Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Suddenly, it's Christmas

Can you believe it is the middle of December?  I remember when the month of December seemed to last forever.  Alas, time just keeps speeding up.

Sorry for the disappearing act over the past weeks.  As many of you know, my father died right before Thanksgiving and I was in North Dakota for a couple of weeks.  He had been declining in health for the last few years as a result of pulmonary fibrosis, so no one was shocked.  My time at home was really nice, despite the sadness we all felt.  I got to see my niece and her husband and both of my nephews.  It was really helpful to be with my family.  I actually had fun. 

My dad was such a good person.  He was a sweet, sensitive, funny, friendly, helpful, gracious, wonderful guy.  We heard so many lovely things about him from friends and family.   We all miss him a lot.  It is weird when someone whose presence you take for granted dies.  Even though I knew it was imminent, I didn't and couldn't really understand what it would be like.  My friend Josephine, whose dad died several years ago, told me that the finality was the hardest part and I agree.  I can't really believe I won't be seeing him again.  I'm really happy I got to have him as my dad. 

When I got back, life was happening full bore.  I took a few days to really get back into the swing of things.  But I can say I'm almost done with the Christmas shopping, I've baked some cookies with my kids (which really entails telling them to not put things in the bowl and to stop eating the dough while they watch me) and done some decorating.  I finished an "advent calendar" (of sorts) project I was working on before our trip, but had to shorten it to 16 days rather than the usual 24.  I got the idea from Craftastica via Crafty Crow.  (For those of you who don't know Crafty Crow, it is a site where they post the best of crafts for kids found on blogs.  It is like one stop shopping.)  If you click on the link, you can see why I was attracted to it.  Paper, magazines, recycling!  Here's mine:
I cut my bag in 1/2 because I had to use it inside out and I had fewer pockets.

The little pockets hold (mostly) paper ornaments or ornament projects for the kids to do that coordinate with Christmas books.  We pull the ornament out, then read the book.  We've been hanging the ornaments on a cord over the fireplace.

The kids made these fingerprint snowmen.
So far we've read: The Little Christmas Tree, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Too Many Mittens, Snowmen at Night, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, and Who Will Guide My Sleigh Tonight?  We have several more to go.  I love Christmas books.  I think I buy them for me as much as for the kids.

Last weekend, Nick and I took the kids to Breakfast with Santa, which I have renamed Breakfast Adjacent to Santa, because Santa spends the whole time in the next room with kids on his lap.  The Circle K group at Westfield State puts it on and it is very popular.  You get breakfast, crafts, clowns and the accompanying balloon things (you know, it's not just animals anymore) and face painting. 
Here are some scenes:
Look what we made!

I love Santa's boots.

Life is good with a balloon sword.

As many of you know, Willa loves getting her face painted.  She, my rarely patient child, will wait for a long, indefinite amount of time to get this done.  Here's the results on Saturday.  It was a long wait, but worth it to her!
"RARR!" to quote herself.  I was going to take pictures for the Christmas card that day, but didn't think about it until after the masterpiece was complete.  It was a beautiful day and would have been great for photography.  I thought, "I'll just do it tomorrow." 

Sunday was rainy and bleak.  But we tried anyway.  Tried, and failed.  Here are a few choice shots from the session:

Nick and I laughed out loud at this one.  It looks like she took his head off and is holding up for everyone to see.

This is the best one from the day:
It is a little odd.  Nick thinks it doesn't look like our kids.  I think Willa looks angry. Needless to say, we didn't use any of these in the card.  Our card has a whole autumn theme going on.  That's a little odd too, but I don't really care at this point.  I think a tiger would've been even worse.

We had a fun weekend, but missed you though.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I'm going to start this blog by bragging. Just a little.  I guess you might just call it reporting, but I might not "report" as much if it wasn't positive.  Last week Nick and I met with Willa's teacher for our first official Parent-Teacher Conference.  I was kind of nervous, but not too much, as the one comment I had already heard from Mrs. O'Conner was "Willa is a crack-up!".  It seems Willa is doing very well and more importantly her teacher really likes her.  She called her "delightful" and "fun to be with".  Willa is one of those kids that can be frustrating for those who demand a bit more control in their lives than, let say, me.  So I am very relieved that her first teacher appreciates the happy-go-lucky, eager-beaver, goof that is my daughter.  I hope future teachers will be as positive. She did comment that Willa is a wiggler, but she is improving and seems to understand her limitations as far as that is concerned.  Her academic work is right on, so no concerns there.

This weekend I spent trying to read a book that had completely sucked me in.  You know, one of those mysteries with great characters and interesting setting.  Can't say it transcended it's genre, but it was a page turner.  That said, my kids spent a lot of time playing with their dad.

I really like seeing them all play together.  With me it is book reading, project doing, puzzle-making or toy based: stuff that is kind of low-key and creative with certain rules and structure.  With Dad it is different: more physical with random made-up games and scenarios (and so still creative).   In the pictures below, they were playing a game where the giraffe and crocodile puppets were defending their turf from encroaching children.  The kids were taking turns between the puppets and being the sneaker. 
Here's Dad playing while watching soccer on the computer!

Willa tries to sneak into the lair of the giraffe and crocodile.

I don't think the giraffe is attacking here, but perhaps.  Yes, she has chocolate milk on her face (not the giraffe, Willa).

Can't leave out pic of Lego Star Wars play.  Nick looks like a Jawa.
Of course there is also the beloved Lego video games.  I think Nick and Willa finished Star Wars the other day.

I did take time off from my book on Sunday to go outside with the kids.  Saturday morning the English honor society from Westsfield State came to our yard and raked leaves as a fundraiser.  We didn't have them bagged as we want to use it as mulch/compost, leaving a large pile of leaves in the side yard just perfect for jumping into!

I guess they got hot because they took off their coats.  I was cold, as usual.  Perhaps I should have jumped with them.  They had a great time and brought their friends from next door over to jump later in the day.  I think even the 9 and 11 year old got into it.

I finished my book yesterday and I'm kind of relieved to get back to my life.  I guess I shouldn't read those kind of books until the kids grow up.  I'll have a lot of reading to look forward to! 

It is getting colder and we had our first itty-bitty amount of snow Sunday night.  I think our outdoor adventures are going to be fewer as winter comes on.  We'll have to commit to some indoor adventures from now on.  We all enjoy getting out and seeing new things and I like writing about them.

As you can see, all is good here with us, though, we miss you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


We started this weekend with kids-birthday-party craziness.  Cal's birthday is Halloween, but rather than have all the holiday insanity packed into one day, I decided to spread it out over the weekend and had his party on Saturday.  Before the party, Nick and I ran around cleaning, getting snacks and balloons, decorating etc.  Cal fell asleep in the car!  We had to wake him up when his guests started to arrive. 

The party was a whirlwind! Ten kids six and under (most were 3), and a couple of older kids, plus parents and baby siblings attended.  I had three activities planned including cupcakes and thought that would fill two hours.  I was sadly mistaken. For some reason, I thought because they are so young, it would take them longer to do things, but no. Because they are young, their attention span is very short. Duh. We made monster masks, then had a pumpkin hunt outside.  Both were fun, just short, together taking a half an hour. So, I went ahead with cupcakes and Happy Birthday song, all of which took another half hour.  That left an hour to fill. 


Birthday Boy

Nice face!
These are the only pictures taken by our camera that day that weren't blurry (well, too blurry anyway).  And I didn't even take the last two.  I was too busy running around.

As for what to do with the last hour of the party, I took suggestions.  "Why didn't you just let them play with toys?" you ask?  Well, the moments between activities when they defaulted to that were incredibly chaotic and crazy.  I felt I need to exercise a little control.

Nick's sister mentioned a game they played at her daughter's party which consisted of dancing during the music and freezing when it stopped.  The kids enjoyed that for two songs.  Then I felt the tide turning again.  Next, Nick brought out Hullabaloo, a game that involves following instructions to move to different shaped, colored, and be-pictured pads.  It's fun and easy.  They enjoyed that for a while but when I next looked, there were only two kids playing.  Then one of the three year olds wanted to play Duck, Duck, Goose.  Yay!  Some of them had no idea how to play and none of the Geese wanted to catch the Gooser.  There was a lot of running all over the place, but they were having fun, so who cares!  Finally, Willa mentioned going outside, which was a brilliant suggestion because the kids ran around chasing each other, played with the trike, wagon, etc., and drew on our vast driveway with chalk.  Everyone was happy and I finally relaxed! 

When the kid party was over, the family party raged on.  Well, raged might be overstating it.  I collapsed into a chair with a glass of wine and let Nick take over (it was mostly his friends and family).  Thankfully he was totally amenable.  I had a lovely evening in my chair with my wine, letting Nick bring me food.  The kids happily messed up the house with Cal's birthday gifts and played with their cousin.  I was so exhausted, I can't remember what happened after everyone left.  Seriously, I'm sure it had nothing to do with the wine.

 Sunday we slept in (as much as kids would let us).  We cleaned up the leftover mess and then Nick made yummy french toast.  We let Cal open a couple of presents that remained unopened from the day before.  One was a long tube with 70, yes 70, little cars.  Not my favorite gift of the year.  We now need something to contain this traffic jam.  Cal was ecstatic. 

Nick escaped to work and Emily came over.  The kids spent the afternoon playing with Cal's new Play Doh Puppies Playset.  If you aren't familiar with this (and who is, really), it is a puppy whose Play Doh hair and tongue grow and who has molds for little puppies on her (I guess, right?) belly.  She also has molds for toys and treats all over her body.  The kids love it; I think it is kind of weird.   

I spent the afternoon carving our jack o' lantern.  I drew lots of faces until I landed on an owl.  Emily volunteered to scoop and did a great job getting out lots of goopy innards.  Willa was excited, but then grossed out. 

The masterpiece

I have to say, I really like this jack o' lantern and it wasn't terribly hard to carve. 

We sent Emily home to eat and get ready for the big event and then she and her mother met us back here.

Dorothy and Super Cal (he has a mask, but didn't want to wear it)

and a witch from next door.

We went out for about 45 minutes and then it got too cold for everyone.  We had our first freeze that night, so we weren't just being wimpy.  The kids got more than enough loot and came home cold and tired, but happy.

It was a crazy, fun weekend.  We missed you, though.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Adventures of a different sort

We took a break this weekend from our usual outdoor adventures.  I felt behind in lots of things (laundry), and we both agreed that the kids might like a weekend at home.

Saturday, we didn't really stay at home though...  Nick played soccer and the kids and I headed out to go to Trader Joe's.  It's a bit of trip, as it is about 45 minutes away in Hadley.  But, we gotta get the green juice... and the prepackaged Indian food, frozen garlic, edamame, molasses chews, etc.  Oh, and of course, laundry detergent.

Well, we intended to go, but didn't make it.  I was hungry and had a lack-of-caffeine headache, so I thought we could stop in at Wendy's quickly on the way out of town.   After 90 minutes of spilling water (three glasses, we each spilled one) and Willa's epic struggle to decide if a Frosty is worth eating one chicken nugget (it is), we left.  That gave us a half an hour before we were to pick up Nick.   So we defaulted to the craft store. 

Here are some Halloween crafts we have made or are in the process of making:

Our "egg sac".  This is my baby.  (I took picture this through our porch window.  I kind of like the ghostly quality.)

Paper cup bats
Spooky pictures
The last photo is of a project in progress.  We have 4 more pictures to "frame" in spooky ways.  Willa glued the beans on the frame on the left.  I bought different beans (pinto and lima -ewww) and some "creepy" pasta (cavatappi and rigatoni).   I wanted to hang these pictures on the wall around this:

 This is from Martha Stewart's October issue of Living.  I know.  She's evil. But she still has some good ideas, especially for Halloween.  I already have a grape-vine wreath languishing in my basement, but I can't find large size rubber snakes anywhere!  I can find lot of little snakes, but I think the assortment of sizes is key to the creepiness here.  I guess I'll have to order them online...

After the craft store, we found Nick who wanted to stop at the Game Stop.  Some of you may know that I tried to bribe Nick into finishing his dissertation with a gaming system (it didn't work), so we never bought one.  This fall, three years after achieving his Ph.D., he bought an XBOX 360 and with it several games including Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.  Lego Jones (as Cal call it) is the new favorite pastime of Willa, Cal and Nick (Cal just watches and gives tips).  Occasionally, I have to look up how to solve a level on the internet, or jump in when Willa gets too scared or excited to play, but generally I just stay out of it.  Willa is awesome at finding solutions to these puzzles. She's not so good at killing spiders.

At the Game Stop we bought the Lego Star Wars game, which they started up last night.  Perhaps now we'll add a new song to our repetoire of movie theme songs we sing in the car other than the Indiana Jones theme "Da da da daa, da da daaaa".

Post Game Stop,  Nick took us the back way (which was very lovely and pastoral) into Connecticut for pumpkins.  I'm kind of a pumpkin snob.  I like a variety of colors, types, sizes, textures.  Usually I spend more than I want or I get less than I want due to cost, but this year, Nick found the best pumpkin place yet.  A farm selling their own pumpkins, squash, gourds and super cheap.  Really big Jack-O'-Lanterns for $2!  Willa and I picked out 13 specimens and I have to say, I think we did a great job.  Well, perhaps we overdid it, but it was fun. 

Please never mind the dying flowers.  A couple of the smaller gourds and one of the smallest pumpkins came from our own garden and one of the sugar pumpkins Cal got during his preschool trip to a farm.  The rest are from our new favorite pumpkin people in CT.

Sunday was spent at home doing the aforementioned catching up.  I won't bore you with the details of my day.  Willa and Cal got to play with Emily, our neighbor and Nick did an errand he had been putting off.  Did you know you could return a used fire grate?  Amazing.  

We had a nice weekend, but we missed you, though. 

An original Willa, subject: bats and pumpkins.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Others: Cows and People

Perhaps you all are tired of hearing about our outdoor adventures.  Well, we are not tired of taking them!  Sorry.   Here's a post from a site I just found about another family who, much more intentionally than Nick and I, are doing something similar.

Saturday we re-visited a hike we took much earlier in the fall. Tyringham Cobble is a wonderful hike for kids.  Not very strenuous, different environments, cool sights. Things were so different from early September. You begin the hike by walking through a pasture.   Last time there were flowers with bees and butterflies, warm sun, green, yellow, purple.

 This time, the pasture had been cut, hay bales removed.  The weather was much cooler with clouds and occasional sprinkles.
That's me stepping around cow poop.

The next part of the hike takes you through some woods and clearings that were full of goldenrod at the beginning of September.  

We call this Turkey Rock

Parts of the Cobble had been cleared in the past by farmers and Shakers owned the property at one time.  You can see old apple trees, junipers, and lots of wild flowers in this section.  Here it is in mid October.

Then you climb up to the top, which is very rocky and affords fabulous views.


The climb down is through woods which leads to another open area.  You end up back at the pasture you entered through. 

The only blooming goldenrod on our October hike!

Willa watches cows.

Aww. Baby.

When we got back to the pasture, cows had moved in and were all around us eating and drinking (and doing other cow stuff).  The kids were thrilled to be so close them and see lots of babies.  It was cool.  I can proudly say, I am not jaded when it comes to cows.  :)

Sunday, we had different company on our hike.  People.  We went to Purgatory Chasm near Worcester where it was quite crowded.  I can't blame them.  It is a spectacular environment to see and explore and it was such a lovely day.   I was a bit put off at first, as we usually see one to five groups who we pass or pass us quickly on our walks.  But this place was like a mall the week before Christmas!   The amazing surroundings won me over and I decided to be excited that so many families were outside exercising and appreciating nature. 
The Chasm is believed to have its origin in the sudden release of dammed-up glacial melt-water near the end of the last Ice Age, approximately 14,000 years ago.  It is an amazing spot! (I keep using that word, but I can't think of a better one.)  Cal seems to love scrambling and climbing, so he was in his element.  Willa also liked it, but she was enjoying pretending to be scared.  She loves the drama.

Willa and I check out a cave.

Here she is "scared".

You climb down into the chasm over giant boulders.  Caves and crevices are formed by the rocks making tiny spaces where many non-claustrophobic folks were exploring.  Not me.

Looking up you see sheer rock cliffs, popular with climbers.  There are trees grasping on to the rocks with their roots.  Have I mentioned this is an amazing place? 

Once you are out of the Chasm, there are other spots on the property to explore, though the kids were not inclined to do so.  We followed the loop around up to the top of the Chasm, which was just as fun.

Willa, as usual, hamming it up. 
 After leaving the Chasm, Willa and Nick went to the sliding rock: a large expanse of rock at a good incline for sliding.  I was concerned for her pants and her bottom, but she found some cardboard and had fun sliding.
Cal had turned into a big whiner and the only thing keeping him going at this point was the promise of the playground (or gayground as he calls it).  It was a fun playground which included a merry-go-round!  I haven't seen one of those in a long time.  I thought they went the way of the real teeter-totter.  All the kids were attracted to it, but Cal couldn't get the hang of waiting for it to stop spinning before trying to get off.  He had a couple of harrowing moments, then gave it up for other, less frightening areas.

We had a great day, topped off by Mexican food (including a Margarita).  Hard to beat that.

We missed you, though.