Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas day

Christmas couldn't have been much simpler--or happier!--around here. I'm smiling at the Nativity costumes the boys put together one night,
 especially the little angel with a towel and a headlamp!
Zachary, the head costume designer, made some gold for the wise men. Why don't adults think of things like this? Just get pieces of paper and write "gold" on them, adding a bit of gold-looking jewelry? I tend to severely overcomplicate things and was relieved that the practical kids stepped in!
Of course Christmas morning was thrilling. Each boy received three gifts, but it seemed like a bundle since they all enjoy each other's toys. They played and played, and Eric and I sat opening packaging and hearing reports on each gift's happy details.
Jacob received a Ripstik, which I imagine has made it around our main floor loop about 2000 times, mainly when I'm trying to fix dinner!

Of course we also read "Christmas Day in the Morning" and "The Gift of the Magi," two of the best short stories ever written. We sang through the Reader's Digest Christmas Songbook and the hymns. It's such a joy to have a piano in our home! This was the first year that the kids could accompany some of the Christmas singing. They insisted that we become proficient at singing "Hey Ho, Nobody Home" in three parts, and we practiced on several nights. I'm not sure that we nailed it this year; maybe that's a goal for 2014. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Geography Fun

I coached our school's Geography Club and organized the school bee again this year, and we had a great turnout: thirty of the school's 4th- and 5th- graders opted to skip recess to come study geography! The kids are vibrantly curious, as world geography has not yet been part of their school curriculum. Here are some of the club members choosing stamps for their passports:
The weekend before the bee I hosted a finalists' breakfast, when we review for a couple hours. These kids are motivated by genuine interest--their curiosity has me looking up material constantly!
Here they are shooting at the maps to identify the correct answers. :)
The day of the final bee was exciting! I'm proud of the efforts I saw from all of those kids, and I consider all of them champions--it takes courage to compete in these contests!

That same week we also planned an international night for Cub Scouts, in which the boys made a Peruvian Christmas tree out of soda bottles, met a surfing Santa from Australia, painted Chinese characters, and examined Ukrainian art. We have some great leaders with international experiences who helped pull off a truly memorable night.
Geography! Go take the daily GeoBee Quiz and get excited!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Four short stories

1. Snail and fish breeding
While walking home from school one day, I told the kids that I had a surprise. They asked if it was a new baby! I told them that actually it was LOTS of new babies and some eggs. Of course they sprinted home to see what was going on. "Ducks! I bet it's ducks. Ducks come from eggs," I heard Zach say. Instead, they found dozens of baby snails and some penmark-thin baby fish swimming about. Our fish and snails had laid eggs, and some were hatching! Zach established a nursery to protect the youngsters from their hungry parents. Here are the proud owners of our little school:

2. All things done in order
The boys and I had a wonderful time collecting and sorting food for some food pantry Thanksgiving baskets this year. These happy workers sorted four three-tiered carts full of holiday food one afternoon! Some kids were darting around, quickly memorizing where the different types of food were kept. Others specialized in macaroni or stuffing and built up a pile. 
The one who got me laughing was Jacob, who painstakingly reorganized the entire Jell-o reserve into columns according to type, flavor, and brand name. It must have taken him half an hour. Bless that meticulous, darling boy. 

3. Rocking out with Samuel Hutchinson
One night Eric and Max went to bed early. Max had missed his nap because of church, and Eric had missed most of the last night's sleep because of an emergency surgery. So I told the boys that we were going to go singing at the Overture Center as if we were famous. They caught the enthusiasm and loaded up. The annual Christmas hymn sing is a free event where the audience sings along with the "colossal Klaus," performed by the classy and exuberant organist Samuel Hutchinson.  
Darling Michael sang every word for over an hour--Jacob and Zachary were riveted as well and even attempted the unfamiliar selections. Adam fell asleep in my arms for most of it. When we finished, we all felt pretty famous:

4. Zach's watch-rental business
Several months ago Zachary invested his saved chore money into a calculator watch. The watch quickly became the envy of the second grade, with friends asking to borrow it for a few minutes, a lunch period, or a day. When Zach began turning down requests, the kids started making offers. A quarter for a day? Two quarters? But apparently none of the kids had any actual money, so they traded in the next best currency: Matchbox cars. Zach now regularly rents his watch out at a rate of one Matchbox car per day. Once he got a crazy cool rainbow loom bracelet for a week of wearing privileges, but other than that, it's all cars. Here are some of them. I'm pretty sure he's earned back the $12 he spent on the watch already. He's an entrepreneur if I've ever seen one!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Day

Last Friday the kids were off of school, so we planned a little day trip. I said that we could leave after morning chores, which were extended to mid-morning chores after Adam created a "skating rink" with half of a container of baby powder:
As you can see, it was immensely fun and messy, which also describes each boy involved. They didn't care about washing it out of their hair and went around looking like they had grayed prematurely.

With the house decently cleaned up (and smelling baby fresh), we headed out to a state park. We were mostly alone and it was clear and still. An old spring cellar and stream captivated the boys' pretend play for a happy hour. They caught scores of box elder bugs on the stones. Some went up Max's shirtsleeve and he was brave. Zach found a frog, named him Oscar, and built him an island.

Then they skipped down through a fairytale ravine to the waterfall,
where they got their shoes wet and told me that they weren't even cold.
 Adam sang "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands" to the echoing ravine walls.
Max climbed up the mossy sloping rocks.
The three oldest crossed a stream by shimmying up a fallen tree and reached the peak on the other side. Of course we had to get a group shot, for me.
Later we roasted hot dogs. Jacob brought back this stick when I sent them to hunt for some skewers. He loves to get a laugh and then smiles shyly to himself.
They're growing up, offering their advice to me about how to build a fire, gather sticks, and anything else that I could improve on. When I was singing a camp song to them, Zachary said, "Don't sing it so crazy; none of the other moms do it so crazy!" When I asked him how the other moms do it, he said, "Just not like that!" The song was "Michael Finnegan." 

"Michael Finnegan" and "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore" are my Michael's favorites. :) I've never known a more pleasant person. Having him go to kindergarten this year has removed such a happy part of my life. I can't wait to see him--and all the kids--every afternoon!
We brought a rake to make a leaf pile--it ended up being big enough to disappear in!

Just before sunset we built castles on the beach and dragged sticks to draw in the sand. On the drive home we blasted both the heater and our favorite camp songs. It was a perfect day.

Today I organized the mud room and did laundry. One kid work up early from his nap and pulled out all of the linens in the closet and spread them around the floor. He then dumped out every container in his path from upstairs to the main floor. (He told me he was mad because he wanted me to nap with him!) I read him a dozen storybooks and held him for a long time. After school I helped kids prepare a presentation and practice piano. At dinner a kid knocked his plate of spaghetti and glass of milk on his brother. When I was cleaning that up, another kid poured his plate of spaghetti and sauce into the freezer to cool it down. They all did their chores. No one would do his homework, however, nor wear pajamas ("The real strong guys don't wear shirts, just like poor people, and I am the strongest guy in the WORLD!" he told me). My neighbor came over to give me some mail and the kids were running circles, most half clothed because we were trying to change for bed. Eric came home and helped with the schoolwork. The kids listened to scripture time and said simple, happy prayers. (Max: "Thank thee that Mom is coming home and Dad is coming home." He says that every prayer, omitting "Dad" if he's not home yet.) Jacob put a star sticker on his belly and marched around chanting, "Sneetch!" They were giggling so much that they could hardly brush their teeth. We kissed and hugged them. When the lights went out, I breathed in and out. Today was perfect, too.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Good to be in Madison

These summer days are messy, tiring, happy, and perfect! Jacob and Zachary have been taking golf lessons every week with a few buddies. One day they forgot a water bottle on the course. I sent them back to get it, and when they came back 15 minutes later, they were loaded down with golf balls--Zachary could barely walk for the bulge of his pockets!
Their ideas intrigue me--like attaching the hose to the back of Adam's bike so that he can be a "moving sprinkler." Adam learned to ride a two-wheeler this week, and he races around the neighborhood like a rocket (except with the hose; they learned quickly that it wasn't as fun as it seemed!).
The boys are always imagining. They call their pretend play "Mom and Dad." They play "Mom and Dad Pirate," "Mom and Dad Camping," "Mom and Dad Skiing," ad infinitum. My favorite is when they play just plain "house," or as they call it, "Mom and Dad Original." The other day I overheard them playing "Mom and Dad Poor" and they were counting up pennies and trying to think of ways to save money. Ha!

Zach and I shared a fun day at his Cub Scout camp, shooting arrows and rock climbing and taking in Scout food and silly skits. I can't remember a time when he and I had ever had a day-long date like that. I enjoyed him so much.
Around town we've been busy with city events. The free traveling art projects with the Art Cart have filled a few happy afternoons: Here's Michael putting his mark on the famous shoe slide. Kids paint it every  summer with the help of area art teachers. The outside is a Lorax-esque mural.
The Wisconsin Institute for Discovery offers thoughtful, fun science programming for kids. Jacob won a construction contest there by building a 29-inch tall spaghetti and marshmallow structure:
They also have the kids work with real instruments in real labs. Here Zachary uses a micropipette to create a polymer mold, used to illustrate scaffolding in tissue engineering.
The geology museum never disappoints, and Camp Randall is fun. (Here the kids kept insisting that the statue behind them was "Burlington" of Burlington Coat Factory. That's why they wanted to pose next to it. They make me smile a million times a day!)

 And $1.50 ice cream at the university creamery? Every trip to campus deserves one (or five) of these!
 Other days have been boating days (tubing with sweet ward girls),
visiting days (picking raspberries with dear Ann),
 climbing days (posing after scaling a glacier-formed granite hill for two hours!),
 digging days (digging out canals with our hands because I always forget the shovels!),
 and, of course, baseball days (Jacob pitching in his last tournament game).
What will we do with only one month left of summer? I want to do everything again, plus some more.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

To Grandma and Grandpa's

This summer is the first time I've braved a long road trip with the kids solo. But with all my family meeting in Maryland and Eric tied up with his new fellowship position, I decided that we would go for it!
The thrilled kids even got to stay in a hotel on the way out:
After they ate and cleaned up their breakfast, I let them run around in the enclosed courtyard. A grandmotherly woman laughed, tongue-in-cheek: "They're very good boys....It's just a shame they don't have any energy!" I love meeting the sparky, adventure-bound people in hotel breakfast rooms. We swam off some more energy, hit the road, and a few "Our National Parks" DVDs later, arrived in Maryland.

My brothers and mom came up with us to Gettysburg the next day. The rangers let the kids carry muskets and handle findings from soldiers' haversacks. We also viewed the moving 1883 cyclorama and toured the museum.
 Of course time with uncles was tops, especially at the beach!
All of my family was there by the weekend. I was thrilled to see all my siblings, and the kids loved the happy business of a full house. "Mom, there are three five-year-olds here!" Michael sang to me.
Here's most of us after hiking to waterfalls, climbing up rocks, trudging through rain, hiding in caves, and forging a stream:
Kids are such beautiful, happy people.

My brother Brian and I trained most mornings running in the blazing humidity--one morning my heart rate reached 180! Another morning we played soccer with my brothers--all of whom have played Varsity in high school or on club teams--and I seriously thought my heart would pound out of my chest. It's a joy to run again.

The day we left, we drove away crying. When we were still crying 45 minutes out, I said, "Forget it! We're heading back!" The kids cheered and we went back to Maryland for three additional days. During that time my brother James and I helped my dad put siding on his shed. My engineer dad designed and built the 10 x 10 structure and it looks great!
 Here's a post-building, ladder-high hug with James, my closest-in-age bro and dear friend:

Then we really left. Part of staying longer was that we had to tackle the drive back in a day. It took 15 hours, but we made it! Victory shot: