Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Great Outdoors

In an effort to fill our last days of summer with memories, we went tent camping as a family for the first time last night. We packed our smores and hot dogs, borrowed a tent from our friends and set up camp at the 'Cheapskate Park' located ten feet behind our house.
In the picture you'll notice the circle of dead grass where the park's above ground pool was this summer. Our park even had wild animals walking about as you can see the small black bear (Liberty) snooping around the deck.

I know we didn't travel far, but we saved a lot on gas. Even though we were in the backyard, we still had trees, a bonfire and sleeping bags. I even lit some tiki torches for some 'Survivor' ambiance. Lady Di and I were hoping it would cool off a little since our tent was sitting in the sun and quite warm. The kids had their own two person tent and were excited to start camping.

I got the bonfire going and we started to roast hot dogs. When that was done Lady Di and kids asked, "What's next?"

"I don't know. I guess we just sit around the fire until dark. Camping, right?"

We watched the fire until dark and then headed inside our tent to watch a movie on the portable DVD player. Just like our pioneer ancestors.

When the movie ended, the kids got into their tent and we went to sleep in ours. I woke up about an hour later with frozen ears and nose. The temp had dipped down around sixty degrees and we only had one blanket because it was so warm before. As I went into the house for another blanket, I checked on the kids. Their little pup tent was toasty and both were snoring in their sleeping bags. When I stumbled back into our tent, Lady Di said that our dog, Liberty, was shivering in her bed so she snuggled between us under the covers.

Let's just say the rest of the night went better for the kids than for Lady Di and me. Inflatable mattresses are not very helpful to my back. Thankfully, around six AM, Sweet Pea woke up and said she had to use the bathroom. So I walked her into the house, making sure to carry my pillow with me. When she was done I asked her (tried to convince her) if she wanted to sleep in her room until breakfast time. She looked at me with a bewildered (what are you talking about) look and said, "No. I want to go back to the tent."


I went back upstairs to get my pillow to follow her out, but on my way to the back door, Number One Son and Lady Di were coming in the house to announce that camping was done. Both kids whined a little but didn't fight too much and got into their beds for another hour. Aside from the sleeping arrangements, I did have some fun. The campfire was nice and I got to see stars in the night sky at 1am. The kids had fun sleeping outside and actually did some playing and reading in their tent most of the afternoon.

Even though we didn't really rough it too much, it was enough for Lady Di and myself. I'm sure we could have prepared a little better, but we didn't think we had to in our own yard. Lesson learned I guess. We know that we need a little more room in the tent for all of us and we need to pack warmer clothes, even in August. I think we will probably try this again but we will definitely include a few more comfort items next time. (blankets, TV, fridge, X-Box)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

All Is Fair

We managed to squeeze in one more activity before summer closes its curtain. We went to the State Fair yesterday. We all hopped on the bus and were smelling fry grease and manure by 11:30am.

Our first stop, which is always our first stop, was the baby animal barn. Over half of the animals there now share a birthday with Number One Son. Some others were born the morning we were there. Sweet Pea was full of, "Oh, they're so cute!" exclamations. Each kid got to pet at least one of each animal there. After the lambs, calves, piglets, chicks, bunnies and ducklings we emptied our first bottle of hand sanitizer.
Then it was on to lunch. Like last year, we found a church dining hall but this year we took advantage of our State Fair coupon (cheapskate) book. N1S and I got a two for one hamburger basket and Lady Di and Sweet Pea had taco in a bag. Luckily, they changed their order from a family sized taco to a single sized. A family sized taco in a bag involved an entire family sized bag of Doritos.

Once our bellies were full, we started walking. And walking and walking. Much to N1S and SP's disappointment, we visited all of the old people places at the fair. The health building, home improvement building and modern living building. They perked up a bit in the eco-environment building, but that didn't last long. It seemed like every booth and stand were giving away canvas shopping bags with their respective logos on them. The State Fair is going green this year, and not just the 4-H building.

Luckily, Lady Di and I had just gotten enough freebies (including free bike helmets for the kids) when the kids' complaining reached its peak. That meant it was time to go to the Midway.

We took a short cut through the Kidway, but N1S could see that these baby rides were not for him. I was just hoping there would be a slower ride for SP at the adult Midway. I got a sheet of tickets (discounted from coupon book) and we looked for the safest thrill ride we could find. SP got scared and hid behind me just looking at the ride next to the ticket booth. N1S spotted the Scrambler and got in line. Lady Di was a nervous wreck. She doesn't care much for rides. At the same time N1S was getting strapped in by a licenced thrill ride operator (carny), SP decided to try the big spinning chain swing ride. As both kids were being whipped and spun around Lady Di and I were checking each kid for facial distress (crying) but were pleased to see both kids yelling, smiling and hamming it up for Mom and Dad.

The rides ended at the same time and both kids came running. "That was so awesome!", they almost said in unison.

Now they had to up the ante and find even more thrills. N1S and I both spotted a spinning, twisting upside down contraption and said, "Oh yeah!" Lady Di saw it and said, "No way!" N1S and I then begged and pleaded and got our way. Then I got nervous. Once N1S's ride really started to spin, I caught short glimpses of his somewhat serious looking face. Was he really scared and just barely holding it together to make it through the ride? No. He got off and yelled, "That was the best ride of my life!" I guess we don't need to worry about big rides anymore for him. We used the rest of our tickets on a few more rides and headed for a treat on our way to the bus for home. This was the kids' first visit to the Midway and they each were getting rubber necks from taking in all of the wonder of carnival games, lights and noises.

We ended the day with cotton candy and shakes from the dairy barn and enjoyed our relaxing ride home on the bus. Well, it would have been relaxing if the three sugared up and over tired four year old girls wouldn't have sat next to us. We spent about six hours at the fair and once home, the kids went straight to bed.

Our summer has really been pretty active for our standards. It's getting so the kids now expect something to happen every other day.

I can tell you one thing, tomorrow will not be that day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Double Digits

Happy Birthday Number One Son! I can't believe you are ten years old. It's been an exciting and rewarding ten years for all of us. You've been growing up too fast since the day you arrived three months early. You have been a blessing for Lady Di and I since then too. Where have the last ten years gone? It's hard to believe you once weighed only three pounds and fit in my palm. Now you are almost as tall as Lady Di and your palm size is creeping closer to mine each day. I'm happy that you are ten and at the same time I don't want you to be ten yet. There were many years in your life that I just wanted to freeze time. When you were born. When you walked the first time. The first Christmas that you could talk. Your first day of school. Your first score in a basketball game. Whatever age you were, I wanted you to just stay that way forever. Then you reached another milestone or did something else that filled me with pride and I wanted you to stay at that age too. It's natural for a parent to want their kids to stay small and innocent as long as possible. I have be content with enjoying the now, remembering the past and anticipating the future. The most important being, getting the most out of the present to make the past as memorable as possible. The best part of it is, no matter how fast you grow, no matter how many birthdays you celebrate, no matter how big your hands get, you will always be my boy. Happy Birthday Son!

Here's a few pictures of him. Some old, some new, all N1S. Don't let Sweet Pea know that there aren't any pictures of her. We'll get her pictures up next May.

I hope you noticed that only two of those pictures were from Halloween. You're growing up too fast, kid. Let's make the next ten years slow down a bit.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ollie, Ollie Oxenfree!

With summer racing to an end and school looming on the horizon, we have been trying to squeeze all of our summer fun into the last few days. I have a few days off from work, so I want to have fun with the kids.

We have already been up north and out west. We went to the Science Museum a couple times and to the beach multiple times. So what is left to do this summer?

Play hide and seek.

The evenings have been cool and surprisingly humidity and bug free. Perfect for a real, outside hide and seek game. We usually aren't too active with the kids in the evenings because behavior seems to drastically plummet the later the kids are up. But the last few evenings have been too perfect to sleep through.

The kids, of course, hid first. Sweet Pea hid behind a tree right next to where I was counting. I may have pretended not to see her in the past, but she is six years old now. She has to learn how to hide.

When it was my turn to hide, I remembered the most important consideration when choosing an adult hiding place. Comfort. Because you always end up hiding for a long time since the kids like to 'search' in the same spots over and over again. So I chose a spot behind the wood pile, found a nice flat board to sit on, folded my arms and leaned back to nap (hide). True to form, the kids 'searched and searched' while my back got stiff. Number One Son tried the age old hide and seek trick of standing in the middle of the yard and yelling, "Found you, Dad!", hoping he would fool me into revealing myself.

Eventually, they accidentally wandered close enough to me to almost trip on my feet. Now it was my turn to seek again. The kids actually found good hiding places this time. It took me a while to find N1S, and I had to give up on Sweet Pea. It turns out SP employed a common hide and seek maneuver by changing her hiding place mid-seek. When I was seeking I checked the play house first and while my back was turned SP dove into the play house while I was combing the rest of the yard. When it was my turn to hide again, I thought about just going around the house and going inside to watch TV while they looked for me. I guess I didn't want to give that secret away quite yet.
These are truly the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. I want to keep the last week of summer low key but fun. We can find lots of things to do at home and have fun as a family. Next on the list, freeze tag, stuck in the mud and duck, duck, gray duck.

Here's a couple of pictures of the kids' trip up north to visit the fishing Gramma and Grampa.

So far it's been a great summer. Hopefully, we will end the summer in similar fashion. We have a trip to the State Fair planned next week. A laser tag birthday party for N1S. And lots of bike rides, picnics and bug catching.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quiet! The Olympics Are On.

The Stuff household has contracted Olympic Fever. I don't know why, but this year's Olympic games have got us hooked. The opening ceremonies were pretty spectacular and the kids really enjoyed them. Now, every morning, the kids decide to split half of their cartoon watching time with the Today show, to see Olympic updates. Once the real games come on in late morning, it's hard to pull them away. I guess it's always hard to pull them away from the TV, but at least watching the Olympics is a little more educational.

For example, Number One Son now knows the rule differences between indoor volleyball and beach volleyball. One team plays to 25 and the other plays to 21. I think that is what he told me anyway. Plus the uniforms are drastically different.

The Olympics are also providing opportunities to expand our vocabularies. Quite often I will hear N1S exclaim, "Ooooh, that was a tremendous dive!" Or he will utter, "Oh no, that fall will be disastrous for her score."

I could also tell that he is paying attention to some of the individual athletes. When women's swimming was coming up next, he excitedly said, "I hope Katie Hoff is in this race."
How does he know who Katie Hoff is? I don't even know who Katie Hoff is. She did happen to be in that race, and she was the favorite. N1S knows his stuff.

Sweet Pea's Olympic interests are less academic and more kinetic. She has been jumping, running and cartwheeling along with the athletes. She also is asking if she can be in gymnastics again. I have a feeling a lot of gymnastics and swimming camps are going to see an increase in enrollment due to Olympic fever. I even caught N1S 'rowing' in front of the TV while following the two-man rowing team.

Even the medals ceremonies have inspired Sweet Pea to display all three of her soccer medals earned in the past two years along with an inspirational and nationalistic poster.
Hopefully, we will be motivated to emulate some of the spirit of the games into our lives, long after the Olympics are over. Sportsmanship, national pride and exercise are all worthy goals to reach for. The kids both start swimming lessons next week. I'm sure there will be many mentions of Michael Phelps. If they want to be like Mike, that's fine with me. I won't be able to afford the new Olympic Speedo swim suit that is breaking all records this year. So the kids will have to make due with t-shirts and trunks. As for myself, I'm still petitioning the Olympic committee to include Lawn Grooming for the 2012 games in London.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mission Accomplished

Last week the kids visited Gramma and Grampa for a week. This was Lady Di and my big chance to do something fun. Aside from seeing The Dark Knight at the IMAX, we mostly enjoyed the quiet.

Lady Di actually got a big project completed during our short vacation. She painted Number One Son's room. She really did a good job too. She chose colors that matched his bedspread. Blue, green and orange. She had to include orange because it's N1S's favorite color.

Last year, N1S hinted at wanting his room painted green with a giant Yoda mural on one wall. Lady Di compromised and still used green, but put this on his wall instead.

Needless to say, N1S really likes his room. Although, when he first saw the words, he said, "They're OK, but it should say 'Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away." Then he said, "It's OK, Mom, I'll just tell my friends you're not a very big Star Wars fan." We then double checked our facts and played one of N1S's Star Wars movies. It turns out that Lady Di is a bigger Star Wars fan than N1S thought. She was right, N1S was wrong. The force must have guided Lady Di.

Lady Di had already painted Sweet Pea's room two years ago with her favorite color, yellow. But just so SP wouldn't feel left out, LD included this to her wall above her bed.

Lady Di really knows how to paint. She doesn't enjoy doing it but she knows she has to, to keep me away from a brush. Lady Di paints straight lines. I paint DUI lines. Lady Di uses smooth brush and roller strokes. I like to put diagonal to random patterns in the paint. Lady Di keeps paint off of the trim molding. I end up with 'Spiderpig' footprints on the ceiling and paint drips where paint drips shouldn't be.

So as long as Lady Di keeps transforming plain boring walls into warm, vibrant rooms, I will let her. And if she ever needs a splatter pattern or a big thumbprint on the wall, I'll be there.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Big Show

The Summer Olympics are finally here. It's time to celebrate the best athletes in the world by sitting on the couch for hours watching them run, jump, punch, wrestle and not sit on the couch. The Olympics also remind me how long ago it was that my legs actually sprinted somewhere beyond the bathroom.

In an earlier post I mentioned my interest in the Winter Olympic sport of curling.

The Summer Olympics are different for me. I can't pick out a favorite event. I enjoy the track and field, cycling, boxing, swimming, diving, gymnastics and just about every other event. I don't care much for Olympic basketball or baseball though. I guess that's because those sports can be seen every year. I like the uniqueness of having to wait for a sport every four years.

Last night I thought it would be educational and entertaining to watch the opening ceremonies with the kids. We all were pretty impressed with the $100 million fireworks display and basketball court sized LED television screen. Number One Son repeatedly exclaimed, "How can they do that?", referring to the thousands of dancers with costumes that lit up. The kids practically pressed their noses to the TV screen to see how the athletes ran around the big glowing globe. We also tried to figure out how they made those hundreds of square shaped boxes go up and down in such precise patterns. Was anyone else surprised when hundreds of Chinese poked their heads out and waved? Sweet Pea enjoyed most of the show. She also practiced her cartwheels in the living room, probably inspired by the athletic gracefulness of the dancers.

One drawback to the opening ceremonies that I discovered is that, if you start watching them with your kids, you have to watch them all the way until the United States team marches around the stadium. Which turned out to be around 10PM. Oh well, it's not often that the kids get to stay up late. N1S made mental notes of how many athletes each team had and Sweet Pea made note of what the athletes were wearing. I wondered when the Chinese cheerleaders would collapse from exhaustion during the parade of nations.

I hope we can make watching the Olympics a family tradition. It's fun, historical and inspiring. I do have one question though. Why are the beach volleyball uniforms so much skimpier than the indoor volleyball uniforms?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Empty Nest

Last weekend the family and I trekked out west to South Dakota. You may ask, "Why would you go to South Dakota?" Because it's super fun and interesting and not at all boring.......and Gramma & Grampa live there.

After enduring the five hour (2 DVD) drive, we unloaded and started the fun. N1S and I got to go golfing with Grampa. N1S had some really good shots, but hitting golf balls was only the chore to complete between golf cart rides.

Gramma then rolled out the slip and slide for the kids to cool off. We had a cookout where Lady Di made some incredible steak and chicken kabobs for the grill. Those kabobs will probably get us invited back.

The weekend was only marred by one event. We all went for a walk around town and ended up at the high school football field. When we stopped to sit on the bleachers, we were chased away by a swarm of angry hornets who must have been nesting close by. I was trying to swat them with my baseball cap, but one sneaked through and stung N1S on the back of the neck. Lady Di and I both felt terrible for him. After about 2 minutes of howling, he calmed down enough to ride his bike home and tell Gramma all about it.

We left on Saturday with only half a van full. The kids got to stay for the week, and we will pick them up next weekend. It sounded like Gramma and Grampa had a full schedule for them too. They had a trip to the museum planned as well as golfing, swimming and 4-H days.

We still call every night to talk to the kids and it sounds like they are so exhausted at the end of the day that they are asleep before they hit their pillows.

We miss them terribly but we can use this break to get caught up on some things that we have put on the back burner for so long. Lady Di is using this mini vacation to paint N1S's room. I am working all week and not much else. We did get to sleep in on Monday though, which was nice. With the kids gone I'm noticing that it is much quieter in the house. It takes three days to fill the dishwasher with dirty dishes instead of one. And I now have extra time to post about new subjects. Should I write about the problems of society? Local politics? The meaning of life?

So many choices....................................................................................................................................

Is it time to go pick up the kids yet?

Stuff About Me

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I'm a 40 year old dad of two. My wonderful wife, Lady Di, and I try to keep the kids from blowing things up here in central Minnesota.