One, Two, Three, Four

Since we moved to Utah, my children tend to have multiple birthday celebrations.  One on the official day of birth, one before or after with friends from school, and possibly another one or two at a grandparent’s house.  Oh, the spoilage.

Last year William had three parties.  This year, only two.

The first was during our vacation to Cedar City for the Shakespeare Festival (more on that later).  I made him this shirt to wear, just to keep the general public informed.

His grandparents took him bowling, and at dinnertime he even was serenaded at the Pizza Factory, and as a reward for enduring that travail, he was given an ice cream sundae.  (Ah, the Pizza Factory.  You gotta admire the restaurant that admits up-front that its food is not prepared by humans.)

The second party was for friends and relations, and held the day after we got back from vacation.  (Yes, right after.  It was painfully exhausting.  But it was the best time for all involved.  No regrets.)

It was . . . a COWBOY party!  Woop with the theme pulled from my Big Book of Party Themes!*

We made vests out of paper bags!  (Brian was the one who figured out how to turn the bags inside out without tearing them.  Because what kind of self-respecting cowboy runs around with “Freshness Guarantee” and a giant picture of a peach on his back?

We played “sidewinder jump!”

We lassoed a rocking horse!  And later ran around with squirt guns!

My main contribution was this horse cake.  William insisted on the Life Saver bridle bits.  Yes, the cake design is also from The Big Book of Theme-y Themes:

Why do I always take pictures of the candles being blown out?  It’s like William is frozen in time, forever spewing spittle all over a horse-shaped sugar confection.

The only real challenge now is trying to make William understand that he is just four, not five.

“But I had two birthdays, Mom,” he explained.  “One for turning four, and another means I’m five!”

I explained that this was not the case, but who can blame him for being confused?  We always stick on one extra birthday candle on the cake, “to grow on.”

“You’re just four, Wimmy.”

He nodded his head sagely, then immediately went back to being a “baby bison,” currently his favorite fantasy play.  Who needs to deal with numbers games when the open range awaits?

*That’s right, The Big Book of Parties For People Who Can’t Think of Any On Their Own.  People think I’m really creative, but the truth is that I’m just good at finding other people’s good ideas.  And then milking ’em for all they’re worth.

Katie’s Half Birthday

We have a little tradition in our family of celebrating a baby’s first half-birthday (that is, when they turn six months old).  We make a half-cake, top it with a half candle (Brian takes great pleasure in cutting a candle in half lengthwise) and then sing “Happy Half Birthday to You” while the baby blows the candle half-out.

Older siblings usually blow out the other half.  You can read about William’s half birthday here.  Katie’s was much the same.

William helped me frost the half cake.  He took his duties as Quality Control Inspector quite seriously.

The finished half cake is below.  I was gratified that it turned out well.  A recent attempt at making yellow cake was a spectacular failure.  This one, on the other hand, was perfect.

Everyone was so excited to celebrate!  We told Katie that if she was a good girl and ate all her carrot puree, she’d get to watch us eat her birthday cake.  She thought this was a great idea!

After cake came the giving of the half-gift.  Half-gifts in the past have included baby socks and half-finished handknitted sweaters.  William and I went shopping together and picked out this:

It’s a little mini-blankie shaped like an owl.  We’re hoping it deters her from finding and chewing on other cloth objects, like Jeffrey’s discarded socks.  (Yeah, ew.)

Eleanor used the package ribbon to make a “crown” for our little half-birthday girl.

She is getting improbably big.  How dare she grow so fast! — although we love every inch.

Finished Up

What’s cuter than a kindergartener in a graduation cap?  Well, I’ll show you:

SEVENTY kindergarteners in graduation caps . . . making FIST PUMPS!*

This was all part of the graduation ceremony/singing presentation given by the entire kindergarten class at the end of the school year.  And it was only 40 minutes long!  And that included time spent at the cookie table afterwards!

I only mention this because Jeffrey’s kindergarten singing program was TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG. I love hearing little kids sing, but that was a little excessive.

Speaking of Jeff . . .

The second grade finished the year with a program about Africa.  Sweeping cultural generalizations aside, I found it pretty cute.  It was basically the same thing as the kindergarten program, only with more songs about world peace.

Each of the kids made these really cool animal masks as part of the study unit.  Jeff made the lion mask there.  Nice, eh?

*Oh, the fist pumps were part of a song called “America Rocks!”  While I’ve nothing against synthesizer-heavy patriotic power anthems from the 80s, I still can’t understand why the kindergarten kids can’t learn a patriotic song like “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” or “America the Beautiful,” or something else they’ll be expected to know the words to later on in life.  But then, again — “America the Beautiful” has little potential for cute hand motions.  No fist pumps there, bro.

Allergies vs. Cold

The cottonwood is blooming, which means itchy eyes, a runny nose, and more sneezes than I know what to do with.  For me.  Nobody else is affected, which means I spend a lot of these sunny afternoons watching my children through panes of glass as they frolic in the backyard.

Katie, meanwhile, is dealing with her very first cold.  This means a runny nose and weepy red eyes for her.  It also means that if she’s awake, she needs to be held.  By somebody.  Most often, me.  You put her down?  WAAAAAAA!  (From her.  And then, me.)

I have essentially turned into a human Barcalounger for a three-month-old.  My activities are limited to what I can accomplish with only one hand:

1. reading

2. surfing the Internet

3. loading/unloading the dishwasher

4. goading children into homework/piano practice with a riding crop

Well, maybe not the riding crop.  But that’s about it.  I made an attempt to stir-fry green curry vegetables while holding Katie, and ended up accidentally dumping half of the vegetables on the floor.  Aaargh.  And keep in mind that during all this, I keep sneezing — and I’m a repeat sneezer, ricocheting off at least 5-7 sneezes with every go.  (My personal record?  23 sneezes in a row, set when I was fourteen.  It hurt.)

In other words, not a whole lot is getting accomplished around here.  But I’ve found that, when parenting newborns, one of the secrets of success is to have very low expectations for yourself.  Caring for the baby is the Main Job.  Everything else is just gravy, right?

Right?

If only I could convince my nagging sense of guilt that this were true.

Hooray for Baby Girl

Last Sunday was Katie’s baby blessing.  I’m all in favor of baby celebrations, although they are kind of a cruel joke for a new mother.

“Hey!  You look exhausted!  Why not throw a lavish luncheon for your closest family and friends?”

I never had to uphold this tradition with my first three kids — they were born in Pennsylvania, far from family, and so there was no pressure to play the hostess.  But to tell the truth, I kind of missed having a bit of a party to celebrate my new little ones.  So, with Katie, I decided to throw a party on such a level as to represent the births of all four kids.

Also, it gave me a reason to finally try out some recipes I’ve been had in my To Be Cooked pile for ten-odd years.  I mean, is my cookbook shelf a warehouse, or an vibrant contribution to household information?  (Yeah, that’s the libarian talking.)

Both sets of grandparents were able to be there, as well as all three of my brothers and their significant others.  Cousin June was thrilled to sit with Eleanor and William during church services, and likewise Jeffrey was by Uncle Alex the whole while.

Katie, being the mild-mannered girl she is, was quiet and complacent during her blessing.  Someone (I can’t remember who) said that she spent her time slowly gazing from one face to another during the ceremony.  What a lovely girl.

I can’t quite remember everything Brian said during the blessing, except that it was very touching and sweet.  I just remember one thing: about Katie growing to love her brothers and sister as much as they already love her, so they can all learn and grow from each other.  This has always been my greatest wish for my family, so it was very heartwarming to hear it in Katie’s blessing.

Afterwards, we all trooped over to my house for a splendiferous feast!  Featuring:

Ham

Yellow Pepper Frittata (with artichoke hearts, yum)

Steamed Asparagus with creamy dill dip

Croissants

Fruit Salad with honey-lime-mint dressing

Smoked Salmon Bites!

I put the exclamation point here because this was by far my favorite dish of the day.  They were very easy to make and TASTY.  I know it’s kind of pretentious to use caviar in a dish, but I’ve never done it before and CARPE DIEM.  And the cost isn’t all that bad when you’re only buying one ounce, OKAY?  Here’s the most perfect one I made.  It was consumed shortly after taking this photo:

And for dessert?  Carrot cake, which I’ve been craving for a whole month.  Speaking of which, I think I might go carve myself a leftover slice right now . . .

The post-luncheon entertainment included acrobatics performed by Grandpa and various little grandchildren.  A class act all around.

 

Cinderella Story

Eleanor is almost six, but is already quite clever as clever.  Today we celebrated her coming birthday with a Cinderella party.

When the girls arrived, I put head scarves on their heads, gave them dusters, and ordered them to clean the house, or else they wouldn’t get anything but bread and water for supper.  They totally got into it.  The living room is now totally dust-free.  Brian even found it to be a good excuse to wash the windows.

But soon, the Prince (Jeffrey) arrived to deliver this royal invitation:

Wow, right?  The Wicked Stepmother (me) said that they wouldn’t be able to go since they didn’t have anything to wear, and the girls ran off to Eleanor’s bedroom crying “boo hoo hoo.”  (And giggling the whole time.)

The Fairy Grandmothers were there to help the girls change into “dresses” made of crepe paper and ribbons.  Eleanor’s dress-up box provided extra glamour. They were a little hesitant about going to the “ball,” though.  “Do we have to dance with a prince?” one girl asked.  “Not kisses!” squealed another.

This is where my mom was totally the star of the ball.  She got the girls to hold hands and do some improvised English-country-style dancing.  Very cute stuff.

Then the clock struck twelve!  (Coincidentally, it was noon exactly, so I didn’t have to change the clock on the mantel.)  Each girl took off one shoe and left it behind before running back to Eleanor’s room to change back into “rags.”  When the girls came back, they discovered that Brian and the boys had hidden their shoes all over the room.  As each shoe was found, Jeffrey put it back on its owner’s foot, and William gave her a paper crown.

What better way to celebrate the end of a Cinderella story than with a Royal Feast?  I made a chocolate fudge cake with strawberry frosting.  I’ve never tried strawberry meringue frosting before, so it was kind of an experiment.  Eleanor loved it. I think the chocolate cake overpowered the strawberry flavor, so maybe next time I’ll pair it with vanilla cake . . . OKAY, ENOUGH CAKE COMMENTARY!

The big hit after cake was this lovely teepee that my mom made for Eleanor.  It’s so amazing!

The girls crowded right in.  We could hardly get them to come out when the party was over.  Fortunately, I had a fresh batch of Tiger Tails (these caramel-marshmallow lollipops that I make every year for Ella’s birthday) to lure them out.

Jeffrey and William are just as thrilled with the teepee as Eleanor is.  Eleanor was happy to give her Kaya doll a tour (the horse was her birthday gift from Brian and I), and Jeffrey immediately tucked Kaya into a bedroll.  Adorable.

Baby Smiles

Katie has begun to smile over the past week.  The smiles are always big, beautiful, and far too brief, like a flashlight with faulty batteries.  For a few fleeting instants, Katie’s face looks like it has a personality beyond “feed me.”  I’ve been trying to get a photograph of one, but the smile is always over before the camera’s ready, so instead I have a lot of pictures of Katie looking adorably cross-eyed and confused (in other words, same as usual).  I’ll post a smile as soon as I manage to get one.

In other news, Katie has also begun to recognize voices.  If she’s crying in her crib after a nap, she’ll calm down as soon as I enter the room and start speaking to her.  Diaper changes are no longer the traumatic experiences they once were.  Nursing is a cinch; she knows just what to do.  Best of all, she’s still growing at a fabulous rate.  She’s topping 10-11 pounds by my estimate, and her body is sturdy and strong, without any more of the fragile floppiness that so often plagues newborns.

And she’s still beloved by all.  A charmed life, in other words.

Archaeology

We had a Family Home Evening lesson about journal writing last week. It was secretly part of my plan to get Jeffrey interested in writing — I’ll do just about anything to get him to practice handwriting, which he hates.

So, we talked about the benefits of journaling, and I even hauled out a few of my old journals to show the kids.  One was a little chubby volume covered in faux-Chinese embroidered fabric, used when I was ten.  The entries are brief, with a lot of page space taken up with fancy, loop-de-loop embellished signatures.

Fancy signatures were, apparently, an important thing for me when I was ten.

The other volume was one I kept in high school.  The entries are longer, of course, but are still plenty of drawings and sketches in the margins.  Jeffrey was nonplussed at first, but a few days after the lesson, he picked up the journals and began to leaf through them.

He couldn’t really read them (they’re in cursive) but was fascinated with something that, for him, seemed quite old.

“Mom!” he exclaimed.  “These books are history! They are part of our family history! They are ancient artifacts from thousands of years ago!”

I hastily explained that the books were only 15-20 years old.  Which I knew for him was an era shrouded in the Mysterious Mists of Time.

“Whoa,” he said, “These are the oldest books I’ve ever seen in my LIFE!”

Which, of course, is not true, but why spoil it?  Jeffrey now sees me as a semi-mystical scribe of ancient lore, and who am I to ruin that?

Actually, I discovered that spending time reading funny stories from my journal was the best way to get Jeffrey to write in his.  I found a description of a Young Women’s activity that went awry — while singing a slow, inspirational song to folks at a rest home, the accompanist accidentally hit the “demo” button on her electric keyboard, and “Flight of the Bumblebee” began to play instead — and the kids found it hilarious.  Jeffrey laughed while jumping up and down, then rushed to get his journal.  Without any prompting, he sat down and wrote about his day: “I went to visit the doctor.”  (We had, for his persistent cough.  It turned out to be nothing.)

Sure, the rest of the page was taken up with pictures of “army guys fighting,” but a sentence!  A whole sentence!  It was a day destined to go down in history.

Wimmy and the Usurper

The day little Katie was born, Brian spent time talking to the kids about how our family had changed.

“William, you now have a little sister,” he explained to them.  “And Eleanor has a little brother and a little sister.”

Eleanor, who has always been intrigued by the technicalities of family relationships, took it one stop further.

“Yeah, William.  Now you are a middle child, like me, instead of the youngest,” she said excitedly.  “Baby Katie has REPLACED YOU!”

Brian and I found this statement hilarious.  But William has been taking his status change a little hard.  He doesn’t take it out on his baby sister — he is as fond of her as the rest of the kids (although he did admit briefly that he “liked Baby Katie when she was in Mommy’s tummy”).  But his frustration at the changes in his life have come out in other ways.  He’s more likely to throw a temper tantrum, especially when it comes to leaving the house for church or preschool.  His usually hearty appetite has diminished, and he hasn’t been sleeping as well (although this is in large part to sharing a room with Jeffrey).

The rest of our children were too little to really register a change in lifestyle when their new sibling came along.  Jeffrey and Eleanor were just 2 1/2 or 2, and didn’t have the long-term memory to remember life before the new baby.  William’s the first to notice and be upset that he’s not getting as much one-on-one Mom Time as he used to.

We know it’s a phase, and he’ll grow out of it eventually.  But in the meantime, it’s hard not to feel for the little guy.

She’s Here!

Introducing . . .

The fabulous Katherine Suzanne!

She arrived this past Friday, Jan. 21 at 2:55 p.m.

Clocking in at 7 lbs, 9 oz. and measuring in at 21″ long . . .

. . . she’s one cute-but-exhausting handful.

The delivery went very well; like the other kids, she came faster than expected and surprised everyone.  (You’d think we’d be able to recognize the pattern by now.)  We came home from the hospital on Sunday afternoon and Katie is settling in well.  She’s a pretty mellow baby, excepting when she’s getting a diaper change.  The other children are crazy about her, and always want to watch while I nurse or rock her.

Annnnd that’s about all I can write while holding her in one arm.  More to come later (um, maybe.  I’m really tired).