Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Break 2015 Wrap Up

For Spring Break, our family didn't leave St. Louis, however, we did enjoy lots of adventures together.  While none of our jaunts, cost anything. I did spend some time in tears...mostly out of joy but occasionally out of vacation-togetherness overload - a sure sign we played hard.

Natalie's vacation began a day earlier than Noah's.  This was perfect as it gave her the chance to join me at his school's annual talent show.  He and his friend, Jonathan were "The Jesters" and told knock knock jokes to a crowded gymnasium filled with family and friends.

"I can't believe Noah is doing this!  Miriam must give him confidence," shared Natalie.

Noah is the Jester wearing red pants.
Saturday morning we took part in a free program offered year-round, throughout all St. Louis County Libraries called STArt@ (Science, Technology and Art programs).  We met at Grand Glaize Library to learn the fundamentals of building bridges and explore and build some of our own using various materials and techniques. 
Our instructor involved the kids in activities to help teach various concepts.
Here they discuss tension
While he wasn't excited about coming...he quickly went to work.
Natalie and her friend, Addison had lots of creative ideas.

The instructor placed coins on each child's bridge to see if it could hold weight.
Success! They each earned golden chocolate coins.
In the afternoon we headed to Montgomery Bank for their latest kids club event featuring egg hunts, crafts and games.  If you are looking for a "small-town" bank with friendly tellers and a place where your kids can earn 5% on their money (up to $500) -- look no further than Montgomery.

On Monday we conducted some hair-raising experiments with the help of a Mad Science instructor  at Tesson Ferry Library...another fun, free class offered through the STArt @yourlibrary program.

Temps were crisp on St. Pat's Day, but we still had fun hanging out at the zoo.

"Mom! Naked Mole Rats are so adorable! Can we get one?"
Normally the hippo exhibit is very crowded, but we had the place all to ourselves. 

While we are mostly of German-descent, Natalie assured me everyone is Irish on St. Pat's Day.  She wanted a party.  I obliged by providing green pasta noodles while she made the decorations.  The store was out of Corned Beef and Cabbage (no matter because no one in my family besides me will eat it). Instead, I made Pork Chop Suey.  Very good and easy to make.  For dessert, I dusted off my Bella Mini Fluted Cake Maker purchased on a Swap & Sell for $2.  I was skeptical it would even work, but the results had my two kids singing it's praises.  The cakes only take 3-4 minutes to cook.  I topped them with chocolate ganache and gold sugar.  A perfect solution for when you want cake, but don't want to heat up your kitchen.

Clearly she thought my photo-taking was breaking her bingo concentration.
That evening we headed over to Kirkwood Library for Family Bingo Night.  We visit lots of libraries, but this one is one of our favorites. The programming is outstanding and the staff are wonderful.  I also love their kids blog. We made out like bandits that night.  Everyone came home with at least one prize...and not junky stuff -- nice things like books, games and stuffed animals.

On Wednesday we lay like broccoli and watched Big Hero 6.  In the afternoon Steve and I got out my great-grandmother's recipe for vinegar pie crust and made ourselves a big, fat apple pie.  I've since been eating it for at breakfast and dinner. 

On Thursday we joined some friends for a trip to Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Co. for a free, factory tour.  It was fun as the kids and I have been reading all things chocolate as part of our "Read & Ramble" project. Later we headed to Powder Valley Conservation Center to say hello to Peanut and friends.
No Oompa Loompas at this place.
Powder Valley Conservation Center

Friday morning we headed back to Kirkwood Library for their "Inventor" class.  The kids got into teams and were each given a large, garbage bag full of stuff to create something new.  Noah and his buddy worked together to create an airship complete with working catapult.

On Saturday we took advantage of the sunny rays and free admission into the Missouri Botanical Gardens.  While the Children's Garden doesn't open for another week - we had plenty of things to see and do in the Climatron including make and take nature crafts and feeding the fish near the Japanese gardens.

For our last day we participated in Family Sundays at the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM).  Each Sunday afternoon, SLAM host crafts and a docent led tour.  During the month of March, the theme is Mummies.  While I had to practically drag Noah to the car to go -- once we had arrived, he was quick to involve himself in the craft. The kids made Egyptian-inspired hieroglyphic charm necklaces.  During the tour, my little "I hate all things art" became the most active participant in our group.  While there we also took in Nicholas Nixon's: 40 Years of the Brown Sisters.  To say, I found the series moving would be an understatement.  By the time I reached the last photo, I was holding back tears.  It's hard to explain, but to see the collection in it's entirety is breath-taking.  In each black and white photo, the sisters face the camera head-on.  Their stoic expressions and casual stances draw you in.  If you wish to see this exhibit -- better hurry! It leaves April 4th.

Noah's hieroglyphics spelled out Ninjago.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Read & Ramble #2: All Things Chocolate

This month our Read & Ramble focused on all things chocolate.  We read:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The Box Car Children Candy Factory Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling
Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith

Dahl's, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was definitely tops with my two.  Natalie would sneak the book now and again to read ahead.

"Sorry! I couldn't help it," she'd say.

This afternoon we decided to ramble on over to the Chocolate, Chocolate Chocolate Co. for a free factory tour.  In business since 1981, this family owned operation houses 5,000 lbs of chocolate each day.  They make their own peanut butter and marshmallow and all of the decorations are handmade. They use no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Our guide shared that it takes 40 minutes to create any one of their candies from start to finish.  Their cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast, vanilla from Madagascar, pure cane sugar from Belize and all of their products are marked as "fair trade certified".

A fun outing for sure especially when paired with good friends.
While milk chocolate is tops in sales at CCC, Noah is partial to dark chocolate confections.
"Chocolate Waterfall"...kind of a letdown compared to the one featured in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Chocolate Crew - the Brauns, Felgenhauers and Simpsons!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Children's Garden Club: We Dig It

Still playing catch up after springing forward... 

Two weeks ago we took part in the Children's Garden Club held at Sherwood Forest Nursery.  If you haven't heard of this program -- you are in for a treat.  The club is open to anyone and it's FREE! Meetings are held on the first Saturday of the month at 9 a.m., however, the location varies. Take a look at the schedule to see what's coming up.

Our family has enjoyed coming to meetings for several years.  We've potted plants, created holiday table decorations and once fashioned our own stationery from pressed pansies.  Though, I must confess, one of the bigger selling points for my growing tween is that they often provide a wide selection of donuts, milk and juice for participants.

Perhaps we'll see you at the next club meeting...we think you'll dig it as much as we do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Listen to Your Mother 2015 Audition

As a mom I'm used to listening to a broken/record number of requests from my kids.  Each one asking for just a little bit more...and then they'll be happy.

* "Mom, can I have one more cookie?"
* "Mom, can we have 15 more minutes of electronics?"
* "Mom, will you read us one more chapter before bed?"

A few weeks ago I was just thrilled someone thought I was good enough to enter the Listen to your Mother (LTYM) challenge..but then once I entered the contest, I discovered I wanted a little bit more.

Once I made it through the first round of cuts, I was pleasantly surprised...but later realized I wasn't quite satisfied.

Auditioning in front of the judges and my family only served to fuel my desire to make it through to the end.

The moral of the story...if you give a mom a chance in the spotlight...chances are she will want more air time...if that doesn't work - she'll just ask for more cookies.

Another sleeve of Thin Mints, please...

Since my story won't be shared on the LTYM Mother's Day Show...I might as well share it here:

I always knew I wanted two kids.  I dreamed of having the “million dollar” family arrangement of one of each.  When I found out I was having a boy.  I was happy.  My husband was ecstatic.  I know this is going to sound cheesy, but he actually said to me, “Honey, since you are giving me a son, I want to give you the moon!” 

Ok, so I should tell you, he told me this while we were selecting new kitchen floor tiles, and he may have only meant for the moon to extend as far as our kitchen, but I like to think he was referring to something much bigger. 

Our son Noah arrived a couple weeks early via emergency C-section.  I wish I could say things were smooth sailing after that, but, that wasn’t the case.  He suffered from reflux, eczema and frequent ear infections.  He didn’t nap during the day and at night woke at two hour intervals until he was 11 months old.  At 18 months, he began having seizures and soon after received an Autism diagnosis. As he grew, so did my anxiety.  I loved him, but the stress of the therapies and seizures caused me to pause. I wasn’t sure there would be enough of me to cover the needs of two children. 

So, when Steve and I finally decided to expand our family, I had only one request, “Dear God, please give me something different.”

Natalie’s delivery came without fever drama and epidural complications.  She was more than a pound larger than Noah.  Instead of making an enormous protest about leaving her comfy quarters; she let out a small meow-like cry, then quickly closed her eyes like she couldn’t be bothered.

It has been interesting to watch the differences unfold. 

When Natalie was about six months old, I remember a scene in which I was sitting on the couch with her in my arms and Noah by my side.  Her gaze was fixed on her big brother, when Noah commented, “You know Mom, she kinda looks like a moon.”  It was true, my bald-headed baby girl had inherited her Daddy’s perfectly round, German noggin.  I giggled to myself, recalling Steve’s moon promise.

At eight months old, we learned Natalie had several food allergies, among them peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.  How curious…as Noah preferred a routine diet of cheesy eggs and peanut butter sandwiches. 

With Noah you know what to expect.  He likes to live by a playbook of his own creation.  Once a rule is set – it is set in stone.  It’s easy to follow, as long as you have a copy of the book.  While Natalie prefers a life of what if’s.  If you give her two choices, her response is usually to come up with a new option. 
Noah keeps an ordered room and likes to play with one toy at a time.  (A mother’s dream).  He likes things to go back where they were and can spot a misplaced Lego guy instantly.  Natalie, on the other hand, enjoys cooking up Littlest Pet Shops in her kitchen while donning a coonskin cap and tutu.  Her room is usually a tidal wave of stuffed animals and Polly Pockets. If you ask her why, her response is usually, “Why not?”

Sometimes I wish I could have a “Freaky Friday” moment with her.  She feels free to paint skies yellow and grass purple.  When coloring, she puts no pressure on herself to stay in the lines…she pretends there aren’t any.

Natalie has helped show our family what is possible when you stop worrying about the results and start enjoying the process.  She has also taught us by not always doing what is expected, you open yourself up to receiving gifts you never dreamed were possible. Because of this, I’ve stopped listening wholeheartedly to the experts.  Instead I try to stay in the here and now…but it doesn’t always work.  When I think of Noah and his desire to become a Jedi; I can’t help but entertain the idea that Disney MGM Studios would be lucky to have a guardian of justice like him on their team. 

I’m also reminded of a time when Natalie was about four and asked me, “Why do boys have a penis?” When I told her that’s just how God made them, she countered with, “Does God think he’s funny?” 

Hmmm.. “Yes, Natalie.  I believe He does.”
And…God’s not the only one.  My husband also likes to inject humor into our lives…Like the time he signed me up for belly dancing classes.  Never mind that I may have been the one to put the idea into his head in the first place.  I think it all stemmed from an argument we had in which I was moaning about needing a higher purpose…higher than being the only one in the house who can run the dishwasher, find a pair of matching socks or change the toilet roll.  During the heat of the exchange he may have asked, “Well, what do you want to do?!”

Belly dancing may have slipped out. Ok, so I’m not the best under pressure.  If you want to win a million dollars, DO NOT ask me to be your lifeline.  Anyway, there’s a reason chicks like me don't belly dance.  As I tried to imitate the instructor’s moves I realized my body had no shake, which kinda makes you look just plain silly.  Not to mention, the class was held at a community rec center with big, clear windows for anyone passing by to stand and gawk at.  Sigh… But rather than hurt Steve’s feelings, I continued to go.  Only instead of actually going to the class, I spent the remaining weeks hiding out at Big Lots. 

Upon returning home he’d ask, “Are you enjoying it?”

“Yeah…sure!” I’d say.

This was really only a white lie as I did enjoy leaving the house for an hour and relished getting out of bedtime duty once a week.
Buoyed by the success of his gift to me (or so he thought), Steve continued the tradition of signing me up for classes in lieu of traditional presents. And, while everything I made in ceramics blew up in the kiln…and my asthma, and tiny fear of setting my face aflame…kept me from becoming a world class glass blower… Steve never gave up on me. About three years ago he enrolled me in a writing class. I was dumbfounded. 

“Why in the world would you sign me up for a writing workshop? I have nothing to say”

 “I know you…you ALWAYS have something to say,” he countered.

“Yeah, but nothing worthwhile….I’m afraid,” I shared.


“Because I’m running out of things to try…I want you and the kids to be proud of me.”

Somehow over the years of taxi-driving, potty trainwrecks and being a cheerleader for my children…I’d neglected my own bucket and had lost confidence in myself. Thank goodness, my husband is a smart man.  Intuitively he knows “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
As it turns out, writing makes me happy. It’s like therapy.  My worries released… one story at a time. Once written down…I feel like I don’t need to hold onto them so tightly…or maybe it’s that they don’t have such a death grip on me. I’d like to share the first poem I created during that workshop.
The Rules We Live By

Always three
things on his plate

Don’t let the foods touch.

Always round
meals chosen

Don’t serve spaghetti.
Always Legos
topic of speech
Don’t talk about sports
Always few
friends and invites.
Don’t bring up recess.
Always struggles
with recall
Don’t ask about his day.
Always concrete
with his thoughts
Don’t expect him to read between the lines.
Always Velcro
fasteners selected

Don’t ask him to tie his shoes.
Always focused
on the details

Don’t ask him about the plot.
Always rises
before dawn
Don’t stay up for Letterman.
Always answers
Don’t forget to wear thick skin.

Always pure
in his heart
Don’t dash his superhero dreams.
Always loving
hugs me freely
Don’t forget to pinch myself.

No matter how many books you read or friends you talk to – there really is nothing to prepare you for the ride of motherhood.  Because each woman’s experience is unique.  Though I think we can all agree that surprises are plenty and peppered throughout are parts that make us feel like we’re Bill Murray’s character from the movie, “Groundhog Day”. However, each time my kids outgrow a stage -- I find myself mourning a bit.  But, deep down I know there is one thing they will never completely outgrow…me.  And, it is with this sentiment that I created my final poem.
Motherhood is…         
The moment the plus sign appears
I’m positively thrilled to get the job
Putting all my dreams into one basket
A being small enough to live comfortably on the end of a pin
has already taken over all the space in my heart.
The first time I laid eyes on your water-logged skin
I’m struck with ignorance and awe
Where did you come from?
A crimson-faced squeal
My world has grown to fit perfectly into the palm of my hand
You take in air without me now
While I imagine I no longer can without you
At the forefront; a tether of primal needs
Diurnal living replaced with nocturnal survival
I’d trade in my Honda for eight hours of uninterrupted zzz’s
As you outgrow your onsies and toddle into your two’sies;
The real marathon begins
A tot tornado has touched down in the living room
De-shelved books, Crayola d├ęcor
I follow the trail of toilet paper that snakes through the house
The pint-sized pillager apprehended and sentenced to time out
As your vocabulary grows, so does your will
Dinner time, bath time and toilet time become our battlegrounds
Sharing my belief that green beans are really just green french fries is futile
Potty parties, treasure chests, a new car!
Instead, you prefer plastic and polymer crystals
Soon you are ready for preschool
Your circle expands to include teachers and friends
Gratefully, I still hold a place in your ring.
And, I don’t mind wearing Blue Light specials so you may arabesque in Twinkle Toes.
Most days your speech is dominated by questions
An average of 473 a day
Why is the sky blue?
How did that baby get inside her tummy?
What does it feel like to be awesome?
In a blink, you can tie your own shoes
Reading and telling time are no longer a mystery
As you enter the halls of junior high
I must remain in my car
Parental PDA could send you to the ER
You assure me your homework is finished
My words go in one ear and deafly soar out to a galaxy far, far away
Questions are few now
It seems you have all the answers
Your world is quite crowded.
There’s only room enough for my baby toe to fit
I pray I filled your well deep enough;
that you won’t accept contaminated resources from those seeking to drain your pool.
I look forward to the day when I’m no longer dumb
While I wait, I learn to cha cha and how to speak Chinese
The phone rings and I discover;
my IQ now ranks genius
The caller has but one question for me
Mom, can you babysit?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I Know What You Mean #23

Natalie: "Mom, at what age do you start mating?"

Me: "Mating? mean dating, right?"

Natalie: "Same 18?"

Me: "At least."

(Dear God: Please send reinforcements.)