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Hardy Stock

Footsteps in the SnowI’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not your average preschool mom,  but my craziness rating hit new levels this last week. When temperatures dropped to single digits and we still kept walking to school people were flabbergasted.  I just shrugged off the incredulity and said, “It’s just easier” which didn’t seem to alleviate anyone’s concern. I’m expecting a call from Child Protective Services any day now and will save my pedantic rebuttals for that conversation about the distance not being long enough for my car to heat up anyway.

Frigid

Ellen was happier than this photo indicates . . . really.

A while back, my book club read Global Mom where the author chronicles raising her kids in various foreign countries. As a mom of young kids, I found it equally intriguing (because of all her cool adventures with young kids) and annoying (again, because of all her cool adventures with young kids). The place they lived that fascinated me most was Norway. There everyone sent their kids to the local preschool/daycare where the kids played outside in the snow for hours.  At first the idea seemed so strange and dangerous, but it grew on her and after acquiring the right gear you couldn’t tell her kids form the native Norwegians.  I’m not actually a fan of the cold, but I do have some Finnish and Norwegian blood coursing through my veins which is maybe why I don’t bat an eye when I bundle my kids up Christmas Story -style and step out into the cold to brave the treacherous two block journey to preschool.  Or maybe it would just take a polar vortex before the daunting battle of loading and unloading the car for a .2 mile drive would seem worth it.

Bouncy Balls

Halloween 2014

Minions! A few weeks before Halloween I was talking with some of my mom friends and they were sharing what their kids wanted to be for Halloween. It made me feel a little bummed since my kids just stared at me blankly when I asked, “What do you want to be for Halloween?”  (Ellen didn’t really have a concept of Halloween and Cooper struggles with open-ended questions.) As I was mulling over this “problem” it occurred to me that I just wasn’t asking the question in the right way. I showed Cooper pictures from last year and then showed him a Pinterest board I’d put together of costume ideas. It didn’t take Cooper anytime at all to decide that he wanted to be a minion. Whenever we’d go shopping and I’d tell him we were looking for stuff for his minion costume he’d get really excited.

PA310078I was going to make the kids hats, but then I found some and Target. At first I wasn’t sure about spending $20 on hats for a Halloween costumes and some part of me felt sad that the costumes wouldn’t be very homemade, but when I tried to put them back to contemplate the purchase Cooper almost had a breakdown and the decision was made. Based on how attached the kids are to them, I think the hats will be worn way beyond Halloween.

Despicable Me

We all dressed up for our church Halloween party. Noel was Gru and I was Lucy from Despicable Me 2. When we were all together, people caught on quick, but when we were apart people just thought I was a lady in a bathrobe. (The changes I’d made to make it look like a trench coat just couldn’t compensate for the bathrobe fabric I guess ;)

Corn Muffins

We also made an insane amount of corn muffins for the party. Just had to throw that in there.

School Parade On Halloween day, we went to a costume parade at Cooper’s preschool (all the kids were thrilled as you can tell.)

Party! Then a party followed. Ellen jumped right in as if she were an actual member of the class which kind of annoyed Cooper.

LeopardI’d thought about putting on my Lucy getup, but didn’t want to wear high heels and a bathrobe while chasing kids (again) so I opted to be a leopard.

CarvingIt had been a crazy week so we didn’t carve our pumpkin until Halloween. Noel had to help someone move (yeah, you read that right) so he missed out on the carving, but we still did something nerdy without his influence.

Pumpkin PiWhile we waited for Noel to come home and take the kids trick-or-treating, I fed the kids posole so they’d at least have something nutritious in their bellies. (The recipe will be up on the food blog in the next couple of days, so stay tuned! can be found here.)

PosoleCooper also told me that he was a funny minion and Ellen was a bad minion which cracked me up.

Minions! The kids were SO excited when Noel came home since a few trick-or-treaters had already been by our place. They went out and hit up a few neighbors houses while I stayed home and handed out bouncy balls. (You can read more about my crabby Halloween opinions on our food blog.)

Bouncy BallsThe kids of course thought trick-or-treating was the best thing ever.

Candy!

The kids at the pumpkin patch.

It’s Always Fun When Grandpa [and Grandma] Come!

It’s still strange for me to think of my parents as grandparents sometimes. I feel old enough to be a parent, but I just don’t think of my parents as being old enough to be grandparents. Regardless, just like the song, Cooper and Ellen love it when grandma and grandpa come to visit. Noel and I also love their visits because the kids tend to get into less  trouble since they’re getting so much attention.  Also, if we’re lucky, we’re able to sneak away for some alone time.  This last visit had all of those elements.

There was all manner of shrieking coming from our house when grandma, grandpa, and Uncle Mitchell rolled up to our house after their long drive and the giggles didn’t stop (save for a few tired melt-downs) till they left. Noel and I were able to go to the Denver LDS temple and dinner, on a sunrise run, and also to a no-kids allowed church meeting. Maybe this makes us old and lame, but it was so nice to be able to do things we normally can’t.

We also took everyone to the Pumpkin Patch and enjoyed the lovely Indian Summer we’re having. Their trip was over before we knew it, but we were so glad it happened. Checkout the pictures below. The middle row are pictures I took, but everything else is done by my mom (as if you couldn’t tell).

Where's Ellen

This One’s For the Girl

Miss Ellen ready to go complete with Dora backpack, sparkle purse, and a stuffed animal.

Miss Ellen ready to go complete with Dora backpack, sparkle purse, and a stuffed animal.

I cherish the few hours that Cooper is away at preschool every week; it’s nice for Ellen and I get to have one on one time with just us girls. One day the two of us were folding laundry (i.e. I was folding laundry and she was burying herself in it). Ellen stuck her head out from under a shirt and with a dimpled grin exclaimed with pure innocence, “I’m stupid!”  I have no idea where she’d picked up that phrase, but my momma heart broke into a thousand pieces.  I scooped her up into my arms and said, “No, Ellen, you’re smart! You are so smart!” Without hesitation, she said, “I’m smart!” and after a quick hug ran off to cause some sort of mischief.

One afternoon at 4 o'clock she told me she wanted a nap. I told her it was too late and she disappeared. When I went looking for her I found her in her crib like this.

One afternoon at 4 o’clock she told me she wanted a nap. I told her it was too late and she disappeared. When I went looking for her I found her in her crib like this.

I have different fears about raising each of my children.  I worry that the world will destroy Cooper’s sweetness and I worry that the world will tell Ellen she’s never enough. Some days I wish I could freeze her in her two-year-old state with her untouchable confidence, but aside from the sheer impossibility of that happening, I also realize it’s probably best she learns a few lessons about her own mortality. As life throws her unexpected curves and steeper hills than she’d like to climb I hope she can channel a small part of her two-year-old self — the never-ending  energy, the hugs that come straight from her heart, and her undeterred enthusiasm for life. Miss Ellen, you are smart as well as many other things. Never forget it.

Heading home after getting rained out on a family trip to the park.

Heading home after getting rained out on a family trip to the park.

The Button

Intercom

The door at Cooper’s preschool is guarded by a buzzer. It protects the little ones from the dangers of the world as it allows the front desk to scrutinize those outside before deciding whether or not to grant them entrance. Or at least that’s the idea.

Every morning kids race to the building – elbows out, heads down, focusing like they’ve never focused before. When the “winner” smugly presses their chubby finger to the button, the rest of the kids stamp their feet and collapse on the sidewalk in fits of tears. All the parents politely laugh, then hold the door open for each other cheerfully telling their kids, “Maybe next time” or giving mini lectures on how we don’t want to unnecessarily bother the ladies at the front desk.  A few kids are dragged in, the rest shuffle in petulantly, but by the time the classroom opens all have forgotten their disappointment.

Here’s the thing about my son, he’s obsessed with buttons and he doesn’t forget anything. I’d always rigged the game for him, surveying the parking lot and slowing or quickening my own speed sometimes taking an extra long time to unbuckle Ellen from the stroller to avoid any competition. The method was effective, but it couldn’t work forever. The day a kid snuck up on us and Cooper came in second place, I took a deep breath and prepared to teach him a hard life lesson. I used that tired line about “next time” and dragged him into the building. He summoned all the strength his four-year-old body could muster and tried to drag me back outside forlornly crying “the button, the button!” in a manner that may have been deemed appropriate for the loss of a loved one. As the other parents tried to disguise their gawking, I used my calm adult voice to explain the injustices of the preschool world.  He continued to wail as children went to class, parents left, and I sat there trying to be the sensible parent I’d seen everyone else be. The classroom teacher said to just leave him and that he’d calm down. “Lots of kids have bad days like this.” Huge tears rolled down his cheeks and he clawed her arms as she carried him to the “cozy corner” to calm down. It was raining that morning and the seat of my pants was covered in mud from sitting on my haunches so I could be on his level.  I just stood there, damp and muddy, holding my squirming two-year-old, listening to his howls turn to whimpers, and  wondering if I was unfit to be a parent. When I couldn’t hear him crying anymore, I left in embarrassment, grateful for the rain as it hid the tears that streamed the whole way home.

When I picked him up he uncharacteristically didn’t ask to bring his water bottle home, which is one of the things he’s usually very particular about. I asked him several times if he wanted to get it and told him, “Once we leave the building we can’t come back for it.” The second we left the building he said, “Water bottle!” and ran towards the buzzer. My foot grazed over the stroller brake without actually making contact and I ran towards Cooper, angry that he’d played me.  As the stroller rolled towards a mail truck and Cooper’s finger reached for the button I had one of those slow-motion-out-of-body experiences.  I saw frazzled me, upset Cooper, and endangered Ellen all playing our role in a comical disaster. This wasn’t working. The mailman intercepted the stroller inches before impact and after thanking him profusely I collected my crafty son (who was more than pleased to push the button for the mailman) and headed home.  I laughed, albeit a little crazily, the whole way.

The next morning a mom was leaving when we arrived. She held the door open wide and said, “Sorry, buddy! You don’t get to press the button today!” I gave her a look that I haven’t used since one of my high school students asked me if I was kinky  and exasperatedly said, “Please, just let him press the button.” I could tell she thought I was a terrible parent, a pushover with no sense of discipline, but I didn’t care. Cooper, oblivious, pressed the button and skipped into school.*

I’m sure I’m looking down a long road of people disapproving of my parenting. I don’t expect I’ll be winning any awards and most days I’m satisfied with survival. I do believe that Cooper should learn that he can’t get everything he wants and we really do try to teach that, but the button battle just isn’t worth it and I have to learn to pick my battles. Interestingly, since I stood up for my child’s button pressing rights, I’ve noticed a few other parents’ hearts sink as I hold the door open for them and I’ve said, “Hey, do you want me to close the door so your kid can press the button?” It’s amazing how their eyes light up, almost as much as their kids and I simply say, “I totally get it” and shut the door.

* After this incident, I actually spoke with the ladies at the front desk and they said they don’t mind if kids press the button. They actually think it’s kind of cute how much the kids all care about it. Also, I’ve softened my approach to allowing my kid  to press the button so I’m much more polite than I was in this encounter.

We got a few good pictures with the tripod.

Vacation to an Alternate Reality

We’ve grown accustom to a certain percentage of things going wrong in our lives. We could blame it on the kids, but truthfully things going less than perfect is nothing new.  We’ve learned to lower our expectations, which may sound depressing, but actually has made it easier to enjoy life. When we planned a weekend getaway to Winter Park, CO we tried to bridle our excitement since we knew getting our hopes up is always a bad idea. As the day approached we kept waiting for someone to get sick or a blizzard to hit, but surprisingly no disaster happened.

We started our vacation by driving up I-70 Friday afternoon without running into any traffic and even narrowly missed the 30 minute road closure for blasting related to an ongoing road construction project.  As we cruised right along, Noel and I both expressed amazement at how uncharacteristically lucky we were. The whole weekend continued like that, us waiting for something bad to happen and things going uncharacteristically well. Yes, our children still whined and Ellen almost got a black eye, but honestly there’s no reality in which our children don’t whine now and again and Ellen doesn’t periodically injure herself.

We rented a condo through VRBO at a really good deal since it’s the “shoulder season” (cheaper than any of the hotels and way more space and amenities).  Because it was the off-season we got to enjoy things like having the pool all to ourselves. The fall colors were gorgeous and we had amazing weather for all of our hikes. We even took some decent family photos with the aid of our tripod.

At the end of our trip, we made our way back home and got stuck in traffic (on a Monday when everyone is supposed to be at work) which seemed a fitting way to be welcomed back to our reality. It’s nice to get a break every now and then and I hope you all periodically getaway to alternate realities too!

Finished!

The Saga of the Swing Set

Way back in February we had this genius idea of getting the kids a swing set for a combined birthday present. We even proposed the idea to extended family suggesting they might contribute to the playground fund instead of sending gifts. Even though the idea was not widely adopted (it seems there is some sort of a stigma surrounding cash gifts), we had already found a great deal on a swing set and committed ourselves to building it when we gave Cooper a picture of it for his birthday in May. (Hell seriously knows no fury like an autistic child whose reality does not match up with an idea that’s gotten into their head.)

Timber

The "temporary playground."

The “temporary playground.”

Stump

Thus, we drained the fund we’d saved up to build planter boxes in the front yard (we can garden for the next 50 years, but the kids won’t always be little) and the swing set was ordered. While we waited, we took care of a few landscaping  issues. Nothing big, just chopped down a tree, dug up a few stumps, and removed a significant square footage of grass.

Special Delivery

One June afternoon, a giant pallet was finally dropped in our driveway.  The description indicated the whole thing could be assembled in about 10 hours and while we had our doubts we figured we could get the whole thing up and running with a long Saturday and perhaps a few evenings of work.

Defective Part 1

Before advancing past step number two of the assembly manual, we realized there was a problem. Really, a few problems: warped lumber, holes drilled in the wrong places and a beam with a significant amount of dry rot.

Inventory

We halted our work to do a full inventory of all the parts before contacting the company’s customer service. Fortunately, the company was really good about sending out replacement parts.

Improvised Slide

In the meantime, we improvised keeping the kids entertained.

Level

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Tower

After the new parts arrived we set to work again. It took an entire day just to lay landscaping fabric, build the main tower and get the ground underneath it level enough to please our in-house engineer.

A stepEvery Saturday we weren’t traveling we’d do a little bit more, sometimes working with headlamps after the kids went to bed. If me posing with nursing covers or taking pictures of food in the backyard hadn’t already convinced the neighbors we were a bit odd, this surely did. The next morning the kids would race outside to see what new gizmos had been added on.

Building Complete

By the time school started back up, we’d finally gotten the whole thing together and we were just waiting for a new budget to roll over so we could give it the finishing touches.

Mulch!Little Helper

Last weekend, Noel went to two different Home Depots before 7am to rent a truck. At first we weren’t even sure if they would rent it to us because they’d had a  bad experience with someone else trashing a truck when they hauled loose gravel. Luckily, the guy was nice and said, “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear what you said you were doing with it and make sure you bring it back clean.” I’m pretty sure we returned it cleaner than we got it so no harm (or fees) were done.

Finished!We carted wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of mulch and hauled railroad ties from the front yard to create a border.  (Best workout ever.) Then we painted the whole thing with a clear sealant and did the hardest thing of the whole journey: kept the kids off it for two days. It only took the entire summer, but the swing set is finally done! I can only imagine what kind of a haphazard deathtrap this swing set would be if we’d put it together in only ten hours.

Noel taking the swing set we'd inherited with the house to be destroyed by a neighbor's seven children.

Noel taking the swing set we’d inherited with the house to be destroyed by a neighbor’s seven children. It’s seriously shocking we don’t look like swimsuit models after all our heavy labor ;)

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All in the Name of Porter

When I was a recruiter for USU, I repeatedly told students USU was “only an eight hour drive away from home and therefore the perfect distance from family.” The eight hour buffer gives you space, but you also can make if home if something important comes up. While there is some truth to the buffer theory,  the eight hour drive is a lie and one I have been guilty of perpetuating. Sure Google maps will support the eight hour theory, but it’s only a reality if the weather is perfect, you are able to forgo food and bathroom breaks for the entire trip,  and you manage to never encounter stop lights or traffic in the Metro area.  For the average person, the drive to Utah actually takes 8 1//2 to 9 hours. For people like us whose car upholstery and mental sanity depend on frequent stops, it’s more like 10 or 11. Still, we do it several times a year so we can be part of special moments in the lives of people we love. This past weekend was one of those moments.

A few weeks ago we took the kids to Dinosaur Ridge and Noel, having done some growing up in Vernal, UT, was  pretty underwhelmed. He expressed a desire to take the kids to Dinosaur National Monument some day. It occurred to us that camping there overnight on this trip would be the perfect way to break it up so we made our reservation. We rolled into our campsite pretty late Friday night thanks to a blinding downpour and heavy holiday weekend traffic only to find that the tent hadn’t actually made it into the car. We folded down the backseat of the car and the kids and I wrestled cuddled up for the night while Noel slept in his hammock that was tied between our VW and a tree.

After a terrible night’s rest we headed to the quarry exhibit hall. The quarry is pretty cool and has around 1500 dinosaur bones.  (Really, it’s a mass grave, but let’s not think about that.) It definitely puts Dino Ridge to shame.

After getting our fill of dinosaurs, we got back in the car and finished the first half of our drive to meet up with family. The reason for our trip happened on Sunday when Porter was given a name and a blessing in our church.  Baby blessings are such sweet moments and Porter’s was especially so since he’s my nephew.
Blessed BabyThe next morning we were able to squeeze in a tour of the Ogden temple and brunch.  It was nice to end the trip with almost my entire family in such a peaceful setting. (Only my brother Spencer was missing. He’s in the middle of a two-year church mission, so he had a good excuse.) The kids were even pretty good with Ellen melting my heart when she said “I love you” right before heading into a sealing room and making me forget that she’d caused everyone to laugh irreverently when she threw a fit because we wouldn’t let her go for a swim in the baptismal font.

After that, it was back in the car for our ten hour trek back home via the badlands of Wyoming. A big thanks to all our family members who housed us, fed us, and sent us home with produce and other gifts! And of course, thank you Porter for giving us an occasion to visit!

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Second First Day of Preschool

I think preschool is really the only “grade” you don’t have to be embarrassed about doing more than once.  If anything, attending multiple years is bragworthy amongst the parents which makes for amusing chit-chat during pick-up and drop-off.

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Getting ready to head in the building.

This year Cooper is at a new school, the one within walking distance of our house. It’s definitely a different crowd from last year as we’ve swapped parents smoking in their cars for parents that camped out overnight to get their kids registered. (I wish I was joking about this. For the record, I was able to just waltz in prior to open registration since Cooper was a transfer student. There are very few things I’m willing to wait in line overnight for.)

Backpack, backpack!

Hanging up his backpack.

Cooper practically sprinted to preschool this morning, but then was his usual tentative self when we arrived.  Ellen was really sad to say goodbye to Cooper the preschool and burst into tears when we left. She wants to be a big kid so badly. Cooper gets to attend school for free due to his ASD, but I’m afraid we might need to save up or start a joy school so she can go to preschool next year. I won’t allow myself to dream about all the marvelous things I could do if they were both gone for a few hours.

Surveying

Ellen assessing the splash pad situation.

After we picked Cooper up we met up with some friends to check out a new splash pad.

Water! Water!

The kids weren’t actually interested in the water until I told them it was time to go, of course.

Hard life

On the way home both of the kids passed out. Apparently being a preschooler is exhausting.

Geocaching

Summer Lovin’

Apparently, summer is over. I’m still not sure how that happened. Three months ago when preschool ended I made a master list of things I wanted to do. I even divided it into categories and made a master schedule for what days of the week I would attack different types of goals. Then I never looked at it until yesterday. Instead of feeling bummed that I didn’t successfully micromanage our summer, I’m doing a recap of the fun things we did do (and even without careful scheduling we did manage to do a few of the things on my list).

In addition to meeting our new cousin/nephew, camping, and hosting visitors we’ve also gone to weekly summer clubhouse movies,

Movies

had weekly park days with friends,

Park Day

attended art playdates hosted by my talented friend,

Art Playdate

splashed in the pool in the backyard,

Yard Poolvisited The Splash (Cooper is a water slide addict!),

The Splash enjoyed lots of rain (it has been such a mild summer here), 
Rainjust chilled in the backyard,

Chillin'

considered starting a nudist colony repeatedly found Ellen wandering around in all sorts of outfits,  some more preferable to others,

Nudist

Puddle jumpingVisited the Botanic Gardens with our friends Russell and Jessica,

Wading Climbingfound a few geocaches (the kids love it since it’s like treasure hunting),

Geocachingeaten ice cream,

Ice creamfinally taken a ride on the 1¢ horse at the grocery store, 

all over town Ride the horsey indulged in donuts after our last summer speech session,

donuts! and found Ellen sleeping all sorts of places since she fights naps, but still needs them now and again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall, I’d say summer wasn’t too shabby. Only a whole school year before we get another shot at it.