Monday, August 30, 2010

Got Bling?

The great thing about getting braces when you are nine going on ten, is that they are totally en vogue!

So when I offered to pay the extra for clear braces, Anna politely declined.
"No thanks, mom.  I want color!"
"If I'm going to have braces, I want my mouth to look happy!"

She chose silver braces and colored bands.
Here she sports blue and green.

The verdict?  
Cute as ever!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Pinkalicious Birthday, Ella!

Sometimes, when someone else has a birthday, one just has to buy a present for themselves, too!  And so it was, just days before Ella's 6th birthday, that I found myself inside Williams-Sonoma, gazing at The Great Cupcake Pan.  Having long admired The Giant Cupcake, I decided that this would be the perfect cake for someone who's favorite book is Pinkalicious, a story about an adventurous girl who just can't get enough pink cupcakes!

The giant cupcake mold holds an entire standard cake recipe of batter.
We veered from the pink cake and went for the even more delicious chocolate!

As with all layered cakes, there must be some leveling.

Not only does leveling makes the giant cupcake come together beautifully...

....we think it's scrapalicious!

Look at all the delicious, pink cream cheese frosting it can hold!!
Oversized sprinkles are the finishing touch.

Classmates at school enjoy a good story and kid-sized Pinkalicious cupcakes.

A trio of lollipops make a fanciful favor.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Birthday Traditions

I love family traditions.  Traditions punctuate a holiday, bring shape to an ordinary day and create lasting memories.  Traditions look as shiny as a Christmas ornament and smell as succulent as a turkey baking.  Sometimes, traditions roar like a football stadium, at other times, they sound as quiet as a lullaby.  Traditions taste as sweet as pumpkin pie and feel as soft as green grass underfoot.

Over the years, our family birthday traditions have emerged.

First, the birthday child opens their door to a curtain of balloons.  A homemade birthday banner is hung in a prominent place.  The dinner of choice is prepared in their honor.  Here, Ella chooses a classic kid platter:  macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, pizza and carrots.  Because it's a birthday, we cook it all!  Last, but not least, we bake a  homemade cake and decorate it together.

What do you do?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Britten: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

Benjamin Britten, Composer (1913 - 1976)
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Listening to Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra completed our trifecta of children's music education pieces, which also included Saint-Saens' The Carnival of the Animals and Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.

Written in 1946 for an educational documentary film called The Instruments of the Orchestra, The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is one of Britten's best known works.   The subtitle of the piece is "Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell" in which we hear the melody of Rondeau from Abdelazar in a way that shows off the tone colors and capacities of the various sections of the orchestra.

In the introduction, the theme is initially played by the entire orchestra, then by each major family of instruments of the orchestra:  first the woodwinds, then the strings, then the brass, and finally by the percussion.  Each variation then features a particular instrument in depth, in the same family order, generally moving through each family from high to low.  After the entire orchestra has been heard by sections, it is put back together using the original fugue.  Once everyone has entered (Piccolo, then woodwinds, strings, brass and percussion), the brass are re-introduced with Purcell's original melody while the remainder continue the fugue theme until the piece finally comes to a fortissimo finish.

In short, the structure looks like this:
13 Variations

While most of our music listening is done en route, I found this piece less conducive to the starts and stops of our daily life.  At the end of our week, I finally brought the CD in the house and made the kids sit on the sofa (no touching) to listen to it one final time.

Interestingly, this work, in the composer's words, "is affectionately inscribed to the children of John and Jean Maud:  Humphrey, Pamela, Caroline and Virginia, for their edification and entertainment."  "A boy and three girls," I thought.  "Just like me."  I wonder if Humphrey and Pamela had a hard time keeping their hands to themselves, too?

Kid Critique:

SAMUEL:  I like the trumpets because they carry out the melody.
ANNA:  I like the double bass section because it sounds happy - like what my life would be like without Samuel.
ARIELLE:  I like the trombones because they sound like the King and Queen.  I also like the xylophone because it sounds graceful, like little drops of rain.  I like the end with the whole orchestra because it sounds like something happy and exciting is going to happen.  The end sounds like a King and Queen entering and that they finally made it to that place!
ELLA:  I like the violas the best because it sounds calm like in Swan Lake.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's A Little Rain?

By now, we should have learned.... it always rains on Samuel's Birthday!

But when our family and a few of his friends headed to Malibu Grand Prix Speedway on a sunny Friday afternoon, we were hopefully optimistic.

Just as we were finishing pizza and cake, the inevitable happened.....RAIN.  This was no ordinary summer shower... this was a thunder-stomping, lightening-bolting, park-clearing rain.

We decided to load the kids' pockets with tokens and wait it out in the arcade.
After an hour and a half (and a couple hundred tokens later), the birthday miracle happened..... 
the rain stopped -  leaving us and almost no one else at the park!

With unlimited attraction passes, we packed in four hours worth of fun into a mere two hours with Go-Karts, Bumper Boats and Miniature Golf Galore. (And alas - no lines!)

Even after the rain passed, we still managed to get soaked!

Wet and tired, we ended the day at every boys' favorite venue..
our local Steak 'n Shake

Happy 13th Birthday, Samuel!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The First Day of School

Is it just me, or are the summers getting shorter?  I remember when school didn't start until you had lived through the last dog day of summer, floated on a clear blue lake in an old-fashioned inner tube and eaten your third State Fair corn dog on a stick.  Going back to school meant the days were getting shorter, the nights were turning cooler, and you hoped, that on on your first day of school, you could wear your brand new sweater.  These are my memories.

Despite the fact that it's only August 12th (and very, very hot!), the kids are still excited to start school, see theirs friends and begin a new journey.  I begin a new journey as well.  After 13 years, I have four children in full time school - a kindergartner and a teenager!  Will I be lonely?  Will I actually get the closets cleaned?  Will the days go by quickly?  What will they hold?  What will I discover?  I guess that's  part of the journey - experiencing it one day at a time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fishing With Papa

My husband grew up the youngest of six kids - 3 boys, 2 girls..... and then him.  Vying for his father's attention, he said to his mother one day, "I'll be glad when the big boys move out."  "Why?" his mother asked.  He responded, "Because then it will be just me and dad and nobody else going fishing."

And so it is that every summer when we travel back to Minnesota, Perry and his Dad go fishing. 

At 84 years of age, Papa's strong hands can still feel the gentle tug of an unsuspecting fish. 

 His fingers, so large that a quarter could fit through his wedding ring, are still nimble enough to thread a worm on a hook.

Only, now it's not just Perry and his dad.

Now it's Papa and Perry and kids of his own.

Samuel wears his lucky fishing hat and Anna uses Nana's Lucky pole.

As it turns out, it's not about the catch - 

It's the company that makes it all worth while.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Night In Chicago - (Part Two)

After dropping off the American Girl shopping bags at our hotel, we discussed how to best use our remaining hours.  Our first stop?  The Art Institute of Chicago.  In the interest of time, we decided to take a cab.  After our spring trip to D.C., I knew that the six of us could squeeze into a single taxi.  I ran around the cab and claimed shotgun, leaving the four girls and my very petite sister-in-law to fend for themselves.  Suddenly, the cab driver started panicking.  In broken English I heard, "Shut the door!  Shut the door!"  Being inexperienced cab riders, the girls had left the passenger door open in a tight lane of traffic!  My SIL finally reached across four girls and closed the passenger door, leaving the cab driver relieved to know he still had a vehicle with FOUR doors in which to make a living.  Note to self:  Next time, talk to the girls about about cab etiquette BEFORE entering the vehicle.  Again, I decided a generous tip would compensate for our inexperience.

Finally, we arrived at The Art Institute.  The good news?  On this particular day it was FREE and open until 8:00PM.  The bad news?  The line to get in stretched the length of a city block.  We made the best of it by eating crackers and listening to the sounds of Chicago - JAZZ!

I particularly enjoyed this street performer who came with his portable back-up band.  
We tipped him, too.

Once inside this truly enjoyable museum, we hit the high points including Seurat's "Sunday in the Park",

Monet's "Haystacks",

And an entire section of Miniature Rooms.

As we left the museum, the sun was setting.  My sister-in-law thought we should walk the Magnificent Mile back to our hotel.  Whether this was to take advantage of a beautiful night or for fear of another cab ride with me, she didn't say.  In any case, she made a good call.  

 It turned out to be a perfect evening for a walk.

On our way, we discovered a fountain park with a Vegas-like jumbo screen.
 The screen-boy occasionally blinked and moved his mouth.

Anna posed for a nightscape photo and a giant garden globe reflected the city.

We crossed the Chicago River.

The Hancock Tower appeared to shadow its older counterparts.

As we neared our destination, we gave our feet a rest with a city carriage ride.

We passed the Old Water Tower and the New Water Tower Place (Behind) as the Hancock Tower beckoned (shown in back).

A forty second elevator ride carried us 94 floors up to the John Hancock Observatory.  
Guess what?  No lines on Thursdays at 10PM!

The girls wound down and enjoyed gelato in spinning chairs while city lights flickered below.

The next morning we packed up the suitcases, duffle bags, both coolers and what was left of the Diet Coke and made our way back to The Twin Cities.

On the way out of Chicago, we stopped for a picnic on the front lawn of my alma mater, Wheaton College.

We made the rest of our six-hour trip in a mere eight hours with additional rest stops in Madison, Wisconsin; Warrenton, Wisconsin; Menomonie, Wisconsin and Lake Elmo, Minnesota. 

It was a good day.