Friday, December 5, 2008

Maya's Girl Scout Promise

True Happiness

This month, our book club is reading What Happy People Know by Dan Baker. So, I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. Not just my own, but of society in general.

My Great Aunt Sadie died recently. She was 96. A lot of changes have occurred between her generation and mine. I think of all of the things that have been added to most (if not all) American homes since she was a child on the farm (one of twelve children, I might add): indoor plumbing, a washing machine, a television, a phone, an automobile, a microwave, a computer. These are all things we have long since taken for granted. Life is much more convenient now, but are we happier and more fulfilled because of it? I don't think so...and neither does Professor Kelly Lambert, PhD, who conducted research that suggests that the hands-on effort and completion of physical tasks that were once required to provide life's necessities (referred to as "effort-based rewards") are actually key components of happiness. In a recent study, Lambert tracked two groups of rats: The first had to dig through piles of cage bedding to find their food, simulating the gathering of a harvest. The "trust fund" rats of the second group were simply given their food--no work necessary. The working rats came out of the experiment healthier, showing higher levels of persistence and boldness than their coddled counterparts--characteristics that are vital to overcoming difficulties in life. The trust fund rats, meanwhile, became fat and depressed. Completing any kind of manual task--whether it's cooking a meal or shoveling a sidewalk--triggers the efforts-driven-rewards circuit in human minds, too. Working together, this network of key motor, emotional and rewards centers plays an important role in creating a sense of happiness and well-being over time.
I won't dismiss the many benefits of technology, but it is good to remember that it does not change the ways our bodies and souls are wired.
(Pictured above, during the summer of 2006, are Aunt Sadie, Maya, me, Ava, and Grandma Baker--who, by the way, refused to ever use a microwave because she thought it greatly diminished the quality of the food...and just didn't want to change the way she cooked, God Bless her!)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Day In My Life - 11/3/08

Another activity my friend Jodi encouraged her blog readers to do is document their day in pictures. We were running early this morning so, on the way to the bus stop, I thought it would be fun to grab the camera and give it a shot (pun intended.) I told Maya what I was going to do, and she thought it was a great idea (had she thought otherwise, she would not have cooperated, and this would not have turned out so well.) She asked me, "Is this your own creative idea, Mommy, or did someone tell you to do it?" How did she know to ask that?

So, click here to see a play-by-play of a day in my life as the mother of two young girls on Monday, November 3, 2008.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Maybe not 11.5 years, but how about 7 more days?

Well, it appears Someone read my last entry, because this last week we have been blessed with phenomenal weather here at the North Pole of the United States. It has been sunny and in the 60s. Maya didn't even have to wear a jacket over her Ariel costume to go Trick-or-Treating. We have been having record breaking heat, with tomorrow's anticipated high at 72 glorious degrees. Knowing we won't be seeing this again for another six months, we are savoring every moment. Mike took the kids outside today so I could finish up a project that began over the summer: painting the risers on the steps. It took me the better part of the afternoon to get both sets of stairs done, but they turned out great! Here are the before and after pictures:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Here it comes....ready or not!!!!

Winter, that is. A week ago today, I enjoyed a leisurely drive down Vine Hill Road and Minnetonka Blvd. The sight of the leaves was breathtaking. Yesterday, the only thing taking my breath away was the wind--which blew all of those beautiful leaves right off of the trees and into Wisconsin!

Now, I have to tell you, last year was my first winter in 12 years. It was novel and fun...for the first 3 months. Our kids had never experienced snow or cold weather or sledding. Sliding down the many hills in our area, we felt like kids again ourselves. But that was last year and, like I said before, it had been 12 years since I had done that. Now, a mere 6 months later, we are gearing up for another one, and I am not ready....I need another 11.5 years!

Fall has been great, though, and since I haven't really updated this blog since it began, here are some of the highlights from the last month:
  • Going to Minnetonka Orchards for a beautiful day with the family
  • Celebrating Ava's 3rd birthday with family and friends
  • Playing in the leaves with the girls
  • Going to Iowa City to see my beloved parents and their beloved Hawkeyes; reminiscing with my college roommate over dinner and drinks in our old "stomping grounds"
  • Taking a ride on the Excelsior Ghost Trolley with the family
  • Packing kosher meals for needy Jewish families with Maya thanks to Project Elijah

I'm also currently reading (more like "muddling through") Middlesex for my book club, planning a unit on Jewish Short Stories and Poetry for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders, and taking a Spanish class....all secondary to being a wife and mother, full-time. So, now you know why I can't keep up with this blog!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

5 Things Meme

I was "tagged" by my friend and fellow blogger Jodi to participate in "5 Things Meme." What is "Meme" I haven't a clue...something people who "blog" a lot and follow blogs would know, I suppose. So, here goes:

10 Years Ago I:

  • Taught high school English
  • Lived near the beach in Southern California
  • Was planning our December wedding
  • Drove a black Chevy Cavalier that was completely paid for
  • Still got perms

5 Things on Today's "To-Do" List:

  • Email tonight's lesson plan to Meryl
  • Meet with Maya's psychologist
  • Snuggle and read books with Ava
  • Decorate pumpkins with the girls
  • Teach at Bet Shalom

5 Snacks I Enjoy:

  • Honeycrisp apples
  • Bagels
  • Celery and peanut butter
  • Bananas
  • Popcorn

5 Things I Would Do If I Were a Millionaire:

  • Hire an awesome nanny
  • Pay off our mortgage
  • Invest in the girls' educations
  • Travel
  • Donate to worthy causes

5 Places I Have Lived:

  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Minnesota

5 Jobs I Have Had:

  • Waitress (my least favorite)
  • Bank Teller
  • Childcare provider
  • Teacher/Tutor
  • Wife/Mother/CEO of Household (my most favorite)

The rules say I have to tag 5 people. Well, I don't know 5 bloggers to tag, but I will tag the ones I know who most likely haven't done this yet:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Conversation Starters

Quote of the Day - "In order to have joy, one must share it."

We have a bin of "conversation starters" that we sometimes use to spark discussion at the dinner table. The other night, Maya picked one out and read me the question: "What is the best part about being the age you are? The worst part?" Well, the best part was easy to answer--I have everything I have ever dreamed of having at this stage of my life: a great husband, two adorable, healthy, and happy girls, a comfortable lifestyle without financial hardships, good friends, a great family, and a great community. I am healthy--mentally and physically. And I appreciate all these things even more because I haven't always had them. So, what's the worst thing about being 36? The only thing I can think of is that it won't last forever....that one day I will be looking at my grown children and wishing, if only for a moment, that I might be able to cuddle with them as little ones once again. Yep, this is a great time of life, and I am lucky enough to know it now, while it is happening!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cute Composer's Curtsy

I set the keyboard up in the play area again last week. It used to be in the play area in AZ, but the girls had gotten bored with it, so I decided to conserve space and keep it packed up from the move. I brought it out again so the babysitter could play songs for the girls, and now it is a favorite toy once again! I was getting dinner ready when I saw Ava "composing" a cute little rendition, so I grabbed my camera and captured this:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Quote of the Day:

"The more I encourage a child to think for himself, the more he will care what I think."
— Unknown

Friday, September 5, 2008

Saying Good-bye to Summer

Wow, it's been over a week since I have posted. During that time, I have had several ideas for some good blog entries, but no time to write them! So, a summary of highlights will have to suffice.

Here are some things I have learned during the past week:

1. Waking up to your dog throwing up, then topping it off with some bloody diarrhea, can change your plans for the entire day. (It could also have wreaked havoc on the brand-new, three-week- old carpeting downstairs, but, mercifully, the carpet was spared in the nick of time.)

2. A clothes dryer that takes 4 cycles to dry a load can really set a family of four back on laundry upkeep. Having the repair service tell you they can't see you for another 4 days sets you back even further.

3. Birthdays are fun, no matter what your age!

4. The students on my roster for 9th grade Religious School were all born the year I graduated from college. (But, birthdays are still fun, even when you are as old as I am!)

Happy Birthday to me, I'm 33 + 3!

Here is my mug shot for year #36, taken on my birthday in Uptown, where Mike and I went to celebrate. We went to Stella's Fish Cafe for dinner, then headed over to Comedy Sportz for some good laughs. It was a beautiful night. A great way to end one year and begin another.

And, this week, we all began yet another school year. So far, Maya LOVES first grade Spanish Immersion with Senora Gong. Her only disappointment is that she doesn't have any homework yet (except for daily reading, which she claims "doesn't count" as homework.) Here she is getting on the bus Tuesday morning, her first day of first grade. Ava was sad that she couldn't join her sister on the bus, but she was happy to see all of her friends again in the 3's class at Shalom Yeladim Preschool. She surprised us all by using the potty at school on the very first day. When I picked her up, here diaper was still dry. Yesterday, she kept her panties dry ALL DAY....I did not change one diaper! She even went at the neighbor's house a couple of times when we were over there playing...and she was the one who took the initiative to tell me she had to go. So I think we are turning a corner with the potty training. She has yet to poop on the potty, but I am hoping that will happen soon, and when it does, she will be amply rewarded for her efforts. Here she is seen on her way to Shalom Yeladim in her new tights and dress! And, while I don't have a picture of me on my first night of teaching Religious School, I will say that it went fairly well, as far as first nights go. (I have to gain their respect before I can let loose a little.) But, overall I think I have a good group of kids, and I am looking forward to a fun and productive year. So, we are all off to the races for the 2008-09 school year. Let the games begin!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


About a year ago, Mike and I signed up for a trial of James Lehman's Total Transformation program to help us deal with Maya's behavior. While we got some ideas from it, we felt that the techniques were more suited for teenagers than a 5-6 year old. So, we returned it after the 30-day trial period, but continue to get the free emails with advice articles. Click here to read the one I read today. It pretty much describes one of the ways I dealt with Maya's disrespectful nature yesterday. And I knew when I was doing it that it probably wouldn't help, but I literally was at the end of my rope and couldn't think any clearer in the moment.

Well, contrary to what the article says, Maya did feel badly about how she behaved towards me yesterday. She woke up this morning and did everything I expect of her without being told--including her 30 minutes of reading and Summer Bridges activities. She was clearly contrite.

Of course, this doesn't mean I will use this technique again. In writing this I am vowing that, even in my weakest moment, I will do my best not to personalize my child's behavior. But, apparently, I got lucky this time--the "Parenting Police" let me go with a warning instead of a ticket.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lady Luck

Maya's record for winning tickets through the Hennepin County Libraries is now 3-0. Last year, she won tickets to the State Fair. She also won a free book for a book report that she wrote. This year, she won State Fair tickets once again, followed by a family of four pack of tickets to a Twins game....and, yet another book for a book report she wrote.
On Sunday, we took the train to the Metrodome to see the Twins play the Mariners. Since we hadn't paid for our 4 tickets at $30 each, we didn't feel badly spending money on snacks to keep the kids occupied.
Hotdog - $3.50

Popcorn - $4.00

Lemonade - $4.00

Snow Cone - $4.00 (It's ice, for goodness sakes!)

Having your daughter tell you that she thinks baseball is boring - PRICELESS

Maybe next time, we will bring her a book to read (from the library, of course!)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Changes on the Horizon

The Bellowe household is currently undergoing many changes. As we gear up for a new school year (which, for me, a former "school girl" and teacher born on August 30, is when life truly begins), I thought I would make note of the transformations that I am witnessing amongst us.

I'll start with Mike. In late spring, he climbed up another rung of the proverbial corporate ladder to head up a division of the Education side of Pearson. He loves what he does, as he always has during the past 4 years he has been with Pearson, and the transition has gone smoothly. There is, however, one downside--travel. As it turns out, Pearson recently acquired a division of Harcourt, and, consequently, more than half of the people he now manages are based in the San Antonio office. Some Pearson employees were required to move to San Antonio. Well, Pearson just relocated us here to the Twin Cities a year ago from Phoenix. We are finally settled into our lives here and are not willing to move again. So, Mike now travels to San Antonio every other week to work out of that office. He leaves on Monday and comes home late Thursday. It is already starting to get old, but we are hoping that he will rack up enough frequent flyer miles to get us out of here to somewhere warm during month #4 of our next L-O-N-G Minnesota winter.

Next, there's me. First of all, I am now a single parent every other week. It can get lonely at times after the kids are in bed, but a good book or the Internet usually solve that problem pretty well. Mostly, I am sad for the girls when they say, "Where's Daddy?" or "When is Daddy coming home?" or "He is going to Texas AGAIN?!" It is so cute listening to them talk to him on the phone, though. (Maya typically goes into great detail about what she did all day, and Ava listens to what Maya says and repeats it.) Secondly, I will be teaching 9th grade Religious School at Bet Shalom starting Sept. 3. I am excited about this opportunity, though a bit frustrated at the moment because, when I agreed to do it, I didn't know Michael would be traveling like he is. Now I am going to have to find a sitter for the every other Wednesday night that he is gone. But, I suppose this is a small price to pay for the benefits it will provide, which include, but are not limited to: (1) Being a more integral part of the temple community (2) Learning more about Judaism through teaching (3)Having my daughters (mainly Maya at this point) see me in another role, serving the community (4) Keeping myself involved, on some level, with the field of Education (5) Working with children of different ages than my own so I can more fully appreciate what each stage has to offer. Wish me luck!

Now for Maya. She has had a fun and busy summer and is MOSTLY excited to start first grade. The only concern she has expressed to me so far is that she knows she won't have as long of a lunch this year as she did in kindergarten, and she hopes she has enough time to eat as well as talk with her friends. However, the up side, she tells me, is the fact that first graders get to eat before kindergarteners do. She just got her hair cut shorter, which she loves. We think it makes her look older, which is good, as she hasn't grown much over the summer (for the record, she is 40 pounds and 41 inches....still!), and she really gets mad when people guess that she is 4 years old. ("I am SIX and a HALF!" she adamantly corrects them.) Poor kid doesn't stand a chance with her Polish/Jewish genes, but we keep telling her that good things come in small packages. Hopefully someday she will agree. During the past week, she has made some significant strides in dealing with her anxiety, thanks to Dr. Ann Layne. The University of Minnesota, where Maya received her official diagnosis, referred us to Dr. Layne back in March, but we were on a waiting list until last week, as she wasn't seeing new patients. All we can say is - WOW - what difference the right therapist and techniques can make. In just two sessions, she has accomplished more than we have in months exploring other avenues. THANK GOD. And an added benefit is that Dr. Layne's parenting techniques to support Maya's progress are ones we have been implementing for years now. So, we feel validated that we are on the right track, and are just thankful that Maya is finally in a place where she can learn to help herself more, and is willing to do so. It feels like we have turned a corner and are moving in the right direction...(I type this as I breathe a sigh of relief while I simultaneously cross my fingers and say a little prayer!) She is a special kid who has so much to offer. Once she gets past her stumbling blocks, she will have the world at her feet. We love her so much and will do whatever it takes to help her find her way.

Last, but certainly not least, comes Ava. Happy as always, she is talking up a storm these days, assuming her sister lets her get a word in edgewise. She loves going to the lake or pool and has become quite a fish this summer. We will continue with swim lessons this fall to keep her progressing in this area. She is finally showing interest in using the potty, so we might be saying good-bye to diapers by her third birthday after all (more prayers and fingers crossed on that one, too!) Tonight marks her first night sleeping in her toddler bed. Here is a picture of her trying it out for size yesterday. While she would probably be content to sleep in a crib until she is ten, she has to move on at some point, and we felt now is as good a time as any. She starts preschool next month at Shalom Yeladim, where she has already made a lot of friends. She loves to cuddle and read books, do puzzles, draw, dance, and play school with her sister. Her smile lights up a room, and she brings so much joy to our lives.
So, that about sums up where we all are at as we gear up for the 2008-2009 school year. With enough love and prayer, it's bound to be a great one!

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Time To Celebrate

July 4th also marked the 10-year anniversary of the night Michael proposed to me. He took me out on a Hornblower dinner cruise in San Diego Harbor. When the fireworks started shooting over the bay, he got out the ring and asked me to marry him. I was completely taken off guard, but of course said YES, and the rest, as they say, is history. A couple weeks later, when he turned 30, I surprised him with a singing telegram at our favorite bar in Pacific Beach, PB Bar and Grill. Oh, those were some good times! Now, here we are, ten years, 2 kids, 4 cities and 4 houses later, still having great times. What an amazing journey it has been! So, to celebrate, we headed off to Sandals Dunn's River Villagio Resort, leaving the kids behind to have fun with Nana and Grandpa Bob, who hadn't seen them in a year and were excited to spend some quality time with them. It was a win-win situation.
We had some great couple time for a week, kayaking, snorkeling, tubing down the White River, and climbing the Dunn's River Falls, which was absolutely amazing! We also spent a lot of time on the beach, just lying around doing nothing. We had candlelit dinners by the beach. We read books for pure enjoyment, and we didn't once think about ways to improve our parenting skills. Watching many young couples enjoying their honeymoons, some getting married right before our eyes on the beach, took us back to when our love was new. Was it really ten years ago? In many ways, it seems like it happened in the blink of an eye. I don't feel any older, and I hope I will be able to say the same in another ten years. All in all, the trip was a great way to refresh ourselves and begin another adventurous decade together. We will always remember the beauty of Jamaica as a great backdrop for fun and romance. (If you are interested in seeing more pictures from our trip to paradise, you can click here.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

4th of July in Deephaven, MN

(Okay, I know I am 24 days late with this entry, but life has been busy, and I was out of the country for 8 days, so please cut me some slack!)

4th of July in Deephaven, MN looks a lot like a Norman Rockwell painting. Biking into Cottagewood, one could easily mistake the year for 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950....pick your favorite decade from the past. Whatever the year, it is a great place to be in the summer, and especially on July 4th.

We began getting ready for the festivities on July 3rd by decorating the wagon and Maya's bike for the parade. We learned that threading crepe paper through bicycle spokes is harder and takes longer than one might think! But, it was a labor of love, and a small price to pay to celebrate the freedom we have in this country. On July 4th, we were up bright and early to take the trail into Cottagewood for the parade. Ava took a seat in the wagon while Maya pedaled proudly through the entire parade. At the end of the parade, all kids received a patriotic "bomb" pop before heading over to the town square for fun, games, and food. After dunking one of her classmates in the dunk tank and getting her face painted, Maya was ready to chow down on an All-American meal of hotdog and chips. Then, it was time to head home and rest up for the fireworks....which were about 9 hours away! What to do? Well, the girls and I stayed cool inside for awhile watching Disney's Enchanted while Daddy played Scrabble on the computer. Then, it was fun in the sun again outside on the slip-n-slide and in the kiddie pool. Next, we grilled out for dinner and waited for it to get dark....which, in Minnesota this time of year, isn't until about 9 pm. Well, that was going to be too late for little Ava, and Daddy wasn't feeling well, so they stayed home, and Maya and I headed over to a friend's house in Cottagewood. We hooked up with some people with a house on the lake (Lake Minnetonka, that is, not to be confused with any of the other 9,999 lakes in Minnesota), and were able to watch the fireworks over the lake from their lawn right in front of the docks. It was a beautiful, clear, and no mosquitoes...the perfect ending to a fun and memorable day.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"Mommy pway wittle people with Ava....pwease!!!!"

This is a phrase I hear several times daily lately. Ava LOVES playing with Fisher Price Little People. She can entertain herself for hours at a time with these toys. They usually stay in the play area, with the occasional bus ride to Maya's room, but have recently ventured outside to the deck and play structure (my idea....hey, I am determined to enjoy nice weather while we have it here in Minnesota!) Whenever I sit down to "pway wittle people," the scenario "pways" out as follows:

1. Ava puts me in charge of the Mommy and baby inside the house.

2. She gathers the rest of the people and begins having them knock on the door, one by one.

3. My job is to take the Mommy and have her look out the window and say, "Who is it?" to which Ava replies, "It's a monster!"

4. I must have the Mommy scream now, and call the police on the phone.

5. Ava laughs while saying, "Just kidding! It's just me!" Then I am supposed to let her character in the door and offer her a snack and some lemonade from the fridge.

This goes on until all of the characters are sitting around the table in front of the kitchen. Then we disassemble and start over, usually. Or, it might be time for a bus ride or trip to the ferris which point the plot thickens! As there aren't enough seats on the ferris wheel for all of the characters to ride at once, they have to take turns. It can be a long and tedious process before everyone has had a fair ride (pun not intended; even I will admit it is a bad one!) Then, it's everyone back onto the bus for the ride home. And the wheels on the bus go round and round....all through the house!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The things they say....

Last week, Rosie had a birthday. She is now eight years old. We got a cake in her honor (good excuse to eat cake, huh?), and while we were all sitting around the table eating it, we started explaining to Maya how old Rosie was in "people years." (8*7=56) She started to do the math and figured out that Rosie, if she is lucky, has about five years left before God calls her "home." The thought of Rosie leaving us made her sad, and she asked us if we would get another dog when Rosie was no longer with us. Michael and I looked at each other, and I said, "We'll see....," but the lack of enthusiasm in my voice must have indicated to her that it wasn't likely.....

Fast forward to yesterday. I took Maya to the allergist; her pediatrician had referred her there to see if she has any allergies that trigger her asthma (she doesn't.) The doctor asked her if she had any cats or dogs at home. She replied matter-of-factly, "Yes, we have a dog, but when she dies we aren't going to get another one."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kindred Spirit

During my life's journey so far, I have been blessed to have made the acquaintance of a few "kindred spirits" along the way. If you have one yourself, you know the type of person about whom I am referring. These are the people to whom you are connected on a level separate from time and space. My sister is one of these people---which is good, because, being she lives across the Atlantic Ocean, time and space are not on our side! But our connection transcends that. I often know that she will be calling me even before the phone rings. My friend, Amy, in Phoenix, is another one of my kindred spirits. I have been thinking of her a lot lately. Tonight, after I put the kids to bed, I wandered downstairs, feeling alone (Mike left for San Antonio today and won't be back until Thursday night), and wondering for a split second how I might remedy that, when the phone rang. It was Amy. Thanks for the great chat, Amy, and for your friendship. I am glad our connection has transcended time and space! I just added another entry below. I hope it keeps you entertained (perhaps even enlightened?) at work! ;-)

Third Time is a Charm

I recently sat down to read Wendy Mogel's book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee for the third time. The first time I read it was about 3.5 years ago, when I was still the mother of one. I remember being overwhelmed, thinking, "Boy, I have a lot of work to do!" The second time I read it was this past year in a parenting class at the temple. I was so excited to hear that they were going to be discussing this book, because I had always wanted to get feedback from other parents on the topics covered. We had a great group of parents and an awesome leader, and I gained some new insights. The other day, I picked it up again, just to refresh myself and sort of evaluate how I have been doing RE: implementation. While there are still many things I can improve upon, of course, I am happy to report that I am feeling pretty good about where I am at on this parenting journey. And it's not because things are necessarily "better" than before--every day presents its own challenges (some new, some of the same ones, over and over and over again!)-- but that I have come to the point of acceptance---that parenting is TOUGH, but I am giving it all I have got, and that is good enough. The rest is in the hands of a Power greater than myself.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Happy Camper!

The first ten days of summer "vacation" (as a parent, the "vacation" part of "summer vacation" takes on a new meaning!) have been somewhat challenging for us here in the Bellowe household. While we had plenty of activities planned during the week to spare her from sheer boredom, the adjustment to a new routine away from her peers resulted in several meltdowns (hers and mine) over the course of last week. Needless to say, we were both looking forward to her first day of day camp at Camp Teko. She woke up bright and early, raring to go. We got her to the bus stop at 8:45, said our good-byes, and went our separate ways. Fast forward to 3:50 pm....back at the bus stop to pick her up. She was all smiles coming off the bus, chattering about all of the details of her amazing first camp experience. She got to go kayaking, which she described as being "like the bumper boats at the fair." She went on a speed boat with her group, and they even braved the cold waters of Lake Minnetonka to do a water treading test. She made a bracelet and did a leaf project in art. They sang a lot of songs, but she couldn't remember the words yet. She is definitely a happy camper once again....and so am I!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sugar and Spice

Thought it was time Ava got a little press coverage. As is the case in most households with more than one child, the older siblings' schedules tend to set the rhythm of family life, and the younger ones hop on board the ride already in motion. Fortunately for us (and her!), Ava is a fairly mellow, even-tempered child who pretty much finds her sync wherever she goes. She is 32 months old now, and is mostly sugar, with more and more spice added as the days go by. We know that, while challenging at times for us, this is good for her.

An example of how she is exerting her own independence occurred the other morning. She told me she wanted to play outside, but it was raining, so I explained to her we had to wait for the sun to come out and dry the grass. Apparently that answer did not satisfy her. She had another solution in mind and proceeded downstairs, wearing only her shirt and diaper, to put on Maya's rain boots and head towards the door!

Debut Performance

Yesterday, Maya had her debut performance at Eden Prairie High School Center for the Performing Arts. Grandma Judy and Grandpa Doot were able to come up to witness our little star being born. She did VERY well and has come a long way with dance this year. She was proud to receive a "good practice" award, and her teacher commented to us that she was so grateful for Maya knowing the dances so well....she kept the other girls in line, knowing what steps came next, and pretty much stayed with the beat of the musi c (though she was sometimes AHEAD of the music...but that pretty much defines her....a little off beat and always a step ahead of where she is supposed to be! ;-)

Congratulations on your first stage performance, Maya! We love you and are very proud of you!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The countdown is on! 40 'til 40

It's official: My husband has 40 days left of life in his 30's. On July 13, he will round the corner to the big 4-0. I have little surprises planned each day until then, all of which will be followed by a much needed trip for the two of us to a Sandals resort in Jamaica for the week of July 13-20, which will be a great way for him to begin his next decade, don't ya think?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Is that a confession?

Well, it was another beautiful weekend here in Minnesota, so we decided once again to venture outdoors. To take even one sunny, 80 degree day for granted here would just be blasphemous. After the Shabbat Sofit morning service, we took a 7 mile bike ride around Baker Park Reserve. We rented a Burley and took turns pulling the girls. (Mike did most of the uphill work, I will admit!) Then, we took the scenic route back to Excelsior, where we headed to the playground by the beach. We were curious to see how cold the water felt, so we put our toes in. Burrr!!! We guessed it was probably low 60s at best. (Later, we checked the Internet to find it registered in at 58 degrees.) But of course there were people bathing suits, not wet suits. (It is Minnesota, after all.) We played a bit, got some grub, then decided to take a boat ride on the Steamboat Minnehaha. I can't adequately describe what a gorgeous day it was, so just take a look at this shot I got from the boat:

Sunday afternoon was even warmer (low 80s) than Saturday, so we ventured back to Excelsior beach once again. This time, Maya was determined to go swimming. We warned her about the temperature of the water, but she remained adamant. So we decided to let the kids wear their suits; we would bring their sand toys and at least sit on the edge of the water and build a sand castle. Once Maya put her foot in the water, we thought, she would learn for herself that the water was too cold for a swim. When we got to the edge of the water, she put her feet in, hesitated a moment, donned her goggles and dove right in!

Oh, to be young again, Michael and I mused. When we were six, frigid water wouldn't have kept us from swimming, either, if we really wanted to do it.

But, it appears, even childhood fantasies have their limitations when the truth is told. Last night, when we put Maya to bed, we said prayers and asked her the usual four questions before tucking her in:

  1. What are you thankful for today? I am thankful for going to Lake Minnetonka again!

  2. Who did you help today? I helped you by picking up my pretend carnival in the basement. (That's an entirely different story!)

  3. Who helped you today? You helped me by taking me to Lake Minnetonka.

  4. What did you learn today? I learned that it is still too cold to swim in Lake Minnetonka!

And there you have it, folks....straight from the horse's mouth!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Surrey Without the Fringe on Top

On Sunday we decided to skip the gym and head outside for some exercise. It was a perfectly gorgeous day--not too hot, not too cold. We headed down to Minnehaha Falls Park, enjoyed the beauty of the falls,

and rented a surrey suitable for a family of four (the only one without the fringe on top, I must add!)The girls loved the hour-long ride we took around the park and along the Mississippi River.

Mike and I worked up a good sweat going uphill, then enjoyed the breeze going downhill, inhaling the sweet smell of the lilacs blooming all along the trail. Afterwards, we headed to the ice cream stand
and made a final stop at the playground before heading home. It was a great afternoon....about as good as they get, I think.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In Memory and With Much Thanks....

This weekend, I have been thinking a lot about the true reason for Memorial Day--a day to set aside to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our freedom. I say a prayer for the family members who mourn their loss, as well as for the survivors of war who continue to live with physical and/or mental disabilities as a result of war. I also make an effort to live more fully, savoring every moment, knowing that I have what I have as the result of many others' losses. It's both the least--and the most--I can do to show my gratitude.
I also think about loved ones who have passed on. As a child, I remember gathering up flowers in water buckets and taking them around to the graveyards in our hometown where family members and friends rested: My Grandpa Fullerton, whom I never met; Great Grandma Baker; our former landlady, Mrs. Pool, who used to make ceramic crafts for my birthday presents while she was in the nursing home. These are just a few, and there are more now. I won't be able to make it home to place flowers on their graves this year--I haven't for a long time. But I have it in my mind, and the memories of doing it as a child. Maya asked me today about the purpose of the Memorial Day holiday. I explained it to her, and told her about what we used to do every Memorial Day back in Ottawa. She wanted to go and put flowers on graves, too, but we don't know anyone buried here in Minneapolis, so we decided to set some flowers out for loved ones here at home. We picked some lilacs and put them in a vase in the kitchen.
We also went outside and watered the Lilies of the Valley,
which remind me of my Grandma Baker (Dran) who passed away Christmas 2006. We talked about Dran (Maya's Great Grandma Baker) and Bubs (Maya's Great Grandma Sylvia.) It's nice to remember people in the spring, when things are coming to life again. It reminds us that life goes on, and that those who are no longer with us continue to live within us...and all around us.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dodging and Deflecting

Today's Daily OM spoke to me loud and clear, as if it was written specifically for me. Letting things go and not taking things too much to heart have arguably been the biggest challenges of my life. And now that I have an anxious daughter (Maya was recently diagnosed with GAD, ODD, with a bit of OCD mixed in), I am forced to wrestle with this challenge more than ever. Which, I suppose, could be considered a blessing (at least that is the way I am going to look at it!)

The other morning, before leaving for the bus stop, Maya was pulling her hair back with her hands, so I asked her, "Do you want a ponytail today?" She replied, "No, but I want a ponytail for the KinderMusical on Friday." I remember that she will be wearing a baker's hat type of head piece for her costume on Friday, so I reply calmly, "Okay, but it might be difficult to put your headpiece on if you are wearing a ponytail." She immediately gets frustrated by this answer, so, again, I calmly tell her, "We can work out a way to wear a ponytail with your head piece." "NOOOO!!!!! I didn't want you to say that! I don't want you to say we can work it out!!!!!" I obviously can't win here. She doesn't want to problem-solve; she wants life to be problem-free. And when it isn't, even in the most trivial sense, she copes by making me the scapegoat for her frustration. She fusses all of the way to the bus stop. I try more than once to change the subject and focus on our morning game and story time. She is relentless in her fussing. Consequently, we miss our time to do our usual morning story or game while waiting for the bus. The bus arrives, and she glares at me and says, "We didn't get to do a game or story! I hate you!" as she climbs up the steps. She takes her seat and glares at me out the window. What just happened here? The words of James Lehman echo in my mind: "A day with a child who has Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a series of battles in an undeclared war." Oppositional Defiant Disorder: The War at Home

Fortunately, this is not a typical morning. She is usually very good about getting ready for school, having special time while waiting for the bus, and blowing me kisses from the bus window. But this is typical ODD behavior that stems from her anxiety that can occur on a daily basis, at any given time, and it can be very disruptive to our lives. Often, being her mother, the scapegoat is me, but I have seen her do the same thing with her "best" friend. Thankfully, she has a patient mother and friend who are both willing to tolerate her quirks until she can utilize a better way to deal with her anxiety. But there are no easy answers, no quick fixes. It is difficult to know where to begin.......

Then, sometimes beginnings happen when we aren't looking for them. Last night, when it came time to fill in Maya's daily chart, we got to the category of "Respecting Mommy and Daddy." We asked her if she thought she deserved a "smiley," a "frowny," or an "okay" for this category. She said, "I deserve a frowny because I was mean to Mommy this morning. I shouldn't have fussed and said 'I hate you.' I was just frustrated and didn't know what to do."

Recognizing the problem is half of the battle, and for her to acknowledge that she handled the situation inappropriately is a huge breakthrough for all of us.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"She's a handful."

"She's a handful." I have heard this words as recently as this morning (from the paraprofessional in her kindergarten class) and for the last 6 years from family members, friends, child care providers, strangers. It's sorta like the conflict in the Middle East--we are all aware of it, we do our best to deal with it, and we pray for peace.

This morning I, along with several other parents, came to help Maya's teacher while she had a guest come in to do a puppet show and help the kids make puppets. I arrived while they were in the middle of making their own puppets, and I was greated at the door by another mom explaining to me, "Maya is sad. We don't know why." I looked over at Maya's table to see her crying, her half done puppet sitting in front of her. Her friends were all trying to console her, but they didn't know what was wrong. They look at me for an explanation as to why Maya is crying. I can't explain it to them, either. I take Maya out in the hallway to have a chat. She just says she doesn't want to make a puppet, she doesn't have a reason. I say, "There has to be a reason." She says there is none. I offer several possible reasons to see if she will respond: 1. She doesn't like the way her puppet looks so far (it is adorable, by the way...see posted picture) 2. She thinks her puppet isn't as good (in her eyes) as her friends' puppets 3. She is having an argument with a friend. She denies any of these reasons, and, quite frankly, I believe her. When she does have any of those issues, she typically tells me so that I can help her deal with it. But this time, no reason. I tell her I can't help her if she doesn't tell me what the problem is. She says she simply doesn't want to make a puppet. She continues crying and starts to have a bit of a kicking/screaming tantrum in the hallway. I am starting to lose my patience. I tell her that it doesn't matter if she doesn't "feel" like making a puppet---that if the teacher says she should make a puppet, it is her job to do so. Just like Daddy listens to his boss and does what he is told at his job--even if he doesn't feel like it. Just like I make dinner and do laundry every day, even if I don't feel like it. We all have our jobs to do, and her job is the be a respectful student and listen to her teacher---even if she doesn't feel like it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fun girl stuff....

Today Maya and I got to do some fun "firsts" together. I arranged for a babysitter for Ava, and Maya and I headed to Kids' Hair for some special "one on one" time to get her hair done for her dance costume pictures tonight. It was her first experience with a curling iron, and she did great.
We had a lot of fun together, and it brought back such great memories of the excitement and anticipation of getting ready for my own dance recitals SOOO many years ago. It is so neat to see her enjoying it all for the first time.....

Sunday, May 11, 2008