Friday, July 30, 2010

Birthday Bliss

When we left off on the birthday post, we had just been to Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, NJ, home of TLC's reality tv program Cake Boss. Five scrumptious looking cupcakes had been selected for dessert and we headed back to NY for lunch.

Welcome to Holland! (Tunnel, that is)

(cheesey embedded video of the Holland Tunnel below)

Brooklyn Bridge

Hello pretty lady!

Now we're getting close.

Destination: Nathan's Famous at Coney Island, home of the 4th of July hot dog eating contest!

Chili cheese and bacon cheese dogs, bladder bursting sized Coors Light, fries, a pretzel, and cupcakes. That's what I'm talking about!

Oh baby. In this heat, this self proclaimed beer snob wouldn't have wanted anything else. A micro brew or something heavier just wouldn't do.

And now, the moment we have all been waiting for. Are they as good as they look?

You better believe it!

I wish I could say that in that despite the intense heat and direct sun and after stuffing myself silly that I rode Coney Island's famous roller coaster the Cyclone as I had planned. Sadly, my stomach demanded that I save it for another day. However, Mark and Alexander rode the Tickler and loved every second of it.
I was treated with a fabulous summer thunderstorm on the drive home and the icing on the (cup)cake? Well, as Mark said, not many people get a rainbow on their birthday.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Walking with Angels

A great way to learn about our new town is to take evening walks, so that is what we set out to do. It started in contention. I wanted to take the girls in the double stroller which is easier for me to navigate, but Mark wanted to use the wagon. Alexander wanted to ride his green machine, but I knew the rolling streets and narrow sidewalks would be a problem, so we compromised with his big wheel. I should have seen this as a sign of trouble to come. Once these disagreements were settled we headed off in a direction we hadn't yet taken on previous evenings strolls.

We have moved to a strange and beautiful area. This Midwestern girl has a lot to get used to. I often thank our lucky stars (bless you Darcy!) for finding our house. It is in the burbs, yet a stone's throw from the big city. Our neighborhood is perfect for us. It is a relatively quiet street filled with homes that regular people live in. We have met many neighbors and each one is friendlier than the next. Sure, it looks different than what we are used to. It is more condensed with limited yard space, the homes are tall (often with 3 stories) rather than sprawling like our old ranch. The street is narrow and crowded with cars which sometimes feels like an obstacle course to drive, but it is a great place to be. Mark will be able to ride his bike to work or if he feels so inclined, he can hop a train. A renowned hospital is less than a mile away. A fire station is within a block. We are just off of a major artery filled with everything from luxury car dealerships, to fast food, to Mom and Pop shops.

Of all the things to adjust to, three stand out the most. 1. The landscape is hilly and meandering. We moved from the flatlands so it is a big (and welcomed) change. 2. We are surrounded by unimaginable wealth. This area is one of the most affluent in the country, and it shows. I don't mean 1 or 2 million dollar McMansion level wealth. I mean people more wealthy than several small countries, and they all live here. Our lovely neighborhood is a little pocket of normal in an area of many, many multi-million dollar estates. I've been so tempted to take some snap shots, but that wouldn't be right. Instead to illustrate my point, here are a few pictures taken from of homes for sale in my neighborhood. This one is 0.85 miles from my house with a listing price of $6,500,000. If you put 20% down, your estimated monthly mortgage (not including taxes) is a mere $27,000.

Doesn't impress you? How about this one listed at $17,900,000 a mere 4.83 miles from our house (or 2.5 miles from Alexander's elementary school)?

The 3rd thing that stands out is the age and history of our new area which is infinitely more appealing and interesting. One block away from our home is a farm house (currently occupied) which has a plaque dating it to 1752. The farmer built two similar one-room width homes for his sons, which also are currently being lived in. It's very cool and hard to wrap my mind around. On our walk we passed a few churches. The first was celebrating their 125th anniversary. Others we passed were of a similar age.

As usual, I had my camera with us on our walk, just in case. I really don't know why, but as we crossed a bridge, this warning sign caught my attention.

View from the bridge to the train tracks below.

Off we went to explore.

Though the light wasn't quite right, I couldn't help myself from snapping a few shots of this church and graveyard.

Beautiful architecture surrounds us.

Again, I have no idea why this sign caught my attention, but it did. I wasn't getting it. I wasn't understanding the messages that the universe was trying to send me for in the next few minutes our experience took a few years off of my life.

We have rules when going on walks. Alexander may ride across quiet streets only if we are sure there are no cars coming and he has been given permission. Otherwise, he must walk - with us. If it is a busy street, we walk or carry the bike across - together. I don't know why I snapped this shot, but I did.

He knows the drill. He knows to stop at every intersection, to look, to wait for our direction. At an intersection with 3 roads, we prepared to cross the width of a driveway onto another quiet residential street. We pointed to our destination and gave Alexander the go-ahead to ride his bike. He misunderstood where we were headed and set out to cross a very, very busy four lane street (35 mph speed limit, I think). Seeing his mistake we called out to him to stop. He didn't. He kept going. So did the oncoming traffic.

Cats have 9 lives. I wonder how many children have. I wonder how many guardian angels went with us, unseen on this neighborhood walk. As parents, we sometimes worry about emergency situations and how we might handle them. Would we run in front of traffic to protect our child or would we stand helpless with our feet glued to the ground? It's not something you ever actually want to find out.

The next few seconds are a blur. Mark and I were both screaming at Alexander to STOP. Panic set in and he began pedaling faster, screaming and crying all the way as he tried to make it across. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the approaching traffic and I ran, screaming and screaming "STOP!" The first car to get to us did stop as did the 2nd. Alexander didn't stop pedaling even as he hit the curb, popping his big wheel up off of the street. I reached him in an instant, but it felt like an hour.

Like I said it was a blur. I paid no attention to the stopped cars, but instead took hold of my son who could have been flattened like Frogger. There were many tears (his, not mine as I was too scared for tears) and lots of hollering. I don't know if the stopped cars stayed there to see if everyone was ok or to see if this child was going to get a beating on the side of the road. Believe me it crossed my mind to spank his bottom, but I didn't. He was beyond frightened and I could feel his heart pounding out of his chest. His dad, nearly dead from fright, was across the street keeping our daughters from rolling away in the wagon. Later he would tell me that he too jumped into the street, his hand out to stop traffic and then making the sign of the cross Catholic style when we made it to the other side.

Neither Mark or I can get this near tragedy out of our heads. We play it over and over in our minds. Mark couldn't sleep last night. I know it was our fault for not making sure he knew which street we were going to. I know he misunderstood our directions. Once he realized his mistake, he was in fight or flight mode. He may not have been able to hear us or rather process our command to stop. Still, in the crucial moment, he did the wrong thing and could have lost his life. Instead of obeying his parents and stopping, he went faster. I own this.

I can't help but think about what led to this disobedience. He has been testing the boundaries lately, as all kids do. I fear we have been too lax in disciplining him. Why wasn't it automatic for him to obey us? Mark argues that we cannot compare an emergency situation to when he pushes us on issues at home. I know there is some truth to that, but I take responsibility for much of this.

The very worse thing we can do as punishment is to take computer privileges away from our son. So, we did. I'm blogging instead of cleaning and unpacking as therapy. Waking up this morning, I searched my head for a streak of white hair that people sometimes get as a result of trauma. I don't have one but it wouldn't have surprised me. Cats have nine lives. I don't want to know how many my children have.

Thank you Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Operation: Feed Our Mob

In this melodrama the cast of characters consist of Dad: former very picky eater as a child, now a grown man, less picky - still won't eat his veggies. Alexander: 5, converted to picky eater status at age 18 months. Sophie: age 3, on a current food strike. Helena: 14 months, will try anything - ANYTHING given to her and eats a wider variety of foods than Daddy. Mom: not-so-picky eater, on again - off again dieter can make it tricky (currently on again and counting the dreaded WW Points, so nary a pat of butter can be found).

It is lunch time. We know this not because our own stomachs are growling or by the clock. No. We know it because Sophia and Helena have begun throwing themselves at the gate that bars them from entering the kitchen.

(voices in unison with tiny fists pumping the air they chant) "We want Food! We want Food!" They take turns as gate crashers, sometimes taking it out on each other. Pushing and shoving escalates as Mom and Dad man the battle stations just beyond the gate in the land of milk and honey.

Dad and I are trained operatives. We know the drill. We move with skill and precision filling the cups and preparing the table.

The chanting has turned ugly. "Hell no. We won't go!" and we scurry to please the mob.

Everyone has a special spot. Sophie shows off her OT skills by securing her own safety belt and we cheer her accomplishment. I never cheer too loudly causing her to cover her ears in protest. Helena taunts us as she stands in her high throne. When we mention belting her in, she laughs a haughty laugh knowing full well that it is an empty threat.

"22 minutes until Zaboomafoo," we call to Alexander in the living room, which lets him know he has time to actually chew his food before his favorite program begins. There are never days when we are less prepared so he must forgo chewing. We are never so late that we allow him to eat alone after the show. He runs in, muttering under his breath something about be offended about having to get off of the computer for lunch.

Alexander has his plate (he is currently eating about 6 different foods in rotation - and yes we have been to a nutritionist, prepared foods from Deceptively Delicious where healthy food is disguised, sought help from Sophie's ST, still offer other foods, etc.) He is fairly easy. We don't need to ask him to eat 50 or so times during this meal or remind him that his show is on in 3 minutes to get him moving. Never do we do a food race with Dad because we know that he could choke.

Helena does quite well on her own, for the first couple of courses at least. She does not believe in wasting food which means she never chucks half of her food on the floor. Ever.

Dad and I take our time eating our meals in this pleasant atmosphere, drinking in the quiet and joy of having our family together for a meal. We never eat last or resort to sneaking in a few bites here and there. His meal is well balanced and he would never consider cheese a condiment. Mine is fresh tuna on home baked multi grain bread sprinkled with fresh rosemary from my organic herb garden as I would never rely on frozen diet entrees, microwaved for 3 minutes, stir and heat for an additional 90 seconds.

"What shall it be today Soph? Baked Alaska," I ask hopefully? I had been preparing this dish all morning.

She doesn't bother with a response but the look she shoots me tells me all I need to know.

"Fillet Mignon and lobster tail?"

She raises her eyebrow and purses her lips.

"Bacon cheeseburger, fries, roasted duck, Cornish hen and loaded baked potatoes?"

"Oh Mother" she sighs.

I'm running out of options. "Pizza, Philly cheese steak, chicken fingers? Come on, chicken fingers are your favorite," I remind her as if she has forgotten.

"It does not suit me today. Besides, were the chickens happy, well fed, free range chickens? No? Then how can you possibly expect me to eat them?" she says.

"Red beans and rice, grilled cheese, apple pie," Dad offers?

"There are children starving in Africa. Why should I eat so well when others go hungry," she asks? We never feel as if we are living in the Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham, without the happy ending.

"Mac-n-cheese, ravioli, baked ziti?"

Sophie goes on a 4 minute diatribe about not eating these foods until all wars cease and peace is brought to the Holy Land.

Dad and I present her many, many options. We take time outs. We never, ever raise our voices, become emotional, show frustration, have even a little mist in our eyes for we are rational thinking parents. We understand on an academic level that she is 3, that she comes from a long line of picky eaters on both sides of the family tree who all survived. We know that she will not starve and this shall pass.

"Sophie are you hungry," I ask calmly?

"Why, yes Mother. I am," is her response.

"Do you want to eat," I ask?

"Yes Mother. I require sustenance," is her reply, uttered without growls, screams, pouty lips, tears running down her cheeks, or turning her head away from us to face the wall and show her displeasure.

"What do you want Sophie," Dad and I ask (and sign in American Sign Language)?

"Today I shall have crackers and if they please me, I may also have strawberry applesauce with a cup of apple juice," she says. Her words are carefully chosen. She never asks for this by simply signing cracker while snot runs down her sorrow filled face.

"Crackers? Sophie, that's all you ate last time! One cannot live on crackers alone" we argue ineffectively!

"Yes Mother. Today I shall require Wheat Thins, sun dried tomato and basil," she says majestically as a Queen giving an order.

We never give in to her unreasonable request but always leave the table triumphantly, no matter how long it takes. The children all are satisfied, we revel in how amazing we are at this parenthood thing. We never, ever feel like failures or leave the table in tears. Not once have we compared our children or wondered if Sophie's behavior is because she is 3 or because she has Down syndrome. We never try and put a percentage on it. As in: it is 90% being 3, 10% DS related (with her delay in being able to communicate her needs or aversions to certain tastes or textures) or visa versa, or neither? Never do we marvel at Helena's ability to eat most things presented to her. Never.

And never, ever do we say, it's 5 o'clock somewhere and take a shot or drink a glass of wine before putting them down for nap time - a mere four hours before we do this all over again.

Friday, July 23, 2010

90 Minute Cupcakes

It was my birthday which meant - ROAD TRIP! Only one bakery would do for my cake, so we loaded the van and hit the road. Just over an hour and a half later we were here.

Yes Hoboken, NJ where we happily took our place in the back of a long line.

This is a bakery made famous by a reality tv show. Can you guess which one?

It airs on TLC. Think bakery meets mafia (at least the name anyway). Do you have it yet?

You got it. We went to Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken, NJ home of TLC's reality show Cake Boss.

If you look closely, you can see me holding Helena in the reflection of the bakery door above. This is one tv show that we enjoy watching as a family. We waited in line for 90 minutes behind a very sweet couple on vacation from Ohio.

You might be wondering why on earth we would drive that far and voluntarily wait in line that long just for cake. Let me tell you, it was worth it. We believe in road trips for the sake of road trips. Family adventures with a less than conventional destination tend to be the most fun. Once upon a time, before we had kids and when we lived in Washington, D.C. we made a weekend out of travelling to Johnstown, PA. Why? Because they made the greatest hockey movie Slapshot there. We skated on the ice and chatted with the towns folk in the cafes who all had stories about the filming (in 1977). It was awesome, but I digress.

Inside the bakery was cozy and humble, crowded, but still exciting.

None of the bakers featured in the show put in an appearance, but we didn't care.

This is one of my most favorite shots of Sophie taken in a long time.

Birthday self-portrait!

How does one decide what to get when surrounded by such yummy looking treats?

In the end we kept it simple and picked out 5 cupcakes.
We didn't eat them there. Oh no. They were to be dessert as lunch was our next adventure. I'll give you a clue. We headed back to NY. Brooklyn to be exact. Need another clue? Think 4th of July. Think family fun. Think NY landmark since the early 1900s. (facebook friends, no telling)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Code for thecutestblogontheblock!

This is a repost from our friend Becca at the Bates Motel about code changes for users. I am so grateful that she published the instructions because due to high traffic volume, I've not been able to access their site.

Becca says,
Pure chance that I saw the warning signs on some blogs I was reading this morning, stating that the blog owners who use The Cutest Blog on the Block would lose their backgrounds on July 23rd, if they didn't update their code. (Surely, this won't affect me, right? Maybe this was just the sign I needed to give my blog the makeover I've been mulling over for the last few months...) Once I looked into it, I discovered that it was nothing too terribly drastic, but I wanted to warn all you bloggers who use TCBOTB that you will lose your blog background tomorrow unless you either re-load the code now, or follow the directions below. They’ve lost their photobucket hosting and will be moving all of their designs tomorrow (they will still be free, and the new codes have already been posted on their site).

I sure don’t want any of you to wind up surprised and out in the cold!

(The following was copied from The Cutest Blog on the Block - I followed these directions and had no problems whatsoever.)

• Go to the place you pasted your background code in your blog
• Find in the code where it says:
• Replace it with:
• Click 'Save'
• You will no longer be at risk of loosing your blog's background once photobucket shuts down TCBOTB account
• You may notice that the blog background loads slowly over the next 24-48 hours while our servers are upgraded however everything will be back to normal after that. (Note: I had to refresh my page to get my background to load after changing the code.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Iowa Gurls

Let me interrupt your day to introduce you to the most hilarious (and scarily accurate) video about my home state (video embedded)

Ni Hao, Kai Lan Birthday Party continued

continued from here

At our neighborhood Asian food store I had picked up our fortune cookies. The day before the party I melted chocolate and dipped the cookies and added sprinkles. Bamboo skewers were loaded with grapes and strawberries, a traditional Chinese party treat, (though we opted not to candy them after our first batch failed). We covered floral foam bricks with napkins and stuck the skewers on top.
I was up past midnight decorating with dragons, firecrackers, and paper lanterns, but it was well worth it. Our guests began to arrive the next day and we started in on the pot stickers, egg rolls, Asian cole slaw, fruit, crafts, and games. The weather was more hot than I would have liked, but we managed. My wonderful family pitched in for some last minute set up and we were good to go. The atmosphere was a hit and everyone was having a great time, including my cousins who travelled 2 hours just to see us and our friend Mayson and her family. Yay! (embedded video below)

After pizza (ok, I couldn't make it ALL Chinese food with my crew), it was time for cake. This was Helena's first cupcake, which she had no difficulties with. Sophie has never been much of a cake fan (or bread for that matter, it's a texture thing I believe) preferring ice cream instead. She did blow out her candles all by herself though!

video embedded

pinata time - video embedded

Afterwards the girls made a hasty exit for nap time, so they didn't get a chance to open their gifts until later. Thank you everyone for making their day so special and thanks to Kate for allowing us to have the party at your house!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

There is Love

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

For 12 amazing years Mark and I have been together. The proposal, on Mt. Sugarloaf, 10 years ago. 10, as in a decade. Oh my how time flies!

Nine years ago today I said "I do" and married the man of my dreams.

We have survived six moves with homes in 4 states and Washington D.C. We've loved 3 cats and are blessed with 3 beautiful children. Can you believe it?
Life has thrown us some unexpected curve balls. With each challenge, you have revealed the strength of your character, the depth of your spirit, and enough courage for the both of us.

You are my rock, my best friend who keeps me young through your silly ways and laughter. You have taught me what unconditional love means and through you we have created the kind of family I have always wanted.
I love our adventures and I can't wait to see what's next. Happy Anniversary moy muzh. Я буду всегда любить тебя.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ni Hao, Kai Lan Birthday Party

We had just one chance to make the trip back to Iowa before our move. Since the girls' birthdays are just 6 weeks apart (Helena turned 1 and Sophie was turning 3) we decided to have a combo birthday party at my baby sister's new house. The theme had to be the girls' favorite cartoon Ni Hao, Kai Lan. (ni hao means "hello" in Mandarin Chinese). Party prep started a couple of months ahead of time and as usual I went all-out and had the most fun in planning every detail.

Once the theme had been chosen the next thing to do was make the invitations, the first taste our guests would have of the atmosphere I hoped to create. I found a program that makes photos look like cartoons. Then I played around a bit more and came up with this:

Kai Lan is known for wearing red flowers in her hair. I didn't think they could be too difficult to make and they would make great favors for our guests. At the craft store I picked up a sprig of the right flowers and a low temp hot glue gun. The barrettes were from the drug store. I set to work pulling the flowers apart and in one afternoons while the girls napped, I had made more than a dozen pairs. I felt like Martha Stewart! Unfortunately low temp hot glue does not work on metal barrettes and silk flowers and those little buggers popped off if you looked at them wrong. So, I headed back to the craft store. This time I bought jewelry and metal glue. With my first barrette, I glued my fingers onto the metal and nearly had a panic attack until I got myself unstuck 20 minutes later. Yet, the end result was worth it.

The party colors were bold; red, black, yellow, blue, and gold and the Chinese theme made decorating so much fun. This is the Year of the Dragon and the party stores still had plenty of Chinese New Year decorations on hand, and often for sale. The dollar store had brightly colored paper lanterns, which would later be hung in the kids' bedrooms. For the party favors, I chose quart sized red Chinese food take out boxes. Inside were (inexpensive, but fun) goodies like Chinese paper folding fans, Chinese paper yo-yos, Chinese finger traps, firecrackers, Chinese gum, chop sticks, and chocolate fortune cookies. The boxes served as weights for the balloons, which doubled as decorations until it was time to send them home with our friends.
The party supply stores don't keep Ni Hao, Kai Lan plates and napkins in stock, but I found them on sale here. The trick to keeping the cost down, yet stay with the theme is to pad with plates, napkins, table cloths, etc. in the color theme. I stacked the dinner plates with a Kai Lan plate, then a red plate, then a yellow plate. I only bought one Kai Lan table cloth and the rest were solid black, red, and yellow. You get the idea.
We were having the party a la Midwestern style, as in outside in the garage and back yard. In the corner was a tv and Wii console because we had a Ni Hao, Kai Lan game complete with dragon boat races. We set up an activity table with coloring pages printed from here. Another table had supplies to make necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. We used wooden Chinese Lucky beads and we even had Chinese coins mixed in. My Aunt Sandy did a great job helping the kids make their jewelry. The littlest kids who could not manage this project had large play beads so that they would not be left out.

We had red velvet cupcakes with yellow frosting and chocolate cupcakes with red frosting. Each were topped with chocolate sprinkles, a Kai Lan flag (which I made by printing out an image, reversing that image and wrapping around a craft wooden stick) and a Chinese flag toothpick. The cupcake wrappers were gold foil, of course.

What party is complete without a pinata? As lady bugs feature prominently in the Kai Lan cartoons, we chose a lady bug (which didn't get completely destroyed and now hangs in the girl's bedroom). This pinata has ribbons hanging from the bottom. Only one is attached to a trap door. This way, the littlest guests could participate even if they were not ready to swing a bat by pulling a ribbon one at a time.

continued HERE...