Friday, September 21, 2007

Happy Birthday to Brian!

My baby brother turns 21 today. I have the World's Best Brothers Ever and I thank God for sending them to my family.

I remember the day Brian was born 21 years ago. I was in fourth grade, and I already had one fantastic brother, although I didn't appreciate him enough at that time. My best friend Stephanie's birthday was that day, and my mom was in the hospital giving birth to my new sibling. I remember going to the nursing home to visit my great-grandma and telling her the news that my mom was being induced at that moment. Nana and Danny and Great-Grandma and I wondered together, Would the baby be a boy or a girl? How much would our new baby weigh? What would our new sibling be like?

My birthday was the next day, and I loved being hours away from sharing my birthday with Brian Dale. Who could ever hope for a better present than a new brother? I remember holding him and feeding him and taking care of him and now he is 21. I remember the time he was going to run away from home and no one believed him except for me, so I followed him for two blocks as he carried his little old-fashioned suitcase stuffed with his worldly treasures, and then I convinced him to let me carry him back home again. I remember taking him to hockey practice when he could barely stand on his blades, and then watching him skate so fast he melted the ice, years that passed in a fortnight. I remember my grandma coming to visit me at work to tell me he had jumped out of a tree and broken his arm. I remember coming to his school when I was in high school, and teaching his class Spanish two years in a row. I remember his tears when my baby died, and I remember his boyish excitement when he held Max for the first time. I remember his first day of school, his graduation day, his promotion to manager. I remember the smile and spirit gave us as a baby, because he still shares that warmth with us today.

And today we will celebrate his golden birthday, his last, official step into full-fledged adulthood, and all the memories he has given us over the years. Happy Birthday, Bri-Bri. I love you.

My Kids Say the Funniest Things

Yesterday Mitchell was playing with the tiny action figures from his Mini Rescue Heroes Avalance Set, a gift from my forever-friend, Angie, one of my girlfriends since fifth grade who now lives in sunny Florida. It was just last year that Mitchell wanted to marry her.

The Rescue Heroes are action figures marketed to young boys, and their mission is to rescue people from peril. Mitchell was playing with a truck and a snowmobile and a helicopter and a handful of two-inch-high, plastic, ready-for-anything guys. He enaged them in a lively conversation, and I think they were about to rescue someone when one Rescue Hero said to another, just as Mitchell has said to me and Max and his daddy a hundred times in his life, when one of us is about to go downstairs or out to the mailbox or into any other room of the house ... Will someone please stay with me???

At that moment, I couldn't think of anything more comical than one brave action figure asking another, in Mitchell's little voice, Will someone please stay with me? Classic Mitchell story #303. Perhaps this afternoon, one Rescue Hero will say to another, Has anyone seen my diapers? I think my mom hid them again so I might try on a pair of big-boy underwear.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Shhh! One of Rochester's Best Kept Secrets

Can you keep a secret? Our family discovered a great hiding spot this weekend and I hope our next visit brings just as much solitude and escape as our visit did yesterday. We went to Willow Creek Reservoir, not far from home, but instead of just walking down to the fishing dock as we have in the past, I showed Troy and the boys a great hiking path that has been one of my favorite getaways. In past months, I have walked or jogged a portion of the trail, but I have never felt safe enough to walk around the whole reservoir by myself. So yesterday afternoon, that is just what the four of us did. During the nearly three hours we spent there, we encountered two joggers, one biker, and one walker on the path, and we observed fifteen or twenty people fishing along the eastern shoreline.

The reservoir was built years ago as part of Rochester's ambitious and mostly successful flood-control project, and it's one of several reservoirs around town. People use the area for fishing and canoeing, and a walking path traverses the perimeter of the reservoir. A golf course and a few subdivisions border the northern and easter edges of the water. The lots with the best views in those neighborhoods boast two-story windows and price tags in excess of a hundred thousand dollars just for the land. I feel sad about the development, as rooftops dot the landscape that had once been tall grasses and cornfields, but I think I would be one of those people spoiling the view if I had a huge bank acoount or the desire to assume massive amounts of debt. For now, I'll just exercise there for free.

In the middle of the reservoir is a large island of trees and tall grasses. Yesterday, for the first time, I saw the back side of the island that has brought me my first glimpses of green in spring, picture-perfect shades of autumn, and frozen branches of ice and hundreds of geese on winter's prettiest days. All four of us were very curious what it would be like to explore the island.

We began our walk around 4:00, and after walking just a few hundred feet, Mitchell said, "I'm thirsty," so I ran back to the car for the ice water jug I had brought, and thank goodness I did, because we heard about fifty more I'm thirsty's on our adventure. Max brought the butterfly net and spent most of the hike chasing after small butterflies and large dragonflies. He caught three butterflies but all of them escaped during their transfer to his miniature backpack. Near the end of the hike, I caught a small blue dragonfly for him, but the winged creature escaped at home when I tried to transfer him to a Ziploc bag (poor thing) and he's still on the loose somewhere in the house, hopefully devouring those flies that are trying to move in as autumn approaches. I thought he was injured in the backpack, but he definitely was not!

During the walk, we encountered milkweed pods and some other interesting seed pods of which we don't know the name. We picked some crabapples from a small tree and found apple trees, too. There were two or three times during the hike when we encountered the remnants of August's heavy rains, low-lying areas that were still very muddy. In the middle of all this natural beauty, I couldn't help but think, Thank goodness I wore my old, washable canvas Nike's instead of my new, light-colored running shoes. I should have left my white Gap hoodie at home, though, because somehow, I splashed mud on the back of that. Luckily, it happened near the end of our hike, so I didn't have much time to worry about it, laundry freak that I am. Guess what I did as soon as we got home? I pre-treated that stain with Bac-Out, one of the best stain fighters ever, and this morning when I removed it from the washing machine, my white hoodie was snow-white again!

My camera ran out of battery power very early in our walk, so I missed the chance to capture some of the prettiest images, but I did get a handful of great shots. Throughout the whole hike, which I estimated at four miles, the boys were super-troopers: no whining, no crying, no fighting. That was unbelievable! About halfway through our walk, Mitchell said conspirationally to me, "Max was having a tough day before we got here, wasn't he?" It was like having a conversation with another adult, until Mitchell mocked Max in his little-boy voice, "Mommy, you're just making it worser!" and then laughed in naughty delight. Luckily, Max and Troy were ahead of us, and Max was so engrossed in his quest for butterflies, that he didn't hear Mitchell's humorous remarks.

Troy and I took turns carrying Mitchell when his little legs grew tired, and when we came to shady areas (or when he decided to lick us or bite us "just for fun") we set him down to walk. When we came to hills, he eagerly ran up the steep slopes as I called, "Shake-and-Go Mitchell!" in reference to his new battery-powered crashing race car that he got for his birthday party this past Saturday.

My favorite memory of the afternoon was when Mitchell asked Troy, as they both listened to an earphone of Max's Disney Incredible's MP3-style pocket radio as the Vikings neared the end of the game, "If I 'pit into this earpiece, will it 'pit on the Vikings?" That was too cute, and of course, Classic Mitchell.

Feel free to check out this great local hiding spot if you are one of my Rochester Readers ... but please, don't tell your friends!

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Day in the _Life_: The State Fair

Yesterday we went to the Minnesota State Fair for the fifth time since having kids. Max and Mitchell were super-sweet fairgoers. Hardly a fight or a squabble the whole day. I'm sure the copious amounts of spending money, rides, and junk food helped boost their good behavior levels.

We left home just after noon in accordance with our can't-help-it, late-start tradition. During the ninety minute ride to the Fairgrounds in St. Paul, the boys ate fast food, listened to favorite family memories, and played their Game Boys. As we passed the Koch Refinery near Rosemount, where smokestacks dot the horizon and pungent smells fill the air, Mitchell teased, "Roll the window down! Roll the window down! It's the Stinky Factory! Mmm, smell that delicious stinky smell." He also claims, with a completely straight and serious face, to love the smell of 'kunks, as he calls them.

The day was rather expensive:

$70 for gas and snacks (we didn't eat all the snacks nor use all the gas)
$10 for Arby's (we had a coupon for a free value meal, which reduced our total by $7)
$30 for admission (two adult tickets, one child, and one free ticket for Mitchell)
$9 for parking
$10 for cheese curds
$2 for cotton candy
$9 for three iced teas
$15 for dinner at the fair (Italian dunker, deep-fried ravioli, and cheese bread)
$6 for two bags of mini donuts (Mitchell requested his own bag)
$5 for a small bag of apples and two apple-cider freezies
$65 for rides and games (50 coupons for $30; most rides and games cost 4 - 5 coupons)

Ouch! I'm not going to even bother doing the math tonight to add up those expenditures. In the middle of the afternoon, when my allergies were at their absolute worst, I told Troy that we should have used the money we spent at the fair, and paid for a night in a hotel with a really fancy waterpark and a bar.

Max and Mitchell loved their time spent at the Kiddie Midway. They both drove the mini bumper boats, which Mitchell was too scared to ride on last year. They also went on the mini race cars, which jerked around the corner much faster than any of us realized. Mitchell was delighted to discover that his favorite ride _ever_ was back at the fair: four-wheelers that bounce up and down as they go around. He insisted that Troy ride with him, just like when Mitchell was a new two year-old, so Troy squeezed into the back seat and Max and Mitch rode up front. The little boys also went on the bumblebee ride, complete with bubbles and controls to make the bee fly up high or close to the ground. Each of those rides cost four coupons per person, except for the race cars, which cost five. Max was thrilled to find a coupon on the bumblebee ride, and he decided to save it for a souvenir.

This year, we explored several buildings filled with amazing things to see, included the agriculture building, which houses exhibits on seeds, prairie gardens, apples, Christmas trees, grocery items made proudly in Minnesota, a motorized train exhibit, and flowers; the Education Building, where we got the free purple bags from the University of St. Thomas that we saw everyone carrying; the Creative Activities building, where we admired quilts, baked goods, beaded projects, historical artifacts, and my favorites, the paintings made by school age children. We didn't have time to visit the 4-H building; the green building, filled with exhibits about environmentally-friendly products and practices; or the vendors inside the grandstand.

Just before dusk, we at dinner at an Italian booth near the grandstand, Vescio's, with locations in Dinkytown and St. Louis Park, ordering our favorites: a giant Italian egg roll (Troy's favorite), deep-fried ravioli (Mitchell's favorite and mine, too), and cheese bread (Max's favorite, but we told him the pepperoni under the cheese was really salami). Then we headed toward the Midway to end our day. I protested briefly (actually, I really complained and thought, I can't believe we are spending $60 on Midway coupons today!) as Troy bought more coupons for rides and games. The three boys took turns playing games and going on rides.

Mitchell wouldn't have even noticed when it was supposed to be his turn; he was so content to watch everything, but when he wanted to do something, he _really_ wanted to do it. His two requests for the evening were to play a game of skee ball (he lost two of the wooden balls and couldn't throw them hard enough to land them in any holes, so I let him walk up the ramp and try just a few feet from the target) and grab a duck at the duck pond. He won two small puppies, one at the duck pond, and one at the whiffle ball game. Troy and Max rode the bumper cars; Mitchell wasn't quite tall enough yet to pass that 42" mark. Max also tried the whiffle ball game in which players try to land the white plastic balls in colored cups to win a prize. Since the prizes were so good in the boys' eyes (huge, oversized stuffed dogs) we wasted money on two buckets of rings and tried to land them on glass soda bottles.

The highlight of the evening was Troy's wins at the crossbow game. Years ago, before we were married, he obtained a disability permit (I still tease him about this, since he was only considered to be three percent disabled, due to a back injury) to hunt with a crossbow. Using a crossbow, he shoots with perfect aim, even at the fair, where the arrows are bent and the bows shoot to the right or too high. He won three huge stuffed animals in six tries: a colorful dragon for Max, to be buddies with the dragon Troy won two years ago from the same game; a "yellow cute ducky" that Mitchell wanted sooo badly; and a pug to keep Minnie company.

We returned home just before midnight, with a sleeping Max in the backseat, and a very chatty Mitchell, who asked over and over again to please go back to the fair _right now_.

My Kids Say the Funniest Things

Tonight after his bath, Mitchell sat on my lap as I checked his ears with a q-tip. "That's enough," he said. He doesn't like getting his ears cleaned. His skin was so soft, and his little golden curls were extra curly, and there was water everywhere in the bathroom.

"Almost done," I assured him.

As he hopped down from my lap, he said, "If you had to check my butt, I would have to do a headstand." And with that, he strutted out of the bathroom in his size five diaper. I have no idea where gets those quirky ideas.