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Tiaras and Trucks

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Last Hurrah

As I sit down to write this post, it's cold in my house, and we're contemplating turning on our heat.  However, I found some pictures on my camera that tell another story - one that unfolded only last week.  Michigan, for all of its faults and shortcomings, has moments of pure beauty as well.  One of those times is the precipice between summer and fall, when the trees are beginning to show signs of magnificant fall colors but the air is still heavy with sunshine and humidity.  There may have been a few teases at true fall weather, with colder mornings and dampness in the evenings, but summer holds on tightly here for that final hurrah.

The kids and I took advantage of the last afternoons of summer by hitting the park as the sun started its downward arc towards sunset.  Though she couldn't be expected to understand the significance of  these last moments of summer, my girl seemed to sense the change in the air.  She investigated the changing leaves, exclaimed over the acorns littering the sidewalks, and attacked the slides and ladders at the park with reckless abandon.  Abbey is usually a tough sell when I am ready to leave for home, but the promise of making dinner for Daddy was enough to coax her away from these stolen moments of play.  As many parents of two-year-olds can attest, getting her to leave without a tantrum of any kind made these visits to the park just a little sweeter.

What a difference a week makes, though.  The air is brisk; we're taking inventory of fall clothes and jackets and tights.  Welcome to fall in Michigan.

so warm that Dylan's hanging out in just a onesie 
Abbey was supposed to be putting on her shoes
she's trying to figure out if there's any coffee left in that cup 
boy in onesie next to brown, fallen leaf 
a girl on a mission 
the leaves are changing
one of my favorite parts of the season 
that's some serious sliding  
checking out some dogs

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Education, Capitalism, and Tutus

What, those things don't go together?

When Abbey goes to dance, I wait in the lobby.  I can leave her in the room by herself, but I'm not ready to leave the premises quite yet.  Besides, it's an opportunity for Dylan and me to hang out on our own, and I don't really want to spend it in a car.

The first week, we spent most of the time hanging out with a mom and her youngest son.  I also met her oldest son and saw her daughter.  All three were wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the name of an exclusive private school in our area for gifted students.  And by exclusive I mean crazy expensive.  I realize in some parts of the country, expensive grade schools are a dime a dozen, but where we live, even most of the private schools don't cost the equivalent of a year at Harvard.

Education is something I think about all the time, and those three shirts really made me consider the role money plays in education and the inexorable ties between the two.  The school in question, as I mentioned before, really plays up the fact that it is geared toward "gifted" children.  Don't get me wrong; the mother was lovely, and her youngest son was polite and articulate.  (Plus they couldn't compliment Dylan enough, which never hurts!)

But really?  Three truly "gifted" children in one family?  Yet, their parents are paying for them to be educated as gifted children, and they will never know an educational experience that isn't tailored to help them succeed in every way.  As a former teacher, I can only imagine the education that the teachers are able to provide at a school like that.  Tiny classes, involved parents, and curricular freedom to explore and work with student strengths, weaknesses, and (most importantly) interests.  That's just the beginning, because an education at a school like that can open academic doors all the way up the ladder of success.

Less than fifteen miles away, children are wasting away in classrooms without books, in buildings permeated with violence, in a district so plagued with problems that there are talks about the state taking over control of an entire public school district.  Teachers enter those classrooms with high hopes and dreams of educating those children but find themselves roadblocked by problems too extensive to get into in one blog post.  I know, because I worked in a school similar to those schools.
There are gifted kids in those schools, too.  I actually believe that the majority of children have the potential to thrive in the right environment, with the right tools and the right teachers to find their own particular gifts.  Knowing something happens in theory is one thing, but seeing it in practice is another, and it's tough to know that a thirty thousand dollar check, give or take a little, can buy a gifted label.  And though there are pitfalls to every situation, even the privileged ones, it's pretty obvious that a child with a thirty-thousand-dollar education enters the world on a different plane than the child who had to enter his or her classroom through metal detectors.

To lighten the mood, some pictures of my to-be-educated-by-public-schools-unless-I-win-the-lottery kids...

(If I did somehow win the lottery, miraculously since I don't buy tickets, I would buy them the best education I could find for them.  Which may or may not include a gifted label, because I don't know if that is a blessing or a curse, but that's another post, I think.)
ready for week two
the braid went back into a ponytail, but it keeps her hair out of her eyes
hanging out with Mommy
charming the ladies
flirting with the dancers
drooling on his shirt
all in an hour
on the move
because he likes to grab for the camera

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Growing Into This Sibling Thing

When I was throwing a load of laundry in the machine the other day, Abbey came downstairs practically in tears.  When I asked her if she was ok, she replied in frustration, "Mommy, Dylan won't listen to me!  I want him to put the food in the cart, and he won't listen."  Well, now she knows how Ryan and I feel, right?

And so goes the story of a big sister and little brother figuring out how to play together.  When Dylan first came home, she went back and forth between loving on him and ignoring him; she recently went through a phase where she made it her mission to push him off of any toy he managed to get into his little hands.  Now, she's decided (most days at least) that she wants him to be able to play with her. 

For the most part, that involves them laughing at each other, since he's too young to really "play" with most of her toys.  She gets excited about the silliest things; at bedtime tonight, he was standing and holding onto the side of the bathtub, and she couldn't stop laughing.  On his end, he find every single thing she does enchanting and beyond hilarious.  He could laugh at her all day.

And I could watch them in that silly state the rest of my life.

"Mommy, I will wear my big sister hat to the park.  Put on Dylan's little brother hat.  Please."
oh, and it definitely was not raining
asserting his independence and ripping it off immediately
poor little bald guy needs a hat and despises them
after a nap, he was more amenable to wearing the hat
she is so happy he is able to swing with her
he likes swinging so much and holds on like a pro
(even though I only push him about three inches in either direction)
kicking off the rain boots
watching Abbey go "higher, Mommy, higher!"

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Until We Sleep

We have sleep issues.

Abbey has never been the best sleeper; she rarely naps, although she is in a much better mood when she does, and she is generally up at least once a night.

Dylan, however, is proving to be even more of a challenge.  He wakes up a lot to eat, which I am working to stop.  Of course, he won't take a pacifier, which is making it hard to get him back to sleep without feeding him.  In addition to the multiple wake-ups, he doesn't love his crib; he's happiest sleeping near other people.  Unfortunately, neither Ryan nor I are comfortable becoming a co-sleeping family, so we are powering through the crib issues.

Like I said, we're working on it.  It's one of the most frustrating parenting issues we've dealt with to date, because the lack of sleep is making us all slightly off our games.  Something that is creating an additional headache for me is that I am finding myself bookended by polar opposite viewpoints being expressed by various people in our lives.  I feel like half of the people I talk to think we're crazy for not implementing hard-core sleep training (complete with lots of crying) and the other half want me to drink some mommy-martyr kool aid that will convince me that I'm crazy for expecting to sleep more than an hour at a time on any given night.  Maybe it's the lack of sleep, but I find myself gritting my teeth and implementing the "smile and nod" anytime sleep comes up in conversation.

I try not to complain about the lack of sleep, and I'm not really looking for advice when I do talk about it.  I did a ton of sleep research with Abbey, and now we're just trying to find something that 1) we're comfortable doing and 2) works for Dylan (since obviously not all kids are the same). 

I guess it's something about parenting that really brings out the Ann Landers in people.  Hopefully D will sleep soon, but until then I have a feeling I'll be pulling out the smile and nod a few more times before then.

I am so glad we painstakingly researched cribs and mattresses.
"And (to quote Forrest Gump) that's all I have to say about that."

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A Map of Me

This week's writing prompt was a Mad Lib of sorts.  It reads a little awkwardly in parts, but I plan on working on it a little more at some point to make it more polished.  I wanted to link up, though, since I've enjoyed reading a lot of the others.  It really made me think about how much a part of me my family truly is, and how lucky I am to have the one I do. 

A Map of Me

I am from a tattered Care Bear lovingly cherished for twenty-seven years and counting, from a tooth-shaped pillow, complete with a pocket to facilitate the bartering of tooth and coin, and from a carefully kept Fisher Price farm that my children now batter on their grandma's family room floor, opening and closing the mooing barn door.

I am from the brick colonial sandwiched between a high school without windows, a fire station, and a now-shuttered penny candy ice cream parlor, blanketing me in the value of an education, safety, and sugar.

I am from the red plaid blanket from which I learned the game of soccer, watching my brother shoot across cleat-trampled grass.

I am from the saltless waters of the Great Lakes, sending breezes through the smothering humidity of construction-filled summers.

I am from family trips to Niagara Falls, where I learned to love amusement parks on an oversized Candian ferris wheel.

From petite, curvy women, from my beloved cousins, and from Great Granny and the grandfather I never knew, except in faded photographs and grainy home movies.

I am from the unwavering optimism of my mother and unfaltering cynacism of my father, seamlessly blending into a bubbly half-full cocktail of sarcasm.

From "you gotta B-E-L-I-E-V-E" and "when you tell me not to worry about it, that's when I know to worry".

I am from the melancholy pagentry of Catholicism, practiced devoutly by my Godmother, currently searching for a parish and an epiphany, longing to reconcile my faith and my convictions.

I'm from the land of labor unions and assembly line overtime paychecks, fueled by the comfort of Vernors and the greasy familiarity of Better Made potato chips.

From my Grandma Rose admonishing me to always sleep on silk pillowcases, the way my Nan adores red shoes, and the way I think of my Pap whenever I see white stars on a blue background backing up to stoic red and white stripes.

I am from my mother's china cabinet that cradles Hummel figurines alongside my brother's kindergarten portrait of our uncle.  I am from her mantle that showcases an ever-changing photo gallery of our family.  I am from her wall, where my Uncle Jim's painting of Lockport reminds me of where our family began, even though the mitten state is the only home I've known.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Borrowing from the Bank

I did my homework this week for the Back to School blogging challenge! The first part of the homework involved making a deposit of ten ideas into the Idea Bank; the second part was writing a post using one of the ideas from the bank.

I want to write about a childhood memory that still affects how I feel today. It’s a memory that I mull over more than necessary, especially since having a daughter.

Nursery school was a pretty rocking time, from what I recall. I remember a cool wooden loft that was used as a story nook, cute little cubbies to hang our things, some beanbags to play with, a shady outdoor area.

And a lady that told me little girls shouldn’t eat as much as little boys.

she said what?
I know, Dylan, crazy, right?

To back up a bit, my best buddy and partner-in-crime back then was a little boy named Craig. So one day, at snack time, we were having chocolate pudding. Craig and I were sitting at a mini-table, on those mini-chairs, another one of our friends was sitting there as well. I was excited to have our snack, excited to be sitting with my friend, and when Craig took a giant helping of pudding, I spooned the same mega-scoop into my little bowl with a smile.

And the nursery school helper immediately told me that I shouldn’t have taken so much pudding. She said it sternly. She told me that girls do NOT eat as much as boys.

At four years old, I didn’t have body image issues. But I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed, and a four-year-old shouldn’t feel ashamed about a little extra pudding. It obviously impacted me a lot since I still remember it with crystal clarity, even though most of my early memories are much hazier.

I cringe when I think about that sharp statement and the countless other off-hand remarks that have shaped my body image. I know I can’t keep Abbey in a sparkly, pink bubble, immune to society’s immense pressure on girls to look a certain, often unattainable, way. I can’t bottle the innate self confidence that children possess and save it for her to breathe in the first time she hears one of those negative remarks.

But I do my best every day to strive to feel better about myself, so that she grows up watching me feel comfortable in my own body, complete with its imperfections and its strengths.

If she takes a little extra pudding one day, because her best bud Brendan has an extra large helping? I’m pretty sure she’ll make up for it by running around, laughing and smiling the whole time.

a friend is borrowing last year's ladybug costume
Abbey (of course) needed to try it on
to be honest, the tutu is in regular dress-up rotation 

she was bummed to let it go
I tried to explain that Ella will bring it back
a good lesson in the concept of borrowing?

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dance Like Nobody's Watching*

Abbey's birthday is in February, which means that she is a little young for most preschool programs in our area.  Not to mention that we weren't sure about sending her yet, anyway.  Those of you who spend time with our girl know that she can be slow to warm up to new situations.  Once she opens up, she is a chatterbox and a sparkling ball of hilarity (in my opinion of course!), but it can take a while for her to get there.  Like so many things in parenting, this presents a bit of a dilemma - would school be beneficial or traumatic?

We're dodging that decision for another year, but Ryan and I agreed that it could be helpful for all of us if she took some sort of class, on her own.  Like so many toddlers, she doesn't particularly like to listen to her father or me, so we thought we would see what would happen if she had another adult teaching her about listening and following directions.  Of course, there aren't tons of options for classes for little ones, especially since I didn't want to do a parent-tot class.  (I don't have anything against those sorts of classes; we did one when Abbey was littler.  However, I know how she acts when I'm in the room; I wanted her to have a chance to do something without me.)

So what to do?

Trying to keep her interests in mind, we found a dance studio that has a preschool class without a three-year-old age limit.  Abbey and I went to the studio, met the teacher, saw the classroom, and had several conversations about how I would not be coming into the class with her.  She seemed excited and prepared. 

I was excited.  Not prepared. 

When she put on the little leotard and tights, I was absolutely astounded by how grown up she suddenly looked.  Somehow, without any warning, she has morphed from our snuggly little baby to an independent little girl.  I walked her back to the classroom, and she calmly stayed with Miss Amanda.  If she cried, she didn't do it in front of me, and she didn't do it enough for them to come and get me!

Since that class, she has shown me what she learned multiple times and seems excited about her new adventure.  I've asked her about it so many times I'm beginning to annoy her.  The last time I asked, she said, "Mommy, I told you I liked my dancing.  Now I want to draw a lion."  I haven't quite relaxed about it one hundred percent, but I was able to breathe a little better after that.  We'll see how it goes this week!
we read an Angelina Ballerina book before bed about five nights a week
she LOVES Angelina
luckily Angelina has a little cousin, Henry, or she would already have Dylan in a tutu
Angelina again?
dressed up and ready for her first class
her little arms are blurry because she wouldn't stop dancing
still dancing in her clickity click shoes
checking to make sure her bow is straight
finally still
getting ready to go into class

*The quote is Satchel Paige - words to live by

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Monday, September 20, 2010

The View from the Sandbox

In this installment of "Why Grandma Rocks*", please meet the sandbox.  At the beginning of the summer, the sandbox was actually the pool.  Now that the weather is morphing into fall, my mom decided to fill the pool with play sand.  Abbey is in heaven; Dylan is starting to find sand pretty enjoyable as well.  Needless to say, we spend time in the backyard each time we visit my parents, which is about once a week.

My dad decided to completely fence their backyard.  Honey Bear is in heaven.  (That might not seem important, but it does have relevence in this post.)

the little yellow bat next to the sandbox is Abbey's golf club
the pool looked a lot bigger at the beginning of the summer
by next summer they might need a bigger sandbox
back to that Honey Bear comment
Honey Bear makes sure that the yard is safe for all of us
in order to do that, she lets the dogs next door know who's boss
there are three dogs next door
the smallest is probably twice Honey Bear's size
she is not impressed
the kids found it so interesting to watch, especially Dylan

*I don't actually have a series called "Why Grandma Rocks," but I probably should.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Welcome to Mars

Remember that whole Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus craze?  I never read the book, because I didn't need a book to tell me boys were different than girls.  (I was in high school when it came out.  I didn't understand myself, let alone the opposite sex. 

Dylan is only eight months old, and I already feel like I am on a different parenting planet than the one we landed on when Abbey was born.  Now, I'm going to go all generalization-crazy here.  Keep in mind I am talking only about my personal experience with my research group, sample size two.  I know that all kids are different, personalities play a big part, blah blah blah blah. 

Yet, I'm telling you, there are stereotypical differences already.  I had a moment of panic when I was pregnant and exhausted and having a rough day with Abbey.  (We didn't know if we were having a boy or a girl.)  I realized that having two teenage girls at once would be terrifying but that having a little boy to chase all around the world was equally terrifying.  I calmed myself down by thinking that not all boys were wild beasts and that I could always invest in wine if we had another girl (just kidding about the wine.  I think.)

I'm sure it's true that not all boys are wild movement machines, but our boy is all over the place.  I remember being able to leave Abbey in the family room with a couple of toys while going to throw in a load of laundry.  I would come back, and she would be calmly playing in the same spot.  If I do that with Dylan, there's no predicting where he will be when I return.  We hardly child-proofed with Abbey, and I am already trying to decide just how many gates and cupboard locks are too many, really?? 

So welcome to Mars.  I can't imagine what it's going to be like when he is walking running all over.  I feel grateful that we've got our little Venus around to balance things out.  And by balance things out, I mean throw tantrums that generally stay in one place.  Because no matter what planet they're from, both are so wonderfully challenging and wonderfully rewarding in their own ways.
until we get another gate, we stop him however we can
foiled again
he doesn't let himself worry about it for too long

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Dog Ate It and Other Bad Excuses

So, I'm participating in this fabulous blogging challenge, which is supposed to do a couple of things for me. 

1) Improve my blog.  Now that I'm writing more, I want to make it a little more user-friendly, especially for people who enjoy reading my ramblings as well as checking out my cute little munchkins.

2) Allow me to connect with other cool bloggers, for example Jackie, who was my partner this week.  She spent some time looking objectively at my blog and gave me some things to think about in order to make some improvements.  She has cute kids, too, click over there to see them :)

3) Fulfill that school itch that set in when this former teacher/lover of school realized that this was the first fall since pre-school that I wasn't buying school supplies for something. 

Unfortunately, this is the first week, and I'm already behind!  I got all caught up in my blog inspection and let my head go to la la land, dreaming of major improvements (navigation pages, more tagging, easier ways to find what you need).  I had an assignment (find a widget, love it, blog it), and instead I'm wandering around, making wishes, blowing dandelions in the wind. 

Not cool.  I only stopped teaching nine months ago.  I should know that you don't write a master's thesis without doing some research and serious drafting.  Baby steps.  Next week I will buckle down and focus on the actual assignment instead of getting all ADHD on myself. 


Slide Slide Slippity Slide

I was cautious, perhaps overly so, with Abbey when she was a little bitty thing.  I was strict about organic foods, didn't let her watch any TV until after she turned two, kept her away from sugar and overly processed foods (her birthday was the first time she had anything cake-like.)  Poor Dylan doesn't have those safeguards in place, partially because we are so busy now.  The poor guy can't seem to get his organic puffs in his mouth (they get stuck to his chubby little hands), but he deftly used his pincher grasp to snag an Extreme Cheddar Goldfish from Abbey's bowl, gummed it, and swallowed it before I leapt the laundry baskets to save him from that deliciously cheese-powdered cracker.

I wonder sometimes if I need to bring back the caution a little.  Have I started to careen down a slippery slope?  We started letting Abbey watch Sesame Street a couple of weeks ago, and she is in love.  (And I am absolutely shocked to see Gordon and Maria are still on, plus some lady with a rocking nose ring.  Props to Sesame Street  for keeping it cool.)  Have I created a monster?  Started a downward spiral that will lead to a life of Nick Jr., processed food, and a knock-off of Lady Gaga's now-infamous meat dress?


We had a Grandparent's Picnic this past weekend, and I enlisted Abbey's help in making Oreo Truffles.  Behold the results.
please notice the bib
it's Dylan's, except he won't wear it
she asked to wear it for the candy making
it's the first time she's worn one in over a year
kids can be silly

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Zippity Zoo Da

Another week, another day at the zoo, this time with some of our favorite people - Colleen, Brendan, and new baby Lainey.  Sorry Lainey, I didn't snap any photos of you in the carrier.  Both Lainey and Dylan spent the majority of their zoo visit strapped to our respective chests, enjoying their rides and providing a little extra calorie burn for the mommies.  Seriously, I have those Sketchers flip flops that are supposed to help you tone your legs and tush, and they never seem to do anything.  Throw D in the Ergo for a zoo visit, and suddenly I feel like writing a testimonial for them!

Of course, it didn't hurt that we were at the zoo for about fourteen days.  Abbey and Brendan had a blast hanging out and checking out everything.  By everything, I don't necessarily mean the animals.  Animals were visited, don't worry, but so were zoo benches, random blades of grass, and some plucked marigolds.  (The marigolds in question were NOT picked by our children, although it was touch and go for a few minutes trying to explain why they couldn't pick the flowers after watching another little girl do it.)

All in all, the zoo delivered, as usual.  We have paid for that membership so many times over.  I almost feel guilty about it!
so excited to see her great friend
"the turtle you ride on"
filling cups with water
and dumping out water
and filling cups with water
a rock to climb
a pipe in the ground to explore
a tiger to visit
an elephant to hug
Handy Brendan, a close cousin of Handy Manny's is fixing the ground for the elephant
Handy Brendan's skills were also needed on various benches and fences around the zoo
the ice wall
copious amount of hand sanitizer are always used after the ice wall
no photographs, please
look at that little smirk

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Physics Lesson

There’s a law in physics that talks about every action having an equal and opposite reaction. I think. Now, I know I could Google this information pretty quickly, but I don’t want to do that. First of all, if I’m wrong, then the concept of this post won’t work. Secondly, I prefer to remember all of the limited physics knowledge I have coming from the school of Mike Cannon of Las Vegas – one of the greatest TV shows ever. Don’t underestimate Mike Cannon; he went to MIT, people!

Anyway, I’m off on a tangent (and I DO know what that means, thank you minor in math). What I want to talk about is how parenting is a lot like physics. Parenting involves a ton of anticipation; from the moment you pull the pregnancy test out of its foil wrapper, you’ve opened yourself up to the greatest sort of anticipation in the world. Boy or girl? Who will the baby look like? Shy or outgoing? Blue eyes or brown? The list is endless.

I’m learning, though, that for all of that anticipation, there’s an equal amount of regret involved. Maybe regret isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s something more like “what in the world was I thinking????”

For example, we watched Dylan for days when he was on the verge of crawling, anticipating his first little scoots across the floor. Adorable, right? I had to remind myself of that a couple of weeks later, when I left the room for about thirty seconds, only to return to find him perched on the top of the little picnic table in the dining room.

I remember waiting for what seemed like forever to hear Abbey’s sweet little voice say its first words; now there are days when I think I might pull out my hair if she starts one more sentence with, “I want…”

I’m currently lamenting the fact that Dylan seems to be a worse sleeper than Abbey, which I wasn’t really sure was possible. Yet, I know that one day I’ll be waiting for them to crawl out of bed after a late night out (I remember my own teenage years), and I started to think about how at least now I know they are safe at home, in bed or in our arms, and there’s something to be said for cuddling a baby well into the morning hours.

Basically, the physics of parenting states that for each moment of realized anticipation comes a bit of regret. Each of their little phases are so fleeting and sweet, and wishing them away simply so that I can get a better night’s sleep is only going to come back to haunt me in the end.

Of course that’s easier to say right now than it will be at 2:45 am when Dylan’s up for the sixth time in an hour…

MIT, feel free to contact me at your convenience for the guest professorship on Parenting Physics. You should see my kids demonstrate that irresistible force/immovable object law (or something like that.)

Photo evidence showing they already like to prove me wrong:
maybe the problem is that we expect them to sleep in their cribs?
he fell asleep before I even got his little pants all the way up
of course getting pants over a cloth diaper does take a little extra time
she didn't fall asleep with shoes on
she stayed asleep when I put them on
we were running late (of course that's when they decide to sleep)

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

West Coast Cousins

My cousin's sons are in town visiting their grandparents, and Abbey and Dylan were able to spend some time with their second cousins.  (I think second cousins is right; I am not so good with keeping those relationship titles straight.)  Ben & Zach are so sweet and funny, and we enjoyed seeing them.  They even taught Abbey how to play a game involving a little pirate chest and fake gold pieces.  How fun is that?

the clan
forgive my exposure issues
playing the pirate game, matey
Abbey and Zach tied for first
Ben was not pleased
meanwhile, Dylan enjoyed having Grandma all to himself
what a fun little spot
he isn't going to fit there much longer!
Aunt Karen bought Abbey a little bubble blower
it was love at first sight
hi Grandpa!
I can do it!
did you catch that?

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