Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hands full, heart full

These pictures are from when Paxton was a few weeks old...just look at all those children!  And they're mine!  ALL MINE!

How did we get so lucky?

Video portrait

Pictures only do so much...luckily, we have lots and lots of videos to share, too.  :)

I am pretty open about something when it comes to parenting (I'm pretty open about lots of things, actually...).  I don't like babies.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my children and I would do anything for them...but babies are just...SO.  FRIGGIN.  HARD.

As if birth isn't hard enough--for both baby and mother (and father, for that matter), at the end of it, all you want to do is sleep for like...days on end, but no.  You get handed the most dependent creature in existence--a baby.  It blows the mind how such a little person can be so much work!  And it's exacerbated by the fact that you don't get to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time at first (if you're lucky).  And don't even get me started on lactation.  Don't even get me started.


A little more than a month in, something absolutely amazing happens and you can dig in and handle it a little longer.  Because that's about the point that baby starts smiling at you and it all comes into focus and is worth it.

Paxton was actually the easiest newborn we've had, but it was still pretty awesome when this started happening:

I love this little snapshot out of our lives.  He makes me so happy.  And the baby is super cute, too.

Then, at the other end of our spectrum is Kendra.  She growing up into a pretty amazing little girl.  I can't believe how much she knows and does and thinks and says and does.  Out of the blue one day, she started doing this.  I'm not sure if she learned it at school or from the little toy we gave her when she turned two, but I was pretty impressed.

How smart is she?!  We are so proud of her!

And I always save my favorite for last and this time, my favorite thing is of Elliot.  When I take care of Paxton, it's hard to believe that it's a totally new baby because it feels like it's only been a few weeks since Elliot was that age, but it's been over a year.  A year!  Elliot is such a sweet little boy, and is still my snuggle bug.  He's learning all kinds of great things, too.

I really am the luckiest Mommy in the whole wide world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gussied up and beautiful

Kendra has lots of adorable dresses for church but Sundays are just so nuts trying to get everyone ready and out the door, I never take a picture before we go.  Then we get back and things are pretty hectic trying to get people fed and in bed as needed that I forget to do it then, too.

But the few weeks before Paxton was born and the first couple of months after, I stayed behind with the boys, and I finally remembered to do just that.

Such a pretty little girl...


Now that there are three children, there are three main subjects of our pictures.  Rarely all of them at once, sometimes a pair of them but most often just one.

But good luck explaining that to the remaining ones.

The result is we have lots of pictures in our many series of pictures that are a little out of sequence.

For example, here's one of Kendra from when I was documenting Elliot's obsession with the swing.

Or in one of the many series I featured when I photo dumped Paxton's first month, both of the other two wanted in on that action:

Actually, Kendra mainly wanted a picture of the thing in her hand, which is why we also have this one:

Then there was the Sunday morning that I haven't blogged yet, but Kendra just looked so cute all dressed up, I got out the camera.  Perhaps you've noticed in our videos of him, Elliot often starts saying,"EEEEEE!" when he sees a camera.  That's how he says, "CHEEEEESE!" because clearly, you're supposed to take his picture, too.  Duhsville.

And I ask you, can we really have too many pictures of this face (this one from when I snapped a few shots of Paxton on Halloween)?

I submit that we can not.  And more importantly, so does Elliot.

It's pretty fun to be clicking through our pictures and have random ones like these pop out pretty regularly.  These little people we've made have their own personalities and while all the moments that make picturesque blog posts are pretty great, I think these are essential ones to have in the collection, too.  I like to picture the fondness with which we'll look back on these and when we see them years from now, we'll almost be able to hear Kendra say, "Take a picture of ME!" or Elliot say, "EEEEEE!"

This parenting gig is pretty great.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Our awesome kids

A couple of things have happened today that I feel like I need to write down to make sure that I remember them.

Lately, I've been trying to teach Kendra appropriate responses in a sort of schooling-your-emotions kinda way.  One of the things we've been working on is handling disappointment.  "It's okay to get disappointed, but it's not okay to throw a fit."  And recently she's made a habit of growling aloud fairly fiercely when she gets an answer she doesn't like to a request, which isn't a problem in and of itself except that I noticed that she holds onto the angry feeling of that expression--sometimes only for a moment but sometimes for quite a while.  So, we've been working on finding other responses that aren't so angry--we usually go with snapping our fingers and saying, "Oh, man!" like Swiper the Fox because that's something that says she's disappointed but accepts it, which I tend to think is a healthier response than getting mad about everything that doesn't go your way.  It's a work in progress.

This morning, as I was strapping her into the car she asked me if she could do something and I told her that she wouldn't be able to and in the first split second, she started her growl.  But then she stopped herself, took a breath and switched to a disappointed but much more calm, "Oh, man!"

Maybe I'm overreacting, but I thought that was pretty impressive.  To be in the middle of an engrained bad habit, stop yourself and make a better choice is a skill even I (and I would guess many grown-ups) often lack.  I told her so and made a pretty big deal out of her accomplishment.

Later in the day, she was not handling her emotions quite as well and while she wasn't throwing a full-blown fit, she was crying a little when her time was up with the tablet.  I knew she was tired, so I was trying to find the balance between going easy on her and encouraging her to pull it together.  I was sitting with Elliot and playing with him at the other end of the hallway.  We were missing a piece in the toy he'd pulled out to play with and I was rummaging through the box by us to find it but when I did and looked up to tell him, he wasn't by me anymore.

He was down at the end of the hallway, hugging his sister and comforting her tears.

I was speechless and too wrapped up in the moment to go grab the camera.  It probably would have been over before I could do so, anyway and this way at least I got to soak it up while it lasted.

I feel pretty blessed that I get to spend every day with these spectacular people and totally blown away that I get to call them mine.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


It's Valentine's Day in less than two weeks.  So I might as well post about Halloween, right?

Good, I'm glad you're coming with me on that.

So far, I've been able to get away with going through costumes on 50% clearance November 1st to get the next year's costume for our kids, but I think this might be the last year I've gotten away with it because Kendra is starting to have her own opinions about what she wants to do.  Also our family is getting big enough that we can pull off sweet, sweet family themes for Halloween and that sounds like a whole lotta fun to me.

The costume I found last year in Kendra's size was one of Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon (which, in our humble opinion, is all-around one of the finest films that's come out in a long, long time--I'm looking at you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).  She's familiar enough with it that she was excited, especially when we found the perfect accessory for her:

I ask you, how epic is that axe??  It was a very exciting thing in our house.

She was excited to show it off.  When we dressed her up a few days before the big event, we realized that Elliot also has a coordinating piece for this theme...

But I got worried that Kendra might start thwacking him with her sweet, sweet axe so we went with our originally planned costume: the Tenth Doctor.

Dr. Who? "I'm the Doctor. I'm a Time Lord. I'm from the planet Gallifrey in the Constellation of Kasterborous. I'm 903 years old and I'm the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below!"

Elliot was very enthusiastic about his very own Sonic Screwdriver, but he was less into the actual Trick-or-Treating.  This was the first year that Kendra was aware of what was going to happen before the fact and was looking forward to it for weeks.  She had a lot of fun:

We didn't actually stay out very long, we only stayed in our complex and hit ten apartments or so.  Frankenstorm was still blowing through and it was pretty windy.  We had fun, though.  When we ran into a little girl a year or two older than Kendra dressed up as a mermaid complete with red wig, she gasped and whispered, "It's Ariel..."  Adorable!

Daddy stayed behind to pass out candy, and he and Paxton held up the fort pretty well.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Paris Trip

The other day I took a bit of a different picture:

Ok, not 100% clear? That is a bunch of stitched together pictures from atop this fine monument 

That's right, the biggest homebody in the world has crossed the pond and taken a trip to Paris. I had a paper accepted to a conference there so I went to give the talk. While I was there I had a few hours to see the sights.   The Eiffel tower was one of them.  Basically it's the easiest thing to see in the world because you can see it from anywhere in Paris.  This is true because of two facts:

  1. There are basically no skyscrapers in Paris.  The tallest buildings around are 6 stories.  Probably a city ordinance or something.  The business district is way far away from the city center.
  2. The Eiffel tower is absolutely huge.  I mean, it is 100 times as large as I thought it was.  And no picture can accurately capture it.  I was shocked when I took this picture at how small it looks in the background because in real life it is jaw-dropping.  

There was a line for the elevator but no line for the stairs, so that's where I went.  As a result, I can testify firsthand that there are googolplex floors.  It goes on forever.  Very impressive monument.  From miles away you can just walk toward it and you will eventually get there without getting lost.  

Getting back to your hotel is a very different matter, as I learned over the course of several very lost hours.

The other really noteworthy thing in Paris is the Louvre.  Actually, it's also unbelievably large.  I should write it in all caps.  I spent five hours there and only got to see part of one wing.  If I ever go back I'm planning several days for it and getting those headphones that tell you about the paintings (because everything's written in French, which is Greek to me). I will also bring a wheelchair because my feet were killing me the whole time.

Anyway the size and scope of the Louve all but defied description.  So many amazing works of Art from all over the world and incredibly ancient history.  Probably the least impressive but still the most memorable was this little baby, the Mona Lisa.

Now the Mona Lisa is usually a little more crowded than this.   There were some people around, but not the crowds you normally see.  The key to avoiding crowds of annoying tourists in Paris is to go in the winter.  Everyone was apologizing for the snow and cold while recommending that I come at a warmer time of year.  Meanwhile my wife was buried by real snow in State College, which was like 15 degrees colder.  I was trying really hard not to have too good a time so she wouldn't be jealous.

Here's Venus de Milo.  The real one. 

Actually these two works are just about the only things I saw in the museum that have things around them preventing you from walking right up to them. There were cameras and a few guards, but for the most part, the museum was mostly empty and all the works of art were just there for you to walk up to. I saw a couple of classes of school children going around.  I have no idea how all those works have survived centuries of gradeschool children.

When you go to Paris (especially after watching Ratatouille) one thing on your mind is fine French cuisine.  Unfortunately I was a little disappointed in this.  I had a lot of exceptionally expensive food.  It was all aesthetically pleasing.  Tiny portions on comically large plates.  What's not to like?  Actually a lot.  Maybe that's a winter thing too.  If French people eat a lot of fresh food, they must get hungry in the winter.  Lots of dilapidated vegetables and bread that my children would never be able to bite through.  I'm sorry, but the myth of amazing French food is thoroughly busted in my mind.  I spent hundreds of dollars busting it. 

I did decide to branch out and really get outside my comfort zone with the food too (which Ashley can't believe).  Ate a bunch of snails, for example.

Whether you like them or not is a personal thing.  If you like stagnant mud, you will probably like escargot.  Me personally, I'll stick to hamburgers for eating out, except that they cost like 30 Euros, which is an unreasonably large number of dollars.

Something I can never do again in America is complain about restaurant service.  I spent more time waiting for waiters on this trip (who were just chatting it up with their friends and trying to avoid eye contact with me) than I have over all my restaurant trips in the previous several years combined.  It's not that the places were busy (they weren't).  I think I figured out the problem: after this meal (my first) I left as small percentage of my meal cost, like 5 euro, on the table as a stingy tip and the guy I was with made me take it back.  Apparently you don't tip in Europe, or not very much.  I mean, even if you are satisfied with the service.  As much as I am against America's tip inflation, I have to say that the situation in Paris appears to be quite a destructive cycle.

When I got home my wife told me I must be the worst traveler in the world.  That may well be true.  Next trip to Paris I'm not going to stay at a hotel across from the Louvre or eat at the restaurant across from the Eiffel tower.  Location fail.

Yup, definitely had some complaints about the food.  Otherwise Paris was very nice.  For the most part I liked the people there and in terms of places to see, it really raises the bar.  I only saw two of the tourist  attractions (not enough time...) and was very, very impressed with them.

Couple of other thoughts about the trip (I don't know how representative some of these are):

  1. Jet lag is a cruel, cruel mistress.  Apparently other people are better at handling it than I am, too.  We left in the afternoon and arrived in the morning in Paris. Somehow a large number of people  were able to sleep peacefully on the plane.  Freaks.  And then somehow I couldn't sleep at night either.  I did wake up at 3:30 AM every day, ready to go, though.  Paris is not real exciting at that time of day, though.  I was a sleep-zombie the whole time.
  2. French people wear a lot of cologne and perfume. I mean a lot.  Standing next to two or three French people in the morning is a sure recipe for burning nostrils and possibly a headache.  The quality of their smells was good, but the quantity was altogether, well, foreign.
  3. French people, from what I could see, are sarcastic.  Very sarcastic.  And they were very eager to hear me say things that were stupid enough to reply in a sarcastic manner.  They did not have to wait long.  It wasn't as negative as the sarcasm you get in America sometimes, but it was still surprising.  In my two years in Venezuela I am not sure I ever heard a sarcastic comment from a Venezuelan.  I wonder how sarcastic British people are...they are kind of half way between Americans and the French, right?
  4. French people are very eager to tell me what America's deal is.  This happened more than once.  Actually, about half the time I tried to make small talk with a French person, I ended up hearing them pontificate on the defining characteristic of American politics, or the American dream.   I had a guy tell me at length about the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats.  Not ask, tell.  I smiled and nodded.  In retrospect, I laugh.  Of course, a French person in America is likely to hear the stupidest comments about France, so I can't really point fingers.
  5. Euros are crazy expensive.  I turned what seemed like a lot of dollars into Euros and you know what I got for it?  Pocket change.   Next time I'm going to try and get into a conference in the Philippines or someplace like that where the economy actually wants my dollars.
  6. Prices are round numbers and include all taxes.  No more having to do crazy math in your head to see if you have enough money for something.  Round, simple numbers.  Perfect if you have a bunch of deceptively valuable pocket change on your person and you can't tell the difference between a 1 and 2 euro coin.
  7. Paris is pretty much empty this time of year.  At least, the downtown part of it is.  Part of that is the fact that there are no tall buildings to house a lot of people in.  Apparently all the apartments around there are also empty because they are owned by rich people who have winter homes in more hospitable climates. 
  8. People are great at English for the most part.  Unfortunately the few people who speak only French are also the ones you really want to speak to, like the cab drivers, waiters, luggage dudes at the hotel, and security guards that look like they want you to go somewhere but you can't tell where or why.  This experience made me really wish I had taken French in high school instead of Spanish because if I could have even made a weak attempt at French I would have made a much better impression.  As it is, I accidentally spoke in Spanish to any number of people.  It was a very confusing time for me.
  9. I didn't notice the town itself being particularly magical, although I did notice that every single shop is exactly the type of shop I would never, ever patronize in America.  Tiny, with only a few, expensive, items for sale.  Those items were brands that are so big it doesn't seem like they are even real.  Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Rolex, etc.  These are on every block.  There were literally two Rolex shops within a block of my hotel.  In that sense it seemed like some kind of wonderland that borders on implausible.  I guess those brands are not quite as rare and exclusive in Paris as they are here.  Interestingly, the models in all the posters were people you know, like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Connelly.   I had no idea those guys were models as well as actors.
  10. The addition of gold foil baked in does not make food taste better.
  11. It's really true that Europeans are more fit than Americans.  I don't recall seeing a single fat person.  The average person also seemed shockingly young.  I don't understand how this is possible when Europeans have so few children.  I must be getting old very fast.  I met a bunch of high-ranking executives of various sorts while I was there and they all seemed like kids to me.
  12. One reason Parisians are slim is that their portions are tiny.  This was true both at expensive and cheap restaurants.  The worst was the "lunch" provided by the conference.  At noon they announced that we would break for a catered lunch and it was going to be good French food.  But it was what we would call hors d'oeuvres, and not generous ones either.  I'd say there were enough for about half the people to eat a normal snack-break worth.  Most of the Americans, after seeing the provided lunch, snuck out and bought some real food.  When we came back the French people were evidently satisfied by the two or three bites they were able to eat.  I don't know how they survive like that.
  13. Paris is absolutely impossible to navigate.  One-way streets everywhere, each of which is only a few blocks long and none of which are parallel.  Each street twists around and ends in a building, then picks up on the other side with a different name.  Taking a taxi about a mile from the Eiffel tower to my hotel was an interminable ride. I could have gotten there by foot much faster except that I would have immediately gotten lost.  I would probably still be there if I was trying to go a whole mile on foot.
  14. Motorcyclists in Paris are a law unto themselves.  This was literally the first thing that caught my attention because it is so shocking.  They drive really fast between lanes of heavy traffic, up onto and off of sidewalks, through lights.  It's crazy.  Actually it looked like fun.  The strange thing is that no one was honking and cursing at them.  Apparently they were not doing anything illegal.  If you really want to have a good time on a motorcycle (ramping off of people's car hoods or something) Paris is the place to go.
Anyway, I was really glad to go to Paris.  It was a very different traveling experience for me and helped demystify France just a little, even if I did spend all my time in the downtown touristy area.  It's always interesting to see which stereotypes have a basis in fact and which are pure fiction.  I had a good time, although I do wish Ashley could have come with me.  As a couple there are a number of places on our list to visit before Paris, but if we get the chance, we will go back.  We will stay far from the center of town, take the subway in to the tourist areas, take our time seeing things, and we'll study up on our French before we go.  :)