Saturday, January 26, 2013

Afternoons with GG

One of my resolutions this year was to spend one afternoon each week with the kids at my grandmother's house.

My grandmother is 91.  
She has always been, and continues to be, a very impressive women in my eyes.

But these days, it is hard for GG to get out of the house.
Hence, my resolution to bring the chaos to her on a weekly basis.

Thursdays have become our day to spend the afternoon with GG.
I pick the kids up from school,
we pick up some lunch,
(this is a huge treat for us, something that gets the kids really excited, 
and probably makes the afternoon feasible for me)
and head over to GG's.

On Thursdays, E-Bear and G-Bear bring home all their weekly work and projects from school,
so we have a lot to show and tell.
I let Buddy Bear bring a special book or toy along so that he doesn't feel left out.  
He loves to show things to other people.

Everyone takes great pride in presenting their work to GG.

G-Bear reads GG a story or a few sight words that she has practiced at school while I set out lunch.
Then, we feast on our lunch treats, always with a special dessert.
GG might not eat much these days, but she always eats dessert.

Next, it is story time.
GG's eyesight isn't very good, so this is an activity from our day that I know we can all enjoy together.  
My backpack is full to the brim with books.
Because we are with GG, we have an extra long story time on Thursdays.

Today we enjoyed:
The Hungry Caterpillar
A chapter from On the Banks of Plum Creek
The story of St. George and the Dragon, from The Children's Book of Virtues
Snowmen at Night
and a chapter from our Jesus Storybook Bible about Jesus' baptism.

By the time we leave for Buddy Bear's nap, I am quite sure we have exhausted GG too :)
No, I only kid.  GG is an eager participant.  She makes us promise to come back next week.

Last year, on the occasion of GG's 90th birthday, my brother offered a toast.  
He titled it, "Things I Learned From My 90 Year Old Grandma."
It went something like this:

Grandma's 90th Birthday - July 2011
Things I Learned From My 90 Year Old Grandma...

1.) Nothing ever gets past your grandma.  No matter how smart you think you are, she has at least 65 years of experience on you.  She will always find out when you have misbehaved.
2.) Your grandmother will always keep a secret.  No matter what dirt she has on you, she will keep it between the two of you.  Don't forget to thank her for that.  Your parents would kill you if they knew what she knew.
3.) Stay active.  Your life will stay full and vibrant if you get up everyday and push your body. *Remember this especially on the days that you don't want to.
4.) Age Gracefully.  Getting old is not for wussies.  I will always remember being 11 years old and arguing with my grandma.  My family was changing and I was not happy.  She looked me in the eye and said, "Growing up is not for wussies.  You look for the good, and on to the next."  As things in my life continue to change, I remember my grandma's words.  "Look for the good, and on to the next."

With each passing Thursday afternoon, I am thanking God that my children have this time with their great grandmother.  I am hoping that a few of the great things she taught me will rub off on them.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Warm Winter Hearts

Here in Minnesota, the temperature is below zero.  
It will stay that way for most of the week.

On Monday, in honor of MLK day, G-Bear had no school.  I love the winter school holidays, and I look forward to them with great anticipation.  So, I was determined to let neither the temperature nor cabin fever spoil our extra day together.  

I have found that when winter arrives, it pays to have a few activities saved up,
as well as the right expectations.

We started the day prepared: I had set up our play tents in the basement,
which the children greeted with shrieks of joy after breakfast.

By the time morning snack rolled around, however, we needed a new activity:
paper bag puppets!

Our paper bag puppet project taught us many things.
1.  It is important to read directions, even if you are going to choose to ignore them out of creativity.
2.  Fussing is not allowed at the art table (this is not a new rule, by the way).  If one person fusses, others have to shout to be heard above the fussing, and soon everyone is shouting and crabby.
3.  Buddy Bear loves glue sticks.  He would prefer to remove the glue stick top again and again to put glue stick glue on any and every surface, just to experiment.
4. This project works best when Buddy Bear and Mom use the glue stick together.
5.  Stickers are also lots of fun.

A few toddler tantrums and a lot of hard work later, we had three beautiful paper bag puppets.
The lion (Buddy Bear),
the frog (E-Bear)
and the elephant (G-Bear).

Now, it was time to make lunch.  The kids wanted to build a house (just like Pa Ingalls!) in the living room.  Being the creativity squelcher that I am, I pointed out that we had already built two "houses" in the basement, and plus, we didn't have enough wood and blankets for a house in the living room.

Thankfully, the kids settled for building a theater for their puppets instead.

After construction, we enjoyed lunch together, and then it was time for the puppet show.

G-Bear and E-Bear were kind enough to invite all the stuffed animals and dolls to watch.

Buddy Bear and I were also invited to join the audience.

The performance, plot and puppeteers were all wonderful.

There were many rounds of applause, bows, and encores at the end.

Which brought us to.... Buddy Bear's nap time
(can you believe we were only to nap time by this point?).

Which caused me to pause and reflect for a moment.
These days can be exhausting.  Some days I feel like I haven't "accomplished" anything.  The combination of these two feelings, one physical and one emotional, can be very discouraging.  But, as I snuggled my Buddy to read him his story, I had a moment to reflect on what a treasure this day really was.  My storytime snuggling and puppeteer watching days are numbered, folks.  When I look back on my life, these days are going to be a brief blip on the screen, overwhelmed by a sea of other days devoted to many other tasks and pursuits.  In the moment, these days can feel long. There are so many moments of discipline, behavior, and routine that are either unpleasant, mundane or require greater selflessness on my part.  But in reality, these days are short.  And, as a friend recently reminded me, our sense of worldly accomplishment is horribly skewed.   If I am watchful, there are countless other moments each day when E-Bear responds to a frustration with a practiced response, Buddy Bear performs a new skill that we have labored to teach, and G-Bear offers to help her brothers in a coached way.  In each of these moments, I could take time marvel in my children's growth, their precious personhood, and the mark I am able to make on their lives during this brief childhood.

 I returned downstairs to find G-Bear and E-Bear in the kitchen with the Playdough.
They had all our new dough and tools (remember, I said, it pays to have a few winter activities saved up) out and ready to go.   For the next two hours, while Buddy Bear napped, our kitchen counter became a pasture for countless farm animals and their babies, complete with a cardboard box barn (thanks, Mom!) and duplo farm fences.  Thank you, Lord, for playdough and the creative process.
We had a blast.

When Buddy Bear woke up, his siblings were delighted to involve him in a game of "Grocer and Customer."  The shrieks of laughter that erupted from the living room were my bonus as I finished making dinner.  Then, T brought home blondie bar mix.  Is there any wonder that he forever remains my Prince Charming?  We enjoyed the special dessert after a special dinner at the end of our special day together.

In sum, it is cold outside, but our hearts are warm.
Thank you, Lord, for the roof over our heads,
the fleeting days of childhood,
and these precious days together.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Grocery Bag

The weather is cold here, so we need to keep the kitchen warm.  Have a wonderful MLK week!

Day One
Chicken and lentil burgers from Everyday Food Magazine
with roasted potatoes, romaine salad and oranges slices
Photo and recipe from

Day Two
with basmati rice and steamed broccoli
This recipe also works well with tofu in place of shrimp.  We go easy on the cayenne pepper, using only a few shakes.
Recipe and photo from

Day Three
Santa Fe Chicken Salad by the Cheesecake Factory
with cheese quesadillas
This salad is my favorite menu item at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant.  
It is an easy salad to serve for company.
Photo and recipe from The Cheesecake Factory

Day Four
Butternut squash couscous from Real Simple Magazine
with steamed peas and pear slices
Photo and recipe from

Day Five
Green chili posole from Everyday Food Magazine
with applesauce and homemade rolls

Photo and recipe from

Blessings on your kitchen!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why I shouldn't let my child stand in the grocery cart

The following story could seriously compromise my Mother-of-the-Year application.  Come to think of it, there are so many things that would compromise my application, I shouldn't apply anyway.

First, some pertinent background:

There are many ways that Buddy Bear differs from his siblings.  One way that he defies my previous parenting experience is with his impressive, and sometimes death-defying, gross-motor confidence.  In contrast to his relatively physically cautious siblings, Buddy Bear rarely hesitates when it comes to new physical challenges.  He is delighted to climb the highest seats, stairs or tables, loves to wrestle with his brother, and is undaunted by super speeds.  Hey, a Buddy needs to keep up with his beloved siblings, doesn't he?

So, I was in no way surprised yesterday when, while at the grocery store with me, Buddy Bear did not want to sit securely in the grocery cart.  Our compromise, since we were in the produce department with too many temptations for little wandering hands, was to let him stand in the front large section of the cart.  This seemed reasonable, given that the front side of the cart measured up to his chest, I was was holding onto the back of the cart, and we were standing stationary in front of the lettuces.

However, I had not accounted for Buddy Bear's curiosity streak.  

All of a sudden, my attention was wrenched from the price of the lettuce bags to the sight of Buddy Bear slowly tipping himself, head first, without a sound, out and over the front of the cart.  As if in slow-motion, I watched as he seemed to suspend himself upside down in mid-air, before slowly falling to the floor onto his head.  I am not sure which one of us was more horrified by the unpleasant THUD of his head hitting the floor.  

Hugging poor, shrieking Buddy Bear in my arms, I could not have been more thankful for the cranial cushion provided by his very cute and relatively padded monkey-faced toboggan hat.  Thank you, Lord.  Thanks should also be extended to the crowd of customers, also present in the produce department, who witnessed the whole event.  Each went about his or her business without a sending single scowl, derogatory remark or killer-eye stare my way.  I already felt like I deserved a parental time-out, and I greatly appreciated the mercy of the quiet crowd.

Buddy Bear is doing great, I am thankful to say.  He probably won't enjoy as much freedom during our next grocery run, which is probably for the best.  Hopefully, I can help him find better ways to leave his mark on the world.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

To the ice

This season, we have traded in our swimming lessons (which went swimmingly this fall, I am thankful to say) for ice skating lessons.  G-Bear and E-Bear only have one native Minnesotan parent, and neither T nor I would describe ourselves as ice skaters (although he is quite proficient for a native Southerner, certainly better than me).  Yet, after the fun of our December ice rink outings, we purchased two pairs of used children's skates at a local used sporting good store for $20 a piece and signed the kids up for 1/2 hour per week lessons.  Despite their hereditary disadvantage, the Bears are taking to the ice like champs.

So far, the kids have learned how to fall down (on cue, no less, to the tune of "Ring Around the Rosie"), get back to standing by themselves, and march-step a few steps at a time.  The kids seem to love their lessons, all ankle blisters have healed and hardened, and not a single tear has been shed.  I'd say we're on a roll! 

Buddy Bear is our trooper spectator.  Snacks are key to keep him busy, as he would much rather be out on the ice with his siblings.  We are all spellbound by the spectacle of the Zamboni cleaning the ice after the lesson time.  E-Bear keeps asking me, "What is that thing called again?"

Today G-Bear announced: "Mom, do you know what I would like to be when I grow up?  An ice skating teacher."

Sure thing, sweetie!  For now, let's work on that step-step-glide.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grocery Bag

For all of Advent and our Christmas holiday, I took a break from our Grocery Bag meal planning.  I enjoyed a little extra free time on the weekend (put to good use!) and relied on our meal plans from weeks past to help us stay on track for both grocery shopping and dinner.  But, it is a new year, the holiday season is giving way to January realities, and it is time to plan anew!  So, welcome to our first Grocery Bag of 2013.

Cooking in the New Year can be challenging.  No one wants to come off the high of holiday food to bland, boring fare.  Even with global fruits and vegetables, the produce department can be uninspiring at times in January.  The seasonal citrus fruits & pears, brussels sprouts, winter squash and winter greens are worth our time.  Don't the forget beans and lentils!  They can be a great change of pace for meat in soups or long-simmering dishes.

Day One
Tortellini with lemon and brussels sprouts from Everyday Food Magazine
with homemade bread
Photo and recipe from

Day Two
Slow cooker garlic chicken with couscous from Everyday Food Magazine
with lemon vinaigrette green beans from Fine Cooking Magazine
Photo and recipe from

Day Three
Steak au poivre with roasted potatoes and carrots from Everyday Food Magazine
with steamed cauliflower
Photo and recipe from

Day Four
with basmati rice and mixed green salad
Photo and recipe from

Day Five
with homemade rolls and steamed peas
Photo and recipe from

Blessings on your kitchen this week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Twelve Days of Christmas 2012

Yes, our Christmas tree is still up.

Hey, the twelve days of Christmas just ended on Sunday,
school only restarted yesterday,
and we had a lot of Christmas to celebrate.

Here is our twelve day Christmas recap, not quite as extensive as last year, but full of the highlights nonetheless.

[To the tune of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas]

In the twelve days of Christmas, our thankful family....

Enjoyed Twelve Days of Dress-Up,
We have met an impressive cast of characters this Christmas, including Robin Hood, Peter Pan & Wendy, Knights and Dragons, crazy kooks, Woody and Jesse, Mommy Mary & Daddy Joseph & their Donkey, Brides & Grooms, many Disney Princesses & their Beaus, and so many more.  The imaginations are impressive at our house, as is our ever-growing stash of dress-up clothes.)
ooks, Woody and Jesse, Mommy Mary & Daddy Joseph & their Donkey, Brides & Grooms, many Disney Princesses & their Beaus, and so many more.  The imaginations are impressive at our house, as is our ever-growing stash of dress-up clothes.

Eleven Icy Snow Days,
We made the most of the cold temperatures and snowy days, playing outside as much as our frozen feet and fingers would allows.  We have learned that the key is good snow gear!  The best part of playing in the snow, other than the snow itself, is coming inside for hot chocolate afterwards :)

Ten Johnson Cousins,
The Johnson Christmas reunion was a truly a treat this year.  We welcomed baby cousin H for the first time, and all ten cousins reveled in rambunctiousness for three days.  Aunt A and Uncle B treated us to a gender-revealing party, where we learned that we'll have another new baby girl cousin this spring!  This crew is ever-growing in sweetness and stature, eagerly welcoming newbies to the ranks.
Nana with her ten grandchildren.

Nine steps on Christmas morning
Every year since I can remember, we have gathered at MoMo and Papa's steps on Christmas morning for the unveiling of the Christmas living room and the awaiting surprises.  Once again this year, where Aunt K, Uncle C and I used to sit, five grandchildren eagerly awaited permission to descend.  Let the Christmas morning magic begin!
Buddy Bear, E-Bear, G-Bear and their cousins, ready for Christmas morning.

Eight Ice Skates
With Buddy Bear cheering us on from the sideboards, we have enjoyed every slip and slide of our first Christmas ice skating together.  In our future for 2013 includes skating school for E-Bear and G-Bear (only because T and I couldn't ever hope to teach them ourselves), and hopefully many more fun times at the rink.  We are a riot on the ice!
Happily on the ice this Christmas.

Seven Christmas Visitors
The treat of our Christmas was having Nana, YaYa, GP, Aunt K, Uncle T, cousin Harkin and cousin Tobi all in town with us.  G-Bear, E-Bear and Buddy Bear had the time of their lives with their two beloved Boston cousins and all "five" grandparents showering love and affection upon them.  
GP, YaYa, Aunt K, Uncle T, cousins Harkin and Tobi.

A Six-foot Toboggan
We were all excited to open Uncle C's gift to all of us this year.  What could it be??  A toboggan sled!  
Uncle C's toboggan gift on Christmas morning.

Five Tobogganeers!
The five cousins on the toboggan.

Uncle C's toboggan turned out to be even more fun than we expected.   Thanks to Uncle T, Papa, Uncle C and T for making all the fun possible.

Uncle T pushes as Papa waits at the bottom.

What fun!

Four messy hands
Last Christmas, Buddy Bear and his best buddy, Cousin T, were trying their hands at Cheerios for the first time.  This year, nothing holds them back!  These two never miss a chance to join in, or sneak a snack, especially if they can do it together.
Buddy Bear and Cousin T

Three Glowing Grams
Yaya, MoMo and Nana with their grandkids.  These three grandmas will spoil you rotten, if they don't love you to death first.  Thanks, super-grandmoms, for an awesome Christmas together.

Two amazing hosts
Yes, MoMo and Papa did it again, hosting spectacular celebrations for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and numerous days both before and after.  They are creating quite a legacy of generosity and delight, blessing us all in so many ways.


One Grateful, Thankful Family!
Our living room on Christmas morning.
Lord, we are so thankful for all the blessings of this Christmas season, 
especially Jesus' birth and the chance to share our joy with those we love.  

We hope you have had a truly wonderful Christmas season as well.  As the chill of winter sets in, may happy memories and reminders of this season warm us all until spring.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Going to Miami

We were gone exactly 24 hours, 15 minutes.

Miami bound.

The journey wasn't easy.

Catching a catnap on the airport floor.  
But we made it.

Roll Tide!

The past four years have been full of unforgettable moments for Alabama fans.  We have watched most of it from afar, albeit with fanatic faithfulness.  But yesterday, T and his brother L continued their family tradition, and we joining throngs of Bama faithful at the BCS championship game. 

The stadium was a sport fan's dream.  It began as a magical night for both Bama and Irish fans.

In the end, well, most people know how it ended.  We emerged exhausted and exhilarated as the team accepted their fifteenth National Championship title.  Incredible!  Four hours later, we were on a plane back home.  But we won't forget Miami for a long time.

Roll Tide Roll.