Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wake-up Call

About three weeks ago Mike and Jake were talking.  Jake isn't a huge fan of practicing piano, but he really thinks it stinks that he has to have his practice finished before heading out to play with friends.  It's our torture, but also our ace-in-the-hole to make sure practicing gets done.  We call it "incentive".

Anyway - Mike offered that maybe Jake should get up when Maddie gets up, get his practicing done before school, and then when he gets home all he has to do is his homework and chore cards (which are working great!).

Jake thought it sounded like a great idea and asked me to wake him up with Maddie. 

At 6:25 the morning

I did. 

To our great surprise he got right out of bed, headed downstairs and by 6:30 A.M. he was practicing "The Wedding March".  He was very excited that afternoon when he walked in the door and said, "I DO NOT HAVE TO PRACTICE MY PIANO!"  He had 20 minutes of reading, half a page of math and declared, "My day is FREE!"

So, now, most days at 6:30 A.M. you will see this:

While outside it looks like this:

I cannot stess the 6:30 A.M. time enough.

Yesterday Mike came upstairs from his office for breakfast at about 6:40am.  He looked at me, and banged his head on the cupboard and mentioned that he didn't think he could handle this anymore.  I said, "Whose idea was this?"

Deflated, he said, "Mine" and loaded up on coffee.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dear Children...

There are some things I would really like for you to have learned before you leave our house in the next 7-10 years.

1.  At the top of the list would kindness, compassion and respect for others.  You are on the right track for this and I beam when people compliment me on my kids.

2.  Tied with first place would be a great amount of self-confidence in yourself and your abilities.  I'm not looking for big egos - just the knowledge that you are capable of whatever it is you set your mind to.

3.  The ability to throw away empty boxes when you've removed the last of its contents!

This is the fourth box I've found this week. I believe #1 and #2 are good matches to achieving #3.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Style Intervention

He's back, ladies and gentlemen.

This is what my son left the house looking like this morning.  Paired with these shoes.  Help.

And that wasn't even the end.  I was folding laundry this morning and pulled a gray and orange hooded sweatshirt (the zipper kind) out and his eyes lit up.  I wanted to yell, "STEP AWAY FROM THE CLOTHES!"

I didn't.  I rationally listed off five reasons as to why he shouldn't wear this.  It didn't really work until I practically begged him to not wear it simply due to the fact that...

I knew he'd take it off five-minutes into school...
I had JUST finished all the laundry for the week...
The thought of having to wash something that I knew he'd worn for five minutes made me want to cry...

It worked.  The sweatshirt will be saved for another day.  He'll probably wear it with the lumberjack shirt.

I'm. Not. Kidding.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mom-Guilt Powers

A couple days ago Jake informed me that his water bottle was leaking.  His $10 water bottle that Target is perpetually out of (I've tried to buy more) because everyone and their brother swears by this water bottle because it doesn't leak.

So, I looked at it, and sure enough it had a huge leak.  Huge.  I was completely frustrated.  There were no cracks or holes or anything.  Upon closer investigation (and honestly through dumb luck) I undid a little piece near the top and flipped it around hoping it would seal the spout tighter.  Sure enough, it worked great; no leaks!  I told Jake it was fixed and explained what had happened:

Me:  Somehow this plastic thing got flipped around and wasn't sealing the spout.  But, it's fixed now.
Jake:  I didn't do it...I...
Me:  [bending to his level and speaking in a matter-of-fact voice]  Jake: I'm not blaming you.  I have no idea how it happened.  Maybe one of us accidentally attached it wrong after it was washed.  Maybe one of your friends at school thought it would be funny to flip it around.  I have no idea, but it's fixed now so it's fine.

I proceeded to go on with our previous conversation, but Jake was curiously quiet.  After a bit he said:

"Mom...I have to tell you something.  I actually did that.  I was playing around with it and it popped off and I put it back on.  I'm sorry for not having told you the truth."

Could someone explain to me what a parent is supposed to do in this situation?  I mean...I honestly didn't see this coming from anywhere!  I took a breath, gave him a hug and said I appreciated his honesty and we all make mistakes, but we learn from them.  I wasn't sure if I was supposed to make it look like I knew all along that he had done this.

I told Mike later and he said, " were able to make the guilt work!"

The thing is: I WASN'T EVEN TRYING!

Can you imagine what would be possible in this house if I honed this new "Mom-Guilt" ability and actually put it to use?

Jake and I went about our business but about five minutes later he came up, gave me a hug and said, "I'm so glad I told you about all that.  I feel so much better now." 

And without knowing he just zapped me of any evil-genius I was planning with my new-found power.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chore System #57

I swear we have tried to think of any system that works for us in terms of having the kids do chores.  We don't expect them to do much, but we would like them to be involved with some things and learn that they do have responsibilities as a part of this household. 

For awhile we tried this system:

This was a chore chart we invested in.  We thought this would be our perfect answer.  We would list out each kids "chores" for the week, and they would simply attach their magnet color when they had finished. 

Ta Da!


We tried this chart multiple times in multiple variations.  After the "daily" thing didn't pan out, we only checked it once per week (which happened...I think...exactly once).  We offered "prize incentives" if the kids kept up with their stuff, which at the time included reminding us to check with them on Sunday nights lest we forget.  Which we all did.  We tried listing little chores as well as big chores (as evidenced by Mike's list notation of "clean house").  Nothing with this thing has worked.  It will be in our next garage sale.  Cheap.

We've tried several variations of this kind of thing.  A few days ago I was trying to think of what exactly works for our family and I realized that on the few occasions where we've all worked together, I always make a list for each kid.  They go through their list, check things off, and it's always kept them on track.

Lists!  Mike and I are spreadsheet addicts.  I don't know why a personal list didn't occur to me before this!  I brainstormed and over the next few nights came up with this system:

Each kid has a little booklet now.  It hangs on the side of the fridge.  Inside there is a page for each day.  Each day has a list of 4-5 things that is their "chores" for the day.

And to make things clear: we don't really expect them to do 4-5 "chores".  Sort of.  Two of the items each day happen to be things they would have to do anyway: homework and piano practice.  We've basically added one chore and "Make Your Bed" (Mike's addition: he's bound and determined that everyone make their bed when they wake up.  I'm still trying to learn this after 14 years.) 

The rules are simple: they can't do anything or go anywhere until these things are finished.  We've simply said, "Is your card finished" and it either has or hasn't been.  We've also told them to check their cards: don't just memorize them.  Occasionally there will be extra things added (when they have to take laundry upstairs) or there will be "prizes" (for example: a fudgesicle reward for a particularly good week).  Each person has their set of cards for one month; at the beginning of the next month they trade cards so no one is getting stuck with the "yucky" jobs forever.

These cards are laminated so if they wanted to, they could check things off with a dry-erase marker.  Or they just simply run down the list one by one and mentally check it off.

To be realistic, this system has been in place approximately five days.  But, that is about four days longer than any other system so far.  My hopes are slightly elevated that this will continue to work.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Jake has a new-found love in the clothing department: button down shirts.

We did a tiny amount of school clothes shopping this year.  I'm waiting until winter/fall stuff goes on sale.  But, each kid was allowed a few new items to pick out for the start of the year. 

Jake informed me when we first started shopping that he really liked those shirts with the buttons - and then you wear a white t-shirt under it, but the shirts unbuttoned and hanging out...he went into great detail. All I saw were pictures of the extra ironing I was going to be doing.

This particular shirt (which reminds me of a lumberjack) was his absolute favorite find.  He's been waiting for the right temperature outside to be able to wear this shirt and today fit the bill!  He was THRILLED to be able to put this on!

And those shoes?  Youza.  When he came home from the store and showed them to Mike, my husband looked at me, shook his head and said, "You failed him as a mother when you let him pick those out."  I agreed.  They don't look horrible when he's wearing a matching shirt.  But when he sports the other orange and green button down with khaki shorts?  Ugh. 

But, we aren't wearing them and he loves them.  That's my mantra every morning when he leaves.

I told Jake I would be posting this today and he said, "Make sure you say...'do you notice anything else about Jake?'"

So, do you?  Let me give you a hint...

Last night at about 5:10 I had a knock on my piano studio door and I quickly opened it.  Our kids know not to knock unless it's an emergency.  I popped open the door and Jake held up his tooth and said, "My tooth fell out!"  I told him congrats, thanks for sharing, closed the door and heard the mom who was sitting in on her son's lesson snicker. 

I exude such professionalism.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Laundry Board

No, I'm not hand washing our laundry.  But the first week of September was vacation for me from teaching and I finally tackled a project that I had been thinking about all summer.

I read the book "Junk Beautiful" which had several ideas for people to repurpose used/old items.  They had created this laundry board using an old wood firescreen.  They attached old nails/bolts and a chicken carrier to have shelves and places to hang things.  I loved it and it was exactly what I wanted for the laundry room.  I really wanted one place to hang our keys, a place for a scissor and pens as well as a spot to collect the change I find in pockets.  I actually found the logo which had been painted onto their firescreen and enlarged it to copy it onto my boards.

The closer it got to making it though, the more I was thinking that having a board with our last name on it would have been a lot more personal and fitting.  One night I searched the internet and came across the logo image from "Murphy's Doghouse" in Chicago.  (Which I would link to, but it's under construction.)  I thought it would be perfect since it was going in our dog's "room" (the dog being the only reason we actually got a "new" laundry room) and it had our last name.

I went through the same process of creating it as I did with our bingo board.  This was a little more involved though because it required a picture, so it involved a lot of cutting and tracing of the logo.  But, I'm really excited for how it turned out.

Ta Daaaaaa...

Thanks to my dad's collection, I found some really old, giant screws.  They were perfect.  I hung the mason jars from some wire and that thing at the bottom was something found at Goodwill for $1.  It holds all our outgoing mail.

Now just a couple pictures of Sadie as a puppy to hang in there (which I really just have to print and hang) and this room will be complete.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Heading Home

On Wednesday morning we packed up and got ready to head out.  Before we left, everyone wanted to take one last quick look at the lake.  It couldn't have been a more beautiful morning.  Hardly a cloud in the sky - and for the first time, no fog either!

We all enjoyed doing "our thing" one last time at the shore.  I took a billion pictures.  The kids roamed as close to shore as possible and Mike waited for me while taking in the scenery and watching the kids.  He's a multitasker by trade.

It seemed crazy that only the day before we could hardly see the other side of this little bay because of all the fog...

I like this picture of Mike.  The only thing that would have made it better was if he'd actually been looking toward the sun.  But he wasn't reading my telepathic messages to turn around.  I guess he thought one of us should keep an eye on the kids playing on the shore.

We started wondering how deep it really was right off the edge...around Split Rock we had learned it was 700 feet deep only a few hundred feet out.

Those white things, we realized, were the rocks jutting out.  They didn't look to be anywhere near the surface.  At 40 degree water temp, we didn't think it was a good idea to look closer.

The kids climbed one last time on "their rock".

I was really surprised at how much the kids just loved sitting by the shore or walking around it.  I honestly think if we had said one day, "We are just going to sit here all day," that they would have been totally okay with that - if not thrilled with the idea.

So while we were all definitely tired and slept well at night (despite Mike's best snoring efforts and us me tossing things at him to make him stop) it was a really relaxing vacation, which was one of the goals.

And we definitely left our mark.  Remember that bench?

Mike carved our initial into it the night before leaving.

Jake was thrilled to see that it was still there the next morning.  We assured him it would be there for a long time to come.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Split Rock

After that excruciating fishing hike, we weren't done with the day's fun.

Split Rock Lighthouse is conveniently located between Tettegouche Park (where we fished) and Gooseberry (where we were camped).  We stopped on the way back to camp to see Split Rock.  Previously, every time we drove past it and saw it from the road someone would always yell, "There's Split Rock!" or "There's the lighthouse!" 

"Hey look, kids...there's Big Ben."  That's what it always reminded me of.

After our exhausting hike, we got to Split Rock with a little time to kill before going on the tour.  We occupied our time:

The tour was not what I expected, but not bad.  It was informative and short.  I thought we'd be taken through everything but not so.  They explained a few things about the lighthouse and it's history, but once it was time to actually head into the lighthouse, they sent us on our merry way. 

It's the 100th year of the lighthouse so I imagine they've had quite a bit of visitors.  We were all quite surprised at how small the lighthouse actually was.  Very deceiving from pictures.

We walked through one of the three houses for the lightkeepers and then headed down a path which led to approximately 195 steps to the lake.  After our hike all I could think was how awful that climb up was going to be.

But the view was pretty cool:

And pulling out my Ansel Adams again...

Maddie and Jake had another round of walking around rocks on the lake's shore. 

There's a book out for the 100th birthday that contains photographs from different angles.  I can see where the photographer was intrigued by the subject.  After hearing some of the history of the building and the people, it's an interesting subject to play around with.

But some other subjects are cuter than that tiny little lighthouse in the distance.

Further along the shore there were piles and piles of rocks that people had assembled.  Jake was inspired.

He created his own artwork.  We tried to guess how long his creation would last along the shore.

We thought maybe in a couple years we should go back to visit and see if it was still in one piece.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fish Tales

Talk about some tall tales...

Or long ones as this vacation tale is becoming.  But here I go, pulling out the slides again for our company.

On our second full day of vacation we decided to go fishing.  Mike talked with someone in the visitor center who told her that the best fishing between the parks (there are several in the area) was Mic Mac Lake in Tettegouche Park which is about 25 minutes from Gooseberry.  We headed out early in the morning bringing not only our fishing gear, but our lunch and dishes as well. 

We got to our destination and pulled everything out.  We had been told that it was going to be a 1.5 mile walk into the actual lake but not that big of a deal.  Everyone carried something with Mike hauling the giant backpack filled with all our dishes and food.

This was the longest 1.5 miles we've ever tackled.  Because I didn't take pictures of the actual walk up, I have taken the liberty to draw a map for you:

No joke.  This wasn't a casual 1.5 mile hike.  It was steeply uphill.  And when we got to one point Maddie saw a sign that said, "Congratulations!  It's all downhill from here!"  On the way down Mike said, "I'm not even excited that we are heading downhill.  I know on the way back I just have to climb up it."

40 minutes later we got to our destination.

There are cabins in this area that people can hike their gear into and stay at.  Cute cabins.  I'd have to permanently live there to make that hike worth all the camping gear.  But we found these two docks.

While Mike baited the lines, the kids tried to find the fish.  They were slightly discouraged when all they found was minnows.

But we started fishing and not much was happening.  Mike and Maddie headed around the bend to look for a second dock we'd heard about.  Jake and I kept fishing and hoping.

Pretty soon Maddie came running onto the dock yelling, "I caught a fish!  I caught a fish!" and Mike followed to tell us to follow them back to the other dock where it was a little easier to get everyone on the dock.

Jake announced that we were not allowed to leave until all of us had caught at least one fish.  I didn't think I'd ever see home again.

But, the morning and afternoon sailed by and we each caught our fish.

Perch.  Mostly Perch.  Tiny fish, but a fish none-the-less and everyone was excited when their lines started pulling.

Maddie still refused to touch the fish.  She loved catching it, but once it was out of the water, she wanted no part of it.

And finally I knew that we were all allowed to go some point.

We cooked our soup and fished only a little longer before deciding we wanted/needed to start our hike back.  It looked like this:

It felt worse.

Maddie and Mike walked a lot of this together.  He whistled and she had to guess the tune.  Or they talked.  Either way it was a good view from where I stood and I couldn't help think that I hope she knows how lucky she is to have him by her side!

Yes.  I get sappy on ridiculous hikes.

This was the view from near the top.  Near.  We'd already passed the summit and still had a ways to go.

Kudos to Jake.  Mike and I hadn't realized that his shoe had a giant hole in it.  So did his sock.  He only had to stop a couple times for the rocks in his feet.

And honestly, both kids did pretty awesome on this hike.  Mike said this is going to be one of "those stories" that goes down in history in this family. 

"Remember when we went fishing...and we had to hike uphill...both ways?" 

Sadly that won't be an exaggeration.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lake Superior

After dinner on our second night, we finally decided to take a walk to see Lake Superior.  The kids were very excited to see it.

See that tiny little bit of water in the distance...lower right?  Above that is all fog.  That's pretty much what greeted us from far away: fog.  We got to see the water, but we had to be right on the edge of the lake.  Very eerie! (And it wasn't even that lake!  HA!)

Mike and I loved the picnic tables...handmade during the 1930's when the rest of the camp was built.
All this fog didn't stop our exploration though.  The kids loved climbing all over the lava rocks and exploring the massive water-filled holes.

They both loved this particular rock - it was a bit trickier to climb on top of - and once up there they saw that there was another divet completely filled with water which made it even more precarious!

We did make it down to the shore and Maddie and Jake were so excited to feel how cold the water was. COLD! The information we read said the water temp averaged around 40 degrees!  We kept warning them to keep their feet dry - we only had so many pairs of socks and only one pair of shoes per person!  They pushed that warning as far as they could...

A little further along it was interesting to see how this inlet hardly had any fog compared to the larger expanse of the lake.  It was also crazy to me that in all the years since this "barrier" had been built that it hadn't been redone.  This is all that separated someone and a 20-30 foot drop into rocks.  Honestly, I was okay with it - I can't imagine a giant fence here.  But in this day and age of "safety precautions" and lawsuits, I expected a lot more. 

We explored a little further along...

We thought this bench was great.  It was in such a neat spot to look out over the inlet area and so peaceful.  And so old.  As much as carving might be something to not teach your kids, it was neat to read all the old "inscriptions".

This bench will make a comeback in future pictures.

Anyway - we walked down around and into the lower part of the bay area and the fog started rolling in.

We watched a guy pile these rocks on the edge of the larger rocks.  We couldn't believe that the crashing waves didn't wash it away. 

It was getting really chilly and dark so we started to head back to camp for the night where we sat around the campfire and took turns answering questions of each other.  When we asked if the lake or the falls were more impressive the kids decided the lake was the best part of the day.  I was surprised by their answer. 

Happily surprised.