Monday, June 19, 2017

Birthday Party Mania

As I uploaded photos from my camera onto my computer (how very last decade of me!), I was reminded that I never posted any photos from Max's birthday party at the end of March. So here we go, a photo-dense birthday party extravaganza!  

One of my favorite wild things in his natural habitat
Heading back to the end of March, when Max turned 5 and requested a Pokemon themed birthday party.  Pokemon are yuuuuge around here with all three kids.  If you had told me in the mid 90s--when Pokemon was new and I watched the occasional episode with my little brother and baby sister--that I'd be hosting a Pokemon party for my own children, I don't think I would have believed that the show would have such staying power. But it has, and here we are.  
The appropriate Pokemon colors.  The angle of this photo makes me think that Ben took it.

Back in the innocent, long-haired days before our bout with headlice...

Here we have Poke ball cupcakes and cupcakes with Pikachu (made out of Bunny Peeps). 

I have a few rules to birthday party survival.  
1.  Keep the party short.
2. Keep the guest list very short.
3.  Keep the schedule of events simple and the games easy.

The games at Max's party were not entirely thematic.  Donut bite had no relation to Pokemon whatsoever, but it was very amusing to watch.  The only real rule for donut bite is to try to eat a donut with no hands when it's tied to a string.  



We also played "Ring, ring, who has the ring?" except I think we used a little plastic Pokemon character in lieu of a ring. And for the final game, there was "Pin the flame on the Charmander" featuring my fabulous "skills of an artist".  Hey, at least I impress my children and my spouse with my occasional renderings of licensed characters.  

Then it was time for the piƱata.  We got one at Winco that was meant to be a baseball and then just painted the Pokeball design over it. Since the big pine tree was newly felled, it remained to be seen how it would be suspended, since the boughs of the tree were the old go-to for such things. But when your husband is a carpenter, he can rig something up right quick with an old basketball hoop pole, even if it does resemble a gallows.  


Pinata down!  I repeat, pinata down!
 The stroke of genius on the pinata was that we filled it with some candy but also with a lot of wee tiny plastic Pokemon figurines and let the guests sort them and take them home.  I don't know if they are still playing with them but our kids are still playing with theirs on a daily basis.  We found them on Amazon, source of so many neat things.

Then it was time for cupcakes...
Whew, my hair was long, and I was still wearing non-maternity shirts.  That's no longer the case!

Ruby decorated for Max's party by drawing Pokemon and posting them tastefully  around the entrance.

It was a fun affair; our party-planning attention turned next to Ruby's birthday.  She requested a Zelda themed party.  We have a Nintendo 64 and Allen and I have both played (and beaten, hurrah) "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time."  The kids watched us play it at times and have seen some of the hilariously bad 80s cartoons of "The Legend of Zelda" (you can find them on YouTube).  I think at first Ruby's idea was to have a video game princess party (Peach, Daisy, and Zelda) but we steered it more towards just one of the video game franchises, as Ben really wants to have a Bowser party in the fall for his birthday and I'm sure Princess Peach will make an appearance then.  Dear me, we're nerds.
Anyway, Allen and I noodled for quite a long time on how exactly to have a party which fit the theme.  There were a lot of neat ideas for food and decor on Pinterest, but nothing really in terms of party games. It took a long time to get our ideas fleshed out, and it was a mad dash in the days (and hours) leading up to the party to get it all worked out.  But I think it came off really splendidly.  As one of Ruby's guests said to his mom when he was being picked up to go home, "Mom, this was the awesomest day ever!"  :)

We decided to utilize the notion of Link's School for Heroes as the motif of the party (with Allen playing Link!)  The idea was that all the party guests were young Hylians about to be trained in the ways of a hero, and that there were various challenges to complete as part of their training.
As guests arrived we provided them with a shield to decorate (made of foamcore poster board and tape for the handle) and gave the boys Link hats.  They are really simple to make, by the way: I bought two long-sleeve green men's shirts from Salvation Army (on half-off day, natch), cut the sleeves off, turned them inside out, and sewed them to a point at the wrist so it formed a triangle.  I also bought cheapo fake leather belts from Salvation Army, poked holes in them at the right spots so they would fit the kids, and let those serve as belts to hold the slingshots they would later use.

We used the Triforce from the Zelda games as a unifying theme for all of the "training activities" (i.e. party games.)  The Triforce consists of three parts: courage, wisdom, and power, which must be united in order to...I don't know, either bring peace and harmony or chaos and destruction, depending on whose hands it falls into.  At the successful completion of each game, the kids would find a piece of the Triforce.  When all three were gathered, a final test would present itself...and then brownies and lemonade.  The theme had to end somewhere!


The first test was an obstacle course to obtain the Triforce of Courage. Allen had been able to obtain some huge styrofoam blocks and scaffolding planks and frames from work and elsewhere, and he spent the morning transforming the yard into a truly epic obstacle course, complete with 10 dangling blue rupees for the kids to nab.
I couldn't really capture the scope of the whole course from any one angle.  This is the back half of it.

Link gives the new recruits some pointers
 The kids had to work as a team to collect all 10 rupees, take them to the treasure chest, and then return to their starting positions without touching the ground, which was hot lava.

Yes, I made Link hats. 

This gives you an idea of the scale of the course...
After completing this challenge and obtaining the Triforce of Courage from a treasure chest, the kids followed me to a field nearby for the challenge of Wisdom.  Alishia (my sister in law) came along and helped and took photos.  For this challenge, everyone took turns wearing a blindfold and being verbally guided by the other kids towards the treasure chest.  They also had to be ready to put their shields up to defend themselves from the evil Bubbles (there's a bad guy called a Bubble in the game but for our version it was merely the dollar store kind being huffed and puffed out by yours truly).  It was quite entertaining to watch, seeing as none of the kids were too sure about their left and right but were very ready to bark out "GO LEFT!" or "GO RIGHT!" to their blindfolded colleague.


Ta-da! Triforce of Wisdom acquired!

Heading back for the final challenge!

The last Triforce was obtained through combat.  While the kids and I were at the park, Allen and his brother Andy had hung up various bad guys and enemies on the obstacle course.  The kids, armed with slingshots and bouncy balls as ammunition, had to kill all the Skulltulas (paper plate spider things) and Keese (black Solo cup bat things), and at the end of the course to overcome the Deku Scrub (Andy).



The Deku Scrub, overpowered, hands over the chest with the last piece of Triforce.

Checking out what's inside...

Triforce complete!
 Now that the Triforce was completed, I played Zelda's Lullaby on my handy-dandy ocarina.  Yes, Allen had an ocarina, and we looked up how to play Zelda's Lullaby on it.  Nerds.  In the video game, playing that song often unlocks or reveals hidden things, and it had the same function here.  A tiny treasure chest was revealed which held a Boss Key (the key that unlocks the door to the boss or main nemesis of a level).  What better Boss to fight than the ultimate villain, Ganondorf?


Mom's skills of an artist on display once again!
For this last part, each of the kids got to shoot three arrows at Ganondorf (all guided by Allen, of course, since it was a compound bow and far too difficult for any of them to manage alone.)





Driving it in by hand, just for good measure.
With Ganondorf ably defeated, it was time for brownies and lemonade.  Keeping it simple.

Action shot of Ruby blowing out the candle!

Being a hero is thirsty work!
So there you have it. It was really fun.  Allen pretty much ran the show and Andy and Alishia were excellent backup to keep things going smoothly.  Now we have a few months of party-planning respite before tackling Ben's 4th birthday in the fall.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Things my kids say (and other life updates)

I know that it can be irksome--especially when one doesn't have children--to read FB statuses which are full of kid anecdotes.  So I'll put it in blog form and that way you can avoid them, you grinches.  (Just kidding.)

Yesterday, while Max and I were waiting in the hallway of his school for his preschool classroom to open, he saw a classmate wearing a shirt emblazoned with superheroes.  Max said with his usual enthusiasm, "Oh, hey, I LOVE your superhero shirt!  And guess what?!  I am wearing my superhero underwear today!"  The other boy looked nonplussed, which Max took as license to continue on.  "I also got NEW BLACK UNDERWEAR!!!"  (For some reason, he really digs black underwear, apparently.)  After a moment's reflection, Max said, "I bet he'd like to see my underwear!"

This, of course, is when I reminded him that even in the unlikely event that the boy would like to see them, it was not appropriate.  Max smiled wistfully and said, "Yeah, I know, but I bet he would anyway."  Well, no, probably not.  Oh well.

Ben, a sturdy 3 year old nowadays, is completely and utterly anti-potty.  Cries just sitting on his little potty.  Since I've been getting nauseated just being in the bathroom for the last few months of this pregnancy, I haven't made any serious attempt at the potty training, although it sure would be swell not to have two kids in diapers again come summer time.  Lately, Ben has taken to whining at me while I'm wiping his bottom during diaper changes that "Mommy, you're hurting my feelings."  Spare me, son.

We also know now that his language therapy last year paid off big time. 12-18 months ago he was nearly non-verbal.  Now he doesn't STOP talking.  When it rains, it pours!

Speaking of, January was a rough month, folks.  Here in the greater Portland area was categorized by an unusual amount of snow and ice, and our city is not equipped to deal with it whatsoever.  Thanks to environmental concerns (and, to be fair, a general lack of snow in our climate), Portland doesn't salt roads, nor does it have enough snow plows. So the city's plan is to just wait and let the snow melt on its own.  The highways do get cleared fairly quickly, but almost any other road, including other major arterials, get nothing.  The snow gets packed down and slick and accidents abound.

Allen was the victim of one such accident. The second week of January, a lady spun out on some ice and smacked him head on.  He walked away unhurt, thank God, but his truck was seriously messed up.  It's taken almost a month but we finally got word that the truck was considered a total loss and we will receive insurance compensation  so Allen can buy a "new-to-him" truck soon (another gratitude; Allen was also deemed totally not at fault in the accident.)  So he's been truckless for most of January.  Thankfully, we still had the Toyota Echo sitting around in his mom's driveway, so he was able to use that (and for a week and a half he drove a rental car which was partly covered by insurance).

 Still, being truckless put a crimp in his usual scrap-gathering routine, which is doubly unfortunate because he's been temporarily laid off for most of January with no end in sight.  Thankfully he's had a remodeling side job to keep money coming in, but that is soon going to be drawing to an end.  It sounds like he can apply for temporary unemployment once the side job stops, though, so that will also help.  And if all else fails we do have a tax refund coming our way soon.  Providence is real.

Healthwise, January was rotten.  Upon returning from our otherwise great trip to see my family in St. Louis, I came down with the flu.  Not the throwing up kind (although I was already doing that thanks to morning sickness); just the aches, chills, fever, and general lethargy kind.  It spread through the family. Then at the end of January a nasty 48 hr diarrhea bug went through the household too. Ugh.  As you can imagine, that didn't do any favors for my nausea and throwing up. Between weather shutting down school and kids being sick, I think Ruby may have only gotten to school for less than half of the month.  Yikes!

 It was a better month for morning sickness relief, probably thanks in part to getting a Zofran prescription and thanks in part to moving into the second trimester.  But I still have nausea and alas my Zofran refill is caught in jnsurance limbo right now so I don't have any at the ready.  :(

But at the end of February we get to find out the sex of Cook baby #4, and I'm excited for that.  If old wives' tales can be believed, this just has to be a girl.  The sickness, the acne, the cravings for sweets...it all adds up.  And I have a girl name picked out that I just love: Ivy Anne.  Ivy because I like the sound of it and it fits with our other kids' names well and there's a nice C.S. Lewis character by that name; Anne for my mom's middle name and St. Anne (and "Anne with an e" of Green Gables, of course.)  But we'll be happy with a boy, too, of course.  If a boy, we're thinking Samwise (Sam for short) Pio. Samwise for Frodo's loyal companion in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Pio for St. Padre Pio and for "pius Aeneas" from the Aeneid.  I would also be happy with a middle name of Chrysostom, Athanasius, Cyprian, or Jerome for some older-school saints.  Samwise Cyprian is a nice alliterative name.  I guess we're not as settled on the boy name yet because I just feel so sure it's a girl!  But time (and ultrasounds) will tell...

Quite a mixed bag month (and that's not even getting into politics and nation & world affairs!!!), but not without blessings and Providential outcomes. Deo gratias. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The things left behind

I got an email from Amazon suggesting that I might want to purchase a refill of printer toner. What Amazon doesn't know, of course, is that I used to buy it on Roger's behalf and have it shipped to his house, since he was none too tech savvy. 

I won't be needing to place that order again, since Roger (my husband's grandpa) died in a car crash last July. It's odd and bittersweet the way little reminders come back to you months (and years, I suspect) later.  




Allen just received some of his possessions, including his very trusty travel mug which went everywhere with him...and it even had his plastic flexi-straw in it. Funny story about that: it wasn't the kind of straw that comes with the cup, just the regular kind that is meant to be disposable. Except that this is Roger we're talking about, so he didn't dispose of it. Waste not, want not. I don't even know how old that straw is. And Roger's beverage of choice in his travel mug? Hot water. Roger was quite a fellow. Allen's keeping the straw, though not to drink with. I think he's going to put it up in his shop somewhere as a little reminder of his grandpa.  

Again, it's odd and bittersweet the things that call forth the memories. Why a drinking straw? Why not a piece of art or something more distinguished and destined for permanence? For some people, those would be the kind of mementos which most evoke their presence. Roger, though, was a man of pragmatism. He found beauty in utility and hard work. "Work makes life sweet," was his mantra, adopted from his German-from-Russia forebears. He truly loved working. Teaching, administrating, manual labor: it was all good. Allen is the same way. He'll never retire; well, maybe someday he'd quit a "day job" but then it would be onward to other things. It runs on my side, too. When my own maternal grandpa "retired" it was to start a Christmas tree farm and to be a commercial fisherman. He worked at mowing and farm upkeep until physical frailty prevented him in the last years of his life. My paternal grandmother was the longest serving state employee in Connecticut with over 50 years of teaching at the state college/university. They did what they loved until their bodies couldn't keep up. 

Had Roger not been in the car accident, he'd be maintaining his busy pace today. He was going to go hard till the end, because what else was life about? And you can bet that drinking straw was going to get used until it was too full of holes to function as anything but a sprinkler! His frugality, his work ethic, and his salt-of-the-earth nature somehow are perfectly encapsulated in that humble straw. So although it may be a strange, strange souvenir of one's grandfather, it seems quite fitting to keep it.

What, I wonder, of mine would be treasured and kept? Would it be my writing? Artwork? Or would it be something I can't even predict because it seems too mundane? How much of a say do any of us have in the things we leave behind? Some, to be sure. We live a legacy, for good or ill. But as for the tangible leftovers--the sacramentals, if you will--which will bring a smile or a good thought to loved ones who remain...I don't think it can be planned out to a full extent. That is as it should be. I can stipulate in a will or estate plan if I want certain things to be given to certain people. But I can't dictate the memories of me which people will hold, nor can I control which objects will evoke such memories. In life and in death, we never have complete control.  

Could Roger have imagined that this cup and straw would become an esteemed possession? Likely not; but I think he would be quite pleased that it was still working hard.

Rest in peace, Roger (and Roberta, too). Your work is ended; enter into the joy of rest for a change! ;)


Roger and Ruby, 2011

Roger and Max, 2013

Roberta, Karla, Roger, and Ben, 2013