Ben’s 9th Birthday

Ben’s birthday and birthday party were celebrated on the same day this year.

He requested a Star Wars themed birthday party. Which I did my best to accommodate.

Before the guests arrived, I had a ‘Make Your Own Droid’ station set up for them. DSC_0260I also set up a Star Wars Cookie decorating station.DSC_0263DSC_0306Soon after guests arrived, the pizzas were delivered.

After lunch, we started the games. I organized only non-competitive games that the kids could easily win with.

First we did a glow-in-the-dark death star pass. The kids stood in a circle and threw the ball around. If they could catch it 10 times consecutively, they got a ticket. DSC_0270Next they played a star wars variation on ‘Red Light, Green Light’. Instead of yelling, “Red” I yelled something red, namely Darth Vader’s light saber. Yellow was C3PO. Green was Yoda.

DSC_0271DSC_0282Every time they passed me they got a ticket.DSC_0284Next we played sharks and minnows. If the kids got the balloons off of the adults, the entire team got a ticket each. It happened so quick I didn’t get a photo.

The balloons were also thrown randomly around the house for kids to find their own uses for.DSC_0267After the games we did a Star Wars Pod hunt. It was actually an Easter egg hunt but we stuck Star Wars stickers on the eggs for effect. I forgot to take pictures.

I also had a charades game planned that I completely forgot about!

But they had plenty of tickets to shop at the prize table.DSC_0264And when each kid left, Adam let them loot it for free again.

Next we got out the cake!DSC_0297DSC_0304There were a few really nice moments, like when Ben’s friend wanted to set up an Imaginex battle for him for his birthday because he knew who much he loved that.

I liked watching the impromptu soccer game unfold as well.DSC_0305Finally, Ben opened all his presents and Adam spent many hours putting them together with him.DSC_0307

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Budding Artist

If your lucky, summer for children can be a time where you have the freedom to explore your hobbies. Sometimes all that uninterrupted free time, time enough to be bored, is actually a good thing. Through that boredom, creativity can eventually flourish.

Aaron has used the time this past week to create his own art gallery.

He gets onto kids youtube, presses the microphone and says, “how to draw ….”

Here is his gallery of Clash of Clan Characters.DSC_0039And his gallery of sharks.DSC_0040For someone who can get so easily frustrated, it’s beautiful to see him following the instructions intently, patiently. To work long and hard at a huge project and see the delight on his face when it all comes together.

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Father’s Day 2018

Adam celebrated Father’s day last weekend. Sorry, I’m a little behind on the blogs!

This year I trolled pinterest until I found these chalk drawing that I thought looked cool. DSC_0375 DSC_0390 DSC_0383 DSC_0382I framed them and captioned them like this…DSC_0394

Afterwards, we headed to the beach.

We did our usual shell and rock collecting, sand and ball playing, picnic and ice cream eating, and lots of racing.DSC_0399 DSC_0408 DSC_0403 DSC_0420 (1) DSC_0425Happy father’s day, Adam!

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Ben’s Week Off

Ben’s school runs 11 months a year, but there is a week off between the regular session and summer sessions. It did not coincide with the other kids summer holiday, but they will all have the month of August off together. Which I plan to break my camera with so many fun and exciting pictures of summer enjoyment! I’ll try to just give you the best bits, though…

It was a lot nice to have the kids holidays separate, especially since Ben’s friend group has expanded. He had three play dates with three different kids during his week off.

One day we headed to the to the Museum of Science and Industry. We checked out the new Pixar exhibit. We also took in some free standing exhibits. Ben’s buddy is so bright it was a pleasure taking him to this place of learning. When one of the women at a free standing exhibit lit something on fire with butane, he said, “Is that on the periodic table?”IMG_9016

Another day we picked up a different buddy and headed out to the Morton Arboretum to go Troll hunting, another new exhibit that opened June 22.DSC_0286

We also spent a day with a third buddy at Maggie Daley Park playing in the playground, mini-golfing, and splashing in the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park.DSC_0328

They both won a free round of golf!

They both won a free round of golf!

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One day Adam moved some work around and took Ben to the Shedd Aquarium. He loves sharks.

Ben is pretending the shark is eating his arm.

Ben is pretending the shark is eating his arm.

IMG_0436It was a great week off for him. He really enjoyed it but I noticed there is no time for him to reflect on that now, as he is busy thinking about his upcoming 9th birthday…

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Quantity not Quality

Around the end of last year, I forced Adam to sit down and watch “Forks Over Knives” with me. It’s a documentary based on the book, “The China Study”. I think how it happened was that he asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I said, “For you to watch this movie.”

My sister sent me the book many years ago. Actually she sent it to Adam in response to hearing about his high cholesterol. But he never touched it so I picked it up and read it cover to cover.

It examines the link between animal products and cancer, cholesterol, and heart disease. It conclusions eating a 95% plant based diet is the healthiest diet for humans.

Adam has always had borderline high cholesterol, something he claims is hereditary. Still he was tired of every single doctor’s visit ending with a warning to lower his cholesterol levels or he would have to go on statins. After watching the movie he thought maybe he would give it a try.

So, for the next six months I prepared him three vegan meals a day. He very carefully kept under the 5% limit, only eating meat or dairy when social or work situations made it awkward not to.

Then, last week he had the test.

Before the diet, his total cholesterol was 230. After the diet it dropped to 220, his LDL (the bad stuff) only dropped by 2, and his HDL (the good stuff) dropped by 8.

It was an absolute failure.

We were both shocked.

Afterwards, he said to me, “You know, the only time I was able to get my cholesterol way down was when I was super skinny.”

Instantly I was transported back to Hong Kong, lying on my living room couch with a searing headache and dry mouth, next to my roommate, Fionnuala.

I asked her why I felt so bad. She told me it was because we mixed alcohol the night before. That was should never mix beer with vodka.

So the next time we were out, we stuck to beer. No mixing! But the next day, we were back on the couch feeling awful. Maybe it was the beer that did it?

The next time we just stuck to vodka. No luck, another nasty morning after.

Tequila? Wine? We ran the full gamut. Finally, after our extremely thorough research we came to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter what you drink, it’s how much you drink.

It’s quantity. Not quality.

And, seeing Adam’s results after drastically changing his diet, I was once again reminded of the lesson when it comes to food or alcohol intake. It’s quantity, not quality.

This week Adam happily slipped back into his carnivorous ways.

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Memorial Day Weekend 2018

Perhaps they should consider moving Mother’s Day to Memorial Day because this weekend, for the first time in a long time, we had an absolutely glorious time.

This weekend marks the turn over from six months of harsh, hobbit-like weather. I feel like, for the past half of a year we have holed up in our house, lips chapped dry from the forced heat, eyes the shape of squares from staring at electronic devices too long, skin pale from lack of sun, in a constant state of annoying each other. Outside of the house was a terrain so unwelcoming you need to suit up just to enter.

But not this weekend! This weekend it was lush and green. And the the sun warmed your skin like a hug from someone you missed deeply but had given up hope of ever seeing again. For once the cold basement was a welcomed addition to our house, not a place to avoid.

Saturday night Adam took Jack to a Cubs game. But not just any game, this one they let 9 lucky boys onto the field to stand in the position of one of the nine players. Jack was one of them.  IMG_0362

Ian Happ personally signed a baseball for him.

Then, the next day, we packed up toys, towels, a picnic lunch, the tent, chairs, the wagon, a portable table, slathered the kids in sunscreen and headed for the beach.

It was 90°F out, so hot that our feet burned when walking on the sand. The water, in contrast, was a chilly 58°F.

Ben and Aaron, my more sensory kids started the day running into the freezing water then laying on the sand like beached whales, warming themselves in the sun.DSC_0022Jack and Sam created together.DSC_0015And there was more! Water fights.DSC_0163They dug this huge hole and buried both twins in.DSC_0083 DSC_0085Then later they used the hole for some game where they poured water in then dug with all their might, laughing all the way.DSC_0151 DSC_0152They spent hours shell and rock collecting.DSC_0049 DSC_0055 DSC_0069

Ben and Adam found a special one for me.

Ben and Adam found a special one for me.

They also did ‘shark races’ from the water to the shore.DSC_0126

And threw the football around a bit… We had a picnic lunch.DSC_0073Then, ice cream!DSC_0137 DSC_0135

There was some other really great moments too. Like when Ben was lagging behind the group, Jack ran back, took the chair he was carrying from him, and walked next to him.

Finally we went home and cleaned up. Ben and Aaron’s hair took three washes to get all the sand out. But it was totally worth it. The next morning Ben asked if we could go to the beach again. When he asked he did so with a bright red, sunburned face.

So, instead we headed up to the Botanical gardens.DSC_0171

It was another scorcher of a day, but luckily there was a strong wind that changed the weather from soupy to delightful.

We spent hours walking the gardens.DSC_0175

We smelled and touched in the sensory garden.DSC_0181 DSC_0183

We played tag on the lawn.DSC_0191

We found a dead bird and a few dead fish. (And live ones too!)DSC_0192

We had races in the maze.DSC_0208

Sometimes we just sat and chatted. At one point Jack was giving out math quizzes to the younger siblings. They loved the challenge!

I think the best part of the weekend was that both days we brought the kids some where picturesque and kid friendly then let the day define itself. I loved seeing them out soaking up precious vitamin D. I loved watching them exercising their bodies. But mostly I loved watching us interact as a family, making jokes, interacting and bonding, holding hands, playing tag or running races.DSC_0211

 

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Mother’s Day 2018

Mother’s Day 2018 was a bit of a disaster. In fact, I considered not writing about it at all this year.

We started the day with the usual cards and gifts cards. Which I completely appreciated. It was the first year all four kids were able to sign the cards themselves. That was kind of cool.

The night before Jack and Ben had gone out with Adam to buy the twins belated birthday gifts. Unfortunately everything Jack suggested, Ben though was bad. When they got home and gave the presents, Both twins liked their gifts but then Ben convinced Sam that his wasn’t good enough, that there was something better out there. Which really hurt Jack’s feelings. I had a long talk with Sam about the concept of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. There is always something better out there, being happy in life is learning to appreciate what you have.

It’s a hard concept for a 6 year old.

In fact, it’s a hard concept for a 45 year old.

Because mother’s day this year I felt kind of awful.

I spent the first part of the morning helping Sam build a lego set he got for his birthday. It took us a good 30 minutes to complete. When we were done, Jack broke it in 1 second.

Down time at home on the morning, playing with some of their new birthday toys...

Down time at home on the morning, playing with some of their new birthday toys…

We didn’t go out to eat at a nice restaurant because I didn’t feel our kid with special needs could handle it. That he would ruin the experience for me.

When we tried an outing to the zoo Adam had to practically strong arm Ben into going. Adam kept telling him to be good! Remember it’s mother’s day and to be nice to mom! That depressed me even more, that the kids had to be yelled at just to be nice to me. Why weren’t they nice to me all year? How come I only get a day? And even then it’s too hard?

I almost left without Ben and Adam, but finally Adam managed to get Ben to come with, and he promptly fell asleep in the stroller meant for the twins. I worried he would keep us awake all night after sleeping the day away.DSC_0990Playing tag after the zoo…DSC_0008

We also stopped at Cummings Park…DSC_0009 DSC_0011

At one point during the day Adam told me to relax, take a break. But I knew if I didn’t finish the laundry, dishes, clean up, whatever it was, it would just be sitting there waiting for me on Monday morning when the house is quiet and I actually do have time away from the kids. It upset me that our lifestyles are so busy there really isn’t any time to relax.

While I work in the kitchen, Aaron likes to hang out and draw.

While I work in the kitchen, Aaron likes to hang out and draw.

Evening game of Slamwich, another birthday gift.

Evening game of Slamwich, another birthday gift.

While Adam was putting the twins to bed, Sam threw a stuffed animal and it hit the lego set we built that morning, that Jack smashed and I fixed afterwards. It was smashed to pieces again!

After the twins went to bed, Adam very nicely ordered from one of my favorite restaurants, Cheng Du Impressions, for take out. I thoroughly enjoyed that too.

Then this morning as I was driving back from dropping Adam at work, I turned on this week’s podcast of ‘This American Life’. It was about breaking up. They started talking about how many break up song there were. Then they played some classic ones. When they got to Bonnie Raitt’s “I can’t make you love me, if you don’t.” I started bawling right there, by myself in the car. The foggy, rainy day was a perfect backdrop.

That song brought me back to a very specific time in my life. When I was so distraught, lonely and rejected. My mind quickly ran through all the rejections in my life. The time that I would play this very song over and over again and lay on my floor next to my pink boom box in a miserable heap. Or the year in Hong Kong when I woke up every single morning for months with a pile of snotty tissues next to my bed and I wondered if I would ever go back to falling asleep normally instead of crying myself to sleep every night. Or the time I recently moved to Shanghai and I was sitting on the balcony of my new flat looking out and thinking, I’ve been dating half my life, where the hell is he?

I was very glad not to be in any of those times in my life. For every set of Joneses, there is another set of Smiths or whoever else. It can always be better, but it can always be worse!

And as most of my readers already know, he finally did show up and together we built this breakneck pace of a life together. I can’t say I haven’t been distraught, but I haven’t been lonely since. Or rejected!

So perhaps I should be listening to my own advice. Screw the Joneses. Look around, there is plenty to be grateful for, and everything in life doesn’t have to be perfect for you to find it.

I got home and carefully rebuilt the lego set once again. Sometimes you got to fix things more than once. Ah, yet another life lesson.

And much like the other saying about life and lemons, if life gives you a pile of legos, make something beautiful. Or at least rebuild the darn thing so you aren’t left stepping on a pile of pain.

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Twin’s 6th Birthday Party

Today we hosted the twins 6th birthday party.

Finally, after 6 years, they had their first birthday party!

We recycled the carnival theme from Ben’s birthday, adding a few more games.

Jack created this marble run with two results.DSC_0924I spent entirely too much time building this skeeball machine for the kids.DSC_0887

Match the ducks…DSC_0923And more…DSC_0892 DSC_0893 DSC_0894 DSC_0895 DSC_0896 DSC_0888 DSC_0891Kids were able to trade in their tickets from the games at the prize table, which Adam worked tirelessly.DSC_0963(Here is the secret to the prize table!)DSC_0925

We hired a bunch of Jack’s buddies from school, an older sibling of one of Aaron’s buddies, and my friend Laura brought a crew of kids (and also helped tirelessly the entire party!) to help run the games.DSC_0948

We also had a face painter.DSC_0944

And a balloon twister.DSC_0952DSC_0959 DSC_0962

And we rented a popcorn maker, a cotton candy maker, and a hot dog steamer.DSC_0938

I also put out some home made sushi, quinoa salad and guacamole.

And fruit. You see how much attention it got compared to the cotton candy…DSC_0939Balloon sword fight!DSC_0965

Our upstairs apartment is vacant right now so we had the carnival upstairs. The food was on the deck, the face painter and balloon twister were in our apartment and the prize table was outside on the ground level.DSC_0898

Kids also played in the basement so hopefully all that stair climbing counteracted all the sugar they ate?

Finally Adam brought out the cake. This is always his job for the birthday parties and once again it was a masterpiece.DSC_0970

Afterwards the kids got to stay up late to open ALL THESE presents!DSC_0983

It was a great day and I was so grateful we could do this for them. Also grateful that it didn’t rain! And that we had so many wonderful helpers, including our oldest carnival helper, Japo…DSC_0932

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Twin’s 6th Birthday

The twins turned 6 years old today.

Not being first in line for birth order is a funny thing. Everything is already established.

It was no surprise for the twins they they woke up to donuts for breakfast. It’s fast becoming our birthday ritual.IMG_8848

It was the first birthday they celebrated in school, so that was new. Unlike their siblings, this school has a ritual of handing out gifts on the kids birthday instead of bringing in a treat.

The twins handed out fidget spinners. They were a huge hit and afterwards I was accosted on the playground by older kids grabbing the leftovers.

And it was no surprise that they chose the same place the other kids choose for their birthday dinner, the Rainforest Cafe. Jack is starting to eat of the adult menu and slowly we are ordering more desserts but otherwise it’s the same.IMG_E0245

Here is the Volcano dessert that we got along with two key lime pies…DSC_0886

This weekend we will throw the birthday party for them. Stay tuned!

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Reorganization

Now that spring is here, I’m going to abandon all the reorganization projects that have plagued me all winter.

Before September this year, I never reorganized anything. I simply kept pushing things into closets until they were so stuffed that, every time I opened one, everything would come crashing down on me.

This winter I found so many things I have been looking for! So many things that I now have two of!

Some project were small, like kitchen cabinets.

Before

Before

After

After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And more cabinets…

Before

Before

After

After

Then I moved on to the bigger things, like closets and storage units (which I did TWICE). I must admit I forgot to take many before and after pictures. Reorganization often happened when I went to get one thing out of a closet, then started to pull more things out and, next thing you know I was knee deep and an hour into a full make over.

I reorganized both Jack and Ben’s rooms, but things still didn’t fit right.

Before. My first attempt at lego storage.

Before. My first attempt at lego storage.

After. My first attempt at lego storage.

After. My first attempt at lego storage.

One day I was so fed up with Jack’s legos, I went to Home Depot, bought new shelves for his closet, had my friend Nicole cut them with their circular saw, and make Jack’s closet into a lego showroom.

Before. Added shelves.

Before.  (Added shelves.)

After.

After.

I even made a wall for him to display his collection of almost 200 lego figurines. IMG_8767It’s completely empty because, after painstakingly adding all of them to the wall, he rediscovered them and now that are all scattered across his bedroom actually getting used.

Since the lego display, he spends many hours in there with the door closed, on his Ipad, binge watching shows and creating. It’s like he’s got his own private lego studio!

And Ben’s toys kept growing until cleaning them up became a nightmare. Every bin was overflowing and when it was time to clean, we would pile them up then try to shove them into spots that were too tight.

His room is much smaller, but I finally realized there was a small sliver of room, behind his bed, that wasn’t taken yet. Just 18 inches wide. I found a 16 inch shelving unit and it made all the difference!

Empty spot.

Empty spot.

New storage shelves.

New storage shelves.

Wa La.

Wa La.

Before.

Before.

After.

After.

Before.

Before.

After.

After.

Now I’m giving myself a break from all this clean up. In a few months it will be summer. The kids will spend those months off of school turning the house inside out and I’ll have to start again in September…

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