Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day meta-post

crayon sorting

At the start of this year, I read this approach to New Year's resolutions: Choose something simple and specific and do that one thing every day for a month. Then choose a different goal/habit for the next month.

I liked this idea. I generated a list of virtuous habits I'd like to cultivate. Then I had trouble settling on one for January. I made my bed four days in a row. Then I did sit-ups two days in a row. I managed 64 ounces of water maybe 12 days last month? I had trouble choosing, so I set my sights on February. And I kind of threw "simple" out the window.

Since Tobin's birth in 2006, this blog has been a place for us to share stories about our (not so) little (anymore) family. But as life became busier, we weren't sharing as often. Of course, busyness wasn't the only factor. Facebook and Twitter made it easier to share tidbits here and there. Still, I felt compelled to share a little more--and perhaps go about it in a more structured way.

Another inspirational thing I read in January was "Don't Carpe Diem" by Glennon Melton. What I took from it was this: Being a mama is hard work, so don't make it even more difficult by feeling guilty for not enjoying it all the time. But treasure those moments when you do realize why it's all so totally worth it.

I decided to post on this blog every day in February. So that I could focus a little more on what is truly precious in my life every single day. And share some of that with you.

Here are some reflections as I wind up this month-long project:
  • I truly enjoy writing. I always have. When I worked full-time during Tobin's first two years of life, I wrote stuff like this. Sure, that was a different kind of writing but some part of me actually enjoyed writing every work day. And writing about my kids combines two loves for me.
  • It's very easy for me to write lengthy posts. And I don't necessarily have time to do that. In the future, I'm going to try to make most my posts a little more succinct, a bit smaller in scale.
  • Our home abounds with blog content. Goodness knows chronicling Evan's adventures alone could keep me writing nonstop. Setting a goal to blog daily helped me organize that content better. I generated a list of topic ideas and would choose from those. I didn't always pick from that list but it was nonetheless very helpful.
  • As I went through the month, I became a little more systematic in my approach. I would jot down notes that would later jog my memory or sometimes serve as the inspiration for an entire post. Most of the time when I wrote I would upload pictures to Flickr first, then write. I think this more structured approach will make regular posting easier.
  • I've been pleased with how I've been able to use the blog this month to also regularly post pictures of the kids, vis-à-vis Flickr. There are so many pictures we've taken that have just languished on our hard drive. I used to think of posting pics and blogging as two separate tasks, neither of which I ever felt I had time to do. But now I think of them as complementary, or at least coordinated. This month, I'd have an idea for a post and take pictures with that post in mind. Other times, a picture I just happened to take would inspire a post.
  • I like taking pictures of the kids. I like our new camera. It's not a fancy camera, but I'm sure there's more I could learn about taking better pictures--beyond my preference for avoiding the flash.
  • I have no aspirations to make this blog more than what it is: a place to share our stories, especially with the too many of our loved ones who live too far away from us. We love you all!
  • Obviously, daily posting is unsustainable. Among other things, I need to get more sleep, make sure I know where Evan is at all times, vacuum more frequently and catch up on my DVR.
  • My kids are as awesome as I thought they were.

Overwhelmingly, this February project has been a positive experience. Going forward, I'm committed to posting on a regular schedule, although I'm not sure what that precise schedule will be. But keep reading! I--make that, we (hint, hint)--will be back with more stories and pictures about our impossibly sweet life.

But I will be taking at least tomorrow off to watch the last four hours of Downton Abbey.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Evan at 32 months

Ev and his shadow

Our baby boy is 32 months old today. Last week, I shared about how he is occasionally a stinker and always hilarious. Today, I expound more on the awesomeness of my sweet, smart boy.

(Tiny housekeeping note: I found a draft of a post I'd written about Evan's second birthday. Even though it was quite long and seemed virtually finished, I didn't publish it. It was written in mid-July 2011 when Lauren was not quite a month old, so I'll chalk it up to newborn mama delirium. I added some photos and video and dated it 7/13/2011. You can find it in our archives here.)

As I sit down to write this, Evan is taking his midday nap. God bless that sweet boy. He has taken that nap every single day for me since his sister's birth. He does protest it mildly. Indeed part of nap routine is me telling him, as I clean up after lunch, that it's almost time for his nap. Sometimes he'll run from me. Other times, like today, he'll say something like, "No, I don't wanna nap. I play basketball!" and then shoot a few hoops. But I scoop him up, change his diaper, grab his sleeping friends and sit down with him in the rocker--all without much protest. And then he'll snuggle up to me while I sing him a couple songs. I put him in his crib, snuggle him under his blanket and then say, "I love you. Have a good nap, Evan." Occasionally, he will yell from behind the closed door for a few minutes, something like, "Pwease, Mom! I wanna get down!" Or he'll sing "Jingle Bells" very loudly. But almost always, by the five-minute mark, he is quietly sleeping. I consider this a sweet gift every day.

Evan is also learning to be a sweet big brother. Like the rest of us, he can't be around Lauren for very long without planting a kiss on her lovely cheeks or giving her a hug. Sometimes the hug is more of a tackle squeeze, but he's doing better every day about being gentler with her.

sweet big brother

Evan is very concerned when Lauren's upset. Last week, I had to take her to the doctor. She was got upset when the nurse took her underarm temperature. Lauren was on the baby scale at the time and Evan was practically crawling up me, saying, "Oh no, what happen Waurnen? Waurnen okay?" When we got to the exam room to wait for the doctor, I sat Evan up on the table next to a now-happy Lauren and he noticed she still had a tear in her eyelashes. He pointed at it and said, "Oh no, Waurnen crying? Waurnen okay?" I wiped the tear away, and his face broke into a sweet smile. Just a few days later, Lauren was upset in the car and Evan started singing a song, most of which was gibberish to me, except for one line he kept repeating: "It's okay Waurnen!" This kind of stuff my mama heart can hardly take, it's so sweet.

evan at 32 months

Evan is also charming us with his talking lately. He's still harder to understand than Tobin was at this age, but he's speaking more clearly and confidently every day. I love how he'll come up to me with his little brow furrowed as if he's about to make a very important statement. This morning I was nursing Lauren in the rocker in the boys' room with a clear view down the hall of them shooting hoops. Ev came up to me and said very deliberately and proudly, "Watch, Mom. I can shoot!" And then he sunk a sweet jump shot. Then he came back in and said, "Watch, Mom. I can jump!" And then he jumped around the room for a minute or two.

Evan is also counting well. He frequently counts our nine front steps as we ascend: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 2, 3, 5!" But he's especially loving learning his letters lately.

building a word

Recently, I sat down with him and our refrigerator magnet letters to see which ones he could identify. I picked up the H and said "H, hat!" He looked at me, shook his head dismissively, and said, "No 'H, hat,' Mama. 'H, Hippo!'" He proceeded to identify many more letters than I thought he could, and he had a word association for each one. After most identifications, he would congratulate himself by saying, "Grapes!" (Presumably, "Great!") More and more, he's identifying letters in random places--like pointing out the X's and O's on a playground tic-tac-toe game. Last night, he took a pastry cutter out of a kitchen drawer, turned it sideways and declared, "D, Daddy!" And I was blown away the other day, when he wrote a T. He proudly proclaimed, "I draw T, Tobin. T, Turtle!" I immediately sent him in the other room to show it off to Matt and Tobin. "Grapes!" all around!

And Evan continues to love music. There's just an extra special sparkle in his eye when he hears it. And like his brother did around this age, Evan's singin' with the "gui-tar." Although more and more, Evan is correctly calling the instrument his "uke."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mama's Monday musings

Here's what's on my mama mind as I (try to) ease into this week:
  • I'm not sure whether I should be impressed or disheartened that I can go from pajamas to ready to walk out the door (face washed, teeth brushed, deodorant applied, hair brushed/pulled back, dressed) in less than five minutes. Regardless, this "skill" is essential many mornings.
  • When I have to herd three kids into the van on rainy school days like today, I especially hope our next house has a garage. And please please please, let us have a non-carpeted eating area. The condition of our dining room carpet is not cool.
  • I'm making a meatless version of this red beans and rice recipe for supper tonight. I'm glad I worked through my initial dried-beans cooking failures. In fact, when I have the time, I really prefer using dried beans to canned.
  • I'm not as frugal-minded as I think I should be. I kinda hate couponing and chasing grocery sales; I do it quite begrudgingly. Also, the fact that we would cut our diaper expenditures in half is not really motivating me to potty train Evan. On the other hand, the prospect of not having to change his prodigious poops might make me go for it soon.
  • Tobin may be my favorite child precisely because I don't have to handle his poop. Lauren may be my favorite child because she sleeps past 7:30 regularly. Evan may be favorite child because his hair is awesome.
  • I am less than enthused that Evan is enthusiastically picking his nose these days, often rolling what he retrieves between his fingers and exclaiming, "Mom, see ball?" However, I was amused when Matt was the recipient of said gifts this weekend.
  • Does it count as "watching TV" if Ev is amusing himself by turning the TV on and off. Is that bad for the TV? I must save my TV!
  • I have the final four hours of Downton Abbey season 2 burning a hole in my DVR. Something's gotta give, kiddos!
  • I love how playing NBA Jam on the Wii led to Matt and Tobin discussing Dennis Rodman's eccentricities and how my Memaw liked him a whole lot. (Maybe more on that later.)
  • I can put Lauren down, come back a minute later and find she's moved four feet, still sitting on her bottom. She might as well be crawling. I don't know that I'm ready for three mobile children!
  • For the third time, I will have a baby wearing 18-month sizes by nine months of age. I gratefully and reverently blame breast milk.
  • Where did I get such silly babies? (You may want to adjust your volume for some of the sounds that follow.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weekend wrap-up

We're winding up a lovely weekend. The chilly temps and March-like winds have kept us mostly inside. Actually, it's only in the 50s, but we've been spoiled with 70-degree afternoons this week, so it does seem cold outside right now.

The weekend started out sweetly when Matt got home just after lunch on Friday after a teacher workday spent at a mandatory training. He got home early enough to squeeze in a snuggle with Lauren before her 2pm nap.

sunny snuggle

That was extra nice because he'd gotten home late Thursday evening and then had to work Saturday morning. Since then, we've done lots of wonderfully normal stuff like taking a family trip to Target on Saturday afternoon. Usually, I do our weekend shopping by myself--which I rather like, to be honest--but it seemed like the perfect time to get everyone out of the house for a bit. Plus, I only had a few things on my list.

I really do love those times when we can all get out together. It kind of feels like we're in a small parade, with the five of us, but it's our sweet parade. Lauren rode happily in the Ergo, while Matt pushed the boys in a two-seater cart. The kids are normally very good on shopping trips when I'm by myself, but they seem especially charming when Daddy's along too. Maybe it's because he's there to help herd the boys back in the cart after the mandatory stop at the cars-and-trucks aisle. Or to remind Evan that the handle of the shopping cart isn't a chin-up bar. Or to listen to Tobin say things like "I do like swimming but I prefer to swim with floaties." when we pass the swimsuit department.

We also built with Duplos (and tried unsuccessfully not to step on them).

duplo dispersion

And played patty-cake.

patty cake w/daddy

And raced cars.

baby boy car racin'

And read some books.

big boy reading

And read some more.

Hope you're having a lovely weekend, spending time with your favorite people too.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Ta! and Top!"

Last night was family pizza and movie night, or as we call it, "Ta! and Top!" "Ta!" is how Evan used to pronounce his favorite food in all the world. Now he says something between "pizza" and "tizza." "Top!" is what Ev calls Top Gear, a really cool BBC-produced car show, which is usually our movie selection. We hardly ever end up watching an actual movie unless it's a family favorite like Cars or WALL-E, because a lot of kids movies end up being too scary for Tobin. Plus, it's tough to fit a movie in with the boys' 7:30ish bed times. Top Gear usually fits the bill perfectly because it's only an hour long, streaming on Netflix and entertaining for both kids and adults. It's definitely an adult show, with the occasional off-color joke that hopefully goes over the boys' heads, and we do fast-forward through the talking parts sometimes, so we can get to the portions with fast cars! Other family favorites are episodes of Phineas & Ferb and Spider-Man: The '67 Collection.

For supper, I usually make a couple 14-inch round pizzas.

friday is homemade pizza night.

I make the crust using the dough cycle on my bread machine and this recipe. (I substitute up to one half the flour with white whole wheat.) The dough is fairly easy to handle and delicious. My sauce recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Perfect Recipe by Pam Anderson. It's just one 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes mixed with 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 minced cloves of garlic and salt and pepper to taste. (No cooking required!) I use half the sauce between the two pizzas and freeze the other half for the next time I make pizza. I bake the pizzas at 450 degrees for about 12 minutes (rotating the pans top to bottom halfway through) with just the sauce and any other non-cheese toppings. I add about 1.5 cups of shredded mozzarella or some other Italian-blend cheese per pie and bake for an additional 5 minutes (again, rotating at the halfway point).

We usually have pizza and movie night once a week. For me, it's an easy, frugal meal option when it comes to menu planning. Plus, making it regularly has helped me hone my dough-handling skills. For the boys, it's always a hit! It really is so tasty.

On special occasions we will order from our favorite local pizza place, Randy's. Last night was extra exciting in that the boys actually made the pizza using a Little Caesars pizza kit we bought as part of a fundraiser for Tobin's school. As you'll see Evan was particularly focused on his work. And I wish I could have recorded him saying "pepperoni." It turned out "extra delicious," per Tobin.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Keeping a straight face (Or, Ev being Ev)

ev being ev.

The picture above is one of my all-time favorites. Taken on a 70-degree day last November, it reveals so much about our middle child, who is so often at the very center of our attention. For one, he is simply hilarious. Second, Evan knows what he wants. He has quite a bit of two-year-old swagger going on. Also, the boy likes his gear. Those binoculars are his "picture" (camera), which he takes along frequently when we go to Tobin's school. He also likes to wear a backwards baseball cap, sunglasses and most recently, a bike helmet. The other morning, it was cold so he was appropriately wearing a winter hat. Once we got inside the building, he pulled the hat down over his eyes and said, "Mom, I'm Spider-Man!" And then he insisted on keeping it that way as we walked through the halls. I was holding his hand, helping avoid bumping into people and walls, when Tobin's friend's dad said, "I know it makes your life harder, but that is hilarious." I smiled and nodded, thinking, That pretty much sums up my life with this two year old right now.

I try to carefully pick my battles with him. So long as he's not hurting himself or someone else, or otherwise being too disruptive, I let him carry on as he wants. I have yet to let him wear this Spidey mask out in public. I fear it would be too distracting or, worse, might scare some kids. Of course, I let him wear it whenever he wants around the house.

spidey snuggle

Disciplining him is more difficult than I remember it being with Tobin at this age. Primarily because I have trouble keeping a straight face. When we first introduced time-out to him, he would use it as a token system of sorts. He'd hit Tobin and then run to put himself in time-out. Not only did Matt and I have to figure out how to fine-tune this behavior-management technique, we also had to resist the urge to laugh aloud. For the most part, he's caught on to time-out and it seems to be effective, but every once in a while he'll tell Tobin to go to time-out--very insistently.

I also find myself trying to keep a straight face so that I don't reinforce certain behaviors. For instance, one day I asked him to grab his binoculars before climbing out of the van. He looked in their direction, paused and then looked at me and said dismissively, "Um . . . no." I totally laughed because it caught me off guard. I heard "Um, no!" quite a bit over the next few days.

Ev isn't necessarily a difficult child. He's just different from Tobin, so I've had to make some adjustments to my toddler-mama bag of tricks. One nice option I almost have is: distract him with food! If I need to get him out of my hair or otherwise redirect his attention, I'll ask if he wants something to eat and he'll almost answer brightly, "Sure, I wanna snack!"

spidey snack

Recently, I started jotting down notable things that happen throughout the day, ostensibly to share later with Matt or on this blog. Unsurprisingly, my notes were basically "Ev . . . Ev . . . Ev . . . Ev!" Here are a few of those gems.

He has such a funny, creative chain-of-thought sometimes. One morning, we were enjoying reading books on the couch while Lauren napped and when I finished My Many Colored Days by Dr. Suess, he closed the book and held it flat and asked, "Want some pizza, Mama?" (That book is not remotely about food.) And then he walked over to his wooden food toys and made me an open-faced watermelon sandwich.

Evan is not a cautious young fellow. Just this morning, he thought it would be fun to jump down our nine, fairly steep, brick front steps. Fortunately, this thought occurred to him on one of the lower steps and he just fell kind of sideways and not very hard. When he expressed alarm, I said, "Don't jump on the steps. You'll fall down and get hurt!" Later, as we were returning home, he tried to jump up the steps. Again, no injuries except it scared me to death. The other morning when I was taking some pictures of Lauren on my bed, he came in and I turned around to him declaring, "I ride bike on bed!" With his bike helmet hanging by its strap on his neck, no less.

ill-advised activity

Lately, when Evan has the hiccups, he runs up to Matt or me, covering his mouth with his hands and exclaiming, "My mouth! My mouth!"

A classic Evan-ism is "Oh no, what happen!" Sometimes it's sincere. Like when he gets a floppy slice of pizza: "Oh no, what happen pizza!" Frequently, he'll refuse to eat said slice. Other times, it's used in a more mischievous manner. Sometimes, when he's in his car seat, he'll push his leg against the van's automatic-closing door as it's closing. When this triggers the door to re-open, he'll say, "Oh no, what happen door!" Or if the door does close: "Oh no, what happen my foot!" (He's not in danger of being injured in this situation, but I do tell him to stop or he'll hurt his foot.)

Yesterday, Tobin asked for some of his Valentine's Day candy hearts after lunch. I obliged. Evan asked for some "candies!" Not wanting him to have the hard candy, I gave him some a couple M&Ms, which he happily popped in his mouth. While chewing, he pointed at Tobin's hearts and said, "Mom, I want candies!" When I explained that the M&Ms were his candy, he reached in his mouth, pulled out the half-chewed M&Ms and handed them to me, saying, "No M&Ms, I want candies!"

And lastly, I think this one sums up so much about how motherhood is simultaneously exhilarating but also humbling (not in the good way): Evan locked eyes with me and in the sweetest, sincerest tone said "Thanks, Mom" as I took a sticky, green boogie from the end of his finger.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

100th day of Kindergarten!

100th day of kindergarten!

Today was Tobin's 100th day of Kindergarten. It was also a lunch bunch day. Tobin was pretty excited. His teacher gave two "homework" assignments to help celebrate today. (Tobin loves homework!) The first was to collect 100 pieces of a small item and bring them to school in a baggie. Tobin decided on macaroni. One afternoon earlier this week, I set him up with four measuring cups, thinking he could use those to count by groups of twenty-five. And then I went to put Lauren down for her nap.

counting 100 pieces of pasta

Returning about ten minutes later, I found him counting the last few pieces of pasta to put in the bag. He said, "Mom, can you believe this is 100 macaronis? It looks like less than I expected. I'm going to count them again." And then he poured them out and re-counted. All told, he counted them about ten times--and by ones, instead of tens or some other denomination, because he thought that was easier. Since he seemed to enjoy the counting so much, I suggested he could use the leftover pasta and the smaller measuring cups (1/4-, 1/3- and 1/2-cup sizes) to test whether they filled up the one-cup measuring cup like the were supposed to. He loved it and worked on that for another 30 minutes or so. Spontaneous fractions lesson!

The second thing Tobin's class did for the 100th day of school was set a goal to collect 100 cans of food for a local food drive. Tobin told me that a part of the assignment Ms. Alana forgot to tell the parents about was that the student should help his parents go buy the cans. I think he may have been creatively interpreting the assignment, but that's what we did. We don't have many canned foods in our cupboards anyway. I used it as an opportunity to check out the new Aldi grocery store that opened near us. When we got home, Tobin made a list of the foods we collected. He did his own abbreviations and it reads as follows: black beans, red beans, peaches, pinto beans, mandarin oranges, corn, black-eyed peas, pears, sweet peas and green beans.


When we were picking out cans, Tobin was sure to pick "only foods I like." Before we packed them up to take to school, he grouped the cans by vegetables, beans (presumably legumes) and fruit.

"he [loves] these cans!"

Tobin's class of thirteen students ended up surpassing their goal and collecting 102 cans! And they used the 100-item baggies to compare their relative weights. One hundred pennies ended up being the heaviest, Tobin reported. They also did other fun 100-themed activities, like jumping up and down 100 times and making necklaces with 100 beads. Well, Tobin didn't finish his necklace so he "had" to bring it home as homework--and happily he did.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Our lil' big sleeper

Monday night was of the milestone variety. Lauren slept twelve hours. In her own bed. With hardly a peep. In so doing, she was awarded Youngest Smith Baby To Sleep Twelve Hours with Hardly a Peep. Her first order of morning business? Dismantling her big brothers' latest Duplo structure. She is quite adept at scooting on her bottom to get things done.

our lil' big sleeper

By "hardly a peep," I mean I never had to retrieve her from her bed. At 2am, she cried a couple times, and as I tend to do when woken suddenly, I was already up and walking toward her crib. But then I realized, it was more a whimper than a cry. So I stealthily lay back in bed. And the next thing I knew it was 5am; there was another whimper. I waited. Nothing else. She ended up sleeping until 8:00!

Then on Tuesday night, she did it again! This time, it was about eleven hours but with nary a peep!

mama's sleepy girl...again!

Evan was nearly a year old before he did this. Tobin was probably three and a half. I have encountered enough baby sleep issues to know this doesn't mean she will do the same thing again tonight, but I feel it is a grand step in the right direction. And the last two nights of amazing sleep for me were enough to buoy my mama mood for quite some time. Thank you for that sweet gift, Baby Girl. I know sleeping that long is hard work.

sleeping is hard work.

Having a newborn is so terribly sweet. And magical. And incalculably precious. But it is also intense. And tiring. After several months of nonstop baby time, I am increasingly recognizing a true family routine developing. Lauren is finding her own, with some help from us. That's where I am right now: appreciating us finding our family rhythm.

I am also loving how Lauren is learning to be silly.

so is bein' this cute.

And how she promises to always keep me busy: scooting and scattering all day long.

girl at work

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Boys and blueberries

waffles for supper!

Sunday night we had waffles for supper. And yes, Sunday was also when I posted about how we have coffee cake every Sunday morning. We do enjoy our breakfast sweets. I rationalize my concerns about our sugar and butter intake by noting everything is made from scratch and we try to incorporate whole wheat flour. Sometimes.

big boy w/blueberries

I've been working breakfast into my weekly supper menu planning lately. About once a week, more often than not on Sunday or Monday, we have breakfast for supper. Usually, it's pancakes, French toast, biscuits and eggs, or waffles. It's easy, delicious and frugal. For example, I make Italian bread to go with our almost-weekly pasta meals. We often don't finish the whole loaf, so I stick the leftovers in the freezer and they're great for French bread later. I also freeze our leftover Saturday morning pancakes and the boys eat those for breakfast on weekdays. Having the occasional pancake supper conveniently replenishes my freezer pancake stash.

Waffles are a relatively recent addition to the breakfast-supper rotation since my aunts gave us this waffle iron for Christmas. Matt and I had never had a waffle iron because our small kitchen is a bit overrun with gear. Plus, I thought having an iron would tempt me to make waffles a lot. I do love them so. But this one works on the stove-top and stores neatly away with its compact design. And I've only made waffles a handful of times because they're a relatively slow meal for young kids, waiting for each waffle to cook one at a time. We're kind of tied to our weekend breakfast routines of pancakes on Saturdays and coffee cake on Sundays, so we've ended up just making waffles in the evenings every few weeks. If you're looking for a good recipe, I recommend Alton Brown's basic waffles, with which we've been quite pleased.

To add some nutritional virtue to our indulgent breakfast suppers, we try to serve the kids fruit too. On this particular night, it was frozen blueberries! Blueberries and boys make for fun pictures, right?

Tobin proudly shows his stained hands and his shirtless self. We asked him to take off his shirt so he wouldn't get blueberry stains on it. (Side note: He spilled his water all over his lap at the beginning of the meal, so he's actually just wearing his underwear here.)

bigger, bluer hands

Evan loved the blueberries, but in his classic fairly dramatic style, he kept looking at his fingers, frowning and asking, "Oh no what happen fingerrrs?"

"oh no what happen fingerrrs?"

As it turned out, waffle-blueberry supper night was also bath night.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Snow day (sort of)

Last night when Matt and I went to bed around 10:00, there was a nice covering of snow on the ground and it was still falling. Matt's school district had already announced a two-hour delay. We had hopes of waking up to snow that the kids could go out and play in. But the snowfall was too modest and the ground temperatures, too warm. All the snow except for a few spots had melted by the time we got up.

Disappointment aside, it's been a lovely day. Tobin had the day off school for Presidents' Day anyway. Matt's two-hour delay was in reality only a one-hour delay because he had previously scheduled to do a day-long AP teachers' training at UNC starting at 8:30. But we slept in a little (third day in a row past 7:00 for me!) and had breakfast together. Then the kids and I enjoyed a leisurely morning.

A day off from school is perfect for doing Blake Griffin impersonations in your cozy snowmen PJs.

pajama dunk

And having big-big brother home from school offered the perfect opportunity for baby sister to nosh on said pajamas.

noshing on big bro

Of course, there was plenty of snuggling with Mama, especially by Evan.

mama-evan snuggle

Things picked up a bit mid-morning as The Smith Brothers Band assembled. Evan played ukulele.

evan on uke

Tobin created a classic drum set, making use of almost anything that would make a loud noise--including the yellow crane on the left--when hit by his Tinkertoy drumsticks.

tobin on drums

Lauren even joined in by playing tambourine and rocking to the music, as she does more and more these days.

learning tambourine

Alas, Lauren abandoned her tambourine--perhaps put off by Ev's less-than-careful ukulele-wielding or by the fact that the band name isn't The Smith Siblings Band or The Sister Smith & Co. Band. Or maybe, she just wanted to dance with Mama. And then go down for a nap.

The brothers eventually got into a heated dispute over whether or not the yellow crane was "Ebban's truck!" Sadly, the band dissolved amid some tears.

But don't worry, they always get back together.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday sweets

It feels like we're truly weekending 'round here. The kids let us sleep until 7 both yesterday and today! This morning I woke to Lauren cooing in her crib and realized Matt was still snuggled up next to me. He hadn't been called from the bed by his weekday alarm clock or our weekend early-bird boys. Neither of us can remember the last time that happened.

As we do almost every Sunday morning, we enjoyed "cookie bread" for breakfast. It's actually a coffee cake, but a few years ago Matt called some zucchini bread "cookie bread" trying to entice Tobin to eat it, and since then all sweet breads and quick breads have been called cookie bread. Matt's mom has been making this coffee cake for years. It is simple and delicious.

sunday cookie bread

Here's the recipe for Grandma's Black Skillet Coffee Cake:

2 cups flour (we use 1 cup white whole wheat flour + 1 cup all-purpose)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup soured milk (1 Tbsp. vinegar + 1 cup milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in iron skillet over medium-low heat. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix in melted butter. Reserve 1/2 cup of this mixture for topping. Then add egg, soda and milk and stir to combine. Pour batter in skillet. Sprinkle with topping. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Tobin has declared coffee cake his favorite breakfast food. Evan loves it too.

big boy bite

all gone

We hope you are enjoying your Sunday like we are. Here's some additional sweetness from our little home this week. First, this is the funniest picture of the week: Lauren assisting me as I dress Evan. Matt said it makes him think Lauren will have no trouble holding her own.


Here's the babies being extra sweet. Evan enthusiastically kisses his sister. She reciprocates by clapping!

Finally, Lauren continues to love the tub. Be warned: she is insanely, magnificently chubby. Scrumptious! And so pleased with herself.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tobin at 69 months

five point seven five

Tobin is five and three-quarters today. When I told him he was 69 months old, he was amused. And then immediately asked, "How many months will Evan be on the 28th?" Doing the math aloud, I responded, "He'll be 24 plus 8 . . ." and then paused for Tobin to say "32!" This boy of ours has a thing for numbers. Or at least it seems so to his more humanities oriented parents.

Lest I sound like just a boastful mama--which I shamelessly am--I'll note that Tobin's Kindergarten teacher has noticed his affinity for math too. Ms. Alana enlisted his help over the last two weeks for a special counting project at school. The school asked students to donate white children's socks to send to a school in Haiti. The goal for the sock drive was 200 pairs. Alana took Tobin around to each class with her to tally up the socks. She kindly showed me the piece of paper on which she wrote down the numbers as they added them up. He was adding three-digit and two-digit numbers up in his head. She was particularly impressed when she gave him the number 149 and then asked him to add 99, he came up with the answer of 248 before she could even started to write it down. The school ended up collecting 496 pairs of socks and because Tobin had helped her count them, Alana had him announce the number to the entire school! I wasn't able to be there for that assembly but he told me about it, smiling ear to ear. He's often a reserved, understated little guy, so I loved seeing him totally beaming with pride. The following day at chapel, which I did attend, the school director Ms. Nicolette announced that a few more pairs of socks had come in and the grand total was 511 socks. She then asked, "If we have that many socks, how many kids will get socks?" Misunderstanding the question but not missing a beat, Tobin raised his hand and said, "1022!" Nicolette kindly noted, yes, that was how many individual socks they had. I was sitting near Alana, who shook her head and whispered, "I can't believe he doubled 511 that fast!"

"take a picture of this rock, mom."

I've mentioned before how much we love Tobin's school. He has totally thrived there. The few chances I've gotten to see him in his classroom have been delightful. I noticed especially on my most recent how confidently he moves among his friends and how he doesn't play favorites, getting along well with everyone. He can get silly and wound up like any five year old, but his teachers have talked about what a polite and pleasant kid he is.

At home, Tobin is a good big brother. He is especially sweet with Lauren, always trying to entertain or hug her. His relationship with Evan is a little more complicated and antagonistic. The antagonism goes both ways, but Evan understandably may dole out an extra portion. I try to help but I know they have to work some of this out on their own. I figure Tobin is learning patience, and Evan is learning how to stand up for himself. But Tobin often does sweet things, like asking Evan to play basketball with him and teaching Evan, with some success, to play Wii bowling and table tennis. Evan couldn't be more thrilled to be side by side with his big brother.

Tobin is also helpful to me. In addition to being able to get himself ready in the mornings, he's learning to do small chores like putting his clothes away and taking his dishes to the kitchen counter. He even sits and plays with Lauren when I need just a few minutes out of her sight, like when I put Evan down for his nap. And he's just good company. When the babies are napping, he's sweet about entertaining himself when I need to do other things, but it's also delightful to have him nearby chatting me up, or giving me updates on the latest imaginary basketball game taking place on our living room basketball court, or asking me to look up "the top 11 teams in the AFC and NFC . . . Wow, I can't believe the Panthers finished worse than the Seahawks!," or reading a recipe as he helps me make a Valentine's treat for Matt. Yes, he's reading up a storm, and we love having him read to us. Although, having a little reader around may be a tad overrated. Tobin looked at the laptop the other day, read my Gmail tasks list and whined: "Mom, why are you going to cancel Netflix?" He does keep us on our toes, but we are loving most every minute of it.

telling us something...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Figuring out first grade

solving perplexus

Although Tobin doesn't start first grade until August, we've got first grade on our minds in February. Yesterday, Matt and I submitted our magnet school application to the local public school district. We selected our first and second choices of schools and spots will be awarded by lottery. We should know some time next month if we got into one of these two schools. Our first choice is a public Montessori school. Generally speaking, we like that model for learning and would love for Tobin to be part of its flexible, creative program. Classes are divided into three multi-age groupings: (1) pre-K and Kindergarten; (2) first through third grades; and (3) fourth and fifth grades. Our second choice is a humanities magnet and has conventional grade level classes.

Our odds for getting into either school aren't particularly high, especially since we're entering the lottery at first grade; there are fewer spots available than if we were entering at the pre-K or Kindergarten level. My impression is that we'd have a better chance of getting into our second-choice school since it appears to be an up-and-coming school rather than the established, popular option that is our first-choice school. However, we wouldn't get into our second-choice school until all the spots were offered to students listing it as first choice. There's also a public charter school to which we're considering applying but we have a couple more weeks to decide if we're going to submit an application there.

All of the schools we're considering are much closer to Matt's school than where we live now. Our hope is to move closer to that area by the start of the next school year. We need more living space and it would be nicer for Matt to have a shorter drive to work. Plus, we've heard mixed things about the elementary school we're presently assigned to, so we would try to move into a district where we feel better about our assigned school. Our default school is important because that's where Tobin would go should we not get into one of the magnet or charter schools.

The pragmatic side of me says Tobin is a flexible, quick learner with supportive parents, who will thrive in whatever school he attends. But the emotional side of me wants to be assured going in that he's going to be in the best place. We've been so pleased with his pre-K and Kindergarten experiences and I'm so attached to his current school that I fret about the transition ahead. Of course, another way to look at it is this: with the confidence instilled in Tobin and us by his current school, we can be optimistic about the future. I think I'm getting there, but this letting-go part of mamahood is hard--as prepare to send my first baby off into the much bigger world next fall. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lauren at 8 months

8 months old!

Lauren is eight months old today. Where did my baby go? I will be saying that a lot over the next few months, as I recall from her brothers how quickly things start to change from baby- to toddlerhood. And then quite literally, she will be on the move and I will wonder, Where did she go? She's showing signs of getting ready to crawl. She moves in her own way already, rolling, stretching, pivoting to reach toys. Matt and I have been noticing that we will sit her down in one place and then come back just moments later to find her still sitting but a couple feet away from where we left her. Scooter! She is also starting to clap, make faces on command and even does an opening and closing of her fist--the beginnings of a little wave perhaps?

Lauren is our bouncing baby girl. If you hold her on your lap, she will start to bounce. When I load her in the ergobaby carrier each morning and afternoon to walk into Tobin's school, she bounces a bit and squeals. She seems to know our routine and likes seeing all the smiling faces at his school. Better yet, at school pick-up she is so excited about the return of her big-big brother, especially when I put her back in her car seat, which faces his booster seat in the van. They almost always greet each other with squeals and laughter. In the late afternoons, she bounces and squeals when Matt walks in the door from work.

When I arrive home, however, I don't get the same happy greeting. I am starting to get the special mama treatment from Lauren. It goes something like this: "Hi Mama. I'm smiling because I'm happy to see you, but wait now I'm feeling sad because, oh no, you left me!" And then she'll fuss and whine, and if I don't scoop her up quickly enough, she starts crying. She never cries when I leave, but when I get back she has a look of betrayal on her face. It's all so pitiful and adorable and tugs at my mama heart every single time. Lauren even responds in this way on much shorter absences, like if I leave her in the living room with her brothers while I escape to get dressed or prepare lunch. I will deliberately try to stay out of her line of vision as long as she's happy and safe, because if she catches sight of me she'll suddenly start fussing. I know this scenario will repeat itself with increasing intensity over the next few months, and soon she'll be upset if I try to leave.

Fortunately, we are not apart very often or very long. I will leave her with Matt for a couple hours on the weekend while I do our weekly shopping. And she really is very happy with her daddy and brothers. She is an overwhelmingly happy baby and continues to just fit right in to the somewhat chaotic existence of life as a third child. While I can only control the chaos a little, I do make an effort to accommodate her nap schedule which consists of a morning nap at 10am and an afternoon nap at 2pm. Slowly but surely, she's getting more consistent about taking hour-plus naps each time, but she still has a short 30-minute nap every once and a while. But even on days when she doesn't take long naps, I've been impressed by how well she handles life up until her 7ish bedtime. I would guess it's some combination of her personality, the ever-present entertainment around her and me feeling more laid back about all things with this third little one. Her nighttime sleep has been good. She struggles a bit with the first part of the night, and sometimes I have to go back in to nurse her back to sleep. Then she'll wake once or twice and nurse back to sleep, then sleep until 7:30 or 8am. The night wakings are brief, and were she sleeping in another room I might try to see if she could get herself back to sleep more consistently. But since her bed is right at the foot of our bed, I tend to respond quickly and nurse her back down. At her age, Evan was sleeping with me and nursing on a two-hour schedule, so I consider Lauren's sleeping patterns great progress!

smiley & blurry

Lauren still gets most of her calories from breast milk, nursing about every three to four hours during the day, but she joins us at meal time too. (She won't return to the doctor for a weigh-in until nine months, but I'm certain she's north of twenty pounds!) To make our mornings easier, I don't feed her any solid food for breakfast and just make sure she has plenty of milk. At lunch I've been feeding her oatmeal and fruit puree. At supper, she enjoys vegetables, mostly sweet potatoes. I've also offered her small diced bananas and avocados. She mainly likes to play with them, but occasionally a piece makes it to her mouth. She enjoys being at the table with us, and enjoys talking/squealing across the table with her brothers and even claps for them sometimes.

Having her join us at the table for family meals feels like a metaphor for her emergence in our family life generally. She adds so much joy to our lives and is increasingly aware of it. We look forward to sharing so much more with her!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sleeping arrangements

babies in bed!

Like he did yesterday, Tobin had me smiling first thing this morning.

He came out of his room at 6:30 on the dot and told me, "Evan's snoring."

I queried, "Oh, did that wake you up?"

Tobin said, "Yeah, but then I got confused because I thought it was Dad snoring, so I almost went back to sleep."

Now I was the one confused, but amused, and asked, "What do you mean?"

Tobin clarified: "Well, I thought Dad had come to sleep in our room like he does on the weekend sometimes, but then I thought it was weird he was in Evan's crib. So I got up and peeked out of my bedroom door and saw that you and Dad were up and it wasn't a weekend!"

Tobin has told us many times that he loves weekends because Daddy is home all day, but the only thing he doesn't like? That he has to sleep until 7:00. (We will enjoy reminding him of this when he is 16 and have to pull him out of bed at 11:00 on Saturdays.) As Tobin mentioned, Matt sometimes goes into the boys' room on weekend mornings to try to delay their waking. More often than not, he goes in because Evan is awake and loudly singing/howling/chanting at some unreasonable hour like 5:00. If it's that early, Matt will actually take Ev out into the living room and snuggle with him on the couch to to coax him back to sleep. Sometimes when the boys wake up after 6:00--which makes it unlikely that anyone will go back to sleep--he'll take Evan from his crib and they'll both crawl into Tobin's bed and "rest" until 7:00 or so.

Our sleeping arrangements require some creativity because we live in a two-bedroom townhouse. Our plans and aspirations to move to a larger home are better left to another post entirely, but the short version is this: We live in our small home because it has a small mortgage payment, which plays a large part in allowing me to be home with the kids full-time as we live on one (public school teacher) income. Although it feels as if we are on top of each other most of the time, the kids seem to like this. For instance, if one of us sits down on the couch, within a few minutes the kids are snuggling up next to us, usually sharing the same cushion. Another advantage to our cozy living is that it's really easy for me to keep tabs on the kids as I try to do chores around the house. If they're not under my feet, they're in the next room; every room in this house is "the next room."

Since Evan was about 10 months old, he's slept in a crib in the same room where Tobin sleeps on a full-sized futon. Overall, this has worked well. Evan has been through phases when he's had more night-wakings than others, but a lot of times his wakings don't rouse Tobin. Before Lauren arrived, if Tobin did have trouble sleeping and Evan needed assistance, Tobin would just come sleep with me and Matt would go to sleep with Evan on Tobin's bed. Most nights, however, Evan is consoled by a pat on the back or a short snuggle and then will sleep just fine in his crib.

With Lauren in our room now, we don't let Tobin come sleep with me for fear he'll wake her up. She slept most of her first three months in bed between Matt and me, but since then she's been sleeping in a Pack 'n Play set up at the end of our bed. She still wakes a couple times a night, but nurses back to sleep and transfers back to her bed easily enough that we're content to leave her in the room with us.

I am considering the possibility of whether and when I could move Lauren to the crib in the boys' room. Since the futon's full-sized, Evan could sleep with Tobin and she could take over the crib. Of course, I worry about a whole new scenario of siblings-waking-siblings. And honestly, I think that just worrying about them waking each other up would cause me to sleep lightly and restlessly even if it is in my own completely child-free room. Then there's the midday nap situation. Lauren takes her second nap of the day while Evan takes his only nap of the day, and it's nice having them in separate rooms so they don't wake each other up. Moving Evan out of his crib is a transition I'm willing to put off for now.

The funny thing is that we might actually sleep better as a family of five crammed into two bedrooms than we did as just a family of three. Tobin slept with Matt and me until he was three, just a month before Evan's birth--and two and a half of those years were in just a full-sized bed. Our king-sized bed may be my single most valued material possession, and I'm thankful that most nights I share it just with Matt. We are content to leave our nighttime arrangements as they currently exist because they work, and we are mostly happy--i.e., everyone sleeps well enough. And good sleep leads to sweet mornings and days, for which we are ever thankful.

fresh baked baby girl

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Love Day!

valentine's day, take 3

Hopefully setting the tone for this day on which we celebrate love, Tobin bounded out of his room first thing this morning with his soccer trophy from a couple seasons ago (Fall 2010 Yellow Dragons) in hand. He said, "I thought Ev would want to see this!" The trophy is a fairly small, typical mass-produced trophy, but it has a plastic soccer ball that spins. The trophy sits atop the bookshelf in the boys' room and they see it nearly every day. But when Tobin handed Ev the trophy, Evan responded enthusiastically, "Ohhh, cool soccerrr! Thank you, Tobin!"

Today, I am thankful for the spontaneous love my kids show each other--albeit sporadic and unpredictable. I hope that we can teach them how to show love to each other, even when they're not necessarily feeling it. I am also thankful for the love of family and friends near and far, who support us with their generosity, thoughts and prayers. We feel your love today and every day. And we send our love right back to you!

happy valentine's day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mama goes to school.

This morning I got the chance to help out in Tobin's Kindergarten class. It's a rare treat since I have the little ones to take care of during his school hours. The time slot for today's opportunity coordinated with Matt's two-hour planning period, so he ran home to stay with Evan and Lauren while I spent a little over an hour in T's class.


Last November, I was able to visit Tobin's class for a couple hours one morning when my mom was in town to help out with the babies. I told Matt about my experience and how the most appropriate word for it was "adorable." I guess with a toddler and a baby, I tend to associate the adjective "adorable" with them, but I was struck by how sweet, kind, funny and cute Tobin and his classmates were. For example, every morning when they arrive, they sit in a circle and share their "news" with their teacher. Tobin's classmate Bailey shared that after she got dressed for school: "I just sat there with my cat on my bed and I just was jiggling her until Daddy told me it was time to go." (I got the impression that this was not malevolent jiggling.) Tobin's friend Logan's news was "My shirt has a hood on it!" Morning circle time was also when Tobin's teacher Ms. Alana noted, "Bennett is feeling kinda sad and grumpy today. So let's remember to be extra kind to him." And then the kids went on to play and learn at various learning centers, all rather peacefully. On that particular day, Tobin played most with his friends Bethany and Callie. They shared sweetly in home center and complimented each other's drawing in art. Yep, all so totally adorable.

concentrating on his art

Today, I helped with a special art center: painting at the easel. I assisted the kids with putting on their smocks, set up the paper on the easel and wrote down the title of their finished paintings--e.g., "Bad Dragons Destroying Buildings," "Fire Planet" and Tobin's "Purple Flower." It was delightful! More pictures here.

purple flower, by tobin