Inspired vs. Tired

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I’m not sure what is up with me.  Usually I covet the time I carve out to write in this blog, but since we’ve been back I’ve felt a bit uninspired.  A transitional period, perhaps?  Nothing profound?  Post-vacation funk?  Back-to-school blues?

Or maybe we have just been going strong, reuniting and reconnecting with our Alaskan family.

In hindsight, we’ve only been home for a little over a week.  The kids wanted to raft the Kenai River as soon as we returned, but those plans were foiled by an idiot criminal whose attempt at car jacking shut down the Seward Highway for hours last weekend.  There is only one road to the Kenai, and it was closed.  We had to turn around and head home, where we made the best of things by cleaning out the garage.  (Clark’s ’67 Camaro is due to arrive any day now, so it was a necessary chore.  How is that for optimism?)

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Less is More

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Last week we kept crazy busy, rushing and running from one big event to the next.  First was the water park and lemonade stand.  Next came zoo day.  The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is unbelievable.  In addition to all of the outdoor exhibits, it has an aquarium, jungle, desert dome, aviary, butterfly pavilion, kingdom of the night, IMAX theatre, and Skyfari, where you ride in a chair lift over the giraffes, cougars, and rhinos.  I’m not a huge zoo person, but I must admit this place is worth a visit every time we venture back to the Midwest.

Adorable baby giraffe in background, adorable cousins in foreground!

Inside the desert dome

Making friends with a sea turtle

In the butterfly pavilion. This little guy loved Nola and stayed on her shirt the entire time we were inside!

Mom taking photos inside the butterfly pavilion.

Unfortunately, this fanged animal accompanied us to the zoo too.  SCARY (not to mention gross):

We were really hoping Sam’s tooth would fall out at the zoo.  Not only because it was beyond ready, but because it would have brought things full circle.  Last year when we all went to the zoo, Madi walked straight into the glass wall of an elevator and chipped her two front teeth.  It was awful, and I have never dreaded making a phone call more than when I had to call my brother that day.  The conversation started with, “Madi is okay, but…” The experience is all just a bad memory now; her teeth are all fixed and we made it through this year’s zoo excursion without any lost or broken teeth stories!

After zoo day, we planned an afternoon at the Fremont State Lakes.

The best part about lakes day?  Sam’s tooth finally fell out!!  Clark’s sister may have sort of “bumped” his face as they were frolicking, and luckily he caught the fang before it fell into the murky water.

Much better!

The next day we visited Clark’s sister.  Who else has a backyard with both a trampoline and a tortoise?

That afternoon we went bowling, and then I headed to Lincoln for a rehearsal dinner.  Sam stayed the night with Grandma Nola, while Mom took the rest of the crew out for “Girls Night Out.”  Shopping and dinner!

Saturday was the wedding of my high school friend Kim.  I was a bridesmaid, and with Clark still back in Alaska my mom volunteered to be my +1.  She brought the kids for me, while Kylie and Madi had a special Grandpa day.

Talk about a busy string of days!  On Sunday, for the first time all week, we had no plans.  It was time to sit.  And guess what?  I think it was the best day yet! The kids spent a lot of time in Grandpa’s pool.

Grandma even got in the pool!

Swimming is more fun when Grandpa throws you around!

The kids also invented a kids vs. grown ups Olympics.  I think it was their way of forcing us to play with them all day, and it worked!  They named themselves the Warriors of USA, and we dubbed ourselves the Goldie Oldies.  Events included tetherball, obstacle course, racing around the house, washers, a drawing contest, Wii bowling, spinning contests, rock throwing, basketball, Apples to Apples, and more.  It was hilarious, but we still have a few events to finish… so stay tuned!

It was such a fun day of playing, laughing, swimming, and relaxing.  Best of all, Tyson and Amy gave the girls permission to stay longer this year.  Yesterday we learned that they will be here for an extra week!  We are all ecstatic! This week we will strive for earlier bedtimes and a slower pace.  We don’t need to plan every last second.Less is more!

The no-lemons-but-only-lemonade-day!

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My brother and I grew up on a gravel road, several miles from the nearest highway or town.  But you bloom where you’re planted, right?  So one day we decided to give the lemonade stand thing a go.  We set up shop at the bottom of our driveway, and parked ourselves in the sweltering heat.  The traffic on our old country road averaged one car an hour, so I can’t imagine what we were thinking.  I can’t remember how long we sat there, how many cars kicked dust in our face as they zipped past us, or how much we charged for our little cups of lemonade.

What I do remember is the kindness of one woman and her teenage daughter.  Their car initially flew past our driveway, but a few seconds later we saw brake lights.  As we fanned the dust from our eyes we realized they were backing up.  We joyously wiped the dirty sweat from our foreheads as we watched the ladies stop their car and climb out.

Customers.  Our first!  We poured them their lemonade (who knows how horrid and hot it was by then) and they paid us a full dollar for the two glasses.  They refused to accept any change.  A DOLLAR!  We were overjoyed.  After they left, we closed our shop and screamed up the driveway with glee.

I wish I knew who those ladies were, so all these years later I could thank them for the five minutes they spent showing kindness to a couple of country kids.

I had forgotten this memory until “Cousin Week” two years ago, when I emerged from the shower to find the kids making giant vats of lemonade.  They had decided to have a lemonade stand contest, right here at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  It was Kylie and Sam vs. Madi and Maggie.  In addition to lemonade, Kylie and Sam recited Shel Silverstein poetry to all their customers.  They thought it gave their stand an edge.

Of course, their only customers were the family members who drove out here to visit us.  The kids still had fun, but this year we decided to step it up a notch and move the business into town. Grandma Nola lives on a great street with plenty of shade and traffic, and she was definitely game!

I tried to make it educational, price shopping for the products and calculating the profit margin.  Dad hooked us up with a donation of ice from the local liquor store, and we were set for business!

Most of our customers were Nola’s neighbors, family members, and the Great Grandmas.  The mail lady stopped for a few glasses, and so did a random lawn mowing service dude.

In the end the kid made a $13 profit.  They decided to combine their funds to buy a board game to keep at Grandma and Grandpa’s that they can play here every year.  It is called Headbanz, and it is hilarious!

Enjoying the lemonade stand profits... playing Headbanz in the driveway!

Here are the lemonade stand photo highlights from today:

Adorable entrepreneurs!

Off to get ice!


Waiting and waiting for customers...

Business was slow at first, so Kylie escaped to the tree with a good book!

Madi and Sam... if I had to guess, I'd say she is harassing him about that tooth!

Drinking the profits!

Getting ready to serve the mail lady...

Serving the Lawngevity guy. Catchy name for a mowing service!

After sitting all day at the lemonade stand, the kids were wired to play tonight!  On the drive home we had to stop and check out the pigs:

Once we got home, the kids were thrilled to see that Grandpa’s “kiddie pool” was all set up.  They had a blast, even though the water was freezingly fresh from the tap:

And then came the highlight of the kids’ day.  Not the lemonade stand or even the pool.  Nope.  Every year it is all about truck rides with Grandpa.  We can hear them squeal with joy as they cruise up and down the pasture, precariously bouncing in the greasy back of his Dodge Dakota.  You’d think we had  roller coaster in the bean field the way these kids howl!

What? No car seats?

Oftentimes less is more:  we should just hang out here all day!  After truck rides Grandma spotted a Praying Mantis, and Maggie was quite interested:

Once again the night ended too late… the kids were busy catching fireflies and had no interest in coming inside.  Eventually the promise of milkshakes lured them into the kitchen, and Hugo Cabret helped calm them for bed.

Which is good, because they need their rest. Another big day is planned for tomorrow!

The Very-Good-No-Worst Day

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We have this game we play at dinner called “Best & Worst,” where everyone at the table shares the best and worst events of their day.  Today, hardly anyone had a worst to share.  Maggie’s worst was scraping her knee when she fell off her scooter, and my worst was forgetting to take towels to the pool.  None of the other six people at the table could think of a bad thing that had happened to them all day.  Good stuff!

We are in the midst of our fourth annual “Cousin Week.”  Our family is sadly spread out:  we live in Anchorage, my brother’s crew lives in Missouri, and my folks and younger sister are still in Nebraska.  To compensate for the distance, we make a point of getting the kids together for a gigantic week-long sleepover at their grandparents’ house every summer.  Cousin Week!!

The kids love the tree in Nola's front yard!

Honestly, this week is a highlight of my year.  My brother’s girls are an absolute delight, and it gives me such joy to see the instant bond the kids have with each other.  Every year it takes about five minutes for them to reconnect.  They are family, and they know it.

I have many friends who regularly travel to exotic locations.  It sometimes makes me feel a bit unworldly, hearing about their adventures.  Part of me (a large part!) envies them, but I have yet to choose those trips over this week I get each year with my nieces.  Back to Nebraska.  Back to country roads and corn.  But, most importantly, back to family.

It takes about six hours to drive from my parents’ house to my brother’s, so we often meet halfway in Kansas City for a quick kid swap.  This year I decided to drive all the way to Jeff City to kidnap his girls.  It gave me a weekend with his family down there, which is rare since he works crazy hours at a car dealership and seldom has enough time off to come back to Nebraska these days.

The time in Jeff City was perfect.  We headed to a pool, grilled burgers and brats, sat around a fire pit, drank too many beers, told childhood stories, mentored our wayward younger sister, played board games, and fed some ducks.  No amusement parks this year – just some low key family time.

Maggie lost a tooth down there, while Sam earned the nickname “Fang.”  (His front tooth is still dangling, and he actually answers to “Fang” now.)

Maggie is down a tooth, but Sam still has the Fang...

So back to today’s very-good-no-worst-day.  It started with a pancake breakfast and unpacking.  From there the kids climbed a tree, ate lunch at Runza, bought supplies for tomorrow’s lemonade stand, and headed to the Splash Station Water Park.  Madi was finally tall enough to do the big slides, and she proudly conquered the Blue Slide everyone says is so terrifying.  About five times!

Sam might be scared of pulling his teeth, but he did do the lily pad things for the first time.  He was proud of his successful traverse, but did admit that he is not yet ready for American Ninja Warrior:

Maggie did them too, but my favorite pool picture of her past few days was actually down in Jefferson City.  She now jumps off a diving board all by herself!

After the pool fun, my parents cooked one of their amazing meals.  Dad grilled the chicken, Mom chopped the salad, and Grandma Quigley joined us for the evening.  That would be great-Grandma Quigley to all these kiddos:

The kids played tether ball, shot hoops, and started on a scavenger hunt my mom has spent hours putting together.  After dinner it was time to assemble the swimming pool.  Dad was supposed to pick up a “kiddie pool” from Menard’s today, but he went a little overboard:

The hose has been running for hours and there are only a few inches of water in the bottom of the pool.  We will leave it on all night and see what happens.  Stay tuned!

I told Dad I was jealous.  “Think how much fun we could have had with this growing up!” I declared.

“Well, you were just my kids,” he responded.  “This is for my grandkids.”  Well okay then!

The night ended with showers, milkshakes, and Maggie falling asleep during Chapter 1 of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (this year’s Cousin Week Read Aloud).

So yep, a pretty perfect day.  And the week has only just begun!

Nebraska Nightmares

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It’s ironic that we live in bear and moose country in Alaska, but the kids’ most scarring animal and insect stories always happen in Nebraska.

Black bear on Potter Valley Road... no big deal!

In 2008 we had our first Nebraska summer trip, and our 4-year-old Sam was terrified through half of it.  With his full-blown insect phobia, he wasn’t a happy camper in the tall weeds of Nebraska.  I’d hold him on my hip, his feet kicking in fear and protest lest I set him down into the grass with the chirping crickets.  He hopped higher than the grasshoppers whenever he would see one.  He spent more time scooping dead bugs from the kiddie pool than swimming in it, and we won’t even talk about his reaction to bees and wasps.  Insects were bad, but those that flew and buzzed were the stuff of nightmares.

Three years ago it was Maggie.  She must have been 3-years-old, constrained in her 5-point-harness car seat.  I left the kids in the car for two minutes while I put the dog into his kennel, and the next thing I knew both kids were shrieking.  A daddy-long-legs spider was crawling up Maggie’s body and she was helpless to do anything about it.  She was kicking and shrieking and screaming, and even Sam was scarred just watching the ordeal.  As they tell it the spider made its way all the way up to her face.

Two years ago it was poor Maggie again.  I was down at the barn picking mulberries when her howling sent me bolting back to the house.  She had been running through the grass, barefoot, and stepped on a black snake with a yellow stripe.  Both kids were again terrified and trembling on the porch when I found them.  We tried to assure her that it was a harmless bull snake, but in all honestly I would have wigged out too.

This year the terror moved inside, for all of us.  The kids were happily playing with my childhood Smurfs:

I had a lot of Smurfs.  Whenever we come home, the kids use them to invade the Fisher Price castle:

But back to the story.  Two nights ago my sister was standing in the living room doorway, gabbing away when she stopped mid-sentence and started screaming.  Maggie looked up from the Smurfs at the commotion.  She pointed and screamed “MOUSE!!!” before leaping over the castle and onto my lap.  Sam piled on top of her and I must admit my legs were as far off the ground as possible too.  The three of us were stacked on the recliner like dominoes while that little brown hairball of terror zig-zagged around the room.

My parents were shockingly calm.  Mom went into soccer mode, using her feet to keep the intruder from leaving the room.  In the end my dad caught it in his hand… still alive… and threw it outside.  (Quite possibly to return another day, which is why I cannot sleep at night!)

I am not sure whether to be repulsed or amazed with my dad’s actions.  I grew up in this farm house and mice were always a part of life.  But we don’t have them at our home in Alaska, and suddenly the scurrying little rodents terrify the snot out of me.  It’s like hydroplaning down the highway in a torrential Midwestern downpour… I was fine with it as a teenager, but it’s simply not something I’m used to doing these days.

Strange but true, but my comfort zone now includes icy roads, bears, and moose.  At least they all stay outside my house!

Take Me Out to the Ball Game…

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What a treat!  For Sam’s 8th birthday, his grandparents gave him tickets to a NCAA Men’s College World Series baseball game.

I'd say this gift was a home run!

We offered Maggie the choice of joining us or spending the night with her Grandma Cox, and she opted for the sleepover.  “I’m not such a big sports fan as everyone else in this family,” she declared.  Wellokaythen!

I’m not a huge baseball fan either, but it’s different when you can actually be at the ballpark.  Where else can you simultaneously immerse yourself in the aroma of funnel cakes, popcorn, and hot dogs?  Where can you watch crazy guys patrolling the stands, selling puffs of pink cotton candy and overpriced Dr. Pepper slushies?  Or listen to a pipe organ belting out “Take Me Out the Ball Game” while the crowd sings and sways along?  It’s good stuff.

Sam has been anticipating this event for days.  Since we landed in Nebraska he has sketched no fewer than 20 brackets for this playoff event.  It’s not surprising, since drawing brackets with team logos is his favorite form of art these days.  Given that, you can only imagine his excitement when we found a life-sized bracket outside the stadium:

Once we learned which teams would be playing tonight (UCLA vs. Florida State), Sam decided who to root for and made a poster.  He picked the losing team, but still got a few opportunities to wave his sign!

Before the game there were kids’ activities galore where he could practice batting, shoot hoops, kick soccer balls, and more.  The lady who ran the pitching machine must have thought he was too small, so she tossed him a few underhanded pitches herself instead.  Imagine her surprise when he sent a line drive straight into her chest after the first pitch!

He even got to see the CWS trophy!

We spoiled him with souvenirs and junk food.  He got a t-shirt, pennant for his room, a little bat (Clark requested this), and I even let him eat an entire funnel cake.

I should have bought him peanuts instead.  We are still waiting for his front fang to fall out, and nuts might have been more conducive.  He still won’t let us touch the dangly tooth… it is getting ridiculous!

All in all, it was a dream day for a happy boy.  Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa, for the best gift of all:  an experience, memories, and time spent together!

Leaving on a Jet Plane…

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As much as it pains me to watch my children grow so quickly, I must admit that traveling with them has become infinitely easier.

See those suitcases packed with ridiculous crap?  Who cares!  I’m not the one hauling them through the airport anymore!

As if that doesn’t make me giddy enough, Humpy’s now has a branch in the airport.  (Humpy’s = Very Cool Anchorage Bar With My Favorite Beers on Tap.)  The departure gate for our latest excursion was right next to Airport Humpy’s, with plenty of open window seating for the kids to watch planes.  How serendipitous was that?

It was only 10 PM, broad daylight, and the kids were wide awake.  Our flight was running late, but who cared when our feet were blissfully dangling from tall stools?  We had a miserable night of cramped legroom ahead, so we enjoyed the moment.

When we left Humpy’s, I saw a young mother pushing a ginormous double stroller with a baby and toddler.  It was laden with a diaper bag, car seats, and she was also carrying an overly stuffed pack on her back.  I winced at the thought of her getting through security with all that… not to mention boarding the plane itself.

I remember the days when it was me stripping shoes from 6 little feet (is it selfish to count my own?) and struggling to fold a stroller so it would fit on the security conveyor belt.  One of our lowlights was when I was trying to get us all between gates in Minneapolis, with two giant convertible car seats and a stroller.  I thought I was so brilliant when I decided to strap Maggie into one of the car seats and set it on top of the stroller, while strapping the other car seat to my back and letting Sam trot alongside us.  Imagine my horror when the stroller gave way and sent Maggie toppling – helplessly strapped into her car seat – face first onto the concrete airport floor.

Poor Maggie.  She is also a puker.  She was ten months old before we realized she suffered from motion sickness.  We were nine hours into a six hour flight to Maui before she started vomiting all over me and taught us that valuable lesson.

I can also remember many flights trying to nurse a lapchild mid flight, with the seat in front of me reclined within inches of my nose, and trying to hide myself from the burly dude next to us.  Where were all the nice old grandmas I prayed to sit next to?

I used to start planning my carry on luggage weeks in advance.  Pacifiers, snacks, sippy cups, diapers, wipes, changes of clothes, activities… I am exhausted just recalling it all, let along living it.

This trip I didn’t even pack the kids’ carry on bags.  It wasn’t until we were in the airport that I saw what they had brought: books, a stuffed animal, a journal, paper and crayons, gum, and their Leapsters.  No liquids or blades.  Perfect!

I admit that overnight flights will never be easy.  Even after we were in the air, I stressed until the kids finally fell asleep.  At first it was peaceful, with Maggie’s head on my lap and Sam nestled into the crook of my left arm.  But then Sam started the head bop thing and kept flailing appendages into the aisle.  I spent most of the night protecting him from the beverage cart.  Maggie spun circles in her seat faster than the hands of a clock, waking and whining and making us all miserable.  She  kept sliding up here window shade and then melodramatically collapsing back into the seat exclaiming, “We’re still way up in the air!”

The worst part of overnight flights is the layover.  We always arrive in Denver or Minneapolis or St. Lake City or some other stylish community, and of course we have skipped a few time zones so it’s a reasonable 7 or 8 AM for all the locals.  They are all bright eyed and exhilarated with the excitement of their upcoming excursion.  Or business travelers with no patience for children.

And then there’s us.  We crawl off the plane, and I just pray my children will wake from their whopping 4 hours of sleep to walk themselves.  Because honestly, if they won’t, I’m not sure what I will do.  We look disheveled.  We have horrid breath.  We are wrinkled, weary, and wretched.

We are also almost always overdressed.  This time it was 49 degrees when we left Anchorage, and in the 80’s when we arrived in the Midwest.

Luckily  (?) during this trip I was liberated from my layover phobia.  We were late.  We finally landed in Denver at 6 AM, and our connecting flight departed at 6:30 AM.  It took nearly 19 minutes to deplane, and then we ran.  We only had to go 12 gates, and we had 11 minutes to do it.  Bring it on!

We made it!

Miraculously, so did most of our luggage.  In Nebraska, we stood at the baggage carousel, and the kids’ booster seats were among the first items out.  They were closely followed by our big black suitcase, the one that held my bridesmaid dress.  Phew.  But from there we stood, waiting for the final bag that contained the salmon.  The carousel stopped, and the bag was still missing.

The bridesmaid dress was here, but the salmon was not.  I’m not sure how I felt about that.

The story does have a happy ending.  The salmon arrived 12 hours later, and it was still frozen.  As for us, we had landed safely and were happily thawing in the heat of the Midwest.

Kids Can Have Book Clubs Too…

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Shhhhh.  This is all sort of top secret, so as a mother I really shouldn’t be sharing all these details.  But apparently our children have formed their very own book club.  The members are Sam and Maggie, along with two of their oldest family friends.  These four brilliant children have picked a name, designed a logo, and even invented a secret handshake for their new club.  (They also requested three meetings per week, but as parents we had to draw the line somewhere.)

My friend Nancy planted the seed while the kids were all eating dinner at her house one night last week, and the idea has snowballed from there.

They call themselves ELMS.  E = Emily  / L = Lia / M = Maggie / S = Sam  (Clark thought they should call themselves “SMEL” instead, but that didn’t go over so well.)

Here is their logo:

Here are the members, holding their ballots after choosing their first book:

In a vote of 3-1, they chose Black Stallion by Walter Farley as their first title.  (The dissenting vote was for Judy Blume’s Fudge series.)  They are all excited to meet in late July to discuss their opinions about the book, its themes, and (mostly) to play again.

They also reluctantly let us videotape their secret handshake.  “Are we gonna be on YouTube?” they asked excitedly.  So much for the “secret” part!

Obviously literacy is important to all of our families, and our young children currently love to read.  We’d like to keep it that way.  We hope that by allowing our children to tie their social life to literacy will hard wire a positive connotation with books.

They already know that once a month Mommy skips off to “book club,” and they frequently ask what book I have read and enjoy my censored and abbreviated descriptions of what my crew is reading.

Now they have a book club all their own.  They couldn’t be more proud!

As for our family, we have finished the first two chapters of Black Stallion and we love it!  The language and vocabulary are stretching the kids beyond the books we usually select for read alouds, and I’m proud to expose them to some classics.

I have a hunch… this is the start of something good!

Alder Slaughter… Success!

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It’s amazing what heavy equipment can do.  This weekend the excavator arrived, and the alders met their match.  Don’t get me wrong:  remnants of their roots are still lurking beneath the surface, so I know the war is not over.  But I do feel like we’ve won round one of the battle.

The hill out front is nearly ready for seed.  Quick recap: here is where we were on May 12th, miserable and pulling alders with the ATV.  (Just imagine how bushy this looks when these things leaf out!)

I am pleased to announce that we conquered the hill!  All those gnarly 10 foot weeds were finally hauled off to the wood lot this weekend.  End result:

We plan to seed with native blue wheat grass, wild daisies, and lupine. “Au naturel,” Clark calls it.  We also have a plan for those enormous rocks we placed out front, but that’s a ways out.  Stay tuned!

Now let’s head out back, where the journey was far more overwhelming.  Alders galore, a raised bed garden smack dab in the middle of the lot, four trees flanking a burn barrel, and giant boulders scattered throughout the uneven terrain.  Could we really transform this?


Not quite after, but definitely progress!

Hooray for a blank slate!  We kept a perimeter of alders as a natural buffer between the neighbors, but the rest is cleared, open, and leveled.  That pile of brush in the middle of the yard will be part of our ninth and final trailer load to the wood lot.  Slashing, cutting, digging, pulling, hauling, loading.  It has been a miserable weekend of manual labor.

I’ve decided we should have rented this bad boy a month ago – what an amazing machine!

The tool that made it possible

John Deere is the new love of my life.  This guy (with his brute strength and my husband’s CDL skills) accomplished more in 8 hours than we accomplished in three snarky weekends.  Ripping, pulling, leveling, hauling.  JD has quite the tongue!

Our love story with heavy equipment shall continue when a Bobcat arrives.  Clark will use it for leveling and hauling topsoil. Then it will be time to seed, which means babysitting the sprinkler for a few weeks.

The kids and I leave for Nebraska in two days, so I don’t get to keep close tabs on the future progress.  Or help.  At least the manual labor is nearly complete, which is good because those alders put up a good fight.  We are both full of scrapes from our arm pits to our wrists, along with several other hodge podge bruises.  Despite our slash marks, Clark is proud to have survived the weekend without any poked eyes, flipped excavators, or severed gas lines.

On a vain note, I’m in a wedding in a few weeks.  Hopefully my arm gashes heal quickly and I can even out the farmer tan that extends from the end of my short sleeves to the top of my gloves.  How attractive.  Spray tan, maybe?

We made amazing progress in our soon-to-be-yard this weekend, but the most important piece of landscaping we did was in honor of Bailey.  We planted a bleeding heart on her grave:

The perennial was a gift from our friends Brandon and Keri, who also lost a special dog in the past week.  Last Wednesday we showed up on their doorstop, unannounced, offering a small token of sympathy and sharing tears with them.  By Saturday they were at our home, reciprocating the generosity.  Crazy timing.

We’ve been enveloped in generosity this weekend.  The phone calls, cards, emails, flowers, and visits have been so appreciated and helpful.  The landscaping work also kept our minds preoccupied.

We were beyond fragile on the day we said goodbye to Bailey.  The next morning was still pretty bad.  Clark got up first, and the smell of his breakfast lulled me downstairs.  The kids slept in as we sat together at the kitchen island, somberly chewing and looking out at her grave.  We weren’t yet able to talk about her without tears, and we both felt haunted at the final image of her in the ground.

But as we headed outside to tackle the landscaping project, we worked as a team much better than we had in the previous weeks.  Perhaps we were more sensitive to each other because we shared a common grief.  No doubt about it… Bailey’s loss has firmly added another brick to the wall of our marriage history.

It’s now been three days since Bailey has been gone.  We aren’t crying as much, but we wonder if there will ever be a day when we don’t think about her.

She would have loved this yard.

Bowling Themed Birthday Party

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My way of making the kids’ birthdays special is to take something they love and turn it into a full-blown party.  We toned it waaaaay back this year, with only a handful of guests.  (See… I actually learned something from Maggie’s giant Bird Party back in April!)  For Sam’s celebration, we simply took a few kids bowling, and then came back to our house for dinner, cake, ice cream, and more playing.  The boys were all invited to spend the night, which was perfect because the sleepover thing is big in this household right now!

Just because it was a small-scale event doesn’t mean we didn’t still have some fun with a theme!

Of course you set the tone for any good bash with the invitation.  The hokier the wording, the more the kids seem to love it.  There are dozens of puns and wording ideas online, and in this case I don’t think it’s considered plagiarism?  We modified and merged some ideas and came up with this for Sam’s invite:

We only emailed it to three families, but Sam and I had fun making it together one morning while his sister was sleeping in, so that’s all that counts!  The corny text says:
“Roll on over, there’s no time to spare.
We’re going bowling and we want you there.
When the clock strikes 2:30, the pins will fall.
We’ll head to the ally and we’ll have a ball!”

For cakes I always go to Flickr or Google Images to get ideas.  The kids scroll through the pictures with me and typically pick out some fondant masterpiece that is far beyond my capabilities, but this is my way of teaching them the concept of compromise.  Eventually we get enough doable ideas to customize into something manageable.  Here was Sam’s simple bowling cake:

It was a last minute change, as his first choice was a frosting alley with a bowling guy, ball, and pins.  He was excited to arrange his pins into a strike.  I thought a bowling cake topper would be simple to find locally (I’ve bought many other sport ones) but no such luck.  We couldn’t even find a miniature toy bowling set that would work, and no way was I going to attempt frosting pins!  In the end he was thrilled with Plan B.  Phew!

I also made a few snacks for the kids to eat at the bowling alley.  (I got these ideas from another blog – vixenMade – who proved that a bowling party can actually be a classic, refined, retro event.  Ours was not nearly so fancy, but I still used a few of her amazing ideas!)

Here are our edible bowling balls and pins.  The pins are pretzel rods dipped in white chocolate, with red frosting piped around the top.  The balls are Oreos dipped in dyed white chocolate.  (I tried to swirl the colors so the balls would look like the pro balls on the Wii!)

To loosely continue the bowling theme (and honor my son’s love for all things pasta) we had spaghetti and “bowling balls” for dinner.  Okay, they were homemade meatballs.  But they are a perfect party food because they can be made in advance and free you from kitchen duty during the festivities.

Now for my favorite part:  I made matching bowling shirts for everyone!  Once I figured out how to do the iron on transfers, this was actually very easy.  I messed up two shirts before I got it right, so budget time for your own personal learning curve if you don’t already know how to use the transfers!

End result – the kids loved these and looked so official in their matching attire!

Back of shirt:

Front of shirts were customized with each person’s name:

I got the idea for bowling shirts from the Family Fun website, and there is a free template you can download if you don’t want to design your own.  Their template didn’t work with the type of transfer paper I bought, but it still gave me great ideas.  Apparently there is a big difference between the white/light fabric transfers and colored ones, so make sure you know which you need.  Oh, and read the instructions at least 500 times before you even think about plugging in the iron!

(UPDATE:  The Family Fun web site has completely changed and the template is no longer available.  You can download mine here, but there will likely be formatting issues if you don’t have the same fonts installed on your computer.  Just copy the text inside each bowling pin and edit/resize to fit your needs!)

To make these shirts, I found some free bowling pin clip art, and then pasted it into a desktop publishing program (many would work, but I used Microsoft Publisher).  I created a text box layer on top of the clip art to add the words.  From there you simply print on the transfer paper (read instructions… some require you to mirror the image first!), carefully cut out the image exactly as you want it to appear on the shirt, peel the backing, and iron. Be sure to use a firm surface and not an ironing board!

The bowling shirts doubled as our party favors, so I hope the transfers hold up in the laundry!

The other fun thing we did was invent a crazy bowling game.  There are lots of ideas for techniques online, or you can be creative and come up with some on your own.  We called our version “Silly Strike.”  While I was at Michael’s (buying more t-shirts to replace the ones I ruined in my first attempt at the transfers) I grabbed a plain white box and some bowling stickers.  We decorated it like this:

Inside were strips of paper with whacky bowling techniques.  Before each frame, the kids had to draw a slip that instructed them how to bowl.  The common ones we found included:  bowl backwards, bowl with your eyes closed, bowl criss-cross-applesauce, bowl between someone else’s legs, bowl with the opposite hand, and spin before throwing the ball.

But we needed 50 of these things (5 kids x 10 frames) so it involved a fair amount of brainstorming!  Some fun ones that the kids especially enjoyed:  bowl like a robot, pretend to puke after you throw the ball (potty humor is big with 8 year olds), and sing “Happy Birthday” before the first pin falls.  My favorite was “Shout ‘I LOVE MY MOM!’ after you throw the ball.”  Maggie drew that slip.  Warmed my heart.

If you are looking for gift ideas for your little bowling fanatic, then visit the pro shop at your local alley.  We got Sam his own ball, and his Grandma got him the bag to haul it.  He was pretty enamored, and the guy at the pro shop even measured his hand to drill the holes.  Sam wants to join a kid’s bowling league in the fall, so he should get plenty of use out of his 6 lb. ball!

Back home, Sam had hoped the bowling theme would continue.  He created a bracket for a Wii bowling tournament, but the weather was too nice and the boys played outside all evening instead.  If it had been raining then we would have definitely used that idea!

Someday I will learn to create the thank you cards at the same time as the invitation, because after the party our creative energy is always tapped.  We could have gotten all cutesy and said, “Thanks for sparing time to come to my party… I had a ball!”  (Okay, maybe that’s too much?)  We went the simple route instead – Sam colored the cover, and then we photocopied and folded them.  The inside is blank so he can write a personal message for everyone.

Sam said his favorite part about the party was Silly Strike.  My husband was grateful that I kept it relatively simple.  Maggie says she most loved the cake and ice cream.  And my favorite part… was how concentrated the fun was.  It really seemed to honor both Sam’s birthday and his love of bowling.  I went to bed feeling like we bowled a 300 game!