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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Dozen Hard Won Tips Regarding the Family Car

Due to a pretty serious rear-ending, we recently got a new car. (By recently I mean last spring, since I apparently have more pressing matters than punctual blogging?!).  In the mean time we had a rental and a loaner.  It reminded me of all the things I've learned about cars since having kids.  Maybe you know all of this already.  Maybe not.  But I thought I'd share on the chance that there might be one or two helpful things on the list.

Hard won tips in regards to the family car;

1. Having a kid in the car lets you use the diamond lane! AKA carpool lane, HOV lane.  (At least in our state--check yours).

2.When transporting kids, plan on a load time of 15 minutes--that means plan on it taking 15 minutes to get in the car, even if you are only going on a 5 minute trip to the grocery store. In my experience it always takes that long, even if we are going somewhere close to home.

3. When purchasing or renting a car, remember to factor in the width of the backseat, and the trunk space.  Big car seats sometimes take up too much space to go three across, even if there are enough 'seats' in the car.  Narrower car seats and/or seat belt extenders can help. Some crossover cars, while technically 7 seaters, might not have enough trunk space for even a small stroller when all the seats are up.  Soft carriers or renting strollers at your destination can be a work around, but it is not ideal. Also, get the rubber floor mats.  They help.  A lot.

4. Keep some car games handy.  Our favorites are; Slug Bug/Bruiser Cruiser, The Alphabet Game (spot all the letters in the alphabet in order), Hold Your Breath Over the Bridge Game.  Unusual (but safe) kitchen gadgets entertained our young toddlers on long road trips when nothing else would (think potato mashers, colanders, measuring spoons). That and Raffi.  As much as I thought my kids would be perfectly happy listening to my music, I was wrong.  Okee Dokee Brothers are good too.

5. Headphones are great for older kids on longer trips.

6. A good audio book makes car rides much better.  No need to reserve them for long trips.  I figured out we were driving about 4-6 hours a week with the kids in the car.  Everyone looked forward to driving when we were in the middle of a good book.

7. Consider keeping a few sleds in the trunk all winter, or a Frisbee and some sand toys in the trunk all summer.  It makes outdoor play much easier to do on short notice.

8. Stamps, coupons and other things that are only useful out of the house might best be stored in the glove box.

9.Turning the key twice in the direction that unlocks the driver's door will unlock all  the doors.

10.There is an arrow next to the gas icon on the dashboard that shows on which side of the car the gas cap is located.

11. Keep a drivers' manual in the car to consult case of weird occurrences (like the steering wheel locking up).

12. Use GPS or your state's Department of Transportation website to figure out the best rout in current traffic, even if you know how to get there (and get a really accurate ETA). On the same topic, get directions to where you are going to park, not where you are going.

13. During the potty training stage, it can be nice to keep a spare change of clothes in the trunk for kids under 4 or 5.  Whether it is a potty accident, slipping in the mud or spilling punch all over themselves, they tend to need spares now and then.

14.  But, in general, have the kids treat the car like a public transportation. Do not let them get in the habit of leaving coats, books, art supplies, etc, in the car (I know this one is hard--we still struggle).

Oh yeah, and don't let your weirdo cat hang out in the car.  We once almost left with a feline stowaway. What cat voluntarily enters a car??

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Thanksgiving 2015

We hosted Thanksgiving for the first time in 2015!  In the past, the shear size of our family kept us 
from hosting many cold weather events, but this year hosting just fell into place. My sister stayed in New York for the holiday, as she normally does. Charles's siblings and brother-in-law were in Chicago making a feast using the Game of Thrones cookbook.  With both sides of my extended family going elsewhere for Thanksgiving, that left the six of us, plus both sets of grandparents. Dinner for 10 we could handle.

At first I was tempted to make a 'historically accurate' Thanksgiving dinner.  Corn, geese, fish, and venison were the only verifiable dishes, so I expanded to the recipes of Sarah Josepha Hale, who pushed for a national Thanksgiving holiday back in the 1800s.  The Smithsonian has a nice article on the evolution of Thanksgiving, if you want to know more. As much as I love, history, research, and cooking, Charles finally convinced me that for the first go-around, we should just have a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  And he was right.

Our turkey was hand delivered from my  cousin's farm, which went organic last year.  We slipped herbs and butter under the skin for a moist, flavorful bird.  Baking we did in two parts.  Starting the day before,we cooked it until it was nearly done. Thanksgiving day we carved it, basted it with its own juices (or gravy) and finished the last with the last 20-30 minutes for a juicy hot turkey.

Charles and the kids made pierogies, a favorite of his from his childhood.  Growing up, Polish aunts and grandmothers made these little potato dumplings.  When the family moved from Canada, there was a pierogie lull, but Charles took on the task of making sure these ethnic delicacies make it to as many family holidays as possible.  I usually cover the mushroom sauce made to accompany them. This year he got the kids involved.  They all got to try the pierogie maker (a handy little gadget), and the older kids helped with the cooking.

Other dishes included succotash (a nod to that historic menu),  my dad's sweet potatoes, Marianne's fruit salad, green beans, stuffed squash, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and pie for dessert.  We covered the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffed acorn squash, pierogies and succotash.  Our parents thankfully covered the rest.

Thanksgiving morning found me not frantically cooking, but frantically sewing.  At the last minute I decided we needed a table cloth.  I'd found a remnant at the fabric store the day before and got the hemming and ironing in before most of the household was up.  This was also a great opportunity to use GG Lois's china.  We try to use it, in the words of my grandmother 'enough to let the kids know it is special,' the thinking being that if we never use it, it won't mean anything to them, and if we always use it, it won't be special either.  This usually translates to major holidays and sometimes birthdays--so 3-6 times a year. 


 Charlotte and Ariadne got the kids' table to themselves this year. Some holidays we can fit everyone at one table, others there is an adult table (50+) a young adult table (14-36), and a kids & parents young children's table (0-36).  It varies a lot. 

After the meal it was time to clear the tables and make way for games, tea, and pie.  Settlers of Catan was enjoyed by all.  

Ariadne was determined to sit between her grandparents.  She crawled under the table and squeezed in. 

 After the big board game was finished, Charlotte and Charles got in a little chess.

Playing With the Cello

Charlotte likes to play with her cello.  As in, the cello becomes a playmate.  Waiting for Solomon and Nova to finish orchestra rehearsal last winter, the cello got dressed like a snowman.  Sometimes Aria pretends to be a very special kind of human cello (I think she mostly likes to hide in the case, which is just her size.) On the way to Charlotte's cello concert last spring, I overheard the following conversation:

Charlotte: Hello Cello

Cello: music sounds

Charlotte: I like Happy Farmer and May Song.  

Cello: music sounds

Charlotte: We are going to play Happy Farmer today.  

Cello: music sounds 

Charlotte: What do you like to play?  

Cello: music sounds

Charlotte: I like harmonics too. 

Cello: music sounds 

Charlotte: What is your favorite color?

Cello: music sounds

Charlotte: Between orange and red.  That's nice, I like those colors too.

Cello: music sounds

Charlotte: My favorites are green, blue, silver and purple.  

Cello: music sounds

Charlotte: What is your favorite thing to do? I know, I bet it's playing music, right?

Cello: music that sounds like 'no, no, no, no, no'

Charlotte: It's NOT?!

Cello: music sounds 

Charlotte: You like to be put away in your case?  What to do you like about it?  

Cello: music sounds 

Charlotte: Mom, she said she likes the soft velvet inside and the chance to rest and take a nap.  

What is your second favorite?  Playing music? NO?

Cello: music sounds 

Charlotte: Getting your end pin pulled out?  Why?  Does it tickle?  

Cello: music sounds

Charlotte: She said it's like a massage.

Cello: music sounds

Charlotte: Oh, I see.  She was just kidding, her favorite thing to do is play harmonics.  The other two are her second and third favorite.

And here they are, playing Happy Farmer by Robert Schumann (Note: this is from her group class a few weeks before the recital.  If I find the video of the recital, I'll put it up).

What We DId Last Summer (Oops! I mean 2015);Space: An Out-Of-Gravity Experience

Living ten minutes from the Science Museum of Minnesota has been great.  In the summer of 2015, the whole family took the opportunity to spend the afternoon at their traveling exhibit on Space.  The only bad thing about it was that it wasn't permanent. On the upside, it is traveling the country.  As of this posting, the exhibit is on view in Portland, Oregon and is scheduled to open in Boston in 2018.

Solomon inside the space station simulator.  Though they couldn't get rid of gravity, they certainly tried.  The entire room rotated around you, leaving no meaning to 'up' 'down' or 'sideways.'  The whole experience was much cooler than I thought it would be.

Nova trying to pick things up with a pressurized astronaut's glove--I tried it too--very challenging.

The blue suit on the mannequin is actually a pair of space pajamas.  They made me think of my sister, who is a costume designer.  The loops are for 'hooking in' so you don't float around too much at night.  There is also special compression, to combat the effects of weightlessness on the human body.

The girls playing with a doll house version of the international space station.

One of my favorite parts of the exhibit were nine jars of peanut butter, all weighted for what they would feel like in the atmospheres of the moon, the Earth, and the other planets.

What We Did Last Summer (Oops! I mean 2015); Triathlon

 2015 was the year of my first (and so far only) Triathlon.  Swimming has been a favorite of mine since childhood, as well as one of my high school sports, so I wasn't too worried about that part.  Nothing could convince me enter a long distance running event--unless it is adding swimming and biking.  I know--this makes no sense.  Anyway, I did the necessary amount of training, did really well in swimming, horribly in biking and surprisingly, not terrible in running.  It was a good time.  I will have to try it again. I might even get Nova to join me. My race was a Super Sprint, which was  good distance to start.  I also did the YWCA's triathlon. which is an all women's event--a good call.  Charles and the kids came to cheer me on.  Attempts at moving to a new house kept me from doing a triathlon in 2016.  Maybe 2017?

What We Did Last Summer (Oops! I mean 2015); Playing Fiddle at the State Fair

Solomon and Nova have been going to Fiddle Camp for a number of years--in fact most years since they each reached 7 or 8 years old.  Every once in awhile, they get a chance to play at the State Fair. 2015 was one such year.

Granne and Grandpa John came to see them (and give me a hand with the two younger kids).   Afterwards we got some pronto pups, then headed to the midway for some thrilling adventure.

Ariadne and I enjoyed the carousel and the giant yellow wave slide.  Nova and Charlotte were daredevils and went for the trampoline and bunji jump ride.  We looked at some enormous horses in the equestrian building and Charlotte got to try braiding a horse's tail.  We wrapped up the afternoon with the Ferris wheel and some slushies.

60th Wedding Anniversary plus the 4th of July

For my Grandparents, last September was a milestone few get to celebrate: their 60th wedding anniversary.  Looking at school calendars, sports calendars, and work calendars of their 31 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (and spouses), we hit upon the 4th of July as the best day to celebrate, despite the fact that it was precisely two months early.  My aunt and uncle hosted.

During dinner I asked them how they got to 60 years.  This is what they said:

[OK--I am having difficulty uploading the video.  Hopefully I will get it up here soon. What they said right off the bat was 'just keep going.']

My grandparents and four of their five kids
Cameron, Dani, Conor, Solomon, Alyssa and Bart

The day was gorgeous, as you can see.  Lawn games, the trampoline, and a chance to go swimming kept the youngest generation happy.  They also enjoyed playing with their cousins, young and old.

Our fantastic dinner.

The youngest of the great grandchildren romping on the trampoline.

In the pantry at my grandparents' house is a patch of wall with every ones' heights from about 1988 onward.  We have most of my male cousins under 3' and over 6', my kids as toddlers, all my aunts and uncles (at adult height, of course).  I even think my grandparents are on there somewhere.  My grandfather has said more than once that if they ever move, that is the one thing he'll miss most about the house.  So my aunts and uncles did their best to recreate it.  Here they are unwrapping it.  All the previous measurements were already marked.  We had fun adding a few more.


Conor looks like he is about to edge out Uncle Jim as tallest in the family.  At 5'6'' (a full foot shorter than these guys) Conor's sister Ginger and I are tied for shortest among the grandchildren--or maybe I alone hold that title--she could be 5'7'').
GG John, GG Rose, and me

As dusk settled, the kids convinced me to get in the pool (and allow them to go swimming too) Ariadne, Charlotte and I chased after glowing, floating, color, changing orbs dotting the water's surface, a special decoration for the occasion.   Soon it was truly dark, time to get out of the pool    and go watch the fireworks.

Built by the town's mayor in the 1970s, the front lawn had a perfect view of the fireworks.  Ariadne sat on my lap and oohed and aahed, genuinely impressed.  After awhile she turned and asked me 'are they real?' In a childhood full of screens displaying special effects like 3D, interactive apps and 'magic' touch screens, I suppose this was a reasonable question from a 3 year old.  When I told her 'yes' she was awed. At some point one of my aunts commented that they should be for rent, fireworks were so much more fun with little kids.

An Evening in Stillwater (Or How We Are Managing Teen Activities with Little Kids)

Solomon and Nova went to a bonfire last summer, an event put on as part of a home school teen group we've been in on for the last year or so.  It was lovely.  Imagine tiki torches, ceviche, root beer and lemonade, sweets, a bonfire and of course--teens--about twenty of them.  We've known most of these kids and their families casually for several years.  Fashion ranged from T-shirts, track pants and shaggy hair to bright red mow hawks complete with full punk style. At 14 and 12 they are old enough to have fun with this group of sweet, highly individual teens, but not old enough to get there on their own.

So what to do?  Impromptu Mommy time. Luckily Stillwater is a beautiful town.  We missed Teddy Bear park by mere minutes.  Instead we spend a lovely evening by the water, checking out the iconic lift bridge and getting a glimpse of the new highway bridge going in.  Rounding out the evening with a stop at a candy store made for happy kiddos.  Even better, they got to see their favorite babysitter Moira when we picked Solomon and Nova up from the party.

Will this always work? No, certainly not.  We will need a varied approach.  So far amusement parks and parades have been good crowd pleasers for times when everyone has needed to come along. We've done a few selective drop off events.  Ballroom dancing club is about as wholesome a place we could hope to drop off our teen and tween.  Carpooling will probably factor in at some point.  Maybe public transit? It is an evolving situation that will take creativity and compromise.  One of the joys and challenges of a 10 year spread is getting in on (nearly) all stages of parenting at once. 

A cruise boat seen from underneath the current Stillwater lift bridge.

And the new bridge, under construction. Below is a view headed into town.  By the time we hit main street, it was too dark for photos.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Camping On Madeline Island! (2015)

We took two family camping trips last year.  Our first was part of a family reunion in July.  Initially I thought that would be enough, but we had so much fun we planned another for just the six of us over Labor Day weekend.

We've always enjoyed Madeline Island, so that is where we headed.  A late start and a detour landed us in Duluth the first night.  No one seemed to mind an unexpected night in a hotel.  We managed to get a suit, which was a handy way to make room for everyone and use some of the food we'd packed using the kitchenette.  Charles had been reading of The Adventures of Cugel by Jack Vance to the kids on the way up.  (For anyone familiar with the book, rest assured, he edited it on the fly and made sure everything was PG).  They loved the zany adventures and impossible vocabulary of this 1950s sci-fi classic.  After a little time in the pool the next morning, we were off.

We got to Bayfield had lunch at Greunke's and boarded the ferry for Madeline Island.

On the Ferry

Despite adding in an extra day for driving, somehow we still managed to be setting up our tent in headlights.  Not my favorite part of camping. Theoretically avoidable, but we still run into it every couple years.  This time, I blamed the dying light of September.  Sundown is much earlier than in July, and I'd forgotten to take that into account.  We even had a lantern-lit dinner that first night.  

The next day the kids got to check out an arial tent one of our neighbors was putting up.  



We spent some quality time on at the State Park beach and headed into town for dinner.  Our table was dockside, allowing for a little wading while waiting. 

The kids are all sporting souvenirs of a practical nature--flip flops, sun dress, straw hat, skirt (somehow half the group thought we were only going to the beach and neglected to wear a complete, restaurant worthy outfit.  The other half talked me into souvenirs on grounds of fairness).

Canoeing through the Town Park Lagoon struck me as a beginning version of the Apostle Islands themselves, complete with miniature achipelagos.  It was perfect for our family.   Each canoe got a big kid, a parent, and a little kid as duffer.


                                                                                                                                                  From there we went swimming at the Town Park beach.  Or maybe I should say we went sandcastle building--that was the favorite activity, as you can see.  Charlotte found and interesting array of rocks, which she spread out on the brim of her hat back at the camp site.  I was reminded of Rhoda's Rocks by Molly Beth Griffin.

Solomon loved the cold of Lake Superior like no one else.  I love this photo of him, all alone in the lake.  The truth is there are tons of people on the beach and in the shallower water--no one else thought it was warm enough for swimming that day but him.  

A whimsical cabin on the road to town

I got in one lone bike ride before it was time to head back home--an exploratory one to see if the trip to the north end of the island was a worthwhile for the whole family--it was not, but the solitary ride was worthwhile for me.  I was hoping we might be able to see the other islands to the north. Maybe next time we are in the Apostle Islands we will find a way to get to the rest of the archipelago--maybe kayak or sailboat.  From there it was time to pack up, stop for ice cream get back on the ferry. The very next day was the start of school.  The very next weekend Charles and I had a wedding to attend in LA.  Taken together, this ten day stretch was a whirlwind for sure, but worth it.