Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer: 35 Days (The Lemonade Stand)

Yesterday was devoted to the lemonade stand! (I forgot how much work it is for the supervising adult.) The kids turned it into a mini garage sale by also selling toys and books. We sold all the lemonade and only one game: Boggle Jr. The many hours spent sitting at the stand were made more fun by our new neighbors joining in.

Real lemons from Grandma Reynolds' tree.

Tie Dye!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer: 40 some days (Necessity is the mother of relationships)

Slowing checking off my summer bucket list.

Today was tie dye, peaches and strawberries, picnic dinner at Descanso Gardens (with live music) and back home for root beer floats.

Kate has also been working on a bright green sun dress at a sewing class all week and Will has been sweating to death with his cousin Ty at baseball camp from 1-5. Even though he complains about the heat, I'm sure he's enjoying it because he wants to play catch with me in the backyard every waking minute. I rotate ten throws to him and ten throws of the frisbee to Elizabeth. (No one wants to be left out!) The baby is lucky she hasn't been hit in the head with either yet.

Elizabeth has been having fun in the "clubhouse" she made in her bottom bunk by hanging her quilt over the side of the top bunk. She has about 15 board games, 20 books and a bunch of plastic jewelry all crammed in there with her already overflowing stash of stuffed animals. I made a horrible racket tonight when I climbed into bed with her for her nightly snuggle.

Tonight at Descanso Gardens I was able to do one of my favorite things.

I made a really yummy chinese chicken salad for our dinner and had all the bowls, napkins, drinks and everything packed so nice and compact, but as soon as we walked through the gates I realized I had forgotten eating utensils!! I went over to the cafe but it was closed for the night, so I lamely looked in the gift shop to see if they had anything. (Did I really think I would find a package of plastic forks next to the lavendar sugar and dragonfly tea cups??) That's when I did something that never fails to embarrass and then reluctantly impress my husband: I got what I needed by asking for help.

Not only do I not have qualms about asking for directions, help, favors, or things to borrow, I especially enjoy making requests of complete strangers. In fact, we met some of our very dearest friends because (despite my husband's protests) I randomly knocked on their door to see if I could borrow some computer paper. I have a new saying as of five minutes ago: necessity is the mother of all relationships. It's my little experiment with humanity and the results rarely fail me: people like to be helpful! People like to feel someone needs them and that they can deliver! And when people help other people they are naturally drawn to each other while simultaneously feeling good about themself. What could be better than that?

One of the best reactions I ever got from my experiment was just last year at a gas station. I needed to fill my tires with air and I remember having a question about the little air pressure gauge thingy but there were no service people around. I looked over and saw a very nicely dressed, stuffy-looking older man putting gas in his very expensive looking car. (Brandon would roll his eyes at this point because I wouldn't know what kind of car it actually was.) I caught him totally off guard when I asked him about the air pressure gauge thingy. I wish I could adequately describe his reaction. He almost leapt to my aid! He seemed so genuinely excited to be able to help and by the end of our exchange, my simple plea for help had him quite convinced he was not only helpful, but in fact a very good person. I love it! By simply asking someone for the help I really need I help them to feel they are a good and decent human being. Isn't that fun?

So the lady in the gift shop at Descanco Gardens really wanted to help me and went completely out of her way by going over to the break room and rummaging through all the drawers until she came up with four forks and a spoon. Perfect! I got what I needed, she felt good about herself and we both had a nice, happy interaction with a stranger leading us to feel the world wasn't such a bad place after all. The world needs more of this.

The application of this to motherhood is an easy one. As mothers, we often get in the habit of doing it all: all the housework, all the cooking, all the laundry - you name it. But as children get older if we continue to do everything for them we not only deprive them of the opportunity to feel capable, good, and helpful, but we also deprive ourselves of the relationship building that comes from asking for and receiving help.

A little warning here. There are different ways to ask for help. "Get in here and clean your room this instant!" is not what you're going for. Neither is the super sweet, slightly guilt trippy, "Okay, isn't anyone going to help mommy clean up the living room?" What I'm talking about is a genuine request for age appropriate help that can be filled by one of your children. I find when I ask them as I would ask another adult and they can sense that I really would benefit from their specific assistance, they actually move pretty quickly. Not only do I get much needed help, they feel good about themselves and our relationship is improved. Win, win, triple win.

So the next time you find yourself in a serious bind and need an extra set of hands, go ahead and ask one of your kids to help you out. No demanding, no guilt tripping, no nagging. Just ask and wait to be pleasantly surprised. Necessity really is the mother of all relationships.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer: 42 Days

I woke up depressed. Mostly because I was super duper tired from 2 nights in a row of very little sleep. The baby must be teething or SOMETHING! This was not good timing as I was at the end of my 5 day single mom marathon. (Hats off to the true single moms out there . . .) I was also depressed because even though Brandon came home the night before, we didn't get two minutes to talk to each other before I spontaneously feel asleep. Now he was back at work bright and early. His alarm woke me up but I couldn't pull myself out of bed until he was gone and now it was too late to go to the Y or make a quick trip to the grocery store alone.

Despite this, once the kids started rousing I went into auto pilot and started pulling myself together. Thank goodness for little people that need me. It would be way too easy some days to just lay in bed and do nothing which never makes anyone feel good.

My oldest daughter asked about the Wii and that's when I knew it was time to get ourselves to the library. We spent an hour there getting some really good books for all of the kids, but Kate's Newberry Award winners look especially good. I'd like to read them myself. We then dropped her off at her sewing class and Will invited the new neighbor boy over for a couple of hours. Back to pick up Kate, picked up our cousins, dropped Kate off at her friend's house for swimming and dropped Will and the cousins off at baseball and basketball camps. Back home again to meet Elizabeth's playdate for the afternoon while I did laundry, housecleaning and made zucchini brownies for another neighbor who left a HUGE zucchini on our porch. We ended up eating zucchini brownies for dinner and then picked up Kate and her friend to go to Baskin Robbins for $1 scoop day. Brandon met us there. (Yep, you read that right: brownies for dinner, ice cream for dessert. These are not ordinary brownies, though. I make them with whole wheat flour and they are chock full of zucchini. Come on!)

Back home to throw some baseballs and frisbees around the backyard for awhile and now the kids are watching a movie with Kate's friend who is here for a "late over". (This is an alternative to "sleep overs" which I am not a fan of for various reasons . . .)

While the kids were watching the movie, Brandon and I finally caught up while I made some chicken scampi, baked potatoes and ceasar salad for him and whoever else wanted some - just in case you were worried about it.

It's almost 10:00 and everyone but the baby is still awake. And I don't even mind. I love summer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer: 44 Days (What I Learned From Taking My Kids To The Beach)

Day 4 of Brandon in the Grand Canyon. Now that it's my last night without him I feel safe enough to write about him being gone just in case an ax murderer happens to read this. I get so paranoid and irrational at night when he is gone that I can't go to sleep. The first night (Thursday) I was too exhausted to do anything productive but too crazy to go to sleep, so I watched multiple episodes of The Office on the computer until I literally couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. 1 am. So dumb. I was sure I heard the ax murderer creeping around outside the house. Do I think if I'm awake to hear his entry I might be able to stop him more effectively? I could call 911 more quickly because I also sleep with the phone in my bed when he's gone. It's totally ridiculous. The baby woke up at 4am and was fussy off and on until Elizabeth woke up around 7:30. This almost always happens when I'm dumb enough to stay up late.

Despite the lack of sleep, I got into high gear and had everyone ready for their last day of Johnson's Camp and "Crazy Hair Day". Kate went with electric blue buns, Elizabeth with blue ponies and Will with a bright orange mohawk. They were sure one of them would win. I had my doubts since Will came back defeated last Friday. (He taped some of the Alpaca wool to his chest. How could he not win? Seriously, that's hysterical!) After all our work, they were in fact defeated again.

Elizabeth went to a friend's house that afternoon and Kate, Will and I watched the 5th Harry Potter while the baby slept. Then we swam awhile at the neighbor's house and called it a day. My day ended with Kate showing me endless youtube clips of baby kittens. The same day we watched over the lost German Shepherd, the neighbors found four abandoned kittens. Kate thinks it's a sign. She is getting desperate.

I let her sleep with me on Friday night so it would force me to go to sleep as well. It worked! I don't know why my kids think it's such a kick to sleep with me when Dad is gone but I figure I should monopolize on these years when they actually want to be around me even if it drives me batty at times. They really do gravitate to me during the day in an uncanny fashion. Even in the bathroom. What's up with that?

I woke up on Saturday morning blessedly late (8am) and started thinking about the day. I wasn't up to taking everyone grocery shopping or running errands, I wouldn't be able to go to the gym, I certainly wasn't going to get anything done around the house with everyone home all day - what about the beach? We made it out the door with lunches packed by 9:45 and hit the sand before 10:30.

Things I learned from taking my four kids to the beach:

1. It's a REALLY long walk from the parking lot to the water with four kids, one beach umbrella, two beach chairs, one packed and heavy cooler, one kite, one bag of sand toys, four beach towels and one more random bag with swim diapers, etc. The baby insisted I carry her of course - yellow crocs intact.
2. Mexico has in fact taken back California.
3. Making sure the kite strings are untangled before putting it away is a really good idea.
4. Half melted Gogurt is NOT a good snack idea for children at the beach.
5. Kate and Will LOVE to boogie board! (I bought one from a "vendor" walking by, along with some fresh mango doused in lemon juice. Yum!)
6. Always put a swim diaper on those that need them. If you think they won't go in the water, they will.
7. Holding the hands of gleefully squealing children as they jump over waves never gets old.
8. Forget about preventing toddlers and small children from injesting sand and Doritos simultaneously. It's just going to happen so you may as well LET IT GO!
9. Glass jars are NOT good options for shell and sand crab collecting. They just might shatter and break under the tire of the car next to you and cut the finger of one of your children on the day you don't have 50 Sponge Bob Band Aids on your person.
10. Baby powder is the secret weapon for sticky, sandy diaper tush. Actually, we all used it for various parts of our body and it ROCKS! The sand just wipes right off. Why didn't I know about this sooner? (Thanks for the tip, Jeanine!) Being sand-free upon re-entering the car was imperative. Brandon took the mini-van to the Grand Canyon and left me with his irritatingly new car. I didn't want him to have a cow when he came home and found it covered in sand.

Last but certainly not least . . .

11. In-n-Out is the only meal option after a beach day. Animal style cheeseburger, fries and a shake thank you very much.

Even though I was pretty wiped when we got home, I cleaned out the car, got the kids showered and settled, handed them over to the babysitter and finally took Kate to see the sixth Harry Potter, wrapping up our marathon. It was great - and so fun to go to the movies with just the two of us! We stayed up late talking in the dark on her bed about the movie. When the conversation turned to cats I took off for my own bed where Will had already gone to sleep. (Tonight is Elizabeth's turn. She fell asleep while I was typing.)

I got my booty kicked today, but in not such a fun way. I'm too tired to write about it so I'll save it for another day.

SUPER SUMMER TALLY: Beach trip - check!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer: 48 Days

So I was messed up on my days. Not as much time as I thought. I'm doing pretty good on my list, but until Johnson's Camp is over we won't be doing any "field trips". (The baby naps in the afternoon which puts a damper on things.)

What we have done in the last few days:

*Fixed and adjusted everyone's bikes. We are lucky enough to live on one of the only flat streets in our neighborhood. Flat, quiet and shaded. The baby loves riding on the front of my bike in her IBERT. http://www.ibertinc.com/
*Kate had her first laundry lesson.
*I planted tomatoes and flowers. Kate and Will made cactus gardens.
*We made it through the first four Harry Potter movies in preparation for my big date with Kate this weekend to see the sixth. (Brandon is taking the scouts to the Grand Canyon so I'm getting a babysitter for me and Kate.)
*We made homemade mint oreo ice cream, taste tested it against our favorite brand (Breyers) and I vote HOMEMADE! We used our play and freeze ice cream ball we received from our super fun friends Scott and Betsy. http://icecreamrevolution.com/
*Kate has started working on the craft cupboard for me. I'm paying her. She's agreed to catalog all the home videos for money too. She wants to use the money to buy a cat. Brandon and I are allergic. She's obsessed.
*Lots of kids over to play. (We have new neighbors, and other friends who are moving.)
*Lots of swimming
*Lots of popsicles, peaches, corn on the cob and strawberries. (Should I mention chips?)
*I am LOVING the absence of TV! The kids don't even mention it and actually spend their free time reading, playing outside, making up games and doing crafts. Honestly, I think they fight less too.

Writing it out like this makes my life seem like one big party. Today's less than glamorous happenings involved lots and lots of paper work, a stray German Shepherd that my kids happily cared for while we waited for the animal shelter to come pick it up, the baby getting stung by a bee and screaming her head off, trying to administer eye drops for the baby's mild eye infection and her screaming her head off, and Brandon not getting home until 9pm tonight. He's on call every Wednesday. When he gets home that late it sometimes means my day ends a little on the crabby side. I'm like Cinderella with a curfew, but instead of midnight it's 9:00. After about 7:00 I start losing the ability to function like a responsible adult and if I don't have back up by 9:00 and the kids are still awake, the princess turns ugly. I have told the kids many times that I turn into "Allyson" after 9pm. I need just a wee little bit of space to be "me" every day. Just a bit. That's not too much to ask after providing a day of tasty food, fun and frivolity - is it?

What do I do with my free time? Write about my day with my kids.

I gotta go to bed.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer: 63 Days

Something my husband learned about me really early on is that I have no interest in cars whatsoever. I don't even notice them. I am always surprised when people talk about what kind of car so and so drives as if it were an identifying trait like hair color. I never know. To illustrate, when we were dating Brandon drove a green Bronco (just like the one in the great O.J. chase) and loves to tell the story about us coming out of a movie theater together and me walking over to a nearby green pick up truck thinking it was his car. Sadly, it's true. Not only can I not tell the difference between cars, I don't even care. The first car I ever owned was the one I inherited by virtue of getting married. This clueless characteristic carries over to all electronic devices. Brandon got me a new cell phone about a year ago and I still haven't figured out how to set up the voice mail. My kids discovered months after I had been using it that it was loaded with games. Why would I need games on my cell phone? In any case, my husband just got a new car with so many unnecessary extras I'm afraid to drive it. Not the least of which is the keyless ignition. Now what is the point of that? Especially if you have the keys in your hand anyway? This is nothing less than a boy toy. You have to press the brake in order to be able to push the ignition button. This only works if you are in the car holding the keys. (Again, why not just use the keys?) Off I went to return some clothes to Marshalls, the armpit of all shopping establishments in our area. (This is another thing about me that my husband does not understand - why I always return about a third of the things I buy.) I found a parking spot, pushed the button to turn the car off and started to get out of the car. But then I realized I didn't have the keys! I must have searched for ten minutes before I found them mixed in with the myriad of shopping bags on the floor of the car. If I had used the keys as they were intended to be used they would have already been in my hand. Where are you supposed to put the keys to the car if you aren't using them to drive? Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

Today's Super Summer Tally:

Johnson's Camp
Playdate with cousins and more swimming
Water balloon fight in the backyard
Stained glass sticker craft
Harry Potter 1 in preparation for next Wednesday

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer: 64 Days

Today's Super Summer Tally:

Johnson's Camp
Meet the Robinsons
Slip'n'Slide and wading pool
Corn on the cob, honeydew melon and lemonade.
Mastermind Jr.

Can you believe I cut my cable right before THE memorial and funeral?

(That's sarcasm.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer: 65 Days

As I write this, Kate is grooming the alpaca wool she carefully shampooed and conditioned earlier. She asked if she could use my husband's hairbrush to do it. Uh . . . no. She is changing every day. Growing up. She told me emphatically a couple of days ago that there were two phrases I was never to use in her presence again. "Tidy Up" and "Beddy Bye". I can see how that is annoying at her age so I will oblige (unless I am trying to goad her for fun) but it still cracked me up that she even said that.

My sweet Will is still young enough that he doesn't mind his mom. He is so affectionate with me. He hugs me all the time and recently told me it was my fault he likes me so much. He said he couldn't help but like me and it was my fault. Isn't that the cutest? He came home from Johnson's Camp today with a duck egg which he promptly wrapped in bandanas and put in his sock basket for incubating. Whoa. He also had fun experimenting with fire in the backyard today with his cousin Ty until I caught on to what they were doing. Double whoa.

Elizabeth is always trying so hard to keep up with the older two and get their attention and approval. It's a little tougher in the summer when they are all together more often. I often ask the kids at dinner what the highlight and lowlight of the day were and her highlight was going down the pool slide at Johnson's Camp 11 times. I'm told she went down with her eyes closed, arms up doing peace signs.

Rachael bosses me around all day long. I'm exhausted by the time Brandon walks in the door each night. Lately she wants to live on fruit snacks, gum and toothpaste. I don't know how this could have happened but I'm hiding all three from now on. I feel like the majority of my day is spent with her tugging at my leg and "yelling" at me to get something for her or go with her somewhere. It's one of the hardest things for me as the mother of young children. Even when I feel I am giving everything, it's never enough. And at some point I've got to do the laundry, make dinner, take a shower, etc! She wants me every second of the day, bless her little demanding heart.

Today's Super Summer Tally:

Johnson's Camp (Duck eggs and alpaca wool)
Playdate with cousins and a friend
Fun with fire :D
Excavation of pre-historic European fossils (A kit)
The movie "How To Eat Fried Worms"
More swimming
Watermelon and Rice Krispy Treats

Not bad.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer: 66 Days

The kids started their two favorite weeks of summer today: Johnson's Camp. It's from 9-1 at the home of a wonderful family in our church who have enough land for horses, alpaca, chickens and other animals. They also have a trampoline and swimming pool as well as various musical instruments they play so the kids rotate between games, music time, crafts, horse back riding and swimming. Today the kids brought home fresh chicken eggs and tomorrow they will be shearing the alpaca and bringing home wool for me to spin into a scarf or something. (Right!) I love them getting this kind of experience right here in the outskirts of L.A.- especially after visiting the "family farm" last week in Iowa. My grandparents sold it when I was 8 or 9 but I have so many fun, vivid memories from my childhood playing at that farm. I want my kids to experience a little flavor of that kind of life. The people that own the farm now don't have nearly as much land as my grand parents did but they do have a lot of animals. My oldest daughter figured out where the phrase "piggy back" came from when she saw the two pot bellied pigs "Wilbur" and "Charlotte" trying to mate. Then there was the baby calf named "Fillet" and the dangling beer cans with a sign that read "Red Neck Windchime". Yes, a little flavor of farm life! My sisters and I had a great time going up into the hay loft with our own kids like we used to when we were young and my mom could hardly believe it when we found pictures she had drawn as a young girl still on the wall going down to the cellar.

Back to today.

While the older kids were at Johnson's Camp I was dutifully waiting for the cable guy to come cut our cable for the next two months. (All part of my master plan for a summer of good, wholesome fun that doesn't involve SCREENS! I did upgrade my Netflix account, however.) I say dutifully because if I wanted to have the cable cut today the only time slot I could procure was between (get this) 8am and 9pm. Brilliant. So I dutifully waited at home all day (he showed up around 5pm) and easily filled the hours with backed up laundry, phone calls and paper work.

Going through backed up mail is no small feat in L.A. The amount of junk mail we receive on top of everything else is unbelievable. Even if you throw 80% of it away, you still have to go through it. (One of the first things I noticed when we moved here from Iowa was the difference in the junk mail. In Iowa it was for lawn care, in L.A. it is for plastic surgery.) We got so much mail in the one week Brandon was in Iowa that it was held at the post office for us. The really embarrassing part of this is that I already had a huge bin from the post office because I simply failed to get my mail for over a week before we left. I know, ridiculous isn't it? I have this crazy idea that if I don't get the mail, the paper work doesn't exist. I don't want to open that box until I'm ready to deal with what is inside and sometimes, I just don't want to deal with it. So I'm off to the post office tomorrow to get a bin refill. Seriously embarrassing.

I also found out today we have some new neighbors with young children so in the spirit of good wholesome neighborly summer fun I enlisted the help of the kids and we made "Magic Bars" to take over. They are still on the counter, though half of them have magically disappeared. I'm hoping to get the rest over there tomorrow.

Today's Super Summer Tally:

Johnson's Camp
Cut the cable
Magic Bars for the new neighbors.

Pretty good.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Iowa Part 3: I-80

Bugs on the windshield. Road kill. Hog farms. Pick ups and Harleys. Grain silos. Train tracks. Country music stations. Lots of white people. Big sky. Casey's and Kum & Go. Red barns and corn fields. Thick muddy rivers. Antique malls. American flags painted on barns. Homemade signs that read, "Brown Eggs, Strawberries, Rhubarb" or "God is Pro-Life, Are You?". Water towers. The Hawkeye Motel. Cattle. Thunderheads. Neatly manicured lawns with plastic animals. Truck washes. Clover, black eyed susans, Queen Anne's lace and cattails.

Yup. I'm in Iowa.
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