Monday, December 6, 2010

And it's tree time again...

For some people it's the first strains of Christmas music that stream through the overhead speakers in the grocery store.  For others it's the dark hour Black Friday shopping excursion.  For me, Christmas begins with the tree.

Growing up, it was a trip to the forest.  Now we live in the heart of Christmas tree country - no fewer than 30 farms within a 30 minute drive.  We can go out, cut our own, and still be home for lunch.  For the last two years we have loved visiting the Hamburg 4D Tree Farm - a great little farm with trees for $20, hot cocoa, cider, and chili. The family is friendly, and the trees are beautiful.  We love Noble Fir, and enjoy the search for the tree that is meant to be ours.

Here are a few shots from this year's trip:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Letters to Santa

Each day of Advent, the boys get to open a bag that contains a card with an activity for the day.  Day 2 was to write a letter to Santa.  While we've always talked about it in the past, this was the first time we've actually sat down and done it. 

Max is getting more and more independent with his writing.  While he will first exclaim that he can't do it, given a little prompting and time, he does fairly well.  It is so interesting (as a reading teacher) to watch him develop letter and sound ideas.  Luke is just starting to write his first letters - he's got "u" down, and is working on his name.  For his letter, I took dictation.  Here are the results:

 Max's letter reads:
     "Dear Santa
            I hope  you are having a good time.  Kud (Could) I hav hte Lego castle ples? Kud I hav a tooth bruhs (brush) ples?
                                       Max Y"

Lots of tongues sticking out in concentration.  This is serious business, people!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The soundtrack of our house...

( A little Eye of the Tiger for those needing translation...)

Friday, November 12, 2010

A little heads up...

Over the last couple of years, I have had a few challenges when it comes to blogging.  The largest of these was feeling like I was trying to make this little blog cover too many things.  I wanted it to be our online scrapbook, family journal, but also wanted somewhere to share our theories on parenting and life.  Sometimes these things go together, but often it just felt awkward. Maybe it all comes down to the English teacher in me always wanting to write for my audience, but not knowing who that was...

So, as many of you know, I started a new blog a couple weeks ago.  Upon the Tightrope is our new bog for our journey to finding more balance in life.  Here I will continue to write about the funny things the boys say, silly videos, and our more personal, individual thoughts.  Hopefully this will help make each place feel more coherent, and tied together.  I'd love to have you join me for whatever interests you!

And thanks for reading along, wherever you choose to do that!

Sunday, October 31, 2010


We had a great day today.  Instead of our usual craziness of trying to do too much "holiday stuff", we took it easy.  The weather was beautiful, so the yard called for attention.  Max and I planted over 75 bulbs today (mostly tulips and narcissus), we cleaned out the garden, and Dan mowed and cleaned up tons of leaves.  It was so nice to be able to work on all of that without the rain!

To celebrate Halloween, first we went over to my grandma's house. It was great to see her, my Uncle Jerry and his girlfriend Brenda, and mt Uncle Jim, Aunt Robbi, and cousins Ian and Sydney.  They loved getting to see my little pirates, and my pirates loved seeing people they love.

We came home, ate dinner, and headed out for Grandpa Tom's church.  They were having their second annual "Trunk and Treat", where members of the congregation decorate their car trunks and pass out candy to children from the church and neighborhood. The boys loved seeing their grandparents and thought that the cars were pretty cool, too.

Once we got back home, Dan took the boys around the neighborhood, while I stayed home to man the door.  I was really impressed at how polite the trick or treaters were, and the boys had fun on their short adventure.

It was a great evening overall.  Our little pirates were adorable, even if they had been planning for months to be a knight and a dragon.  (Last minute changes made possible by the dress up box...) Now, off to "check" their candy (and hope for a butterfinger...).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nearly a month...

It's been nearly a month since I've written, and looking back I'm not sure where it has gone. Ok - that isn't exactly true. It's been full. Really full. But so full that I think I am just going to have to give it one massive update, or we'll be catching up for months.

So, here's where it went:

1. At the end of September we lost our cat, Oden. He had been sick off and on the entire time we had him, and after many vet visits and all kinds of exams, there really wasn't a clear issue or a solution. Oden was Max's cat, and of course he was pretty upset. I was glad we had the fish episode to prepare him, and the one positive thing was that we had a few weeks to get ready. Still, there's not much more pitiful than watching Max haul the dead cat in a laundry basket around the house for a couple days before he was ready for us to bury him. And something a little funny? Luke still tells people that his orange cat is "very, very sick in a deep, deep hole".

2. We went to the beach with my parents. What was supposed to be a crabbing weekend became a arcade, swimming pool, air hockey weekend. The 55 mph winds just weren't conducive to being out in a skiff, but we had a wonderful time anyway. I was so happy to see the boys so happy to be in the pool every day, and they loved riding their bikes up and down the promenade.

Max loving the pool

3. Just after coming back from the beach, my grandmother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. We could hardly believe it. Fortunately, I am part of an amazing family that has worked hard to rally around her, and we are really thankful that she is still feeling well. My aunt and cousin were able to come to town, my mom came up, and my uncles who live in town have all worked hard to get appropriate care established. Now we just love her up as much as we can.

4. While my family was gathering, we were also joined by my wonderful sister-in-law for a weekend. It is always so fun to have her around. She is such a kind, considerate, crazy-smart person, and the boys adore her. We just wish she lived closer!

5. We were also lucky enough to have my sister and her family join us for a week. (Well, my hard working brother in law flew out, back, back out, and then home again within a week to help my sister get my niece and nephew out here.) Max and Luke were so happy to have their cousins around, and I loved cuddling with the princess (my niece Savannah) and the peanut (my nephew Asher). My sister and I got a couple of nights out together, and she even helped me attempt to shop. They are such easy guests, and we miss them already.

Alex reading to Max and Luke

Asher, 4 months

6. Speaking of great guests, there was also my Mom. She was here for about a week and a half, and in that time she kept the house clean, helped my Grandma, fixed dinners, cleaned out my pantry, and read countless bedtime stories. I don't know how she manages to do all she does, but she sure makes our life easier when she is around.

7. Dan and I got a weekend away. One of my best friends from high school got married in Vegas the weekend we were at the beach (we got to watch it all online - so very cool!), and his reception was in our hometown. While we were there we got to sleep in, watch a movie (The Social Network), shop (successfully this time), and catch up with friends I hadn't seen in years.

8. We also hit the pumpkin patch. Taking all four kiddos, my fabulous mother in law, sister in law, sister, and Dan to the world's busiest pumpkin patch was quite an adventure, but the weather was incredible and the kids had a lot of fun picking out pumpkins, playing in the mazes, and riding the mini merry go round. It was a bit of seasonal fun amidst all the other craziness.

Savannah, Max, and Luke (in disguise, apparently)

Erin, Asher (in the pouch), and Savannah
9. And finally, we spent a LOT of the last month outside. Portland has enjoyed a gorgeous fall - sunny skies, weather in the 60's kind of days. Nearly every day the boys have come home from school and spent an hour or more riding their bikes and scooters in the driveway and garage. They get quite the little loop going, and the chance to spend time outside has done wonders for all of our moods. Max has developed his balance on his scooter and glider bike, and Luke loves to bomb down the hill on the "big bike" (12 incher with training wheels). The laughter and fun they have together out there is such a nice way to wind down from the day. I'll be pretty sad when it's too wet to do any more.

Savannah riding a bike

So, that's what we've been up to in October. A busy, fun, emotional, FULL month. We're so lucky to have such wonderful family in our lives, and this was a great few weeks for really paying attention to just that.

Pumpkin carving

Monday, October 4, 2010

A small harvest...

It's been an interesting year for gardening. Every year I learn so much about the process. But sometimes I think the biggest lesson I learn in gardening is just how much is OUT of my control.

This year has been a little strange - a very cool summer, with a very wet June. Our first rounds of cucumbers and squash all rotted out, and the second round was late getting started. The beans never really got going - beyond a handful at a time, there were never enough beans for a meal. The chard varied between not growing at all, and leaves that were baked hard from too much sun exposure.

Our large tomatoes have only been getting red in the last week - and most are showing signs of evenings that are too cool. The blueberries did well - but this was only their first year in ground, so the harvest was small. Squash? Overcrowded vines didn't allow for much fruit.

We really only had a few successes this year. Our eggplants grew well, and turned out many fruits (too bad I'm the only one who likes them!). The hops plant provided enough hops for one batch of home brew. And our cherry tomatoes - Sungolds, primarily - have been amazing. And since that's our favorite, it's the only one that really matters.

So, lots of frustrations in the garden, and few moments of glory. Was it worth it?

Of course. The reason I garden is only very partially for the harvest. No, I garden because I want my boys to know how food grows. I want to remember my grandparents, amazing tomato growers. I want an excuse to be outside. And I want to try something that pushes me to let go of my need to control everything.

So, while I still have the beds to clear and soil to mulch, I'm already planning for next year. How about you?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Apple picking time...

I'll get back to revisiting summer soon, but while it's still fresh, I thought I would share today's trip to the apple orchard. To say I've been a little overwhelmed since school started would be an understatement. Every evening has been filled with preparing for the next day, and this weekend I have plenty of grading to do. But I needed a break, and the weather is only supposed to get worse. Dan and the boys appeased my pleas to head to Parkdale and the Kiyokawa Orchards.

Despite the gray skies, the drive there was beautiful. Instead of taking grading in the car, I took my latest knitting project and made a real mini-vacation of it. It was so nice to sit and listen to Car Talk podcasts and knit rather than think about students and grades. Just what I needed today.

The orchard was busy, but the u-pick areas were nearly empty. We all headed out to pick the three varieties that were ready - Sansa, Akane, and Ginger Golds. Max is becoming quite the experienced picker, and it was fun to watch him really search for the best apples - even if that meant he had to get up on Daddy's shoulders. Lucky for us, they also had u-pick strawberries and peaches - both of which were beautiful and perfectly ripe. Luke may have eaten more berries than he picked, but the grin on his face was worth it.

The orchard was also offering free hayrides around the farm, while the owner shared a little of the history and told us about his father's start of the orchards. The boys loved the ride, and I liked hearing about the place we've been visiting for the last several years.

Tomorrow I will work on canning some peaches for the first time, and applesauce will be made next weekend. Strawberries are cleaned and ready to be used in smoothies this winter. And my mind is just a little clearer.

A day well worth it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Max's first sleepover...

Just a warning: the next few posts will be catch-up posts. There were so many things that we enjoyed this summer that I haven't gotten a chance to share.

In our house, birthday parties are every-other-year occurrences. Max gets them on even numbered years, Luke on odd years. But we still want the non-party years to be special.

This year Max really wanted to have a sleepover, and his ideal sleepover guest was his good buddy, Ollie. Ollie is a member of our playgroup, and they have known each other since they were about 2 months old. They get along perfectly, and we love having Ollie around. We were thrilled when he accepted Max's invitation.

I was prepared for anything - arguing, homesickness, staying up all night. NONE of that happened. Now, they didn't fall asleep until about 10:30, but it was the smoothest, most fun evening. The boys played legos, ate pizza, and dressed up. They slept in sleeping bags and giggled as they made shadow puppets. And they woke up with the bedhead and sleepy eyes that are universal signs of a good sleep over.

I am so happy that Max has such great little friends. I'm glad he wants to bring them to our home. And I am glad it all went so well. We can't wait to do it again!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Week of First Days...

This last week was a week of first days of school. It's always a busy, crazy week. The biggest goal is just to get through it. My students started on Tuesday, so even though I had been back to work for a week, that was my first REAL day. And even though I have had 12 first days as a teacher, it still makes me feel on edge - like a big audition for something.

Wednesday was Max's first day. Now, for a lot of his buddies, this was a FIRST DAY of major magnitude. They are all starting Kindergarten, after all. But Max's start of Kindergarten came on a much more mellow scale. He is doing his K year at Harmony, the same place (same classroom, same teacher, many of the same friends) he loved last year. No hesitation for this kiddo - he was ready to go! And, of course, the first day went well. He's glad to be back, and is right back to work.

Now, the big first day of the week was for Luke. This year Luke is also going to be at Harmony (in the classroom across the hall form Max). He was so excited to start preschool on Friday and go to "big kid" school like Max. And of course, in his typical Luke fashion, he was super laid-back about it all. No nerves, no tears. In fact, the only issue of the day was when he told me at pick-up that he "wasn't a very good listener" in his early care. (According to Max there were no issues, so we aren't sure what he meant by that!) Other than that, he loved painting and dancing with his buddy, Ben.

I am so happy that the one who seems to have the hardest time with first days is me. And I'm not sure how we got so lucky to have two little boys who will jump right into a new routine and new adventure without batting an eye. And I couldn't be more thankful that the week of first days is over!

On to week two!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Goodbye, Sam...

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that our beta, Sam, wasn't eating his food. As this continued, I knew we were looking at the end sooner rather than later. On Friday, he was doing the half-hearted swim, and the slow drift to the bottom of the bowl. Ugh. I decided that it was better to prepare the boys rather than surprise them with his impending death.

I called Max over to watch him for a moment. The struggle with swimming, the old food floating in the bowl, and the look on my face must have said it all. "Mom, is Sam going to die?" And I answered yes. He asked a few more questions, and then went off to play.

Yesterday, Sam was at the bottom. His little fish soul had moved on to bigger bowls. I told Max that Sam had died, and when asked what we would do with his body, I replied that we would flush him. Fortunately Dan was there to step in when the deep worry and fear crossed Max's face. "Or....we could bury him in the back yard, if you want." And that was it. We'd be having a fish funeral in the yard.

Today was the day. The boys were out riding bikes in the driveway when I carried the bowl out to let them know it was time. I figured they were over it. After all, I'd already agreed that we could get a new fish in a couple of days. And as far as Luke was concerned, it was done - old fish out, new fish in.

Max was a different story. I hadn't realized how upset he was about it all until I proposed the flowerbed closest to the garage (get it over and done as soon as possible, right?). Well, that would just not do for Sam's final resting place. Max wanted a spot IN the grass. Fortunately, our local mole had already disturbed a perfect fish-size patch. We dug a hole, placed Sam in, and covered him up. The boys each shared something they liked about Sam ("He was a fish" from Luke, and "He was the prettiest, best, first pet I ever had" from Max). Luke headed back to the bikes. Max said he wanted some time with Sam, and I went in the house.

Twenty minutes later, he was still sitting there, with tears streaming down his cheeks. He wanted to make a headstone. I tried to explain that for mowing purposes we couldn't just leave a rock in the middle of the yard. Couldn't we just put one in the dirt nearby? Certainly not. No, we needed to MOVE Sam to the flowerbed where his tombstone could stay. Did I do it? Of course. My baby lost his first pet, after all.

Exhumation and reburial complete, Max and I searched the yard for the perfect rock. And in his five-year-old hand, he wrote "SAM" in permanent marker. We laid it on top of the new spot. And then he stayed there for another 20 minutes.

While it wasn't how I planned on spending an hour of an already-too-full day, the Burial of Sam was a good reminder. Loss hurts - and it isn't up to me as the parent to determine how much any loss might hurt. I'm glad Max cared enough to be sad. It shows character and understanding of the value of life. It shows that he really did notice the poor little fish I often thought he forgot. And it helped me to slow down and listen to what his heart needed.

Thanks, Sam, for the lessons...

Friday, September 3, 2010

The fifth birthday...

We're nearly a month past, but that doesn't mean that it's too late to share some memories of Max's 5th birthday. Well, maybe birthdays is more accurate. We do birthday parties every other year in this house (this year is Luke's, next year is Max's), so on these smaller celebrations we have celebrated with both sides of the family at different times.

Max's actual birthday fell at the end of our week at the beach. With the marvelous help of Aunt Carrie we decorated the living and dining area of the house the night before, and he was thrilled to come upstairs to the surprise of pirates and balloons. Then he and I hopped in the car (in his pajamas - a real treat) and went to the donut shop. The day was spent at the beach and playing Frisbee in the backyard. By request of the birthday boy we had pizza for dinner, and he got to open his gifts.

His second birthday was a couple of days later when my parents came up to celebrate with us. We opened gifts and were joined at Montage (a local restaurant that serves many types of macaroni and cheese - Max's favorite) by GiGi (my grandma) and her boyfriend, Jack, and my uncle and his friend. It was so nice to have everybody join us, and Max just reveled in the attention.

If there were one word to describe Max's birthdays, that word would be LEGOS. He has been in love with them for a while now (that will have to be a whole other post), and he was very clear that he hoped that is what people would get him. To put it mildly, he was not disappointed. In fact, last week he finally finished building the last of his birthday gifts. He even got a cool Lego soccer watch from Aunt Carrie.

Seriously, though, I can hardly believe I have a five year old. Time has gone so quickly, and I am having so much fun with the person he is growing into. He is a sensitive soul with a wicked laugh. He still loves to cuddle with anyone who will hold him (although he holds a special place for all of his grandparents), but is hard pressed to stay still for too long. He loves to ride bikes and scooters (another birthday gift), play basketball, and read. Conversations with adults come easily for him, and he'll chat anyone up. He is starting Kindergarten this year, but is staying at his Montessori school. He and Luke love playing together and Ollie and Eli are his best buddies. We are so proud of him.

I can't wait to see the joy and changes that being 5 brings!