Sunday, September 29, 2013


As another piece of our fall tradition, we went pumpkin hunting. We found a little place in New Prague that was open this weekend, and after two and a half hours we found the best 4 pumpkins they had, I'm sure of it. The people were very nice, the prices were reasonable, and the place was beautiful. We might have to make it our annual pumpkin patch destination.

We made Colin pull the wagon.

He couldn't smile while pulling the wagon because it was intense work.

Eventually you have to rest, but the convenient thing about a wagon is that you can rest inside of it.

Jared, showcasing Colin's perfect pumpkin.

Colin after he dropped his perfect pumpkin.

Oliver in a stick house.

The closest thing to Oliver and Colin enjoying the same thing at the same time.

Pumpkin Teepee.

Oliver and Aunt Christa.
 There were ears of corn and a bucket to shell corn into, which was surprisingly entertaining for everybody.

Colin shelling corn.

Oliver shelling corn.

Colin running away with the corn before we could shell it.

Colin making the two person ride into a one person ride.
They had stilts for people to try out. After being taught a secret trick, we were pretty good. I let Jared win our stilt race, though.

Stilt master Jared.

Stilt student Colin.
We have our apples. We found our pumpkins. Now all that's left to complete our fall tradition trifecta is the corn maze.

Aren't we wild and crazy?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy Birthday, Oliver.


Today you turn four. You're old enough now to actually know what age you're turning. You understand birthdays. You know that today marks the day that you have been on the planet earth for 4 whole years. You understand that being four means you are getting older, inching closer to all of those things that you're just dying to do. 

"When I'm four, I'll get new shoes because I will be too big for these."
"When I'm four, I will be strong enough to walk the dog."
"When I'm four, maybe I will be able to write."
"When I'm four, I will be able to reach high stuff."

And maybe you will. 

Most importantly to you, you have mastered the art of putting together a birthday list of everything you've seen and coveted since last Christmas. Before I went through and edited your birthday list, you had two pages of things that you wanted. Video games. Board games. Lego. Lots and lots of Lego. It was a year of Lego for you.

Weeks ago you knew you wanted a Tyrannosaurus cake. You knew I'd make one for you, because that's what I do. There will probably come a time when you want a store-bought cake with its perfect icing, but for now you're thrilled with the idea of homemade. Sometimes we would be riding along in the car and you would pipe up from the backseat out of nowhere, "I changed my mind, I want a truck/superhero/polar bear/universe cake!"  No matter what you came up with, I said, "Of course I can do that!" 

Because you thought I could. How could I not try?

This weekend I slapped that T-Rex  cake together and it looked a little goofy. It tasted mediocre. It melted a little by the time we got to the party in the hot car.

But you were still happy. So I was happy.

Three was such an interesting year for us. You knew what you wanted, and at preschool you learned that you can pout and whine to try and get your way. You got jealous of your little brother and sharing with your brother became torture for you. You spent a lot of your time this year in time-out. Sometimes you shouted at me, "I DON'T LIKE YOU MOM AND I WILL NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN!"

But I know that really isn't you. You get angry when things don't go your way, but that sweet boy I know is always lying just beneath your anger. When time-out is done, you walk over to me and you wrap your arms around me. You let me hold you and you lean against me and you say, "I'm sorry, Mom. I love you so much."

It makes me melt a little bit. 

At three, I was still your everything. I hope the same holds true for four, but just in case it doesn't, I tried extra hard to savor my time with you - my time turning up the music for our dance parties in the living room. My time reading you the longest bedtime stories you could find. My time holding your hand through the parking lot as you told me about your day at school.

Some of my favorite memories from this year are from the times I spent talking with you. Your topics of conversation were surprisingly heavy for a 3 year old. You loved talking about how big the universe is, about what happens when people die, about how magnets work and how monsters aren't real and and and.  You never stopped talking. But the real thing that I admired about you is that, this year, you listened. You analyzed. You were so eager to learn about things that sometimes your whole body would still while the wheels in your brain zoomed, wrapping themselves around new ideas.

This past summer you kept asking me about caves. Are they real or imaginary? Are there treasures inside? Do monsters live in them? What is a stalactite? You asked all of these questions and they were finally about a topic I could easily show you, a topic with cut and dried black and white answers. So one Saturday afternoon we just decided to go explore a cave. We packed you and your brother into the car and drove across the state to show you firsthand the answers to your questions. When we finally pulled into Crystal Cave's parking lot you said, "I've always wanted to go here!" even though you only just-then learned that it existed.

We thought you might be bored by the cave tour, but you were probably the most excited person there. While some fumbling teenager went through her poorly memorized cave script, you were taking in every word. When she asked if anyone had any questions, you always did. When the tour was over, you spouted out cave facts to everyone you crossed paths with for weeks.

"Did you know that if you touch the cave that the oil in our hands will turn the cave black?!"
"Did you know that bats live in some caves!?"
"Did you know that the cave was made from water!?"

And that experience was so much quintessentially you at three years old. You questioned. You listened. You learned. And then you shared your knowledge. With everybody.

Now that you're four, I can't wait to teach you more. I can't wait to see you figure out how everything works. I can't wait for more of those weekends when we rally the troops and go out to explore whatever it is that you're interested in learning about. There is nothing better than being your teacher, than spelunking with you and reading with you and playing with you to find all of life's answers.

You've given me 4 years of adventures, and I hope for 100 more.

Happy birthday, Oliver. We love you so much, little scientist.

P.S. You love this song so much; no other song would do for your slideshow.

"I could lift you up.
I could show you what you want to see,
And take you where you want to be.
You could be my luck.
Even if the sky is falling down,
I know that we'll be safe and sound."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Apple Orchard, Take 5

In accordance with our yearly tradition, we went apple picking at Minnesota Harvest last weekend. And of course, in accordance with our yearly tradition, we took our cheesy plywood cut-out family photo.

We got rained on a little bit this year, but we managed to pick our bag of marginally blemished apples that were only 40% bruised by the kids' rough handling.

Colin scooped up the most shriveled, rotten, teeny apples he could find on the ground and carried them around like prizes. Oliver discovered a big stick and walked around with it, endangering his and others' lives. Jared ate his one and probably only apple of the year, and then walked around regretting it while scratching his itchy mouth.

In other words, this year was pretty much like every other year. The faces in the pictures are older and the plywood photo prop has faded, but we're still the same exact people picking apples from the same exact trees.

Next year we'll go back to the same orchard and find those same trees still there, laden with perfect (imperfect) apples with our names on them. Oliver and Colin will have grown, but I won't realize it until I look back at this year's photos. And the year's before that. And the year's before the year before that.

Next year we'll pick our apples and I will come home and unload the camera's memory card and think to myself, how did we survive another year already? But somehow we did. Somehow we survived and we have these smiling photos of our family traditions as proof. Don't ask me how, but our crazy system must be working.

Cheers, Minnesota Harvest. See you again next year.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Goodbye stuff. Hello fun.

A couple of years ago Jared took over paying the bills. Jared was frustrated because he didn't know where all of our money was going. I was frustrated  because Jared thought  that I was irresponsible with my spending. The solution for us was for me to shove everything at him and say, here, you try it. You pay the bills and you'll see it isn't me.

So Jared took the reigns. He paid (and continues to pay) the bills. He understands now. He no longer complains or wonders where the money is going. I no longer feel judged in my spending. 

It turns out that kids are just expensive. It was nobody's fault. That's just how it is. We assembled a budget that cut out what we didn't need and gave us more room for what we wanted: family time. Although sometimes it's easy to look at store displays and feel limited by our budget, it has actually been quite freeing to live this way. I know now that I don't need the brand name cereal or the new shoes or Egyptian cotton sheets to be happy.

Last night when I looked at our budgeting software, I felt proud of our shift in spending habits. I smiled as I read the individual line items, because it was money spent on things that actually did buy happiness. That money bought us time together. It bought us adventures. It bought Jared and I some alone time.  

If you could see our summer bank account statements, they would look just like this:

A ketchup-y smile at Oliver's first baseball game, aka an $8 hot dog.

Oliver's fascination with gemstone panning, aka a $10 bag of dirt.

Colin's freedom to explore, aka a $2 bottle of water at a local festival.

Oliver's dinosaur smile, aka a $3 admission fee.

Colin's butterfly garden excitement, aka a $3 admission fee.

Oliver's summer sports camp, aka a $60 fee.

Oliver's carnival games, aka $5 in tickets.
We did so much this year. We flew to Florida. We went to local festivals and fairs. We visited the Renaissance. We ate stuff on a stick. We rode roller coasters. We tubed down a river. We swam at the pool. We hiked. We grilled out. We watched baseball. We fed giraffes. We explored a cave.

Live music show.

Visiting a cave, a wish of Oliver's.

Playing in a sluice box.

Visiting the horses at the Minnesota State Fair.

Playing with an exhibit in the horse barn.

Climbing the giant play gym.

Wrestling in an indoor park.

Posing at the Minnesota Zoo.

Playing in the zoo's park.

Sliding all by himself at the zoo park.

Riding a giant bass.

Shushing the loud geese.

Feeding the rude goats.

Hanging out with family in the nosebleed section.

Wearing a nacho bucket as a hat while waiting for the train.
With all of these great memories, the brand-name cereal, the new shoes, and the Egyptian cotton sheets don't stand a chance.

Goodbye stuff. Hello fun.