Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Things To Learn

After returning home from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs last week, Noah decided to get right to work building his own lab in the back yard.

He has asked for his own toolbox full of tools for Christmas, which we are going to oblige. But I am a little worried about making sure he has appropriate things to build. I thought this was a fine start. His dreams are so big and I want to give him the chance to play them out to the best of his ability.

Notice the swim goggles? He couldn't find his construction ones and felt like he NEEDED them for his work. Of course, they never actually covered his eyes. About a half hour after this picture, the structure was quite impressive, with wood all the way around and he had even gotten the paint from inside to paint it.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Aaron came through a little while later and destroyed the whole thing. Little Brother is having some issues about being included in Big Brother's endeavors. We'll keep working on it.

Aaron has blossomed in the few weeks since school started. Everyone else keeps telling me they think he's physically grown, but I am noticing how much he has learned intellectually. He used to just gloss over letters and only wrote a few. The other day while we were at the library, he sat down and wrote out every single letter on this little pad they had. And when it came time to write the names on his cousins' birthday cards this weekend, without any help, he did it.

I was so proud of his penmanship that I had to photograph it.

My little boys are growing up

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tackling LIfe

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Life has just kind of taken over and I don't seem to be getting things back in order as quickly as I would like. Every day I seem to have four hours worth of things I want to get done in the two and a half hours that Aaron is at school. The math just doesn't add up, does it?

Both children's choirs start tomorrow night, one including bell playing. I still need to get the posters made and color coded for that group. I also need to get all the way out to church to pick up the music to take a rehearsal plan before tomorrow, wasting yet more gas for the trek out there and back.

Laundry is mounting downstairs, including more left over from Aaron's throw up bout from yesterday afternoon. This indeed is the strangest virus I have ever seen. He was crying when I picked him up from school yesterday, saying his stomach hurt. By the time I had picked Noah up and was ALMOST home, Aaron threw up repeatedly all over the floor of the car, his clothes, Noah's backpack, and about a dozen other things that should not have been on the floor of the car, but were. I had to leave for teaching a half hour later, so after trying to get Aaron in and out of the bathtub, settled on the couch, Noah calmed down about watching his brother repeatedly vomit on him, clean up the backpack that had Noah's homework in it, and get the van cleaned the best I could, I finally headed out to teach.

So now I still have to get to a vacuum place to get the van completely cleaned out today.

No matter how many hours I spend cleaning our tiny house, it just doesn't stay clean and as I sit here, I see at least a half dozen piles of stuff that need to be taken care of.

I just gave Aaron a piece of bread wondering if he will keep him down. He is begging for more food and running around acting fine and I still have to make the decision about whether to send him to school in three hours.

After finishing writing this, I am going to head downstairs to exercise, even though my stomach feels like it's in knots and I am wondering if Aaron has shared his lovely virus with me.

But I have too much to do to get sick.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Is Anyone Wii Fit?

So we were blessed last weekend with someone who was looking to get rid of their Wii system, complete with Wii Fit for a ridiculously low price and we took advantage of it.

Needless to say, I'm addicted. I have been exercising every morning after dropping Noah off for school this week. I really enjoy the workouts, but I have some questions for other Wii Fitters out there?

1. Is hearing "That's Obese!" in a squeaky little voice supposed to soften the blow?

2. Do I really need to watch my Mii blow up like a balloon as it delivers the "obese" verdict every morning?

2. Does Advanced Hula Hooping ever get any easier?

3. How come the muscles that I don't work during the yoga and strength training hurt more than the ones I do?

4. Why are my bones cracking more all day long than they were before?

6. Any tricks to make the aerobics activities a little more varied?

7. Is it even possible to get across the tight rope without falling?

8. Is anyone else as unbalanced as I am in the balance games?

9. Does any of this really work?

Yes, I have tried to alter my snacking habits along with the exercise to try to make sure I am fixing bad habits all around.

Aaron is so funny while I'm exercising. He sits and waits for me to finish the yoga and strength training because he likes to do the two person run with me. He has beaten me every day.

During other times of the day while we're downstairs Aaron goes up to the board on the floor and starts pretending to do step work. At least he's seeing me be active. I guess that's good.

I will still have a chance to work out tomorrow before we leave for a fun day with my family seeing my brother's new house, but I am taking the day off on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how difficult it will be to get back into it on Monday.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fall Is Here!

Yup, it's the first day of Fall. The time when the weather turns cooler, we get to break out all of the new long sleeve school clothes we got and put way all of the grungy short sleeve stuff we've been wearing all summer.

There's only one problem.

IT'S GOING TO BE 82 TODAY! What kind of Fall is that?

Fall is by far my favorite season. I love the excitement of the new school year, new shows, leaves changing colors, the anticipation of the holidays coming up.

My favorite activities of the fall by far are the pumpkin patches. Here in West Michigan there are a TON of them. And our little family spends pretty much every weekend visiting a different one. We have for several years now.

We have found some with lots of bells and whistles (hayrides, kiddie play areas) and some that simply have fields to pick pumpkins or apples. We love them all.

We have had a tradition for the last few years of our entire extended family getting together to visit a certain one for numerous years as well. Noah has been nagging for a week now about when we would be doing that. It's a busy fall so I hope we can still get that worked out. I love watching all of the cousins running around together.

As I sit here, I have already visited the Kent Harvest trails website, both planning to visit our annual sites (there are about five or six of them) and wondering if we should add some others to the mix.

Last June when Noah brought home his journal from the school year, he had an entry that said something along the lines of "This weekend we went to ANOTHER pumpkin patch. I hope we don't do that anymore". So I figured that he was pretty much sick of them and I was so sad that our tradition may be coming to an end.

But for the last week or so, all he talks about when we talk about fall is beginning the annual treks so I am relieved and excited to let the fun begin again.

I Love Fall!

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Allowance Post

After several attempts through the last couple of years at allowance, I think we finally have it figured out.

And I could not be more pleased with how it is going.

I am familiar with a lot of different ways that people handle allowance. And every single person's way has value for them, which is great.

I was reading in the Family Fun magazine yesterday about parents keeping a running tab of allowance so kids learn to budget kind of like a debit card works. It also helps with cash strapped parents. I even know someone personally who does this method and they believe it works well for them.

We tried allowance last year, but it never really worked and the kids weren't really all that it into it so it seemed futile.

With the new school year starting, it seemed like a good time to try it again. So about three weeks before school, I headed out to the store and bought "chore charts". Now, we have tried different kind of charts before, and they haven't lasted, so I wondered if it would happen again.

Here are some things we have changed:

Each child has four responsibilities each day, catered to the things that often bring challenges in the household.

Noah's are: homework, being ready for school by 7:30 without me nagging, picking up all clothes both in the morning and at bedtime, and school behavior. If he gets even one tally mark at school, he loses his sticker for the day.

Aaron's are: quiet at bedtime (the one that has cost him the most stickers), lining up all shoes at night, taking care of all clothes in morning and at night, and school behavior.

At bedtime (or shortly thereafter in Aaron's case) each item gets a sticker. On Saturday mornings after they clean their room, they get $ .50 for each day they got four stickers. The amounts have ranged everywhere from $1.00 to $3.50 each since we started this system. Also, anyone who cries for help cleaning their room on Saturday morning has to pay a "fee" of a quarter of their allowance money for help. Some weeks Noah decided it's worth it, and some weeks he doesn't. I think all of these decisions are good for him. It's one more way to think about the value of his money.

I strongly believe in giving them real money rather than a running tab. I think it's good at this age to see a concrete example of how much a certain amount of money is. Plus, when they spend it, they do it all themselves. Another way for them to see it come and go in a concrete way.

Here are the results of our first month of this system:

A. Both boys have saved for several weeks and purchased something that they wanted

B. Noah has become extremely in tune with how much tax something costs, and has started figuring out how much he needs on his own

C. I have not had to nag in the mornings

D. We are having a little less trouble with Aaron at bedtime

E. We are not tripping over shoes anymore

F. There is now more begging in the store for toys. "Can I have that?" is directly followed by "Do you have enough allowance?"

The biggest change is how Noah sees money now. It comes up all the time and has resulted in some great conversations. Everything he sees in the store, he evaluates the cost and puts in terms of his (potential) $3.50 each week. When we were at church last week, he was begging to print something out on the library computer (a big no-no since some kids-not Noah-wasted some ink a year or so ago). He said "But Mom, I'll buy more ink with my allowance" and then asked how much it cost. I told him and he realized it would be eight times more than what he already had in his piggy back. The conversation went off from there and we had a great dialogue.

Aaron isn't quite old enough to understand all of the ins and outs yet, or have the higher thinking about it all, but I think he will get there.

What happens if we're out without their cash and they want something? I buy it and they pay me back with their cash when we get home BEFORE I give it to them. It's not theirs until they pay for it.

We finally have a system that seems to work. Now I need to go run to the bank so I have cash for tomorrow morning.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In Full Swing

As I sit here, I have just drooped Aaron off at school and am looking around the house at everything I should be doing in the two and a half hours before I need to return to fetch him.

Yes, everything is an absolute mess. But I am actually pretty content.

School has been in session for one week. In that time:

A. Noah LOVES his teacher and has received more "stickers on his pocket" than anyone else in his class for good behavior

B. Aaron is singing songs every day that he has learned at school

C. Our first bell performance is under our belt

D. Noah got all of the words right on his first spelling list for second grade (and was excited that he was the only one who spelled the word "through" correctly)

E. Aaron has started soccer (although we need to work on his attitude toward participation a little)

F. I am happy with my decision to wait one more year until I re-enter the daytime work force

G. Noah has been ready for school, including breakfast done EVERY day since the start of school, with the help of a sticker reward chart that is DIRECTLY proportional to the amount of allowance he gets Saturday

H. Aaron is pronouncing some words better than he ever did before, and is cor
recting himself once in awhile as well.

I. I have all music for both choirs I'm directing at church picked out, copied and planned, ready for rehearsals to start in two weeks.

Yup, things are in full swing. I know Steve isn't mentioned, but he too is doing great getting into the swing of things with the new schedule, including having to take both boys to Aaron's soccer games by himself on Thursday nights.

I have a TON of stuff I need to be doing around the house. But at the moment, it is kind of nice to sit back and reflect on how far we've come. This is the first year that I don't panic about how the day might be going with Noah and I know that Aaron is loving being a part of a class.

Life is Good!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Church Picnic and My Personal Vice

Sunday morning was our annual church picnic. It's always a casual type of Sunday, where we usually kick off the fall church year. In addition to all of the after-service activities for day, my hand bell ensemble performed.

Now that we are into our second year of having hand bells, I decided to raise the bar a little and handed them music that was quite a bit more difficult than what I gave them last year. Today's piece was over three minutes long and contained two page turns. We practiced it every Wednesday night for the month of August, with varying degrees of success. Our group spans from professional musicians to people who never read a note until they joined our group. There is always a little bit of uncertainty of whether we will hit it on, or lose it completely. During our rehearsal before church, we had both extremes.

When performance time came, we all felt ready to go. In the middle when it got a little messed up, my concentration became more intense, and I was told from MANY people after church both within my ringers, as well as others who could see my face, that I looked angry during the song. I was certainly NOT angry, just really focused on the music and getting us back on track. I feel so bad that it came across that way and have since written an email to my entire group, apologizing for that look and hoping for forgiveness and understanding. One of our members said to another, "that's the way she ALWAYS is" which worried me even more. I wonder if that is how every one in the group views me or just that one person.

The real reason I am concerned is because it is actually bringing up an old difficulty that I have ALWAYS had. When I was teaching, I got glowing reviews about everything regarding my teaching, from classroom management, to programs produced, to teaching content. In seven years, I usually only received one "suggestion". I needed to develop a better "poker face" and not wear my emotions on my sleeve. Unfortunately, this is a problem I have in EVERY aspect of my life, but now that it has crept back up into my current job position, it makes it that much more clear that I am back to the drawing board again.

The service did hold some other nice moments though. Steve led the praise choir in a rousing rendition of Amy Grant's "Love Brought Us Here" and Aaron LOVED watching and dancing to the drums especially.

After church, while picnic activities were in full swing, it remained very hard for me to relax and enjoy the time, upset about how I came across. But kids had a good time, though I had failed to bring the kids' swimsuits for the water slide

Noah sat and played BINGO with me for awhile while Aaron was outside trying to throw balls and make our youth members fall into the dunk tank.

By the way, look at Noah concentration face. Like mother, like son.

Both boys then spent time on the cake walk, and both ended up bringing home yummy treats. The cake walk always cracks me up, because SO MANY people bring treats, that if you stay on the mats long enough, you will most certainly leave with a treat of some sort.

So here I sit, almost twelve hours later, kids are in bed, apology email has been sent out, video from the performance has been uploaded to our Facebook page, and I should be ready to let it all go.

But that's not me. I am truly my own biggest critic. I will probably sit and stew over this for awhile. But I will also think of the good that will come. You can bet during our next performance, I will be the smilingest hand bell director there ever was.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Doll Adventure and A Poll (Please could be fun)

Back in college, our campus ministry put on a little production based on Marlo Thomas' Free To be You and Me. I actually haven't ever played a recording of this for the kids, but I really need to.

Anyway, one of the songs we performed was "William's Doll" (If you have never seen this and you have little boys, PLEASE take a few minutes to watch. It may even make you weep.)

Anyway, while we were at the Public Museum this past Monday for Labor Day festivities, the boys wanted to go into the "doll" room. In previous visits, they have avoided this room, saying it was "girlie" stuff, but this day they wanted to go check it out.

Aaron especially was fascinated. He even wanted to return to the room later when Steve and Noah were looking at a new exhibit.

Aaron settled himself right down at the little table in the center of the little room and started serving tea with the little wooden tea set on the table.

The room has four walls all with displays of antique to more modern dolls. Some of them were so neat, and underneath were more cupboards and drawers to open to display even more dolls.

Aaron started opening cupboards randomly, but stopped short when he arrived at his favorite one. He LOVES fairy tales in general and just stared at the dolls of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.

Then he crossed over to the other side of the little room where a doll house was built into the cabinets. I sat down to play with him and learned quite a lot from listening to his commentary. Not to be outdone, big brother actually sat down and started playing with us.

Being the mother of only boys, I have always tried to provide the boys with dolls and other "girlie" opportunities, mostly because of the song above (that I hope you've taken a couple of minutes to watch). Noah refuses to "do girlie stuff" but LOVES his stuffed animals as if they're alive and Aaron has actually asked for a Barbie for Christmas.

Not sure about the Barbie, but I really enjoyed watching the boys engage in another kind of play during our Doll Adventure.

Poll Just For Fun: How many of you thirty somethings out there remember the name of your Cabbage Patch Doll? Please leave me a comment and tell me.

P.S. Mine were Lavinia Ruby and Karina Gayle, thanks to my parents who bought a van just so I could get a Cabbage Patch Doll that year in the 80's when they first came out and were completely unavailable.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Day (Updated at the bottom)

So as I sit here, Noah has now been sent off to school for his first day of second grade. This day is being met with uncertainty for me. I have not brought my blog friends along for the ride on this one, and facebook friends just a little bit. But long story short, in the last week, I have been flip flopping between switching Noah to Aaron's school or leaving him where he is. I am not going to go into details, but it has become an incessant discussion in our household

He does not want to, I really don't want to switch him, but in the long run it is probably the right thing to do.

So when I sent Noah off to school (old school) this morning, he didn't ask a single time about whether he was going to switch and I didn't mention it either. We went ahead with the usual first day moments:

Sitting on the front step with his brother

Standing at his locker

Standing at his desk

And even standing with his teacher ( who is one of the biggest reasons I DON'T want to switch him. She is so sweet)

But I will find out in a couple of hours if there is a spot for him at Aaron's school and then I'll have to be prepared to make the decision final. There are so many factors.

At this moment though, Noah has successfully started his first day and I get to repeat the whole ordeal again in three hours when we send Aaron off to HIS first day of school.

Of course, then I get to come home and spend my first "kid-free" hours cleaning out the refrigerator to find the stinky smell in our kitchen. Such is life.

I'll let you know what we decide as soon as I know.

I hope every one's having a great first day back.
The verdict is in. there weren't any no-shows in second grade at Aaron's school this year so Noah will get to stay where he is. He is going to be so happy and I am glad that this decision is finally made. Now off to go clean the fridge.

A few pictures of the big Almost Five Year Old and his first day of Young Fives (which from now on we're just calling's just easier)

His ready pose on the front step

Eating yummy special lunch with mommy at his favorite restaurant, Mr. Burger

He ate it all and asked for my sausage too

Standing outside the classroom waiting to be let in

Sitting at his desk, hardly able to contain all of his excitement.

My biggest worry about him this year: What to do all morning every morning while he's waiting to go. He asked every five minutes ALL MORNING if it was time to go yet.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

4 Days Left

As I attended both open houses at both schools that will be attended (as for now) this year by Noah and Aaron, I was asked a question. I stopped in to visit with Noah's first grade teacher from last year and the first thing she asked was, "Can you believe how quickly the summer went?" and I realized that unlike everyone else, I didn't feel like the summer flew by.

But now I'm starting to.

It was an odd sort of summer. I was home all day every day, leaving at night to go teach. But I still don't feel like we did anything worthy all summer long. I'm know we did. But I just feel like all I did all summer long was harp on the boys to be nice and behave.

Last year at the start of school, I had seen an AMAZING transformation in Noah that summer. He had not only learned to do so many things, but had matured so much that I knew first grade was going to be wonderful. And it was.

I guess I was expecting to see the same transformation this summer. Perhaps because Noah didn't need so much improvement as he had the previous summer. Or perhaps because Aaron has developed into such a strong willed challenge of his own that I was more stressed than the previous summer. But I just don't feel like I made a difference this time around. I worry that this summer will have ended and the boys have no fun memories planted in their minds to show for it.

Next week, while we're dealing with the start of school, we will also be dealing with a bunch of difficult family decisions and lots of new challenges. Decisions regarding schools, jobs, and money and new schedules for both boys. Nothing like plowing major changes all into a short period of time. By this time next week, so many of these questions will probably be answered. I have been losing more sleep than I have been getting trying to figure it all out. And it really doesn't do any good since it's all out of my hands at the moment.

As I head into this LAST weekend of summer vacation before school starts, my goal will be this: Let go of what is to come and make the most of our last weekend together before the new school year begins. We'll be heading to a zoo that we haven't been to since Aaron was a baby, as well as trying to find some other fun things to do as a family.

And each time I start stressing about what's to come, and I guarantee I will, I plan to tell myself to live in this moment. The memories we make may be important ones in the days to come.

Have a great holiday weekend and see you next week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chritsmas Is August?

I know... school hasn't even started for us yet and here I am talking about Christmas. But you'd have to know me (and especially my hubby) to really understand. We LOVE Christmas. We watch Christmas movies and listen to Christmas music all year round. We got married four days before Christmas, and we love using our special anniversary night out together every year to do things like finish stocking shopping and looking at holiday lights.

We keep our few Christmas village pieces up all year round and light them up each night. We also have kept a lighted garland up this past year as well.

The boys are into it too. Aaron a little more so than Noah.

About two hours northeast of here is the small city of Frankenmuth, Michigan. It's "touristy" downtown area has a German themed feel to it and it is home to several famous landmarks such as Zehnder's Famous Chicken and Bavarian Inn (which has five indoor water slides). We have never been to either of those landmarks due to the high prices. Nearby is also a very large outlet mall area named Birch Run.

But the draw for us has always been another landmark. Bronner's CHRISTmas store. The world's largest CHRISTmas store. Nope, this isn't an advertisement of any sort. Just a fun trip that we have made a few times over the years. People I know either love this place, or detest it. I can absolutely see reasons for both viewpoints.

We love it.

Steve and I used to go each year back before kids but we haven't gone since Aaron was a tiny baby (over four years now) so since Steve took a few vacation days last week for a much needed break, we decided to make a day trip to Frankenmuth.

I didn't have real high hopes. Take two young boys, both of who hate shopping, take them into a store the size of two football fields FILLED with breakable stuff, and expect them to be happy about it, especially after two hours in the car to get there.

Guess what?

It was one of the most fun visits we have ever had there. Perhaps because I had lower expectations, I'm not sure.

Aaron was hooked the minute we walked in and he looked up to see a huge Santa greeting us.

I knew we were going to end up having to get a souvenir of some sort and within the first five minutes of entering, Noah picked out a new best friend. Monk Monk jumped into his arms and never left his side. As a matter of fact, it has actually rarely left his side ever since.

I don't mind getting him buddies every so often, because he really does LOVE every single one of them.

One of the things I thought was so neat about this visit was that as an adult, we are always so focused on looking at the things for sale right in front of us.

The boys look at things differently. They kept looking UP. And what we discovered when we stopped and looked UP was a whole world of decorations and lights and neat displays that we had never noticed in the fifteen years that we had been going.

The boys had fun walking through the nativity sets and seeing how many different kinds there were and imagining which pieces we should get for some of our sets. Noah was excited to see the entire display dedicated to Noah's Ark.

After about an hour (can you believe it?) we stopped into the little snack shop for an ice cream and pretzel treat and then we were off again.

We went into a room where they show movies about the site and different things in it. We learned about the Silent Night Chapel in Austria where the hymn was first written and sung. Wally Bronner traveled to Austria to get permission to make an exact replica on this property in Frankenmuth. Very cool.

Aaron also loved the dancing Santa on display. He figured out exactly the moves the Santa was doing and imitated them to a tee. I wish I had thought to video tape it.

They both also stopped to talk to Santa on the phone.

You will notice when I wrote the name, I wrote it as CHRISTmas. That is how the creator of this store designed it and it really does show when you are walking through the store.

Almost two and half hours later, we were finally on our way. We drove through the tourist downtown area but decided instead that it had been a full day and decided (after a few quick visits to some stores at the outlets) to grab dinner and head home.

The funny things was, the next night as we were thinking about doing movie night, what movie should some on TV but Tim Allen's The Santa Clause, which became our family movie that night.

So as we are preparing to send the boys back to school next week, I am already in the throes of preparing Christmas music for church and have started the gift purchasing process.

But when I lay down in the living room each night in the dark watching TV, I am not thinking about all of the commercial stuff. I just love to just sit and look at the lights and that is when I get so excited for the season to start. Although, how can something start, when for us, it really never ended in the first place?

Have a great Thursday.