Long Overdue Praise for Sticks!

I love it! Last month the stick was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame! This is an honor that is long overdue. Sticks have been around forever and with just a little imagination, their playful uses are endless. When I was little, I personally loved collecting a bunch of small sticks and making little houses for gnomes and fairies that might visit our yard. Nicholas and I built a house like this a year or so ago and we've already started collecting our building materials to make another one this spring.

I try to encourage Nicholas to think of ways to play with things he finds in nature to show him that toys don't have to require batteries to be fun. It isn't very hard to have fun in nature. There is so much that you can do with basic things like sticks, dirt, grass clippings, fallen leaves, mulch, acorns, rocks, etc. And not only are these toys free and readily available, but they also help to get Nicholas connected with nature in a hands-on creative way. Nothing could be finer!

Check out the full article on The Children and Nature Network website.

Christmas #3

Merry Christmas!

This morning we went back over to my brother's house to spend a little more time with my side of the family and to let Nicholas play with Uncle Steve.

Stuart wanted to get some nice pictures so he asked us to pose on the couch and look comfortable. We got comfortable but we looked sloppy. Stuart told us that he read somewhere that if you are comfortable when posing for a picture that you probably look sloppy. In order to look comfortable, we would probably have to be a little uncomfortable. He meant that we might have to sit up straight or turn our heads slightly in an awkward way. My brother, being the comedian that he is, thought he would be most uncomfortable if he put his foot behind his head. What a jokester!

We headed back to Stuart's parents' house this afternoon for Christmas #3. There were tons of presents for Nicholas, Rachel, and their two cousins. It was a fun madhouse of toys, wrapping paper, and ribbon. Nicholas got a light saber, lots of cool Legos, a Rock Hunter Excavation kit, 2 Planet Hero action figures, several books, a tiger snake Webkinz, a Star Wars game for his Leapster, and Nerf Dart Tag game. Where will we put all of these toys once we get home?!!

While we were opening presents, we put Rachel in the infant swing. It's the same swing that Nicholas had when he was a baby. They both tend to fall asleep as soon as they start swinging. I can't imagine life without it!

RACHEL (Look at that cute little belly!)


Stuart got a good portrait of the family. With four children and some not-so-willing models, he had to take to quite a few pictures to get one good one (and even this one got a few tweaks in Photoshop!)

I like this picture of Nicholas sitting on his grandparents' swing chatting with his Daddy.

Our trip back home was fine. Stuart found a station that played all '80s music and we played "Named That Tune/Artist". We heard songs like Purple Rain/Prince; Manic Monday/The Bangles; Magic/The Cars; etc, etc. It was more fun than I had expected and we couldn't wait to hear what song would come on next. It made time go by quickly too. You know, 80's music is kind of the golden oldies of today. Boy, that makes me feel old!

Santa Comes Early

We didn't bring many toys for Nicholas to play with in Baton Rouge since he would be getting so many on Christmas. He actually gets three rounds of Christmas presents all in one day. When Nicholas wakes up on Christmas morning, he finds presents under the tree from Santa and from Stuart, Rachel, and me. This is our own little family Christmas. This is Christmas round #1. Then we head over to my brother's house and have Christmas round #2 with my family. We eat Christmas lunch over there. Then we head back to Stuart's parent's house where we have Christmas round #3. Nicholas opens gifts from Stuart's parents and his brother's family and we have Christmas dinner. It's a full day of family, food, presents, and fun. Of course, Nicholas loves playing with his new presents with his cousin and my brother.

However, this year we were planning to leave Baton Rouge right after Christmas. We wanted to give Nicholas some time to play with his toys while he was there, especially since we knew Uncle Steve O. would love to play with all of the Star Wars toys that Nicholas had asked Santa for. So we had to get a little creative and we asked Santa to come one day early this year. And, being the kind hearted soul that he is, he graciously complied and put Nicholas' toys under the tree on Wednesday, December 24th.

Of course, Santa still needed some cookies and milk for all of his hard work. Unfortunately we had planned for most things but somehow we had no cookies and had just ran out of milk earlier in the evening. Yes, I stink for not having this important detail ironed out before hand but fortunately Nicholas didn't mind at all. He was happy to leave Santa some white chocolate pretzels and bottled water...

...and Santa enjoyed them just the same!

Chrismas #1

Christmas morning is when we get presents from Santa and from each other as a family. Of course this means we have to haul everything over there just to be unwrapped and then haul it all back home. We do love having a big truck for our Christmas trips to Baton Rouge!

Nicholas started the morning with his stocking. He was excited to find his favorite dinosaur, Anklosaurus, waiting for him there. Then he started pulling out presents from under the tree. I was proud to see him correctly reading the To/From tags on the presents and giving them to the correct person to open. How cool is that?

Nicholas sang songs when he was really excited about a present. He started off with getting a few Star Wars toys which he lined up and called his "Star Wars aisle". As he got more cool toys that he added to the line, some of which were not Star Wars related, he decided to just call it his "Cool Pile". He likes the I Spy series but for some reason that one lone book was the only thing in the "Non Cool Pile".

He did well for Christmas #1. He got lots of Star Wars action figures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures, a complete set of Magic Tree House books, an I Spy book, The Star Wars Visual Dictionary, Star Wars movie DVDs, a Crayola Glow Station, and a Color Explosion Glow Board.

Santa even brought Rachel a few toys. Nicholas opened her presents for her and he was excited to show her how her toys worked.

But Rachel got bored with us all and decided she just wanted to go back to bed...

One of the presents under the tree was from Nicholas to me. It was a candle wick cutter and there is a cute story behind it.

I like candles and I have several of the big jar candles from Yankee Candle. As they burn down, you have to keep trimming the wick but it can be hard to get scissors down in the jar as the candle burns down. One day as I was struggling to get the scissors to cut sideways while my hand was holding them upright, I grumbled that I wished I had some kind of special scissors that could reach down in there and cut the wick more easily. I wondered if there might already be some kind of candle wick cutter out there. Honestly didn't know if such a thing existed but apparently Nicholas remembered what I said. As Christmas approached, Stuart asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I didn't have any ideas but Nicholas quickly told him that I needed a candle wick cutter. He repeated this suggestion any time discussions about a Christmas gift for me came up.

Just before Christmas, we were all at the mall and we happened to walk by a Yankee Candle store. Stuart took Nicholas in the back of the store store while Rachel and I hung around outside looking at their window displays. I could see Stuart holding something and talking to Nicholas about it. The next thing I know, Nicholas comes running out of the store and excitedly says, "Mommy! Mommy! We're getting you a candle wick cutter for Christmas!!" then he quickly runs back inside. I can see Stuart and the employees smiling as they look my way and look at Nicholas. I see Stuart tell Nicholas something then Nicholas laughs and bolts out the door again to tell me, "Mommy! We're REALLY getting you a candle wick cutter! It's a secret!" then he runs back inside. Stuart and the employees and even other customers are laughing now. Stuart smiles and shakes his head as he looks at me through the window. Stuart kneels down and talks to Nicholas for a moment then Nicholas runs back outside to see me. He says, "Mommy, we're not getting you anything for Christmas." then he runs back inside. I can see everyone in the store cracking up. A customer who had been inside the store watching all of this was leaving at that time. She smiled at me and said, "He's just so cute!"

Christmas #2

My parents and brother went along with our early Christmas plans so we headed over to my brother's house this afternoon. My brother loves Star Wars so Nicholas was excited to show off the action figures that he got this morning. Little did Nicholas know that there was more Star Wars fun to come!

Nicholas got more Star Wars action figures, a Y wing figher, Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, and 2 Super Friends DVDs. But everyone seemed excited about the Millenium Falcon ship that he got. Even I wanted to play with it! When Steve was little, he had all of the original Star Wars action figures and ships. I recall his Milenium Falcon but it wasn't anything like this modern day one.

We also had some fun with Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots...

The grandparents had lots of quiet time with Rachel. I hate it that we are only here for a few days because the next time they see her it will be either July or maybe even next December and she will be so much bigger by then. I wish we could come over here more often but there is a lot involved and tons of stuff to bring when you travel with two young children.

Uncle Steve played a lot with Nicholas. They played with the Star Wars toys but they also played sword fighting and played with a neat glider plane. He's a pretty cool uncle!

Baton Rouge or Bust!

Baton Rouge or Bust! We left Saturday to go to Baton Rouge for Christmas. Yes, another long trip with a 4 year old (Nicholas corrects me and says 4 1/2 year old!) and a newborn. Yes, we're crazy. Unlike the trip to Florida, this time we drove. It's usually an 8 hour drive but this trip took about 9 hours since we had to stop more often and for longer to take care of feeding Rachel, diaper changes, etc. To make the trip even more interesting, we had tons of things to get done before we left so instead of leaving at dawn like we usually do, we didn't leave the house until 3:00 in the afternoon! Super crazy, huh? The trip was fine though. Nicholas is used to the long drive and always does well. Rachel slept the whole way.

Needless to say, we all slept late the next day and lingered around Stuart's parent's house for a while before we got going. Then we had some errands to run and actually went to the mall on the Sunday before Christmas. Not our brightest idea ever. It took forever just to make it half way around the mall on the little service road the circles it. We met mom at Jason's deli for a nice lunch. It was her first time to meet Rachel. She is definitely a proud grandmother!

Today we hung out at Stuart's parents' house for a while. Nicholas likes playing with this toy keyboard that I think used to belong to Stuart when he was little. Stuart calls it a "keytar" becuase it's a keyboard that you hold like a guitar. Nicholas wanted to show Rachel how to play it.

One of the things we miss most about Louisiana, besides our friends and family, is the food. One of our favorite foods is hot cajun boudin made in a little convenience store in the Greenwell Springs area called Jerry Lee's Quik Shop. Don't bother with boudin from anywhere else. I've tried them all and none compares to Jerry Lee's. For those of you who don't know about boudin, it looks like sausage but in addition to meat, it also contains rice and lots of spice and flavor. I'm not sure what else is in boudin. I probably don't want to know the exact ingredients in it (or in their Hog's Head Cheese). But the final product is some really good stuff. Nicholas tried it once when he was little and we were surprised that he ate a lot of it because it is spicy hot. He doesn't like spicy foods these days but he tried it again today and ate about half of a link. C'est bon, cher!

We usually lounge around in the mornings when we are in BTR, mostly because we always seem to stay up way too late the night before. This morning, Rachel was the first one up and after feeding her I brought her to bed to snuggle. When Nicholas woke up he crawled into bed too right next to Rachel. They were so cute cuddled up next to each other that I had to grab the camera. Of course, as I was getting the camera, Nicholas got bored and rolled away, but they are still cute together.

So I started taking several pictures in a row and managed to catch this one by accident.

Nicholas was actually being sweet to Rachel at the time although it is hard to tell that from this picture. He told her to smile for the camera and when she didn't do it on her own he decided to help her do it. He tries to be a good big brother but sometimes he is just too eager to make Rachel do something. If she isn't looking at something he wants her to see, he will try to grab her head and turn it for her. If he wants to show her a spaceship he made, he will fly it within an inch of her eyes to make sure she gets a good look at it. He loves his little sister but we have to keep a close eye on him or he just might kill her with kindness. Rachel actually didn't mind the incident one bit. She loves looking at Nicholas and she always smiles at him.

Grandmother got lots of good "Rachel time" and even had her laughing in one of these pictures below.

Getting Ready For Christmas

We usually get out all of our Christmas decorations on the day after Thanksgiving. However, with a newborn in the house and an unexpected trip to Florida, we were a little late getting the house decorated. But it was fun just the same.

We always make a gingerbread house at Christmas but usually Stuart builds the foundation of the house for us. But this year, Nicholas and I tried to build the house by ourselves so it was up to me to build the foundation. Oh, what a mistake! It all started out well.

The walls stuck together just fine and I'm pretty sure I waited the required drying time before putting the roof on. But the roof was tricky. The roof panels didn't seem to line up and they didn't touch the top of the walls on all four sides so it never made a good seal all around to help hold it up. You can see the results for yourself...

Nicholas and I had a good laugh about our little gingerbread house that never was. But no crying over a demolished house. We just decorated the gingerbread pieces anyway. As it turned out, I think we had more fun than if the house had stayed together!

Another project we worked on was making a miniature Christmas tree for Grandmama Owen. She lives alone and I didn't think that she would likely do much in the way of decorating for Christmas. The thought of that just made me sad. When Stephen and I were little, she would put up Christmas decorations throughout the house and make little touches to make the house feel festive. She also put up an incredible tree full of colorful kid-themed decorations like Disney characters and such. It was such a fun tree! She always made Christmas special for us so I wanted to be sure she at least had a tree of her own, even if it wasn't as cool as the tree she made for us each year.

She loves reading and collecting books so I decided to make a book-themed tree. I searched all over for ornaments for a book lover, especially little ornaments of actual books. I couldn't find anything so I decided to make my own. I asked some advice from other crafty moms in my Early Childhood PTA and got some great ideas on how to make book ornaments. I got out some supplies and went to work.

I started with some thick foam board and cut them into little rectangles to make the pages of the book. Then I glued some colored cardstock around the pages to make the book cover. The book cover extended just a little bit past the pages in order to look more realistic. I wrote the title and author of any books that I know she likes and then threw in a few other classics as well. I also used some stamping ink to give the edges of the books some texture and make them look a little worn and distressed. Then I finished up by painting a coat of white glue over the book covers. It dried clear and gave a nice finish to the books plus protected them by making them a little more durable. Finally, I attached a string to the back of each book so it could hang on the tree.

Nicholas and I added some basic colored ornaments and some lights. Voila!

Christmas Chapel

Today Rachel and I attended the special Christmas chapel at Nicholas' preschool. Nicholas' class were dressed as shepherds and they sang, "Go Tell It On The Mountain". I wore Rachel in a fabric sling across my chest so I would be hands-free in order to take video or pictures of the performance.

I got a good video clip of Nicholas walking into the chapel and he waves at me then gets excited when he sees Rachel with me and he smiles as he points to her. As he keeps walking in he waves at some other boy in a pew and gives a "You're the Man" type of finger pointing to the kid. How funny! What's up with the pointing thing? :)

I found a good spot in the chapel for getting video of him singing from the stage. I was especially excited when I saw him in line and realized that he would actually be closest to the side of the chapel I was on (it was just a lucky guess on my part). However, with his shepherd's headpiece on it made it hard to actually see his face.

I was standing near the entrance as Nicholas and his class were leaving. The line he was in stopped for a moment just as he got close to me. Rachel was still in the sling in front of me and Nicholas couldn't resist coming over to me and giving Rachel a kiss then hopping back in line. Then he came over to us again and gave her several more kisses. What a sweet big brother.

Ok, finally, here's the actual video clip. Sorry it's a little bouncey at times but I was carrying Rachel in a sling and she got fidgety at times when messed with my recording a little.

After the performance, the class got together for a group picture. Nicholas is the one standing up in the back waving at me.

Nicholas was excited to have Rachel at his performance. He proudly introduced all of his friends to her and even introduced children's parents to her. We asked Mr. Whtittaker to take a picture of the three of us together. What a proud big brother!

Nicholas brought home from school a cute ornament with his picture on it. He wouldn't let me see it at first and only teased me by showing me the back side of it over and over again. He loves playing games like this, especially when I add a lot of drama to my reaction. Finally, he got a big smile on his face and he let me see the picture side. He couldn't wait to hang it on our Christmas tree.

Rachel's 2 Month Well-Baby Exam

This morning we took Rachel to her pediatrician for her 2 month well-baby exam. She is doing great and on target developmentally. She has Stuart's tall genes because she is 23 1/4 inches long which is in the 85th percentile. She weighs 12 pounds, 1 ounce which is also in the 85th percentile and perfectly proportional to her height.

She can lift her head well. She can follow a person with her eyes as they walk across the room. And she gives a big grin to people when she's happy to see them. This week she even laughed out loud when she saw me. It was so cute!

Although the doctor never asked about this ability, she is also quite good at blowing bubbles!

I asked the doctor to check the soft spot on her head and also just make sure that the rest of her head was shaping up correctly. He said that there is an area on the back of her head that protrudes out a little more than usual but he didn't seem concerned about it. He will check it again at the 4 month visit.

Rachel received all of the recommended vaccines for 2 months. There were several injections and she screamed her little head off. But as soon as it was over I scooped her up and held her close and she calmed down instantly.