. The tree is mostly decorated - but Harper wanted to help with her ornaments, so that box is waiting patiently for morning. We only have a couple of outdoor decorations and we'll hopefully set those up this weekend.

I love for things to feel festive during the holidays but most of our decorating is confined to the living room/dining room area. I don't go as far as to decorate the bathrooms or bedrooms much. Most of the decorations, aside from the tree ornaments, went up while Michael was napping this afternoon. It was so much fun to bring him out to the living room after his nap and show him the decorations - his eyes were as big as saucers. Now I'm wondering what he will think of the tree in the morning and whether we'll be able to get him to keep his hands off of it.

Michael and I read a few Christmas books before bed this evening, sitting on the couch next to the tree. I found myself wondering if I'd still bring all the books up in ten years, when both the kids will be far to old to be read to. Will they still want all their old holiday books and movies? Will they have to be tucked away until grandchildren come around?

Harper told me this morning that she's going to start looking for our elf, Snowy, when she wakes up tomrrow. Snowy (our Elf on the Shelf) usually appears sometime after Thanksgiving. He'll probably show up around Wednesday, but I'll let the kids discover that for themselves. I've been thinking recently that her believing days are numbered. I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts, rather than be sad about how soon it will be over. There is such a small, small window of time when children are old enough to anticipate all the magic that can surround Christmas and young enough to believe all of it. Maybe that is why I tend to go a little overboard with books and music and gifts at Christmas time - this sense that I want to make it absolutely amazing while it lasts.

One week left to enter the Christmas music giveaway - click here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day

Harper and a turkey wing:

I lifted the "How to Eat a Turkey" picture from my sister-in-law's Facebook wall. Thanks Meg!

Happy Thanksgiving y'all!

P.S. Don't forget to enter the Christmas music giveaway (click here) if you like Christmas music.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

That Time Again

As you all know tomorrow is Thanksgiving. And then the next day is the day after Thanksgiving - also known as the day Christmas comes out of the boxes around here - yipee!

As I have done the last couple of years, I would like to celebrate the arrival of the holiday season by doing a Christmas mix giveaway. If more than 20 people enter I will draw two winners. Winning commenters will receive a custom Christmas CD, created based on answers to a few musical taste questions.

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment on this post and tell me either your favorite or least favorite Christmas song - it's that simple!

Good luck!

(Edited to add: You can enter until midnight on December 3rd, I'll choose a winner over the weekend and try to have a CD out while there is still time to enjoy it!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Puzzles and Games and Blocks, Oh My!

I've been knocking this post around in my brain for a couple of weeks now and I can't decide how exactly to approach it... I have been thinking about the questions you've asked about good gifts for kids, how it is that Harper learned to read, preparing kids for school, good games, etc., etc. I feel as though the answers to those questions are really all wrapped up together.

I think we'll talk about reading in another post - although some of the things I think/recommend about gifts for kids and school readiness go along with the whole reading thing.

I feel like I should qualify this by saying that my kids have a lot of toys. A LOT. More than I think is ideal, and all of our toys don't fit into the categories of things I think are BEST for kids to play with. We have our share of Happy Meal cast offs and other assorted plastic junk that serves no discernible purpose.

Let's start with puzzles. I LOVE puzzles. And I think working puzzles are really good for our brains. I'm positive there is actual scientific evidence to support this somewhere... but please don't ask me where. This isn't a research blog.

Puzzles teach logic and problem solving and spacial relations and, as they get more complicated, perseverance! We have lots of the simple wooden Melissa & Doug puzzles - letters, number, shapes, trucks, etc. These puzzles are great because they allow kids to have tactile experiences with numbers and letters and shapes, to think about which pieces will fit into which holes. These puzzles are the reason Harper knew what a trapezoid was when she was two.

Jigsaw puzzles offer a different level of challenge/learning. There is some strategy involved in completing them and a real sense of satisfaction when they are finished. Sure some people are more drawn to this kind of activity than others, but you can sit down to work a puzzle with someone and know pretty quickly whether they have done lots of puzzles or not. As kids get older I think there is something to be said for the delayed gratification factor of puzzles - you have to stick with them - and there is so little these days that requires extended attention from our kids. They are good for developing patience. And you can use them again and again and again.

(Er, maybe I should have broken this down into three posts, it is getting a little long...)

Now - games! I love to play games. Values of game playing include learning to take turns, think strategically, win and lose gracefully, follow rules, as well as reinforcing all kinds of math and reading skills, depending on what you play.

When I taught it was really clear who had played games at home and who hadn't. This probably sounds silly but I especially noticed when we had math problems that involved counting dice. Kids who'd played lots of games knew what number was shown without counting the dots. I'm pretty sure my brother learned the basics of math playing endless rounds of Monopoly.

I think it is kind of tricky to recommend specific games - my biggest recommendation is to play different types of games. Some games are all luck and little skill - like Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders. In fact, lots of preschool games are that way. And that's fine - that's where you work on the turn taking and rule following - learning the etiquette of game play. The point of those games is often reinforcing basic skills like color, number, and letter recognition. The nice thing about these games is that there is a comfort factor for lots of kids, so seven-year-olds might not mind revisiting them with a younger sibling. Harper's first game was My First Uno - which I highly recommend.

I've loved the "junior" versions of games for older kids. Usually around age four or five kids are ready to play the junior versions of games like Clue, Monopoly, and Yahtzee. We've had lots of fun playing those games with Harper. Other games we really like are Sequence Junior, Great States Junior, Mancala, Uno, Sorry, Memory, Zingo, Guess Who, and Connect Four. Harper is just now growing old enough for another level of game play and I love LOTS of the games in the Mindware catalog. If you don't know Mindware - check out their website: Although I will say that many of their games are available at slightly more reasonable prices in stores or through

As kids are older I have less patience for games that don't involve at least some thinking. Pretty Pretty Princess comes to mind. There's really no strategy to that game. Harper loves it because of the dress up factor, but I can only do one or two rounds of that at a time. I also shy away from noisy games - Hungry, Hungry Hippos comes to mind. And Don't Spill the Beans is a game we've not fallen in love with.

One other note about game playing - it is one thing to adjust a game for younger kids - like using fewer cards to make Memory easier, but I feel really strongly about playing games by the rules. Family and friends of mine will probably laugh at this but it drives me crazy to try to play a game and have someone say, "Oh that's not how we play it." But that is obviously a personal pet peeve, and not necessarily a comment about the value of playing games.

Finally, blocks. Actually, not just blocks, but open ended creative play toys. I get kind of itchy and annoyed about toys that are so specific they don't lend themselves to creative play. I'm a big fan of things to build with and things to play pretend with. Dolls/house play, dress up clothes, blocks, cardboard boxes, etc. It is good for kids to play with toys that don't direct the play for them! I do believe that some kids are more naturally creative/imaginative than others, but I also think it is possible to develop the ability to pretend and create with toys.

I'm having a hard time articulating what I mean, but the example of those talking Elmo dolls comes to mind. Sure they are funny and kids like them, but they often just do one type of thing. I'd rather by a regular stuffed Elmo and then at least the kids have to make it talk and sing themselves. And I'm not saying no one should have any of those type of toys, but it probably isn't great to have ALL of those type of toys. I also shy away from too many toys that are tied in to movies/tv shows. Some of those are fine, but I dislike the idea of everything my children play with being free advertising for Disney or Nickelodeon.

Gosh, hasn't this post been so helpful? Snort.

One last thought - I've found it is important to have a balance of toys for children to play by themselves and for children to play with you.

Goodness - if you've read this far you deserve some kind of reward. I'll try to be a little more succinct tomorrow!

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Skillz

Things have been a little Harper-centric on the blog lately, with the teeth and the birthday... but Michael, of course, is still here alternately charming the pants off everyone and throwing monster toddler tantrums. He's good at being two.

A few weeks ago we went to a parent teacher conference at his "regular" (i.e. not early intervention) preschool. It sounds like he is happy in class, follows directions, doesn't talk much but is starting to speak up a little bit, and doesn't like to get his hands messy. No surprises there!

And then we found out, through a random detour in the conversation, that his teacher doesn't allow sippy cups in their room. So for two months I'd been sending him a sippy cup and he'd been drinking from the cup without the lid. Matt and I were all, "Pardon me?"

Who knew! But behold, the boy can drink lidless:

Previously we'd only attempted that with little paper cups of water. But lo, he can handle juice and milk and everything!

The sippy cup to regular cup transition is one I'm NOT good at encouraging. I understand that it is important for oral muscle development for children to learn to drink from an open cup, but open cups are so prone to spilling... We had experimented with different types of lidded cups for Michael, knowing that he needed to work those muscles, but hadn't given the lid up all together. Now we save the sippy cups for when he's not at the table or for meals when he's especially tired or cranky and not likely to have the concentration it still takes to drink without a lid.

So, um, chalk one up for preschool.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Maybe the party truly did me in? I just cannot get rid of this cold/cough. So frustrating!

I'm too pooped to write more tonight as I was inexplicably awake from 1:40 until about 4:30 a.m. I should have done my blogging then. To hold my place until tomorrow please enjoy these photos of the pizzas we "made" on Harper's actual birthday - it was her dinner request:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's Finally Over!

The last of the birthday festivities is finally behind us! Tonight we had a "friend" party for Harper. Actually we had a party for Harper and her friend Aaron who also has a November birthday. We decided to rent out a room and an hour of pool time at our local rec center and just invite the whole darn kindergarten class. While Aaron's mom and I both did some baking to make sure we'd have enough desserts, the prep was pretty minimal and look, no clean-up! That alone made the party worth every penny and it was even less painful when split two ways.

The party itself was utter chaos. We had a multi-purpose room set up with rows of tables for eating and a HUGE open space for the kids to run wild. We ended up with about 14 kids from Harper and Aaron's class at school and a couple of neighbors and assorted siblings. If you count the parents who took us up on our offer to stay we ended up hosting somewhere around 50 people.

The order of events went like this:

People arrive, children run around like wild animals. Things are very noisy and screechy.

Attempt to play a few organized games - Fish, Fish, Shark (like Duck, Duck, Goose), Red Light/Green Light, Sharks and Minnows (basically tag).

Sing Happy Birthday to Harper and Aaron.

Serve assorted desserts (cookies, brownies, rice krispie treats) and juice boxes.

Kids are done with dessert/juice in 2.5 minutes and continue to run wild until it is time to round them up for the pool.

Matt* goes over pool rules with kids (I have entirely lost my voice by now).

Send children to change.

Children swim until they are crying from exhaustion. The end.

It was a success, I think. Things were very, very scream-ish. The level of chaos we achieved is probably unavoidable with that many little kids but man, my nerves are shot.

Here are things we did which I think went well:

1. Invited parents to stay - the whole changing/swimming thing would have been a total fiasco otherwise.

2. Invited siblings along, technically we could have had up to 200 people or something like that in the pool so extra people weren't a big deal. I think the fact that siblings could stay/join made it easier for parents to stay.

3. Invited/hired an eighth grader that Matt has coached to come along and "help." It was especially good in the locker room and pool to have an extra set of hands. Also? Harper adores this particular girl and it was a little like having a celebrity come to her birthday party.

4. We asked people not to bring gifts. The words we put on the invitation were, "Your presence is present enough." Kind of cheesy but boy am I glad we did that. Our kids just don't need that many toys, you know? We talked to Harper and Aaron about this first and they both agreed that it would be fun to have a party even if they didn't get presents. We did however, also write that we'd happily make a donation to Toys for Tots in honor of Harper and Aaron's birthdays and welcomed people to bring a small unwrapped toy to donate if they wished. I felt as though that would address the feeling people might have of wanting to bring something to a party without inviting any oh-I-brought-a-gift-anyway awkwardness. Having tons of presents we don't need is one of my biggest concerns about having "friend" birthday parties. I cannot tell you how relieved I am that we have a basket full of toys to donate rather than a basket full of toys to incorporate into our already full house. I might be less inclined to feel that way if a) Harper's birthday wasn't so close to Christmas and b) we didn't invite the whole class.

5. We picked awesome, flexible, fun people to have a party with. How many people in the world could you call up and say, "We have this idea for a birthday party and wondered if you'd want to do it with us?" And then not want to kill each other? It was great. I mean, I shouldn't speak for them, but I thought it was a lovely partnership.

Things that could have gone better?

1. Should we have been more organized with games/activities? I don't know. I think anything we tried to do with that many kids would have devolved into chaos. I wish I'd done an anonymous post-party survey (not really) because I would love to know whether the other parents thought it was fine or were slightly mortified at our lack of structured activity. The children weren't bored, but they were cah-razy.

2. Should we have done it at an earlier time? We really only had this one day that would work to do it and things booked up pretty fast so our choices were limited, time-wise. It might have felt a little less insane if we weren't still swimming at bedtime.

3. Should I have taken a sedative before the party?

4. Should we have given the children a sedative on their way into the party?

I really can't think of much I would have done differently with so many children. And renting the big space and pool isn't really worth it if you're just going to invite a handful of kids.

We got home around 9 tonight and it felt like midnight. I can't believe how tired I am. Thank goodness we only do this birthday thing a handful of times a year!

*This shouldn't surprise me, but Matt was so good with the kids and with giving them directions. I think he should probably be in charge of all future group activities. I am passing the party planning buck to him. (Love you Honey!)

Friday, November 19, 2010


So one of the best things about birthdays/Christmas in these parts is that there are always new games to play. Since Harper was about three years old we've requested and given her games as gifts (this Christmas Michael will get some too). For her birthday this year Harper received Mouse Trap, Dizios, Toy Story Kerplunk!, and the Pictureka card game.

Tonight was family night and Harper chose games as the activity. While Michael was still awake we played Kerplunk! I don't know if you have any experience with that game - I think it's been around a long time - but the "regular" version uses marbles as the tumbling objects. The Toy Story version uses those little green aliens. In the game they are sort of rubbery and therefore this version makes a lot less noise than the original. We had Michael partner with either Matt or myself, to help direct his enthusiastic efforts. He was so happy to be included because he has watched Harper play games his entire life. The child was practically leaping out of his seat. Each time he pulled a stick out of the game he yelled, "Me ween!" (I win!) He also cheered whenever he made the aliens fall down, even though that was the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. Michael pretty much epitomizes the whole, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose..." thing.

Because it is so easy (and quick) to set up and play, I think Kerplunk! will see heavy rotation in our house. Do you have any favorite family games?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cheater Pants*

One week to go... what is your favorite thing to eat/cook for Thanksgiving?

My favorite thing to eat is turkey, but I especially like it when the leftovers have been shredded and soaked in gravy. Yum!

My favorite thing to make is apple pie - yes, I know, that isn't the most traditional of Thanksgiving foods but no one here likes pumpkin pie. Making pie from scratch is kind of a pain in the butt - but if the kids aren't helping me (this is def. a baking project I prefer to do solo) there is something sort of meditative about it.

Come on over and have a slice!

*I'm too pooped to come up with anything else tonight!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Dear Harper,

This morning you asked me, "Mom, aren't you so happy it's my birthday today?"

I wanted to tell you how very happy I was but the words caught in my throat and I had to stifle tears instead. How is it possible that you, darling girl, are already six years old?

So much has happened since your last birthday. We surprised you with a trip to DisneyWorld, just you and Daddy and I; it was an amazing experience to have you to ourselves for a week and to witness the wonder you had for the characters and rides and scenery. Shortly after that trip I turned our lives upside down by going to work full time. You and Michael entered all day preschool/daycare at a local center. Despite being anxious about the transition, and missing your friend Noah, you absolutely blossomed in your new environment. You loved being in a class with other children heading for kindergarten and took no time at all to make friends and stake a place in the group. (Of course your wonderful teacher, Mrs. J, also helped you find your way.)

You took on a special role with your brother, as Michael had a hard time leaving Daddy each morning. You were proud to be his comforter and sweetly checked in on him throughout the day. Witnessing your relationship with Michael is one of the most special things about watching you grow. While you often drive each other crazy, fighting as only siblings can, you are a loyal and fierce defender of your brother. You understand Michael's speech better than any of us and you always know how to make him laugh - even when we don't want you to!

You are in kindergarten this year. Even though you had very rich preschool experiences, I think of this as your first "real" school experience. You adore your teacher and love going to school. You complain when there is an unexpected day off. You are capable in the classroom and, while Daddy and I are very proud of your academic skills, we were so happy to go to your recent conference and hear that you are kind and respectful with your peers. You try to be a good helper and a good friend.

You have a huge heart Harper and this sometimes means that your feelings are easily hurt. Kindergarten has proven to be an entirely new social landscape and you've already had some bumps and bruises in a world that you expect to conquer easily. The kinks in friendship you are experiencing these days take little guidance to work through but they hint at the difficulties we all face in adolescence and I cringe to think of the hurts to come. I can only hope that the confidence and security you feel now will still be with you when those days arrive and that you will be as willing as you are now to share your troubles with me.

This fall has brought many new experiences for you. Aside from beginning kindergarten you also played on your first basketball team and took acting classes. You greeted both activities with equal enthusiasm, the same way you greet many new challenges. It just doesn't occur to you that you won't enjoy or be good at something - another attitude I hope you are able to hang on to for a long time!

Every year I marvel at how you've grown and what you've learned - this year is no exception. You can swim, you can read, you have traded Sesame Street for reruns of Full House, and your new favorite color is blue. You have a gap in your smile from a missing tooth. You are long and tall and adore your hair cut in a bob. You love musicals and pirates and play in the wilds of your own imagination for hours.

You amaze me Harper, every single day. I am so proud to be your mother and will continue to do my best to live up to the job.

There is an A. A. Milne poem, "The End," that I love and the last bit goes like this:

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

That sentiment fits you very well and yet... You won't be six for ever sweet girl, but you are six for now, and I plan to enjoy it while it lasts. I have a feeling you will, too.

I love you Harper.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Colds and Cakes

I may have failed to mention that it was my birthday yesterday. Happy day to me! The kids gave me a cold.

I actually started to feel sick this weekend. Enough that I canceled my usual Monday morning volunteer gig. Harper was with Matt's mom for the afternoon (visiting Matt's grandma, who also celebrated a birthday yesterday) and I had grand plans of napping while Michael napped. I ended up dozily watching television (I have a serious addiction to our DVR) between happy birthday phone calls. With the phone, email, Facebook, and even the USPS I had lots of birthday messages yesterday and I have to say it is really nice when your birthday reminds you that you have a large network of wonderful friends and family.

Matt and the kids gave me an iPod Classic for my birthday - which is a generous and awesome gift. Seriously, spoiled much?

You may remember that I got an iPod Nano a few years ago, but it was only 4GB which seemed fine at the time - I was so happy to have it and it has served me well - but has been making me sad because, according to iTunes, my music collection hovers above 30GB. Even when I spent hours trying to choose only my absolute favorite songs I would have to randomly cut out more than half to them to make a set that fit on that first iPod. NOW I can gleefully carry all my music, probably add a digital file of UP, get audio books from the library, AND subscribe to my favorite NPR podcasts and have room for all of it. Yippee!!!

I am a very happy camper. I can even forgive the kids the side of sinus pressure/cough/throat full of razors that came with it.


And now - the cake drama.

First of all, let's review that I make the kids' cakes because I can't buy them from a bakery due to nut allergies. I mean, I do kind of like the idea of making them cakes from scratch, (Which, this year, required the use of egg whites for the love of Pete!) but my decorating skills rarely live up to my vision and I find myself thankful that the kids aren't too picky.

This year Harper wanted a cake with a yellow layer, a pink layer, and blue frosting. I was so thrilled that she didn't want me to make a cake in the shape of anything! So I whipped up a batch of cake batter and poured it into my very thoroughly greased and floured cake pans and the yellow layer came out nicely and then pink layer came out in about five pieces.

And then I cried in the middle of the kitchen.

And then I sent Matt for more eggs.

And then I started again.

I made two more pink layers and NEITHER of them came out cleanly. And I'd had a seasoned baker (i.e. not me) do the greasing and flouring. My conclusion is that my cake pans are lousy. One out of four is not an acceptable ratio of successful cakes, you know?

Anyway - the second and third pink layers were intact enough that we just decided to try to work with them. Many baking sins can be covered with copious amounts of frosting. Here is Uncle Joe assembling the pieces of the top layer, note that part of the layer is on the cake and part is still in his hands:

We ended up including both of the pink layers from the second batch, making a HUGE cake. It took nearly four batches of frosting to cover that thing. And then, per Harper's request, we added some princess sprinkles. Here is the final product after the candles has been extinguished:

And a shot of one of the cake slices on a party plate:

And a cake cross-section:

In the end, it was fine, but this is not the first birthday where I've had to do the cake over. I find re-baking to be a discouraging experience. And I would like for the cake to be better than fine. Oh well. As long as the children want birthday cake I will keep trying. I have until March to come up with my next cake plan.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Harper's Room

Once upon a time, nearly three years ago, I published what were to be "before" pictures of the spare room before it became Harper's bedroom. In the post I was all, "Oh, the baby could possibly be here in two months! Time to switch the bedrooms." Of course less than a week later I was in the hospital and you know how that story went (If not, see Feb. and March archives from 2008). Not surprisingly, I never got around to the after pictures.

At the time we had just picked out some generic and cheapish bedding (it was pretty but didn't hold up) from a department store. Recently Harper had expressed not being so thrilled with it and part of her birthday gift this year was new bedding. On Saturday my parents and Uncle Joe helped us hang some pictures and curtain rods to finish off the room. So here, only three years late, are the after pictures...

This little couch used to belong to Matt's parents. We left it in Harper's room because there was space for it. As it turns out it is a lovely place to sit and read together.

This picture was taken at the arboretum when Harper was three. I always feel like she is walking into the future when I look at it. For sure it is one of my favorite pictures ever.

Here is a view from the foot of Harper's bed. She is really excited about her new bedding and her new pillow pet. It's a bee, she named it Beezus, on Matt's suggestion.

Here is a close-up of the art above her bed. It is a painting she did in preschool when they learned about Jackson Pollock. It doesn't really match the feel of the rest of the room but I love it and I like having something she made hanging in her bedroom. It will be easy to change out the picture in the future.

Next is a closeup of the valance above one of Harper's windows. My grandmother, my mom's mom, made the valances from a bed sheet and added the ribbon. My grandma is awesome. I am shocked at how much softer the room feels now that the hardware for the shades is covered.

The new girly lamp and the tissue box!

And here is a view of her room taken from the doorway. Finally it feels finished!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Birthday Girl

Here are a few shots from yesterday's birthday party:

We had good food and time with friends and family and Harper received a heap of gifts that she loved. It was awesome, actually, she squealed with delight over everything. You can never be certain how that will go with little children, you know? And lots of her gifts were the kind that you enjoy and get lots of use out of over the long term, but maybe don't have a huge thrill-appeal for unwrapping. But she was so happy with everything and had no complaints about things she's been hoping for that weren't in her pile. It was heartwarming how happy she was.

According to Harper yesterday was the best day of her life.

Today, however, she was overtired, over-partied, and a huge crank. Ah, well, that's how it goes. Matt and I are going to have to do some serious deep breathing exercises over the next several weeks because birthday craziness is nothing compared to how whipped up kids get over Christmas!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The wait? Almost killed these two today...

Michael climbed onto a dining room chair at 9 a.m. and said, "Me wat dis cate!" (Me watch this cake!)

Harper had to look at this pile-o-presents all day long - she was a trooper.

Short story - the party was a success!

Friday, November 12, 2010


You guys, there has already been significant cake drama. I have determined that I have crappy cake pans. I will elaborate on this tomorrow or Sunday. In the meantime... a craft project!

One thing Harper is getting for her birthday is new bedding for her room. I got her a new lamp to replace the cracked one from my college days that she's been using. I also looked for a tissue box cover for her. Unfortunately, while there is a wealth of information about crocheting such items, I could not find something that fit the bill. So I decided to make my own.

I got a wooden tissue box holder and some Mod Podge from a craft store, printed a bunch of flower pictures I've taken and went to town. This is what I was doing from about 10:30 until 12:30 last night:

And here is the end result, one photo taken from the top and then one from each side:

I tried to give it a more "finished" look by gluing a ribbon border around the bottom and adding a little button at the ribbon end. Once we've got her new bedroom items in place I'll have to take a picture of the tissue box on her nightstand with the lamp.

Maybe it won't last or she won't like it, but it was fun to do!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Better Late Than Never

I still feel like I'm running on a hamster wheel here and in all my mental prepping for the rest of the week and weekend I've had birthday cakes on my mind. Blessedly, Harper did not request a cake that looks like anything other than a cake. We're going to try to make it a little funky with some food coloring and I'll be sure to take a picture - whether it is successful or not.

Anyhow, in thinking about Harper's cake I realized I never posted pictures of Michael's two-year-old cake. (Uh, yes, I'm talking about a cake I made in March.) I don't feel like I deserve too much credit because the design of the cake was really, REALLY simple. However, I was proud because of all the birthday cakes I've made this is the one where the final product most closely matched the vision I began with.

Ta da!

The cars were driving on a coffee-cake-topping road. And speaking of the cars, nothing says love like a cake topped with choking hazards - am I right?

You'll have to stayed tuned to see what I whip up for Harper this year.