Monday, February 08, 2016

Ben is Five

I'm convinced parents are constantly scratching their heads, going "how is it possible that I have a five year old child? Where did the time go? When did they grow so much?!"

Ben's very early days, the ones that first made me a parent, are so vividly etched in my mind that it seems impossible that they happened half a decade ago.

But accept it I must as it has become clear that we have a kid in our midst; Ben is no longer a toddler and he has the personality, skills, and opinions of a small, self-assured person. I feel like ages 3 and 4 are pretty crazy for kids because they're growing in so many ways and desperately trying to figure out the world around them. There are confusing rules and a tricky language and shoes that never, ever fit because suddenly they're too darn small again.

I find that Ben's emotional and social growth happens in abrupt surges that leave us bemused but (mostly) elated at the new changes. Four months ago he was running circles around the couch and then just last week he sat down for three hours to meticulously assemble a lego set. I dared not tiptoe into the dining room for fear of disturbing this quietly intent child. All was restored to normal, however, when he finished the set and did a few celebratory laps around the couch. Because, you know, he's still very much a small tyke. We are definitely in that murky, middle space of development that teeters between very little kid and.... kid.

At his core, Ben remains the same person: he's the boy that snuggles into bed with me every morning at 7:01am to discuss our day, the kid that comes running across the playground to greet me with giant hugs, and the child that adores tickle fights and piggy back rides. He also alternates between joyfully playing with Emma to expressing feelings of anger, petty jealousy, and extreme frustration, mostly in regards to Emma playing godzilla with his legos. Frankly, it all seems like pretty standard sibling stuff.

He can also say impulsive mean things, that leaves me worrying for his developing personality, until I talk with other moms and hear that they, too, 'are horrible, no good parents' according to their children. In other words, we have entered the dreaded testing phase. In a way, it's quite scientific and I find myself secretly impressed by his methods: If I say this nasty thing to my sister, how do my parents react? If A, then B. I give him high points for logical deductive reasoning, much to my occasional consternation.

And then, just like that, he'll curl back into my lap and hand out kisses like nothing ever happened. Child development whiplash. I have found that holding him close for hugs is a way for us to both calm down and regroup after trying moments. We are a family that thrives on physical contact to strengthen our emotional connections; I didn't realize for a very long time how effective it was for my parenting strategy, especially as we can then discuss the outburst and the accompanying emotions. Childhood (and parenthood) is no easy walk in the park.

Ben has a generally sunny and eager personality; he is occasionally impulsive and daring, and very personable. This is a kid that adores social interactions and personal connections. My hope, as his parent, is that he continues to nurture these traits, as they're the bedrock of his personality. I appreciate the ways in which he approaches problems and fears, with logic, bravery, and sporadic freak-outs. He is definitely my son. I hope his impish nature will stay true throughout his life as it is constant source of humor (and occasional vexation) for his family and friends.

The other day I had a bad headache and was feeling poorly. Ben suggested that I go upstairs for a bit of a laydown and then proceeded to tuck me into bed, turn out the light, and 'let him know if I needed anything or if I got scared of the dark'. These are the days that leave me in such awe of the person he's becoming. These moments of independent action and empathy are glorious and I find such joy in seeing him strengthen these behaviors.

We are currently in kindergarten limbo: we're touring a few different schools to hopefully find which one will be the right fit for our energetic kid. From where I stand, they all focus too much on reading and have far too little recess; I find it hard to picture my active boy cooped up in a brick building for six hours a day. If we're being honest, I'm worried about that. Kids these days have so little time for running and playing; why must we begin so early with arithmetic? Ben is a smart kid and is developing good social skills; I have no doubt that he'll do just fine in school and later in life... I just wish it didn't have to begin so quickly. (Update: Hmm, this seems to be a trend)

I'm combating these fears by purposefully not planning many structured activities in the coming six months. I want us to go camping, play in the water, and run wild through the forests. Because, despite the challenges, childhood is a pretty glorious time, and I wouldn't mind sharing the fun with my happy, goofy, wonderful kid.



Friday, February 05, 2016

Benisms vol 323

So today I told Ben he was going to be in Alaska for Easter and he became very concerned that the Easter Bunny wouldn't make it up there.

I assured him that the EB definitely wouldn't forget him and that she visited kids in Alaska too.

At which point I was subjected to the most intense grilling of my life.

Ben: "How does she make it to Alaska? There simply isn't enough time for her to get there. It's a LONG plane ride and she doesn't have a magic sleigh like Santa."

Me: "[Ugh] Hmm, excellent question. Maybe there are lots of Easter Bunnies? One for each town? I mean, bunnies are known to reproduce pretty rapidly...."

Ben: "And speaking of Santa, how does he make it to all the kid's houses, anyway?"

Me: [Thinking that I totally had this one nailed]. "His magic sleigh, of course. It's super fast"

Ben: "Right, but you told me the other day [in regards to something COMPLETELY different] that magic was just pretend. So really there's no such thing as magic, right? Besides, reindeer can't fly in real life. I've seen them at the zoo and they definitely don't fly."


Dammit kid, why must you be so logical? What would you have said, Peeps? I have a hard time telling him to his face that Santa (and his magical flying reindeer) are real. And besides, I was secretly proud of his deductive reasoning.

In the end Emma saved us all by throwing a fit over snacks and we were able to lay the conversation aside.

There is no way that Santa is going to survive for another year in our house.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Flamingo Birthday Party

So, let's me confess right up front: I adore party planning. Which is a bit weird given that I'm not a details person. I'm definitely a big picture kinda gal. Chris is the nuts and bolts half of the relationship. We joke that I dream up the vision and he makes it a reality. Which, if you know us, is so true. 

I think I'm going to start telling Chris that my grand vision for our daily lives does not include a tidy house. Life, especially with kids, is gloriously messy. This is a great idea, yes?! All in favor of adopting, shout 'aye'!

Anyway, back to the party. Since Ben and Emma have birthdays that are only separated by two weeks, it makes sense to smoosh them together into one glorious fiesta. I plan to do this until they stage a revolt. Frankly, we expected Ben to protest vociferously  but we appeased him with the promise of his Treasure Hunt (aka his buddy birthday) party and he happily went out of his way to tell everyone that he was having two birthday parties. Dude is spoiled rotten, it's true. 

So, now that we were planning Un Gran Fiesta (can you tell that I've been practicing my spanish on Duolingo?!), we needed to pack a birthday punch. 

And really, are there any other birds on the planet that can rival the flamingo for sheer showy gaudyness? (Parents and other birders: don't answer that. Save your blue mot mots, birds of paradise, and other feathered friends for next year's party) 

I found this geometric flamingo file (instant download) for $1.50 on Etsy and then set about crafting a proper invitation. 

Eh. It was ok. But who can resist messing around a bit more? 

(And I just noticed that there was a typo in the first invitation. Eek. Where is my detail-oriented husband?!)

 Or adding pink bunting? Peeps, the world needs more pink bunting.

I also added a few feathered models to the birthday cake. Bad picture, I know. Wind + dying camera does not make for good photographic evidence. Plus I was trying to balance the entire thing on top of a paint bucket (yes, we're still in construction mode) 10 minutes before guests walked in the door. Welcome to my hectic life. Which clearly has no time for tidying. Flamingos always take precedence over house chores, yes?

Here is the cake right before we dug in. This is when I started singing Happy Birthday but Ben halted the proceedings because I'd neglected to turn off every single last light in the house and it wasn't dark enough for him. Got to follow the rules and the rules say that light go OFF. Yes sir.

Ben requested an ice cream cake which was good since our oven wasn't hooked up and thus we had no way to bake a cake. This one was based off of an Ombre Cake and it got high scores from family members. Basically you whip up a whole bunch of whipped cream and layer it in between ice cream flavors of your choice. I picked chocolate, raspberry, and mango. YUM. It was an excellent combo, if I do say so myself.

Give yourself a day to make this cake. You put the bottom ice cream layer down, then a whipped cream layer and then stick it in the freezer to harden for half an hour. Then you put down another layer of ice cream and a second layer of whipped cream. Then harden. And repeat for as many layers as necessary. And then you cloak the entire thing in more whipped cream that takes the place of an exterior frosting.

Next time I'd try to make my whipped cream layers thinner. Or perhaps nix them entirely. Whipped cream simply doesn't it do it for me when compared to a good gelato. 

For the past few years we've done birthday shirts for the kids but I lied shamelessly to Ben and told him that they don't make shirts big enough for five year-olds. The tradition was cute for the first few years but I don't want my sixteen-year-old throwing a fit when he doesn't receive his annual birthday vestment. So we cut it off at age four. Sorry, Bubba. 

This is what I sent to the gal on Etsy that makes the shirts:

And...we got kind of close. It all depends on what she has in stock and I'm not surprised that her stash of oranges is a little thin.  Eh. I can live with it. Don't sweat the details, remember? :) I'm just grateful that she's willing to do custom orders. The one she made last year for Em was perfect

The birthday girl was happy and proceeded to show her appreciation by smearing chocolate ice cream over the front. It's my party and I do what I want to.

Sometimes it seems a bit silly to make such a to-do for what is a very small birthday party for only the kids' closest family members. But I remember quite vividly the parties my mom staged every February: the kite flying party. The high heel races. The tea party. They were great fun, even when things went wrong. Ahem. Like the time I lit the house on fire. In hindsight, that one was less fun for my parents, perhaps.

So in the meantime we're going to make a fuss over the kids and let them enjoy (jointly!) their special day. And really, it's also just an awesome opportunity to make delicious cakes.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Treasure Hunt for a Five-Year Old

Ben's birthday was last week and today we invited five of his buddies over for an ice cream social. Frankly, I was a bit worried about how to fill the time since it takes a kiddo 30 seconds to eat a slice of pizza and polish off a juice box. Coming up with January (indoor) party ideas was making me anxious.

Eventually I decided that a treasure hunt was the best way to entertain the hordes. I spread the goodies out over all three floors; the most challenging part was coming up with the clues (and hoping that the kids could figure them out). We also decided to add in an ice cream sundae component to the party since our kitchen is still being rebuilt and I didn't have an oven to bake a cake. Ice cream is easy.

When the kids arrived they were ushered over to the table where they decorated white goodie bags with their name and some pirate stickers.

And then I unrolled a scroll and read the following:

Oh No! Terrible News!

The evil pirate Captain Hook as STOLEN all the candy toppings for our ice cream sundaes. It is up to you guys to rescue the treasure. Can you help us?!

Ok Mateys, here are the instructions for the treasure hunt:
-There are CLUES (I held up the first envelope) with riddles, that you must solve that will tell you the location of the NEXT CLUE. 
-Along the way, you might find pieces of pirate treasure. There is ONE piece for every kid. 
-Once you find a clue, bring it to me and I'll read it out loud. 
-At the very end you'll find the buried treasure and only then can we have our ice cream sundaes. 

And then I gave them a practice riddle:

If I had 3 legs I wouldn't be stable
I'm where you eat breakfast
I am a __________(table)

There were a lot of puzzled faces. Then Ben shouted out "BOBCAT!!!" Wtf? Oh dear, I thought, this is going to be a disaster. But I read it again, more slowly, and they guessed the right answer. That seemed to give them confidence and we moved onto the real deal.

Here was the first clue:

Clue #1:
Lots of water and soapy bubbles,
To scrub off the grub,
take a look in the_____(tub!)

In the bathtub was a package with cool pens (pirate treasure) and another clue. The kids brought both down and I picked a kid to distribute one piece of treasure to each child. Then I read the second clue out loud:

Clue #2:
Captain Hook is such a crook,
he's hidden the next clue in a ______(book)

If they're not getting the clue, you can always read the whole thing (including the last word) and they'll still have fun hunting down the next clue.

Clue #3:
Mateys, You're doing well. Pay attention, because here we go:
On your feet when tromping through ooze,
the next clue is hidden in some ____(shoes)

For the next clue we blew up a whole bunch of balloons and spread them out on the floor of our closet. Underneath were sprinkled gold chocolate coins.

Clue #4:
In amongst all the balloons, you might find some gold doubloons! 
From the top of your head on down to your toes,
the next clue is hidden where you find your: ________(Clothes)

Clue #5:
It now time to head to your bower,
the next clue is hidden in a _________(shower)

Here’s a hint because this one’s tricky,
it where you get clean when you’re awfully sticky

Clue #6:
Arg Mateys!
This is the last clue, you're almost there! 
Find the goodies and bring them back here!

Ok pirates, time for all to pitch-in,
the last clue is hidden in the _______(kitchen)

If your kid can read than you can tape this to the package:
“Bra-awk! Congratulations salty pirates! 
You are a clever brood! 
And now it's time to have some food!

I should note that I came up with most, but not all of these clues. My Dears, the internet is a gold mine. Mix and match to suit your pleasure.

Here are printable versions of the above clues:

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

Here are a few more that I came up with but didn't actually use:

Now we have a big dilemma, 
where do we find our little emma? 

I thought it'd be cute to have Toddler Emma have the next clue in a backpack on her back but eventually decided that she might be overwhelmed by the sudden crush of big kids around her. 

What is that odorous perfume?
Must be something in the baby's room!

A few treasure hunt tips

  • Make sure every kid gets to open (and then distribute) treasures to the other kids. They love having jobs at this age. 
  • The treasure doesn't have to be fancy. Our pirate treasure consisted of gold chocolate coins, cute little pens, glow sticks, and a toy car. Small stuff. Stickers, temporary tattoos, and packs of crayons would also work well. Frankly, you could probably nix the small stuff and just have the big pirate treasure at the end. 
  • Kids at this age can follow directions. I'd wait until goodies were stowed in bags before bringing the children back together for the next clue. The more attentive ones would shush the others so everyone could hear the clue being read. 
  • Don't be afraid to give hints. The joy is them running around the house in a big pack trying to find the next clue. Honestly though, somebody always got the clue. Five year-olds are bright. 
  • We spread our clues out strategically: one clue upstairs, then one in the basement, then another back upstairs. Gets 'em tired and hungry. 

The final treasure was a bag of candy toppings for the ice cream sundaes. We regrouped in the dining room and everybody was assigned a job: setting the table, pouring the candy into bowls, handing out juice boxes, and making sure there were enough chairs. Kids love having a job to perform. 

Then Chris arrived with pizza so we whisked the candy away before the kids could start gobbling that and instead put down pizza pie. 

A word of advice when having an ice cream sundae party for kids:

Put the ice cream bowl in front of them, then clearly instruct that they can have ONE spoonful of topping(s). If you're my kid, you'll take one spoonful of every. single. topping. But then take the candy bowls off the table. Otherwise they'll just keep grabbing goodies and it'll be a huge mess.

And then you can (hopefully) send everyone home before the sugar crash occurs.   :)

Rough party itinerary

20 minutes - arrival and bag decoration
20 minutes - treasure hunt
15 minutes - lunch
15 minutes - ice cream sundaes
20 minutes - general play and departures

Another fun idea that my sister-in-law mentioned: Fishing. The kind where the kid has a pole, throws the end over the edge of the deck, and someone puts a small treat on the hook. Next year, perhaps.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

News and Reviews

Well, here’s another one for the photo album. Why is it so impossible to get a decent picture of these two together? I’ve got nothing worth keeping.

That Benjamin, such a helpful guy. Here, Emma, look THIS way!

A few of these links are a bit old; I’ve had them since early December but haven’t gotten my act together. Hope you’re having a fantastic weekend, peeps!

3D printing will disrupt the world in ways we can barely imagine 

More recess, fewer fidgets

How free play creates emotionally stable children in an unstable world

The Stranger regrets these errors

White women, black hair styles

Seattle natural hazard explorer. Nightmare inducing.

Confessions of a rabbi’s wife

I’m going to send the drunk driver who killed my parents a christmas card

If you’re from Alaska..

Chocolate scandal

Self-esteem of the kindergarten set

This was our December: 150 sickened by norovirus. Also: When norovirus came to dinner. 

Unfollow: Westboro Baptist loses a prized daughter

Sad news: Doug Tompkins dies

See? Drones can be used for good! (yes, I still want one)

And yet another keeper...

This picture reminds me of the article: 26 reasons kids are pretty much just tiny drunk adults. Makes me laugh every time.



Tuesday, January 19, 2016

House: Kitchen Update

Well my dears, we were roaring along on our kitchen remodel until the window contractor screwed up and brought the entire project to a screeching halt. Evidently I was too busy congratulating myself on the smooth progress of the project thus far to realize how much one window was going to throw a major wrench in the works.

So we’re at a standstill. Our cabinets are almost completely installed, but because we had to stop and wait for the window, our contractor moved onto other projects and doesn't have any availability for a few additional weeks.

And we can’t finish any electrical or plumbing until the cabinets are finished. So we’re in a holding pattern which has put me into a bit of a funk.

I suppose one of the saving graces of remodels is that you plunge into a project somewhat naively, not quite realizing just how long that project is going take to fully complete. For me, it’s kind of like giving birth: situational amnesia.

Oh well, we will get there eventually. In the meantime, I will be content if I never have to look another plate of mac&cheese in the face again. Quick microwavable food is getting pretty old 'round these parts. :)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Benisms vol 645

The other day Ben came home from preschool and informed me that “God is a good guy that chases boogey monsters. He has green skin and ears that look like they should ooze liquid but don’t”.

So basically God looks like Shrek.

I can dig that. We’re a pretty non-religious household so I’m not sure where he’s hearing the god talk; perhaps from a buddy at school. Whoever he is, the dude as an excellent imagination, yes? Ben’s religious education is clearly in good hands.


Our littlest bambino turned two this week. Wee Emma is growing up. She is a happy, plucky little girl and we are lucky parents indeed.

It’s a strange feeling watching your last child leave the baby era. When she was small, I was quite bittersweet about the whole process, as it meant that never again would we have a newborn in our family. This was helped, no doubt, by her calm nature. Emma made babyhood easy.

But recently I’m finding that I’m not grasping onto the sorrow as much, instead finding joy in her emerging personality and applauding her emotional, physical, and linguistic victories. Emma has embraced her place in our family and we are slowly becoming accustomed to having a second little firecracker in our midst. Suddenly, we no longer have a toddler + baby but instead are a family of four with two goofy, wonderful kids. The very chemistry of our family structure has changed and thus far it’s been lovely.

This morning she were toddling up the stairs equipped with various goodies, including a half eaten apple. “Emma”, I said, “remember food doesn’t come upstairs into the bedrooms”. She looked intently at the apple and then promptly tossed it back down the stairs. Problem solved. Two year-old logic at its finest. Life is never boring with this girl.

I weaned Emma a few weeks ago and the process was surprisingly drama-free. We’ve found other ways to spend time together and I’m secretly pleased to have my body wholly mine once again. Nursing the second time around was not a terribly enjoyable process yet we persevered because it was our special bonding time, free of the distraction of an older brother and bustle of family life. But I feel that motherhood has taken both a physical and occasional emotional toll and thus I’m relishing being in full and complete possession of my body. It’s a welcome change, despite the fleeting sadness of weaning a last child.

Emma is blossoming. Around strangers she is often shy and reserved yet at home among her people she is a chatty, exuberant toddler. And so very full of laughter. This week she’s been walking around the house saying: “Happy Baby! Emma happy, happy baby!” She lights up whenever Ben is around and she makes a mad dash on her short stubby legs for Chris when he comes home at night, squealing “Dadje, dadje!!” She is my little sidekick and my world is a more joyful place because of her presence.

Emma is, above all, exceedingly observant. She will hang back and watch the proceedings before decisively entering into the fray. She watches Ben especially closely and follows his lead in all things that are mischievously naughty.  These two are turning into quite the duo and as their parents we couldn’t be more delighted. And slightly apprehensive. Collectively, they are a force of nature. Watch out, guys, Team J is rolling through.

Emma wouldn’t be my child without a stubborn nature firmly established in her bedrock. Strong-willed doesn’t even begin to describe this toddler-sized chunk of granite. Once set upon a course of action, she is unlikely to be swayed. For example, she immediately decided that she wasn’t keen on being dragged out into the rain for this birthday photo shoot and just about every picture is testament to those emotions. Not even a bubbly brother making his silliest faces could work a bit of magic. 

But once we were back inside, both children embarked on a joint fort-building project and Emma once again reverted back to her happy little self. Like most toddlers, she is at the whim of sudden and strong emotions that are as changeable as the weather. We’re thrilled that her resting equilibrium is generally one of calm happiness with sparks of fire. 

As I write this, Emma is vigorously protesting her nap by heaving all her toys out of the crib. Sitting below in my office, I can tell she’s especially vexed as the crashes are louder than usual and interspersed by howls of frustration.   There are times when a child-free existence looks mighty appealing. But I was reminded recently that I need to sit back, chuckle, and count my blessings, foremost among them this little girl with an infectious laugh and a killer arm.

Oh Darling, we love you so much. You are our bright little spark plug and we are so very lucky to have you.

Much love,


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays

Hullo Peeps, 

It’s been a hectic winter for us and I didn’t have a chance to make a family holiday card. Boo. Perhaps next year. 

In the meantime, I’m picking out kitchen faucets and wondering just how little of Christmas dinner I can eat so that I have plenty of stomach room for apple pie. Priorities, people. There is a (tiny) chance that we might have snow tomorrow. A white Christmas!! Whoa. I’m sure I’ve jinxed us by just mentioning snow exciting! I’ll be the one in my skivvies doing snow angels if we are so blessed with the frozen precip. 

Happy Holidays

xo, Sonja

My Dears,

May you have a wonderful holiday, filled with the laughter and joy of friends and family. May your 2016 be filled with good health and grand adventures. And lastly, may our world be a more peaceful and equitable place for everyone.

Much love,

Sonja, Chris, Ben, & Emma

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Kitchen Update

Whoa nelly, Peeps, things are starting to look a little more finished around here. So glad to be past the demo stage.

It. was. exhausting.

Things I’m loving most about the space? How bright it is. Hooray for proper lighting!

And I like that Manuel did a nice job replicating the arches so that they mimic the 
lines in the living room doorway. This old house has lovely bones; it’s our job to make sure she shines.

Here is a view from the dining room, looking into the kitchen on the left and the (plastic covered)  living room on the right.

Baby steps.