Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mudpuppy reads a book! and more...

Sort of.

Starling here. When I was reading to Mudpup this evening, a jaunty board book called "Thank you, God" (which M likes because of the "Amen" refrain throughout), he picked it up, turned it back to the beginning, and turned the pages quickly, saying "Amenamenamenamenamenamenamenamen!" until he reached the end.  He then closed it in triumph and grinned.  He's read his first book.

He also pointed to his siblings earlier and did reasonable imitations of their real names--Bear's was dead-on, Mouse's was sort of close, and Jaybird's was "Brrroooo."  Well, OK, he tried.  "Mama" and "Dada" are mastered at this point, as well as more, up, down, book, (ba)nana, cookie (sigh), hug, yes, sit, okay, again, drink, and quite a few more.

Sometime in the past two weeks, he hasn't yet turned chronologically two, but he has gotten into the spirit of the two year old.  He's on a constant seek and destroy mission.  It's been a bit crazy, especially when we were traveling.  But except for the occasional mild tantrum, he is still our smiling, happy go lucky child.  Just intent on destruction one day, up in arms the next....

p.s. It is tempting to rename him on this blog, because cute though Mudpuppy is, we actually find ourselves calling him Machu-Pichu quite a bit.  I know, it's odd.  Don't worry much--he knows his real name, and we like it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Well, it's been a week since we came back from our ten-day trip to visit Starling's parents in Alabama. Sun, water, and good food were the main themes of our trip. Here's a pictorial retrospective:

This and the next three pictures were taken on the beach near Gulf Shores.

Whether at home or away, Mudpuppy DOES love helping with the

When they weren't out in the sun, the kids could often be found in front
of the television. I love this picture, which is pure luck.

Stopping to smell the roses in the Fairhope rose garden.

Life may not be a bed of roses, but these sisters like posing in front of one.

By the Fairhope water fountains.

At the end of Fairhope Municipal Pier.

We visited two really good museums during our stay; one is the Fairhope
city museum, which contains a great overview of the history of the area....

...and the other was the Museum of Mobile, which also provided a great overview of
the history of the region in an interactive way that the kids liked. Here, they're posing
before a statue of Justice. The kids spent most of the visit looking for items in a
scavenger hunt.

On July 4, the kids enjoyed playing with sparklers...

...and watching the fireworks with grandma and Aunt Amy.

Mudpuppy did NOT like the water at first, but by the end of our trip, he'd
warmed up to it.

This picture is sponsored by Grandma, who watched Mudpuppy at home
 for the morning, leaving the adults to enjoy the beach.

Jaybird enjoyed playing in the surf; the older kids loved boogie boarding.

Mudpuppy enjoyed the fountains at Spanish Fort... did the girls.

The Three Amigos, reunited.

"Everybody make a funny face!"

See how well Mudpuppy got to like the water? I think that's a smile!

"Mom has finally lost it." Yes, the wonders of traveling by air have definitely driven
us to the edge, especially on the flight back to Milwaukee. The one bright spot: Daryl,
the upbeat flight attendant who kept everyone smiling and laughing.

A visit to The Willows

Every year we visit Susan's parents in Alabama at some point over the summer, and this year, we incorporated a visit to my sister and her family, who live just outside of Milwaukee, since we were flying out of the Milwaukee airport anyway (cheaper fares and shorter flight time than Minneapolis). They just moved to a new house in the country; really, it's more like a small mansion or estate, so we came up with a name for it: The Willows, after the stately Weeping Willow trees lining the road in front of their home.

The house is nice, but so are the grounds: several acres that include a small wooded area and rolling fields, plus an expansive lawn, with those willows lining the front. There is a small storage building next to the house. They are on a dead-end road, so there's not much traffic. At the end of the road, walking trails lead to the neighboring dairy barn and to the Schoenstatt shrine and retreat center; they are friendly with allof the nuns at the Schoenstatt shrine, as well as with the family that owns the dairy farm. In fact, when we arrived, they were nowhere to be found -- they were down in the dairy barn, watching the cows get milked.

Jaybird was too late to see the cows milked, but liked watching them in the field:

Later in the evening, they roasted marshmallows around the fire pit and had s'mores. The fireflies came out, making the whole scene rather magical. Mouse played on the rope swings in the willow trees until almost 9:30, while Bear and his cousins played basketball; then they all got together and played Indians.

Bear really connected with the boy cousins.

Mouse (left) and her cousins during an outing to a nearby wildlife area.

All the cousins together.

Mouse's older cousins took her under their wings for the few days
we were there, and Jaybird connected with a cousin her age.

Our kids really enjoyed seeing and playing with their cousins. Bear spent an entire afternoon making and shooting bows and arrows with a cousin his age, while Mouse spent the same afternoon hanging decorations (like Mason jars filled with colored water and bells and lights) all over the woods behind the house with her older cousins. (Both of the older cousins have blogs: The B and B Files and The Swan and the Willows.)

Besides visiting the Schoenstatt retreat center, where my sister knew all of the nuns (of course!), we also took a nice walk through an area wildlife refuge. But one of the highlights for me was playing basketball with Bear and a number of his cousins. We had such fun that eventually my sister and her husband joined us. Good, sweaty fun!

Someday we hope to The Willows.

Mouse's friends party

At our house, we do not have friends over for birthday celebrations. Early on we learned that there is no way to invite people over for your child's birthday celebration without getting lots of gifts -- you can say "no gifts," but someone always brings'em anyway. So instead, we wait a few months and have a friends party.

The girls after breakfast the next morning.
Mouse really wanted a pool party so she and her friends could pretend to be mermaids. That seemed simple enough: just pile the kids into the van and take them ot the outdoor Aquatic Center for a few hours, then back home for supper.

Well, wouldn't you know it, after a very warm few weeks earlier in June, the day of the party was forecast to have a high in the 50s, with rain and high winds. Starling and I spent the twenty-four hours before the party trying to figure out an alternative setting for the pool party. (Postponing wasn't an option, since one of the girls is moving to China in July.) You know, there are something like nine indoor swimming pools in this town, but accessing any of them is either impossible or prohibitively expensive ($100+ for a hotel room).

So we went on Facebook to fish for suggestions, and we got one that worked -- a hotel in Rochester with a small indoor waterpark that you could get into for a reasonable price. Sure, it was an hour away. Sure, it cost more than we planned to spend. But the mermaid party was saved! All the girls had a fun and memorable time.

Bear turns 11

Here are some pictures from Bear's birthday party:

As you can see, there was much silliness, and cake, and a few presents.

We enjoy having an 11-year-old in the house. Bear has not lost his quick smile and laugh, but now he has a pre-teen's wry sense of humor to go along with it. He is as kind and generous as ever (well, except on occasion with his sisters). He is introspective and asks a lot of good questions. He is also trying out more adult roles -- like jumping into adult conversations. Sometimes that turns out fine, sometimes not. The other day he spent an afternoon volunteering at the Winona Catholic Worker -- scrubbing shelves in the pantry at the Dan Corcoran House, which we hope to reopen to families in the fall. I also see a new patience and maturity in him when it comes to doing things that he doesn't like to do, like chores and summer homework. A lot less complaining and foot-dragging, and a lot more can-do attitude.

Bear is also our entrepreneur. He is still looking for ways to make money, driven largely by his voracious appetite for new electronic gadgets and games. He is not shy about asking to be paid for extra work, or hitting up other adults for ideas about how he can make money. We'll have to see how to encourage him on that path. Someone around here needs to make some money!

We do love our eleven-year-old!