Thursday, January 21, 2010


Image courtesy of Svadilfari

Ever since my father bought my kids Rosetta Stone Latin for Christmas I have been fielding the question, "Why do you want your kids to learn Latin of all languages? Why not something useful like Spanish?" So here are a few of my reasons.

1. It's the linguistic foundation of the Western world. Note that the word linguistic comes from the Latin "lingua" meaning tongue of the land, language or speech and the word foundation from the Latin "fundatio" which is the past participle of "fundare"- to lay the groundwork for. Latin is the basis for a large portion of the English language

2. It's significantly more useful than the first foreign language my kids learned. That would be Welsh.

3. Latin is structured, elegant and succinct. It's not loosey-goosey and full of slang like modern day languages. It's a great tool for learning grammar.

4. Once you've learned Latin the rest of the Romance languages should come pretty easily. I plan to add Greek in a few years and then German. I figure that should give them the basics for most European languages. Maybe not the Slavic languages. I'm not sure. We may have to add Polish to the list somewhere down the line.

5. Learning any new language, even a dead one, helps you to learn more languages in the future. Just the process of learning it is valuable, and you know, if they are going to be super secret agent spies some day they're going to need to know a whole bunch of languages.

6. The only copy of Green Eggs and Ham I happen to own is in Latin. Someone has to be able to read me this great work of literature.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Second Place

This is our beautiful snow mermaid that took second place at the 1st Annual Martin Luther King Jr Day Snowman Contest at the park. What snowmen have to do with Martin Luther King Jr I'm not entirely sure, but it was a lot of fun and will probably become a tradition around here.
I was actually more pleased with the second place prize than I would have been with a first. I'll admit it, this is one homespun little snow mermaid and some of the other entries were technically speaking much better. Those, however, were made by adults, not little girls, and the judges clearly took that into consideration. Second place feels like a good, honest reward for a good, honest effort.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Road Tripping

It has been decided. This is the year the kids will meet their father's family. Yes. I said meet. Only the girls have ever met their paternal grandmother (Bella only once, in the hospital when she was two days old, which almost counts) and none of the kids have ever met their paternal grandfather. In fact, I have only met him once, on our honeymoon, camping in the Arizona desert.

Zach's family is a splintered one. I won't go into the details of his parents painful break-up when Zach was just a baby, but the result has been a family spread far and wide across this country. For years this has seemed like a huge obstacle. It's one thing to visit family across country when they are concentrated in one place, but quite another to manage the hassle and financial burden of visiting so many people in so many different places, especially with very small children.

The other day, while I was laying down to take a nap, it hit me. I need to start looking at this as an opportunity. All over this beautiful country of ours there are spare bedrooms, couches and floors waiting to be crashed on with willing, even eager, owners who would love nothing better than the opportunity to put us up for free and show us around their neck of the woods. How is that a bad thing?

So begins a year of grand adventures, starting in February with my first ever solo trip in the 6 years I have been a parent. My mom is using some of her frequent flyer miles to fly me out for a fun filled weekend with her, my sister-from-another-mister Kathy and my actual sister at mom's little bungalow in San Diego. We're going to hang out at the beach, drink margaritas on mom's porch, see the sights and, best of all, sleep in. The whole thing should cost me approximately $20 for a fast-food meal at the airport during my layover. Mom is footing the entire bill for this trip.

When I get home on March 1st I will have exactly two weeks before trip number two, a roadtrip to Arkansas to meet Grandpa Phil. Grandpa Phil is....there are no words. I have a soft spot in my heart for quirky, crumudgeonly old guys and Phil is the ultimate in all categories. As I alluded to in my last post, he is a one time farmer, one time carpenter who now spends his time prospecting for gold and diamonds. He lives on cigarettes and organic green smoothies and won't take any medicine that isn't Swedish Bitters. He's a history buff extraordinaire, an amateur geologist and an opinionated old coot. It's time his grandkids knew him.

Phil lives near Crater of Diamonds State Park, according to their website, the only diamond producing site in the world open to the public, and a "rockhound's delight." I can only imagine the fun Cheyenne and Isabella, who count among their favourite passtimes, digging in the dirt and collecting rocks, will have prospecting for diamonds with Grandpa. the mapquest fuel cost estimator puts the fuel costs at about $200 round trip. Accomodations will be free, except for the one night we will spend in a hotel with an indoor pool for $60 and the $14 we're planning to spend to see an old Native American village.

September brings the family reunion in Indianapolis. Zach's mom has agreed to pay for lodging and gas. This reunion will be big. Zach's mom is one of seven kids, many of whom are already grandparents. Zach's grandma, my kid's great-grandma, will also be in attendance and we will stop on the way in or out to see Zach's 94 year old great-uncle Tom, who apparently still bowls a 250 average. For the record that is about ten times my bowling average, but we'll roll a few balls with him anyway for the fun of it. Nothing like getting your butt kicked by a 94 year old man to teach you a little humility.

Finally, we are traveling to Wyoming to visit Zach's uncle Ward. Ward rocks. Ward sends care packages periodically ranging from a bag of marbles and seven sizes of clips to two brand-new Radio Flyer wagons and a book on the life cycles of the rainforest. He has variously been a pilot, an airplane mechanic, worked on an oil rig and delivered newspapers and his only method of transportation is a semi truck. This will be our most expensive trip because we are staying at a hotel. The words, "I'd love to have you visit. I'll even try to find where I put all my guns so I can lock them up," did not inspire a lot of confidence and as a 72 year old bachelor I think he'll be less stressed out if we get a hotel. Still the meals will be home cooked (probably by me) and the fun will be cheap or free and Miss Cheyenne will finally get to see the city she is named for.

So that is the plan. For the cost of one of us traveling to some packaged resort in some warm and sunny place we get four different adventures and a lot of memories. If this works out we are hoping to follow this up with trips to California, Nevada (Tahoe area) and Alaska in the coming years.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Family Writing

Thanks to a link posted on facebook by my friend Anais of Path to Freedom, I have spent the day perusing The Girlhood Home Companion magazine website and waiting for my digital copy to arrive in my e-mail box.
I'm feeling particularly drawn to the idea of Family Writing, where members of the family record stories from their daily life for future generations. Today I started with a letter to my oldest daughter. It's not something I plan to give to her today or even next year. At the moment I think it would be good to pull together a collection of these letters for each kid for their graduation day or wedding day.
Dear Cheyenne,
It's 3:55 in the afternoon and I am waiting for you to come home from school. Your Dad went to pick up Bella from St John's and is stopping at the bus stop to drive you home. It's cold today, single digits with below zero windchills and I am planning to have tea with you and your sister in a few minutes. I think I'll heat the water in my Grandma Rosemarie's teakettle. I'm feeling nostalgic today.
I've spent the afternoon planning a trip for you, Bella and James to finally meet your Grandpa Phil. It came to me today, I think from the Holy Spirit, that it is time for you to meet your father's family. Further confirmation that this message was, indeed, divine came this afternoon when your father called your Grandma Elizabeth, who we have been somewhat estranged from for a few years, and received an invitation to Indiana this summer for a family reunion, expenses paid. I think you'll like Grandpa Phil. He's a real character. He's retired from farming and construction and taken up prospecting. He gets as excited about geology as your Dad does about electricity.
I worry lately that we are being too hard on you. You are my oldest kid, so we are always figuring these things out together. I apologize for all the mistakes I have made and will undoubtedly continue to make as a parent. Know that even when I discipline it is out of love.
You are such an amazing kid. Much better than I was at your age. You are smart, creative, outgoing and inquisitive. I just love that about you. You are nearly 6 years old now and on the threshold of being able to do so many fun and interesting things. I'm so excited by the possibilities I am afraid I may push you to do too much. It's just such a fascinating and interesting world out there and I am excited to introduce you to it.
The first five years of a child's life are focused inward towards the home, towards nurturing and safety. From then on, it seems to me, the focus is on ever greater levels of independence. I won't lie. I think as a parent my strengths lie more in the second stage. Like you I am very extroverted. I'm a person who enjoys being out in the world meeting new people and doing new and exciting things.
This week your new obsession is with the human body. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I haven't accidentally sent you to medical school instead of Kindergarten. Everyday you come home telling me some new fact, for example, that there are 206 bones in the adult human body. Today you learned about muscles. I asked you yesterday if you wanted to be a doctor, fascinated as you are by human anatomy. No. You'd like to be a cake decorator. A cake decorator well versed in human anatomy and Latin. You have no idea how cool I think that is.
Anyway, you are home now. Your Daddy is dishing up ice cream (only Daddy would think of ice cream in this weather) and it's time to put the kettle on. I love you Miss Monkey. Never forget that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

No Toy 2010

I admit it. The photo has very little to do with the post, but how cute is she.

Enough. It's a concept I've been struggling my entire adult life to get a handle on. It's a difficult one in a culture of advertising and competition where the center of our economy and our collective self worth revolves around the idea that there is no such thing. That's a hard lesson to undo and it's taken me years to get to the point where I finally think I am getting it.

Every year before the holidays I do a sort of informal inventory of the kids' posessions, looking to see what they have, what they use and what they might need. This year it became clear that the kids have reached the point of Enough.

Cheyenne and Isabella's room is a joyful little place. White wrought iron daybeds with pretty old quilts line either side of the walls, pillows and stuffed animals propped up for reading and snuggling and a basket tucked under each bed for books. There's a sweet little vintage school desk that holds their drawing pads and coloured pencil rolls as well as their "rock treasures" and other little baubles. There's a play kitchen with little pots and pans, play food and dishes, a doll bed and a miniature sized table with ice cream parlor chairs. There's a drawer in their dresser for dress-up clothes, one for doll clothes and one for Barbies and My Little Ponies. On their window seat there is a fully outfitted wooden dollhouse and a small basket of miniature animals and wooden snakes with baskets underneath for stuffed animals. There is a hook behind each of their beds for their mom-made nature walk backpacks and their binoculars and each of them have a wooden beanbag game they made with their Daddy. It's Enough.

Then there is James. How many times when the girls were 6 months to 18 months (the span of ages James will pass through in 2010) were they perfectly contented with nothing but a mixing bowl and a spoon to bang on it with or a box to explore?

It is with that in mind that we have instituted our No Toys in 2010 challenge. We want to put the focus on doing rather than on aquiring. The things the kids will really remember are our adventures; camping, daytrips, trying new and exciting foods, meeting new and exciting people and spending time with family and friends. That's the fun stuff.

For Cheyenne's birthday, the first birthday of 2010, she and her Dad are enrolling in karate lessons together and she and I are going to a "kicksledding in the full moon" event at the park. Grandparents will be paying for her summer knitting class.

As I was thumbing through the American Girls catalog, something I've daydreamed about having since I was a kid, it struck me. We spend a lot of money in this country imagining the fun and exciting things we could be doing. We'll buy the American Girl's doll a pair of cross country skiis instead of going cross country skiing or we'll buy Barbie a horse instead of going horseback riding ourselves. There's something a little off about that. Something I'm hoping to change for me and my kids.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year, New Discovery

Image from Betty's Pies

New Year's Day we had about enough of cleaning and organizing and moving and just being stuck inside the house, so we decided to go out for a little culinary adventure. We discovered, when driving around White Bear Lake, that Betty's Pies, a Northwoods institution, has opened a second restaurant here in the Cities. Of course we had to stop. And there we discovered something glorious. The Polar Pie Shake.

It is a piece fo Betty's famous pie blended with vanilla ice cream. So simple. So wonderful. Between us we had a Blueberry Cheesecake, a Butterfinger and a 5 layer Chocolate. Even James loved it. And now I know what to do when I have leftovers after baking pie. Because there so often are leftovers when I bake a pie....