Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Holidays

Our intention during Advent and Christmas is to focus on why our family marks these celebrations. We try not to fill our days with hectic busyness, hours at the malls or making out lengthy lists of things we want, but be intentional about what we do and how we do it. We try to create space for hope, peace, joy and love. As well as family, fun and generosity.

To read about some of our holiday family traditions, go to these links:


St. Nicholas Day

Putting up our Tree on Santa Lucia Day

I share our traditions not to say our way is right or pass judgment on anyone who celebrates differently, but to encourage you to make the holidays about what you desire them to be--not about what consumerism and commercialism try to make them. May this season be meaningful for your family--not something you dread.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Picking Out Presents

Yesterday a local youth organization held their annual gift Children's Gift Sale. School children from the neighborhood needed their parents to pick up a ticket for them last week for $1. The kids can then go and pick out up to five presents for family members and friends. Businesses and neighbors donate generously supplying a wide array of gifts for the children to pick. Volunteers take the children and help them keep the receivers in mind as they look for the right presents. While the parents are waiting, we were entertained by a jazz band singing Christmas songs. The boys loved having an opportunity to get gifts for people. They wouldn't really be able to otherwise (though they are making a few handmade presents).

If you've got an organization near you that does something similar, help them out if you can. We focus a lot on things like Toys-for-Tots, which is a great program, but this helps teach children the joy of giving as well.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Neighborhood Holiday Festival

On Friday night we ventured up to check out Holiday on 44th, a neighborhood holiday festival on the far north side of Minneapolis. 44th Avenue was blocked off for a dozen blocks or so, between the high school on that road and the elementary school.

We were going to check it out last year, but it snowed a lot on that day and we decided not to leave the house. So this year, after my wife got home from school, we headed up to check things out. We ended up parking closer to the elementary school so we went there first. A magic show just finished, so we stayed for a delightful puppet show. It was quite hilarious. Several families from the boys' school were there, so it was nice to get to talk with some friends. There was ice carving outside as well as a fire pit for roasting marshmallows.

We ambled down the street, talking with other families as we went, enjoying being able to hold hands while the boys tromped through the snow.

The puppet show took up most of our time (which was fine...we didn't get there right when it started), so the only other thing we ended up doing was stopping in a business where the kids could make a bird feeder. They enjoyed it, and they came home with a nice feeder. They plan on hanging one in our yard and giving the other one to someone at Christmas.

There were several other activities going on. Many of the shops on the street had a sale at least, some had giveaways. There were pony rides, horse-drawn wagons, flame jugglers, carolers and a lot of other fun activities (most of which we didn't get to see this time). The high school had a craft/art/bake sale that I was told was pretty good (some friends scored some wild honey for a good price).

It was just a nice evening to get out and enjoy some neighborhood fun in a larger metro area. It didn't cost anything (though there would be opportunities to support some local businesses) and was a fun memory for the kids. Look for those fun little neighborhood/small town type of holiday events. They're simple, but enjoyable times.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Laundry Solution

It came to me today while I was hanging clothes on the line and warding off frostbite from numb fingers (cold wet clothes and a wind chill don't mix) that I needed gloves. This was an obvious solution, but most gloves are too thick to be able to dexterously hang clothes on a little wire with clothespins.

But as I was finally bringing up our bins with winter coats, hats and mittens, I discovered my son's stretch gloves. You know the ones that cost like a buck or two? They're tiny, but stretch enough to cover my hands. And they're thin enough to let me get the job done while keeping me warm. Problem solved.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I've been trying for literally months to get my substitute teaching license issued and get into some of the local schools to work. It's been quite the process. I've done subbing before in between other jobs I've had as needed. I've been in smaller school districts before where I call and let the school office know that I have my license and ask if I can get on their subbing list. Then they'll call me when needed.

Most of the schools don't work that way in the metropolitan area. Some of them actually use a temp agency. All of them have a big application process with background checks and other hoops to jump through. I totally get the need to be safe, but most of the checks are ones had to do to get my license.

Anyway, things have gotten processed and I'm getting some calls. Subbing is not the easiest job in the world. But it's what makes sense right now. I don't have to work on days when the boys don't have school. And most schools are done before the boys are out of school, so we don't have to worry about having additional child care.

Though my degree is in secondary education, I really prefer subbing for elementary grades. Even if its just subbing for a paraprofessional position that pays less, I enjoy it more. The students still love to learn and respect adults.

But after parenting, teaching is probably one of the hardest jobs out there. Make sure you encourage and thank your kids' teachers once they're off to school. And thank you for all the work you with your kids.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I've shared before about some of our bedtime battles with our youngest (who just turned 5 a couple days ago). We've always had a pretty good bedtime routine, but after he's been in bed he would frequently sneak down with some need masking his ploy for attention. It may be a bad thought (we told him he couldn't have had bad dreams if he hadn't been asleep yet) or an itch or "thirsting to his death."

Upon the advice from Dr. Kevin Leman's book Have a New Kid by Friday we began ignoring him. We would inform him at the end of his bedtime routine that we were done with bed, that mom and dad had work to do and needed time together. So when he got out of bed and came down, we would ignore him. This was supposed to get him to go back to bed. It wasn't working the best.

But recently we began shutting the door completely when we finished the bedtime routine. We had been keeping it open just a little so it wasn't completely dark in their room. But now we've been shutting it and turning on a night light. And this seems to be working--we've had several nights of him staying in bed now. And for this, we're thankful.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


When we lived in an apartment, one of my regular activities was to wrestle on the bed with the boys. We didn't have space for running around and expending energy in the apartment, so the boys would crawl up on our bed and wrestle me. The bed provided the extra bounce--along with the thrill of the danger of potentially falling off the bed. Wrestling basically involved the boys jumping on me and me trying to ward them off--or possibly putting them on my feet and holding them up in the air.

I've forgotten to do this after moving into our house. But I remembered last night (I've remembered before, but not very often). The boys love it. And it's good time together. The only draw back is that it gets them a little too wound up before bed. But a good story with the lights off will cure that.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Superhero Birthday Party

Nils turns five this coming week. We did his party with school friends today...his first birthday with school friends to invite. 
The superhero next to the superhero
that they had to tape the emblem on
We went with a superhero theme (in part because Beth got some Iron Man invitations and a table cloth in the clearance bin at Target a while ago--but Nils is also into superheroes).

We started with having the kids design a superhero emblem. I cut some out. They colored. Then we played pin (or tape) the emblem on the hero.

Next it was time to decorate capes. My wife had cut out some capes from a bed sheet we had been given. Each little superhero got their own to color and design.
Little superheroes designing their capes

Dressing up as a mild-mannered photographer
for the relay.
The capes were important because they were needed for the next activity: the superhero obstacle course. At one point the kids had to dress up in their alter-ego clothes and then take them off and put on their capes. 

This was followed by some lunch, some present opening and a wonderfully-decorated super hero birthday cake (thanks, Sweetie). 

A simple, fairly stress-free day--just how we like them (except for a few melt-downs but those were likely caused from a lack of sleep from having a sleepover last night). All-in-all I think four little superheroes enjoyed the day and had lots of fun together.
Superhero cake break

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

We Work Hard, We Play Hard

The boys had a couple days off from school last week. My wife was out of town, so we headed down to Iowa to my parent's farm. They had hoped to also drive to Des Moines to have time with their cousins (and their trampoline), but our time ended up being shorter that we initially thought we'd have. And both my grandmothers (the boys great-grandmothers) were now in the same nursing home. We hadn't gotten to see my maternal grandmother since she moved there, and time with them is short and precious, so we wanted to make that a priority (and of course I forgot to take pictures while we were with them).

One of the days were were there we spent helping my dad on the farm. The crops had all be harvested (I was hoping we'd be able to get in some combining). So we helped work ground (breaking up the ground the corn was planted in to overturn the stalks and make planting in the spring possible).

The boys traded off spending time in the tractor I was driving and the one Far-Far (grandpa) was driving (both were John Deere of course). Each of them got a chance to drive. Nils loved working the lever to raise the disk ripper when we got to the end of a row and had to turn around. Anders wasn't thrilled with being in the tractor all day. Nils loved it and would have spent more time there.

We talked about farming and hard work and how much easier it is now than in the Little House on the Prairie books we've been reading.

After we were relieved from our work by my uncle, I took the boys to a good old country park where we played on the playground equipment that would be contraband in any city because it's an unsafe liability (I'm fairly certain some of it is older than my parents), we hiked around the lake and climbed up to go across an old train trestle. After visiting my grandmothers in the nursing home again, my parents took us out to eat at The Pizza Ranch.

The boys also found out that hard work pays off as Far-Far gave them a few dollars for "helping" out in the field. I hope time on the farm teaches them a little bit of work ethic--as well as having good time with family and being outdoors.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Doctor Visits

We've had a lot of sickness in our house lately. First it started a couple weeks ago when my wife took my oldest son home from church on Sunday night because he had a fever. I took him into visit the doctor the next day and discovered he had strep. He would be contagious until 24 hours after starting the antibiotics. But the fever lasted most of the week--so no school for three and a half days. Last Friday I got a call from the school saying my youngest had a fever. I took him into the doctor right away, fearing he had strep. It was just an ear infection in both ears. He had a fever for several days. I took him into school a couple mornings this week only to have them call within a short time saying he needed to come home. He acted fine the rest of the day (I think it was partly because he wanted to come home, lie on the couch and watch a Disney movie like our kids usually do when they are sick--and they haven't watched TV most of the summer). Hopefully tomorrow he'll be back. And this afternoon, after being back in school for a while, I got another call from school that the oldest had a low grade temperature and a painful ear ache. I took him into the clinic and discovered he had an ear infection as well. 
It's been tiring. I've been trying to secure some work. My subbing license just got processed, so I've been contacted schools and looking for other jobs, writing cover letters and sending resumes. I guess it's providential that I haven't been working during these weeks so that I can be home with the boys and be able to answer phone calls from the school. 

I'm the kind of parent who does fairly well at cuddling with the kids on the couch (which means that I don't get as much done around the house) and reading them some stories. I don't do as well with having compassion during the night when they keep getting up throughout the night. I don't mind it if they wake up with a legitimate need. I get frustrated when one of them keeps wanting attention and trying to get it in inappropriate ways. I also don't always do well at remembering to give them medicine when needed. Or taking them to the clinic for a follow-up. 

And I'm a little anxious about next week as my wife is going to be gone on a research trip all week out of state. Hopefully, everyone is back to good health by then and stays that way. But the track record from the last few weeks hasn't been a good one. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Playground Parent-Type Assessment

Yesterday we took advantage of the beautiful weather we had here and went to a park for a picnic. We ended up at Elm Creek Park Reserve just north of Maple Grove. We had been there this summer for swimming, but it was always too hot to play on all the metal of the new playground that was installed. So we headed up so the boys could play. Like many of the Three Rivers Park District playgrounds around us, this one was well done. It is the kind of playground you wish was around when you were a kid. Plenty to climb on and explore.

I've decided that playgrounds are a great place to assess what type of parent you are. I see many parents who hover over their children, warning them not to climb too high or slide too fast. If this is you, loosen up. You're way too protective. I understand the desire to protect your kids. And you should. But only from the real dangers out there. Playgrounds, while they may give their share of cuts and bruises and scrapes to kids, are not a real danger. More than protecting, our job as a parent is to prepare our kids for growing up and being on their own. So instead of warning them, encourage them. Let them try...and fail if need be. A bonk to the shin or a scraped hand will heal. You can teach them to not walk in front of a swing, but you don't need to hold their hand the whole time.

I see some parents who take their kids to the playground and ignore them. They sit on a bench and read a book or talk with a friend. Now, I understand the need for adult time if you're a stay-at-home parent. But if the trip to the park is your main time with your child(ren) that day, then pay attention to them. You may be the parent whose child had no boundaries because you feel guilty giving them any. They may be the playground bully--pushing kids, not waiting their turn in line, throwing sand, etc.--because they long for boundaries and for you to give them attention.

And you may be the parent who is right their with your child, encouraging them as they try something difficult that they haven't done before. Maybe you're right there on the play structure playing with your kids, having fun (and getting some exercise, too). Maybe you're sitting on a bench doing something relaxing after a hard day of work, but you're paying attention to where your kids are and what they're doing, responding to them with loving words. Children need a mix of boundaries and freedom, soft love and hard love (discipline). They also need attention from their parents; quality and quantity time is important.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Giveaway!

I was recently given a copy of the book It's Your Kid, Not a Gerbil by Kevin Leman to review. I am a big fan of Kevin Leman. His books have helped shape our parenting style in a way that we are in charge--not our kids (think about it; that's pretty rare among families). We don't always succeed, but we do our best, and keep working on parenting in a way that keeps us sane.

In this new book, Leman addresses the busy, stress-filled culture in which we're raising our families. He gives helpful and practical pointers for moving toward creating a happier and less-stressed home--something I think we all as parents desire. Of course, we can only move in that direction if we're willing to take the steps to do so. But if happiness and less-stress in your family is a desire, be sure to pick up a copy of It's Your Kid, Not A Gerbil by Kevin Leman.

And, the good folks at Tyndale Publishing have given me a certificate for a free copy of the book. If you're interested in receiving a free copy of the book, please leave a comment on this post. Be sure to include your email address or a way to contact you if you are the lucky winner. Winners will be chosen at random. One entry per person. The drawing will close at noon (CST) on Monday, September 26.

***UPDATE: I was informed that some people have been unable to post to comments. I am going to extend the entry deadline to noon on Wednesday, September 28. If you are unable to post a comment, please email david.wenell @ gmail.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Near the End of the Summer Harvest

It wasn't a great year for our garden. Several seeds didn't germinate. Squirrels took care of a number of things that did start growing. 

Tonight there is a threat of frost, so I covered up the vegetables that are left. Mostly tomatoes and a few beans. 

The boys helped pick some of the ripe tomatoes and beans the other day. Most of our vine fruits didn't grow at all--not cucumber, zucchini, pumpkins. But we did have a few cantaloupes that had started to grow. One was eaten by squirrels. One was on the outside of our fence and somehow managed to survive squirrels and everyone who walked by it. So we picked it and are waiting for it to ripen. 

We'll have a few more tomatoes and beans yet, plus the root vegetables that are left. I know we've got a few decent carrots and some parsnips, I believe. Next year hopefully the boys are up for doing more work in the garden. It's one of those memories I have growing up that instilled a good sense of pride in accomplishing a fruitful garden as well as hard work and time with my parents. Not to mention all the good eats. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Memorials and Remembering

I had the television on Sunday morning; most stations were airing the memorial services from 9/11. Our boys were both born several years after that event. They are probably oblivious that there is a war going on because of it (not because we intentionally keep it from them, but just because it really hasn't come up much in our daily discussions).

They were mesmerized by the coverage of the events in New York. And at that point it was mostly just names being read, but they didn't want the channel changed. Our 7 year old asked what it was about. So we explained what happened (actually my wife did as I was taking care of something else at that point). It was good for them to know that and see what was happening 10 years later. People were still remembered. That's important. They need to know that events and people will be remembered.

A few years back we were with my grandmother on Memorial Day weekend. We went with her and my sister to the cemetery where my grandfather, great-grandparents and other family members are buried. I never knew my grandfather. But it's important to remember and respect. It's important for children to see that as well. We haven't been able to get back for Memorial Day to a cemetery, but we still talk about our family members who the boys never got to meet. It's important that we remember.

We remember events and places, too. After watching a movie that brought Anders to tears recently because the family was getting too busy ("successful") to have time for one another after they had moved to a bigger house. We talked about our old places where we've lived. We talked about neighborhood friends and things we used to do in those places (walks around the pond, playing with neighbors in the pond, community events). we also talked about our place, friends and opportunities now.

Sometimes we try to protect children from death and loss. And while they don't need to see the horrors of war or other tragic events, death is a part of life. We can't hide it from them. Rather, it is good to remember. It is good to acknowledge. It is good for children to see that life matters as we remember those who have passed away, as we remember tragic events.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Long Day for a Four and a Half Year Old

Confession: There were a few points during this afternoon and evening when I need not to deal with my 4 1/2 year old. For his sake as well as mine.

It was the first full day of school for my 4 1/2 year old. He had 5 half days of orientation last week (to help new students begin to understand the Montessori approach). He did well last week. Today--not so much. The long weekend probably didn't help (we probably should have had a few more earlier nights and restful days, but we had a lot of fun with friends). There were a few tantrums (complete with kicking and screaming), plenty of crying, a bit of fighting with brother and friends, and other actions that aren't typical of our child (at least not in abundance like that).

He said he liked it, though. It was fun to get to eat at school and be there all day. He seems to be making friends and enjoying the learning exploration. So I'm hoping this is just a short phase of adjusting to things. We had our small group from church at our house tonight (which where half the breakdowns occurred, of course). So he didn't get to bed super early, but he did seem to go down fairly quickly. Here's to hoping that day two goes more smoothly.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back to School

Our 7-year old started school today. Our almost-5-year old has had orientation all week for his Montessori Children's House (he'll start full days on Tuesday). And so summer is at an end. We were getting summer weather again today, though, so we packed a picnic and headed down to Lake Harriet for swimming and a concert. I will miss summer. I know most parents are ready for it to be over. I'm not quite there yet. There was so much I had planned on doing (visiting more museums for one--but it's hard to be indoors in the summer). But I am excited about one thing that comes with going back to school: schedules. Well, not all of the schedule. I like some freedom and ability to be spontaneous, but I'm excited to have an earlier bedtime again for the boys. 1) They do better at sleeping. 2) I do better at sleeping. 3) My wife and I have a little more "alone" time before bed to either get some things done or to have some time together. The family next door to us has their little ones up well after I'm in bed. I don't know how (or why) they do it. I think it's a single mom (possibly two) whom I would think would enjoy any down time she could get. I also know the importance of a good night's sleep for my boys' development and well-doing at school. We're exploring a new family schedule as it is. My wife is starting grad school. I'm looking for some work. Both boys are in school. I don't think we're going to pack in too many outside activities until we see how things go. So for now, we're enjoying getting back into the swing of things.

Monday, August 29, 2011

(Sort of) First Day of School

Nils had orientation today (as well as the next two days) at Bright Water Montessori where he is starting in a children's house. We were hoping to get him into Kindergarten (he's ready for it--he passed all the tests and such), but his birthday is 2 1/2 months after the cut-off date and for various reasons they couldn't waver on that.

He's excited, and it'll be good for him. His brother will join him (in a different classroom of course) on Thursday. Anders is having a hard time waiting that long--especially when he got to see some of his classmates today.

Meanwhile, it's going to bring changes for our family. I'm working on finding a job (to pay for the school he's now attending), while still desiring to maintain a healthy family balance/dynamic/schedule.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Boys' Camping Trip

Confession: I need my wife. This is not a new revelation, but I was reminded of it when I took the boys camping by myself this weekend.

My wife helps my remember the things that are needed: all our water bottles, the bug spray, snack food. I did remember my son's new inhalers. And everything else we needed. So we weren't out too much.

I haven't taken the boys camping as just a "guy's thing" before. Mostly because I do need my wife to help me remember everything. And because I enjoy the time with her as well...especially sitting around the campfire when the boys are in bed. And the boys like to have her there as well...especially since they're not around her as much. My 4 1/2 year old cried for the first 10 minutes after we drove away from home.

Still, it was good to do. We haven't gotten much camping in this summer (which seems like a theme from the several past years). It was good to have some lessons about helping (everyone's got to pitch in to have the tent up and ready for sleeping in) as well as plenty of lessons about obedience, good attitudes and having fun. Not to mention lessons about camping and nature.

We went to Baker Park upon the recommendation of friends. It's only a half hour's drive from home, so we could get back quickly if we needed to (which thankfully we didn't, but I wasn't sure because my youngest started out the day sick and we almost didn't go). It had nice bike trails, a good beach, a play area, and for those who need it, nice restroom facilities with running water (no pit toilets) and good showers.

It was a great way to spend some time in this last week before school starts (hoping to fit in a few more family trips yet this fall).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Enjoying the End of Summer

Confession: I'm not ready for summer to end. I know plenty of parents are ready for the kids to be back in school and be on a regular schedule (that part I'm looking forward to), but their end of summer means my end of summer. And I'm not ready for that yet.

And since it's near the end of summer, I'm trying to make the most of it without making too much of it and wearing ourselves out. I intend to be outside as much as possible in the week ahead.

Today we went for a drive to explore some parks and have a picnic (we have church in the evening, so it was nice to have a relaxed Sunday morning to head out and explore). We have a good system of parks in the west Twin Cities metro area that are part of the Three Rivers Park District. We've always had a good experience with their parks, so we thought we'd explore some new ones.

We first went to Lake Minnetonka Regional Park. We found a huge (20,000 sq feet) playground for the boys to explore. There were nice shaded picnic tables right next to the play area. While the park is on Lake Minnetonka, the only lake access is a boat ramp. For swimming there is a chlorinated swim area with sand beach and bottom. It does cost ($3 per person or $5 for a season pass), but we had season passes from using the same sort of "pool" at Elm Creek Regional Park and the passes are good at both places.

Then we drove to nearby Gale Woods Farm. We had been before, but it is a fun stop. It is a working farm that tries to be as sustainable as possible. You can see chickens, cattle, sheep, turkeys and pigs in the outside pastures. The garden is enjoyable to walk through, and right next to it is a "maze" made from round hay bales (it's easy to get through, but the boys love running on top of the). It's just good to get outside in the fresh air. And it's good for kids to see where food comes from and how it can all work together (the chickens fertilize the growing areas while eating bugs and weed sprouts).

We also made a stop at Carver Park Reserve to check out the campsites (I'm hoping to take the boys camping this week at another park in the district). They were nice--no running water in the bathrooms, but that's not a need. Hopefully we'll be able to tell you more in a few days.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Franconia Sculpture Park

Earlier this week we found out that my mother-in-law (who is legally blind and can't drive) was going to be able to get a ride to northwest Wisconsin, about an hour and a half from where we live. It has been her first chance to visit us since we moved into our new house, so we drove and picked her up. On our way home we made some stops at places we've been wanting to check out.

Our first was at Franconia Sculpture Park, about an hour northeast of the Twin Cities. Many of the sculptures are interactive and encourage play and exploration. We loved that there was a refrigerator next to the parking lot with bottled water and freezies to buy on the honor system. Even the restrooms were decorated with paintings or pictures of sculptures. Their website has games and activities (including a scavenger hunt to print out and bring with to the park) for kids to do. They also have concerts and children's workshops. Our boys both requested a trip back.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ropes and Sand

One of my boys' favorite parks to request is the "Rope Park" (aka French Regional Park in Plymouth).
They love playing on the big climbing structure there (this is less than half of it). With cargo nets all over, they can safely climb over two stories high and back down again (and back up and over and down).

There is also a nice beach to play at and for swimming. Plus hiking trails and boat rentals and nature programs (the last two usually cost extra).
Take a picnic lunch (or use the concession stand there if you must) and enjoy a day together.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Busy Day

Confession: Though I long for country life at times, I love all the opportunities available in the city.

This morning I took the boys up to Webber Park on the far north side of Minneapolis for a "Truck Extravaganza." Of course they had a lot of big trucks around to look at (cement mixers, delivery trucks, street sweepers, mowers, etc.). There were also some art projects (involving driving toy trucks through ink/paint and across some paper) and a dig for cars in a pile of sand (the kids each got to take home three toy cars they found). We downed some free hot dogs, chips and popsicles as well. Oh, and I can't forget the bouncy inflatable--which was shaped like a skid loader. Best inflatable ever.

Then it was off to our next stop: Jim Lupient Water Park. The City of Lakes Community Land Trust was taking its home owners out to enjoy time in the pool. Not the warmest of days for it, but as we had just come off of swimming lessons there, the boys were excited for the chance to just be able to play (and Anders got to try out the water slides).
I discovered this morning that the 21st Annual Minnesota Festival for Fathers & Families was being held a few blocks away from us, so we had to make that a stop after the water park. Again there were more inflatables to bounce on and slide down, a kids' concert, more free food and a petting zoo.

We had planned on taking in a family movie at a cheap theater, but that got pushed out of today's line up of activities for taking some farmer's market tomatoes (ours aren't ripe yet) and bacon over to another family's house and enjoying BLTs outside on a gorgeous summer evening.

The biggest part of knowing about events like these (which often go on unnoticed in large communities every weekend) is staying in the know. It's not easy--it takes some work to be informed about what's going on and half the battle is knowing where to look. I'm still figuring that out in many ways. Hopefully you've got some good resources in your community.

The nice upside of the fun, busy day was that I think we wore the boys out enough. For the first time in weeks--months--our youngest didn't come downstairs again after he was in bed. That's worth something.

Baked Granola

When my wife was in high school she went on a couple summer-long missions trips overseas. At their "base camp" where they trained, they often had baked oatmeal for breakfast. A few years ago she was able to track down the recipe. It has become a family favorite (we call it Baked Granola as it tends to be a more kid-enticing name than Baked Oatmeal). Often we'll make it for a dessert with friends and have the leftovers for breakfast (but we'll often just make it for breakfast as well).

1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
3 c. oatmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla (optional)

Mix oil, sugar and eggs. Add other ingredients and mix.
Bake in a 9x13 pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Sprinkle with cinnamon on top if desired.

We often double the recipe (it still fits in a 9x13 pan).
You can lessen the sugar amounts and it still tastes delicious.
I frequently mix in cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamon into the mixture.

Sometimes we top it with fresh fruit and a little ice cream. Otherwise we eat it with just some milk poured over top. It's also delicious plain.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Confession of Frustration

Confession: I was not a good parent today.

I yelled at my kids this morning. First for me having to tell them more than once to put their swim suits on for swimming lessons. Then for not clearing their spots at the table after having told them to do so. (We've been working on only having to tell them something once. We haven't had the greatest success yet).

Then I got extremely frustrated with my 4 1/2 year old at swim lessons. We're at the end of them (8 days of lessons). He hasn't done anything. Granted, when I called in, I didn't know the difference between the levels very well and signed them both up for a class that was too easy for them, so he may just be bored. And the water has been colder this last week. But he was also playing in it before the lifeguards came out to teach. And at that point he would only stand on the side and shiver. Yesterday one of the teachers saw that he could actually swim (fairly well)for the first time. So I've been frustrated with wasting my money and my time as well as his opportunity.

So I've been a bit on edge the rest of the day. A bit of the short fuse when dealing with the neighbor kids playing here. A bit short with my boys when they've asked to do something.

I think I'm also anxious because I'm looking for some work for this fall as our youngest is going to do pre-kindergarten (actually Children's House at his brother's Montessori school). I'm trying to find something that will be flexible with the school schedule and still pays decent enough to help pay those new bills. One of the things I'm looking into is substitute teaching, but I'm awaiting the state to process my license before I can do much with applying at the schools. And I have this fear that it'll take a while because of the government shut down last month (which is also why I haven't been able to apply for the license earlier this summer). Finding a job is never easy--but especially in today's economy. So that adds some pressure.

Which all points to me needing some time to take care of myself. Maybe a bike ride is in order for tonight. Or a concert in the park. Or both. Something to help so my kids don't need to be afraid of me tomorrow.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

In the Garden (and Out of It)

Confession: I love the payoff from planting seeds back in the spring and seeing what they become.
The boys are enjoying some of the large sunflower blooms along the fence.
Today I pulled some of the beets and turnips. I planted a few more in their place, hoping for some fall produce.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Judgmental Parenting

Confession: I watch my neighbors, and I judge them. And I frankly don't get the parenting style being used.

A new family moved into the duplex next to us last month. They don't have curtains. It was over a week before they had any furniture. Except for televisions. Those were in right away. And an air mattress. Their lights shine into our house, so it was obvious to see that the kids (it seems like three are preschool age) were up after midnight watching television.

Last night I saw them watching a Jurassic Park movie at 10pm. I don't get it. They don't seem to have a lot, but they have a television in quite possibly every room of the house (for sure the three bedrooms). I for one try to get my kids in bed as soon as possible. I need the time with just my wife; they need to sleep to just be healthy.

Now, I know I'm being judgmental. And I'm fine with it. Since the kids have been spending some time on our porch and in our yard, I feel I have some investment in the kids. I just wish they had a chance at growing up well...

And so I judge them. Just like I judge the mom who breaks down and buys a toy for her child who is throwing a tantrum. Or the child who has access to pop and candy all day long.

And I also know others judge my parenting skills and style. I'm far from perfect. I get upset too quickly sometimes. I sometimes neglect to correct unhealthy actions quickly enough. I don't provide well enough for them. I could go on and on.

I'm not too concerned about being judged...or about judging my neighbors. I'm more concerned about becoming a better parent and helping other parents to become better as well. I don't think I'll have that opportunity with my neighbors until I get to know them a bit. And maybe I never will have that opportunity. But I hope we can all be open to talking more about parenting with others. That's how we'll get better; that's how we can share our failings and know we're not alone. Let's keep the dialogue going...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Camping: A Rant

Confession: I judge people when we're camping.

We just returned from our second of two camping trips this week. Our first was with good family friends who have kids the same age as our boys. The second was with all of my family for a weekend get-together.

The first campsite was on an island on Lake Superior. It was somewhat remote and not very full. Tents outnumbered RVs.

The second campsite was on a lake in Iowa. It was almost completely full and mostly RVs. Now, I understand RVs for older people who aren't able to sleep on the ground or who are travelling across country. I would accept if my parents decided to get a small pop-up camper at some point.

I don't get parking in the great out doors so you can cook and eat all your meals inside and spend your evening watching television.

Camping is about getting away from all that. It's about being outside. It's about building memories with your kids and teaching them new skills. It's about having fun together as a family.

So get out there and do it. Every child needs to sleep in a tent and cook food over a campfire at least once. Even if it's a terrible experience--even if it rains the whole time and the lake is cold and the food doesn't turn out well--even those bad experiences produce great memories.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Seven-Year Old's Birthday Party

Confession: We went simple.

Years ago when our eldest son was nearing the age when he would start having birthday parties that involved inviting friends over and not just family members, I declared that we weren't going to have a big party every year. Maybe every other. But I didn't want to do a big fancy party every year. It can get out of control.

However, since Anders turned three, I believe, we've had a birthday party for him. Partly because we ended up moving a few times during those last four years, and I think we partly did them to compensate for some of his losses. And of course, we had to do the same for his younger brother once Nils came of age. And so it became a yearly requirement.

This year I said I wasn't up for programming a big party. We caught Anders in an agreeable mood, and he asked if he could just have a playdate with a few friends from school he hasn't seen in a while.

So three of his friends met us at a nearby regional park with a nice play center and wading pool with a big boulder in the center that sprays water in various directions. The boys played for a while, then we had a simple meal (hot dogs, chips, carrots). They played some more, then we had "cake" (cupcakes made in the shape of a caterpillar). Then the boys played some more until it was time to go home.

They had fun, and we didn't have to do much work. It helps that his birthday is in the summer, which provides many options for play. It also helps that kids are content with just being together and playing.

So, happy seventh birthday (his golden birthday), Anders! You've brought a lot of joy into our lives the past seven years. We're looking forward to seeing the wonderful kind of man you'll grow to be.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tips for Sending Your Child off to Camp

My son returned from camp today. He had a great time. He's already planning on going back next year.

Having worked full-time at a camp for almost five years (plus many summer in high school and college), I thought I'd share some brief thoughts on being successful at sending your child off to camp:

1. Raise them to be able to handle being away from you. Instill them will self-confidence, common-sense and a healthy fear of harmful things (our job as parents, after all, is to raise them to be able to live on their own as successful adults).

2. Don't tell them to call you if they get homesick. Write to them, but don't call them. And when you write, only talk about what they're doing at camp. Don't mention how much you miss them or what fun things they're missing out on at home. Just focus on the new friends and the fun they may be having at camp. Most homesickness is created by parents. Their counselors, while trained to deal with homesickness is good ways, have plenty to deal with as it is.

3. Talk up camp ahead of time--focus on all the fun things they'll get to do, new skills to learn, new friends to make, etc. Don't focus on your own fears or concerns.

4. Help your child prepare. Teach them to roll up their sleeping bag, turn on a shower and bathe themselves, how to spend their money wisely (budgeting over a few days), etc. And don't be upset if they come home without having rolled up their sleeping bag, not showered and used all their money on candy.

5. Have your child pack their own suitcase/bag as much as possible. They're the ones responsible for bringing everything home--they need to know what's in there. And if they pick out their outfits, they're more likely to wear them (I know plenty of kids who don't change their clothes during the week.

And this is a bit late at this point, but maybe keep this in mind for next year: try and attend camp together as a family before hand if you can--even if just a visit. Our Bible camp has several family camps. One is over Memorial Day weekend where you attend for a minimal fee in exchange for helping get the camp ready for summer.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Happy Camper

Confession: I'm saddened how easily my son left for camp this morning. I'm also thankful.

He's usually the sensitive one who cries when he has to be away from us. This morning we put him on the bus for Bible Camp (two hours away). It's the first time he's able to go away by himself. Alone. Except that one of his friends from church was with him. They were sitting together on the bus. Waving to us. Smiling and laughing. No tears. Not on his part, at least.

He'll be seven in two weeks. I guess he's growing up.

His younger brother, however, was crying quite a bit as the bus pulled away. Which is funny in a way since he's gone through two years of being alone with me while his brother is at school. He's been fine the rest of the day, though.

I think the hardest part is not being there to experience everything with him. To encourage him. To protect him. To see his joy.

But I'm grateful he was excited to go to camp by himself (even before his friend from church signed up). I'm grateful I don't have to worry too much about him while he's gone. I'm thankful for the experience he'll have.

I just hope he remembers to bring home all his stuff.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

First Harvest

Confession: I'm not fond of radishes.

We planted them in the garden anyway as they're one of the first crops ready to harvest. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the sake of achievement. Sometimes you need the quick encouragement in order to persevere through the long haul (because, let's face it, it'll be a while before that squash is ready).

So the boys pulled a few of the radishes (red and white) out of
the garden yesterday. And they were excited to do so. Even if they didn't particularly like the way the radishes tasted. (If you've got a good way to eat radishes other than raw, let me know. I'm game for trying something different. I've expanded my vegetable repertoire quite a bit, but I still haven't found a way I like to eat radishes. Or beets.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Confession: Sometimes I'm a terrible father. I can get too engrossed in my own pursuits to pay attention to my boys. I can be short-tempered. I can discipline them unreasonably.

Still, I'm there. And in many instances, that's a lot more than most kids have. And I hope that for the majority of the time I'm doing a decent job. That's all we can do. We can't see into the future and know how our kids will turn out--if they will succeed or fail because of what we've done in their lives. We can only hope. And try our best.

As dads, we will fail at times. But if we don't give up and just stand by our kids, supporting them in all they do and loving them unconditionally, steering them toward what is good and away from the bad, giving them the foundation they need to do well on their own, then we've done a large part of our job.

And I'm extremely grateful for my wife who made me a father. A huge part of being a good dad is loving your wife. And I love her immensely.

It's not so much about what we buy for them and the fun places we take them--though those memories are pleasant to have--it's about being there for them and being an example they can live up to.

My dad wasn't perfect, but he did well. He was there for me and taught me a lot. He's still there for me--as well as for my boys. And I'm grateful. I hope that legacy continues.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Signs of the Times

My 4 1/2 year old taped this sign to a tree in our yard today. Apparently, he wasn't happy that some of the neighborhood boys were in the tree. So he came inside, printed a sign and grabbed some tape. It reads:
I guess he has declared the tree to be his (mainly by merit of it being the one he can climb)--and where he has his "alone time."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer Time!

We're now in our third day of school being out. I'm looking forward to the summer ahead (especially when I'm done watching my niece and nephew in a week. I love them dearly, but it will certainly free up our weeks). I'm looking forward to trips to the beach, museums, bike rides, picnics, parks, and so much more.

Today we went fossil hunting at Lilydale Park. My wife's group of women geoscientists set it up and invited a lot of people. It was fun. The boys collected bucket-fulls of fossils. I got a little sun-burned on my neck. We had mud all over.

That's summer fun. And we've got weeks ahead of us!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Of Two-Wheelers and Motivator

Confession: Sometimes I have a hard time knowing when to encourage and build confidence and when to make my kids do something when they don't want to.

About a month ago now the boys wanted to work on getting their training wheels off their bike--mostly the 4-year old. To be honest, he was riding a bit with them off last summer, but in the midst of our move and everything we didn't get back to practicing, so the training wheels were on through the fall. And so this spring, after a bit of riding around with training wheels, he determined he was ready to get them off.

My almost-7-year old also wanted them off. Kind of. At times. And at times he was content with riding with training wheels forever. He sometimes only likes to do things if he's able to do them well. And, as we all know, learning to ride a bike takes a lot of practice and often comes with some accidents. And he didn't want to go through all that--especially the falling part.

So we kept encouraging him. We knew he could do it if he kept trying. We knew he'd enjoy the freedom of not having training wheels. And we were hoping for some bike trips this summer. So we kept trying to build up his confidence.

That didn't necessarily work, though. He was still content to not learn to ride a two-wheeler. So, I admit, there were times when we almost forced him to try. Bike riding is a life skill. It's something our family does. We weren't going to let him not learn. But that didn't necessarily work either.

I think it was a combination of confidence-building, making him do it and also seeing that his younger brother was doing it well. Maybe envy is the strongest motivator.

Whatever worked, worked. And both boys have been riding continuously the last month (seriously--my 4-year old rides the sidewalk around our yard and then through the gates as often as he can). Yesterday we had our first "long" trip from school to the library to home. It was just over a mile. They were on the sidewalk mostly as we still need a little more practice and time to learn the rules of the road before they take to the streets. But there's hope for some fun rides this summer.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stormy Weather

Confession: I'm not sure I worry enough at times.

Last Sunday my boys were in a tornado, and I was not there with them.

They were at a friend's birthday party when the tornado hit. I was upstairs on the second-floor of our house. My wife was driving home at the time. It was the first tornado I've heard--though I didn't go to the basement.

I'm not a reckless person. I wasn't trying to be "tough" through the storm and not seek shelter. I grew up on a farm where we watched the weather. When it was clearly threatening, we sought shelter. When I heard the whistle blow, I turned on the television to see what the news was saying and looked out the window. I didn't see much. But I heard it. It was remarkably close.

I confess I was more worried about my wife than my kids. She was in a car driving into it. The boys were with friends. I was trying to call her, but couldn't get through because the lines were busy. So I was mostly worried about her. She was finally able to get through to me and let me know that the boys were okay. Every tree on the block they were on was gone, but the houses were still standing. My wife had to park a few blocks away and climb over trees to get to them (I had to be at church because I was preaching--sometimes I get too "loyal" to my commitments).

A mother of another kid from the party shared after school the other day how she was having nightmares and he was having some PTSD-type symptoms. My boys haven't said much--other than it was fun to climb on the trees and roots afterward. But they went through something major. And I'm proud they handled it well (my almost-seven-year old said his first response was to pray--which I'm proud of him for doing). I'm feeling guilty because I didn't worry enough, I guess.

The boys and I went out the next to try and help with clean-up efforts in our neighborhood after the tornado. We weren't able to do much work since the boys were with me (I was hoping they could help move branches while I moved limbs, but because of liability issues as well as safety concerns with downed power lines, they wouldn't let us--which is understandable), but we were able to help run errands on the bicycle.

It wasn't quite their cup of tea. I don't know if manual labor would have ended up much better. After a while they were acting all tired and not able to do much more. It was a long, tiresome morning. But it was important to be a good example in showing the boys the importance of helping neighbors in need--even if we weren't able to do much. We're still processing the whole thing as the neighborhood slowly gets back to normal.

And they had been at a friend's birthday party when the tornado hit--right in the middle of it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Lego Kids Fest

After several hours of Lego-filled frivolity, the boys are in bed. They were worn out after an evening at the Lego Kids Fest (so am I). We had a lot of fun. It was, after all, around four acres of Lego activities. We didn't even get to everything in the four hours we were there. I know very few kids who don't like playing with Legos. If you're near Minneapolis check it out this weekend (I recommend buying tickets online).

The boys and one of the many incredible Lego models

Playing a game together
Testing out their race cars

My recommendations if you go are to sign up for the Master Builder Academy as soon as you arrive. There were limited spots for this and we didn't realize you had to sign up for it, so we didn't get a chance to sit in on a session taught by a master builder. There are two mystery murals to participate in adding a piece to; by the end of the evening all the pieces had been done, so you may want to plan on doing one of them near the beginning of the time. If you're there right when the doors open, head to the Lego Universe display if you're interested in trying out their online game. There was consistently a long line for this after the first half-hour.

My kids enjoyed the Activity Area. Different games were being played throughout the evening. Prizes were usually given to the winning individual or team. There were plenty of different areas to just stop and build. Some were "monochromatic build" sites where you got to see how creative you could be with just one color and size of brick. Others had all sorts of different bricks at your disposal including the Big Brick Bin--a massive pile of bricks poured out on the floor. One of my kids' favorite parts of the evening was playing a game together in the Lego Games booth. They could have sat and played games or built things the entire night, but they enjoyed taking in all the sites.

There were sites and activities for kids of all ages. Both my boys enjoyed some time in the Duplos area. Anders also had fun talking with one of the adults who was showing their creations. I enjoyed watching them have fun building (of course, I indulged in some creations myself).

Our pieces to the mural
The near-finished mystery mural

Sitting in a sea of Legos (seriously, kids were burying themselves in it)