Circus circus

Okay, I have something against the circus from the get-go. I just can’t help but think about how cruel they must be to animals. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Every Tuesday and Thursday, a professor buddy of mine who has an office upstairs from me drops his daughter by (single dad) so she can walk to school with Ellie as they are in the same class. My friend has to teach an early class on those days. To say thanks, he bought us tickets to the circus last weekend. We all went together and Paula stayed home to clean up some of the mess the builders have created. We had much fun at the circus and I have added some new photos from the event and in the days around the circus. Click on Photos (top and right) to see the photos. Ellie rode the biggest pony they had and JD rode . . . well, he rode a bail of hay, but not very enthusiastically. Check out the photos and you’ll find one of him on the bail of hay.

Ellie surprised us the other day by writing her first book . . . without any help. You can see the photos I took of the pages in the same photo set that contains the circus shots. If you need help reading the words, I have a better version here for you to see a typed version as well. The fact that she can piece together sentences and create a whole story over various pages is something to behold. Very neato!

JD has been into counting lately. The other day he honestly counted to 229 before giving up. He knows that 300 comes after 299 and that next comes 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, and 900. He won’t start kindergarten for over a year, but there are kids in Ellie’s kindergarten class who can’t count beyond 20ish. JD is doing just swell.

Construction is coming along on the remodeling to our house. They should put up drywall tomorrow and then they’ll just have flooring and cabinents left along with painting. They put in the insulation today and that really caused everything to take shape. Looking good.

Teaching Award

Grand Valley State University has 2 major teaching awards. Paula and I were each finalists for one of these awards this year. Becoming a finalist is quite an accomplishment and that means that you’ve already made it through the initial rounds of decision making.

The other day, the Dean called me to her office. Naturally, I started trying to figure out what I’d done wrong. I think I had a look of concern on my face when I walked in because the Dean’s first words were, “Do you know why you’re here? Don’t worry, it’s not bad.” Whew!

Come to find out, I had been selected as the winner of the award for innovative teaching — the Pew Teaching with Technology Award. Every full time and part time professor and/or instructor was eligible to win this award, which amounts to well over 1,000 people. What a terrific reward for the hard work I’ve put into teaching.

Being nominated meant that I had to develop a rather involved portfolio to help the awards committee make the best choice. Part of this portfolio included every student evaluation from the past couple of years.  I had to write a cover letter for every piece of evidence I included and I had to include many different aspects of my teaching. I had to include a few letters from students and a few letters from colleagues. I had to include samples of all of the innovative teaching that I do, etc. So, it feels good to be recognized after the hard work required just to get nominated . . . let alone the work that got me recognized in the first place. ;~).

And, Paula could still win her award since her awards committee is operating on a different schedule; however, the stipend for winning my award is higher than the one she would receive. I remind her of this often. Heh heh.

Changes on the horizon

we haven’t been good about updating stories on this site. truth be told, i don’t like the tools that i’ve set up here. i want to move everything to a new site and give us a new look. my problem is in trying to figure out the technology enough to export the stories and photos here and then import them into a new service. i’d prefer to make this site an official blog in looks and not just function (this was a blog before “blog” was a term online). i have been fiddling and will continue to do so when i have time. if all goes well, i hope to move in the next month. if i can do it, then i will implement a service so that Paula and i can write stories and send them to a hidden email account that will automatically post those emails as entries. stay tuned and cross your fingers.

One day at a time

I love being a mom! Ellie started kindergarten a couple weeks ago. She seems to be enjoying it. She has made some friends, thinks her teacher is great, and has come to the conclusion that most boys are a little wild. She also started a different day care. Woodcliff is affiliated with our school district. On days Ellie needs to, she can get on a bus right outside of the kindergarten door and ride it to Woodcliff. The bus takes about 15 kids, many are her classmates, the roughly ten blocks. Fourteen of the fifteen kids are thrilled out of their minds that they get to ride a bus. Ellie is good old number 15. She has been very nervous about Woodcliff. She doesn’t know anyone. She has had a high level of anxiety over this to the point of tears. Every day that she goes to Woodcliff, she has cried. Every day I talk to her about what she’s nervous about. We talk about the other kids, the adults, the stuff they do. Every day it’s been the same thing. “Mommy, I’m really nervous about Woodcliff,” (tears starting). “Ellie, tell me exactly what makes you nervous,” Then we go through everything.
Today, no nervousness. She did it. She was fine about going to Woodcliff. She talked about who she was going to play with and how much fun computer time was yesterday. Whohoo!!! We got over that hump. Here’s the best part from my perspective. I try to have lunch with Ellie a couple times a week. Tonight, I told her I couldn’t have lunch with her tomorrow because I had a meeting at 11:30 and then another one at 12:00, and I added, “I hate meetings.” Ellie said, “Well Mom, what do you hate about meetings. I’m asking that because when I was nervous about school we talked about what made me nervous it helped me, so now I can help you not hate meetings so much. So, mom, tell what you hate the most.” I told her that I didn’t like how people just talked and talked. She asked me if I ever talked. I told that her that sometimes I said a few words. She said, “Mom, I think at the next meeting you should talk and talk and talk and just let other people say a few words. Then they will know how you feel.” Not bad advice for a kindergartener. I’m so lucky!

JD’s birthday is coming up. He’s going to be four. I hope that means he won’t stop saying breafkist instead of breakfast, Gammy instead of Grammy, Ewwie instead of Ellie and on and on. Sean and I just love the very sound of his voice. I also hope this doesn’t mean he’ll stop being my cuddle buddy. JD has gone from an infant who hated to be rocked to a high contact kid who loves to cuddle. Go figure. He has become very outgoing and social things I never thought I would say about JD. Tonight he got his haircut. I couldn’t help but stare at this little kid sitting in the chair chatting up a storm with the hairdresser. Two years ago he would have probably kicked and screamed to get out of there.
I love the way JD comes running out of the bathroom after having brushed his teeth. He gets this huge, huge smile on his face and says, “are they shining?” It’s so darned cute. Or the way he slumps his shoulders down and sulks away when he doesn’t get what he wants. Or, the best, whenever he hears someone say a naughty word he says, “Awww, you just said *&^%.” Very clever JD.
Oh, how I don’t want these kids to grow up! Lately I have been reminding myself every day to take it one day at a time. Savor every held hand, smudged face, silly sibling argument. Just enjoy it all right here, right now. One day at a time.

Website update

well, as most of you realize, we do a poor job of keeping up with this website. i am sorry about that. we find that we spend most of our fee time playing with the kids and then we have other hobbies as well. i wish i could say we were going to be more dedicated to this site, but i doubt it. i am just sorry that we miss so many big events that we should be posting. i am going to make a concerted effort to at least ad the big things.

i am also working on a new website. i want to shift to a blogging tool. if you haven’t heard of blogs (short for a web logging tool — an online journal) then you’re not too unlike most people. however, blogs are catching on and they make the process of adding posts easier. i think easier would translate to more posts. this transition might happen in the next month, so stay tuned.

as for the kids . . . ellie is really ready for kindergarden. she starts in less than 3 weeks. we’re all excited. the school encourages parents to attend on the first day and stay the whole time. both paula and i are planning on being there. should be fun times.

JD (what i call Joshua these days) is doing swell as well. JD is growing pretty quickly. he’s a year and a half younger than ellie, but he has already reached her height when she turned 5 a few months ago. i am not sure where he gets it, but i am not complaining either. JD loves playing with his rescue heroes. did i say he loves them? well, he does.

ziggy has turned into the best dog in the world. i put a lot of time into the dog when we first got him and now that effort will pay off for his whole life. in fact, ziggy is so good that i can (and do) take him for walks without a leash. he never tries to escape as my dogs in the past would do. ziggy just minds. and, he’s wonderful with the kids, even when JD gets a little ornery from time to time.

i also have a lot of photos to add as well as some video to edit and post. school starts for me in 3 weeks, so hopefully i get to this stuff before then. be sure and check back and see if i make it.

finally, i signed up for some new photo sites. here’s a link to flickr, which is a cool site to use (very easy), but i am not sure if you can order the photos here. but, it’s really easy to view the photos and to choose the size you want to view them at. enjoy!

Disney on Ice

Last Wednesday night, I took the kids to Disney on Ice for a dad’s night (I have photos from then and this past weekend online — Click “Our Photos” on the left to view). Anyway, I was on the ball and got our tickets ordered on the first day they were available for ordering. Now, I make it a point to get my kids as close as we can get and always order best available. Things get pricier, but they’re only young once and i think it costs us about $10 more per ticket ($30). As you’ll soon see, it was well worth it.

So, we arrived and were told we had to enter at the front because our tickets were on the floor. ON THE FLOOR . . . yep, we were in the front row. They set up a barricade between the front row and the row behind us. We had our own bathrooms and our own concession stand. Very nice, but that wasn’t the half of it.

When the show ended, ALL of the stars came out and shook hands with every kid in the front row. Ellie was elated to meet Arial and other princesses, while Joshua was ecstatic to meet Buzz Lightyear and Woody. I mean, these two were just thrilled and couldn’t stop talking about it. In fact, as we left I was going to buy them a small little souvenir, but caved in and bought Ellie a little mermaid doll and Joshua a 13″ Buzz Lightyear doll. Too cute. We had a blast. I have some photos up to help tell the tale (Click on Our Photos on the left to find them then).

April was a big month

This article is just going to recap some things that happened recently, but Paula and I will come back and provide more in depth stories for everything mentioned here. And, while April had some big stories, the big story from this weekend is all about Joshua. On Saturday, Joshua just suddenly decided he was ready to use the potty chair. He hadn’t used the potty chair yet beyond a little attempt about 8 months ago. Anyway, he didn’t just decide to use it one time on Saturday, but he actually used the potty chair correctly 4 times on Saturday with one time being the #2. 😉 He’s a big boy.

In April, we spent the better part of one week in the hospital with Ellie because she had pneumonia. I had bought tickets to Sesame Street Live and the performance just happened to be while Ellie was in the hospital. Joshua and I went to see the show and had a great time, but Bert and Ernie made a special trip to the hospital to see the kids in the Children’s wing. Quite a nice gesture and Ellie didn’t have to miss out.

The kids grandma and grandpa Cook and aunt Amber came to visit. Mucho fun was had while they were here. Perhaps the biggest moment was Ellie’s 4th birthday party. Ellie missed her 1st party for her friends because of her hospital stay, but we had it a week later and 10 of Ellie’s closest friends showed up to party all out. Fun times.

Finally, I bought a new Nikon digital camera (D70). Very nice camera and this means I should be posting more photos than ever before. I also hope to set up an online studio where visitors (e.g., grandparents especially) can order any prints they want.

These items were just briefly summarized…More to follow soon.

Happy Mother’s Day

I hope all of you mothers reading this have had as wonderful day as I did. Sean and Josh surprised me with breakfast in bed, and it wasn’t donuts. Eggs and toast came with a fresh, steaming cup of coffee. Hmm, can’t say eggs and toast ever tasted better. The coffee was delightful and much needed as we had been up much of the night with Ellie, who stayed in the family room during the breakfast feast moaning about her earache. She has a little ear infection, which we are treating with antibiotics and Motrin.

She’s resting comfortably right now, on my pillow. Once she took some Motrin, Ellie had a great day. She coached Josh on some soccer skills. Ellie has taken an interest in soccer, so we picked up some little cones for her to practice dribbling around. She’s not bad, and decided today to hold a practice in which she was, of course, the coach. Josh hung in there for about 20 minutes of constructive feedback from her. Then he retired to his trains. I gave him a lot of credit for hanging in there. Ellie asked me for feedback on her coaching skills. I told her she did a good job and reminded her that fun was supposed to be part of the soccer experience. She said, “I had fun, mom.”
On a less, self-centered note, Ellie was an absolute dear to me on this fine day. She reminded me more than a few times that she loved me. At one point, she said she would always love me and when I was dead she would still love me. She wasn’t even trying to get out of picking up her toys or anything. At bedtime she said that I was the best mom in the whole world. These words were certainly music to my ears, but what I found even more interesting was what she said next. “I guess that’s why we have this day, because everyone’s mom is the best mom in the whole world, and on Mother’s Day we can celebrate them.” She’s so thoughtful, not just thoughtful in a kind way, which I think she generally is, but thoughtful in that she seems to think about everything.
Ellie’s hospital visit a few weeks ago was interesting to say the least. She was a very good patient, and once past the IV debacle, a pleasant patient too. Things got a little punchy our last day. We were both ready to go. Ellie was literally climbing all over the furniture, and I was pacing the floor. We were packed and ready to go when the doctor came to release her. I can’t recall every cute little thing Ellie said, but I can recall that she adjusted quickly to hospital life, appreciated my presence, and missed her dad and brother. She was also very cooperative and very brave. I was proud of her. This hospital stay was so completely different from our first experience with RSV. We didn’t make a big deal about this one because it didn’t feel like a big deal. I knew from the start that antibiotics and fluids were going to kick in quickly and we would go home. Ellie didn’t seem too concerned either. As she started to feel better she seemed to enjoy the steady stream of nurses, doctors, and volunteers. She even kicked me out for a few minutes when a volunteer came in to read a story about Clifford. She had puppets too. Thank goodness! I needed a break.
A couple weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of spending a couple days in Lawrence for work. At dinner the conversation briefly touched on how children mispronounce words. I was thinking about instances when Ellie did this and couldn’t remember much. She used to call the remote control, “the remote can control.” That’s all I could remember. Ellie is an absolute stickler for precision when it comes to language. She’s always correcting, or helping Josh with his language. Not sure how this plays out with her friends though. The other day on the playground, she was building castles on the playground with a friend, we’ll call Susie. When Susie flipped her bucket over, the castle just fell apart. Susie wasn’t happy, and Ellie said, “Oh Susie, that’s too bad. Your castle collapsed.” Susie said nothing. Ellie said, “Susie do you know what collapsed means? It means that your castle just crumbled down.” Susie said, “It broke” to which Ellie replied, “I suppose ‘collapsed’ could mean ‘broke’ too. Can it mom?” “Yes, Ellie, but I think Susie is more worried about her castle than the meaning of the word, collapsed.” Ellie – “Oh yeah, that’s too bad Susie, but you can make another one.” So, typical Ellie!
Now on to Josh. Josh’s verbal progress is astounding to me. He seems to have gone from simple words to complete sentences overnight. I’ve heard this can happen with kids who develop language a little slower than others, and I can really see it with him. He has so much to say. At night when I tuck him in, he will often say, “So, mom, how was your day?” This is funny because I ask this question just about every day at dinnertime. But, he really seems to listen to what I say and just loves asking the question. He also frequently starts a conversation with, “One time…” For example, today Ellie got some ear drops as part of her medicine. When Sean brought them home, I could see Josh’s wheels spinning. Things quieted down and he said, “One time, I was sick, and my eyes hurt. I got eye drops, and they got better.” Ellie asked what eardrops are and Josh told her, “bubbles and water.” Not sure where that came from, but she seemed convinced.
I could describe Josh as a bit chaotic, but want to clarify that I do this in a positive way. I had a class once in which I learned that all behavior could be placed on a continuum with ‘completely predictable’ at one end (the sun rises in the east and sets in the west) and ‘completely random’ at the other end (days Sean will put his laundry away – just kidding, I can actually predict these days with fairly good accuracy). Anyway, chaotic behavior is somewhere in the middle. It’s just predictable enough that you think you know what’s going to happen and then, bang, something random occurs. This is Josh. It’s probably many other 2 1/2 year olds too, but I’m only writing about Josh. Just when I think I have a handle on his personality, he does or says something totally unpredictable. Here’s an example. He is a very tidy little guy. His room is neat and clean. He puts things away and more often than not where it belongs. Thus, I’m always thrown for a loop when I ask him to pick up something in the family room, and he runs away yelling, “NO!”
Here are a few more examples. Josh shares his toys but will never share food. He loves, I mean loves to play outside but is not fond of getting dirty. He is obsessed with trucks, big trucks, construction trucks, but hates the noise they make. “Too loud, too loud!” he says. He loves to ride in the back of Sean’s car with the top down, but only if Sean goes slowly. In fact, he tells Sean to slow down when he’s driving the van. He adores his friends at school but prefers them one at a time. He is always willing to go to new places and seems genuinely interested in new things, but of the four of us, is always the first one to want to go home. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.
Josh is getting ready to move into the Jelly Bean room at his school. We’re not sure how this will go. He is a proud member of the Sweat Pea room right now and doesn’t seem too interested in advancement. We did get good news last week. Josh’s best friend Robert will be moving too, and so will his primary teacher, Speranta. Thank Goodness!! Not sure if I’ve told you much about Speranta. She has a Eastern European accent and a very pleasant voice. I really appreciated about nine to twelve months ago. Josh didn’t really go through that toddler, “No!” stage when he was younger. Instead he would give me this sweet, sing-songy, “No, no mama,” with a little laugh. I’m sure it sounded very much like Speranta and I liked it. He still does it only now I have to toughen my response. I realize he’s using it to be charming now, and charming he is.

March madness

March 27, 2004 was a busy day of play in the Lancaster house. We started the day by heading outside to enjoy one of the first nice days of spring and stayed outside for the better part of the day. In fact, there are a bunch of photos from today (click Our Photos on your left to see them). At lunchtime, Ellie told me she wanted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I thought it was a good idea and left the kitchen area to check on Joshua. When I returned I found Ellie on the kitched floor with a bunch of pieces of bread matched in pairs sitting on the kitchen floor. She also had the peanut butter and jelly out and was ready to make sandwiches. It was neat to see (and, you can see a few photos of it in the Our Photos link — left).

Joshua was busy outside with Paula. Paula cleaned their toy house to get the winter scum off of it and Joshua was having a ball. He also got bubble mix out and blew bubbles for quite a while.

After naps, I took the kids on a wagon ride and we headed over to the school playground. Man oh man, it’s quite easy to see that the kids have grown over the winter based on the things they could now do on the playground equipment. Both kids headed up the big swirly slide and didn’t hesitate one second before sliding down. They climbed on everything and looked like old pros.

Paula and I bought a new queen sized mattress and moved our old one to the guest room. When then took the regular bed in there and moved it into Joshua’s room. He was extremely excited to get a new “big” bed and squealed with delight, which was followed by a bunch of jumping on the bed by Ellie and him.

Today was a great day…then again, every day is great with my family.

On raising our kids

As Sean mentioned, Josh has become a little sweetheart. I say this with some reservation because, first, his demeanor really had only one direction to go, and second, he does still have a very aloof side that can drive us crazy. Still, for the most part, he’s a joy. One example of why I can say this is because Josh decided that when he wakes in the middle night he shouldn’t wake Mommy up. Let me explain.

Josh typically gets thirsty through the night. Almost every night he wants something to drink. Then, of course, he goes to the bathroom, which also wakes him up. For some time, he would call out for me every time he needed a drink or was wet. One morning (Josh is also an early riser) when he got up for our morning ritual of cuddling up in the rocking chair to watch some TV, I explained to him that he couldn’t wake me up anymore in the middle of the night, that mommy needs sleep, and that when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m very cranky the next day. He was listening intently and agreed that he didn’t want a cranky mommy. That night when he went to bed, I told him to sleep all night and let mommy get a good night sleep too. He smiled and said his adorable, “Okay Mama.” Sure enough when he needed something to drink or got too wet, he called out for Daddy and has every night since. What a good boy!!! And now, just about every morning when he wakes up, I say, “Good Morning my wonderful boy,” and he says, “I didn’t wake Mama up!”

Ellie has asked some tough questions lately. One of her teachers recently had a baby, which of course prompted considerable curiosity.

Ellie: “Mom, when I get older, will I just get a baby?”

Me: “No, Ellie, it usually doesn’t work that way. Usually, you meet someone very special, get married, and the two of you decide to have a baby.”

Ellie: “I think I’ll just marry Josh. I already know him.”

Me: “No, honey, people don’t marry their brothers or sisters.”

Ellie: “But, I love Josh. I want to marry Josh.”

Me: “Mama didn’t marry one of her brothers. I met your daddy. He was a very special friend, and we got married.”

Ellie: “Hmm. When I get married, will we buy a bigger house so that person can have his own bedroom? Like maybe we could get a house with an upstairs, and he could live upstairs”

Me: “I suppose that could happen.”

Ellie: “And if Josh gets married, can his wife and my husband share a room?”

Me: “No honey, I think it would be best if they had their own rooms.”

Ellie: “Mom, how does the baby actually come out?”

Me: “Hmm, good question.” –

Ellie: “I know your stomach doesn’t just explode, so how does it come out?”

I gave a very brief description, which prompted a whole set of related questions, but eventually we came to a basic understanding that seemed to satisfy Ellie. Three days later, I get this:

Ellie: “Mom, next time you pick me up from school, can you tell Maddie how babies come out because her mom didn’t tell her.”

Me: “Ellie, that’s a conversation mothers should have with their own children.”

Ellie: “Well, maybe you can tell her mom then, so she can tell Maddie.”

Great Grandmother Laura

It is with great sadness that I report that my grandmother (Laura) passed away in her sleep in Minneapolis, MN on Sunday. She lived a wonderful and healthy 95 years and will be greatly missed.

This is a photo of Joshua and his great grandmother back in May of 2002. She looked great at 95!!! Not many kids get to meet their great grandparents and Joshua and Ellie were fortunate enough to meet three great grandmothers and two great grandfathers. I can barely remember when my grandfather (Les) died when I was 3 years old and my grandmother Laura has been the rock of the family these last 30 years since then. What a wonderful and strong woman she was…

Ann Arbor

Paula finally jumps into the fray…

We had a very exciting weekend a few weeks back (I am just now getting this posted). Friday afternoon I took Ellie and Josh to Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is Michigan’s version of Lawrence. It’s a great town — home of U of M, but we like it best because Kate Johnson, Ellie and Josh’s former night-time babysitter lives there. Kate is getting married in November and has asked Ellie to be a flower girl. Ann Arbor is two hours away, so I decided to drive over on Friday and spend the night. Kate talked me in to taking both kids. Josh was in an interesting mood on the way down. We have a VCR in the car which he likes to think is his own. He is somewhat obsessed with it. He picks the movie to be watched and then holds the next two tapes in his hands. This day his attention span was very short. About every ten minutes he wanted a new movie. After the third movie, I told him he had to watch the whole thing. Ellie agreed. It was a Thomas train. She likes Thomas and especially likes the “Little Engines” performed by a children’s choir at the end of the movie. Josh was mad and proceeded to yell at me in his own little way, for the twenty minutes. I finally told him he would need a road side time-out and started to slow the car down. Miraculously he decided that Thomas the train wasn’t so bad after all. Why it took me twenty minutes to figure this out is a question I am still asking myself.
Kate met us at the hotel and had gifts for the kids. Josh has a tough time remembering Kate, but Ellie requires a whole 45 seconds to warm up to her. We had dinner at Applebees. We like this restaurant because Ellie can get her favorite vegetable broccoli as a side, Josh can get his chicken and fries, and everyone gets a cookie. After dinner we went to Kate and Chris’s apartment to play with Dexter the dog. The kids were so wound up. They fed Dexter and played ball with him. Josh shared a water bottle with him. Then Josh decided to show off his tackling skills. He tackled Ellie about a dozen times before she had enough and walloped him. Somehow they managed to find all this extremely funny. I’m not sure I’ve seen them this wild and know that my description doesn’t come close to describing their behavior.
The next day was really fun. Ellie and Josh were terrific at breakfast. We ate in the hotel, and they were great. Kate joined us. After breakfast we headed to Kate’s parents’ house, and then off to the dress store. Ellie thoroughly enjoyed trying on her dresses. She had three different ones on, and each time she would twirl around grinning and batting her eyes. The fact that Josh had his nose a little pushed out of shape became obvious when he started knocking things over and stomping his feet. Finally it was time to go. Josh slept for the entire two hours while Ellie lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes. Good thing too because Ellie and Josh were hosting a cousins sleep over the rest of the weekend!!