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...