Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Edward requested a Lego cake for his birthday, so of course that led to me spending some time shaking my head at the insanity of the results of a Google search for "Lego cake." Once again, I stumble upon descriptions and "how to's" that include sentences like, "It took me 13 hours, but after seeing my kid's face light up it was all worth it." No. No it wasn't. Your kid would have liked you to spend 12 hours with him and an hour ordering a cake and picking it up. One person even described measuring Lego bricks to ensure her cake was exactly to scale. No. Just, no.

I followed the directions at, baking a 9x13 cake, cutting it in half and then cutting one half into the smaller bricks. Halved marshmallows create the brick bumps.

Edward picked the frosting colors and we were off to the races. This cake is not Pintarest-worthy, but it was taste-bud worthy and it absolutely fulfilled the vision of our newly-minted 8-year-old. I call that success.

Daniel is so into gift opening that his appreciation and admiration extends even to gifts for others.
Once again, Edward's Christmas/birthday cup overflowed--so many great new games, toys and books. And this year, even luckier to have Great Grandpa with us to celebrate (even though we somehow managed not to capture this in the photos.) We were glad that, even at 93, Great Grandpa remains adaptable enough to accept baked potato soup for Christmas dinner--Edward's birthday request.

Fancy glass, celebration plate and eight candles on a Lego cake = a happy birthday boy

Christmas morning brought the highly-anticipated 2013 Lego request: Coast Guard boat and rescue helicopter. (This is also, apparently, the best photo of our tree this year.) I've been reluctant to add more Lego to our collection since each new set ultimately ends up in pieces. There is lots of creativity at work in turning all the pieces in to new creations, but we really have no need of any more pieces! However...

... Santa did not disappoint.

A few weeks before Christmas, Daniel asked for help creating a superhero mask out of construction paper. While John was very resourceful and patient, the results lacked a certain sturdiness required of an item that must be taken off and on multiple times depending on whether a superhero is his mild-mannered self or his alter-ego. There may have been some tears over ripped masks (not John!) so we found these and wrapped them as one with stern Santa instructions that the set was for both boys to share, not one mask for each (and subsequent fighting.) So far so good.

Even with an hour-long interruption to attend Christmas Mass, all the Lego was assembled by lunch time, but then there were lots of rescue scenarios to play out. And of course the day wasn't over yet.
On to the 8th birthday celebration!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Anticipation was running high by Christmas Eve, but we still had to find ways to fill time before heading to Grandma and Grandpa's for our traditional late-afternoon gathering. Captain Underpants by the Christmas tree

Daniel got into the reading act once we got to Grandma and Grandpa's, sharing Pete the Cat with Great-Grandpa, an appreciative audience. This was Great-Grandpa's first Christmas trip to Coralville and we were so glad to have him with us to celebrate.

Some of us considered the delicious Christmas ham the main event and feasted until we could hardly move. But the boys would not let us forget that the true highlight was still to come as they dashed downstairs to open presents. The reactions here would be the same if any of the evening's gifts were photoshopped in. This electric circuits set and Lego book were highlights.

And the Ninja Turtle and Superman mask sweatshirts were put into immediate wardrobe rotation.

 Little did we know that most of the next month would actually be TOO cold for new sleds?! The words "polar vortex" were not yet part of our vocabulary.
And finally, we had to weigh the rudeness of plugging oneself into headphones while in a social setting against the blissful silence that accompanied their tuning into their new iPods, pre-loaded by Dad with all their favorite songs.
A very Merry Christmas for all!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

December, as usual, was busy, busy, but we still had time for some fun and some traditions. Edward's class spent time learning about several different winter holidays and brought home a dreidl, which the boys found quite fun. I was amused by the juxtaposition of them spinning it next to the advent wreath!

Daniel has the same Kindergarten teacher Edward had, and her lead-up-to-winter-break traditions include an afternoon of crafts (graham cracker gingerbread houses, bead necklaces, sock snowmen) followed by a pajama day the last day of class. I helped out on the craft afternoon, once again confirming that there is a special place in heaven for Kindergarten teachers and that I was SOOOO right all those years ago when my high school guidance counselor offered me two career options, "Nurse or teacher," and I said, "Neither!"

I should know myself better by now than to attempt anything even vaguely Martha-Stewart-y, but since I did, I might as well document it. Some good friends of ours are working as a family to eliminate sugar from their diet, so a traditional plate of Christmas cookies seemed inappropriate this year. Looking for alternatives, I (foolishly) Googled, "edible wreath" and "edible Christmas craft" and found what looked like a reasonably simple but cute idea for a tree with an apple base, and grapes all around.

 Already we can tell that Martha and her ilk must scour the produce aisle for perfectly straight carrots and grapes of equal diameter. Me--I just flow with the irregular and end up with the leaning tree of Pisa. It was still a nice thought and our friends were appreciative (who knows if they dumped it in the garbage as soon as we left?!) The pineapple star idea was a hit though--slice a whole pineapple horizontally into discs and then use a star cookie cutter to cut the fruit. We ended up using this for Edward's class party and for Daniel's class birthday treat.

On Dec. 5, the boys left their shoes out for St. Nicholas, a tradition we added to our jammed December last year, when Edward learned about it in his Religious Education class. Luckily they are easy to please, though it did require an 11th-hour trip to Kohls for Christmas ornaments (ironically, during Edward's weekly R.E. class!) Helpfully, St. Nick left the rest of the bag of Dove dark chocolate bites hidden in a kitchen cabinet after putting a few pieces in each shoe. I'm pretty sure the metal rack was set up as a sort of trap in hopes that St. Nick would kick it, thereby making enough noise to wake the boys so they could catch him in the act. He's pretty nimble though and maintained his mystery.

Daniel got a guitar ornament;
Edward's is Perry the Platypus

Finally, we continued our December tradition of decorating Will's memory tree and sharing the ornaments with friends and family. This year's ornaments were drums, a nod to Daniel's current affection (obsession?) for the instrument. I like to think Will would have had similar interests to his brothers so it seemed appropriate.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Daniel was extremely dissatisfied with the three leftover options I offered for dinner one night this week and decided to express that by throwing a fit. I reminded him that almost-six-year-olds do not scream and cry to try to get their way and told him I'd be happy to speak to him when he calmed down. He carried on for a bit, but ultimately, getting no reaction from me, decided to change tactics to "guilt." He slumped into the kitchen and announced, "Well, I guess I'll have to go find another family to live with since, it looks like I just don't matter to you anymore." *big sigh* "Don't really want to, but..." and slumped out of the room, head and shoulders hanging.

I was up to my elbows in muffin batter for Edward's birthday treat for school, but I immediately set it aside, caught up to his foot-dragging pace to the door, scooped him up and went to sit in a quiet space lit only by Will's small Christmas memory tree. D was writhing and wriggling, resisting my embrace, but I put my mouth right to his ear and calmly said, "Daniel, no one in the world matters more to me than you. Everything I do, my whole life is making sure you and your brother are taken care of. I love you times a million, zillion and nothing ever changes that. You are mad at me right now, and that's OK. Sometimes we get mad at each other, but it doesn't take away even a flea-sized amount of how much I love you."

As I spoke, he stopped squirming and just let himself go limp in my lap with his face buried in my neck. I rubbed his back for a bit as we tried to breathe calmly together. After a little while I asked if he was ready to get up, and he didn't answer but squeezed his arms around me tighter. So we stayed where we were.

Eventually we moved on, and, let the record show, he gobbled down a bowl of chili, which was one of the options so offensive mere minutes earlier, that he was thinking of leaving home. "Don't really want to, but..."

Sorry, buddy. Not every day can be a snowman pancake day!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

What do you think of these handsome boys?
Ready for church 12/1/13
Last month John's family gathered for his grandmother's funeral. She'd had a long, full life surrounded by loving family and friends, but had battled dementia in recent years. We know she is in a better place now. As we prepared, I asked John if he wanted to boys to have ties for the service. He didn't think it was necessary, but Edward overheard the conversation and enthusiastically insisted that he NEEDED a tie. Daniel also needed pants that covered his ankles, so I had a one-hour, five-store shopping blitz the night before the funeral to fill the wardrobe gaps.

It felt a little odd to be snapping pictures at a funeral, but they were excited about this growing-up milestone, so we took a moment to capture it. Daniel's new pants also required a belt and as everyone told him how handsome he looked he replied, "It's my first time wearing a belt!" It's the little things.

Two inches of blowing snow prevented Edward from participating in a construction workshop (Lego, Keva, K'nex) at the Putnam Museum (children's science center) in Davenport, about 50 miles away. He'd really been looking forward to it, and I hated to have to tell him we couldn't go. I even went out to the interstate to check the driving conditions. It felt very slippery to me, though people were whizzing by me at full speed. Ultimately, the logical part of my brain kicked in, and I knew that driving 50 miles in the snow to play with Lego was not a good idea. (I suppose some might say it was a crazy idea even without the snow.)

He took it in stride, partly because the friend he was supposed to go with invited him to play for the afternoon--snow fun! But before he left, he had his own mini-workshop, in which he created:

"A DJ hat and I don't know what these are called." Turntables? "Oh, yeah, that's it." Next we'll work on vocabulary for "DJ hat."

Monday, December 02, 2013

In the car on the way to Dubuque over the weekend, Daniel was unsatisfied with his electronic entertainment options. (First World Problems) He wanted a turn with Edward's DS and his own Leap Pad was not an acceptable substitute. "The Leap Pad is for learning, and I'm not in school now. I'm not home schooled, you know!"

This struck John and me as absolutely hilarious at the time. Seeing it written down now and without the benefit of Daniel's indignant tone of voice it loses a little something. The truth is, he loves the Leap Pad and hardly even seems to realize that the games have a learning component. He was just suffering from "My brother has something that I don't have at this exact moment." After about 20 minutes they switched and all was right with the world again.
Turtle exhibit at National River Museum, Dubuque

In another moment of "brotherly love" (air quotes!) Edward was bugging Daniel toward the end of a long day at the waterpark and Daniel finally got fed up and came to John in tears. Edward danced off to the waterslide while Daniel detailed the trials he was enduring at the hand of his brother. John got him calmed down and he went off to do more splashing and sliding. A few minutes later, he was back with this report: "Dad, here's how I'm dealing with the Edward situation. Number 1, I'm staying away from him. Number 2--oh, there are only 2 things--when he comes near me, I'm going to another spot."

A few more strategies were added in the remaining water play time, all involving keeping safe distance between himself and his brother. Edward finally started to feel the effects after about 15 minutes and came to us to ask why he couldn't find Daniel anywhere. We explained that he was staying away on purpose and Edward sought to make amends. Daniel forgives easily so they were back to slide racing.