I have a budding swimmer on my hands! Henry has been taking swim lessons since early Fall and he immediately took to them like, well a fish to water. Something just clicked this time.

Today he swam about 1/4 of the way across the pool and back without his flotation belt on. No doggy paddling, face in the water, holding his breath the whole way, kicking his legs (relatively straight) and doing straight arm circles. I looked up from coloring with Silas and almost couldn't believe what i was seeing.

He has so much fun that when he's not doing something one-on-one with the teacher he's jumping up and down, doing happy faces, blowing bubbles and generally giddy. Contrast this with two years ago when admittedly his lips were blue, but the lessons actually turned him off the water for awhile. We cut that class short and just enjoyed splashing in the baby pool and spending time at Gran and Nonna's beach. Last fall he took lessons at a highly recommended place. Henry enjoyed them and they did great at getting him happy about swimming again. But the teacher was so gentle that the kid was going to be 30 before he learned that real swimming happens (eventually) without a floatie.

Enter the Chicago Park District. Cheap, no frills, but Koz Park was recommended by another parent friend. The pool and facilities are clean and well-kept and the teachers are really, really good. Fun and good with the kids but also really working on the fundamentals with the kids-- and each at their own level. Swim team is right before his lessons and i asked at the end of class what the requirements for swim team are. The teacher told me they have to be 5 and able to swim the length of the pool on their own. Henry is focused on meeting that goal (before he's 6!) I think i can get away with taking some pictures there (it's a little more relaxed than the uber-strict pool we go to in the summer) so i'll try to capture his little swimming self as soon as possible. But i'm one proud mama (and papa will be as well as soon as he gets home to hear the story!)



Took a little while since i forgot my camera after Halloween, but here is our holiday recap! This was the best Halloween yet. Both boys were old enough to manage the steps on their own, be excited about trick-or-treating, and choose their own costumes. The both have little panda stuffed animals so some where along the way they came up with both of them being pandas. The more they talked about their costumes they created the plan that i was to be the Mama panda and JT was the "Grandpa Panda." Why not the Dad you might ask-- well naturally because that's Silas' role! We made simple costumes out of old black and white tshirts and the boys helped me sew them.

With Halloween on Sunday they got to wear their costumes three days in a row for their school assemblies and parties, a party at the Smerrys and then Halloween. We enjoyed a rain-free and relatively warm night for trick-or-treating. The kids were almost as excited to hand out candy as they were to get their own. We didn't stay out very long but between the parties and trick-or-treating they have quite the candy haul.

Now, a few more things appropos of nothing but needing to be chronicled. Henry has learned to whistle-- quite well in fact. He claims he can even whistle underwater you just can't hear it that well because of the bubbles. He told me he practices whistling underwater during swim practice-- something he's enjoying immensely. He has really great teachers and is so happy for the entire hour he can barely contain his excitement and regularly jumps up and down with glee. He's made huge strides since last year-- completely submerging his head, kicking his legs, working on doing strokes with straight arms, and generally coming right along. He's still the only one that he won't just jump in but all in good time.

Henry is also doing super-well at school. Constantly working on writing letters and reading words off of his "word wall." He continues to enjoy art and made his first purchase with his new allowance-- blue painters tape!

Silas is loving preschool and in general seems like he's settling in to life a little more. He still throws tantrums but they are considerably fewer and more far between. He still knee-jerk rejects anything new out of hand, but more often comes around quickly and says "i'm just joking i do want to...." He tells us just a little bit more about school than Henry does-- but we still don't get too many details. He continues to love music and enjoys all the songs that he's been learning-- "i'm a little teapot" and "here is thumpkin" are two new favorites.


Fall Gatherings

One of my favorite things about Fall is gathering with friends on the weekends. Over the summer, when the weather is warm, we're all scattered to the winds, on trips, outdoor adventures, and generally busy. With Fall, the options are limited a bit by the cooler weather, and we find gathering at someone's house for a meal, a sleepover for the kids, and wine for the adults is an attractive, and more frequent option.

The other thing we've been taking advantage of in particular this year, are all the free natural art materials to be gathered. Leaves, acorns, and grasses have all been collected, dried, and used in tons of art projects. I love that the boys now see "materials" all around them and brainstorm their own projects even without my input. Silas picked up a nut shell the other day and said --"let's bring this home for a nature collage." Made my heart sing.

We've been talking a lot about the days growing shorter and one way we've been adjusting to the darkness is by lighting our candles at dinner. We haven't done it every single night, because the boys like to insist that all the lights be off, and sometimes i don't feel like arguing. But when we all get on the same page and enjoy our meal with a little candle glow, it almost makes it feel peaceful-- at least until i have to tell Silas to sit down for the 10th time or his plate is going to be taken away.

We're readying for Halloween, putting the final touches on costumes, and preparing to attend Henry's Halloween Assembly and costume parade and Silas' preschool party. We've also got a weekend party and the actual trick-or-treating with friends to look forward to!


The Circus

When i picked the boys up from Brenda's this afternoon, Henry excitedly waved a flyer for Barnum and Bailey's Circus which is coming to some huge coliseum outside of Chicago in November. It made me so glad that we had already "done" the circus in a way that fits just a bit more with our preferences.

The Midnight Circus performed in five Chicago City Parks the past few weekends. The shows were fundraisers for the parks that participated and we had the pleasure of going with the Smerry's a few weekends ago. It was everything i like about the circus without any of the stuff that i'm a little creeped out by. First of all it was intimate. We were in the first row, but there were only two rows to choose from. There were no elephants or vendors, just acrobats, juggling, clowns, magic and other circus fun. There were snacks but no $10 cotton candy of $25 flashlights. And did i mention we walked to it? All the things i love about the city and our neighborhood-- positive, creative, local and affordable.

Oh yeah, even on the "normal" size and quality setting i had to delete a boat-load of pictures twice, because Henry and Silas filled the camera up with a frame-by-frame account. Who needs a video camera!


Transition to Fall

We enjoyed the formal transition to fall this week. We had a heat wave yesterday, but many of the other days it's been cool and a little overcast. The most marked change is how much earlier it's getting dark. Which is too bad because the kids on our block have gotten into a rhythm of hanging out after school. They play spy and then spend big chunks of time doing elaborate art projects that involve lots of pipe cleaners and all manner of things made into "police cameras."

Last weekend we headed out of town to a really lovely family-run orchard to pick apples with friends. It was really perfect, just apples, no parking or admission price, just simple apples. We made the filling for apple pie today with H and V and Henry made up his own concoction that baked-up right into a lovely lemon cake. As he told me-- next time we need to write down the recipe so he can make it again.

This Fall also brought Silas' long sought-after soccer class. Unfortunately by the time reality hit it was a little too much change for him to deal with. He's done pretty well transitioning to preschool but you can tell it's still a lot for him. And adding soccer on top of that was just too much. He managed to participate and have fun by the end of class but by the time the next week rolled around he was resolute. We tried a lot of different angles but ultimately i decided it wasn't worth pushing. He's 3, we'll have time to try again later.


Intentional Community

Henry and Silas' transition to school has settled down a bit. We had a difficult episode with Henry over some homework that led to a meltdown. But other than that Silas has found his groove and is loving preschool and Henry seems to be doing well in Kindergarten as well. He was the first person in his class to get into the "100 club," being able to count to 100. Then at back to school night he and i estimated the number of Hershey's kisses in a jar, were closest, and won!

We've been learning more about the boys' school now that Henry is in Kindergarten. At Goethe, Kindergarten has a more similar program to the lower elementary grades than preschool-- which operates semi-autonomously. Henry has library twice a week with a newly hired library teacher (a huge coup for the school), music twice a week and gym once a week. They go outside for recess every day and Henry has a teacher that is clearly dedicated to her kids. I'm starting to learn about the curriculum more, because parts of it feel a little "rote" to me. But i've seen instances of positive things as well--
-at back to school night Mrs. R talked about how studies had shown the positive effects of reading poetry with children and that poetry would be a big focus of the year (each week a poem comes home that we read out loud.)
- after the homework meltdown that involved writing "S" on a worksheet (yuck!) the next night Henry was supposed to count all the spoons in our flatware drawer, homework that feels "right" instead of "rote" to me.
-they use Fountas and Pinnell leveled readers (which i've heard of only because my mother is an educator parexellence; and even then i always thought she was saying Fountain and Spinell.)
-they have time to "read" independently every day and do Writer's workshop daily as well-- a school-wide initiative.

Silas' favorite food: note how all the others have pizza (which was modeled by their teacher). Silas-- not afraid to strike out on his own!

Beyond learning about the curriculum i've found our family life centering much more around our neighborhood and the school. We're meeting lots of new families that have enrolled their kids in Goethe's preschool program. The vast majority of them live nearby so we see new friends at the parks, at the farmers market, even while buying school supplies. Not to mention our block is the most kid-friendly urban block i think i could ask for. The boys now regularly and organically arrange their own after-school play and just this evening spent a blissfull 1.5 hours on our porch with friends from down the street eating popcorn and pressing the 11 year-old to read more stories to them.


Back to School 2010

The boys headed off to school starting this Tuesday the 7th. I've blogged before about how lucky we are to have a wonderful neighborhood school-- but boy do i count my lucky stars everyday we only have to traipse one-block to school. Henry began full-day kindergarten with Mrs. R and Silas started his first year of preschool with the wonderful Ms. Laura, Henry's teacher last year.

The first day of school went pretty well. Both preschool and kindergarten had a shortened schedule so the kids could ease-in and parents stayed in the classroom withe the preschoolers. Henry did amazing and is super excited about his classroom, teacher and everything else. He has a few friends from last year in his class which is nice and i know a few of the other teachers. They have a frog in the classroom which i think Henry is most excited about! After school we played in the playground and the boys were having a grand time filling Henry's backpack with all the acorns starting to drop.

Silas had a very hard time getting up and getting dressed and leaving the house-- difficult transitions for him to be sure. Thankfully his first day started a little later than Henry's so Silas and i had some extra time to cuddle, take it slow, and talk about his feelings. The poor thing had a pretty bad cold and wasn't feeling too well overall. Once we got to school he did really well. It was awesome to watch him take the other kids hands, make a circle, try out the new songs they sing every morning, listen to the story, and have a blast exploring the classroom. He checked in with me often and about 20 minutes before the end of the day he told me he thought "we should go home," but really all in all he was great.

Then the second day came. I could tell he was apprehensive from the minute he got up-- he kept talking about me coming to school and staying with him. I kept telling him that JT and I would both walk him to school but that today he got to play with his teachers and friends and i'd get to hear all about his adventures after i picked him up. He wasn't buying it. Then just as Ms. Laura appeared at the door to welcome the kiddos into the school building Silas' nose started gushing blood. One thing i'm not-- a prepared mama. I frantically started yelling for a tissue from someone just as everyone else is focused on ushering their precious cargo off to their first solo school day. I got a few napkins and escorted Silas into the preschool bathroom. When we emerged all the kids were in the classroom putting their jackets away. Silas immediately started crying and grabbing me and Ms. Laura had to pry him off me. I ducked out quickly and Ms. Laura swore she just held him for a few minutes and he calmed down.

The third day he went in with just a quick kiss and a view of the back of his head. But this morning he was in tears again. Hopefully he calmed down just as quickly this time. Even though Brenda is picking him up from school i think i'll go over and meet him, bring him his bunny and hear how things went. Poor little guy-- hope this transition doesn't take too long to work the kinks out.


Back to School

The school supplies are all loaded which includes a wheelbarrow worth of copy paper and paper towels! And the backpacks are made. Henry starts Kindergarten and Silas preschool on Tuesday. They were so happy to pick out their own fabrics and even helped me sew them together (a little bit of help, a lot of sewing after they went to bed.)

Of course Silas wouldn't model his but he's worn it quite a bit already. Hopefully we'll get some real pictures of both of them on Tuesday. Henry's is the orange polka dots and Silas' is the green swirly one.


The Best Block Ever

Two kids, in school. Somewhat hard to imagine. Silas starts preschool and Henry will be in Kindergarten in the fall. I still thank the gods that we bought this house. Despite the fact that there are no right angles in the entire house, we lucked into an amazing block and neighborhood.

From July-Aug 2010
We had our block party last weekend and what a treat it was. Each year it's an awesome time to connect with our neighbors-- many who are really active in our community and are fun cool people to boot. This year Ms. Peggy planned a whole block worth of amazing activities for the kids. The "stand-bys)are two jumping houses and usually the fire truck comes (this year they couldn't make it due to a real emergency). But this year Ms. Peggy went all out and made a pinata with the kids (in advance), and had "stations" set-up on both sides of the street including: bubble blowing, hula hoops, hopscotch, an art table complete with nature rubbings, face painting, an amazing balloon guy, chalk art, dominoes, checkers and a few stations i never even made it to. One of the best parts for the kids was that she made them all "games official" badges and posted each one of them to a station. They had a blast being in charge of the stations and enjoyed their official role.

The party had a fabulous pace to it, really relaxed which isn't the first thing that jumps to mind when you have an entire street full of small children. But it just worked.

So between our block party and getting ready to send both boys to our neighborhood school (it's a block away, how much better can it get!) we're just so content in our urban neighborhood that is really a neighborhood at its best.


Backyard Magic

Having these new little toad friends (more pictures added to toad post) in our backyard doesn't hurt, but i've found our little backyard (big by city standards) to be quite a haven this summer. With JT gone weekend afternoons, the boys and i have been doing all kinds of projects out of doors. We painted and hung small birdfeeders, we made little boats out of twigs, we expanded the toads' habitat and this weekend we're working on making felted rocks. I can't find a link to the rocks and i know it sounds strange, but they're very pretty and i think will be a lot of fun to do with the kids. It involves raw wool and wet soapy water.

Next weekend we're going to make birdseed cakes and maybe do some glue batik painting to some old white shirts. I can really tell that the boys are getting older because while Silas' attention span is still shorter than Henry's when it comes to crafts, he finds other ways to keep himself amused-- usually involving water and, well, water.

The only problem is the mosquitoes. Since we've had such a wet summer they are out in force in our backyard. Silas in particular is loved by the mosquitoes (pequitos as he calls them) and yet his skin really hates the bites. He's covered in red welts right now. Even though we cover liberally with bug spray. So if anyone has any other remedies they can suggest please feel free to let me know.

I think next year we're going to make one of these fairy gardens. I didn't see the idea until just recently and i don't think we'd have time for them to get established now, but what fun designing and creating this will be next year. Even more magic for the garden!



We have slugs, a lot of slugs. I've tried drowning them in buried cups of beer (very effective but the carnage is more than i can bear), picking them up with chopsticks and transplanting them to the trash (time consuming) and just hoping they'd go away. But those tell-tale mucousy trails made it clear they weren't just going away.

For two summers we tried to "entice" some toads into our yard. We put some clay pots on their sides and fluffed decomposing leaves into the bottoms. We arranged them in a shady spot by a large tree and made a rock "garden" of sorts. We left out saucers of water. Nothing. I decided there may be toads in Chicago, but not in at least a 10-block radius. If we were going to get toads in there, we were going to have to import them rather than have it happen organically.

That's where things stalled for another year. You can't just buy any old toad and plop it into your backyard. That's why cane toads and bullfrogs have become nuisances or worse in a lot of areas. So i researched and found out that an indigenous toad for this area is the common American Toad. We started at Petco once i established that they do carry frogs and toads-- but as it turns out only the more exotic species (like tree frogs and such) that people keep indoors as pets.

So i searched the web and found Reptile City. The toads were quite affordable ($6 each) although the shipping was $20. In hindsight this makes sense because how else would you get live toads to you intact if not overnight? We set-up a little enclosure made of sticks and waist-high chicken wire in the afore-mentioned toad spot. We put saucers of water dug into the soil so they are flush with the ground. I got a notice that the package was due to be delivered by 3 pm.

I put a note on the door to make sure the postman rang the doorbell and left my phone number. I stayed close to home but with the ac blowing i missed his steps on the porch. The next time i checked i had a package slip to retrieve the package the next morning! I headed out to the post office and they searched for the package only to come back and tell me it was still on the truck with the driver. I explained the situation and as soon as i mentioned "live toads" that woman leapt into action. She called the driver, found the location of the truck and in 15 minutes the package was in my hand. In the meantime i had gotten a few frantic calls from Reptile City who had been notified about the package not being delivered.

After retrieving the boys we headed home to open the box inside their "habitat." I was very worried because i expected the box to be jumping or something and it was completely still. I opened both layers of packaging and found a cotton drawstring bag which immediately started moving and jumping and generally coming alive. I put that down on the ground inside the chicken wire and gently shook the toads out. Hot dog! 4 toads including a little baby one.

But damn if they weren't much smaller than i had anticipated. Even the biggest one took one look at that chicken wire and hopped right out. Madness ensued. I was running around getting old sheets that i draped around the chicken wire and secured on the bottom with rocks. Once that was more or less done we tackled trying to catch the 3 that had escaped. 2 had already hopped under the fence into our neighbors' yard. And so while holding a toad was not really on my list of to-dos ,i successfully caught and transported those toads back to their enclosure.

Ultimately i'd like them to be "free-range" toads. But for now i'm trying to keep them enclosed so that they adjust and make our yard their home. Tonight i'm going to get metal stakes and make a bigger enclosure out of landscaping fabric. I'm envisioning a toad "run" of sorts. This way the toads have more room and Henry can get in there with them and move around. He spent about 30 minutes in the current enclosure which is only slightly wider around than he is. I'll update with pictures as soon as possible.


Waldorf Summer Camp

Henry came home from his last day of camp on Friday and brought home the most beautiful watercolor paintings. This was Henry's first year of summer camp and he had a wonderful experience. He went to the Chicago Waldorf School which is a very established Waldorf school. Waldorf schools are very big on child-centered learning, having a clear rhythm to the day, and lots of time for art, music, sports, being outside and unstructured play. The school is up North and close to the Lake so every afternoon they spent a few hours at the beach.

The environment was extremely warm and nurturing and Henry just soaked it up. Always one with a big heart, his compliments and hugs were infectious and he really bonded with his teachers in just the two weeks. He also made several best friends and developed a real affinity for building sand castles, tunnels and collecting treasures.

Although the experience for Henry was wonderful we most likely won't be headed back there next summer. I knew that the 30 minute one-way commute was going to be difficult to mesh into our schedule (especially since Ms. Brenda is 15 minutes in the opposite direction). But it became patently obvious that 1.5 hours in the car each morning just doesn't fit our family. Besides not relishing the idea of expanding our carbon footprint by that much each morning, the experience confirmed my notion that time together is one of our key family values. It doesn't hurt of course that we live in a city bustling with summer camps-- so i've already bookmarked a few to explore for next summer-- both around the corner from Ms. Brenda.


5 Years in Pictures at the Beach

You know how lots of people take pictures of their babies in front of the same stuffed animal to visually mark how they grow? Heading to the beach each summer offers visual reminders of the boys' growth and development, along with all the memories looking back at these pictures evoke. But for now i'm leading with the pictures...

Henry 3 Mos and Nonna:

Henry 14 months:

Henry 14 months:

Henry 2 Years:

Henry Beach 4 Years:

Henry Beach 5 Years:

Silas 4 Months:

Silas 15 Months:

Silas Beach 2 Years:

Silas Beach 2 Years:

Silas Beach 3 Years:

Boys Beach 2010:

Family Picture 2008:

Family Picture 2010:

Parade 2008:

Parade 2009:

Parade 2010:

Baseball Game 2009:

Baseball Game 2010:

Sherman 2008:

Sherman 2009:

Sherman 2010:

Carousel 2008:

Carousel 2010: