Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Best Four Dollars I've Ever Spent

May have been the purchase of four Dollar Tree water squirters last night.  

They made the perfect addition to our Joy School curriculum today. 

I loved watching the water warriors race around our yard, identifying and obliterating letters and numbers that were written in side walk chalk all over our fence.

These three boys were in paradise.

After awhile, the princess of the group opted to sit on the deck stairs and point out what work needed to be done.  I loved it.  

And some of us were pretty thrilled to practice our writing skills, and add some letters of our own to the mix.  I love that Mark chose to write "his letter" first.  

I can't believe we're almost to the end of our Joy School experience.  I am definitely going to miss teaching these cute kiddos once a month.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Kaden-isms at 3 Years and 9 Months Old

I can't believe that this little guy is going to be turning four in just a few short months.

He is such a clever, funny, spitfire of a little boy.

I sure love being his mommy.  Here are some great things Kaden has said and done lately:

-He gets so upset when I do "Patty Cake" with Everett, and insists we say, "Slide it in the oven," instead of "Throw it in the oven."  He has adamantly pointed out that if we throw something in the oven, it's going to make a huge mess!  Touche, Kaden, touche.

-He has his own unique set of "Ring Around the Rosie" lyrics.  I'm not exactly sure what he says, but it's something like, "Ring around the rosie, a cot, a pot, a cozy."  Super cute.

-We are doing a reward system using marbles in a jar.  Kaden earns marbles for doing chores, behaving exceptionally well in the grocery store, being a good helper, being extra kind, etc.  Basically, anytime we want to give him a marble, he gets one.  He can also lose marbles from his jar for making poor choices.  He gets to choose the prize for when his jar is full.  Last time he filled his jar, he chose to go to Chick-fil-A, with the specification that he would get to play in the play place.  It was a huge hit.  This time, he is trying to earn a visit to Monkey Joe's, the place packed with bounce houses and high pitched screamers.  He's excited.

-We have now finished three chapter books together:  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, My Father's Dragon, and Charlotte's Web.  We just started The Mouse and the Motorcycle.  I have really enjoyed doing this with him, and I think it's helping his reading comprehension, too.  I was super impressed that he was able to remember enough to point out the differences between the book and the film version of Charlie, without being prompted to do so.  (Also, as a funny side story, we were at Sam's Club when a rather large woman walked by our car.  Kaden, excitedly said, "Look, Mommy!  Augustus Gloop!"  He was disappointed to find out it was not the character from the story.)  Finishing up Charlotte's Web has definitely sparked some interesting questions about life and death.  When I told Kaden I was thirty years old today, he looked at me with a completely serious face and asked, "How many years until you die, then?"  When I explained that I didn't know, but hopefully not for a very, very long time, since I still had to help him and Everett grow up, he said, "Here is the plan, Mom.  You get really old, get lots of gray hairs, and then you die.  And then you get to meet Jesus, OK?"

-It's been fun to watch Kaden become more social.  I love seeing him interact with his friends, especially when they aren't wrestling and trying to cause each other bodily harm.  We were at the park a couple of weeks ago, and he struck up a game of hide and seek with a new friend he had met five minutes before.  It seems like something so small, but I still remember him screaming when there were other kids on the jungle gym when he was two, so it kind of made my heart swell with pride.

-Anytime we see anyone without a helmet riding a bike, motorcycle, scooter, etc., he freaks out and points out that they aren't being safe.

-He makes sure to distinguish between his real and imaginary friends in conversation.  The other day, he was telling me a story that started out, "My real friend, Liam, that you can see . . . "

-He often uses the phrase, "More better," and I try not to let it sting too badly, since he is still a preschooler.

-Has his own sense of style.  The times when he combs his own hair, it is usually styled quite interestingly. And he is always quick to point out that, "See, Mom, my hair looks super cool!"  It's almost scary how much he is already concerned about things like this.  We recently busted out all of the 4T clothes for the summer, and some of them are a little big on him.  I put out an outfit for him, and while he was getting dressed, I started to get ready.  He came into my bathroom with a disgusted look on his face and said, "Mom, this shirt goes down to my knees!  I do NOT even look cute in this."

-Often says, "You are going to be so impressed by this!" before telling us something he has done.  And he's usually right.  I'm usually impressed.

-He will say, "Look at this sweet precious!" when showing me a picture of him with Everett.

-When we're out driving around, he often says, "Look at that house!  Oooooo, that one's so beautiful! Wouldn't you just LOVE to live HERE, Mommy?"  Someone's been on too many Zillow app driving trips with Mom and Dad.

-He was pretending to be a kitten the other night and jumped on top of me.  When I said, "Ow, Kaden, that hurt!" his response was, "Well, kittens are rough."

-He has picked up a few less than nice words from Mommy and Daddy.  The other day, Chad was putting his clothes away, and Kaden said, "Good!  You've been needing to clean up your crap for three days!"

-He has some serious teenage angst moments, when he tells us things like, "Don't talk to me!"  or "Just stop talking!"  So not adorable, or cute, or even tolerable.  But he can give a pretty charming, heartfelt apology afterwards that makes it easier to forget.

-He went on his first overnight camping trip with Daddy and had a great time.

-He has memorized the first eight Articles of Faith, passed them off in Primary, and is working on memorizing the ninth.

-He can write his name on his own in capital letters and is showing a lot more interest in writing, period.  He's written some short messages with my help for Gigi, Grandma, etc.  He's also getting really good at guessing how short words are spelled, and recognizing the sounds of letters in words, especially consonant sounds.

-After attending the opening pool party for our neighborhood, I think we've got a lot of swimming in our future this summer.  The water was freezing, the night was breezy, and he still jumped right in!

-He continues to be the best big brother Everett could ever ask for.  I have to remind him to be gentle at times, but that is mostly because he wants to include Everett in everything he does, no matter how intense and rowdy the activity.

There is nothing like a sweet hug from my Kaden Bug.  I love the moments during the day when he calls out, "Mommy?" and when I yell, "Yes, Kaden?" he yells right back, "I love you!"  Being his mom is a pretty great job.    

Friday, May 16, 2014

Flashback Friday, Camping Edition

Kaden just boarded the minivan express for his first father and son camping trip.  To say he was psyched is putting it mildly. All day long he's been asking me when Daddy would be home, and when Mr. Andy was coming to get them.

When Chad and I got engaged, I excitedly added tons of camping gear to our wedding registry.  I was raised on family camping trips during the summer, so I thought a tent, Coleman lantern, and sleeping bags were standard items on all wedding wish lists.

In contrast, Chad grew up with tent camping being something you had to do for Boy Scouts.  It's really not his thing.  Can he do it?  Yes, and exceptionally well, I might add.  Does he love it?  Not so much.  Does he love me? Yes.  So, occasionally, he has humored me with overnight excursions into the great outdoors.  

Our first camping trip was over Memorial weekend in 2006.  We had been married less than a year.  It was memorable.    

It was memorable, because when we pulled into Yellowstone National Park, and stopped at a little store to buy some ice, the people laughed at us when we said we were going to be camping in a tent.

It was memorable, because shortly after we drove away from their chuckling faces, it started to look like this:

It was memorable, because by the time we reached our reserved campsite, which was HOURS away from the main gate we entered through, it was pitch black.  We'd never set up our tent before.

It was memorable, because we'd planned on sunshine and flip flops.  I had camped at Yellowstone with my family as a child, and I had memories of tank tops and sunscreen.  I obviously forgot to consider what mountain weather is like in the spring, as opposed to the summer.  I had honestly packed my bathing suit, planning to lay out and catch a few rays.  We had each packed one hooded sweatshirt and a pair of jeans in the warm clothing department, which we slept in and wore while driving around looking at bison from the heated car the next day.

It was memorable, because we cut our trip short, packed up in a rush, and booked it out of that frozen death trap.

While we were still in Utah, we tried camping again in Arches National Park.  This trip was also chillier than we would have liked, but with better preparation, we were at least warmer.  

However, this time around we didn't reserve a campsite ahead of time.  So we got stuck with a primitive campsite, with a rather interesting toilet situation.

My favorite part of this trip was when this rugged fellow camper saw us walking and told Chad how lucky he was to have found a girl willing to "rough it" in the wilderness with him.  After the man walked away, Chad reminded me that in this regard, it was me who was lucky to have found him.  

And he was right.  I am so lucky.


I'm not sure Kaden will sleep a wink in the tent tonight next to his daddy.  But at least things can't get much worse than an unexpected snow storm, or a toilet seat on top of a hole in the ground.

I can't wait to hear about their adventures tomorrow.    

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Best Folks in the World Shop at Aldi

I kid you not.

I would like to highlight two recent experiences that prove this is 110% correct.  

A few weeks ago, I went on a HUGE grocery shopping trip to Aldi.  The kind where I have to stock up on everything, because the only thing left in the refrigerator are condiments and salad dressing bottles.  On this particular occasion, I had a grocery list that covered the front AND back of a piece of paper.  It was semi-ridiculous that I had waited that long to go to the store, but I digress.  The point is I was in the store for probably close to a solid hour, entertaining two kiddos with yogurt melts, plastic keys, and funny faces.

Well, when I got to the front of the store to check out, I realized it was raining outside.  Scratch that.  It wasn't raining.  It was pouring.  That's the thing about North Carolina weather.  It can get tricky.  One minute it can be bright and sunny, the next second it can be overcast, and in less time than it takes one to say, "I don't have an umbrella," sheets of rain just start dumping from the heavens.

The situation was bleak, but realizing we had depleted the yogurt melt supply, and that the funny face technique was wearing off, I had no choice but to go ahead and pay for our groceries.  I made my way to the door (trying to create a make-shift rain shelter for at least Everett out of his shopping cart seat cover on the way), and the nicest man in the world followed me and offered to walk us to our car with his umbrella. Seriously.  It kind of made my entire day.  And then he held the umbrella for us, while I put my kids in their car seats, so I wouldn't get soaking wet.  He told me he saw us, thought about his wife and kids, and hoped someone would offer to do the same for her, if she was ever in the same pickle.  Well, Mr. Nicest Man in the World, I hope someone does.

Fast forward to my most recent grocery trip to Aldi. This time I was only running in to get a few mountain loads of sugar ingredients for the strawberry freezer jam I was going to be making that day.  But Aldi always has these amazing random things hanging out in the middle of the store, and this time they happened to have Little Tikes' picnic tables.  The kind with the cute shade umbrella.  And I thought, "This would be a perfect birthday gift for Everett from his Gigi and Poppy."  So I called Gigi, and asked her what she thought.  She concurred, and told me to go ahead and buy it, in case they disappeared before she could get her own paws on one.  So I ended up with this gigantic box that I had to put in the back of my car when we left.  This wouldn't be a problem, except I had forgotten that the gigantic jogging stroller was already in there, from our previous night's strawberry picking adventure (thus the strawberry jam making on the agenda).  As I struggled to maneuver the huge box into my car, two of the sweetest ladies in the world came over and helped me lift and wiggle the monstrosity until it fit.  It was so kind, and I appreciated it so much.

I think we can learn a couple of valuable lessons here.  First of all, I stumbled upon these thoughts while perusing Pinterest recently, and I absolutely love both of them:


I doubt that either of the folks who helped me while I was shopping at Aldi thought they were doing something huge or miraculous, but their actions not only helped that singular moment in my day go more smoothly, they also affected the tone of the entire rest of my day.  Imagine if we all were a little more conscious of others around us.  If we were all a little kinder.  A little more helpful.  A little more sincere.

And secondly, and perhaps the most important lesson of all is this:  when you want cheap groceries, go to Aldi.  Avoid Walmart at all costs.

The end.

Monday, May 12, 2014

All a Baby Needs is Love

So, it was Mother's Day yesterday. Maybe that's why I'm thinking about my crazy job title of mother, and maybe not.

 Is it just me, or does it feel like the Internet is currently inundated with conflicting advice regarding motherhood? Here are just a few examples I've come across in the last week:

1). "Tell your kid he's smart!" vs. "Oh, wait! Don't do that, or he'll settle for mediocre and stop trying to push himself to achieve!"

2). "Get off your smart phones! Close up your laptop! Watch your kid pretending to be Spiderman, before he's a college grad and won't fit into that spandex costume anymore!" vs. "Let yourself have time to unwind." and "Look how much we stay connected through the amazing gift of technology."

3). "In Defense of Sharing" vs. "Why I Don't Make My Son Share"

4).  "Teaching your child to self-sooth is a precious gift." vs. "If you let your baby cry it out, he's likely to become a serial killer by the time he's 25."

5).   "Keep your children away from cell phones, TV, and computers."  vs. "The top 10 educational apps for kids"

Sometimes I feel like I'm caught in the crossfire of all these voices who see motherhood/parenthood in terms of black and white. Right and wrong. I start to feel dizzy, while all their words spin around inside my head, and I judge my own parenting against their standards.  Most of the time I'm able to sort things out.  I have enough sense to remind myself that I'm being ridiculous.  I don't even KNOW these people.  They don't KNOW my children. Sometimes, though, I err on the side of the nonsensical.  

I didn't shine as a parent the last few days, which may be why all the extra parental philosophising seemed especially nauseating.

Everett's top teeth are coming in.  Which means he hasn't been sleeping. Which means he has been screaming, instead of sleeping.  Which means I haven't been sleeping.  Which means I have been grumpy.  It's true.  I turn into Mrs. Grumpy Pants when I don't get enough shut eye.  Just ask my husband; he will not mince words.  So, I've been a grumpy mommy the last few days.  And I feel pretty bad about that.

Case in point:  We had an extremely full day on Saturday, and part of that day was buying plants for our garden.  When we were at Lowe's Kaden insisted he had to pull one of those cumbersome, flatbed carts around.  Through the garden center.  By himself.  On a Saturday.  And my patience wore a little thin.  I'm about 110% positive that by the time that experience ended, all within earshot thought I was a pretty poor excuse for a Mama.

Then we went to church yesterday, which is just a complete joke at this point in our parenting career.  We are on the 1:00 schedule right now, which means church starts at 1:00 p.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m.  This is right during the time my kids start to feel tired and fall apart.  About a quarter of the way through sacrament meeting, Everett started getting fussy, because all he really wants to do is crawl around like a crazy baby.  So Chad took him out to the foyer, so he could do that.  About half way through sacrament meeting, Kaden started making really loud farm equipment noises, while pushing his tractor magnets across the page of his quiet book.  I asked him in a nice, calm voice to stop.  He ignored me.  I asked him again.  He looked at me, and kept doing it.  I told him if he did not stop, I would have to take him out.  He did it again.  So I got to carry him out of sacrament meeting, while he screamed, "I'M SO SORRY, MOMMY!  I'LL BE QUIET! I'LL BE QUIET!"  and ended up taking him on a 10 minute drive, while he kicked the back of my seat and yelled that he was mad at me, before he would calm down enough to go back into church.  It was a pretty awesome Mother's Day.

I had a profound thought the other day while I had a few precious moments of quiet, alone time:  Maybe, when I discount my own instincts, and focus instead on all these "expert" opinions of others, I'm actually doing my kids a disservice.  Maybe I sometimes too quickly forget that these sweet little boys were sent to me for a specific purpose.

That even when it's hard and I feel like I'm failing, I'm still the most qualified person in the world to be their mom.

When I was pregnant with Everett, I attended a friend's baby shower, and all the guests offered her their best piece of parenting advice. My absolute favorite was my friend Kari's two cents, which was some version of this sentiment: "All a baby needs is love." In a lot of ways, how true that statement is.

I came across some fantastic old family photos this weekend that illustrated this point for me extremely well:

These first couple are from one of my Dad's childhood Christmases.  I love everything about this first photo. The sparse tree with the tinsel.  My Dad's slippers on the right side of the frame.  The wrapping paper strewn across the floor.  But my favorite part are the expressions on my grandma and great grandma's faces.  

Oh, Dad.  That bedhead.  I sure wish we had that vintage construction truck for my boys!

I'm pretty sure this is my dad getting his cloth diaper adjusted by Grandma,

before he scurried off into the dirt:

Grandma and Dad:

Three generations of women with my dad (lower right) and two of his siblings, MalaRee and Howard.  

Grandma Great with her son, Eldred:

I just couldn't help myself with this one.  That's Grandpa stealing a smooch from Grandma.  She looks like she was pretty OK with that.

And then I found a couple golden ones from my mom's childhood.  Here's my mom, giving an Everett-style kiss to my grandma Joy.

And here's my mom having a "spa day" with her mommy:

My grandmothers are two of the most amazing women I have ever known.  They are incredibly different people.  And they are both tremendous examples of what it means to be a mother.  And you know what's funny?  When I think about them as mothers, I don't think about them reading stacks of parenting books and following some magical recipe for perfection in motherhood.  I don't know, maybe they did those things. They could have.  But I picture them just like I see them in these photos.  Just being mommies.  And grandmas.

So this year, as a mom, I'm setting a goal to worry a bit less, and to focus on being the mom I'm supposed to be.  Mistakes are going to happen; it's part of the process.  I'm not going to be perfect.  But if love is all a baby really needs, I think my boys are winning in that department.  My heart is pretty full of love for these two:

Friday, May 09, 2014

Strawberry Picking

When the strawberries are ripe in North Carolina, it starts to feel like it is officially summer.  We went with a couple of our favorite families to a local strawberry farm this week and had a great time picking.  

Kaden in particular had a great time.  Eating.  His mouth was covered in berry juice by the time we were done.  More than once, when I proudly showed him a perfectly red berry, he snagged it and proclaimed, "Oh!  Good! I will eat it!"  before plopping it into his mouth.  I sure hope the farmers factored in preschooler taste-testing to their price per bucket.  With Kaden's berry consumption in the field alone, I'd say we got our money's worth.  

He didn't just eat though.  In true Kaden fashion, he was a great helper.  I hope his work ethic sticks.  He is the best little worker bee.  It makes me so proud.

Everett helped by staying super happy as he off-roaded through the strawberry field.

Had to get a closeup of those dreamy thighs:

 Mia agreed.  She had to give them a good caress after the picking was over:

My friend, Rachel, has the sweetest boys.  They love babies.  Little boys who love babies.  Is there anything cuter?  I think not.  

Even after all the snacking in the field, Kaden couldn't wait to sink his teeth into more strawberries.  Which is why he is pictured below smuggling some from the Pearson's stash.  Ours were already packed away in the car at this point.

It was the perfect night, with the perfect company.  

When Chad went to pay, the lady complimented us on our strawberry picking skills.  "I can tell you've picked strawberries before," she said.  "Why yes, farmer lady, we have.  We have indeed."  And we know how to pick them perfectly ripe, red,

and ready for strawberry freezer jam (which always makes me think of my Grandma Jensen).

With a few left over to make something delectable, fancy, and scrumptious, of course.  I made a strawberry shortcake cake to welcome Chad's brother, Cameron, back from BYU.  You can find the recipe for this beauty here.  And, in my humble opinion, she tasted every bit as good as she looked.

Which is why I quickly shared the leftovers, before I finished it off myself and went into a cake coma.

And now that the strawberries are ripe, it's time for the humidity to commence.  Which excites me about as much as the memory of this.
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