Sunday, September 28, 2008

Man on the Moon

Zack has become very interested in space travel to the moon. He is specifically interested in the Niel Armstrong trip to be the first man on the moon, not just space or rockets or astronauts in general. He's always loved the moon. As an infant he wanted to stare at it like Kitten with her bowl of milk. As a toddler he and Daddy went out to look at it each night that they could, learning the names of the phases, which he would repeat in his barely understandable toddler speak. He still loves to be carried out in his jammies, with a delicious little thrill of knowing he should be in bed, to stare at it one more time. Is it that fascination with its beauty that drew him to the moon journey?

Whatever the reason, he has added the story his nightly ritual. After prayers he is tucked into bed, only to sit right back up to ask his Questions. They aren't even all questions and the answers are always the same, but he asks them without fail.
Mommy! I want to ask you some questions! When is it time to wake up? Eight o'clock.
Can I get up to go potty? One time.
Will you check on me two times? Yes.
Mommy! I have one more question I have everything I need I love you too! I love you too, goodnight.

I want to talk about something do you know what I want to talk about the man on the moon. What do you want to talk about it? I want you to tell me everything you can about it.
James will often retell the whole story for him, the tenderness of the time together overriding the importance of bedtime. That's usually more of a Daddy luxury; I find myself too interested in the inevitable lateness of the hour. Occasionally I lie down next to him and tell him the story, or have him tell it to me. It sounds markedly similar either direction.

We had a Mr. McGregor party selected and ideas had already begun fermenting in my brain when James asked him if he would rather have a Man on the Moon party. Ouch. I really didn't have any ideas for a Man on the Moon party. I don't even know what a Man on the Moon party is. The ideas did not ferment. I guess you need a starter idea for fermentation and I didn't have any. We were going off to Elk Camp, where we would be for his actual birthday, and the only time to have a party was the weekend after we got home, so everything really ought to be done before we left. But a week before Elk Camp I had nothin. I almost just cancelled it due to lack of inspiration. Finally I subjected James to a whining / brainstorming session about how I couldn't think of anything / well I had some little wisps of ideas. A letter theme coalesced immediately: M is for Man on the Moon. P is for Party, S is for Space, etc. That was at least enough to tie it together so I didn't have to give up on the thing.

I started very scattered listmaking. I had previously had a vision of getting everything all prepared and ready to go before we even left town. That vision was woefully unrealized, but I figured if I could just get the invitations out then I could plan everything else at Elk Camp.

Uhhhh.... how was I going to plan anything at Elk Camp while juggling babies in the backwoods??? Talk about unrealistic.

The last day I told my mom I HAD to come up with some ideas and plans. In five minutes of brainstorming we (she?) had the whole plan fleshed out. I hit the ground running when we got home! James was a peach doing the tasks I needed from him in the order in which I needed them done with a smile and a cheerful "What's next?" (it's possible he had been reminded... maybe once? let's say "once-ish"... that this switch from Mr. McGregor to Man on the Moon had been at his prompting). And thank the good Lord for Glenn. Our dear friend came in from Dallas just for the party and talk about helpful. Not only did he play with the kids and jump in on house prep, but he lent his artistic talents. I was really thrilled with the results. Party report to follow!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Elk Camp

Our Family at Elk Camp

When it came time to for Elk Camp I was pretty concerned about the camping, the weather, the children and just the total length of stay, but it went very well. That's not to say it wasn't a lot of work; it was pretty much one extended baby care fest from sunup to sundown, with some extra on the sundown side.

We had decided that we just had to fly, even though it would have simplified the hunting and aspects to drive. The nineteen hour drive with a nursing baby was too daunting. We were able to cash in all our credit card points from a card we used exclusively for several years for three round trip tickets to Flagstaff. It seemed like a great use of them, as no previous plane ticket was expensive enough to make it worth using the points, and these certainly were plenty expensive. The Flagstaff airport was rather amusing. It was about the size of a small strip-mall. There was one ticket counter, one food counter, one restroom and one baggage carousel. When flying out of there you have to arrive well ahead because both the employees are ticket agents, gate agents and baggage crew. The only different face was the TSA agent, and let me tell you that no one is getting lax with security with her on the job. My sewing scissors,which passed security at many international airports, were clearly a threat in Flagstaff. I'm still trying to assuage my irritation at loosing them with thoughts of the miniscule scale of the operation.

But back to the trip. The problem with flying was that all checked baggage now incurrs a fee, $15 each direction. With four people camping and hunting that was a little worrisome. My mom and sister managed to pull together almost everything we needed camping-wise. We sent a box full of camo clothing and cold weather wear back to Arizona with my mom after her last visit when baggage was still free. My sister, Julie, put in Sammy's whole wardrobe out of hand-me-downs from her son, Nolan (that's him, below). We fit everything else for the four of us (three plane tickets) into three carryons. James had to check his bow anyway, but I found a particular triumph in sucessfully packing everything else in just carry on baggage. Those airlines can't stick it to me! Except that at midnight, with everything packed, James decided he just didn't like it and unpacked a carry on bag and packed it into a larger suitcase to be checked. *Sigh*

We flew into Flag accompanied by a plane full of archery hunters. Camo and airplane regulation bow cases abounded. The friend of my brother-in-law, Rob, was on the same plane. We looked everyone over and decided the fellow in the Michigan colors must be him, and it was. Zack immediately began asking him to read him books and draw him a maze on his Magnadoodle.

And that was pretty much how the two weeks went. Hunt related, then kid related, then more hunt related, then more kid related, with a sprinkling of food preparation and hurry-up-and-wait.

Our camp consisted of six campers (trailers, not RVs), four tents, eighteen people and two dogs. There were FIVE kids, three of them babies. We had eight hunters, each with an archery elk tag. My sister and her husband were there from Yuma. My parents were up from Tucson, and we were in from Austin.

Each morning the hunters left about 4am to be in their places by pre-dawn. They rode quads to nearby tanks, which are muddy ponds where the elk come to water. There were several tanks in the hunting area, each with one or more tree stands or blinds set up nearby. Hunters had a choice of sitting a stand or stalking, moving on foot to find elk that were not at a tank. Our camp was chosen with respect to the hunting sites - far enough to not interfere but close enough to manage the daily quad rides. The farthest tanks were almost an hour's ride away, over intensely rough, rocky trail that requires muscling the quad steering around rocks and boulders. They stayed in their stands until full daylight, when the elk tend to bed down for the day, then headed back to camp for a late breakfast. At 3pm, it was back out again for the evening hunt, staying out until it was too dark to shoot, then back in for the night.

For moms and kids, mornings were spent in the campers in our jammies until the sun was fully up and the air warmed up, then play time outside or in the playtent until the hunters came back in. Then it was food prep for our main meal of the day at lunchtime. The food was pretty impressive. Those three hundred plates I mentioned? We used all of them, and then some. But despite the bulk, it was really well done. Julie organized her butt off getting everything planned (not joking: her Excel spreadsheet got too cumbersome so she put the food plans into an Acess database instead). In preparation, Mom cooked and cooked and just felt like she probably hadn't made much yet so she cooked some more. All the main dishes were cooked ahead of time and frozen so that all we had to do was bake them and add veggies and bread. Then for dinners we mostly had soups and some sandwiches. By the time everyone was in, half an hour to an hour after full dark, soup really hit the spot. The food preparation was work, but it was so smooth and so delicious. If ever I doubted, I have a family of amazing women.

Zack turned four while we were there. He got a real bow and arrows from Grandad, my dad. He knew about it because we'd debated whether he was old enough and talked to him about it. He was so excited. I just wasn't sure my little boy was ready for weaponry, but it was the connection with the hobby that the men had and the thrill of being able to do something so adult himself. Larry worked with him one afternoon for quite a while and he ate it up. The rest of the kids were a bit of a challenge. We were feeding them on our laps since there were no high chairs and they are so little that we just had to carry them around. Brilliantly, Julie set up a big tent with just blankets and toys for them to play in. We alternated between campers, holding them in laps sitting in lawn chairs, play tent, and carrying them around. My mom brought Zack nine library books, all of which were read at least nine hundred times. The littler one were more apt to listen to a book with Zack so intent on them, so the only ones who lost out were those conned into reading the same book twelve times in a row. My mom did so much care and feeding of the kids that you would think the rest of us would feel like we were footloose and fancy free, but not so! Still, they kids revelled in the hours of outside time, loving quad rides and walks equally. Zack kicked rocks, climbed trees, and invented the first Elk Camp Barcalounger (photo right).

My Uncle Steve (my mom's brother) and Aunt Charlene live near the hunting area and had done untold hours of work in setting up tree stands and getting ready. Their hunting buddy, Larry, was there as well. It was a real delight getting to know Larry better. We've camped with him before and he mostly kept to himself with a few cantankerous comments thrown in. He didn't like dogs and we always had one or two along. He didn't appear to be much interested in kids, or so I thought, but that was all wrong. Once Zack got his claws into Larry, he didn't let go. Talk about the favored guy. From the minute Larry said if he got into the play tent he'd have to smash Zack down and bloody his nose, Zack was hooked. Apparently we exist in a sheltered bubble since no one had ever threatened to bloody my four year olds nose, but Larry couldn't get much peace from then on (not that he seemed to mind). Larry's only break came for the four days Uncle Bill, James' brother, came out to join us. I think he had in mind some relaxation and a break from city life. He may have gotten a break from work and television and city, but relaxation he did not get. Zack went into turbobooster mode the moment Bill arrived and didn't come down until he left.

My cousin Andrea, Steve and Charlene's daughter, and her family were all there as well from San Diego. She and her husband Jim have recently adopted two adorable brothers. If the hunters thought they'd hit the jackpot getting drawn for their tags, I felt like we'd won many times over to get to meet and spend time with these precious boys. I hadn't gotten to spend time with my cousin in years; what a joy it was!

The weather really cooperated and made things easy. Warm days, cold but not freezing nights, and only a half an afternoon of rain the whole time. The country was gorgeous and in bloom. The moon was full, rising later each night but brighter than streetlights at its peak. The downside of the beautiful weather and full moon was a disrupted feeding and watering habit for the elk. They were much scarcer this year than in years past and the tanks were empty most hunts. Larry got his elk well into the second week, but Steve and Charlene, who arrived late due to helping my Granny after she took a bad fall, didn't get to fill their tags. Brian, Julie's husband, was ready to "crash and cry" after his morning hunt on his last day but had fabulous luck that night and got his elk. James got to take a shot, but his elk eluded him despite his many hours of careful stalking. My dad stayed longer than we did and on the very last morning of the season got the third elk out of our eight tags. Plenty of meat to go around, but I had hoped James would have the fun of success. Still, after that much time outdoors in beautiful country, that many disaster-free meals, five injury- and illness-free kids, and so much time with dear family, we couldn't call the trip anything but a full success.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We're back

But I'm trying to restrain myself from too much computer time until I at least get the laundry done. And the house clean. And ready for the next event.

Well, I could at least download the pictures, right??

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Of town, and possibly of my mind.

When my dad called and asked James if he was putting in for archery elk with the rest of the family, it sounded like a good idea.

Let me translate that for the uninitiated: Arizona has a lottery to get a tag to hunt an elk with a bow. You put your name into the lottery in groups of four, specifying first through sixth choices of area and cow or bull. My uncle chooses the order of preferences and has a real knack for setting them up to get drawn. This year makes the eighth year in a row they've been drawn and each year they think it's more unlikely than the last, but each year they've been drawn. My dad, uncle, aunt, sister's husband, sister's husband's friend, cousin's husband, and uncle's friend were all putting their names in for archery season. That's one person short of two groups of four. Who is missing from this picture? We are!

Never mind the two children, one of them six months old. Sure, the camping area is completely in the backwoods with no facilities whatsoever. We'll rent a camper or something. It'll be fine. Never mind that you can't fly into there and it's a nineteen hour drive. We can get there. Never mind that gas is a zillion bucks a gallon and the airlines mortgage your home to check your luggage. Not to mention the crazy price tag of an out of state hunting license and tag. None of that seemed a significant barrier at the time.

And while we're at it, let's make sure to maximize James' hunting time. None of this go for a weekend. In fact, a week seems paltry. Let's make it 13 days. Yes, that sounds about right.

And invite some extra people. The more, the merrier!

Well that was months ago and now that the actual trip is looming large, I'm wondering what could I possibly have been thinking to imagine this was a good idea. We can't provide our own shelter, food, or transportation. Various members of my family have been in various states of panic trying to make it all work. We actually need three hundred plates. One hundred servings of breakfast alone. Enough clothing to dress these children in possibly freezing conditions. All the equipment and gear for an elk hunt.

I'll let you know how it goes.

p.s. It didn't seem wise to advertise our house being empty for 13 days, so I held onto this post until we were back. Not that anyone nefarious would read it. But, now, we are back. Report on trip to follow!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Last Night

Here's a recap:

11:00 - Go to bed. Lunches made, school bags packed, Zack's overnight bag packed for Grandma's house, birthday cupcakes iced and sprinkled, clothes set out for tomorrow.

12:00 - Sammy crying, manages to get back to sleep.

1:00 - Sammy crying, manages to get back to sleep.

2:00 - Sammy crying, give up and nurse him. I think he's officially un-trained from sleeping all night.

3:00 - Phone rings, it's my friend Janis. Her water is broken and she can't reach the family that was going to keep their two year old, Quint, while she goes to the hospital. Get up and clean the guest room of scissors, craft knifes, paper cutter, paper slicer, sewing machine, rotary cutter, boxes of pins, borrowed hard drive, old computer, new computer... you get the idea. 3:30 - Quint arrives. 3:40 - another phone call that Quint's grandmother has started driving down from Dallas and will call me to get Quint around 7:30.

4:00 - Back to bed.

5:00 - Nothing happened at 5. Gee.

6:00 - Sammy crying for his normal nursing. Did that.

7:00 - Zack and Quint are up and running. They both sit in Zack's bed and Zack "reads" Knuffle Bunny to Quint, super cute.

8:00 - Quint's grandmother is still 26 miles north of Austin. Load the car while James moves and installs / reinstalls the carseats. Library books to return, Ross purchases to return, Sammy's diaper bag, Zack's overnight bag, Zack's school bag, Zack's lunch, Zack's juice with his medicine, Zack's cupcakes, Quint's overnight bag, Quints menagerie of stuffed animal friends, Quint's snacks since he wouldn't eat breakfast, Quint's juice... yeah, all that.

9:00 - Leave for Zack's school (which starts at 9). Haul in all the children, give over cupcakes, explain grandmother pickup. It's like herding cats.

10:00 - Take Quint down to his grandmother.

11:00 - Three rounds of circling the church building, bypassing construction and backing out into a main street without even hitting any UT students later, arrive at church for women's Fall Brunch.

And now we return to the regularly scheduled portion of our broadcast, in which I pack for taking a three year old and six month old on a twelve day backwoods camping trip.

Correction: Silly me, that's a THIRTEEN day backwoods camping trip.

Monday, September 08, 2008

p.s. on the Sweetness

It continues. Zack didn't mind with his coloring book at the VERY BEGINNING of church today. I sadly put it away, all the while wracking my brain for some reason to give it back to him. I really thought that it was all going to fall apart if he had to sit through the whole service with no coloring. I mean, who is going to suffer, here? That's right, Mommy! But, despite my attempts to talk myself out of the situation, I managed to leave the crayons put away with no lecture from me, just the consequences talking.

I'm still amazed, but it worked out perfectly. He was well behaved and by the end of the service, the sweetest. He sang every bit of Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, even the verses I didn't think he knew, along with the adults. It brought tears to my eyes. He listened to Daddy give the communion meditation, seeming to pay attention to it. He was such good company. I know it isn't always this beautiful, but wow - what an encouragement to me to keep working at consistency.

Zack's Art

This morning, while we were still sleeping off the effects of a night up too late (me fixing my old and new computers, James preparing for today), then up later still with a congested baby, Zack made some thank you cards for his summer Sunday school teachers. I had set some precut and folded paper out for him last night, since we had meant to work on it all week and hadn't done it. I loved his cards so much I had to scan them and share them. Both teachers got rainbows, this one the more elaborate of the two.

Then, one got a "blastoff" scene. With some squinting and head cocking, you may be able to see the countdown - 10, 9, 8, and so on, with the 2 and 1 coming diagonally down when he ran out of room. The three men are in a spaceship, and you can see the trajectory up to "the sparkly moon". You can see where he has sounded out "Becki" as BekE.

Finally, the other card got a retelling of the song B-I-N-G-O. He loves to write this. There is something so compellingly innocent about his writing as he improvises spelling and writes the letters wherever he finds to write them. He more often goes to the line above to continue than the line below (an optimist, handwriting analysis might say). The words run together and you have to read them like a seek-and-find; there are no limitations by the conventions of writing, just an eagerness to just get writing.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Sammy needs a little press too.


I am constantly learning the same lessons over and over. Tonight the remedial lesson was that Zack's behavior is always the best when I am the most consistent. It feels like "strict" and I have a tendency to want to cut him some slack. He's tired, we've drug him around on errands all day, he's been sick all week, just give a little from what I said. Unfortunately, that seems to backfire. He even reminds me while I'm letting him do whatever that "Mommy, you said we couldn't do this and we're doing it." Yikes, no slack for Mommy.

Tonight I did the empathy with consequences thing, the method we try to stick to, over the smallest thing. That caused a meltdown, and then I followed up with the empathy with consequences thing again. He emerged from the tears the sweetest boy ever. We had a fabulous rest of the evening, despite being sick, drug around and tired. He was as cuddly as he has been in a long time. He was obedient and even resilient to a change in plans. We talked about feelings - something rare that I suspect will get rarer. And now he's sleeping peacefully and I'm trying to hold this in my head for tomorrow - a consequence that can teach me something.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Summer craft: Pencil bag

As part of my effort to do some crafts with Zack this summer, we sewed this pencil bag that matches his bulletin board (a cork board that we covered in flannel fabric).

He got to help pin and "run" the sewing maching (his foot didn't reach the pedal so I did the foot and he fed into the machine). He was proud of himself and proud of his project. It now contains his precious new colored pencils with erasers (he needs erasers to be like Tiger Words - seen here in a segment without an eraser, but you get the idea).

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I Have Pigeon Brain

Zack's show is Between the Lions. It comes on at 2pm, and we really started watching it because when the summer began we needed a little extra structure to our routine and this was a good quiet activity right before naptime. Guess I'm lucky they put something good in that time slot or I might have been watching (God forbid) Barney.

It's really a cute show, and educational, blah blah blah. It appeals to boys, which I've read is important since school is more girl-friendly. It uses some made up stories and some classic literature (Zack has been playing Daedalus and Icarus this week...). And he's clearly picking up quite a bit of reading skill from it. It is just that he's just a little too obsessed with it. At nine in the morning he begins asking if it's time for Between the Lions. If allowed, he will ask 47 more times before lunch. We have a DVR that we got in the middle of the summer, so it's not like we are going to miss any of it anymore, which I've explained ad nauseum. I had to start telling him that if it became something so distracting that he couldn't do anything else, we'd probably have to quit watching it so we can enjoy the rest of the day. That was big time, and he quit asking. Of course, he does MENTION that he knows it's not yet time for Between the Lions, which isn't asking, nothing like it at all. This might be an empty threat, since I'm quite relieved when it's finally time for it, but maybe not. I did quit listening to "his" music in the car when he became so fixated on it that he refused all conversation ("Mommy, could you not talk to me so I can listen to my music" from a three year old?? I don't think so. We've got plenty of years for that later.)

And here we reach the real problem. I watch so much of Between the Lions (more than anything else actually, even Martha, gasp!) that *I* have it on the brain as well. That might be ok if my brain were it tip-top shape, but if you've attempted to have a conversation with me you know that isn't the case. For example, I frequently lie down after the marathon of kitchen cleanup, lunch prep for tomorrow, laundry folding, and debrief with James to find I have been singing "Hung Up on H" in my head and can't stop. When I hear something is "a rack for luggage", I sing "And that's why it's called a luggage rack!", Cliff Hanger style. We, along with another couple with a similarly aged son, once spent and *extended* adult conversation explaining the show to a newly married, childless couple (bet they were thrilled).

But the worst part, and the clearest indication that I have a real problem, is that I am constantly reminding myself of the show's Walter and Clay Pigeon. I hear in my broken sentences their pause and "uuuh..." before the final word of every single thought.

I can't finish a sentence anyway (perhaps my brain is full as well?), and now every time I'm stopped in my tracks by the evaporation of a word or thought, I hear myself echoing those ridiculous pigeons.

I have pigeon... uuuh... brain? Yeah - brain.