My Friday Night Happy Hour: Pizza, Popcorn and a Pig Pile

Of all the routines in my life, one of the most important to me is Friday night. That is my Happy Hour, although it involves no bar.

Happy Hour for me is Movie Night: pizza, popcorn, and a pig pile of kids on the couch.

We started Movie Night a year ago. I think it all began with sheer exhaustion. Without fail, every single week I am completely wiped out by Friday night. All I want to do is just sit on the couch and zone out. I don’t want to make a fancy meal, I don’t want to have a discussion about table manners, none of it. I just want to sit and not feel obligated to do anything.

All I want is to just throw a pizza in the oven and watch a movie…

Hey, why don’t we don’t that…

So, out of that weekly exhaustion was born one of the routines that our whole family looks forward to the most: Movie Night. Turns out, at the end of a week, we ALL just want to sit and hang out and do nothing.

My four-year-old has a calendar with simple labels so he can keep track of days. School days are marked with “S” and on Fridays, I drew a little picture of our television to show Movie Night. Every time he sees that day, he cheers. Our two-year-old reacts the same way: she says “Movie night!” in the same excited and relieved way that she says “You’re home!” when someone returns.

We all need a mental break, snuggle time on the couch, and easy food. It’s the one meal a week that we don’t eat at the table. We make popcorn and pizza and head to the living room.

Three kids in a flurry of gobbling olives and making pizza creations.

Three kids in a flurry of gobbling olives and making pizza creations. (Groceries still not put away from the afternoon trip to the store.)

Pressing out the dough

Relaxing on movie night is special enough that my kids often dart upstairs to put on their “movie night pants:” soft, fuzzy pajama pants that feel so comfy after a long week. Then we turn on a movie. Sometimes, we just pick something from Netflix that is family friendly (keeps the kids entertained, but doesn’t drive Jarred and me crazy with boredom).

My favorite nights are the times when I find a classic, something we watched as kids. It’s so much fun to share E.T., The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and The Andy Griffith Show with our kids. I love watching something familiar, but seeing it with new eyes from an adult perspective while at the same time, getting the joy of watching our kids see it for the first time.

Just last week, we watched Swiss Family Robinson. Growing up, that movie was a family staple. We watched it over and over and over. We quoted lines. Seeing it again after about a 20 year gap, I see lots of flaws in the storyline. But through the eyes of my kids, I can suspend disbelief. Of course it is perfectly reasonable (and totally fabulous) for a little boy to snare a wild baby elephant and make it a tame pet in the next scene. Why couldn’t a clever family fight off a band of pirates?

Watching the opening scene at the kids' picnic table as the pizza bakes.

Watching the opening scene and munching popcorn at the kids’ table as the pizza bakes.

And best of all, my kids completely cracked up at my very favorite part. During the pirate attack, the lead pirate picks up a coconut bomb, and examining it, says something that sounds like “coconut” in another language, “Doydoynut?”. Then, dismissing it as nothing “Eh…” he tosses it behind him, where it explodes right in front of another bad guy pirate, who gets blasted back. In true Disney style, there is no blood shed, just comedy.

My seven-year-old read Swiss Family Robinson and then watched the movie last year at school, so she prepped her siblings ahead of time to watch for the “doydoynut” part. My two-year-old excitedly acted out the coconut scene and giggled. She told us that was her favorite part, which is impressive, since she hadn’t even seen the movie yet when she announced that.

So last Friday, when we got to the coconut scene, we backed up the movie three or four times to fully appreciate the “doydoynut” and laugh hysterically.

And that’s why I love movie night.

My kids sit in a big pig pile all over us on the couch. They fight over who gets Mom’s lap (a precious commodity). We hang out for two hours, and have no agenda other than just to be together. I sit and hug them and feel their cozy, warm smallness. My six-year-old who often tells me “I just can’t ever get enough of your hugs” fills up his hug bank on the couch.

Movie night...picture Mom wedged into that little open spot on the couch.

Movie night…picture Mom wedged into that little open spot on the couch.

And while we sit, the kitchen full of dishes just sits and waits, and so does the big pile of laundry upstairs.

Downstairs on the couch, I get to snuggle with my kids and teach them a few inside jokes from my childhood. So now I can say “A doydoynut? Eh…” and make them crack up, just the way I did with my siblings growing up.

I think that’s important. Sometime, I’m going to be a very old lady in the nursing home making a joke about a “doydoynut” and cracking myself up. And that’s when I’ll need my kids to step in and tell the nurses that I’m not crazy. Or maybe they’ll say that I’ve always been that crazy. That would be fine, too.

Movie Night Pizza Crust
On movie nights we started out just throwing frozen pizza in the oven, but one night I decided to make pizza from scratch.

We discovered, like many things, homemade tastes better. I don’t know if I’m clever for making my own pizzas or an idiot for turning the one brain-dead cooking night into a cooking event, but we now make our own pizza. I mix up dough in the Kitchenaid mixer, and then each kid gets a dough ball and creates their own personal pizza while I make the big pizza.

Sometimes, you need a big brother to help flatten out your dough.

Sometimes, you need a big brother to help flatten out your dough.

It turns the table into a pizza topping mess and health code inspectors would arrest me for how often the spoon gets licked and then returned to the sauce bowl, but it’s really fun. It makes more work for me, but I love that my two-year-old can make her own pizza. I also noticed that when they make their own pizzas, they almost always clean their plates when eating.

The pizza crust is a make and bake recipe…no rising involved (no planning ahead needed). Once you’ve had a little practice, you can start completely from scratch and have a hot, baked pizza in about 35 minutes, which is not all that much longer than it takes to cook a frozen pizza. If you have lots of little helpers adding their own unique flair to the cooking process, it will take slightly longer.

This recipe makes enough dough for one thick-crust recipe, or one thin crust recipe plus four mini pizzas.

No-Rise Pizza Crust

1 cup hot water
1 pkg. yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil
corn meal

1. Add yeast and sugar to hot water, stir, and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, mix flour and salt. Add in the yeast mixture, which should be bubbly. Add oil. Mix well.

3. Mix with dough hook attachment on mixer or knead by hand for 5 minutes until dough is soft and pliable. (You can skip this part, but your crust won’t be as tender.  Five minutes of kneading is the secret to making dough that’s so soft and nice that you just want to roll in it.  We discovered this by accident when I left the mixer on and walked away, and it made the best crust ever.)

4. Sprinkle pizza pan lightly with corn meal to prevent sticking. (Do not skip that, you’ll regret it.) Roll out dough and add desired pizza toppings.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Makes one pizza.

I like to use 1 cup of whole wheat flour with 2 cups all-purpose flour to give the dough a little more heft. I also often make Cheese-Stuffed Crust: Roll out the dough a good inch past the edge of the pan, sprinkle mozzarella around the perimeter, fold over the dough and seal it in. It makes a cheesy bread stick at the end of your piece of pizza…mmm…

Now, go forth and make pizza! Have a movie night!

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Westward the Chickens: The Great Roundup, A (Mid)Western

Folks, turn on your deep, gravelly Sam Elliot cowboy voice as you read this today. Go ahead and put in your dip o’ chew. Things are gettin’ a little mid-western ’round these parts. This here ain’t no Louis L’Amour, but it is a bona fide true story.

Winter was a comin’ on the midwestern horizon. As she stood on the front porch sipping her morning coffee, she gazed out upon the land. Miss Kathy felt the chill in the wind and knew the nip of winter was in the air. The steely gray skies on cloudy days had the suggestion that winter indeed was a comin’. Miss Kathy gazed out on the corn stubble horizon, and off in the distance, thought of the herd.

Chicken herd, that is. Well, maybe it weren’t even a herd anymore. Heat of summer and a few careless young hands led to a few losses, but the plucky chickens that survived were a fine lookin’ bunch.

One of the chicken herd surveying her new surroundings from the fence.

One of the chicken herd surveying her new surroundings from the fence.

All summer long, the herd grazed contentedly in the eastern pasture, growing long and lean in the summer sun, spending nights up in the high country of the rafters of the breezy chicken house. But with winter approaching, Miss Kathy knew it would soon be time to make the drive, moving the herd to the wintering grounds of the snug barn by the house.

If left too long in their summer paddock, the trail approaching the chickens would become nearly impassable as the winter snow drifts blew in. The hired help was only waist high, the oldest wasn’t but six years old, and it wouldn’t take much of a snow to make it too difficult fer them to break a trail to water the chicken herd. Why, it wasn’t even a quarter mile to the summer chicken house, but that would be just far enough to leave chickens forgotten on stormy winter days.

And they couldn’t have that. They were depending on those chickens. Well, maybe they weren’t depending on them chickens, but the family was mighty hopeful. Why, some day, one of those hens just might lay an egg.

Preparations were made in the barn for the chicken herd. The little ones scattered in a snug layer of straw, and the trail boss rigged up a brand new window, feeling right proud to make something with his own two hands.

On the day of the roundup, the greenhorns filled their bellies with buttermilk pancakes and sippy cups of milk. The trail boss brewed coffee, preparin’ for the day ahead. When the last pancake was squashed into the floor and the baby had a dry diaper, it was time to head out. Well, maybe not. Turns out, the young crew all wanted to watch Saturday cartoons before gearing up to work.

It seemed to be a simple task. After all, this crew lived in Montana cowboy country for years, where they’d repeatedly seen pictures of John Wayne on display. They’d also watched City Slickers several times, causing Miss Kathy to become an eternal devotee to Jack Palance, the old cowboy. Yes, they reckoned they knew all they needed to know about chicken roundups, but as every chicken rancher knows, sometimes it is the simple tasks that wreak the most havoc on a soul.

They set out on foot, having no horses to ride and knowing horses would just squarsh the chickens, anyway. The roundup began just after high noon, starting off with several minutes of little greenhorns circling around the feathered herd. Plenty of squawking ensued. No surprise, the herd had no interest in being handled. Why, you might say they acted like a bunch of chickens. Indeed, they were.

The trail boss caught one of the plucky ladies, and a few minutes later, wrangled a second bird. The last few, however, proved to be mighty cantankerous. The chicken ranchers backed off, leaving the herd to cool down a bit. Those stragglers retreated to the high country up in the chicken house rafters, and with no fight in them, they were easily caught. Soon after, the entire chicken herd flocked together in their new winter barn.

All in all, it wasn’t a terribly long move, just a couple hundred feet west. Unknowing observers might have said, “Aw, how cute, a kid carrying a chicken across the yard,” not realizing that in fact, The Big Chicken Roundup of ’12 was in progress. Yes sir, that roundup took a solid fifteen minutes, maybe even twenty after helping the ranch crew put on shoes.

Reaching out her fingers fixin' to touch a chicken.

Reaching out her fingers fixin’ to touch a chicken.

With a successful chicken roundup completed, the green horns celebrated with trick riding on their bikes and a little tree climbing on Maple the Maple.

Mighty happy to hold a fluffy kitten after watering chickens.

Mighty happy to hold a fluffy kitten after watering chickens.

That evening, as the sun sank in the west, the family headed out to the barn. Inside, four lively kittens scampered in the hay bales, chickens pecked at the sunflowers left over from the garden, and four half-pint kids ran circles around all of it. Just six months before, when they moved into the place, that building sat cold and empty. And now on that chilly fall night, the lights glowed warmly, and the barn teemed with a fullness of life that made the trail boss and Miss Kathy feel right content with living in the country.

This post linked to The Prairie Homestead’s Homestead Barn Hop #141.

Pie and Two-Year-Olds: Yes, You Can

Today, I made pie with my two-year-old. Martha Stewart would probably not approve of the non-exact nature of our baking. We stopped mixing crust because my daughter needed to set a cricket trap by the refrigerator.

Smiling at her very first little pie.  Seconds later she poked her finger in the big pie and stacked her little pie on top like a pyramid.

Smiling at her very first little pie. Seconds later she poked her finger in the big pie and stacked her little pie on top like a pyramid.

I have a love/hate relationship with Martha Stewart. My new favorite guilty pleasure is watching Martha Stewart Bakes on PBS in the evening after the kids are in bed and the dishes are (usually) done. I watch with a little bit of reverence and a little bit of disgust.

The woman truly is undeniably talented, and undeniably pretentious. For me, one of the highlights of watching the show is listening for new pretentious names she uses for common objects and ingredients.

Just last night, she used her “pastry cutter” to cut some dough into a circle. Now, I don’t think Martha would appreciate this, but her so-called pastry cutter looks exactly like what average people refer to as a pizza cutter.

I understand that “pizza cutter” conjures up images of some guy with a beer belly throwing a frozen pizza in the oven and watching a little football. And of course, that association is unacceptable when one is doing serious baking. Wanting to be like Martha, the next time I need to cut up a pizza, I’m going to call out from the kitchen in very crisply pronounced words, “Has anyone seen my pastry cutter?”

When I receive confused looks, I will count that as a success. One step closer to Martha.

And in some ways, Martha has even outdone herself. In years past on her cooking shows, I recall her referring to “confectioners’ sugar.” That name, apparently, has become far too commonplace. I notice that she now uses a product called “10X sugar.” Oh, Martha. We all know it’s just plain old powdered sugar.

I just keep waiting for her to find a new name for eggs.

On the positive side, watching Martha does inspire me to bake. My approach, though, is often decidedly un-Martha Stewart, because I welcome kids, and by extension, chaos into the mix.

With fall in the air, I felt the need to bust out the pumpkin pie again. This is a recipe that’s simple enough that you can employ a two-year-old to do much of the work. In fact, I do.

There are few things more satisfying to a child or a parent than letting someone little take part in a real job. When you eat a pie, and the tiniest person at the table says, “I made it,” there really is no greater pride than that.

For pumpkin pie filling, I use my mom’s time-honored recipe. It’s actually quite famous. You will find my mom’s recipe printed on the back of every single can of pumpkin, so I won’t reprint it here.

The recipe I want to share is for pie crust. Crust is the hard part of pies. It’s the part that usually makes people nervous enough to head to the freezer section and buy something in a box that comes from a little dough boy in a baker’s hat.

Homemade crust, though, tastes so much better. This crust is easy. No rolling pin required.

I originally found this recipe on the internet. When 178 people give this recipe give this a recipe a very good rating, I count it as a pretty safe bet.

No Roll Pie Crust

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ice water
1/2 cup oil

Directions: Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Place dough in the pie pan, and press it out evenly with your fingers. Fill with favorite pie filling and bake. Makes one pie crust.

Here’s a measurement of the easiness: About two years ago, when my oldest child was five and the youngest was a baby less than a year old, I made this with my kids AND two of my sister-in-law’s children, ages four and two. That’s right, six kids ages five and under helped make a pie for a bedtime snack. Granted, it was a little chaotic, but it was doable. They all helped pat the crust in place.

Six kids ages five and under helped me bake a pie for a bedtime snack.

Six kids ages five and under helped me bake a pie for a bedtime snack.

Today, I made pie with my two-year-old. Martha Stewart would probably not approve of the non-exact nature of our baking.

We stopped mixing crust because my daughter needed to set a cricket trap by the refrigerator, “I need to catch him. I’ll be very nice to him, Mom.”

She also tested the texture of the crust by wrapping some on her arm. I have not yet seen that technique on cooking shows, but I’m not Martha, so I may be mistaken.

Concentrating on mixing up the pie crust.

Concentrating on mixing up the pie crust.

I let my daughter shape her own pie in a tiny toy pie pan. She added crumbled popcorn and sugar powder from a pixie stick to the crust. I also noticed she added almonds and cashews to the pumpkin filling while I wasn’t looking. I’ve got a real innovator, one with pumpkin pie filling all over her mouth.

We didn’t bother with trying to emulate Martha’s perfectly fluted crust edges. Neat and orderly also went aside with a flour explosion on the table and little fingers dipped in pie filling.

In the end, imperfect crust still tastes good. Germs will bake away at 350 degrees, and happiness and accomplishment from making a pie is long lasting. That’s why I do my baking with a two-year-old.

Kids Still Say the Darndest Things

Even though I’m with my children 24/7, they still have a way of taking me by surprise. Just the other day, my three-year-old proposed.

He first asked me about the plan for the day.  I said it was just a day to stay at home. He saw that as an opportunity and casually responded, “Okay.  So why don’t we just get married today, you and me?”

I have to say, I was surprised and flattered.  Nobody has proposed to me in quite a while.  I told him that sounded nice, but then he went off to ride his trike and the whole wedding never happened.  It’s probably for the best, since I already married his dad.

I love to hear the thoughts and ideas that come out of kids’ heads.

A year ago, I interviewed my three oldest kids, asking them each the same set of questions in a personal interview.  A few nights ago, those interviews popped into my head again as I sat next to my two-year-old girl’s bed, holding her hand so she could settle down to sleep.  I looked at her little self, and I realized that in a year, she progressed from a few baby babble words to commanding her siblings with the oratory skills of a tiny part-time dictator.

I wondered what she would say if I asked her that same set of questions, and then I wondered how the responses of my other kids would change as they grew and matured during a year’s time.

Part of a "perfect day": heading to the pool in St. Charles.

Part of a “perfect day”: heading to the pool in St. Charles.

This morning, I dug out those interview questions again.

Remembering interviews from last year, my kids eagerly took turns receiving 10 minutes of Mom’s undivided, fully engaged time.  Below are their responses: the sweet, the silly, and the surprisingly perceptive.  For simplicity, I listed each child by age.

What was the happiest day of your life?
7: Days when I go shopping with you.  And next year when you give me an interview, I’ll say when I got my ears pierced.
6: It’s hard to say.  Like maybe the Christmas when Santa put up the train track in our log house.
3: My happiest day is hooking things together and unhooking them, and tying knots together now.
2: Cody.  I love Cody.  (her cousin)

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
7: Make Spot not roll in sheep poop.
6: Christmas to be in the summer everywhere, on our side of the world and the other side.
3: I could be mad.  And I don’t know how to fly.
2: My brother’s bed.  (New bunk beds arrived today.)

Spot, sporting a coating of green muck, received dishonorable mention for his new hobby.

Spot, sporting a coating of green muck, received dishonorable mention for his new hobby.

When were you most afraid?
7: I was kind of afraid to move, and going to kindergarten.  The night before the first day of kindergarten, I was really afraid.
6: When a blackout happened and the TV just randomly shut off.
3: Bed and monsters…and tigers.  That’s what I’m always afraid of.
2: Tractors scare me one time.  Go home, tractor!

What do you want to do for a job?
7: I want to be an artist, and I also want to be a veterinarian because it looks like fun and every day you get to see an animal.
6: I want to be a lifeguard.  Can lifeguards be a grownup?
3: I just don’t like doing my chores.  I just like to play.  Chore time is just stupid.  I just want to play, play, play.
2: Cody.  Hold him.  Hold me also.

What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
7: My family and cousins.
6: Having a toy or a few toys.
3: I can’t live without my teddy bear.  I just can’t even live without it.
2: I need girl.  Girl, girl, girl.

Describe your perfect day.
7: I would go to the park, go to the Mississippi, go to the Hawaiian shaved ice place, maybe buy a girl puppy and get my ears pierced.  And I would eat dumplings for dinner.
6: Have ice cream for breakfast, go to the St. Charles pool, have corn dogs for lunch and go back to the pool.  Go home and have brunch for supper, and then stay up until midnight.
3: Hooking hooks onto my ropes and pulling trailers behind my trike with my hooks.
2: Cody.

Who are your friends?
7: Claire, Julia, Audrey, and Indie.
6: I have lots.  It’s hard to say just a few.
3: Katie. (his cousin) And sometimes I see my friends at Early Childhood.
2: Cody, my friend.  Nathan.

What was Mom like as a child?
7: Um, fun?  Wild!
6: I don’t know.  Can you give me a hint?
3: You liked to do the same stuff that I like to do.  Did you like to do that stuff when you were my age?
2: Like me? Slide down.  Hold me!

What does Mom do when you’re not around?
7: Types her articles and goes shopping sometimes.
6: Do the laundry or clean the dishes.
3: Usually you need me badly and you don’t know where to find me.
2: Mommy wake me up.

What’s Mom’s favorite food?
7: Dumplings!
6: Tacos.
3: Stuff that has ketchup on it like hot dogs.
2: Crackers.
(all sound suspiciously like their own favorite foods)

What’s Mom really good at doing?
7: Being a mom.  A good runner, too.
6: Taking care of the kids and making meals like Chinese.
3: Cooking and giving me anything I want for breakfast.
2: Eating.

What’s Mom really bad at doing?
7: Not being a mom.
6: I don’t know…but I think you’re not very flexible at doing stretches.
3: Getting stuff right or wrong.  Knowing which way to go in the car.
2: Making clean table. (She’s right.)

What’s Mom’s favorite place?
7: Grandma’s.
6: St. Charles pool and the ice cream shoppe.
3: Grandma’s.
2: Upstairs.

How do you know your mom loves  you?
7: Because she gives me hugs and kisses every night and gives me breakfast.
6: She kisses me and hugs me goodnight.
3: Because I love her by giving kisses and hugs.
2: Seven.

If you have kids around, please just sit down one-on-one and do this.  For me, I realize all over again how much I love seeing how my kids’ minds’ work.  The interviews are also my reminder that the simple act of truly listening makes anyone just light up.

Part of me wishes I could fast forward and interview my kids in ten years and see how much they change, and how much of their personalities remain just the same.  Will my curly-haired boy still happily ramble on indefinitely about any subject?  What will they recall as the happiest day a few years from now?  Will they still want hugs and kisses every night?  I’m not sure, but I am pretty sure that my son will no longer want to marry me.  I’m okay with that.

“Chicken Day:” 110 Hot Chicks on the Farm

“Chicken Day” is now one of my favorite memories of the summer and my brother, Mike.  On June 6th, our chickens arrived.  I wrote the article below for the paper the following week.  Less than two weeks after Chicken Day, we lost Mike.  I’m so thankful and happy that we had this day together, where I got to “play farm” with my brother and learn some of his farming knowledge.  I wasn’t at all done learning from him, but I’m so grateful for the time we had together.  

We all had such a great time that we didn’t want the day to end.  Mike and Tricia and their kids, along with my sister, Karen, ending up staying for supper.  We made homemade pizza and popcorn and had a bonfire that lasted until we were too tired to stay up anymore.  A great day on the farm…

When we first moved in here a little over a year ago, a neighbor stopped by to visit. Looking at an empty barn, shed, and chicken coop, she said, “Why, you could have all sorts of animals here.”  I thought to myself, “Animals?  Nah, too much work.  Well, maybe I’d get a cat or two.”

At the time, we owned a dog.  That’s it.

By my count today, 144 animals reside on our little acreage:  the same old dog, along with goats, sheep, chickens, cats and kittens. Sometimes I’m still surprised that they’re here.  Did they just sneak in when I was doing laundry or something?

IMG_2177

Mike helping my two-year-old hold a new fluffy chick.

The biggest batch of little critters arrived here in our minivan just a few days ago.  We headed down to Rushford and picked up an order of 110 balls of fluff from the Farmers Co-op.  In the days leading up to the chicks’ arrival, the kids kept mentioning them, wondering, and asking if they could maybe name a few.  I said yes, you can each name 27 of your very own.  Is that enough?  Eyes got pretty big at that point.

When I walked into the Co-op, four kids beat me inside.  They made a bee line for the little stack of peeping cardboard boxes, and my kids had the lids popped off before I even got inside the door.

It was Chicken Christmas.

My two-year-old had absolutely no need for instructions about proper chick handling.  Sure, I mentioned phrases like “be gentle,” “don’t squeeze it’s neck,” and “that chick can’t breathe when you do that,”  but she was far too busy doling out intense chick affection to be bothered with my ramblings.

Currently, four days after the chicks’ arrival, all chicks are alive and well.  I do count that as a fairly major success considering the amount of loving attention they’ve received over the last few days.

My nephew and son each snuggle a pile of chicks on their laps.

My nephew and son each snuggle a pile of chicks on their laps.

Our kids do recognize, though, that life is fragile, especially for baby animals.  On the ride bringing the chicks home, my very practical seven-year-old instructed her siblings that sometimes a little chick might die, but it would be okay because we would still have plenty of other chicks.  I believe she might have been coaching herself, as well.

On Chicken Day (because such events get names when you have kids), we even picked up fried chicken from the grocery store for lunch.  Perhaps that is in poor taste considering we carried a load of baby chicks home at the same time, but the kids giggled with excitement over fried chicken AND baby chicks, all in one day.  One of them even said, “Someday some of you little chicks will be delicious chicken, too.”

When the chickens arrived home, we had a full entourage of family here to take part in the excitement.  My brother, Mike (our resident farming expert), along with his family, came out and helped set things up in the coop for the chicks.  Two of my sisters came out, too, and a slew of cousins all spent some time helping out with the new little chicks, holding them, and picking out favorites.

A flock of cousins play with the new chicks.

A flock of cousins play with the new chicks.

We set up feeders, waterers, and heat lamps (hence the title “Hot Chicks,” of course), and soon after lunch, 110 busy peeping chicks hopped around in their new home.  We now have 60 fluffy yellow broilers, 25 Production Reds that will someday give us brown eggs, and 25 Americana chicks that will lay the kids’ favorite: blue-green eggs.  The most-loved chick in the bunch is a mix-up: one rogue all-black chick that somehow arrived with our delivery.

And what, exactly, do we plan to do with that many chickens?  Our oldest two kids possess some grand ideas about eventually selling the eggs and making “lots of money.”  We did big math in simple terms, and told them if they kept selling eggs, they could earn enough to buy their very own car when they reached driving age in 9-10 years.

Again, they had wide eyes.

They’re pretty helpful little kids, but I’m fairly certain the person that will actually be heading out to check on chicken welfare, especially when the wind chill is -30, is someone who earned the money for her first car a long time ago.

As if the excitement of 110 fluff balls and future earnings wasn’t enough, the day after the chicks arrived our kids discovered yet another surprise.  In the corner of the shed, in the hay where Lamby likes to sleep, I heard the mewing sound of a new batch of kittens.

In awe of the brand new baby kitten.

In awe of the brand new baby kitten.

All of the kids left the chicks to go check out the new surprise.  We headed to the corner of the shed and found the mother cat with five kittens, a few still wet.  As we crouched around her, I noticed that one was being born at that very instant.

Number six was black with an orange star on its head, which is just what my red-haired boy wanted on a chick of his own, but none had those markings.  It turned out that his request was answered in a baby kitten instead, and one that he got to see be born.

And then, just to blow our kids’ minds completely, our other pregnant cat had kittens the following day.  We now have two mother cats who curl up in the same nest of hay and share nursing responsibilities of the two batches of kittens.   Looks like I’ll need to readjust the animal count that I mentioned earlier.

Article written June 10, 2013.

Camp Mosdal

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Written July 15, 2013.

When summer was just around the corner, we picked up a 12-person tent.  We tucked it away safely in the attic, just waiting for that nice night when we’d set up that new portable house in the yard with the kids.

Then another snow storm came, and another.  And then came the rains.  If you live around here, you know the ones.  The tent sat untouched for about four months, nearly forgotten.

It might not have seen the light of day this summer if it hadn’t been for a sheet of paper tacked up in our kitchen, labelled “Summer of Fun 2013.”  It’s the list we made in about five minutes one morning in May before the school bus arrived, back when the kids wanted school to be done for the year.

When I see the list on the wall, it feels like it came from a lifetime ago, long before anybody could imagine that we’d lose my brother this summer.  I wouldn’t call this the Summer of Fun at this point.  The list is still up on the wall, though, and this week my seven-year-old noticed we really needed to get something checked off the list: Camping.

Last Thursday seemed like the night.  We celebrated a highly anticipated fourth birthday at our house.  With the weather forecast looking good, we decided to haul our two tents out of the attic and camp that night to celebrate.  Our brand new tent is a giant: a 10′ x 18′ two room behemoth.  It’s just shy of the square footage of our kids’ two bedrooms in the last house we owned.

The kids and I hauled our new treasure out under the shade of our walnut tree on a nice flat spot and began to assemble it.  While they excitedly helped, we managed to not lose any stakes in the high grass and nobody busted a zipper or tore a hole in the screens.  With four little kids running around, that seemed pretty successful.

To finally get it all set up, my husband and I exchanged a few short comments with each other, as per the requirement when assembling a new tent.  And when it finally stood complete, all was well.

Our kids immediately began hauling armloads of toys into the tent, to make it a little more “homey,” of course.

Our plans for the evening pretty much ended with “hey, let’s set up the tents,” but with short notice on a week night, a few of our kids’ cousins and my sister, Karen, came over and also spent the night.

In the midst of hauling out blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags, we almost forgot about my son’s birthday cake.  I sat it out on our porch table with candles ready to light, and then got busy doing other things.

Four!! Birthday supper celebration.

Four!! Birthday supper celebration.

Cats, however, love birthday celebrations and do not forget about such things like birthday cake.  I came out of the house with an armful of blankets to discover three cats circled around his highly anticipated angel food cake, busily gnawing away.

My biggest disappointment is that my arms were so full of blankets.  My gut instinct desired nothing more than to scoop them all up and launch them from the porch.  I believe they sensed that as well, and with my scream they called an end to their birthday party and instantly scattered.

Birthday cake issues aside, we had a great night.

My husband, Jarred, even installed our porch swing that evening.  We bought the swing on Craig’s List about a year ago, but just never got around to installing it.  Just when I’d grown accustomed to that porch swing sitting on the ground like a legless bench, all of a sudden, we had a swing!  My little boy sat on it and said, “It’s for my birthday!”  Just knowing I can now go out and sip iced tea on the porch swing makes me feel utterly content.

But, back to camping.  We had fireflies all around, a bonfire, kids giggling in the tent, and a beautiful summer night.  By midnight, the last holdout went to bed.  (Ironically, it was our two-year-old.)  We slept outside under a starry sky, in the peaceful silence of a night out in the country.

And despite our kids’ fears, nobody was eaten by coyotes, not even a little bit.

That peaceful night didn’t last very long.  Around 4 AM began the song bird wake-up call.  By 5 AM, the rooster and my birthday boy were both up.  They both share a love of making excessively loud noises every morning.  By six, pretty much everyone was awake.  Soon after, a groggy but happy load of kids swung on the porch swing.

I believe if you can’t get a good night of sleep, you better at least have a good breakfast.  I whipped up a batch of pancakes while my sister made bacon.  Jarred decided to cook rugged-camp style, and he made a bunch of bacon and eggs over the red coals of the bonfire from the night before.

And then we had a stroke of genius. Almost out of syrup, we mashed up a huge bowl of strawberries that came from the neighbors’ patch.  And then, we topped it all off with a big batch of whipped cream, made from a half gallon jug of cream we got from Kappers’ Dairy in Chatfield.   We ate outside at the porch table with our little crew of campers, eight kids and three adults.  Great food, fun kids and good coffee seemed like a great start to a day.

Enjoying a big breakfast on the porch after a night of camping.

Enjoying a big breakfast on the porch after a night of camping.

We didn’t have any plans, but after breakfast, we herded the kids out to help feed and water the chicks.  Our former fluff balls are rapidly growing into big, meaty birds and good looking little hens.

This happens to be the time of year when our windbreak is loaded with black raspberries.  Jarred had the inspiration to gather a bunch of bowls, and many of us headed out to pick berries.  (And pick, and pick, and pick.)  With a busy crew of helpers, we had 15 pounds of berries when we finished.   The berries are small, and many of the berry pickers were young, so we felt all the more impressed with our bounty.

A bounty of black raspberries harvested from our yard.

A bounty of black raspberries (black caps) harvested from our yard.

By then, it was time for lunch.  I fired up the grill and made burgers.  And for dessert, we finally got around to the birthday cake.  We sawed off all areas of possible cat-contamination on the cake.  Naughty cats. For the tail end of the longest impromptu birthday celebration ever, we sang happy birthday, had cat-free angel food cake, ice cream and berries.

 Cousins celebrating our four-year-old's birthday with some cat-free cake and ice cream.

Cousins celebrating our four-year-old’s birthday with some cat-free cake and ice cream.

Without really making any plans other than deciding to set up our tents, Camp Mosdal turned into a great day…and a half.  By late afternoon the campers went home, and we crashed, tired but happy.

And if you happen to drive by our house, you might still see the tent set up.  Four days later, it still is, anyway.  You can also still find a heap of blankets dumped in our living room from our festivities.  Tents and camping equipment, just like Christmas decorations, are much more exciting to set up than take down.

Giving my Kids Nothing This Summer

I love my kids and I try to do my best.  The trouble is, it’s easy to think “best” and “more” are one and the same.  They are not.

My original plan this week was to write about our summer list of things to do, you know, to feel like our family has a “successful” summer. Making plans and writing to-do lists does have value. It helps me get things done. But sometimes, a to-do list is a load of garbage.

I can’t speak for past generations of mothers, but in the circles I run in of moms with kids at home, we spend a lot of time trying to do it all right. We try to make meaningful memories, create precious moments, provide engaging learning opportunities, all that. But maybe, just maybe, we need to try less hard, too.

Tree swing: an essential component of doing nothing this summer.

Tree swing: an essential component of doing nothing this summer.

My oldest child is just finishing first grade. What do I remember about my summer after first grade? The only specific thing I remember was that I had short permed hair that my grandma said looked like Shirley Temple. In the summer time I would go days on end without combing it. Much of the time my hair looked more like a rumpled Afro than Shirley Temple’s ringlets.

Combing my hair? What a waste of time.

I had ant hills to smash on the edge of the driveway. I needed to make sure I was the one who raced down to the mailbox first when the mailman came around noon, a highlight of the day. I was busy riding my bike down the field lane and learning to ride down the gravel on the driveway without wiping out and scraping up my knee.

I don’t remember many other specifics, because the summers growing up all sort of blend together in a sort of sweaty, Kool Aid, dandelions, swimming in the freezing water at Whitewater kind of way.

On a visit to Whitewater a couple summers ago, I spotted a mom lugging a huge plastic tote down to the beach while trying to wrangle her kids. The tote was neatly labelled “BEACH TOYS.” I imagined her pulling it from it’s special shelf in the garage and loading it up in the van. As she emptied it, out came every sort of wonderful beach implement imaginable.

Part of me admires that sort of amazing, logical organization. And part of me just wants to puke. That level of perfection is just too much. Many of the toys didn’t get touched.

Seeing that tote made me think of my own days as a kid playing at Whitewater. When we made the trip there as a kid, if I wanted a sand toy, it was my job to get it. If I brought something, it was probably an empty Cool Whip container from the cupboard. Fairly often, we just went there with nothing. Sometimes we dug a pop can out of the beach garbage can to use as a digging toy and water carrier.

No tote full of toys, and we were happy at Whitewater. Very likely, my next older brother suggested we were superior in some way because we were kids that could make our own toys. He was good at always making us feel like we were part of some sort of secret elite force of little survivors.

Sand, water, kids. What else do you need at the beach?

I tell this to remind myself that when it comes to kids, less is often just as good as more. A big tote full of toys is fun, but so are hands, sticks, and rocks.

Sometimes I’m like that mom lugging the tote. I love my kids and I try to do my best. The trouble is, it’s easy to think “best” and “more” are one and the same. They are not. It is a fine line to balance between wanting the best for your kids and crippling them because they get everything they want. Innovation and ingenuity often comes from those moments of creating something out of nothing.

I want to give my kids more “nothing.”

A few nights ago I spent 15 minutes hauling boxes up to the attic. While I was up there, three of our kids played out on the porch. I came down to find discover three kids completely enmeshed in their own imaginary world of playing house. I said hi and then ignored them in that sort of way that doesn’t make them self-conscious of a viewer, putting on a show for mom. They did their thing.

My seven-year-old “Mom” decided it was bedtime, and put her two-year-old baby to bed. She tucked in her sister on the wicker couch using her favorite blanket. Then, while I got the mail and seemingly ignored them, I listened to my big girl sing a lullaby to her little sister, who pretended to sleep.

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sweeter lullaby than that one I heard that evening. There’s nothing on my summer list of fun activities that’s any better than that.

I give up.

And I think I probably should. We made a list of fun things to do this summer, but most remarkable is that what the kids want is pretty darn unremarkable. They want to go swimming. They want to have bonfires. They want cousins to come over and play. Simple things.

And that’s probably how it should be.

They’re little kids. Hot, sticky, endless summer days with messy hair, scraped up knees, dirty feet, popsicle drips and grass stains…that about covers it. Anything else is just details.

So, it’s settled. We’re doing nothing this summer.

A Series of Fortunate Events

Normally, milking a goat for the first time would be a pretty memorable event for me. But this past week, I almost forgot I even did that. It’s really spring and life is running at full speed at our house.

The to-do list started while driving home in the evening on the Sunday after the big May snow storm. I noticed that the final patches of snow melted in the fields. I pointed it out to my kids, reminding them how we still saw plenty of snow around at noon that day. As I contemplated feeling confident enough to finally pack snow pants and mittens for the season, my six-year-old said, “We need to get our crops planted, Mom.” That’s what he calls our garden.

Wait a minute. He’s right. What?! Snow pants…garden…I’m sorry, but I just have trouble wrapping my head around a garden when I helped my kids build a snowman two days earlier. I just haven’t allowed myself to get excited about a garden this year when every time I look at seed catalogs, we get a snowstorm. With summer vacation just a few weeks away, it’s finally sinking in that the time is now to get all of our projects in high gear.

New Kids on the Block
The goats living at our place have been quite busy themselves.

 Our kids holding the new goat kids, with their little sister impatiently waiting for a turn.

Our kids holding the new goat kids, with their little sister impatiently waiting for a turn.

Right now we’re hosting four “foster goats” at our place. They belong to my brother and his family. On Tuesday, I looked out at the goats in the pasture and wondered when my husband put our little lamb in with the goats. Then I noticed the “lamb” was the wrong color and half the size he should be. We had a new baby goat!! I wandered into the barn, and discovered Big Momma (because that’s her name, of course) had not one baby, but twins. In this age of instant communication, I snapped a picture with my phone and sent it to my brother and sister-in-law to share their new baby news.

Then I noticed that Big Momma had a big swollen udder on one side and a teat swollen like a water balloon. I’m no goat whisperer, but I am a mom, and I know from experience that that sort of thing hurts, a lot. I called my brother, Mike, and we talked about it, and I decided I’d try to milk her by hand to relieve some of the pressure.

Now, before you get the wrong impression about my animal skills, let me tell you about my previous goat experience: Once, when I was in third grade, I saw pygmy goats at a petting zoo while visiting my sister in Oklahoma. One of the goats nibbled the corner off of my paper bag from the gift store, which bothered me enough that I still remember it to this day.

I remember that many of the goats at the zoo were hugely pregnant. Somewhere, there is a picture of me from that day sitting on one of those pregnant goats. Because when I saw a big heavy pregnant momma, I thought it would be fun to take a picture riding her. Now isn’t that, um, sweet? So, that is my experience with goats. Yep, I’m a regular James Herriot.

Between my husband (who also has never milked anything) and I, along with the assistance of four kids, a billy goat who bumps you when you bend over, and a curious dog, we managed to get about a pint of milk in a bucket, and probably another cup on the floor. We fed the goat milk to our bottle-fed lamb, who at first had no interest, and then decided the milk was quite tasty, and he sucked it up.

We took the edge off for Big Momma, and Lamba Lamba Ding Dong (Lamby) had some milk that came from a live animal, not a bag of powder. It was already past bedtime for the kids, so we called that a success, or good enough, anyway.

Sand Mountains
Before the little goat kids stole the show at our house, the big attraction of Tuesday was a new mountain of sand. My husband ordered two truckloads of sand for the base of what will eventually be a concrete floor in our shop. For the short term, though, our kiddos play in sand pile heaven.

We topped the sand pile with a child-sized wooden bridge, a free find from the curb in Utica. The bridge is meant to be a landscaping feature, but temporarily on a sand pile, it makes a perfect spot where the kids can dig a tunnel. Everyone, of course, needs a little spot to dig and hide.

A New Herd of Grass Mowers
Automatic, self-guided grass mowers were another addition to our springtime projects. On Wednesday, we added ten ewes to our list of random farm animals that we are collecting. Seeing sheep in our pasture is nothing new, since last year our neighbor rented out the pasture for his sheep. This year, however, we actually bought the sheep. After the sheep arrived, I looked at my husband, Jarred, and said, “We just bought livestock for the first time.”

Next project on the list? Fencing off more land for the sheep. They want plenty of grass, and we don’t want to mow everything. Win, win.

A Herd of Kindergarteners
Friday was a big day at our house: a birthday party with a slew of kindergarten boys, and a brand new play set for the yard.

When we moved here a year ago, we left our swing set in Montana, with a promise to the kids to get a new one here in Minnesota. Our kids reminded us fairly often of that promise. A Sunday conversation led to a great solution to our play set dilemma. My brother’s kids were outgrowing theirs, and we needed one…perfect!

The play set that is now in our yard is the same one that I remember playing on with my nephew and nieces while I babysat them back in high school. The wood set is about 15 years old, but my brother’s an engineer, so that sucker still looks just as sturdy and as good as new. With a new colorful canopy in place and the slide still a bright yellow, it’s a hugely exciting addition to our backyard.

On Friday afternoon, my kindergarten boy, along with ten buddies and a few cousins, all played on it for the first time. Our kids had no idea that my husband was getting that play set, so when they hopped off of the school bus and spotted it in the back yard…well, I bet you can imagine the excitement… I have to say, I love it, too.

As if a birthday party and new play set weren’t enough, the goat named Baby also had a new baby that day. Little kids at the party got to see a brand new goat kid, play in an enormous pile of sand, climb on a new play set, and play with Lamby, who roams around the yard like a second dog. We capped off the night with a bonfire, and called it a great day.

On Saturday, I was pretty much worthless after wrangling a busy party, but my husband had the energy to make a new tree swing for the giant oak tree in our backyard. He built it big enough for an adult, so we all took plenty of turns on it. The kids declared that it was a Mother’s Day gift for me, and so, it was. I do love tree swings.

Mother’s Day Queen
On Mother’s Day, my cup runneth over with little kid presents: a paper locket necklace, a decorated picture frame, toast in bed, and a paper crown declaring me “Mother’s Day Queen.” I wore my crown, ate specially made toast, and read to my kids the Mother’s Day letter I wrote for them, the one printed last week in the paper.

Wearing new my crown and  locket, reading a special letter to my three-year-old.

Wearing my new crown and locket (and my pajamas), reading a special letter to my three-year-old.

My kitchen floor is a muddy disaster and I could give you a mile long list of imperfections around here, but all that aside, when we have four kids running around chasing a lamb, holding baby animals, playing on sand piles, and swinging from a tree swing, sometimes I feel like we are permanently on vacation out here in the country.

Putting a Little Spring in our Step

I do believe it takes living with -30 wind chills and knee deep snow to fully appreciate the first 70 degree days of spring. Minnesotans get it.

Our Saturday of soaking in 70 degrees prompted the biggest flurry of outdoor projects we’ve had in a long time, and made what was quite possibly, our favorite day this year. Sometimes, days slip by and I wonder what I accomplished, but then there are days like last Saturday, where we suck every last drop out of the day and knock out more projects than ever seemed possible.

It all started a few nights before. I woke up at 2 AM, not able to sleep with a long list of spring projects in my head. Of course, it made me mad to be awake. No kids are up crying or puking, so why am I awake thinking about putting the sleds away? Finally, I just got out of bed wrote down a spring to-do list. The stupid sleds then stopped plaguing me, and I got back to sleep.

Saturday morning, with sunny skies and a predicted high in the 70s, felt like the perfect time to start checking things off that list. It also helped that we had a pressing project to complete: the day before we picked up 55 shrubs and trees from the Soil & Water Conservation District.

The first project of the day was a chicken run. Our chickens spent the winter in the shed across from our house, and judging by their impatient squawking, they were quite ready to have a little more room to stretch out their wings. Our shed already had a little hinged chicken door, so my husband spent the morning using some old fence panels to build a little access route from their contained pen to the chicken door. By lunchtime, a rooster and his harem strolled around the yard snatching up shoots of green grass and and a few bugs.

I think I’ve written this before, but I’ll say it again because it still takes me by surprise: I completely love watching chickens wander around in the yard. I never imagined having any interest in chickens, but I’m becoming quite taken with them. There is something hypnotic and soothing about watching them go about their industrious business of hunting bugs and grass shoots. Sitting on the porch and seeing chickens wander in the yard just gives me that feeling that all is well. I rank it up there with watching bonfires and snow falls. I can’t quite explain it, but I do like those buggers, and their eggs.

Chicken access to outside? Check.

Our chickens enjoyed their new freedom outside.

Our chickens enjoyed their new freedom outside.

Before lunch, my birthday boy (who turned six on Saturday), cleared our sleds off of the porch making room for our summer porch table. Sleds away? Check.

He then helped haul the table legs upstairs from the basement, and by lunchtime, we had our first outside lunch of the season on our porch. That table is a freebie find from the curb during Citywide Clean-up last year, and it provided countless outdoor meals and project space last summer. After a winter packed away, seeing the table again made our porch feel like it’s open for summer business. Porch table set up? Check.

Our 6-year-old celebrated his birthday playing outside with his little brother.  He later helped set up our table in this spot.

Our 6-year-old celebrated his birthday playing outside with his little brother. He later helped set up our table in this spot.

We ate our first watermelon of the season outside on the porch at lunchtime. Granted, we needed jackets on in the breeze, but as Minnesotans with cabin fever, we felt completely happy to finally be outside.

After lunch, our three-year-old with glazed eyes and our inconsolable two-year-old both told me they weren’t at all tired. I went against their, uh, logic and tucked them in for a nap. That gave me three hours to work outside. That, my friends, is a little slice of heaven.

My husband, my oldest daughter and I spent the afternoon putting 25 June berry shrubs in the ground, along with 30 spruce trees.

To the untrained eye, those little spruce trees just look like an ordinary line of saplings, but they are in fact our Christmas Tree Farm. Some day when our kids are teenagers, we’ll go tree hunting right in our yard at Christmas time. Our kids will saw the tree down and drag it into the living room, leaving needles everywhere.

Then we’ll say to our oldest son, “Remember when we planted those trees on your sixth birthday? Look how big they are now!” And then we’ll repeat that again the next year and the next. It’s a long term plan, but I’m excited already. Who wouldn’t like to have their very own tree farm?

Someday, these little saplings will be Christmas trees in our living room.

Someday, these little saplings will be Christmas trees in our living room.

Working outside on a gorgeous day, doing something completely out of the usual routine…I had a blast. Maybe it felt fun because I didn’t do the hole-digging part, but best of all is the excitement of imagining what eventually will become of our afternoon’s labor. Someday we’ll have Christmas trees, and some day we’ll gobble up June berries by the handful. I can’t wait. Berry bushes and spruce trees planted? Check. Check.

Just before supper, we whipped up two pumpkin pies for my son’s special request birthday meal. My six-year-old birthday boy shaped and crimped one pie crust all by himself, and his big sister did the other one. While we accomplished a lot outside, our kitchen looked like we’d had a bomb go off. Ignoring the mess for the short term, we headed back outside to cap off the afternoon with supper on the porch.

And for birthday dessert, we ate warm pie topped with ice cream. Birthday supper? Check.

Our three-year-old told us the day was the best birthday of his whole life.

I laughed. No, it was not his birthday. It was his brother’s. But I had to agree, it was one of the best birthdays ever.

Happy spring, everyone! I hope you all enjoyed last weekend’s sunshine as much as we did.

To My Kids on Mother’s Day

To My Kids on Mother’s Day,

On Mother’s Day, I want to tell you thank you for making me a mom.  Some mornings when I come down the stairs I don’t look very excited to be awake and making breakfast, and some nights I ask you if we can switch places and you can put me to bed.  Sometimes you drive me crazy.  But the truth is, I wouldn’t trade you for anything.

My kiddos and I making the best of the crazy May snowstorm by building a snowman.

My kiddos and I making the best of the crazy May snowstorm by building a snowman.

To #1, my seven-year-old girl:  I am so amazed by you.  I love your artistic, creative projects and paintings that you make and your beautiful handwriting.  You are so helpful when you know I need an extra hand.  I’m proud to have a little girl who is so thoughtful and considerate of other people and genuinely kind.  You are fun and silly and calm and quiet.  You are a wonderful, responsible big sister.  I love getting to run with you.  I also love hearing you read with such expression, and I love that you read the other kids bedtime stories.  You are so good at understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings, well beyond your years.

To #2, my six-year-old boy:  I just love the way your mind thinks about things.  You have such a clever, organized, imaginative mind.  You are my boy who will probably help me learn how to be organized.  Even when you are so sleepy in the morning, you take the time to fold up your pajamas neatly.  I love how you can design buildings and mechanical things in your head.  I love your crayon drawings of tree houses that you color in deep, bright colors.  I love that you ask to play a board game, with just you and me.  I love your fancy bike riding tricks.  And do you know what I really love?  I love seeing how much you love your little sister.  You can always make her smile.

To #3, my three-year-old:  I love your sense of humor and your little jokes.  You make me laugh.  I love to see the projects you create using your two favorite things: strings and hooks.  You are so creative, and I can’t wait to see the things you will make when you get bigger.  You are a sweet boy with a kind heart.  Sometimes you look at me with so much love in your eyes that I can hardly imagine someone could love me so much.  I love watching you run.  You bounce and skip across the grass so lightly that you look like you are floating.  I can tell you are thinking a lot because you ask good questions and you use big words when you tell stories.  I like reading with you on my lap before nap time.

To #4, my girl that just turned two: How did we ever get such a great little girl?  You are such a loving little person.  I love watching you take care of your babies: rocking them, singing them songs, and making nice beds for them.  Everyone just falls in love with you because you’re so friendly.  You like being held by so many people and you will give a hug to anyone that needs one.  You are also such a smart and funny little girl.  I love your silly dances and how you tell knock knock jokes, even when you’re nursing.  You make me laugh.  I love when you tell me the bathroom floor is “hot lava” and I can’t touch it, or when you pretend I’m “baby monster” and you try to take care of me.

Being your mom is a lot of work, but all of you are also so much fun.  I love watching you grow and learn.  It’s fun to look back at pictures of you from when you were babies, and see how much you’ve grown.  I love to see you learning your letters and learning to read.  I’m proud of how you are learning that being part of a family means that we all need to help out and love each other, even if we don’t always get along.

You might not know it, but I learn a lot from you.  You teach me to give even when I’m tired, and you help remind me to have fun and enjoy the best things in life.  And one of the best things in life is being your mom.  Thanks for being my kids.  

Love, Mom