Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Merry Christmas to all! We have many reasons to celebrate this time of year and boys eager to drink it all in.
I had some "help" in the kitchen before the big day, decorating cookies to take to neighbors and friends. This was a fun afternoon, but I'm sure I still have sprinkles on my kitchen floor, even after mopping! They seemed determined to pile as much on each cookie as they could possible shake from the shakers. I thought they'd never dry...but eventually they did. And they tasted great!

On Christmas Eve, John's mom cooked us an amazing feast. But before we could dig into the food, we dove in to some presents.
The boys were very patient, waiting for all the gifts to be stacked up for each person and then waiting and watching each other open packages. These costumes were the hit of the evening.

It snowed all day on Christmas Eve, piling up about six or seven inches here in Iowa City. During dinner, the boys had to take an intermission to run to Grandma's piano room window to watch the snowplows clearing the street and driveways. After that, they proceeded to eat about six desserts each, but what the heck...Christmas only comes once a year!

We had to hurry home to bed so Santa wouldn't miss us. This was our first year expecting Santa overnight, as in the past he's come while we were at 8 a.m. Mass on Christmas morning. Due to a schedule change, we couldn't go to Mass until 10 a.m., so presents came first. (Note: I'd much prefer to attend Christmas Eve Mass, but since I can barely get the boys through a regular one-hour service, there's just no way we'd make it through the extra pageantry plus the need to arrive at least 45 minutes early to get a seat!) The boys didn't get up until about 6:45, which we considered an acceptable time. You can see that Daniel was still a little bleary eyed.
They tore into the packages and were thrilled...
...until they weren't. The picture below is just before Edward wailed, "But I didn't WANT Lego!"

He was eagerly anticipating the semi trucks that carry the Cars vehicles (Lightning McQueen, et. al.) I had been coaching both boys to ask for Lego because they love building with it at school and at the Children's Museum, but didn't have any of the "big kid" kind at home, due to the tiny pieces. Daniel fell right in line and was thrilled with his Lego box. Edward, however, did not appreciate Santa's attempt at manipulation, giving one semi each to the boys so that they'd have to play together. Tears ensued--both Edward's and mine, my heart broken to see him disappointed on Christmas morning.Thankfully it didn't last long, and in a beautiful Christmas moment, it was actually Daniel who saved the day. He came across the room to the chair where I was holding a sobbing Edward and held out his red Mac truck saying, "Here Edward, you can play with it." What a great kid! Shortly after, they were both playing happily, and Edward had to admit that the new Lego allowed for the construction of much better garages and ramps for the cars.

In the meantime, I attempted to make a pan of monkey bread for a breakfast treat, but ended up setting off the smoke detector when the sugar boiled over and burned on the bottom of the oven. To stop the smoke I took it out five minutes early, so of course it wasn't cooked all the way through. We attempted to eat the outer edges, but it just wasn't working, so we waited for the oven to cool a bit, used the grill spatula to scrape as much as we could from the bottom, and tried again. We got it cooked through, but not without more smoke. And I still had a birthday cake and pizza dinner (birthday boy request) to cook later in the day!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We're expecting another significant snowstorm just in time for Christmas so I guess I'd better hurry up and post the pictures from our first storm last week.
Other parts of the state had snow earlier, but this was our first real shovel event. It was much anticipated by the under-5 set in this house. So much so that Edward got up half an hour early so he could go out and help John clear the walks and driveway. He has a new shovel that he's been dying to try out (Edward, not John.) I must record this now so I can show Edward in about 10 years when we're forcing him out the door with threats of withholding the car keys (*shudder*)

When we got home from work/school, two of our (retired) neighbors were out chatting over their shovels. The boys had on boots but no snowpants and could not contain their excitement. They dived right in, running through the yards with glee. Oh well, I guess it's not such a big deal to take off the wet pants with the boots at the door and change for naps. After naps it was back outside where we stayed for more than an hour. First shoveling and then playing on the sled. I briefly contemplated a trip to a sledding hill, but it was already getting dark and they were fully content dashing through our yard and pulling/being pulled along the sidewalk.

We celebrated Christmas with John's extended family on Sunday--a much more successful trip to Chariton than our last adventure. This time we had a large room for our gathering and our boys were thrilled to play with their cousins from Omaha. Edward was even a good sport about losing his throne as Banana Slap champion. He always beats John and me, but his seven-year-old cousin proved to have even quicker reflexes and definitely was making a run for it until it was time for lunch.
We didn't leave until almost three in the afternoon, which is normally when they wake up from naps, so I think exhausted is not too strong a word. They slept almost the whole way home and were docile enough for the last half hour of the trip while awake, content to listen to the books on CD we checked out from the library the day before.

When we got home, it was time to trim the tree.
We'd managed to buy one Saturday morning, despite two out of the three places we tried being completely sold out. And it's not even a Charlie Brown tree. It may be the best we've ever had. I guess it's not a bad thing to walk onto a tree lot and only have to decide among about a dozen options. We definitely have some heavily laden branches down low, but I decided not to rearrange after the boys were done. This tree is true to who we are this year. This picture is also true to who we are this year. A little wacky, occasionally infuriating, possibly looking for trouble.
Finally, a health note: I've recovered from my double root canal, which now awaits a permanent crown sometime after the first of the year (in hopes that my new insurance will cover it.) I went back this morning for the endodontist to remove the temporary packing and place the permanent one. She told me today that pain studies have shown that root canal treatment on an infected tooth is the second most painful experience one can have. The first is getting shot in the knee with a bullet. What?! So yeah, I guess I really was justified in my weekend-long stupor and desperation for additional drugs.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A friend of mine started a project last winter when she realized she had gone a whole month without taking any photos of her third child. Nothing like mom guilt to get you going. So she decided to challenge herself to take at least one picture every day for a year and post them on Facebook and her blog. It's been fun to watch the progression and to see what memorable (or mundane) moment from each day is captured.

I may have to take up this challenge myself as I have found fewer and fewer pictures on my camera and have let many of those "fun in the moment" moments slip away. This blog starts to get unwieldy when I think I have to catch up on weeks of updates all at once. Something to ponder in the new year. It would help if I had a better camera, but since I just gave all our money to a local endodontist, that's not in the cards.

I had a toothache last week that I tried to ignore and/or treat with ibuprofen. After five years without it, we decided to carry dental insurance again starting Jan. 1. We never have dental issues and for two cleanings a year it was actually cheaper to pay out of pocket than to pay the monthly premiums. Well, I believe I just caught us up on five years worth of monthly premiums with what turned out to be a root canal gone bad (and needing replacement); so bad it infected and killed the tooth next to it, which also then required a root canal.

The pain was so bad that even though the endodontist office said they didn't have an appointment until Monday, I just took myself there on Friday intending to beg for mercy, whatever was necessary to be seen and get started on ending the pain. Apparently I looked just pathetic enough to be fit in around their scheduled patients. I was so desperate, I actually stopped at an ATM on the way to the office so I'd have cash to offer any other patient in the waiting room who would be willing to trade for my Monday appointment. That turned out to be unnecessary, but I really think I would have done it. There is nothing quite like tooth pain.

The best I felt all week was when I left that office still numb on Novocaine. I couldn't start the real pain meds right away because I needed to pick up the boys from school and then get them back there at 4 p.m. for Edward's much-anticipated performance as a hummingfish in his class presentation of "The Lorax."
It was pretty much everything you'd expect from a preschool performance, and mercifully short. The kids had fun and we had a great laugh at the end when Edward stole the show with a very dramatic bow. In the picture he has his hand to his chest and is about to do a full body bend forward to receive his applause. Classic!

Earlier in the afternoon, we'd also celebrated the season with a great University of Iowa tradition: Holiday Tubas.
On the last Friday of the winter semester, all the tuba/euphonium faculty and students and any community members who happen to play gather on the steps of the Old Capitol in the center of campus and play a holiday concert. (If you click on the link above you can hear part of last year's concert.) This year we were lucky enough to have a near-40-degree day, so it was quite pleasant and festive. There are years when the concert has sort of a tag-team approach as players rotate in and out of the building to warm up their instruments and unfreeze their valves. Not this year. The boys were interested, but also able to run around a bit without causing too much disturbance. They also were thrilled to receive a candy cane at the end and even more ecstatic when I said they could eat it right then rather than waiting until a regular dessert time. Oh, life's simple pleasures.
Since we were on campus, of course there were many sights to see. Chief among them, Cambus after Cambus rolling down the street. The timing was such that it would have been tricky to get them home and settled for naps and then awake again in time to go back to school, so in a RARE departure from routine, we decided to skip naps and ride the Cambus. You would have thought I said we were going to Disneyworld. Again, simple pleasures.
This is the bus driving away after our ride.

Having children who appreciate the simple things can occasionally backfire though. When I last posted we were in the throes of a parents vs. kids battle over behavior and listening. We were quite surprised at how little they seemed to care about their missing toys. The first two days we rewarded good listening and then re-removed the toys for bad behavior in equal measure. Slowly they started gaining back more than they were losing and it seems in the last few days that we've really turned a corner. Of course we've been praising the good behavior until we're practically tripping on ourselves. Daniel had a bit of a relapse today, refusing to listen to us when we suggested it was time to go to the bathroom, resulting in three accidents. It's frustrating, but interesting to see how he uses this mechanism for control. But this weekend has been a bit topsy-turvy with me still being in near constant pain from my teeth.

I actually had to have the doctor paged Saturday and Sunday to discuss alternatives to the drugs she prescribed. Yesterday she told me I could take the vicodin/ibuprofen combo as often as every 2 hours until the amoxicilin for the infection reached a therapeutic level (expected today) which should have caused the pain to subside. This was a relief because waiting for the 4 and 6 hour mark on these two was agonizing. I was a bit nervous about pumping such high levels of drugs through my system, but it truly was necessary. Taking it that much more often meant that I'd run out by this morning so I had to call again to have her phone in a new prescription. She seemed surprised that the pain was still so strong and decided to also prescribe a steroid to help with the inflammation.

John ventured out into our arctic wonderland (today's high was about 7) to pick these up. The pharmacist warned that the steroid combined with ibuprofen is tough on the stomach. But I'd already taken the ibuprofen and needed to start the steroid ASAP to get the full day's dose in by bedtime. Ugh. Let's just say it was not a pleasant morning.

This is what passed for my attempt to entertain the boys while John was at Walgreens:
We were discussing snowmen, despite the fact that our predicted blizzard had not materialized overnight. Edward asked if we had a corncob pipe and seemed flummoxed when I told him we did not. We're very literal these days, and the Frosty the Snowman book we've been reading of course mentions this accessory. I told him that all Frostys are different, depending on who makes them. "Some snowmen wear black top hats and others might wear a red or blue hat," I continued. Then I remembered this hat stashed in our winter box and pulled it out to great effect. When I walked into the room wearing it, they could not stop laughing. Then they wanted to try it on themselves and it did not lose any of its humor value. This was heart-warming for me, as one of my fondest memories of my Grandma Ganey is her laughing so hard and so long that she nearly fell off the couch when these hats were Christmas presents for my cousins and me and we all put them on immediately upon opening them at our family gathering. I wish I still had that picture!

As I mentioned, we were expecting a whopper snowstorm overnight and thought since we'd be housebound today we should probably have an outing after naps yesterday. We headed over to the mall to visit Santa and have dinner. I've been eager to get the Santa visit done so that Edward's wish list would stabilize. He's been changing his mind so often that I've had visions of a Christmas Eve shopping trip.

Our dinner destination, a buffet restaurant called Pizza Ranch, provoked a great reaction from Daniel: "Pizza Ranch?! I LOVE pizza! AND I love ranch! Will they have carrots and celery to dip?" They do, and he did. A successful outing.
Our other Saturday project was decorating Will's memory tree. We were a little late in getting the ornaments this year, but now they're up and ready to share with any holiday visitors.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What do you do when you've had all your toys taken away?Well, you play in the toy cabinet of course.

What if you end up going the whole day with no toys because you bounce from one end of the behavior scale to the other, winning an item back only to have it taken again?

You invent new ways to destroy the furniture. But on the plus side, the endless repetition of this cycle burns a lot of energy on a rainy November day.

Toy tally: Daniel won back his coloring materials (which Ed was desperate enough to play with even though I can't tell you the last time I saw him sit to color) and a "yellow and blue airplane" that is so rarely played with I didn't even know what he was talking about for five minutes.

Edward started out in the hole, losing his security blanket, "Teenie" for breakfast hijinks. He won it back at nap time, lost it at dinner, and won it back by bedtime. After further discussion, we've also installed a "good listening" sticker chart on the refrigerator. I told him it would take a lot of practice to become a good listener, just like it took a lot of practice to be able to make baskets at basketball. We remembered how in his first two weeks he didn't make any baskets. "Kind of like two days--yesterday and today--of no listening," I coached.

"How many baskets did you make the third day?"


So tomorrow's goal is five good listening stickers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It was ultimatum night at Casa Kenyon. The room above is our dining room A.K.A. playroom, which is a common backdrop for blog photos, but loyal readers may not recognize it as it hasn't looked like this since August 2008. While we have enjoyed some fun family time in this long, holiday weekend, it's been a near-constant battle of wills to get the boys to listen and do what they're told. The delicious Thanksgiving dinner John's mom cooked us was a circus, they were so naughty on our trip to Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma's on Friday that they were told there would be no dessert for a week, we had to leave church early when they would not listen to me and quit poking people's legs under the pews (among other things), and the final straw was tonight's dinner where all our calm but firm instructions fell on deaf ears and they finally saw their pasta dumped in the garbage and were sent from the table (in tears.)

But even that wasn't enough to make the point because they repaired to the living room and started in on two things that are expressly forbidden--taking metal trucks in the play tent and going in and out of the tent without unzipping the flaps (leading to strain, and eventual ripping.) John saw this from the kitchen and stormed in to take the tent down, telling them he was giving it away to kids who know how to listen to their parents. Ed did not listen when John told him to move away while he was folding it up and sending them out of the room just led to gales of giggles. (They're both nervous gigglers when in trouble, which is amazingly infuriating!) So they were sent to their bedrooms, doors closed.

While cleaning up dinner, I hit upon the idea of clearing out all the toys before inviting the boys back down to their new toyless existence. Luckily we had some empty boxes in the basement. What an amazing amount of crap!

After this was done, we called them down and told them to walk through. Upon entering the dining room, Ed said, "Oh! It's completely empty!" and Daniel echoed, "It's a-pletely empty!"

But instead of wondering where their stuff was or how to get it back, they started playing with the empty cube shelf (lower right in the picture above) so that John had to pick it up and take it out of the room as well. It was not the impact we'd hoped. They were sent back to their rooms, which led to pajamas and early bedtime.

Our plan is that as they demonstrate good listening they will be able to earn back one item (or category, as in, games, coloring, stuffed animals, etc.) We're not talking about overnight transformation, but not responding to every instruction with "No" or "Why" will be a good start. I imagine it will be two steps forward and one back for a while (forever?)

In a way, this is just a more comprehensive version of the stealth toy removal I've undertaken in the last few weeks in preparation for Christmas and birthdays. We are guessing that at least a quarter of what went to the basement will never be asked for and will not return.

A highlight of the weekend was the boys' overnight with Grandma and Grandpa Kenyon on Friday. We had planned it in advance but could never have imagined how much it would be needed after the frustrations they gave us on the trip. John and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at a new(ish) restaurant with NO KIDS MENU and slept almost until 8 a.m. Saturday (this is major, trust me.) When we went back to get them after naps, Daniel raced to the door with huge hugs for both of us. Edward was more nonchalant. But a few minutes after we got there, Daniel said to John, "You had to leave us at Grandma and Grandpa's because we were naughty in Chariton." Not exactly the message we were going for. John reminded him that we'd been talking about the overnight all week and that being naughty had nothing to do with it, but that may be lost in the world of three-year-old logic, such as it is.

We ended our night tonight with snuggles and stories and reminders of how much we love them. Here's hoping for a better tomorrow and week ahead.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

So, a week after Edward gave himself a fat lip, you'd hardly know he had been injured. It lasted longer than I expected, lingering into Tuesday or Wednesday, but by Friday, it had completely healed. That was good, because his burgeoning basketball skills, while improving immensely over the five weeks of our class, didn't keep him from taking a basketball or two to the face today. As they say on the court, no harm, no foul.

The class was called Start Smart, "the critically acclaimed program from the National Alliance for Youth Sports that helps kids prepare for sports. It’s a step-by-step approach that builds confidence, self-esteem, and makes sports fun. Parents will work together with their child in a supportive environment to learn the basic skills involved in sports."

That's a fancy way of saying, "for your $25, we can only afford to hire one instructor, so parents must contribute." That was fine, as it was better for me to work with Ed because I know his quirks. I know he's competitive and loves to count, so I could challenge him to do a few more of whatever it was we were doing than the time before: more dribbling, more shots, more passes. The class included drills on defense, passing, dribbling and shooting. He liked shooting best (as does anyone who has ever played basketball) and found his most improvement there. As he narrates when asked: "First two weeks: no baskets. Third week: three baskets. Last week: 10 baskets. This week (long dramatic pause): 20 baskets!

This was the set up and make for no. 16 of the day (that second shot is artfully blurry thanks to the glacial shutter speed on my smartphone). He really seemed to enjoy it, and told me tonight before bed that he was going to make 31 baskets next time... so we now need to find someplace with 5-foot baskets where he can go to practice.

He and Daniel are becoming quite rabid Hawkeye fans. They both know the fight song (Mary and I heard Daniel on the monitor last night singing it to himself as he tried to go to sleep) and have a lot of black and gold clothing. We and my folks took the boys two weeks ago to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for an exhibition basketball game to see the Hawks shellac the University of Illinois-Springfield Prairie Stars. They actually seemed to pay attention, with Daniel giving rousing applause at one point to a Hawkeye dunk.

The popcorn was also a big hit (and despite the fact that tickets were $5 and kids were free, you can see by the sea of empty seats behind them that the Hawks have their work cut out for them in their "Let's Be MAD Again!" campaign.

Today we took the boys on the Hawkeye Express, a train that runs from Coralville to Kinnick Stadium. For 99 percent of those aboard, that means an easy trip from their car to the game. For us 1 percenters, it meant a round trip taken simply to experience the train. The boys enjoyed it (this was their second time; my dad and I took them last year on our way to a game (Mary picked them up that time and took them to a park)).

Lastly, it hasn't all been athletics all the time at our house. Edward's (and by extension Daniel's) latest fixation is knights. He has read several books about them lately, and recently decided we should use our blocks to build a castle. Here is one of our grandest. That's Ed in what to the savvy eye is obviously a knight's helmet with the visor pulled down (to the less-savvy, it's a backward hardhat with the adjustable band pulled down in front).

I'll leave you with more exciting basketball action:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Edward had a rough weekend. First he took a basketball to the face on Saturday morning, leaving his glasses askew. Then he slipped in our hallway in a dash to the lunch table today and bloodied his mouth. Inconsolable does not begin to describe the scene. Even spoonfuls of ice cream did not ease the trauma. He ended up going to bed without lunch and sleeping for more than two hours. (The picture is immediately post-nap. The swelling is down a bit now as we approach bed time, but still uncomfortable for him.)

It was a sad capper on a very fun weekend. My parents were visiting, he got to go to a friend's house for a long awaited playdate/birthday party, he skipped his nap on Saturday, he exhibited his best ever church behavior this morning and thus earned some pool time at Gram and PopPop's hotel pool.

In other weekend news, I finished my second-to-last MBA class. I have a paper to write this week, but no more class time until January when I make a sprint for the finish line with another accelerated format course. Anyone who is tempted to say, "Wow, that's great. It went so fast!" should talk to my Aunt Rita about the consequences of saying that to someone who has just completed an arduous academic endeavor.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Last weekend we noticed Edward was squinting and covering his right eye to look at things. We asked him why and he said, "I see two things unless I cover my eye." We wondered if it meant the same thing to him as it did to us: double vision?

I called the pediatrician's office and was told that absent other symptoms (uncoordinated, fever, sore neck) we should probably just take him to our eye doctor, so I made an appointment for Friday after school. The eye-covering continued through the week.

John ended up taking the day off because he has many days to burn before the end of the year. Thank goodness he picked up Daniel and took him home because I would not have been able to keep him wrangled for the TWO HOURS we were at the doctor's office. John was freaking out by the time we got home, convinced that something was horribly wrong to take so long. But it just turns out it's really hard to conduct a standard eye exam on a four-year-old. He knows his letters, but couldn't quite follow the direction to read them straight across on the numbered lines. It was really hard to tell what he meant by some of his responses. The doctor wasn't even sure he knew what the word "double" meant when he was talking about double vision. Without getting into our daily conversations about "double bad choice" (e.g. smoking and not wearing a helmet) I said I thought he knew what it was.

Then we couldn't be sure the dilation eye drops actually got in the eyes. We didn't know the first set hadn't made it until we waited 20 minutes and nothing happened, so we had to repeat and wait again.

In any case, diagnosis: far-sightedness.

Prescription:The doctor said all babies are born far-sighted but it corrects itself in time and eventually will for Edward. He thinks the only reason it's become noticeable for him is that he's "an early reader." (He's not actually reading, but follows words closely while we're reading to him and is starting to notice familiar words around him--signs, buses, trucks, etc.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010 is in the books. All in all a good day, but I'm surprised to learn these last two years that it's actually easier to have Halloween on a weekday than a weekend. It's just too hard for kids to wait ALL day for dusk to fall marking the start of the sacred trick-or-treat ritual. It was however, a fabulous tool for achieving near-perfect church behavior. Amazing what the "no trick-or-treat" threat can accomplish.

Here they are all set to go, after a late afternoon visit to Coralville to show off their costumes for Grandma and Grandpa.
Edward was clearly pandering to his audience, as our neighborhood skews a bit to the senior citizen end of the scale, many of whom are dyed-in-the-wool Hawkeye fans. Plus after yesterday's trouncing of (former) No. 5 Michigan State, Hawkeye spirits are high.

Let it be noted that this is our third Halloween in a row with the firefighter costume. Edward has worn it the last two years and Daniel has been chomping at the bit for his turn.

Yesterday was warm enough for back porch pumpkin carving, which was good as I was in no mood for a kitchen disaster after spending my third Saturday in a row in class. (We have next weekend off and then one more Friday/Saturday blitz to the finish line.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What happens when you start a new MBA class in an accelerated format the day after you return from vacation? The vacation pictures languish and the blog goes dormant.

Our Evanston vacation in a nutshell:
five nights/six days, seven different parks, four cousins (three kid/one adult), two aunts, one uncle, one trip to the beach including waist-high immersion (for the kids), two real construction helmets, two articulated city buses, one el train, one fire station, one visit to Aunt Nora's apartment in the sky (a.k.a. "department") including use of the garbage chute and a rooftop view, one aquarium and one zoo. (Not to mention three concerts for John, one of which I also attended.)

Playing in the park with our favorite Wisconsin cousins. My sister actually captured better versions of many of these same shots of the cousins and posted them on her blog. A note about Daniel's combination of greens--it wasn't actually supposed to be shorts weather during our trip, but I threw in a pair for each boy at the last minute while packing, thinking we might be able to play in the sand at the beach. I didn't expect him to wear them otherwise. Not only was it warm enough for sand play, but they also soaked themselves from the waist down so that we had to wash the short while they napped so they could wear them for the rest of the warm afternoon. When the cousins arrived from WI, the boys were still sleeping, but we knew they'd had enough rest so we let Maggie and Katherine go to Edward's room to wake him up. A little while later they had not come down, but we heard giggling and went to check things out. Edward was standing on the bed shouting "underpants, underpants" while they all collapsed in giggles. We quickly retrieved Edward's shorts from the dryer and enjoyed an afternoon of fully-clothed fun.
Playing on Gram and PopPop's porch of toys. Some of these train pieces came back to Iowa City with us. Also, the castle in the background has ignited a new interest in knights and castles. The best literary discovery in this genre so far: Do Knights Take Naps? by Nick Sharratt, which ends with a decisive Yes! to the titular question.
Reading with Aunt Nora. True to form, Gram had a huge stack of books from her library just waiting for our boys. Some of them were so new they had not yet begun circulating to the children of Glencoe, IL. This one was an instant favorite--about a dog named Edward who wanted to be a firefighter.
We visited a fire truck park AND a real fire station. As usual, the boys just walked right in and made themselves at home on the trucks. This fire fighter was extremely friendly. Although we've made many trips to the fire station, this was our first time being there when they got a call. The boys were a little unnerved as we quickly scooped them off the trucks and ushered them out the door as the fire fighters pulled on their gear. However, we soon began to wonder if it was a real call or a "hey, these people have been here for 15 minutes, let's get them to move along" call because they were pretty slow to leave and then did not turn on lights or siren as they made their way up the street.

We were lucky our visit coincided with a "free day" at the Chicago Shedd Aquarium. Both boys were intrigued by the diver in the tank for feeding time and Edward was quite excited to be one of the kids who got to ask a question of the diver (via the microphone of the narrator outside the tank.) He asked why the diver wasn't wearing an air tank and learned that he was not really SCUBA diving, but attached by hose to an external tank. A later question revealed that the diver was in fact feeding peas to some of the fish. Daniel's indoor attention span ran out before Edward's so my mom and I took him outside where he happily ran around this fountain for about 45 minutes. Luckily we had a lot of pennies in our wallets and he threw them in with gusto. When he tried to fish them out again, I had to hold his shoulders so he wouldn't tumble in head first. (It wasn't deep, there really was no call for a full immersion experience.)

One exhibit the boys both liked was one about frogs with about five buttons to push to hear the sounds of different frog croaks. They giggled with glee, prompting another mother walking by to exclaim of Daniel, "That's the BEST giggle I've ever heard."

On another day, we visited Aunt Nora's apartment and took the bus from there to Lincoln Park Zoo. If you were 4 or 2, which part of this adventure would be most exciting: visiting Aunt Nora's 12th floor Lake Shore Drive apt (AKA "department"), going up to the roof sundeck of said apt, throwing a trash bag in the garbage chute and listening to it slide all the way down to the dumpster, riding an articulated city bus... and sitting in a seat in the bendable middle, or the zoo at the end of the city bus ride?

The answer to this existential pondering on Facebook was pretty much unanimous: the garbage chute. This seemed to make the biggest impression at the time, but upon further reflection, the most talked about item from this list has been the articulated bus.

I'm pretty much over taking pictures at the zoo. Until I become a more skilled photographer or get a better camera, I have enough pictures in which both the animal and the kid are so tiny as to be hardly recognizable. But we did manage this family snapshot while waiting for the return bus. I should probably tape it to my refrigerator to keep me from opening it so often. Oh, vanity!

More park time. As noted in the beginning, our total park count for the trip was seven: Saturday, Rochelle, IL for a picnic on the way to Evanston; Sunday, Robert Crown Park, our childhood park across the street from my parents'; Monday, Evanston's South Blvd. Park (which may have another name, but that's what we called it growing up), which had a fire truck; Tuesday--none; Wednesday, undeterred by morning rain, we hit three different Evanston parks; and Thursday, back to Robert Crown in the morning followed by the Iowa Welcome Center playground for a post-car-nap romp before completing the final hour of the road trip. (eight visits to seven different parks)

And in answer to the remaining questions from the initial description: the fourth cousin was my cousin Keith, who stopped by briefly on his way home to Reno, NV, from a weekend wedding in Wisconsin. And the construction helmets were actual hard hats liberated from my dad's downtown office (one was actually his, that he won't need when he gives up that office later this month.) Although they weren't initially as excited about them as he'd hoped, turning instead to favorite standbys on the toy porch, they were clearly a hit of the visit and morphed fluidly from construction, to fire gear to knight apparel and back again.

All in all a great vacation. I extended it by two days, not returning to work until Tuesday, Oct. 19, giving myself a fabulous birthday present in the process. TIME!