The Adventures of Spoon and Captain Jack

Thursday, July 5, 2018

90 Years Young

This past May, my dear maternal grandmother turned 90 years young. To celebrate this milestone, my family gathered in Brainard, Nebraska for a party over Memorial Day weekend. I know my mom was stressed about the details, but we pulled off the surprise, and the guest of honor was visibly moved. In fact, when she saw her children, grandchildren, and (most of) her great-grandchildren all gathered in one place, Grandma said that if felt like she'd "died and gone to heaven."

I only have seven first cousins. However, since my dad was an only child and my mom only has one brother, that means that all seven are siblings. I have so many fond memories of playing with "the cousins" on holidays and in the summer. Even though we didn't get to see each other often, when we did get together, it was as if no time had passed.

The same is true today. Everyone has grown up and scattered a bit (me most of all, I suppose), meaning that it is rare that we are all in the same place at the same time. In fact, I can't remember the last time all ten of us were together. So, it was very special that we all were able to be present to celebrate Grandma.

Jon, the girls, and I arrived in Nebraska the night before. We told Grandma we were coming to town because Jon had an Army course in the Midwest. This was true, but we didn't tell her that the real reason we were there was her party. It only required a small amount of sneaking around to get the cake and roses to the cafe the following day and a bit more coaxing to get Grandma there for lunch. But we did, and what a special moment it was to join the chorus of "Happy Birthday!"

It was a relatively laid-back affair, but prior to our buffet of broasted chicken (still not totally sure what that means), all of the great-grandchildren in attendance presented the Birthday Girl with a rose. The result was a beautiful bouquet...and admittedly a few tears.

When you're 90, you get two cakes
The rest of the afternoon was spent eating, drinking, playing (lots of shuffleboard), and catching up. Probably my favorite moment was when the cousins skipped out to re-create the infamous "stair photo" that hangs, appropriately enough, above the stairs in Grandma's house. The last time we took one of these pictures featuring the ten of us lined up according to age was 1995, so needless to say, some things had changed.   

Obviously that was not the only photo taken throughout the day. Jon was the unofficial group photographer and snapped lots of great shots. We even managed to get a giant group photo, which was no small feat. As we were organizing this photo, someone made the comment to Grandma that she was responsible for every person surrounding her: kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. What a legacy. Happy 90th Birthday, Grandma! We love you!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Elsa is FIVE!

Five...there is just something so significant about that age. Perhaps it is the fact that when asked how old she is, Elsa can now proudly display her entire hand. More likely, however, is that five means that kindergarten now beckons from the not-so-distant future. Whatever the reason, there was great excitement from everyone surrounding this birthday.

Elsa spent the past year in pretty much the same fashion as the year before with school, ballet, and playdates rounding out her schedule. That said, she has grown up tremendously...but in a sneaky way. It wasn't until I looked at pictures from a year ago that I realized Toddler/Preschooler Elsa has morphed into a full-on kid, right before our very eyes. Her hair is longer, yes, and she is taller of course, but she has also added some impressive skills to her repertoire, including sounding out words and riding a bike without training wheels, both of which she does with an endearing confidence.

Some things haven't changed, however, one of those being her love for all things birthday. For months, Elsa had been planning the festivities. This year's stipulations included a pink and purple butterfly cake for a butterfly birthday party. Fortunately, my homemade version of the cake was acceptable, and wearing butterfly wings with a butterfly shirt and skirt combo was enough to fulfill the theme.

A labor of love...just don't look too closely
Due to our schedules, we planned to have the requisite birthday party at the park the Sunday prior to Elsa's actual birthday. This was fine...except we spent the evening before in the ER with Lena, who had broken her collarbone on a canoe trip. (Side note: we made it almost five years without a visit to the ER, which is not too shabby.) Needless to say, it was a late night/early morning making final party preparations, but everything went off without a hitch, and the birthday girl (and her bandaged little sister) had a great time.

We had a few days to recover before the official day, and we did our best to celebrate with all of the Birthday Girl's favorites. May 10th fell on a Thursday this year, which meant that the festivities began early. Jon had to travel in the afternoon, so he took the morning off of work and was there to wake up Elsa, and more importantly, make her scrambled eggs for breakfast.

The entire crew escorted Elsa to school, where her class serenaded her with "Happy Birthday." Special occasion rules dictated that we pick her up early, and the guest of honor selected Railgarten for lunch. For those outside of Memphis, Railgarten is a restaurant/bar/ice cream parlor/playground/concert venue within walking distance from our house. It's awesome, and we promise to take you there if when you come visit. Elsa was more interested in swinging and climbing trees than eating, but when it's your birthday, you can do what you want.

Hot and sweaty, we returned home to open presents (Elsa), take a nap (Lena), and pack (Jon). After dropping Jon off at the airport, Elsa participated in the mandatory sheep photo shoot. I swear, that thing keeps shrinking; it gets smaller and smaller every year.

Yes, I know this is a more zoomed in photo, but still!
As the Birthday Girl and her sister were too busy playing at lunch, their left-overs provided dinner, which we ate picnic-style while watching a movie, per request. We rounded out the evening with more cake and a final rendition of "Happy Birthday." 

Elsa received many books for her birthday--thank you, family!--but the one we chose to read before bed was Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!, the final selection from Books from Birth. Quite possibly the best thing about Tennessee is that every child is eligible to receive one book per month through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. As this was the last book, there was a brief note from Dolly to the "graduate." As I read it, I was surprised at how emotional I got. Up until that moment, I was completely wrapped up in the excitement of all things birthday, but then I suddenly got choked up at the realization that my baby is FIVE (again, not sure why that is such a big deal...but it is!).

No doubt the year ahead will be an adventure, but for now, we'll continue to bask in the birthday glow. Happy 5th Birthday, Elsa!


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Lena is TWO!

Once again, we have a two-year-old in the house...and Lena is every bit of two. Her vocabulary grows by the day, yet as Jon has astutely observed on multiple occasions, she still has "more feelings than words." It's difficult to not catch her contagious exuberance, and it's nearly as challenging not to laugh when she throws herself on the floor in frustration.

Lena has continued to grow by leaps and bounds--physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. You'd think we'd know what to expect, but Lena often surprises us with her new words, incredible balance, and yes, even funny jokes. She worships her big sister, but can also hold her own whenever Elsa tries to take advantage of her older sibling status. Since the day she was born, Lena has always been a lady who knows what she wants.

This year, she even knew what she wanted for her birthday: cupcakes. She has quickly picked up the excitement surrounding birthdays at our house, even breaking into her own version of "Happy Birthday to You" any time someone lights a candle. She got to hear multiple renditions of the song on her birthday and broke out into a huge grin each time.

Lena's birthday--January 19th--fell on a Friday this year, so the festivities began early as Big Sis still had to go to school. Sleepy as she was, the birthday girl still enjoyed her birthday decorations and the scrambled eggs she got to have for breakfast. Mom doesn't make scrambled eggs, so it was quite the treat.

Dressed in her sparkly birthday skirt and headband--and paired with R2-D2 socks--Lena helped drop Elsa off at school before accompanying me at Stroller Strides, the mommy-and-me exercise class we've attended pretty much since her birth. After class, we celebrated with a little party with our exercise friends.

We picked up Elsa at school and headed to a lunch meeting, which we followed with a much-needed nap. (Thank goodness because I still hadn't frosted the aforementioned requested cupcakes.) We had just enough time between the nap and dinner with Dad to have a requisite photo shoot with Mike the Sheep (Elsa finally gave him a name).

Birthday "Silly Face"
We knew it was a futile effort to ask Lena where she wanted to eat dinner, but we tried anyway. Once we figured out that she would say (an uncharacteristic) "yes" to every suggestion, we gave her the option to have either Jon's favorite restaurant--pizza--or Elsa's favorite--hamburgers. Lena chose pizza and "hot cheese," so we had a yummy dinner and then came home for cupcakes and presents (thank you, family!).

We continued the festivities the next morning by hosting a birthday brunch with a few friends.

Birthday Brunch Monkey Bread
Both kids and adults had a lovely time, leaving us all with that warm, fuzzy feeling that only community with others can bring. Overall, we had a fun, laid-back, satisfying birthday celebration.

Happy Birthday, Little One! Bring on the "Terrific Twos"!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Into the Woods

After probably years of talking about it, we actually did it. We took our first camping trip as a family.

It will not surprise anyone to know that Jon is an expert camper. He went on lots of camping trips as a kid, and obviously his Army training has equipped him well to fend for himself in the woods. That said, he had never been responsible for our entire crew in a tent, so he was anxious to give it a go. For whatever reason, he has persisted in his assumption that I don't like camping. Not true. I just haven't done it as much. (He must have forgotten all about the stories of an epic camping trip in Prince Edward Island, Canada with my college roommate.) I was and am totally on board with camping, although I am very glad that we did a "practice run" by sleeping in a tent in our backyard.

We decided to camp for two nights over Memorial Day weekend at the urging of some friends who also were ready to try camping with two small children. We arrived at Fort Pillow State Park, about an hour and a half northeast of Memphis, on Friday afternoon. We set up camp--and by "we," I mean Jon, as I mostly baby wrangled during this time--and had dinner. Jon was certainly in his element with all his cooking over fire, fancy knot-tying, canoe packing, and general camping expertise. I think our friends were impressed...and grateful for his knowledge.

Our home away from home
After the requisite s'mores for dessert, everyone settled in for the night. The next day began fairly early, but it was not because of our human alarm clocks. In fact, Elsa slept nearly an hour after everyone was up and stirring. I didn't realize it then, but I think that extra sleeping time is when the assault happened. Elsa is our mosquito magnet. She is so sweet that mosquitoes love her. I'm guessing that we must have let some in the tent when we got up, and since she was the only target, she had the battle scars to prove it. The poor child had bites on top of bites. Her hands and ankles--the parts not covered by her pajamas--looked so painful.

Luckily, the distraction of fun activities kept the itching at bay. After breakfast, we headed out for a "hike." I use the term loosely because there's just as much whining as there is walking with little ones. At any rate, we walked through the woods for a bit. Elsa was jazzed to try out her new "bee-noculars," and we got to see some cool caterpillars, too.

Nothing could possibly go wrong in this scenario
Next it was time for the dads and big kids to take the canoe out on the lake. There were attempts at fishing, but it is admittedly tough for three- and four-year-olds to have the patience necessary to catch a fish.

Once the moms and little ones returned from the playground to pick up the boaters, it was time to head back to camp for a dinner of delicious shish kabobs. The kids continued playing at and around the campsite. Who knew that gravel and cooking utensils could provide so much entertainment?

After dinner, Jon took Elsa back to the lake for the ranger-planned sunset canoe ride. While it ended up being less organized than expected, it was a special time for dad and daughter.

Check out the cool lantern set-up
Jon immediately jumped into storm preparations when he and Elsa got back to the campsite. We knew we were going to get a storm, but I don't think we were aware what we were in for. It couldn't possibly have been as bad as in Memphis--where the storm resulted in the third largest power outage in city history--but it was still scary. Miraculously, the girls slept through the entire thing. We stayed nice and dry in our tent, and it didn't blow away, so we are extremely thankful to have weathered the storm as it were.

It was certainly wet on Sunday morning, but it didn't rain any more, so we had a leisurely breakfast and took our time packing up. Overall, the trip was a success, and I foresee more camping trips in our future... fact, last weekend, we camped out again, this time via bike.

A local bike shop organized the trip as part of a larger adventure promoted by a bicycle bag company out of Seattle. Jon was interested right away, but it took us a while to figure out the logistics and keep our fingers crossed that the weather would hold (we were not interested in a repeat storm story). We finally decided that Elsa would ride on the back of Jon's bike, and Lena and I would drive, meeting the group at the campground. According to Jon, Elsa did great the nearly two-hour ride to Shelby Forest.

And they're off!
We had a fun time camping with a rather eclectic group, most of whom we'd never met before that day. I'm sure some of them thought we were crazy for bringing kids, but Jon thinks that we just proved that you can still do cool things with little ones in tow. As a bonus, some friends who live nearby met us on Sunday, so Elsa and Lena got to play with another kid after all.

While we may not be touring western Europe or basking in Norway's midnight sun these days, we're still having adventures, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Elsa is FOUR!

Gone is our "threenager," and in her place is our dear, little "fournado."

You would not believe all the things one can do now that she is four and no longer three. It may seem as though most things are the same, but to Elsa, it's a whole other world of possibilities. Speaking of possibilities, Elsa's imagination has exploded this year. Sometimes it's a challenge to remember everyone's alter egos as they change on an almost daily basis. We discovered Star Wars this year, so at least when we play that, we have a fighting chance of guessing who everyone is. (For the record, Elsa is nearly always Princess Leia while Lena is R2D2, which makes sense because they're both little and make funny sounds.)

These games of pretend are also popular with her friends at school, so most accounts of her day included who was Mom or Dad (or Sister or Brother, etc.) Elsa continued attending preschool three days a week, but instead of going to Kindermusik (now Lena gets to go), she began taking ballet. This girl loves to dance, and we could not be happier with her wonderful ballet studio. In fact, the end of the year performance took place on her birthday, which was the perfect way to cap off her special day.

Elsa has understood and been excited about her birthday for a while, but this year, she was full of anticipation for months. Nearly every day, she asked whose birthday it was. I happen to have a pretty good memory of people's birthdays (and Facebook for the ones I forget), so I was often able to answer the question.

As usual, we stretched out the celebration for a bit. Jon was at Army training on her actual birthday, but we were so fortunate to have Grandma in town. The birthday girl was delighted to wake up to balloons and streamers and her favorite breakfast of scrambled eggs. Since it was a school day, Elsa got to share ballet-shaped cookies with her friends...that were delivered by that day's "Mystery Reader." Elsa was so surprised to see her grandma walk into her classroom to read that day's story--it was a special time for everyone.

After school, we took the birthday girl out for lunch at the "tractor restaurant" (Memphians will recognize this as Belly Acres) where she had ample time to drive the tractor before we ate some pretty tasty burgers. All the excitement must have tired her out because she actually took a nap when we got home--a birthday miracle!

I'm so glad she did, though, because that night was the aforementioned ballet recital held at the Levitt Shell, an outdoor amphitheater located at a nearby park. Elsa, of course, stole the show--not that I'm biased--but the sweet girl cried afterward because she only got to dance one time. Fortunately for her, she got to dance some more down in front of the stage along with many of the other little dancers.

Getting sassy with the sheep
I'm also glad we had the foresight to take the infamous sheep pictures beforehand because once we got home from the recital, it was all we could do to keep the girl of honor awake long enough to sing the birthday song and eat strawberry shortcake (this year's cake request).

We held off on Elsa's birthday party until Jon returned and celebrated at the park with "Sundaes on Sunday." It was a beautiful day, and everyone seemed to have a great time swinging, running around, flying kites, and of course, eating ice cream sundaes.

I just asked Elsa what she would like to say about her birthday, and she said, "I had a fun party after my birthday. That's what I would like to say about it." Couldn't have put it better myself.

Lena is ONE!

Please forgive me, Lena. As the second child myself, I know what it's like to feel forgotten and left out (teasing, Mom). It was not until I started to write Elsa's birthday post--late, of course--that I realized I never posted yours. I wrote it (still late, but back in *February at least), but for whatever reason, never published it on the blog. At least you're too little to mind too much...right? 

She did the #1 finger all by herself, I promise

In the blink of an eye, an entire year has passed and Lena is one. How did that happen?

And since her birthday, just a few short weeks ago*, it seems as though she has grown leaps and bounds. Perhaps not physically--since we grow our babies on the petite size around here--but in many other ways. It has been a great joy to watch Miss Lena's spunky personality start to emerge, and there is no doubt that she is going to be able to hold her own with Elsa. An early walker, she has already proven that she intends to keep up with her big sister. Lena is getting better and better at communicating in her own way, and I can't wait for all the words she will quickly learn to articulate. So far, we're enchanted with "da" (dog) and "uh-oh."

As I recall (through rose-colored glasses perhaps), the year between one and two was kind of a sweet spot. Old enough to do more things and be more interactive, yet still young enough to be relatively easy-going. Hopefully this will hold true for Lena as well.

For being only one-year-old, she really does seem to understand what is going on. I know she doesn't completely get birthdays the way she soon will in this family, but it was as though she recognized that January 19th was--and forever will be--a special day.

Lena's big day began with a birthday march (Elsa recently learned about marches in conjunction with MLK Day) and the first of several renditions of "Happy Birthday." We had a breakfast of little-people-sized pancakes before changing out of birthday pajamas into a new birthday outfit.

Since Lena's birthday fell on "Adventure Day" (which are Thursdays, when we have nothing scheduled), we went downtown to watch the duck march at the Peabody Hotel before meeting Jon for lunch. If you ever find yourself in Memphis, I highly recommend seeing the ducks on a rainy winter weekday. The girls were pretty much the only kids there and got a front row seat along the red carpet. I think many of the other guests were watching them more than the ducks.

Then we walked over to meet Jon at The Little Tea Shop. Another Memphis plug: you must eat at this restaurant, if only for the cornbread sticks. Even though we don't go there often, the owner and staff still remembered us and made us all feel special. In addition, Lena inhaled everything we put in front of her, so I think we made the right choice.

In the evening, Lena got to open gifts (thanks, family!) and enjoy a special birthday cookie...and of course, another singing of "Happy Birthday." We wanted to save the requisite messy cake and icing for her birthday party in a few days, but the birthday girls seemed satisfied with the cookie. All in all, everyone had a wonderful time celebrating the glorious occasion of Lena's birth.

We hosted a small party the following Saturday, serving chili and cupcakes. You know, appropriate food for a one-year-old. I feel like I sabotaged her a bit, by interrupting her lunch for the big blowing-out-the-candles production, so I wasn't entirely surprised when she cried and raised her arms up to be taken out of her high chair. The attention, the singing, the birthday hat, the candle--it's all very overwhelming.

Lena didn't really touch her "smash cake," so we tried again in a more low-key setting the next day. There was no crowd, no candle, no additional distractions. Full of anticipation, we set the cake in front of her...and she cried again. I think the child is afraid of pink frosting. So, not the reaction we had hoped for, but this was not the first--and certainly not the last--time Lena has defied expectations.

Happy Birthday, Little One! We can't wait to see where the next year takes you!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Vacation at a Cabinet

We used to be such good travelers. As often as we could, we would take off on an adventure somewhere far away or even sneak in a quick weekend getaway. But then kids came along and different job responsibilities, and the opportunity just hasn't presented itself like it used to. I won't use the girls as an excuse for why we don't travel as much anymore, but I will blame our lack of exotic adventures for why I don't keep this blog updated as often.

We still find ourselves out of town with some regularity, but with family far away, the bulk of our travel is devoted to spending time with loved ones in Washington, Kansas City, and Nebraska. These visits are great, and we always have a good time...but they're not exactly vacations. For that reason, we took some time after our Christmas visit to the Midwest for a family vacation to Mountain View, Arkansas.

When we decided we needed a vacation--since we couldn't remember the last time we'd taken one--we'd originally planned to go somewhere that a) had snow for skiing and outdoor activities and b) would allow us to unplug. We'd initially thought Wisconsin would be a good choice, but then we actually looked at a map and realized it was much farther than we wanted to go, particularly after our Thanksgiving roadtrip to Washington DC (written about here). So then we thought Iowa would be a good option. We'd still have snow, but it was much closer to Nebraska, where we'd spent Christmas. But, alas, our plan was thwarted by Mother Nature. The only snow we saw was at the beginning of our trip (that forced us to drive all night to Kansas City). Elsa made the best of it, though:

She's already a better skier than I am

Fortunately, we're flexible because Option C proved to be an excellent decision. On our way back to Memphis from Kansas City, we stopped in Mountain View, Arkansas, a small town near the Ozark National Forest, and stayed in a "cabinet" (what Elsa mistakenly called our cabin, and the name stuck) for several days. I could feel myself relaxing as soon as the trip began; it was just what we needed.

Arkansas Traveler, our home away from home

We ventured into town for breakfast the morning after we arrived. It was a quaint downtown, and now that I think about it, a lot like Kirksville. We found a small cafe and had a delicious meal made even better by the fact that an anonymous stranger picked up the tab. Talk about hospitality! We browsed in a few shops before the day's big adventure: Blanchard Springs Cavern.

It was my first trip to a cave, and it did not disappoint. (Lena, however, was not impressed and slept in the carrier most of the time...although to be fair, it was close to naptime.) The man who designed the lighting did a tremendous job because all of the rock formations were so striking.

"Soda straws"

The tour was really informative, and we learned a lot. It may sound obvious--or not--but I hadn't really considered the fact that caves are living entities that are constantly changing. Very cool.

After our time underground, we had to check out the Blanchard Springs, as well.

The only way to guarantee they'd stay still for a picture

That was enough activity for the day, so after dinner at the cabinet, we were in for the night. The next day we decided to return to the forest for a short hike. I'm not quite sure what happened on the drive over, but when we arrived at the trailhead, we had one sleeping baby and one pouty preschooler. Elsa and I began the hike, but had to stop numerous times throughout. At least the scenery was beautiful. Before we finished the short loop, Jon and Lena joined us so we could all finish together.

"Take a picture when I point this stick at you"

A snack seemed to perk Elsa up, but she still requested to go back and take a nap--she must have been really tired from our travels--so that is what we did. Jon and I took advantage of the opportunity to do a tag-team run (one ran while the other stayed with the girls, and then we traded) around town and through the woods. Once everyone rested as long as they needed to, we set off on a quest for fish for dinner. Unfortunately for us--but fortunately for them--all of the local restaurants advertising fish from the river were closed during the offseason. We had to settle on a Mexican restaurant instead.

The next morning was a flurry of activity as we (and by that, I mean Jon) packed up the car for the seventeenth time during the break. It was a short drive back to Memphis, and we returned home rested and rejuvenated, ready to begin a new year.