Thursday, August 28, 2008

How To Make Mama's Day

We're sitting at the breakfast table, my little ("I'm not cute, Mommy, I'm a big girl") girl and I. We're eating real cereal and grapefruit, pretend eggs and hotdogs, drinking real chocolate milk and coffee (respectively), and real water from tiny china cups. We are surrounded by the contents of her "hair things" tin, a collection of ponytail holders, barrettes, and clips. The smallest of the ponytail holders, used when she had just barely enough hair to hold any sort of accessory, are now our rings. Pastel blue, purple and pink elastic rings. She is wearing her cute yellow and pink pajamas, her hair in complete disarray. I'm wearing shorts and my husband's tshirt (because I never bothered to buy maternity pajamas...maybe next time), no makeup, hair not even brushed yet. It's a typical family scene, one that I would never allow an outsider to see, but still comfortable and normal and right.

And then, in the midst of this quiet mess, knowing that my appearance is quite unpresentable to the rest of the world, my girl looks up at me and smiles for a moment. She says, with the newly developed stutter, "Y-y-y-y-y-y-you are so pretty." I smile back, tell her that she is beautiful, and reach out to touch her face. She grabs my hand and hugs it. And life is perfect.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My (Half) Productive Weekend

Lately I've been noticing that the number of days until Baby's arrival are fewer and fewer, but somehow the number of things to do before she arrives keeps growing. Hm. So this past weekend, my husband and I went to work. I still can't really cross anything off the "Pre-Baby To Do List", but at least several items have been started. This weekend we:

  • acquired a dresser for Baby (but it is still empty)
  • acquired and washed fabric for Baby's valances (but haven't started sewing)
  • washed Baby's clothes (but haven't folded or put away)
  • picked out diapers* (but haven't ordered them)
  • registered for Baby stuff (but this one was never on the To Do list, so I can't cross it off. We decided at the last minute to register because so many people were asking what we needed, and all we could come up with on the spot was "pacifiers"...and we didn't really want to end up with 57 pacifiers.)

Now I just need to keep the momentum going and get these jobs finished. With just over six weeks to go, I'm feeling the crunch of preparing for Baby, keeping up with things at home so we don't end up leaving for the hospital with piles of laundry or dishes undone, and the slightly sad, nagging feeling that these are the last few precious weeks we will have alone with our oldest daughter, weeks that we should cherish and not waste. And over all these things is the umbrella of excitement and joy. In just over six weeks, our daughter will be here! We will finally meet this child for whom we have hoped and waited, prayed and cried. I know there are many, many people out there who have been hoping, waiting, praying and crying for their child for much longer than we have, and my heart goes out to you.

Six weeks. If my husband and daughter can live with me in my crazy emotional state for that long, then we'll be good!

*We're going cloth this time, people! Say a prayer for us...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kid-Friendly Summer: The Zoo

The zoo is a fantastic summer activity for the whole family. When I was a kid, we lived about 100 miles from the nearest real zoo. I seem to remember going every few years, which means we were only there a handful of times. Now I am fortunate enough to live pretty close to a great zoo, and we try to visit at least once a year.

My husband's company picnic was at the zoo this year, which means that we got free parking and admission, as well as lunch. This made for a very frugal day trip. Even if you don't get in free, though, the zoo can be a pretty inexpensive activity. At our zoo, you can park on the street instead of the pay-to-park lot. We found $2.00 off admission coupons on the zoo brochure at a tourist brochure kiosk. Packing your own lunch (and water!) would be a cost-saving way to go as well. For our trip this year, we paid only for a child's wagon rental (because we were silly and didn't think to bring a stroller) and for a ride on the carousel.

Hippos crack me up. They are so ugly. Truly. And they look so blubbery and clumsy and slow - and then they open their enormous mouths and you realize that they could snap you in half with one bite. Wild animals leave me with the same sense of awe as does the ocean. They are amazing, they are intriguing, they are (sometimes) beautiful (not hippos). But they are wild. I think a respectful and reasonable fear of wild animals is healthy.

At our zoo, there is an enclosed area wherein visitors may hand feed giraffes. The giraffes come right up and eat out of your hand. It's pretty cool. These animals, for as big and fast as they are, are amazingly mild. I don't really know if all giraffes are mild-mannered, or if these zoo inhabitants are unusually so due to their captivity and constant exposure to humans.

My daughter loved the butterfly exhibit. The butterflies are housed in a huge greenhouse full of aromatic plants. There are dozens of varieties of butterflies. As you enter the exhibit, there is a sign that reads, "If a butterfly lands on you, enjoy the moment!" A zoo employee inspects visitors before the visitors leave the exhibit, just to make sure there are no stowaway butterflies attached somewhere.

The carousel provided a nice, shady break from walking on a hot day.
The zoo offers so many interesting things to look at. Like rocks, for instance. I believe this photo was taken at the tiger exhibit. More than any other exhibit, this one made my mother's heart beat a little faster, remembering the tragedy at the San Francisco Zoo last winter.
The flamingo exhibit was the last on our zoo circuit, and the most anticipated by our daughter. Her requests for the day were to see the butterflies (check), the pandas (our zoo doesn't have them), and the flamingos. I was surprised to learn that these flamingos are not native to lush tropical beaches, but to barren Chilean regions ranging from high altitude lakes that drop to temperatures as low as -22 degrees F, to equally barren coastlines. No warm beaches and lush palm trees for these birds. We spent about 2 1/2 hours at the zoo and I would say we saw about 75% of the exhibits. We also had lunch. Renting the wagon was a good move for us as it allowed us to move at an adult's walking pace, not a three-year-old's pace. It also meant that we didn't have to carry all our stuff, and my daughter didn't tire nearly as quickly as she would have if she had been walking the entire time. A word to the wise: If you are seven months pregnant and you decide to visit the zoo on one of the hottest days of the year, be sure to bring plenty of water.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Birthday - Party

It's official. She's three.

Andy and I knew for months that we wanted to get a little kitchen as the third birthday gift. We searched high and low. I really didn't want plastic. I wasn't pleased with any of the department/discount store options. There are some amazing wooden kitchen options online, but they were entirely too expensive. Then we found this one locally on craigslist. It is in great condition, was not too expensive, and (we realized after we purchased it) is the same kitchen that our church has in our daughter's Sunday School classroom. It was a great middle of the road option for us.

Our daughter immediately went to work preparing a feast for us. Hamburgers and tea, anyone?
Later in the morning, our party guests arrived. Blowing out the candles on the cake was a group effort. And yes, there is a Cars candle on an otherwise non-themed, girly cake.

This year she got into opening gifts. Last year...not so much.
Some super cute friends joined in the festivities.

I love this wrapping paper. I loved it so much, in fact, that we copied the idea as we were wrapping outgoing birthday gifts that very evening.

Three year olds can do so many special things that two year olds cannot do. For instance, three year olds can put on and snap their raincoats without help. She might be four before she realizes that wearing a long rubber coat indoors in the middle of August is not the most comfortable option. We (and she) had a great time. And now my baby is three.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Kid-Friendly Summer: VBS

A great (and inexpensive) summer activity for kids is VBS (Vacation Bible School). Most churches offer some sort of VBS. In an effort to draw in more of the neighborhood children in addition to the kids from the congregation, our church has put on a sports camp in lieu of VBS for the past four years.
This was the first year that my daughter was old enough to attend. Sports camp is for K-6th grade, but a group of very talented teenagers run a "mini camp" for 3-5 year olds at the same time. My daughter was a few weeks shy of three at the time, but she was deemed "close enough".

The mini-campers played simple versions of basketball, soccer, and football. They also participated in other outdoor activities, such as the giant parachute.

No VBS would be complete without song time, including motions, of course.

The bouncy house was a huge hit with the little kids. My daughter talked about it every day.

The older kids got to choose between soccer, basketball, and cheerleading. They had real coaches who provided instruction, assisted by volunteer coaches from the congregation. On the last night of sports camp, the kids play a game against their coaches. Amazingly, the kids always win.

Every VBS I have ever experienced has included snack time and some sort of story time. Our mini-campers learned about "All creatures great and small" this year. The older kids had a weeklong theme of "Undefeated". I didn't sit in on any of their devotional times this year, but in years past the nightly devotionals have included an inspirational story of a real-life athlete and a personal story from one of the coaches, all tied in to a Christian principle.

And of course there is always some sort of program for the parents. Here are the mini-campers doing their "cheer". "God made sky, God made the sea, God made everything, He even made me!"

VBS is a great way to spend a week of summer. The environment is fun, community-oriented, and safe. Parents typically have the option of staying to help or of dropping their kids off. Some churches have VBS during the day; others offer it in the evening. In our area I have found that evening programs are more common; when I was growing up, we always went during the day. You can find local VBS programs by visiting the websites of churches in your areas, or by searching online for your town/state+Vacation Bible School. Not only does VBS provide your kids with great activities and time with friends, but it also has the potential to give you a break. My husband and I ran errands (efficiently!), prepared for a garage sale, and even went to dinner with friends (whose kids were in the same VBS) during our free evenings. And our daughter slept amazingly well that week!

The Birthday - Invitations

My daughter's third birthday is coming up in just a few days. How did that happen? She was due three years ago today. She did not arrive three years ago today. I remember those few extra days felt like an eternity.

My husband and I decided to keep birthday party preparations simple and inexpensive. I had originally planned on using the watercolor notecards as invitations, but then I came across Wordle. It's really a fun (and rather addictive) program. My husband tells me that the technology is very simple and is used frequently to sort words, searches, and categories by popularity. Indeed, since being introduced to this technique, I have noticed its use all over the Internet. As soon as I started playing with it, I knew we had found our invitations.

I fiddled with it for quite a while, trying to find the right colors and configuration. You can choose font and palette on Wordle, but the word order is randomized, so I had to click through a lot of options before finding one that looked right. I typed in my daughter's name and the word "Birthday" multiple times and every other word only once. That made "_____'s Birthday" prominent.

Once I found a configuration that I liked, I turned it over to my husband. He found a photo from the 4th of July (our girl making silly faces and holding her first sparkler while wearing her pajamas), edited out the background, and put it together with the Wordle cloud in Photoshop. He printed it on 4"x6" photo paper, I printed party details on plain copy paper and used double-sided tape to attach it to the back of the photo, and...we were done. It was really easy (except, I will say, the Photoshop editing. I don't know that it was really difficult, but it was time consuming. Thanks, sweetheart.)

These were fun to make. My daughter loves them. She has her own copy and she calls it her "picture of me with the words".