Four Legged Monster

OOOoooooo!

Or that’s the sound that this made:

Eleanor and William (who were inside) told me that they were a “four-legged monster.”  They drew about a dozen eyeballs on the outside of the box, and also informed me that the red scribbles signified “creepy blood.”

After tromping around the sunroom and moaning for a few minutes, I heard a little whimper, and Eleanor crawled out.

“Whoa,” she panted, “I think I kind of freaked myself out in there.”

Get Your Ninja On

Jeff’s current obsession is with Lego “Ninjago” toys.  These are little ninja guys who battle each other by spinning around on tops.  Regular whirling dervishes, they are.

Which of course led to Jeffrey wanting to have a ninja-themed birthday party.  Gosh if I knew how to do that.  But we improvised.

We made throwing stars out of cardboard and duct tape and threw them at targets in the yard (way harder than you think) (Jeff took it SERIOUSLY)

and had a relay race that involved chopsticks and marshmellows.  We also played Blind Man’s Bluff, cleverly renamed as “Ninja Sneak.”  This was followed up by a Speed Slice tournament on Wii Sports Resort.  Even my parents played; they were really good at chopping up the giant bamboo.

I even went a little crazy at the Asian grocery store and served the kids gyoza and red bean ice cream.  The ice cream went over fine, but the gyoza?  Not so much.

~CAKE COMMENTARY~

So, a ninja cake.  How is it done?  Probably not like this:

IT’S A NINJA’S FACE, PEOPLE.  USE THE IMAGINATION.

And with candles, this ninja is happy to see you!

Jeff turned 9, but we always put on an extra candle “to grow on.”  Jeff was pretty thrilled.  Who cares what anyone else thinks?

But Mr. Ninja didn’t fare so well with the candles removed.  “He looks like Elmo!” is what all the children said.  One of them even gave him a cookie nose.  Sigh.  Well, I’m just glad my sweet boy had a special day.  Hi-YAH!

Bardland

Once again, Jeffrey’s History Face is on full display:

Last week we hit the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  Brian’s parents were along for the ride, and generously entertained little ones while big kids and grownups went to see plays.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream went over well, even if we did have to change venues during intermission owing to a rainstorm.  I had prepped the kids with the picture-book version of the story, and Jeff even polished off the Magic Tree House chapter-book version.

Jeff kept guffawing — guffawing, I say! — during any kind of comic moment in the play, regardless of what other audience members were doing.  It was kind of charming.

Puck has now entered into Jeff’s regular fantasy play, although he keeps forgetting his name.

“Mom, what is the name of that guy who says “How now spirit, whither wander you?”

You can’t blame him for latching onto what, for an 8-year-old boy, is admittedly the most dynamic character.  And in the production we saw, Puck ran around in furry shorts, sans shirt.  Kind of the ideal job for most 8-year-olds I know.

Eleanor had a different experience.  She was interested in the play, but her body was too small to keep the fold-down seats in the theater from flipping up.  So she was rather wiggly during both Midsummer and The Music Man.

For the record, Jeffrey was kind of baffled by The Music Man.  “Who was the bad guy in that play?!?  I think it was the mayor, because he was always trying to stop the band.”

But what may have really captured the children’s imaginations was the gift shop.  Eleanor insisted on multiple portraits with silly hats:

Even Jeffrey got in on the action with this one.

Heavens to the Bard, but that boy is skinny.  You’ll notice, however, how his eyes are pointed elsewhere.  That’s because of all the items available for purchase at the festival gift shop, the #1 thing Jeffrey wanted was one of the for-display-only Ren Faire-ish metal swords hanging on a rack behind the sales counter.

Oh, the swords.  There were swords in Midsummer, although there was no fight scene, but it mattered not.  Jeffrey wanted to know all about how actors use swords.

It was his favorite question during the Backstage Tour, which we took the morning after Midsummer.

“Any questions?” asked our guide, who bore a striking resemblance to Orlando Bloom.

“Where do the actors make their swords?” cried Jeffrey.

The guide replied that the swords were purchased from a props house.  But ten minutes later . . .

“Any questions?”

“Where do the actors make their swords?”

I had to grab Jeff’s arm to shush him during the other Q&A sessions.  Instead, he whispered his question in my ear: “Wheeere do the actors make their swooooords?

Luckily, my mother-in-law made the generous offer to take Jeffrey to the props seminar later that week, during which Jeff could learn all about the swords, shields, helmets, et. al. to his heart’s content. She also bought him a book about stage combat, which Jeffrey now insists be part of his daily routine.

ME: Jeffrey, you can’t watch T.V.  You haven’t made your bed or finished your reading.

JEFF: And I haven’t practiced my stage combat, either!

He was upset when we left for home (“I didn’t get to say goodbye to the Globe Theater!” he cried) and is already asking if we can come back next year.  (We’ll see.  Next year’s plays are The Merry Wives of Windsor and Titus Andronicus.  Eeesh.)

Now that we’re back home, the children are in the habit of putting on “plays” of their own.  Brian and I were treated to an epic Western called “Eleanor the Sheriff,” which was accompanied by Jeffrey singing about whatever was happening “on stage.”

More recently, Jeff & Ella have said that they are going to put on a “love play” where “everybody dies at the end.”  I sweareth it true, I fain have read Romeo & Juliet to these bodkins.  Really.

I Bet the Pioneers Never Saw the Spitting Dragon Coming

I like the fact that July in Utah is bookended with two patriotic-ish holidays: Independence Day, and then Pioneer Day three weeks later.  I don’t know of any other state that celebrates its founding this way.  (Although I’ve only lived in seven different states, so who knows?)

Brian and I don’t do much for the holiday.  In fact, our only main observance of the holiday —

Okay, other than getting stuck with playing the difficult “pioneer” themed hymns in church for the third year in a row.  Take my word for it, “For the Strength of the Hills” takes all the strength in your fingers.  And don’t even get me started on “Carry On.”  You can stick that song in your handcart and haul it off.

ANYWAY our only main observance of the holiday this year was going down to the South Towne Expo Center to see a preview of all the floats that will be in the Days of ’47 Parade tomorrow morning.  It’s really quite fun, because who can resist . . .

. . . Seagulls and crickets working together to run a Book of Mormon printing press!  (I love that the books roll off the press with the covers on and everything.)

A squadron of eggs hang gliding over the Jordan River Temple!  (Apparently South Jordan is known historically for egg farms.)

People dressed as bees driving little Shriner cars!  And some kind of alien spaceship!

A creepily faceless cowboy!

REALLY ADORABLE PENGUIN MISSIONARIES!

As you can see, the Oddity Meter expressed very high levels of Odd.  I love it, especially the float devoted to the Murray City Library, which is where I had my first reference job:

The library’s mascot is a dragon.  The Chinese Cultural Association also had a dragon on their float — one that sprayed water.  Cool, right?

Unfortunately, it was also sponsored by the “WTF Foundation.”

The float below celebrates “Wilford Woodruff: First Fly Fisherman in the West.”  Oh, really?  Well, you learn something new every day.  I will say that this float had the best sculptures.

We did have some personal favorites.  William adored this train float, which was from the Youth Parade held last week:

And Brian and I both voted for this float, celebrating religious diversity in Salt Lake.  It has tiny models of all these churches in the city, including the LDS Tabernacle and the Cathedral of the Madeline.  Way impressive.

The tiny houses were decorated with little flowering vines, and some even had bitty wreaths on the doors.  Wow.

In fact, the only bad thing about the parade preview is that there were clowns giving away balloon animals, and Eleanor reallllllly wanted one, but we had to say no because our kids have a tendency to put balloons in their mouths.  Thus began the Grand Commencement of the Whining.  Eleanor whined for a balloon all through the expo center, during the walk to the car, the entire drive home on the freeway, and continued to do so even as we dragged her into bed.

Well, if nothing else, you gotta be impressed by her persistence.  That’s the pioneer spirit, baby.

July 4th . . . Celebrated on the Actual July 4th

I love visiting my parents’ town, West Point,  for Independence Day.  Here’s reason #1:

Awwww.  Who’s cuter?  I can’t decide.  My dad took on the awesome task on Saturday of giving me a golf lesson.  He’s a great teacher — I actually made a ball go up in the air!  In the direction I wanted!  Sweet.

But here’s the main attraction in West Point:

THE PARADE!  As you can see, the Casket Man made a featured appearance, along with the plumbing-themed float.

Annnnnnnnd let’s not forget the candy. My kids quickly learned that jumping up and down and yelling “candy! candy! candy!” got results. The people in the parade threw gobs of the stuff down on us.

You know what I learned?  A piece of saltwater taffy thrown from the height of a fire engine can really sting when it lands on you.

Eleanor had brought her parasol along and found it handy for collecting loot.

Who can blame her?  Here’s the result:

Now, keep in mind that this is just 2/3rds of the candy they collected.  It wouldn’t all fit in that big bowl.  I picked out the lone chocolate item (an Almond Joy) right away.  Lollipops were put into service later that afternoon during our family viewing of Cars 2.  The rest was hauled off on Monday by Brian to fuel the endeavors of clinical pathologists at ARUP.  (Excepting the handfuls of stuff the kids grabbed when we weren’t looking.)

Dinner that evening featured a strawberry pie.  Featuring fresh strawberries from my mother’s garden.  It couldn’t be more perfect.

In the evening, we headed to the back of the West Point park to see the local fireworks.  West Point has grown enough in recent years to merit its own fairly impressive July 4th celebration.  I mean, they had a Beatles tribute band and everything.

The back of the field is mostly empty — the crowds are all at the other end of the park — so we had room to romp.  I threw a Frisbee around with Dad, Brian, and Alex (I haven’t Frisbee’d in eons).  Arial fireworks became legal in Utah this summer, and we could see mini-fireworks blasting into the air all along the horizon.

In the meanwhile, the kids ran around with glow sticks.  Many, many glowsticks.

My mom had found a big package of something like 30 glowsticks on sale.  There were enough to share with other kids nearby, and enough for experiments.  They made a giant ring to throw a football through.  Later they connected a dozen of them to make a glow-in-the-dark jump rope.  William looped them on all on his arms and legs, and Eleanor piled them around her neck and danced around.  Even Katie had a few wrapped around her car seat, to prevent people walking on top of her.

Katie, remarkably, was not afraid of the fireworks at all.  She just sat on my lap and smiled at them.  Eleanor, however, was once again curled in Daddy’s lap.  The rockets were going off right over our heads, it was fabulous.

The sad thing is that my camera ran out of batteries before I could take any pictures of the glowy-ness.  But perhaps it would be against Fate to have a  completely perfect day, right?

History Face

How long is July 4th?  One day, you say?  As in, that’s why it’s called The Fourth of July?

OH, HOW WRONG YOU ARE!

In Provo, July 4th is at least a week.  A week.  Which is why we spent the first half of our holiday weekend there, taking in “Colonial Days.”  This is an exhibit sponsored by a local printing press museum.  There’s a Civil War encampment on the lawn, an exhibit about the Mayflower, some guy making lead bullets over a campfire, and ladies in 18th-century dress knitting doodads with acrylic yarn.

Brian and I agree that this mismash of time periods should lead the organizers to rename the event “Olde Tyme Days.”

Need I even say that Jeffrey was in hog heaven at Olde Tyme Days?  He insisted on coming in costume — the tricorner hat was a Christmas present from Uncle Michael and Aunt Natalie — and once Eleanor and William got wind of this, they insisted on costumes, too.  That’s why, in the picture above, she’s wearing a pioneer dress two sizes too big, and why William is sporting a leather vest (Grandma came to the rescue with those.  Whew!).

Oh, and Katie was dressed as Napoleon:

As interesting as the various exhibits were (one was a big collection of famous peoples’ autographs, including letters from Mark Twain and Helen Keller), my favorite part of Olde Tyme Days was this expression:

We call this Jeffrey’s History Face.  He wears it whenever he’s learning about the past.

Even kicking back in an Olde Tyme chair is no reason to let down your History Face:

Eleanor, meanwhile, was given this little cornhusk doll:

And William got a snow cone.  A slushy, slushy, snow cone:

A SNOW CONE IS NO REASON TO LET DOWN YOUR HISTORY FACE!

Apparently.

After Ye Olde Tyme Days, the kids got to visit our friend DeLynn and visit her horses and donkeys of various sizes.  Jeff made the mistake of walking into the stableyard with a bucket of oats.  DONKEY MOB!

I stayed at home and made a blueberry pie.  And then spent the subsequent hours chasing Jeffrey away from the pie.

This was probably not necessary, since the pie, while pretty, was not my best culinary success.  I don’t think the recipe included enough cornstarch in the filling.  It was more like “blueberry soup pie.”  But dinner also included a lovely spice-rubbed pork tenderloin.  It pretty much made up for soup pie.

After dinner we headed to a hillside in my in-law’s neighborhood to watch the firework display over BYU’s stadium.  (On July 2nd!  See?  I told you it was a week long thing!).  Eleanor, who is usually skittish with fireworks, was relieved to be so far away.

“Not too loud, not to soft — these fireworks are just right,” she explained before the display.

She ended up running to my lap for comfort anyway.

4th (Somewhat) Annual Backyard Circus!

Yup, backyard circus.  If you’re new around these parts, here’s the concept: kids put on adapted circus routines in my backyard.  Doting adults applaud and cheer.  A hot dog roast is also involved, and at the end, everyone eats ice cream.

Brian and I began hosting these on a somewhat annual basis back when we lived in Pittsburgh.  The previous circus was held in 2009, you can read about it here.  Last summer I was too sick/exhausted with early pregnancy to organize one, and my kids were really disappointed.  This year I decided to make amends.

Which means I cleaned off the back porch.  This was a serious undertaking of heroic proportions.  But it was worth it!  The kids came up with such clever ideas for their acts!  Here’s a sampling:

In this group is a Human Pyramid, a tightrope walker, a comedian and her straight man (Eleanor was the straight man), a bareback horse rider (with the pink parasol), and a MIME. There was also a lion tamer, an archer, a puppet show, and a really magnificent ten-year-old ringmaster.  Everyone was great!

Eleanor was a juggler, who spun rings on her arms while standing on a balance board . . . with a CAKE ON HER HEAD!

William was a sword swallower, using those plastic telescoping lightsabers.  It was darn adorable, especially when he referred to himself as a “sword sucker.”  When the act began, my friend Justin yelled from the back row, “No, Luke!  It’s not worth it!”

Annnnnd Jeffrey.  He had the most unusual performance of all.  During the week leading up to the circus, he kept coming up with outlandish, impractical ideas for his act.  He wanted to build a boat in the backyard.  He wanted to bounce off a trampoline and smash his (helmeted) head into a wall.    He would accept no substitutes.

So he was kind of bummed when we informed him that none of these ideas were going to work.  After a lot of brainstorming, he finally came up with something that could:

He had a duel against a kitchen chair . . . using a rubber chicken.

Obviously, this was inspired by The Great Gonzo from The Muppet Show.  The bad thing is that this picture really doesn’t capture the ferocity with which Jeff attacked the tuna salad out of that chair.  The other bad thing is that Jeff was originally going to wear a Roman centurion helmet as part of his costume, but it got too hot so he took it off.

Oh, yes — one more thing: this was also an unofficial birthday celebration for me.  34 years!  Whoa!  My sweet in-laws brought this yummy ice cream cake. This was an excellent choice, as my love for Baskin-Robbins’ whipped cream frosting knows no bounds:

Plus they also brought clown cones for the children.  (They are amazing in-laws, no?)  This caused a Nostalgia Moment for many of the parents in attendance:

The kids are already begging for next year’s show.  It’s definitely on — maybe next year I’ll finally convince one of my children to be a snake charmer.  (What?  They’re cool!)

Mom Stuff

The night before Mother’s Day, Jeffrey woke up at 4:30 a.m. with a nightmare, and I guess the best Mother’s Day present I received was when Brian rose out of bed to take care of him.

Brian wasn’t able to get back to sleep after tucking Jeff back in — and I’m pretty sure that if I had been the one to get up, I’d have stayed up all night, too.

The Upshot: Brian got to sleep in on Mother’s Day while I got up and made the fancy breakfast (old fashioned oatmeal with cranberries and sweet cream, mmm).  While we feasted, the kids gave me presents they had made.

Eleanor had been DYING to give me hers since the second she arrived home with them on Friday afternoon.  She took pains to hide them from me in her room (so I wouldn’t accidentally see them) but then spent the weekend asking, “Can I give you your Mother’s Day present now?  Can I give it to you now?“).

What she gave me:

1. a collage drawing/art project depicting a paper vase with little paper flowers inside.  When I pulled the flowers out, I found little messages on the stems (“I will hep you clen the hous, Mom.”)

2. A necklace made out of a Shrinky-Dink on a chain.  She had drawn a little yellow-and-green lady on one side, and wrote “I Love You, Mom” on the other.  I wore it all day yesterday.

William, at this point, was pouting in the corner and feeling terrible.  Since he had been sick with a cold last week, he wasn’t able to make a Mother’s Day gift for me in preschool and was upset about it.  I told him that a hug was a great present, but he wasn’t buying it.  Eleanor then “gave” him a third present she’d made at school for him to give to me:

3. A pen with a silk flower attached to it with florists’ tape.  I’m sure you’ve all seen variations on this craft before.  I was impressed with Eleanor’s work — she’d wrapped up the pen very well, with no bumps or creases!  I don’t know if I could have done such a good job when I was in kindergarten.

Jeffrey then presented me with his presents:

1. A paper box he’d decorated in Cub Scouts, filled with candy, and

2. A ceramic box he’d made in school, also filled with candy.

I noted that the ceramic box looked like a cupcake, and Jeffrey leaned back and  hummphed.  “Yeah, the art teacher FORCED me to make a cupcake box,” he said.  Which is both hilarious and unfortunate (why not let him make any kind of box he wanted?).

Then he immediately began to pester me to give him candy.  “But you’re supposed to share, Mom!”  Oh, sure.

Brian had given me a present for Mother’s Day back in April — a new stand mixer, so I could survive the birthday/baby blessing double header.  It’s a big glossy Kitchen-Aid, which I have dubbed Mrs. White.  (Not only for its color, but also for its potential for doing in Mr. Boddy.)  Too bad I’m trying to lose the baby weight right now — Mrs. White’s cookie-making potential has yet to be tested.  But still, I love it.

Going Eggy

Since we live equidistant from both sets of grandparents, all of our holidays are double-barrelled.  This year we made eggs with one Grandma . . .

. . . and then the other, who had gotten kind of carried away with the egg-itude.  I think there were SEVEN DOZEN of them.  I’ve never used so many PAAS tablets in my life.

We had a lovely salmon dinner with Grandpa . . .

. . . and I made a “Lemon Canadian Crown” for the other grandpa.  This is a frozen dessert, with lemon mousse inside, and a meringue topping.  Ladyfingers make the crust (which I purchased from a store, ’cause I’m not that nuts to make my own).

We also had an egg hunt with Cousin June.  Note that Katie is old enough to wear the pink sweater I knitted for her.

The egg hunt was followed by what may possibly have been the world’s cutest game of kickball.  Cousin June gave everyone hugs as she rounded the bases, and assorted other children kept running back and forth from one fielder to another.  I also took the opportunity to confirm that I still stink at kickball.

Church on Sunday featured what may be the best “youth speaker” I’ve ever heard.  It was given by Eliza, who has competed in debate tournaments at the national level, and the talk was so well-organized and focus that you could almost hear the bullet points as they went by.

On Easter Sunday, Eleanor was thrilled to wear a matching dress with her baby sister.  Cheesy?  Yeah, but I can’t resist.  Eleanor is still very much in love with Katie.

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.