Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cookie fun!

Growing up my mom made thousands of cookies each Christmas but she never, in my memory, made sugar cookie cutouts. I can appreciate why not. They are a major pain and not really all that tasty. But Grandma Marga did these with the kids in Minnesota last year and I thought it a fun tradition for the kids. We cut out the cookies yesterday and baked them. All our cookie cutters came, in one or another, from Eric's family. We inherited a coffee can of cookie cutters from Grandma Ada--several red Christmas themed ones that we couldn't make work and then a bell, a star, a circle and a "bar" with zig-zag edges. The kids told Eric last night, "We made stars and bars Christmas cookies." Hm. There was also a music note--appropriate from Eric's highly musical family.

Our other two cookies cutters were a wedding gift from Eric's uncle Steve: a cow, and the state of Wisconsin. These people are serious about their homeland.

So the shapes themselves aren't all that festive but the overall effect was very nice, in the end, and we sure had fun.

Margaret was pretty much in "production" mode cranking out three or four cookies to Joseph's one but sacrificing real artistry in favor of speed.

Joseph was very serious about every single one of his creations. Some highlights include a star having a solar flare:

And Santa Claus with his pack and boots. You can see the lone chocolate sprinkle which is his smiling mouth and the cinnamon candy is his "fiery eye." Apparently we need a little more Clement Moore around here.

I went for more whimsy with my cookies creating some festive homage to favorite Wisconsin destinations (Madison and Sturgeon Bay). And, because we prefer our milk from brown Jersey cows, a spotted bovine sporting a seasonally-appropriate red nose.

William napped through most of the project but woke just in time to consume a broken musical note while we cleaned up.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday evening

Blueberry cobbler is baking in the oven for dessert. Red peppers are roasting to go on sandwiches with leftover steak. Eric is out on a walk with William and bringing home rolls for the sandwiches. My kitchen is strung with white Christmas lights which makes it feel almost pretty in here. Margaret is washing up the dishes I used to make the dessert

and Joseph is busy with his sketchbook.

All the letters for "grasshopper" are there--though not in the correct order--and as I type he's drawn me a picture of my cup of coffee. I'm not in the picture. In the sketchbook universe I'm knitting in the living room while my coffee cools down.

A pretty nice evening so far.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Joseph!

Sorry for the blurry shot. I had to run to tend to a waking baby in the middle of dessert and handed over the camera to a different photographer.

We had a lovely birthday celebration for Joseph though we had to improvise at the last minute. None of us were too enthused about Joseph's bizarre birthday dinner request and we didn't really know what to give Joseph for a birthday present. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and offer to Joseph a trip to the top of the Empire State Building. Joseph has wanted to go to the top of the ESB ever since he learned that there was a top and he was very excited for this to be his birthday present. Afterward, we told him, we could get supper at a diner where we would be sure to find banana splits.

We woke up Tuesday morning to pouring rain and the forecast predicted 36 straight hours of rain (which is pretty much what we got). We promised Joseph we'd go another day and hunkered down for a birthday at home. He was thrilled to get some new books at breakfast time and a puzzle matching game from Great Grandma. That game kept the kids busy for five hours on Tuesday while I tried to make a dinner plan. Every once in awhile Joseph and I would have a conversation like this,

"Joseph, what do you want for dinner?"
"Well, I know the market has lupini beans."
"Right. And what should we have with the beans?"
"No meat! But maybe some corn, if you could find it."
"Right. Anything else?"
"Well, I'd really like some broccoli."

That kid doesn't forget things easily. So I asked Eric to stop at the grocery store on his way home and--ignoring the pile of perfectly good vegetables we'd had delivered that day--we made Joseph his requested birthday feast.

We roasted the broccoli with garlic and roasted some frozen corn cobs and they weren't bad. The lupini beans were enjoyed by both kids and we got some bread from our baker around the corner. The Sumol is the official soda of our neighborhood.

Ironically, even though we had to ask Eric to make a special trip for corn and broccoli, I did have all the necessary ingredients for banana splits in my kitchen--including maraschino cherries which is something I have never had in my refrigerator prior to last Saturday and which were bought for reasons unrelated to Joseph's birthday. I had to make the whipped cream and fudge sauce myself but the banana splits with coconut ice cream were delicious.

Joseph made himself a birthday present: a pet crane with a harness so that he can ride it.

Yesterday the weather finally cleared enough to make our trip to the Empire State Building. Getting into Manhattan from our house is very easy and inexpensive. The train station is a short walk from our house and there are regular commuter trains into several stops in Manhattan. I can actually get to Manhattan more quickly and more cheaply than my friend who lives in Brooklyn. We've been into the city many times since moving here but we've always taken the train into the World Trade Center stop and explored Downtown. There is a also a wheelchair-friendly stop just a block from the ESB.

Going to the observation deck on the 86th floor of the ESB is not inexpensive but it was okay for a birthday present for our little five-year old. And the lines are legendary. Ticket-sellers outside were quoting us a two-hour wait time. I suppose it's not really fair to brag about getting special treatment for being handicapped but Joseph got us to the head of every single line in the place (and there are many!). We almost never stopped moving from the moment we entered the door until we go to the top.

We timed our visit perfectly, getting there just early enough to see some daylight view and then watch the lights come on all over the city against the setting sun.

Joseph had a good view until the fanatical security guards yelled at us. There is no possible way a child could fall off the building but you can barely pick up your kid without getting yelled at. Fortunately there were some spots with a lower wall.

Even on a less-than-perfectly clear day the view was pretty spectacular. If it had been just me and Eric, I would gladly have spent a long time up there but the kids got antsy--especially William--and we left after taking some nice time taking in the view from each direction.

The red setting sun is also a picture of Newark. Joseph really wanted to see our house but the haze and the light obscured the city pretty completely. But we do enjoy a nice sunset out our kitchen window many evenings and it was neat to see it from so high.

It was a wonderful evening and wonderful way to celebrate a very wonderful boy who is now calling to me to come check out the "pirate stuff" he built.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

First Taste

My kids all love lemons . . .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More from Joseph . . .

Joseph's tinker toy sculptures are finally starting to take off. When we first got him tinker toys about a year-and-a-half ago he quickly took to making actual objects but on a very small scale. He favored swords and scepters and he's stuck to that scale of things for quite awhile. Margaret has always built big with Tinker Toys but she never makes anything very specific--just "look how many Tinker Toys I can connect all at once" kind of stuff.

The last couple weeks Joseph has gotten more creative. He built a simple wrecking crane, complete with swinging wrecking ball not too long ago. Then yesterday he called me in to see his latest creation. The kids' bedtime story right now is Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis and Joseph is completely enthralled with the idea of a dragon boat. He built a boat-like structure out of Tinker Toys and called it Dawn Treader. It even has a really tall mast. I asked him if the round spools sticking off the mast were lookout posts and he said, "No. Those are their kegs of wine." Right.

And in the Shaving Years off My Life Department:

Joseph zoomed through the living room at his usual break-neck speed this afternoon on his way to rest time. I was standing with my back to this scene at the kitchen table and heard a sound. It wasn't loud, exactly, just the sort of sound that makes you turn around saying, "What on earth made that sound?" And it was only after I turned that all the books and shelves fell down. I have no idea why only the middle shelves fell and I am extremely grateful that Margaret had strapped herself into a highchair because she would normally have been on Joseph's heels and would have been right in front of the bookcase when this happened.

After a little examination I think this was partly a matter of coincidence. The shelf supports all look pretty well-worn. But let's look at the bright side. I've always hated that bookcase. And Joseph, after recovering from the shock announced, "Maybe I should have gone a little more slower, Mommy!" Yeah. Maybe.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You're all invited

Joseph has put in his birthday dinner request:


So, who's coming to party with us?

He did say that instead of a cake he would like banana splits for dessert.

For fun this afternoon the children are playing "go to bed." Margaret is playing Daddy and reading a story to Joseph.

When I peeked in on them a few minutes later they were both snuggled together under the futon blankets pretending to sleep. If only real bedtime were that simple.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Happy Birthday Margaret!

Late as usual. Margaret had a lovely third birthday. Celebrations began early when Laura, Paul, Patrick and Nicole (aunts and uncles) came for the weekend. It was so much fun for me to host everyone together at our new place--it's great to be the one in the middle!--and Margaret had a little party, too. She had requested chocolate cake with white frosting "just like Uncle Ben." I'd made Ben that kind of cake for his graduation and apparently the memory really stuck. Margaret loved it but for Joseph's birthday I'm hoping to talk him into a dessert that doesn't require a whole bag of sugar.

Margaret was the very happy recipient of several gifts including some stationery that some of you might be seeing if you are the chosen "letter day" correspondent for the week. A couple of grandparents contributed to the furnishing of the doll house Margaret got for Christmas last year. She is so thrilled that her dolls have beds and tucks them in most nights before heading upstairs to bed herself.

We got Margaret a tea set which might have been an even bigger hit. Joseph wants one for his birthday, too, but we're still negotiating. You can see that Margaret has already had the quintessential tea party with her dolls. Actually, I misspoke: Margaret's "dolls" live in the dollhouse; the tea party guests are her "babies."

We're looking forward to a wonderful year ahead for Margaret. She's really growing into such a lovely, smart, helpful girl. Lately she has been on a kick of going out of her way to thank people. "It was really nice of you to get me these new tights, Mommy. I really like the color." So sweet. And if Margaret is having a hard time, the best way to get her to snap out of it is to state a problem. "Margaret, William needs a diaper," sends her scurrying off to fetch one for me. She loves to vacuum and peel garlic, she loves to draw, she loves fussing around with collections of small objects (like doll furniture and tea sets), she loves being around me, she goes nuts with excitement when Eric gets home. She thrives on ritual and predictability and useful occupation. And she can really, really make William laugh. I think we'll keep her.

Friday, September 4, 2009

School time

We've had a lot of questions about Joseph and school this summer so I thought I'd let you all in on some of our plans for the year.

The short answer to, "Is Joseph going to school?" is no. We're homeschooling Joseph.

The long answer . . . We have always intended to homeschool all of our children unless we have a very good reason not to. Our reasons for homeschooling are many but one of the bigger considerations is that we believe our children will receive a much richer education when allowed to move at their own speed (be that fast or slow) and explore things that are of particular interest to them. I am very involved in homeschooling groups and have been researching this topic for about seven years (yes, since before I was married). There are about as many approaches to homeschooling as there are families who homeschool. A family can choose to do a very structured, pre-packaged curriculum from start to finish. There are companies that will even send you the paper and pencils required to complete assignments! This approach looks very similar to conventional schools except that it's done in the home. At the other end of the spectrum are families who believe that schooling kills a child's innate desire to learn. Radical "unschooling" families might allow their children to do anything they like all day long year after year.

There are serious scholars who argue for both of these extremes and everything in between and I have seen fantastic results (in teenagers and adults) from both ends of this spectrum. Most families mix up several approaches and change things to feet the need of each child.

If Joseph were going to school, most states would not put him in Kindergarten until next year. New Jersey is actually a very relaxed state with regard to school. We could probably get Joseph into a school this year if we wanted to and as homeschoolers we do not need to do anything at all. No registration is required, no notification, no testing. And, because many people have asked, there is no reason Joseph could not go to a regular school. Aside from a wheelchair accessible building he would not need any other special considerations. Learning disabilities are very common in kids with spina bifida but Joseph does not appear (yet) to have any.

For this year I decided to take a somewhat structured but very relaxed approach to school. I am not planning to use any curriculum this year and I am thinking of Joseph as being in preschool. If we opted to purchase some curriculm next year (as we probably will for math, at least) we will determine then if Joseph seems to be at a Kindergarten or first grade level. For now we do school in the morning, five days per week. Each day has a theme and I choose activities related to that theme. We get home from church each day a few minutes after 9:00 and school is over by 10:30 at the latest. Here is what this last week looked like for us:

Monday: Letter Writing Day. Joseph dictates a letter to me to work on story-telling and narration skills. I write down what he says pretty much verbatim and give him only very minor topic suggestions At some point he will graduate to writing the letter himself but for now I want to capitalize on his composition skills without the stress of penmanship. We write to a different person each week and Margaret usually includes a short (mostly original) note as well.

Tuesday: Science Day. We hope to be outdoors for this day as much as possible. This week we walked through the park looking for birds and consulting our bird book. We came home and drew pictures of what we'd seen.

Wednesday: Wild Card Day (Joseph loves this name!). Wednesday is our grocery store day but we only do that once each month. Other weeks we may take other kinds of trips. This week we went to a farmer's market in Jersey City. We walked to the train station, rode it for two stops and the market was at the train station on the other end. The kids loved it but I need to figure out how to get more vegetables home in a single visit.

Thursday: Music Day. This week we listened to a couple of pieces and drew pictures along to the music.

Friday: Art Day. This week we just painted.

The themes are subject to change as the year evolves but I think you get the idea. We hope Joseph will start violin again before too long. We are also learning about good cultural events in Manhattan which is very quick and easy to get to by train from our house. Each morning's school time ends with moving to the couch and reading alound together. I pick a story and the kids each pick a story. Then they are free to play the rest of the morning and they've mostly been gonig outside until lunch. After lunch and rest time they head back outside until dinner.

You might notice a conspicuous lack of reading lessons. We have done some lessons with Joseph over the last several months and he shuts down pretty quickly with formal lessons. Left on his own he seems to be learning at a steady pace. He can spell simple words on his own and can sound out words fairly well. We read constantly in this house so I'm not too worried about Joseph picking it up on his own. We are also not pushing writing this year though we are trying to include some fine motor work every day.

Any questions? We're excited for a good first year in New Jersey!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer dinner at Grandma's

Joseph was too tired to ham it up for the computer. But you all really just want to see the cute baby anyway, right?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wisconsin Tour

Eric has a lot of family in Wisconsin--he mostly grew up in Madison and his Dad is from Door County (the "Thumb" of Wisconsin). We had hoped that we'd make several trips to Wisconsin this year since we're only four or five hours away from family there but, unfortunately, those plans didn't work out. We did manage to fit in one quick trip last week before returning home to finish packing.

We spent one night on the south shore of Lake Superior where Eric once spent a summer. Very beautiful country. We then headed out to Sturgeon Bay and had a great visit with Eric's dad and his family. The kids insisted on going swimming in frigid Lake Michigan. We have some pictures on the way (I hope!) of Margaret and Joseph at a really fun farm museum feeding animals and riding tractors.

After Sturgeon Bay we headed for Madison and since the kids were pretty fried from so much visiting we decided to make a stop at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. It was a lovely couple of hours wandering through the marsh and checking out some wildlife.

After two nights in Madison we took a slight detour to come home north along the Mississippi River. That part of the country is so beautiful and it is awesome to see how wide the river is just a little south of here--and we're way north of where the river gets really big! Along the way we took an hour-long rest stop here:

Recognize that house? This is the house where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born. It's a replica, actually, but it is accurate and it is on the actual spot. This park land was donated and the house built in 1974. The house is tiny. The Ingalls family lived in it when their first two daughters were born (Mary and Laura) and then moved back after a failed attempt at living in Kansas (Little House on the Prairie) with a third baby (Carrie) before moving on to Minnesota (On the Banks of Plum Creek) and, finally, South Dakota (By the Shores of Silver Lake and on). I was completely in love with all the "Little House" books growing up and we've read already read the first few to Joseph. He loves them too and both kids had a great time visiting Laura's first house.

This house was the setting for Little House in the Big Woods but you have to look really hard to discover that this used to be dense woods--the edge of the Great North Woods. It has since been cleared for farm land.

And, yes, Eric was humming the Little House theme song from the television series every time Margaret went running across the field.