Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's He Got to Do with It?

Tonight as we were sitting in Wendy's between our museum hops (it was the only restaurant nearby), we found ourselves listening to a lot of classic 80s music. At one point, my six-year old was singing along with Tina Turner with the words, "What's love Dr. Doolittle."

Museum Hopping

After Beth got home from work today we headed down to the American Swedish Institute. I'd been hoping to get in some museum visits during Christmas break (excuse me--winter break), but we had only gotten to the zoo so far. The boys love ASI. They call the building the "Swedish Castle" (which it does happen to be classified as the only "castle" in Minneapolis somehow). Even if we didn't have some Scandinavian blood in our family, I think we'd still enjoy the place. It has nice displays as well as spots just for kids (the boys loved playing in the Lilla Stuga (little house), pretending to make cookies and buns for Sankta Lucia Day). They were also given a sheet with a scavenger hunt of things to find as we went through the museum which they enjoyed doing. We didn't even get through everything before it closed. I guess we'll be going back another day.

We decided while we were close to it to head over to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as well (thanks to a friend who confirmed for us on her smart phone that it was open late--she got a kick out of us "museum hopping"). We just did a quick, focused tour--Anders wanted to see the mummy and the knights--which is part of the fun of free museums. You can drop in whenever. It's fun as they're getting old and enjoy exploring museums a little more. I'm looking forward to being able to spend some time just enjoying exhibits in the future and not feeling the need to keep moving on in order to keep young bodies entertained.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and your family a blessed and peaceful Christmas with a lot of fun together!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cookies

Over the past few weeks the boys and I made some cookies (those pictured are not the ones we made)--and Beth helped as well. We made several plates to give to some of our neighbors. It was one of those good bonding moments as we made the cookies, decorated and delivered them. Plus, they got to see the joy on people's faces as we delivered the plates. Even one of our neighbor kids wanted to help deliver them (though he stopped after we got to his house, because he's been eying up the cookies since we made them).

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Snowy Day

We had snow again today. One of our smaller snowfalls of the season--only 4 or 5 inches. We've had around 30 inches of snow this month alone. It's going to be a fun winter.

Sometimes it's hard to get my boys to do anything. We tried to get them outside today during the snow. Most kids seem willing to play outside. It was a struggle to get them out. We eventually forced them into their snow pants and out the door. I grabbed their little shovels and they helped me shovel off the front steps and some of the sidewalk. They were actually really good helpers. And they ended up enjoying it. I just wish it wasn't always a bit fight to get them out.

We also took a plate of cookies we made to some of our neighbors tonight. Anders wanted to leave them on their doorstep and run away, making it an anonymous gift like St. Nicholas. We ended up just hand-delivering them (since our names were on them any way, they weren't going to be that anonymous). We've got a new neighbor who wasn't home tonight (I've met her once, but the rest of the family hasn't, nor have we met her kids). Not all of our neighbors speak much English, but a plate of desserts translates into any language, I believe.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Shopping

Yesterday Anders had the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping (it was supposed to be last Saturday but postponed due to the blizzard we had). Plymouth Christian Youth Center gave the chance for grade school children to buy five Christmas presents for a buck. When we signed up to do it, we were given a "ticket" on which Anders was supposed to choose the people he wanted to give the presents to (writing down ages and gender for helping find the right gifts). In addition to his immediate family, Anders wanted to get gifts for his two cousins that are closest in age to him from my family.

They had an adult help who assisted in finding the presents that would be appropriate for each person. While he shopped, Nils and I sat in the waiting area with all the other parents (it seemed like hundreds of kids would be going through before the night was over. A local jazz/gospel band played for us (which Nils thoroughly enjoyed). When Anders came back out, the volunteer helping him said he did a good job--she was impressed with the thought he put into each gift. That was good to hear.

So thank you to PCYC (and all the donors of the gifts) for giving Anders the opportunity to do some "shopping." It helped reinforce the message we've been sharing that we can find joy in giving to others rather than focusing on what we want to get for ourselves.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lessons Learned

After school Beth overheard Anders talking with the neighbor boys as they were playing with the boys' new toy:
"We got it for St. Nicholas Day. It's for sharing."

It's good to hear them getting it.

St. Nicholas Day

Yesterday was St. Nicholas Day. We have chosen to honor that day for gift giving over Christmas Day which we want to keep more focused on the birth of Jesus. St. Nicholas was known for his generous charity to others, so we follow suit by packing a shoe box filled with toys, crayons, toothbrushes and other items for children overseas who wouldn't receive gifts otherwise. Nils and I were able to deliver our boxes yesterday to the Operation Christmas Child dropsite in the Twin Cities. The boys also receive a present in honor of St. Nicholas, but we try to keep the main focus on giving rather than receiving.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent

Today marks the first day of Advent. I know it's not a big deal in all churches or families, but we're finding the importance of rhythms and celebrations in our children's spiritual development. I remember fondly as a child the candles being lit each Sunday by a family in our church congregation as one of the family members read the Scripture reading for the day.

I didn't prepare well for Advent this year. In the past we've had an Advent wreath with our own candles at home. We've had interactive Advent readings to do together as a family each evening. I know some families buy the advent calendars that have a little gift behind each day's window. I remember a homemade advent calendar when I was young--I think it just had something like lollipops tied to it. The calendar's aren't always very meaningful, though. Often they just add more sugar to a child's diet--or more trinkets that they probably don't need.

I was given a book a few years ago, Seeking the Christmas Lamb: Forty Days of Celebrating Christ's Sacrifice Through The Season by Tamara Buchan, that I may try and use this year. Most Christian bookstores will have some Advent devotionals. Check with your pastor or priest, too. If you want to make Advent more impactful and less about materialism, be sure to check out Advent Conspiracy. Their resources page has a download for a children's ministry curriculum.

One easy-to-access online resource we've used a few times is The Jesse Tree. It has short daily readings, a question for reflection, a prayer and a picture with which to make a mobile.

May you find something memorable and meaningful for your family.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ham and Potato Soup

We had ham this week. So tonight it was time for some yummy potato and ham soup. I used the ham bone to make some stock.

I added some water so that I had probably 4-6 cups of liquid.
Then I added 5 medium sized potatoes.
Next came a cup or two of chopped ham, a chopped celery stalk and a diced onion.
I sprinkled in some thyme, dill and paprika. I let it all boil for about 15 minutes.

In a separate sauce pan I melted 5 tablespoons of butter and stirred in 5 tablespoons of flour. After this mixed together smoothly I added 2 cups of milk and brought it to a boil until it was thickened. I stirred this into the soup.

We served this with some cheese. It was delicious.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spiritual Development of Children

Yesterday morning my wife and I attended a workshop at our church. Viv Houk, author of Parenting by Developmental Design: You, Your Child and God and a member of our church, shared about the spiritual development of children. It was a good workshop--no big "aha moments," but plenty to think about.

She hit on the spiritual development progress of children: the need for protective love, order, fairness and justice, forgiveness and heroes to follow. We talked about a child's spiritual experience--how it's innate in all children, even if they don't have exposure to faith within the home. We talked about what children need in order to have their faith nurtured.

One of the main things that stuck out to us was the importance of including children. We're thankful to be in a church that values the presence of children in worship. Not only do children learn from us, but we need them to learn from as well. Too often, children are encouraged to be "seen and not heard" in churches. And too often in homes as well. It's important for children to belong, to be needed.

We discussed the importance of including children in chores around the home. It's not easy--sometimes they cause tasks to take much longer than they need in times when we want to get things done quickly. Children just want time with us, though. It's important for their development.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pirates, Pajamas and Pancakes


This last Saturday we celebrated Nils' birthday with his friends. Of course, it was also the first big snowfall of the season, so everyone had to contend with driving through inches of snow to get here.

Borrowing the breakfast idea from another friend's birthday party, we chose to do a Pajama & Pirate Pancake Party. It partly stemmed from someone giving us a pirate ship cake mold and the boys receiving a pirate costume hand-me-down from their cousin. The morning idea was fun, though. Kids came in pajamas or pirate costumes (or a mix). We started with pancakes (and all the fixin's), bacon, fruit and juice. We read a pirate story, played some pirate games (Pin the Parrot on the Pirate and Hook the Pretzels) and opened presents. The "cake" was actually banana bread (though is just as rich as cake) that my wife made with cream cheese frosting "waves" on the side.

It was a simple birthday party--as we try to keep them. I stressed too much about "programming" everything and worrying about the amount of people and everything. Kids just like to eat, play and have fun together.
And afterward, of course, Nils had to check out the snow. We got around 9 inches (the week before had been in the 60s). Winter is here, and I've got a four-year old who is ready to play in the snow and on the ice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Boys on Beauty

We were watching an old episode of the Muppet Show tonight with Marisa Berenson as the guest star when Nils (who just turned four today) said, "She's beautiful."

To which Anders (his six-year-old brother) replied, "Yeah, you have to admit, she really is."

The Birthday Outing

I ended up not having to watch my niece and nephew today, which is my youngest son's 4th birthday. When I realized this last night, I looked into taking him to Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America. They have an offer for a free wristband on your child's birthday. I was still able to sign up for it last night. So Nils and I headed down to the mall this morning. He's never gotten to go on a ride there (in fact, the only reason we ever go to the mall is to go to Legoland--not to buy, but to look and play). So this was a special treat.

When we arrived and got his wristband, we also received a special birthday coupon book. So, after riding a lot of rides (some I was allowed to go on with him if it required a "chaperon"), Nils partook of free mini golf (we had a coupon for if I purchased, but didn't need since under-five-year olds are free), ate a free cookie from Nestle Tollhouse and got a free chocolate birthday cake ice cream cone from Kemps. We had a fun, full day and our only out-of-pocket expense was $3.75 for a couple hot dogs, a slice of pizza, chips and a drink across the street at Ikea for lunch.

It was a fund day for a four-year old to spend his birthday without having to spend a lot of money to do it. If your child has an upcoming birthday and you live near the Twin Cities, check out Nickelodeon Universe.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Creamy Rutabaga Soup

My almost-4-year-old has been going through a phase lately. And not one of the fun ones. Part of it involves complaining every time he comes to the table--which we don't put up with. So he often doesn't eat, by his choice. One of the things he did eat recently was Creamy Rutabaga Soup (I know, right? Who is this kid?).

I'm all about fresh, seasonal produce and rutabagas (along with other root vegetables) were available at the farmer's market lately. So, I found a soup recipe online (soups are a staple in our house this time of year) and tweaked it a little. Here's the recipe:

1 medium rutabaga, about 2 pounds
1 small carrot
2 bay leaves
3 T. butter
4 T. soft unbleached flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black peppercorns
2 c. milk
grated nutmeg
cheese/cream cheese

Peel the rutabaga, and cut it into thin slices. Put them in a large pot with enough water just to cover them, and the bay leaves. Peel, slice and add the carrot to the pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the butter, flour, salt and pepper together in another pot until well amalgamated. Lower the heat, and add the milk, a little at a time and stirring constantly to prevent it from forming lumps (this is a basic white sauce). Once the mixture is thick, set it aside until the rutabaga is done.

When the rutabaga is done, put the white sauce into a blender or food processor with the pieces of rutabaga and carrot, which should be lifted out of the cooking water with a slotted spoon. Purée the rutabaga, carrot and white sauce until very smooth.

Put the soup back into a pot that the white sauce was in. Put three cups of the cooking water from the rutabaga into the food processor, and whizz it around to clean the sides. Pour this water into the soup, and stir well until smooth. Grate a little nutmeg over the soup, and mix it in.

Reheat the soup just before serving. Serve garnished with parsley, chives or a little more grated nutmeg.

Knowing that my family might need some coaxing, I added a bit of cheese and cream cheese to the soup to lessen the rutabaga flavor and make it a little creamier. I probably used about a quarter cup of cream cheese and another quarter to half cup of whatever cheese was already open in the refrigerator (it may have been muenster or farmers or possibly some cheddar).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin Guts

My favorite part of Halloween is carving pumpkins. Not because of the carving itself, but because of pumpkin seeds. Honestly, the seeds are my favorite part (other than getting to rifle through my kids' candy stash). Roasted pumpkin seeds are one of my favorite snacks.

Thankfully, even though pumpkins aren't around for too long, squash seeds are just as delicious (and often it's far cheaper to purchase squash than pumpkins). If you haven't tried them yet, roast some seeds.

After scooping out your squash, pick out as much "guts" (pollination stems) as possible. Wash the seeds. I don't worry too much about getting them too clean--I figure extra squash on them is just extra nutrients. I only dry them through the colander; I don't worry about them being overly dry (though you can let them dry more if you want). Turn your oven on to 350 degrees (I've seen many different recipes with different temperature settings--I'm often baking the squash at the same time, so I just keep them at the same temperature). Spread the seeds out on a cookie sheet. Spray them with cooking oil. Sprinkle salt and other seasonings on top (chili powder, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, etc.). Roast for about 15 minutes (I'm not positive on the time--just keep an eye on them. When they're turning brown, they're ready.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Role Play

Anders & Nils (to me): Yargh! We're pirates (wielding "swords" made out of K'nex).
Anders (to Nils): Now let's be muskrats. I mean musketeers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

I love soups during this time of year. They're usually pretty easy to prepare, typically can be done in a slow cooker and often can be made in bulk and frozen for later use.


I came across a couple pounds of mushrooms recently and found a good use for them online. My wife doesn't normally go for mushrooms, but she enjoyed this soup. Here's my slightly-altered-version of Hungarian Mushroom Soup:

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill weed
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (or sour cream)

  • Directions
  1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the onions in the butter for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute for 5 more minutes. Stir in the dill, paprika, soy sauce and broth. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. In a separate small bowl, whisk the milk and flour together. Pour this into the soup and stir well to blend. Cover and simmer for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Finally, stir in the salt, ground black pepper, Worcestershire and sour cream. Mix together and allow to heat through over low heat, about 3 to 5 minutes. Do not boil.

My kids enjoyed eating it with bread toasted with melted cheese on top. Bread with soup is always a must.

Mom Time (aka The Date)

My wife is pretty good about making time for each of the boys once in a while. She takes them out on a date. It's usually just to the cookie shop down the road, but what more does a boy want for a date? Cookies, time with mom, sometimes a board game. It's the life.

It's important for her to get individualized time with each of the boys. It's important for them as well. Encourage your spouse to take that time. It doesn't have to be much--just some focused time to remind them that they're special. And that their parents love them. Plus, you don't need a baby-sitter for this kind of date.

Now to figure out how to do that with my wife...

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Orchestra

Our names had gotten drawn this fall for tickets to Target's Free Family Concerts with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. So this past Saturday the boys and I picked up a friend from church (Beth had to work) and we headed to downtown St. Paul to the Ordway. Nils put on his new favorite clip-on tie (49 cents at a thrift shop) and even Anders' got dressed up (albeit with his usual reluctance).

The concert was The Four Seasons Unleashed. It involved a radio host interviewing Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzolla, an Argentinian composer to wrote his own version of the Four Seasons more than 200 hundred years later. It compared how each composer interpreted the seasons from their geographic perspectives and showed how Piazzolla was inspired by Vivaldi whilst infusing his music with South American flavor.

The orchestra did a good job of making it a family friendly event. It helps that there wasn't the expectation of anyone in the building for the kids to sit quietly the whole time. There were plenty of wiggles and giggles (and other noises), but the kids also weren't bored with it. There is something about classical music...I'm glad my kids got the opportunity to experience it live.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Frugal Resources

A lot of the opportunities for free events I know about I find out from through the website Pocket Your Dollars. The website's founder got out of debt by making better financial decisions and clipping coupons. She shares her tips on the website as well. I don't use the grocery shopping tips much since we mainly shop at Aldi where I feel we still save a decent amount without taking time to clip coupons, but it's worth checking out. A lot of the events are around the Twin Cities metro area, but there is plenty of things on the website for everyone no matter where you live.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Today: A Play

We were able to score tickets not too long ago through the Free Night of Theater Event, so we took the boys to see Robin Hood this morning at the Children's Theater Company. It would have been a $64 outing for us otherwise. I'm grateful for all the free opportunities we're able to get. Next weekend we have free family tickets to a concert with the St. Paul Orchestra. We've been able to see a lot. Still, I sometimes get jealous of the parents who are able to do things like that all the time. Then I remember all the kids in our neighborhood who have probably never seen a play or gone to a museum or other similar experiences. So I'm very grateful for these opportunities.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

This morning I overheard one of our neighbors yelling at the bus driver for yelling at her kid on the bus. I could only hear the "conversation" from the parent's side, but she proceeded to cuss the bus driver out and invite them off the bus to fight. The bus driver wisely closed the door and drove away.

Whether or not the bus driver had yelled at the kids on the bus, yelling back at the bus driver didn't get anywhere. If you're trying to make sure your kids are respected, don't disrespect them by treating others poorly. There is a lot of irony that she was yelling at the bus driver for yelling at her kid. In fact, she disrespected all the kids on the bus (as well as the driver, of course) by responding to the driver with yelling and abusive language. We don't need to teach kids that the solution to a problem is to yell, call names and fight.

When we yell at others, we often show our own issues (if we take the time to look at ourselves). Getting upset over other's shortcomings reveals our impatience, disrespectfulness or anger issues. Of course, we all have our issues; none are perfect. But let's respect our kids in teaching them to handle issues properly (as well as dealing with our own issues), being respectful of others (as well as our children). Most cultures have some form of Jesus' Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." Treat others the way you want to be treated--the way you want your children to be treated.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dads on NPR

Talk of the Nation on NPR today had a segment on the changing demographics and roles of men and women in the workplace which touched on stay-at-home dads. My wife told me about it on her way home from work, saying that TOTN was going to feature stay-at-home dads. I didn't get to listen to much of it when it was on since I was taking care of kids at the time. I'm just finishing it up right now, listening to it on line.

Here's a link to the audio of it if you're interested: End of the Macho Man?

The title of the segment is a bit offensive--or is it meant to be tongue-in-cheek? Our society still has a lot of biases about what men and women are supposed to do. I was recently introduced to a stay-at-home dad who is from Africa. Doing that is taboo in the culture he came out of. I know in my neighborhood I am the odd one out--some of my neighbors also come form cultures where being an at-home dad isn't macho or acceptable. We're at a point in history where we're wrestling with what it means to be a man or woman as well as fighting against long-established gender barriers. To me what matters is that we're doing what we want to be doing and doing it for the sake of those we love.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Art for Art's Sake

Anders had a field trip last Friday. They ended up not needing me along as a chaperon. So Nils and I took a field trip of our own to the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. Once again, I must express my appreciation for free museums and attractions. We wouldn't be able to get out as much otherwise.
It's getting to be more enjoyable because Nils is able to enjoy a little time there. He loves taking pictures for one thing. He's also becoming quite the artist himself--something that used to be only Anders' thing. Now Nils is into drawing and painting--and it's fun to see him improving and enjoying it.

One of the fun things about the museum, too, is that you can explore different parts of the world and different parts of history. The boys love the knight armor and swords, the Egyptian mummy and the African masks.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Get It In Writing

Nils said to me tonight, "I'm going to be Iron Man for Halloween. I'm goimg to write that down."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Green Chips (Kale Chips)

This past weekend some friends brought over kale and Swiss chard from their garden. I haven't had much experience with either plant before, but I have come across recipes lately for kale chips and have had friends rave about them. I found that any heavy green can work for the chips (kale, chard, spinach, etc.). If you search for kale chips or chard chips recipes you'll find many of them out there (Weelicious is a good kid-focused recipe website). The basic ones go like this:

  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Remove the stems from the kale (or whichever green you're using).
  • Cut the kale into chip-sized pieces
  • Lightly coat the leaves with oil (or spray them with a cooking spray). I used olive oil, pouring it over the leaves in a bowl. Not knowing how many leaves were in the bowl, I can't exactly tell you how much oil I used either. My advice is not too much (I over coated them, I felt)--just enough to lightly coat each leaf.
  • Place the leaves on a cooking sheet in a single layer (if you're using parchment paper underneath you should be able to get by with even less oil).
  • If desired, season (some recipes just skip seasoning as the chips will have a decent flavor as they are, others add a light amount of sea salt--you don't need much at all we found, we even tried some Parmesan cheese and garlic salt).
  • Bake for about 15 minutes (watch closely--lighter leaves like chard will take less time). As soon as the leaf is crisp, they're done--don't let them get too brown.

We had a neighbor kid over when we tried these last night and they were a hit with all the kids. They really end up just like a chip. It's a good way to sneak a good dose of vitamins into them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Toy Story 3

Yesterday the boys and I went to see Toy Story 3. I know it's been out for a while, but we were waiting for it to get to the cheap theaters (I'm not often compelled with the need to see something the first weekend it's open & financially, the cheap theater is what we can do). It was the first movie I had seen in a long time (my wife needed to study while we went), and it was really the first movie my almost-4-year old saw in the theater--at least that he was able to sit through.

There were a couple of intense scenes--but these got to my 6-year old more than my almost-4-year old. He's the sensitive one anyway. At the end of the movie when Andy and his mom are in Andy's empty bedroom, my son starts crying. Movies often touch him. I love that about him. He's also acutely aware that he's getting older. And that means changes. It means not being able to do the things he did when he was littler. It means that someday he won't have his toys to play with anymore.

I hope he never grows out of being sensitive. Sure, he needs to learn to be in control of his emotions and not let them control him so much. But I also don't want him to get to the point where he feels he needs to hide his emotions.

And I'm acutely aware that my kids are growing up, too. I'm not thrilled about it, but it is a bit unavoidable. And it's my job (not the school's or our church's or even the government's) to make sure he grows up well. That's our goal as parents: to raise children who can go out and live on their own when their old enough, being able to make the right decisions and having the resources to do so. We are not to hold them too tightly that we can't let them go (nor too loosely that they don't know real love from us). So, when the day comes and my son needs to box up his toys and get ready to leave for college, I'm sure I'll shed a tear, but I'll also know that he's ready for it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Another Zoo Trip

After three days in a row of watching my niece and nephew (which I do enjoy, but it's hard to do much with additional kids during the day), Nils and I headed over to Como Park today. You really can't beat a free outing like that. It may not be as big as other zoos, but the kids always leave happy.

I enjoy going in the non-summer months when there aren't crowds to fight. Plus, today we heard a zoo talk about the giraffes, saw them training the polar bears, watched the seals and sea lions being fed and took in a story time. It can be quite the educational tour--plus, all the information I can share with my kids. Not to mention quality time together (and the relaxing time in the conservatory enjoying the smells of the flowers).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finger Painting

Nils has been into finger-painting lately (so much so that the paints are hardly a recognizable color anymore). Tonight I broke out a few canvases that were tossed away at our old apartment. There were three of them, so we each got to get our fingers dirty. It's been years since I've finger-painted, but the boys always enjoy doing things together. So, that's my piece of advice for today: play along with your kids. Use those crayons in a coloring book, push that train around the track, create with Legos, stack a tower with building blocks, create a new fashion for Barbie. Play and have fun (but remember it's for the kids--I know it can become easy to get too focused on that amazing house you're building with Legos).

Nils' abstract untitled work, Anders' flower on a hill (with mixing palette on the side) and my ode to "Starry Night"

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hands Full

Three days a week I watch my sister's kids. They're almost 2 and 3 months. So I've got four kids ages 6 and under (though my 6-year old is in school most of the day, so really just 3 kids under 4). Some days I'm happy if I just get meals made.

Of course, there's always housework to be done. And diapers to change. And mouths to feed. And kids who need some focused time with me. Plus somewhere in there I'd like to stay sane and find a little time for myself (even if it's writing a quick spot on here).

All the while, I'm thankful I have the opportunity. I get a little supplemental financial gift for watching the kids (which is much needed right now) and I get to know my niece and nephew better--even having the opportunity to shape them in small ways: working with my niece on the ABCs, 123s and spelling her name. And I get time with my kids, get to help mold them and I don't have to worry about what they're picking up at day care. Frankly, the consistency of being with them each day pays off.

The truth is, we all have our hands full--no matter how many (if any) kids we have. Life is full. We make choices what we fill it with--and how well we handle what we've got. While I may not get much accomplished on days I'm watching several kids, I can still make it an effective day simply by pouring our best into whatever task is at hand--even if it's playing with the kids.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

Labor Day is one of those holidays with little meaning to it. Basically it got on the calendar to appease the labor unions, as I understand it. Most of us observe it as "the end of summer": a chance to travel, get outdoors, bar-be-que or hang out with friends and neighbors. Often it's a last-bash-before-school-begins event, but we're already a week into school this year. For almost everyone it's a day off from work. Except stay-at-home parents, of course (unless your spouse is gifting you with a day to yourself, but it usually tends to be a family day).

An older gentleman asked me this weekend what I do. I told him that I'm home with my kids. He replied, "Oh, you're a babysitter." I didn't bother with trying to change that idea--he was from a different generation, and I doubted I would get too far.

We all know people who have that image of us. And well all know that there is so much more to being a stay-at-home parent. It's a thankless job that pays nothing. But there are great benefits.

So to all you who don't get a break from work today because you're with your kids, may your Labor Day be a memorable time with your family. Keep up the good work!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Hang Out Place

We seem to have become the hang out place after school. After all summer of only fleeting acknowledgments from our neighbors, some of the kids who go to school with Anders (a second year student who is in his same class room, and a third year) have been over to play almost every day this week. It's mostly because I'm not willing to let the boys hang out at other places yet until I've gotten to know their parents (which I'm hoping will happen as their kids hang out here--though none of them have been by yet). We've got a good yard to play in, and they've played inside a bit, too (even playing with Nils' train track that he hasn't touched in a while).

While sometimes I can let myself believe it's an inconvenience, that I want some time with my kids by myself. But I'd rather it was this way than not. The reality is that many parents don't care where there kids are or who they're hanging out with. Or they do care, but they're not able to do much about it because they have to work to put food on the table. So I know I'm lucky in being able to keep an eye on my kids while being able to "screen" their play time. I guess in being blessed with being able to be home with my kids all the time, I can take opportunities to extend that to the neighborhood--at least in getting to know the kids that my kids will hang out with better.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The School Bell Rings

Today was Anders' first day of school--well, first full day as he had "orientation" yesterday morning. He likes it. Which is good.

It's a new school, entirely new people for him (though there are several students he knows from church) and a new teaching method. He got into a Montessori school. It's a charter school--free for us--a block from our house. We also applied to get into a regular public school (in Minneapolis he has several school options, and we had to apply to get into them). He got into both the local public school and the charter school. We thought we'd try out the Montessori since we had the opportunity--and several people have said it would be a good fit for Anders.

So far, he's enjoying it. I'm not entirely sure how it all works yet (we'll do a classroom observation sometime later), but he likes the classroom with all the learning tools. He's making friends. He enjoyed the full day and getting to eat at school. He didn't even seem to miss riding the bus. At the end of the day, he gave it a thumbs up.

I guess it's going to be time to deal with my oldest being gone all day. It's going to bring some changes here. But change is life...

Growing Up Too Fast

Yesterday, my three-and-a-half-year old told me (while looking at a "Little Critter" book) that he loves girls. The day before my six-year old told me that he was thinking about marriage. I don't know that I'm ready to have those talks already!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

For Better or Worse

On the way home from church tonight, my six-year old announced, "I am already beginning to think about marrying."

I told one of the fathers of one of the girls (there were two specific ones mentioned). He replied, "No worries.
I've told all my girls they can date when they're 24."

I'm sure it'll all work itself out. Of course, my nearly four-year old also declared that he's going to marry the same girl. I hope this doesn't turn into a bloody feud some day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hanging on to Summer

Next week my oldest will be in 1st grade. Summer is ending. Not soon enough for some, but too quickly for me. I think because we bought a house and moved in June and my wife had a 3-week intensive class in July we just didn't have the time to enjoy summer as fully. The only camping trips we took were with my parents--and my wife didn't get to go with us. No vacation for us either (usually its a camping trip if anything).

And I'm not ready for my son to start school yet because there were things I was hoping to get to do with him this summer: take him to more museums, work more on his bike riding skills, more trips to the beach.

The start of school just seemed to creep up on us. And the weeks before it have been full. In addition to the regular things, there have been all sorts of before school meetings and events. Even the weekends seem busy. Sigh...

At least I like fall.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

River Rats

One of the things we discovered shortly after we moved to our new neighborhood was weekly water-skiing shows on the Mississippi River. Each Thursday night at 7pm a group of well-practiced amateurs named "The River Rats" do a free show (they do take donations to help with their costs) along the river just south of Broadway.

There's usually a pretty good crowd along the banks and an announcer details the stunts going on as well as filling in with "skits" in between acts as the next set of skiers are preparing. This year's theme is "Ski-vivor," so they've had different skits going along with the reality show concept.

The boys just like watching the acts--especially the jumps and pyramids. And it's outside, so no one cares too much if they spend time rolling down the hillside or dancing with the music.

They've only got one show left (can't believe the end of summer is so near), so check them out if you get a chance. It's a fun time--and you can't beat a free family outing!

Friday, August 13, 2010

BLT Pizza

I don't like to turn the oven on a lot in the summer--but I had been wanting to try making a BLT pizza, and since some rain brought cooler weather today (and the fact that we had garden tomatoes and I had purchased some bacon), I gave it a try.

I used my pizza crust recipe.
Bake the crust for about 5 minutes (I just put it in the oven while it is preheating to about 400 degrees)

For the "sauce" I used a mayo-based spread:
1 c. mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
2/3 c. mayo
2 T. fresh basil, chopped
1 garlic clove, pressed
Mix all the above ingredients and spread on the crust.

Then I layered:
1 sliced garden tomato
6 sliced of bacon, crumbled
roughly 2 cups of spinach leaves
mozzarella cheese

Bake at 400 for roughly 15 minutes (until cheese is browned)

*The mayo-spread came from a recipe (Pampered Chef, possibly) that just used tomatoes on top with another cup of mozzarella sprinkled over them. We've used it with a variety of veggies. The kids will often eat a bit of it (though we usually have a second "regular" pizza) that they eat more.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Music in the Park

One of our favorite activities in the summer (though we haven't gotten around to doing it as much this summer) is attending free concerts in the parks. We can't afford to go to many of the concerts that come to town at the event centers, but we can afford free ones! There are many around the Twin Cities. Most suburbs have a concert once a week in the summer at some venue. Minneapolis and St. Paul have several different venues. We end up going to Lake Harriet all the time since they have a concert every day of the week (we don't have to plan ahead!). There is also a playground and a swimming beach a short walk from the concert site. We often take a picnic supper, spread a blanket out on the grassy knoll that surrounds the seating area and enjoy the evening. The boys like to hear the music, plus they can run around while it's going on (they like to roll down the knoll). There is always a variety of musical styles, and we haven't been to one we didn't enjoy (not that all were great, but we still enjoyed them). Plus, my wife and I can get a pseudo-date in as the boys are pretty good about staying nearby, but occupying themselves.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fare For All

Earlier this summer I was asked if I would be interested in a gift certificate for Fare For All so that I could learn about it and pass that on to you, my readers. I'm not one to sell out, but at the same time if I can put food on the table (literally!) by writing this blog, then I welcome any offers.

Some friends of ours had volunteered at Fare For All's warehouse earlier this year and had encouraged people to check it out. We actually stopped by once, but we had just stocked up on food, so we didn't purchase anything.

Fare For All is a part of the Emergency Foodshelf Network, but they operate to provide food savings to everyone (no income restrictions). They have many sites around Minnesota--including several in the Twin Cities Metro area. They have several options: Traditional Fare For All (pre-order and pre-pay, pick up once on month usually), Fare For All Express (no need to pre-order, just stop in and pick up what you want on certain days), and their warehouse (open on Mondays).

Fare For All offers several package options:
Regular Pack $17
– The Regular Pack contains 2-3 fresh fruits, 4-5 fresh vegetables and 3-4 frozen meat items.
Meat Only Pack $12
– The Meat Only pack includes a variety of 3-4 meat items such as beef, chicken, fish, or pork.
Light Pack $12
– The Light Pack features 1 non-pork meat items and an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Vegetarian Pack $10
– The Vegetarian pack contains a generous amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, often accompanied by a dry food item such as beans or pasta.
Family Pack $20
– The Family pack contains only non-perishable staple items such as vegetable oil, flour, sugar, canned fruits and vegetables, rice, pasta, and boxed dinners.

We used our gift certificate to get the Regular Pack. Our meat pack included a package of chicken thighs, ground turkey, ham and lunch meat. The produce included potatoes, carrots, lemons, apples, plums, celery, cherry tomatoes and onions. We usually do our grocery shopping at Aldi, but compared to regular grocery stores, these packs provide a good value. It definitely provided us with lot meat we don't normally buy.

The warehouse also offers ala carte options to purchase. We picked up some additional meat at really good prices. They are also well stocked on canned veggies, rice and beans, a variety of produce and other various options. In addition they had several free items available with any purchase (we came home with two loaves of bread, a couple of head of cabbage, a few packages of notebooks and a few other various items.

Fare For All offers definite savings. With all their locations, they're definitely worth checking out.
Visit their website for more information (including locations): Fare For All
They also have a blog with recipes, ocassional coupons and other information (including stories of their many volunteers): Fare For All Blog

Monday, August 2, 2010

Splash Pads

I'm compiling a list of splash pads I've discovered around Minneapolis and the near west suburbs. Minneapolis, especially, has free wading pools in many of their parks as well, but I'm just noting parks with splash pads for the time being (though I am including some of their wading pools with fountains and other splash-pad type sprinklers). There are also plenty of other water parks around, but I'm limiting this list to free ones. I'm sure there are more out there--let me know what you've found. Here's the start of my list:

Oak Hill Park Splash Pad, St. Louis Park
Rhode Island & 34th St
By far the best free splash pad in the Twin Cities (that I've been to, at least). It has a number of water elements; the largest I have found so far. It also has good playgrounds (one for older kids as well as a toddler playground) and restrooms inside the park building.
*I've heard recently (August 2011) that they may be charging for non-residents of the city. I haven't been there myself to verify this yet.

Manor Park, Robbinsdale
Lowry & Abbott Ave, behind North Memorial Hospital
A nice little splash pad with several water elements that are staggered in operation. A nice little playground and tennis court are also located there.

North Mississippi Regional Park, Minneapolis
53rd N & E Lyndale
Water sprays out of a large "boulder" in the middle of a wading pool. The park also has many trails, a nature center, plenty of picnicking areas and indoor restrooms.

Cleveland Park, Minneapolis
Just off Lowry at Queen, behind Lucy Laney Craft School
A zero-entry wading pool with a few elements in the pool. My kids like to be able to "swim" while playing in the water.

Bohanon Park, Minneapolis
49th Ave & Bryant Ave N
A wading pool with three pipes sticking up int he middle that spray water in various manners.

Lewis Park, St. Paul
900 Marion St
St. Paul's first splash pad, new in 2011. It's small, but gets the job done. It is surrounded by a fun, new playground with artificial turf around it.

Miller Park, Eden Prairie
8208 Eden Prairie Road


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Giving Props

After having my wife gone the last two weeks and taking care of the boys by myself (well, not really--we were around other family for a while), I have to say how much I admire single parents. My wife and I have mentioned before how we don't know how single parents do it all--we struggle on one income and we have one of us to watch the boys so we don't have day care expenses.

Being on my own, having to watch the kids all day and getting little time for myself, I'm also discovering how hard it is to stay on top of household chores. Single parents, I don't know how you do it.

We all know single parents, I'm sure. Let's not forget to offer them help. And single parents, don't be afraid to ask for it. We're here for you.

10 Digits on Their Arms

I found the free pass to the Minnesota Zoo at the library this week so I took the boys yesterday. I usually take a sharpie marker and write my cell phone number somewhere on the boys' arms in case the get separated from me. Forgetting to do that yesterday, I discovered that the customer service desk has wristbands that are available for writing such information on. Thankfully, I didn't loose them. They wander off sometimes, but I can usually find them pretty readily. Once when Anders was pretty little, he wandered away from me in a Toys R Us store. I could not find the little squirt anywhere. Thankfully, a store employee directed me to him.

Some days just not loosing your kids is an accomplishment. Last night the devotion in the boys' Bible was about Jesus, when He was twelve years old, traveling with His family to Jerusalem to Passover. When they leave Jerusalem to go back home to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph assume Jesus is with some other people in their traveling party. It's not until the next day that they figure out that Jesus isn't with them, so they turn around and find Him in the temple (His "Father's house") impressing all the rabbis with His knowledge.

How does one loose the Messiah--their twelve year-old son--for an entire day and not even notice? We haven't gotten to take a lot of trips, but whenever we leave some place I know to always check and make sure everyone is in the car. I guess if God had enough trust in Joseph and Mary to let them parent Jesus, I can have confidence in my parenting abilities, too. Sometimes it's nice to know we're in good company.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

All By Myself

My wife has been gone for almost a week and a half now. She's taking a class. The first week was classroom work in town mostly. The following two weeks her class is four hours north of here research work. They're staying there and don't have time off. Thankfully, she comes home this coming Sunday. So, I'm on my own for two weeks. A lot of people ask how I'll manage it. The truth is, it's not too much different than normal. That's not to say that my wife isn't around and helps out--she does great work around here and I couldn't do it without her. But her schedule has been such that she works some mornings and works some evenings, so I'm always by myself during different parts of the day. The main difference is that I don't have much time to myself.

So the I took the boys down to my parents' house last week in northwest Iowa. They like to have a week on the farm with the grandchildren. And the boys love being on the farm (I do too for that matter--it's a welcome break from city life). We got in our first camping trip of the summer (finally!) with them as well.

Then we drove down to Des Moines to pick up my sister and her boyfriend to head to a family reunion in south-central Illinois. Anders went once as an infant, but we haven't gotten back since. We're sure to be back soon. We all love going. It's not so much a typical family reunion as it is an event, a destination. Family come from all over the United States and stay for several days. I love that family is so important to everyone and want that instilled on my boys.

But now we're back home. With plenty of clothes to wash, things to unpack and put away, and a few more days without my wife around. Being around other family is great, but there's no substitute for having your wife around and the kids being able to be with their mother.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Butterfly's Kisses

We went to Como Park today. We don't go there much in the summer because I hate the crowds and trying to find parking. But we wanted to see the newly opened Polar Bear exhibit--and we love going through the butterfly tent. My six-year old waited the entire walk through the tent (and we took our time) for a butterfly to land on him. He would even stand patiently in one spot for a while hoping for it to happen. Finally, right before we left one landed on his shoulder. It made him very happy. We all need those moments in our lives . . . simple joys when butterflies alight on your shoulder.