Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lauritzen Legos

Last Saturday we went to the Lauritzen Botanical Gardens and saw...

...snakes!  (Lego snakes, that is.)

The botanical gardens are currently featuring an awesome lego exhibit.  I'm not certain Talia ever made it past the free play area to actually look at the sculptures.

Had she glanced around, she would have noticed this rather incredible hummingbird...

Or maybe this monarch butterfly.

Here's one beautiful flower that will bloom forever.

Lovely as the lego sculptures were (and they really were fantastic), I enjoyed playing with our kids just as much.  Talia and Eli built a rather extensive doggy enclosure.

Woof, woof!

Making the wall a little higher, just in case those naughty puppies try to escape.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn, Jason and I attempted a knock-off from Tangled.

Jason our Ironchef, both in and out of the kitchen.

Annika was the official ragamuffin.  (Believe it or not, we really do brush our baby's hair--I promise!)

Trying a new strategy to contain the hair (and body as well.)

Oh no, Brooklyn's been consumed by her own creation!

Sure wish Papa Kay could come to the rescue, but unfortunately there's no one around but this strange guy with a mustache.

Keep smiling!

Brooklyn's Double Digit Birthday

It occurs to me that even though her special day was over a month ago, I haven't written a word about Brooklyn's tenth birthday.  I don't feel too terribly since we celebrated grandly back in October with our Harry Potter party.  Even so, I wanted to take a moment to reflect since it's not every day that a girl turns double digits.

On Brooklyn's birthday, I picked her up from school instead of having her ride the bus home so that we could head straight to the mall.  Clothes shopping?  Nah, none of that for my gal.  We like the good stuff.  We made a beeline for Barnes and Nobles where she spent the next couple of hours carefully spending some gift cards.  Brooklyn invited Talia to come with us because as everyone knows, shopping with your sister is best.  I don't remember everything she purchased, but I'm quite certain that a Harry Potter Cookbook was her favorite acquisition.

After sharing a cupcake in the cafe, we headed to Guacamaya where we met NomiAnn, Papa Kay, and the rest of the family.  While our Mexican meal was tasty, my favorite part was watching the kids spin and dance on the empty dance floor.  Nothing better than dining out in a place where you don't have to wrangle the wee ones back into their chairs.

We opened a few special presents, including a Kindle for our book lover, then piled into the car to drive around and look at Christmas lights.  I love how Brooklyn wanted to spend her birthday singing carols together in the car.  Once everyone's voices were tired, we headed back home for a little hot chocolate and "Pan de Elote" (a yummy Mexican corn cake.)  All in all, a wonderful celebration.

The number 5 plus 5 candles = ten lovely years together.
So what else to write about our lovely Brooklynita?  Well, as you can see, she's really not that much of an "-ita" anymore.  Almost as tall as her mother, she's definitely one of the "big kids" as a fourth grader in her school.  She's excelling in her dual immersion language program and becoming quite proficient in Spanish.  I believe the last Spanish book she read was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  She has two wonderful teachers, Ms. Vickers and Sra. Flores, whose only complaint is that Brooklyn occasionally reads beneath her desk during class.  Well, Ms. Vickers says she hides the book beneath her desk, but Sra. Flores says that she reads right in the open.  Fortunately, both have a pretty understanding attitude as long as Brooklyn puts her book away when asked.  Thanks to the Big Ten Reading Challenge this year, Brooklyn has a pretty significant book list to keep her occupied.
What else?  This year, Brooklyn is serving on the United Nations of her school--definitely a privilege.  At the moment, her class is studying France, so she's looking forward to having Jason and I come show embarrassing pictures in a couple weeks.  She started to play the cello this year at school and is doing really well, despite some tough luck with the instrument.  At home, she's doing much better at practicing piano and making good progress with Mom.  I love how she's recently started to gravitate to the piano to play for fun.  While some might call it genetic (I loved to do the same), it probably has more to do with the fact that she likes the theme music from Star Wars.

Even more than Star Wars, Brooklyn loves The Hobbit and read the book in a day.  (How many of you can claim the same?  Not I.)  She was thrilled to receive a Hobbit lego set for Christmas, and can't wait until we let her watch the movies in their entirety.  When that day comes, Callie/Oin, we'll sure be thinking of you!

Outside of school, Brooklyn is part of a very active Junior Girl Scout troop that will soon start working on their bronze awards.  I think she deserves a second award for being such a great help with Talia's Brownie troop.  Every Wednesday she wrangles Annika through the school halls for an hour so that I can play Brownie Leader.  I honestly don't know how we would manage without her.  Her siblings love her so much, as do her father and I.

Oh, and in case you didn't notice in the first picture, Brooklyn recently got a hair cut.  Four ponytails donated to locks of love: two twelve-inch ponies taken off the back and two eight-inch ponies off the front.  The cut is absolutely adorable, and Brooklyn loves being able to manage her own hair.  I only have one complaint: it makes her look far too grown-up.

Yet even grown-up ten year-olds occasionally need snuggling.  This morning I went up to the attic bedroom extra early and wriggled in between the warm fleece sheets of Brooklyn's bed.  Brooklyn smiled and inquired, half asleep, "Where's Annie?"  "Oh, she's still downstairs.  She didn't want to come up."  "Do you really think that's a wise idea, leaving her alone down there?"  "Probably not, but there was another baby I needed to snuggle even more."

A small sigh of contentment, then Brooklyn cuddled closer.  As the oldest, a lot is expected of our Brooklyn McCall.  For the most part, she thrives on the challenge as she becomes ever more capable and independent.  Every once in a while, though, it's nice to be reminded that no matter how grown-up you get, you're never too old for a snuggle.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Cincinnati Christmas

Temperature's up to 44 degrees!  Yesterday we put away the longjohns and headed to the zoo where we visited three baby lion cubs and a baby aardvark.  (By the way, while lion cubs are cute all over, aardvarks are also adorable, but in the ugliest way possible.)  I should probably be outside right now soaking in the sun while it lasts, but since Annika is napping I thought I'd toss some Christmas photos into cyberspace.

Even though we traveled to Ohio for the holidays, we still decorated at home and put up a small tree.  Surprisingly, Annika left most of the ornaments alone, preferring to mangle the red Christmas box instead by repeatedly climbing in and out.

Eli was a fantastic tree decorator, helping me while his big sisters were at school.

Like most Christmas seasons, the time flew by.  Before we knew it, we were all loaded up and headed to Ohio.  On the way, we passed through Champaign-Urbana, stopping for lunch with Jason's architecture professor and mentor, Mike McCulley.  Mike and his wife Jane were so welcoming of our crew.  The world needs more of these great people.

While Brooklyn and Talia didn't remember Mike and Jane very well, it was fun to drive around and see what memories they do have from Illinois.  Meadowbrook park, Applebees, a fairy-themed birthday party at the Johanssons--all the things that matter most to 3 and 5 year-old girls.

After a long day of travel, we finally made it to Ohio.  As tuckered out as I felt, Annika apparently did not feel the same and screamed for what felt like hours when it was time for bed.  Had we been in a hotel, we would have been forced to let her escape from the Graco prison, if only for the sake of the other hotel guests.  But since we were all family, we plugged our ears and taught the tough lesson that bedtime is bedtime--even in Ohio.

With such a snuggly bed, I don't know why she was complaining.

Maybe she objected to the ambiance.  (Personally, I think I'd have all sorts of yummy dreams.)

On Christmas eve, Annie did somewhat better.  Here we are all feasting on appetizers for dinner.

Lance helps Justin with a mozzarella stick.

Our Nativity reinactment was uber-awesome with ninja-master Uncle Justin playing the role of Joseph.

Brooklyn, Talia, and Jason are all looking quite angelic in their costumes.

Grandpa Charles and Grandma Susie enjoyed the chance to record the experience.  (If the audio track were posted, you'd be able to hear Annika wailing from her crib downstairs again.  Like I said, bedtime on Christmas eve was better, but still far from perfect.)

Brianna made the perfect Mary.  (I have it on good authority that Baby Jesus was actually a stuffed snowman.)

Christy and Ben's flight arrived late Christmas Eve, so on Christmas morning there were gifts and hugs for everyone.  Here's Eli helping to distribute the loot.

Brooklyn seems pretty excited about her new Arizona jeans.

Uncle Lance gave Annika this adorable sweater and skirt.

She liked her new outfit so much that she insisted on wearing it right away.  After that, she decided she'd had enough excitement and presents and shook her head "no" every time you tried to give her something.  Eventually she escaped downstairs for some quiet playtime by herself.

Ben, Christy, and Lance watch all the excitement.

Look here!  Charles and Susie are opening their special Christmas surprise--a fund for some future New Zealand explorations.  Charles looks as happy as a kid on Christmas.  (Oh wait!  That's what he is.)

Talia's pretty excited about something.  A new slinky, or perhaps the Harry Potter DVD.

The rest of Christmas was nice and relaxed.  Here are Jason and Eli working on a new lego set.  All of the kids received legos this year.  Eli has a mountain cabin, Talia got Rapunzel's tower, Brooklyn has a Hobbit set, and Jason finally received his lego dream--the Maersk train.

Only thing better than Christmas presents is Christmas dinner.  You can always count on the Wheelers for a delicious spread.

Love the roses!

For some real party fun, come visit our end of the table.

Eli with his Christmas cracker.

Uh oh, our Sous Chef Uncle Ben looks slightly displeased.  Too much mint, perhaps?

Brianna, our brilliant hostess, is beaming.

Aw, isn't Annika an adorable Christmas angel?

Next up, the Wheeler Wobble/Jingle Jog!  No better way to celebrate boxing day than by working off a bit of pie.  Grandpa Charles and Annika watched over the starting/finish line.

Here's Uncle Justin marking off the race course.  Guess we should have listened better!  I ended up running with (okay, sprinting to catch up with) Talia, who turned the opposite direction.  We had a lovely jog together, but felt pretty grateful when we finally made it back 4.5 miles later.

Other fun events: watching a documentary on "Jerusalem" at the Cincinnati museum center.  Since we had a bit of time to kill before the show, we headed to a park for some playtime.  Jason forgot his coat, but luckily the kids were willing to share.

Our Easy E chooses his own kind of adventure...

...while Talia Lily creates hers.

I've never known a child to spend quite so much time hanging upside down.  I guess it's refreshing to see the world from a new perspective.

Hooray, donuts!  Here we all are enjoying the fruits of Brianna's passion.

Dig in!

Fueled with more sugar, Talia had plenty of energy for new acrobatics. Our cutie is obsessed with headstands.

Adding the splits.


Perfect satisfaction with the world.  (Even if her hair is caught in her necklace.)

Christmas isn't complete without a few family photos.  Here's the requisite serious pose.  From left to right:  Brianna (and Libby), Justin, Jason, Annika, Ben, Christy, Lance, Susie, Charles, Eli, Kara, Talia, and Brooklyn.

Now for a silly photo.  (Grandpa Charles and Grandma Susie, do we need to teach you what "silly" means?)

Hmm, an arm on the shoulder.  That's pretty audacious.  Ah well, Jason made up for you.  (Sorry about that, Eli.)

One last view of beautiful Cincinnati.
Just looking at the picture makes me hungry for a five-way Cincinnati chili.  After our official taste test we've decided:  Brianna's is the best.

Thanks for a great Christmas.