Saturday, March 29, 2014

Avonlea at Four

Wow, I didn't expect to take so long to get this post up but it's been a busy month. I want to mark my sweet and spunky Avvie's birthday milestone so I'm carving a few minutes over breakfast while Lu eats her scrambled eggs to do this post.

It's some ways it's hard for me to believe Avvie is four, but in other ways, I can't believe we just left three behind. Avonlea is extremely independent and was an early and excellent speaker so I've often treated her as older than she is. She spoke more clearly at two than many four year olds I've met. And while she can be quite obstinate, overall she's pretty easygoing as long as her primary needs (food and sleep) are met so I can generally reason with her making her seem quite mature (except when I can't reason with her and then she doesn't seem mature at all!). When I think back to Maddie turning four I felt like we were leaving behind toddlerhood and embarking on a new phase. Honestly, I felt that way for Avvie at three! I'm sure some of it has to do with the fact that she works hard to keep up with her big sister. When Maddie has friends over, Avvie is always in the thick of it. The other day Maddie had a couple of friends over and was reduced to tears because she felt the friends preferred Avvie to her and were spending more time with Avvie. I don't think they preferred Avvie to her, but I will say that Avonlea is a natural born leader in some respects and has a confidence with other kids that tends to gain her followers. So Maddie's friends, despite being big, cool kindergarteners, were more than happy to follow Avvie's lead and play her made up games and do her bidding.

Avvie's confidence translates to her time at school as well. As I've mentioned before, she isn't earnest about academic learning in the same way Maddie is. (This is not to say she doesn't like to learn, but she doesn't feel compelled to strive to meet milestones or please teachers.) That said, she is doing well and meeting all age appropriate milestones (writing her name, counting, color identification, beginning to identify letters, drawing people who consist of circles with stick arms and legs jutting out). She has a best friend at school who we see frequently for play dates (I grew up with her friend's mother so it's a nice match!) and the two of them seem to be the queen bees in their class. We've had a lot of talks about kindness and including others and I have to say, I think it's made an impression. At least I hope so!
(Populating Avvie's art farm, a Christmas gift from Uncle Tim and Aunt Jessie. When Andy dropped the ants all over the counter there was complete hysteria from Madeleine and excited mock-hysteria from Avonlea.)

Avonlea shares Maddie's love for imaginative play. I watch countless puppet shows and it's common for me to find both girls, or even Avvie alone, sitting in front of the dollhouse making up elaborate scenarios for the dolls. Like Maddie she shares a love of doing projects, but unlike Maddie her work is not meticulous! For her, the joy is in getting messy. She will recklessly scribble pictures, barely looking at them and hand them off saying this is for you, it's, uh, [insert some spontaneously thought of object/person].

As is well-documented on this blog, Avonlea is a foodie. She is game to try pretty much anything I serve or order when we're out and 90% of the time almost as soon as the taste hits her tongue she'll exclaim "I like it!" I told Andy the other day that recently I've had to radically shift my meal-planning. Whereas I used to make a dinner and typically it would be enough for about four servings meaning we could eek out a night of leftovers (or maybe use it for lunch), since Avvie and Lucy are both such good eaters in that they'll eat what we eat and full portions, there are no more leftovers! (Maddie usually has something else, lots of turkey sandwiches and carrots in her diet. We're working on it but as long as she has a veggie and lean protein that I don't need to separately prepare, it's not a battle I'm fighting now!) Andy and I changed how we eat a lot over the last several months (lots more vegetables, some more fruit and focus on lean proteins) and now we're working on doing the same for the girls. Avvie has been great about it and appreciates a good piece of fruit or well-seasoned turkey chili as much as fries or dessert. It's a satisfying feeling to prepare her plate and see her relish it. She also has a fun new habit of drinking milky tea sweetened with honey. Her British roots are shining through!
 (Korean BBQ for lunch--yum!)

(As a treat one day I got the younger two french fries--Maddie was at a Friday evening pizza playdate, lots of jealousy from Avonlea--and there was an epic battle between my two hungry girls.) 

 (In a rare "stand-down" moment, Avonlea let Lucy have the box of fries and would just sneak them when she was distracted.)
(Avonlea requested a pear on a day she knew I was going to Wegman's. I got a Bosc pear which she patiently waited for to ripen. She relished eating it when it was finally ripe--guess I need to add them to my weekly list!)

Personality-wise Avvie is a spitfire. As I mentioned, if her needs are met, she generally goes with the flow. But when she chooses to dig her heels in, it's epic. If she's in a mood, she'll be contrary to me about anything (the sky is blue. NO IT'S NOT MOMMA!). Fortunately that's not her baseline. And Avonlea is quite independent. She has never had a moment's hesitation about running into school, Sunday School, etc. The other day she had a performance for school and she was by far the boldest, belting out the songs. Around when Lucy was born I felt a little bit like Avvie didn't need me as intensely as Maddie and was a bit disconnected from me. But, once she settled into being the middle/big sister, that feeling faded and I definitely made a point to give her lots of personal attention. She is still independent and confident (which I think is great!) but comes to me for comfort and sometimes even just for snuggles. I don't want to squelch her confidence or independence once bit, but I just want to make sure that she is equally confident in me (and her daddy) as her primary confidantes and teachers (at least at this tender age we should be!).
(Sleeping with beloved "PoPo" on her. Avonlea has a deep and abiding love for stuffed animals and each day she usually selects one who will accompany her everywhere and sleep with her in addition to a few standby favorites such as ET, Pluto and PoPo. One lady at church makes a point every week of checking in with Avvie to see who she has brought with her.)

I think that's enough for now! I hope to be back sooner than I was this last time!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Maddie at Six

It feels like just yesterday that Maddie was turning four. I think that birthday sticks out in my mind because it was our first of the kid's birthdays in our current home and it felt like Maddie was truly all little girl and not a bit of a toddler. Three just sounds so much younger, right? Well, four came and went and apparently five did as well! It blows my mind that now she's six.

It's funny to write this post because I have to admit that the week leading up to Maddie's birthday was a bit rough for her (and me). Maddie has always been an extremely emotional child (and even baby). This manifests itself in wonderful and beautiful ways. She is sensitive to other people's feelings and is eager to comfort and make others happy. When she is happy it shows from her bright smile, wriggling body, shaking hands and jumping feet. If a story moves her, she will tear up. However, the flip side to this is that she can be intensely sad, hurt and disappointed. And if it's disappointment, well, she can have trouble controlling her emotions. I won't go into anymore detail because this is a public blog (for now anyway) and she deserves her privacy. But it was an exhausting week for both of us and I'm still scratching my head as to why little things set her off in such a grand manner. I'm not proud of my impatience at times (read lots of yelling and empty threats) and I know Maddie's not proud of her behavior (read lots of regret and bemoaning her bad choices especially when it meant lost privileges). I'm not sure why I'm sharing all this except to say, what I treasure most about Maddie is her tender and sweet heart. I love all the great things about it and if the flip side of that is both of us learning to manage and direct those feelings when things don't go her way, it's all worth it. I couldn't be more full of joy about the little girl Maddie is becoming and I know by God's grace we'll both learn to be gracious, patient and more like Him!

Maddie is still loving kindergarten. She reads beautifully, sounding out longer or unfamiliar words, but often "cruising" through sentences without a pause. (Obviously I'm talking about age appropriate reading material, she's not reading Chaucer.) I love hearing her do math problems out loud--she's confident in her skills and hopefully will never waver in that confidence. She loves her friends and I love hearing her stories about them. They apparently sing on the bus ride home (when it's just the kindergartners), debate funny topics (is Elsa a real person?), trade bracelets (Rainbow Loom, of course) and various other little rites of passage. She still adores Lucy, always wanting to help her walk, go to her first in the morning, etc. She and Avonlea play beautifully together, unless of course they are in wild wrestling moods which start out with laughter and end with tears and then there are the times when they are fighting about some silly thing. But overall they are best friends and can be found putting on puppet shows, playing school or snuggling on the couch while they watch a movie. Maddie loves Sunday School and church. She sits nicely through the service with us and as she learns to read more quickly she is singing and participating more. She expresses to me how much she loves Jesus which of course fills me with joy. She prays so earnestly and has such great questions. They are not always easily answered, but I thank God she is thinking about matters of such great importance and I trust he will reveal Himself more and more to her through His word and through us and her church family. She has asked me several times if she can join the church so we are talking more about what that means. I'm not sure that she is actually ready to make a public profession of faith, but I'm giving her room to explore what that means.

We are currently reading the Little House series together. She LOVED Little House in the Big Woods and is also enjoying Little House on the Prairie. Her favorite movie is currently Frozen and she loves the music as well. She is begging to take piano and tennis lessons so I'll start looking into doing one or both of those things. She still would wear a dress every day if I allowed it. Maddie loves to play with makeup and wear nail polish. That's funny to me b/c I almost never wear nail polish and very little makeup, but if we're at home I don't mind if she has lip gloss and blush on while playing dress up. And I've capitulated to nail polish. I am pretty strict on clothes, so I try to give in on other things! (I do require short nails for the girls, though!) Aunt Beth just got her Uno which is a new obsession. She's still a picky eater but I see progress on it. Basically Maddie is happy, well-adjusted, normal in the most wonderful of ways six year old. And that makes us so happy!

Okay, now that I've rambled quite a bit, here are a few pictures from Maddie's actual birthday. We let her open one present before school and it was the Elsa dress. She was thrilled!

When Andy came home Maddie had a few more presents to open.

We went out for an early dinner to a neighborhood restaurant we like. Maddie got to bring a friend and they were so cute together. They both wore dresses (they planned it on the bus, Maddie actually insisted on wearing hers to school, too, even though it was a bit springy). Her friend had a cute little purse and would ever so often pull a trinket out of it or lip gloss to reapply.

We were seated next to the cozy fire.

After dinner we went to DQ for a birthday dessert.

It was a happy birthday for our sweet Madeleine. We love you so Maddie-girl!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Medieval Times

It's already March and I still haven't started my once a week "week in review" posts but instead I'm still occasionally posting insanely long posts. But we keep doing special things that require mega posts (or so I tell myself). And here is another such post. A few weeks ago we went to Medieval Times with the Shumans. It was the weekend of President's Day and Andy happened to have off on Saturday and Sunday, a rare treat these days (not that he's never home but he's almost always on call). He wanted to go away for the weekend but the places we priced were so expensive that we just couldn't justify it. We thought about making a trip to Virginia to see friends but then I ended up with my colonoscopy on the Friday and I knew I wouldn't be up for travel that evening. So when Beth mentioned Medieval Times we jumped on it. We looked forward to it for weeks but the day of I got a little nervous. First, it was snowing heavily by the time we left for the hour-long drive north. Second, when we got there I started to wonder if our girls were really old enough to sit for a dinner show, particularly a dimly lit one since they are such nervous nellies. I began to think I was crazy for bringing Lulu, during her naptime, to a jousting performance where they would serve us a whole chicken and soup! Spoiler alert--the kids all loved it! No one was afraid, they all ate the food and they thoroughly enjoyed the show! Lucy may have loved it most of all! She loves seeing animals and when the horses entered the arena she went crazy! Pointing, clapping, happily chirping (best way to describe when she shrieks and laughs). I'm so glad we did it!
I love these dads; it's been fun to see them embrace (or sometimes just tolerate!) some of the silly stuff we do with our funny little tribe.

This is when I started to get nervous about Lucy making it through the show--she only napped a bit in the car and she was looking pretty ready to go back to sleep.



Avonlea loved the tomato soup and nabbed at least one other kid's soup.

Above Lucy is gnawing on some chicken and below she's clapping wildly.

Here are a couple pictures from the ride back. I drove on the way up because Andy had a cold and wasn't feeling well, but on the way home he had perked up so he drove. We had to go fairly slowly so it took awhile.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Frozen Fun

(Avvie also had an invitation for her friends and obviously I blurred out some details that aren't necessary to share with the Internet!)

In my last post I shared all the details that went into Madeleine and Avonlea's party so in this post let's get to the actual party. (If you want to see the last post, click here.) We invited all of the little girls in Maddie's class and Avvie had two friends, one is a sibling of one of Maddie's friends and the other is a little girl from her class.  Eight girls came and it was a perfect number--lots of fun excitement but not overwhelming to control. Andy was out of a town for a couple days before the party for a golf outing so all the preparations were left to me. (That's why we had the party on a Sunday since he would've missed it if we'd done it Saturday.) I got up early Sunday morning to ice and decorate the cake and then after church we raced home to finish getting the house ready. When the first guest arrived the girls' excitement levels were off the charts. I have a ton of pictures thanks to Jessie serving as a roving photographer. Jessie also helped to run the party which was such a big help since Andy and I seemed to be racing around a bit manically. Tim took videos (such a sweet and doting uncle!), held Luke and stood watching with a look of shock at the shrieking, singing, costumed flock of little girls! Lucy slept until the last few minutes (it was a good day for a three hour nap!) which is kind of amazing given the amount of noise as well as one little girl wandering in and turning her light on to start playing in her room. And my parents and grandmother came over halfway through the party and manned the sno-cone and cotton candy machines. It takes a village to throw a party apparently!

This is going to be a lot of pictures. I'll caption some although most are self-explanatory.
Avonlea wasn't feeling a picture with mommy and I didn't press it since she was still a bit on the edge after trying to get her Elsa dress on unsuccessfully.  (Both Maddie and Avvie have serious claustrophobia issues relating to clothing.)
I have to note that my sweater actually had silver threads in it and was quite apropos for the party. I ordered it online this fall thinking it was just a white sweater so I was quite surprised to see the silver when it arrived. That's not quite my style, but it was so cheap it wasn't worth the return postage. It's actually not a terribly flattering sweater either, but I felt I had to wear it given the theme.
As each girl arrived they were greeted with excited shrieks, a glow bracelet and a little clip with a colorful braid for their hair. (If you've seen the movie, it was supposed to relate to Anna's streak of frozen hair. One of the girls came dressed as Anna with a white ribbon braided into her hair to represent the streak. I loved the commitment to the part! On the invitation we told the girls they were welcome to dress up, come in street clothes or borrow one of our dresses. Everyone came in costume or themed clothing.)

The little girl taking the picture is one of Maddie's best friends. She is so sweet and clever and cracked us all up by walking around taking pictures the entire party. She was a natural! She got the girls to pose, got group shots, individual shots, etc. I should ask her mom to send me the pictures!

Luke was such a good baby and even slept for awhile despite the noise.

It felt a little like prom with all the glittery dresses and posing for pictures. Below H is reviewing her shots.
First up was decorating sugar cookies, snowflakes and hearts. They each had their own ramekin of buttercream and then there were colored gel icing and sprinkles to pass around. They shared so nicely and politely requested what they wanted from each other.

We kept cautioning them, don't each too much, there are more desserts to come! But they couldn't help themselves and I caught a lot of girls eating icing directly out of the ramekin and handfuls of marshmallows! Hopefully all the parents were okay with an afternoon of splurging...
Next up was making necklaces and bracelets. I bought a ton of beads in pink, blue, silver, opalescent white, snowflake shapes, etc. and then I also made bottlecap charms like the ones I used on the hairbows for the favors. (It was my first foray into using a circle hole punch and Diamond Glaze. I'm a pro now.) They could each choose a few with their favorite characters. They all took it very seriously and some did some elaborate patterns.  

I get a kick out of Andy's life as a dad of three girls which now involves things like stringing bead necklaces with princess charms for groups of little girls costumed in glittery princess gowns. I hope he gets a kick out of it, too (I think he does!).

Tim captured this video of some of the girls singing while they beaded. (He took it stealthily so they wouldn't feel self-conscious.) It was so sweet. Throughout the entire party there were bursts of singing and rowdy choruses as they did their various activities. There was also a ton of wild dancing!
Here are some of the finished cookies. They were quite heavy on the icing!
Finally it was time for cake and the dessert buffet.

Part of the dessert buffet was sno-cones and cotton candy. We're lucky to have grandparents who buy such amazing machines to have on hand for the grandkids!

This is the third year in a row my dad has manned the cotton candy machine at Maddie and Avvie's birthday parties.

I debated whether to put "no presents" on the invitations and then whether to let the girls open them during the party. They want for nothing and we have the parties truly as a fun celebration, not a gift grab. But in the end I just let it go and didn't say no presents. The girls who came were desperate to see their gifts opened by the birthday girls so I relented and it was pretty cute seeing their excitement at presenting their gifts.

After a couple group shots we just danced the rest of the time. The girls begged to play freeze dance so they would wildly dance until I paused the song and then they were stop dead in their tracks, giggling all the while. Man was it cute! We've been planning on redoing on the living room but I was just as glad we haven't tackled it yet because it's pretty much impossible to hurt with the desperate-for-a-fresh-coat-of-paint walls and mismatched and not-to-scale furniture. Dance away girls, you can't hurt that room!

And that, my friends, was our Frozen birthday party. It was a lot of work getting the details prepared and all while trying to not spend too much money (goodness knows I could have gone even more crazy!) While all the details were fun, what we were most happy about was what a nice group of little girls our daughters have to share these special occasions with during these young and tender years. Happy birthday Madeleine and Avonlea!
PS I'll be back soon with pictures from Maddie's actual birthday as well as some more from our little family celebration following the Frozen party to celebrate Avonlea (and Maddie!).