DIY Captain Underpants Halloween costume

I have a draft of a post from July still waiting to be published. I have two birthday party posts yet to be shared. But right now I want to share this year’s Halloween costumes: superheroes!

IMG_0515

I don’t know how many years we have left of doing family costumes without any dissenters, so I was happy that Corban and Mara ended up on the same page with their costume selections: Flash and Wonder Woman (for a while it was looking like Princess Leia or Elsa were going to win out for Mara, but in the end she said she wanted “star underpants” — which, still, she did not get, but it was enough to convince her to join Corban in the Justice League).

This is Haddon’s first Halloween, so I had almost full control over his costume since he had no concept of the holiday. Going along with the superhero theme, Haddon’s pick was a no-brainer. I knew he’d actually be excited (and not just confused) to dress up as Captain Underpants. After the five of us saw the “Captain Underpants” movie this summer, he has had an affinity for running around the house in a diaper and cape shouting, “Captain Underpants! Tra-la-la!”

IMG_7391

My original ambitions were to make everyone’s costumes myself, but time got the better of me and we ended up ordering Mara’s and Corban’s on Amazon so we’d have them in time for some festivities two weekends before Halloween. I was actually really impressed with their costumes, considering they were both $20 or less. Here is the Wonder Woman costume and here is the Flash costume. I ended up sewing the Wonder Woman belt to the dress just to keep it in place (a tiny stitch just at the center of the waist, not all the way around), but otherwise they both worked just fine straight out of the package.

Captain Underpants seemed simple enough to make, and I also found the store-bought versions really creepy, so that was my project this year. Here’s what I did.

(Past DIY Halloween costumes: Berenstain Bears, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Peter Rabbit, a mouse)

IMG_7411

The bod

Nude long underwear is apparently difficult to find in toddler sizes (though for an older kid, this would be perfect) so instead I bought a white long-sleeve shirt, thick, cotton tights and a package of tan Rit dye.

This was my first experience dying clothing, and it was really simple to do on the stovetop, although the shirt ended up with some weird dark dots on it (not ideal but I don’t think it was too noticeable). I used the powder dye, so maybe the liquid dye would be more reliable? The color turned out darker than I was anticipating. It worked fine for Haddon’s skin tone, but for a fairer child you would probably not want to leave the clothing in the dye for the full amount of time.

The underpants

I drew lines with permanent marker on a pair of white underwear to match the look of Captain Underpants’ underwear.

The head

To achieve Captain Underpants’ bald-headed look I crocheted a simple skin-toned beanie for Haddon. This also was convenient because it ended up being fairly chilly for our trick-or-treating last night. Here’s the pattern I followed (via video). I am not a crocheter—I’ve crocheted two or three hats in the past but that’s it—yet this was simple enough to knock out in spare moments here and there over a few days.

IMG_7431

The cape

I bought this $6.99 red satin shawl and cut it in half (the other half became my Supergirl cape). If I owned a sewing machine, I would have hemmed the cut edge, but un-hemmed it survived trick-or-treating and a Halloween party with only a few stray strings. To make the cape fully authentic I drew seed-shaped black dots on it with a permanent marker.

That’s it! Totally doable, and Haddon loved his costume. You could also add a plunger as an accessory, but Haddon had enough work just carrying his candy bucket.

IMG_7404

Other Halloween notes:

At the last minute I decided to dress up as Supergirl—literally 10 minutes before trick-or-treating started I printed out a Supergirl logo and pinned it to a blue shirt, pinned the remaining red scarf into my collar for a cape and cut a strip of yellow fabric and tied it around my waist with a red skirt. Pure luck that I already had everything for that one.

Peter’s Clark Kent costume included woodworking safety goggles since he couldn’t locate any normal fake glasses in our house.

Haddon was my pumpkin-carving sidekick. He mainly enjoyed sticking his hands in the pumpkins and playing with the scooped-out seeds. I roasted the seeds to perfection this year (I’ve found the best route to success is soaking the seeds overnight in a bowl of water with lots of salt before roasting).

IMG_0495

I managed to carve three of our five pumpkins (the kids lose interest after about 10 seconds so it ends up being my solo project). They got to choose the designs, though, and I’m sure you can guess who’s pumpkin is whose.

halloween2017-07

halloween2017-08

All in all, it was another very fun Halloween, made even more special by getting to introduce Haddon to the holiday and share in his excitement.

Advertisements

Haddon at three years old / home two months

Note: I am backdating this post since it’s been written and waiting for photos to be added for months(!)

The other weekend (end of July), almost exactly two months after we got home from China, Haddon turned three. We celebrated with a party at our home with family and neighbors—a celebration of Haddon and the wonderful addition he is to our family. (More about the party in a separate post.)

IMG_6813

At three years old, Haddon is a happy, cuddly, smart little guy. He laughs a lot and is very engaged with our family and the world around him. He’s easy to love—an adorable, sweet, obedient, fun kid. I am so thankful he is receptive to all the affection I shower on him—I can’t help but kiss my kids hundreds of times a day and if that were uncomfortable for him it would be really hard for me to resist!

As well as Haddon seemed to be doing a month ago, we have seen a lot of growth and positive changes since then as he’s settled in with our family. Here’s an update on Haddon Michael at three years old, two months home, 11 weeks since he officially became a Sherwood.

IMG_6973

Play

Almost imperceptibly there’s been a shift in Haddon’s play from mostly independent play to more interaction and engagement with Corban and Mara. He and Mara tend to be two peas in a pod. My two three-year-olds (for the next month) can often be found pushing each other around in a stroller or ride-on toy or playing side by side with the same toy.

IMG_7450

Haddon still loves cars, trucks (especially) and play food. He loves balloons and riding (with a lot of help) his balance bike. Slides, swings and merry-go-rounds are his favorite park activities. When I close my eyes and think of Haddon I see him pushing a Tonka truck around the driveway and filling it with mulch and grass—it’s his modus operandi.

IMG_7435

Language

Haddon’s English has exploded over the past month! He not only understands a LOT but speaks mostly in English when he is talking to us, especially when he wants something.

For a while we were doing a lot of reading “100 first word” books and the like, and he picked up and practiced a lot of animal and object names that way. Now he not only can identify many things in English, but he strings words together and speaks in short sentences. Some that we hear a lot: “Where did Corban/Mara/Daddy go?” “I want ____.” (All day long!) “Daddy get in car?”

IMG_6603

He parrots us a lot, which is funny when you know he has no idea what he’s saying. His pronunciation of most words is a little off, but we understand most of what he says. He’s an eager learner and asks, “What is this?” ALL the time, wanting to know the English word.

He continually surprises me with words he knows—he loves this one book about shapes and correctly points to and says “triangle” and “circle.” He requested “window up” in the car the other day (he meant “down,” but still!), which was something he just picked up from hearing us say it. It seems like every day there’s something new.

IMG_6642

Haddon finally started calling Mara by her name (he says “Naya”) instead of calling her Corban. He also has successfully figured out how to tattle on his siblings: “Mama, Corban be naughty!”

He still says a few things in Mandarin (“up” when he wants to be picked up and “ow/it hurts” when I buckle his car seat too tight or his food is too hot) and will shout out Mandarin words when he’s being silly and playing rough or talking to himself. I will be sad to see him lose his first language completely but I know it’s bound to happen no matter how many Mandarin songs we play in the car or words we use interchangeably in both languages.

IMG_7350

From a sweet shower Peter’s co-workers threw for us.

Physical development

Haddon started physical therapy in June and goes once a week to work on building strength in his left leg. We do stretches on his ankle every day and he was fitted for a leg brace that he’ll get at the end of August to keep his left ankle at a 90-degree angle so he can get his heel down when he walks. (Meanwhile, he’s worn through the left toe of three pairs of shoes.)

IMG_7569

He’s definitely making improvements! His ankle is noticeably more flexible. The biggest advancement I’ve noticed is he can now go up and down a single step without any assistance. I watched him practice over and over on our deck one day—this is one determined kid.

We finally had Haddon’s ophthalmology appointment and found out he is extremely farsighted (like +6.5!). He just got his glasses in and is pretty good about keeping them on (I think he likes being able to see). I happen to think they’re pretty adorable.

IMG_7678

Despite being healthy overall, we’ve had too many doctor appointments to count at this point (including PT sessions). We had five in four days one week. Thankfully we only live about five minutes from a Children’s Hospital clinic with almost all specialties there. Haddon has kept a smiling face through all the appointments (for the most part). I’ve learned childcare for the other two is essential if I want to stay sane through the appointments.

IMG_7655

Attachment

Haddon’s attachment to us and ours to him remains strong, but this month I really noticed him relax around us and especially around others. He isn’t as shy as we originally thought. Since he feels more secure with us now he engages more with strangers and new friends.

IMG_7020

He’s opened up in little ways, like he started singing to himself sometimes or joining us in songs he knows. When we met his foster mom she told me he liked to dance to kid music, but we hadn’t seen that until this past month. Now he has some ridiculous dance moves and busts them out regularly, even in public like at an anniversary party and at a library song/dance event.

IMG_7376

At the beginning of July we took a 10-day road trip to Missouri where we stayed in four different homes and rental condos throughout the trip, went to a waterpark, amusement park (thrice), lake, Fourth of July party, family reunion with 50+ people… and Haddon handled it all with no issues. I honestly couldn’t believe it — I thought he’d be overwhelmed by all the people or be nervous sleeping in new places, but he just embraced it all and had a blast. I think that says a lot about his attachment!

IMG_7100

Sleep

Sleep is AWESOME right now. Each nap time and bedtime we read two to three books, pray, sing “Jesus Loves Me” (he was mesmerized by that song the first time he heard it and it seems to calm him down really well) and lay him down in his crib with his blanket and panda. We tell him we love him and say goodnight, then walk out and that’s that. The least drama-filled bedtime I could imagine!

Haddon naps two to three hours a day and sleeps from about 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

IMG_7231

Even napped at a water park!

For the first two months, we kept his book options to just a couple that he seemed to like so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed. We read “It’s Time to Sleep, My Love” every single nap and bedtime and he loved the routine and familiarity. This month we expanded so he now has five to ten favorites and is happy to read new books, too.

Food

Haddon’s still a great eater. He loves meat and eggs. He isn’t a huge fan of cheese (Peter has an ally now) or vegetables but drinks a ton of milk. He’s usually the first one to start eating and the last one to finish. Meals would go on forever with him if we let them.

IMG_7644

Potty Training

In my last update potty training was going really well and progressing naturally, but I put an intentional halt on it when we went on vacation at the beginning of July. Sadly, Haddon’s enthusiasm sort of halted with it and we haven’t had much progress since then. I’d say right now he’s ready but unwilling. It’s on my list to tackle seriously in the next month.

IMG_7550

Family dynamics

We felt some growing pains during this time period. Haddon fits right into our family and has adjusted amazingly well — essentially seamlessly — but I think the rest of us have been knocked ever so slightly off our orbits by the changes. Three kids has just felt overwhelming to me, and I can tell Corban and Mara have been testing some boundaries as they figure out the new normal, especially since I’m now home full-time instead of working.

In regards to Haddon’s relationships, he has grown a lot closer to his siblings in his second month home. He and Mara are often on the same page as far as what kind of silliness they’re into. They laugh and play easily together, but also compete fairly directly for my attention. Mara relished her status as baby and Haddon is now finally getting the babying he never truly got before, so obviously there’s some tension there. For the most part they are really sweet together, though.

Corban tends to be on a different level than Haddon, but will take time out to show an interest in him. He no longer calls him HaoLei, but he often refers to himself in the third person as gege (big brother) in an effort to woo Haddon.

IMG_6859

They always hold hands in the car.

Haddon imitates his big brother and sister (both good and bad) and has become much more engaged with them as his trust and comfort with them has grown. Now that he understands so much more English, he’s much better at sharing (although there are often turf wars over a particular recycling truck and fire truck).

IMG_7217

With Corban’s and Mara’s birthdays, I always find myself thinking back to the day they were born, and Haddon was no different…except I don’t actually know anything about that day. But I do know as a mom that carrying a baby for nine months and giving birth is a huge deal, and no matter what Haddon’s biological parents’ reasons were for leaving him at the orphanage a few days after he was born, I have to imagine they think about him on his birthday. So I was thinking of his biological mom that day and praying for her.

I’m not sure if birthdays were celebrated at Haddon’s orphanage or in his foster home (my guess would be no, but I really don’t know) but I was praying for his foster mom, too, who I know misses this sweet little boy.

IMG_7176

Our family is growing! Why adoption?

In two weeks, we will legally be a family of five!

IMG_4578-.jpg

No, I am not pregnant — and this is something we’ve been actively anticipating for much longer than nine months: adoption.

So, first, the exciting details. It’s a boy. He is 2 years, 9 months old. He lives in Harbin, China. His English name will be Haddon, after (or inspired by) the theologian C.H. (Charles Haddon) Spurgeon. Peter and I leave in just over a week to bring him home!

Reed (3).JPG

I had intended on documenting the entire process from the start here, but instead found it easier to share this journey via conversations and prayer requests to friends rather than by sitting down and typing it out. At some point I do want to go back and write more about the details that led us to this point, though.

IMG_6704.JPG

First, I’ll tackle a question I’ve gotten (not surprisingly) a lot. What made you decide to adopt?

I think if we didn’t have biological kids or were older than we are this question might seem nosy, but for a relatively young couple with a healthy boy and girl, adoption is puzzling, or at least curiosity-inducing, to a lot of people.

I understand why and don’t begrudge anyone for asking. Most people think of adoption as something for people who can’t or don’t want to have biological kids. Adoption is a great choice for those people.

Or they think of adoption as something for very saintly people who want to give unfortunate children a better life. Adoption is the only way millions of kids worldwide have the opportunity to grow up with a family. (Though I would say saintliness is an unhealthy motivation for anything in life, including adoption.)

The reality is adoption fills a need and desire for both parents and children, and I think it’s healthiest to acknowledge both parties’ needs.

So the short answer to “what made you decide to adopt?” is because we want more kids and there are kids out there who need families.

IMG_4564.JPG

From the start of our relationship, Peter has talked about wanting to adopt. Before then, I had never really considered it, mainly out of ignorance. It just didn’t cross my mind, but I had no qualms about it. As we talked about it more and because Peter felt strongly about adoption, it quickly became a foregone conclusion as we thought about the future. We are fortunate to have come to know a number of adoptive families over the years and that just encouraged us even more.

So the superficial “why” I sometimes find myself reciting to people quickly when they ask why we are adopting is, “We’ve just always wanted to.”

But there’s more to it than any of that. Why do we feel called to be one of those families when it would be far easier to just have more biological children? Why would we choose to take on the expense—monetary, emotional, mental, physical—of adoption?

Our deeper motivation comes from looking at our status in relationship to God. Through Christ’s redeeming work for us, we “receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5) We are born under the law, but through Jesus we are called sons of God, receiving the full inheritance of Christ.

In Romans 8:14-17, Paul writes:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Creator of the universe loved lowly, little me enough to adopt me as his child. Adoption is a beautiful, mysterious picture of our relationship with our Father—not because we were born His, but because he pursued us and made us His own children.

I’m not equipped to explain it all very well in my own words, but John Piper has an excellent exposition on adoption, where he lays out eight similarities between God adopting us and us adopting children.

Number seven is especially moving to me. A snippet: “The distance between what we are, and what God is, is infinitely greater than any distance between us and a child we might adopt. God crossed the greatest cultural barrier to redeem and adopt us.”

Jesus paid the greatest price for our adoption, so any cost we bear in adopting our son is pennies in comparison. We rely on God’s grace for the strength we will need for the job (just as with parenting our biological kids) and rest in His promises.

CIMG7426.JPG

Corban’s 5th birthday party

I have fond memories of my fifth birthday party. It’s always stuck in my mind as one of my favorite childhood birthday parties. I don’t know if there are pictures or videos recording parts of it (probably, but I haven’t seen them in decades) so all that my mind really has is a vague sense of fun and joy, and memories of jumping in a bouncy house in our backyard on a warm summer day.

It’s strange to me that my firstborn is now old enough to have these types of memories for himself—perhaps an internal recording of excitement and happiness that will stick with him in the coming years. With that in mind, I wanted his fifth birthday party to be a special one.

corban5thbday09

(I should note it was nearly three months ago, but birthday parties are apparently the one thing I feel obligated to record here regardless of how long it takes me to do so.)

While I wanted the party to be special for Corban, I also wanted it to be really simple for me to plan. After Mara’s Three Little Pigs shindig a few months earlier and his pirate party last year, I wasn’t really up for DIY and creativity. So I booked a party at our favorite local gymnastics place (Swiss Turners) instead of hosting it at our house.

corban5thbday02

The party included an hour of gymnastics fun for Corban and a small group of friends followed by a half hour of scarfing down pizza and cupcakes and opening presents in the party room upstairs.

corban5thbday08

The kids had a blast in the gym. The two instructors did a great job keeping the little ones in line (with some parental support).

corban5thbday04

Pretty much all I did was jazz up the invitations provided by Swiss Turners, bake cupcakes, slice some raw vegetables and make a birthday banner. We didn’t need to do much to the party room.

corban5thbday01

I used two tried and true recipes: Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes and Buttermilk Chocolate Cupcakes with this fudge frosting.

corban5thbday00

There isn’t much else to say about the party. Corban had a ton of fun with his friends (he said the trampoline “boat” game was his favorite) and it was sweet for me to just sit back and watch him and the other kids run, jump and play.

I shot a bunch of blurry, poorly lit photos to try to capture the moments. Here are some highlights.

corban5thbday03

corban5thbday06

corban5thbday12

corban5thbday11

corban5thbday10

corban5thbday07

It’s a little late to end by saying “happy birthday, Corban,” so instead I’ll get emotional for a moment after looking back at these photos.

Five is such a milestone age in my mind. It feels lightyears older than four, and it’s the age at which Corban will go off to school for the first time. (Sob!) Birthdays are such a bittersweet reminder of how quickly the months go by and how fast our little people grow and change. I love this boy so much and am enjoying every stage with him.

Berenstain Bears Halloween costumes

We did another full-fledged family costume this year for Halloween. Last year it was Jake and the Neverland Pirates. This year: Berenstain Bears (yes, that’s how it’s always been spelled).

halloween2016-09

Corban discovered the Bear family thanks to the extensive collection of books my parents have from when I was a kid, and these past few months we have been compelled to read multiple Berenstain Bears books a day. You can’t get away with shortcuts with Corban either—he notices if you skip so much as a sentence.

This is a good thing, though: good moral lessons, childhood reminiscence, enjoyable storylines. Naturally, Corban draws connections between the Bear family and our own family of four. He is Brother Bear, Mara is Sister Bear.

So despite a new Star Wars obsession that has them plotting next year’s costumes already, they were excited to dress up as the Bear family for Halloween.

You can’t just go out and buy a Berenstain Bears costume (I looked and came up empty), so we had to get a little bit creative.

Thankfully, I came across this Etsy shop, which sells handmade embroidered Berenstain Bears masks. They only come in kids sizes, so they looked slightly off on Peter and me, but they were perfect for the kids. Without these masks the costumes would have been really obscure, especially since the Berenstain Bears are not normal-looking bears.

Brother Bear was the easiest: blue sweatpants and a red long-sleeve polo (found at Old Navy).

halloween2016-08

Papa Bear was simple, too: Overalls and a yellow plaid shirt.

My original plan for Mama Bear was to buy a blue nightgown and paint white polka dots onto it, but upon realizing how expensive even the most basic long-sleeve nightgowns and dresses are (at least the ones that I could find), my mom offered to sew me a dress. She has years of sewing experience and has made many Halloween costumes throughout my life, and I’m grateful for her expertise and eagerness to help! She used blue polka-dot fleece fabric and modified a basic dress pattern, adding a white collar.

Sister Bear was my project. For her shirt, I just used fabric paint to paint pink polka dots onto an old long-sleeve shirt of Corban’s. I could have bought a pair of regular pink overalls, but Sister’s overalls are slightly different—they have scalloped straps and a straight line across the front and back (no bib). So after hunting around unsuccessfully, I got inspired by something I saw on how to turn an old pair of jeans into shorts overalls.

halloween2016-07

I bought two pairs of pink fleece sweatpants (thank you, Walmart) and went to town. First, I cut two rectangles out of one leg of one of the pairs of pants in order to bring the waistline up to nearly chest-height. I sewed those two pieces together then sewed them to the waist of the other pair of pants.

halloween2016-03

Unfolded:

halloween2016-04

No hemming needed with fleece; yay!

For the straps, I put the newly modified pants on Mara, measured the length the straps should be and cut a scalloped pattern out of poster board.

halloween2016-01

I took the other extra pant leg and cut along the seams to create two long rectangles of fabric. I folded each long rectangle in half lengthwise and cut the scalloped line out of the open side. Then I pinned the edges to prepare to sew them:

halloween2016-02

I carefully sewed along the scalloped edge.

halloween2016-06

Then I turned them inside out and ironed them flat (in the photo below, the top strap shows it before being turned inside out and the bottom one after).

halloween2016-05

I sewed the front of the straps to the front of the pants, and my mom sewed snaps onto the inside of the back straps and back of the pants. The snaps ended up being unnecessary, though; Mara just pulled the straps up over her arms. I did end up pinning the shoulders of her shirt to the straps so they wouldn’t fall down (thanks to the double layers of fleece, you couldn’t see the pins).

halloween2016-10

Oh, and the kids were super excited to wear these gorilla feet slippers we spotted at Walmart. They look enough like bear feet, I guess. They weren’t the easiest to walk in while trick-or-treating, though.

I also concocted some furry gloves for all of us by sewing some felt pieces to cheap cotton gloves to make it look like fur was coming out of our sleeves. If I were to do that again I would have hot-glued the felt…my quick hand-sewing job didn’t really hold up. Mara also refused to wear them, so there’s that.

It was a fun Halloween weekend: costumed play date party Friday morning, adult party Friday night (my solo Mama Bear costume isn’t quite as cute without the rest of the fam…), pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating Sunday and a Halloween party for the kids at our gym this morning.

14883513_10104365931006220_4755394197375787757_o

Hard to believe we are entering November already!

Past years’ Halloween costumes: Pirate/Tinkerbell (2015) | Peter Rabbit/bumble bee (2014) | mouse/cat (2013) | lobster (2012)

Three Little Pigs 3rd birthday party

Every day, Mara asks me to tell her a story. “Three Little Pigs?” I say, knowing the answer.

“Three Little Pigs.”

At Mara’s request, the pigs are girls. Their names are Flopsy, Mopsy and Toesy. Sometimes Flopsy is the smart one who builds her house of brick; sometimes it’s Mopsy. But usually it’s Toesy.

When Mara jumps in to tell the tale, it gets very condensed.

She races on with the story, skipping words in her excitement: “Not by hair my chinny chin. I’ll huff and I’ll blow your house away! [blows] Ahhh!”

So, for Mara’s third birthday, I couldn’t think of a better theme than the Three Little Pigs.

We celebrated with two different parties (more than a month ago now)—one at our house with my parents and a handful of friends and one in Missouri with Peter’s family.

Here are the highlights. I’ll start with my pride and joy, this cake.

mara3rdbday01

I painted wooden pegs to make the three little pigs (inspired by a photo I saw on another blog) and made a tiny bunting from construction paper.

mara3rdbday02

The cake is my favorite simple buttermilk chocolate cake recipe (also seen here). Except I multiplied it to make four layers, and added stabilized whipped cream filling.

mara3rdbday03

Despite wooden skewer reinforcement, it didn’t quite last through the party.

mara3rdbday04

So maybe next time I’d cut it down to two or three layers. But it was delicious, so no complaints! (Seriously, try that recipe next time you want chocolate cake. I love it so.)

The cake toppers made a second appearance at birthday party no. 2 (I did not make this cake).

mara3rdbday06

mara3rdbday07

My other pride and joy were these pig party hats I made from construction paper and tissue circles (and lots of Mod Podge).

mara3rdbday05

There were also a few black and gray wolf hats. Don’t ask how much time I put into them, or why, for that matter, but they were a good excuse to spend a few nights binging on “Bachelor in Paradise.”

We also brought out our traditional Mara birthday banner for both parties (here it is at party no. 1).

mara3rdbday10

And the party favors were these creepy pig snouts from Oriental Trading.

mara3rdbday09

We had water balloons—something that my kids are obsessed with, yet still don’t quite know what to do with once they get their hands on some. Praise hands for those contraptions that fill 100 balloons in 10 seconds. Worth it.

mara3rdbday19

The kids also played “Pig, Pig, Wolf” (Duck, Duck, Goose), set off stomp rockets and built some impressive structures from our giant Jenga set.

mara3rdbday11

Dinner was Portillo’s Italian beef and chopped salad. Drinks were a few growlers of beer.

Oh, and there was cotton candy! We purchased a small cotton candy machine for the occasion, and I think Mara would have bathed in the stuff if we let her.

mara3rdbday12

mara3rdbday20

mara3rdbday13

mara3rdbday14

Party no. 2 also featured cotton candy and pig party hats.

mara3rdbday16

Instead of Italian beef, we ate grilled burgers, hot dogs and pork tenderloin.

mara3rdbday15

And instead of “Pig, Pig, Wolf” we played lots of baseball.

mara3rdbday18

Despite this fake pout, Mara had a pretty spectacular double celebration for birthday number three.

mara3rdbday17

Mara at 2 1/2 years old

I wrote this post five months ago, and it’s been sitting in the drafts folder just weighing me down all that time. I think these kid update posts are starting to stress me out—too much pressure to perfectly capture the essence of a changing, growing person. So, I’m just going to get over that for now and post this little imperfect throwback… and in the future hopefully I’ll be in this space more often with shorter, in-the-moment updates on life and family (I do have a lot I’ve been wanting to share!).

So… pretend this is March! (Side note: I can’t believe Mara will turn three in less than a month.)

—–

Written March 2016: Mara at 2 1/2 years old is feisty, funny, friendly and… I can’t think of another good word that starts with “F.”

mara2yr6mo18

Her personality at this age is a study in extremes, equally adorable and outrageous. I don’t want to forget her little quirks.

Like her alarming consistency in saying “off” when she means “on,” “Basil” when she means “Biggles” (our cats), “black” when she means “white” and “open” when she means “close” (I’m not sure whether we should be concerned about this).

Or her love for her glow-in-the-dark skeleton pajamas, which we “charge” on the lamp every night before turning off all the lights in her room while she dances around like a crazed set of glowing bones.

Or how if you call her “buddy” or “big girl” she retorts, “I not a buddy; I Mara!”

Or how she takes it really seriously if you pretend to take a bite of her cheek, demanding that you put it back.

Mara loves to play mama to her baby doll, stuffed animals and me. It’s sweet to see our own parenting reflected in her play as she bounces her baby, talks to her in my cadence and zooms a spoon into her mouth like a train. She loves to be in charge.

She could stand on her step stool at the kitchen sink for hours playing with the water (I don’t let her waste that much water, though).

mara2yr6mo16

Other favorite activities include putting stickers on everything…

mara2yr6mo21

playing doctor…

mara2yr6mo11

brushing my hair…

mara2yr6mo08

“drawing ‘M’s” (or “the mark of the Mara” as I call it—her signature M-like zig-zag)…

mara2yr6mo07

being chased around, playing with flashlights, jumping off of furniture and going down slides at the park or on our Fischer Price slide in the basement.

“Watch dis! Mama, watch dis!” is a phrase I hear on repeat as she hails her audience before demonstrating a jump or silly face.

When she’s into something, she’s relentless about pursuing it. It’s a huge struggle to tear her away from her favorite activity: looking at photos and videos I’ve taken on my phone. Whether she’s set on collecting every empty communion cup from the pews at church or washing her own hands, stubborn is definitely a word that applies to Mara—so unlike her easygoing infant self.

She’s particular about what she wears and whether her hair is pulled back or in a bow (this is often more about control than it is looks). And speaking of hair, now that she has more of it she definitely looks like a big girl and no longer a baby.

mara2yr6mo14

She picks this outfit out a lot.

My big girl still loves (that’s an understatement) her pacifier, but is now totally potty trained.

mara2yr6mo24

She is getting harder to put to bed at night now that she realizes Corban gets to stay up later than her, and has learned some stall tactics to even out their bedtimes a bit. She is a very good napper and will occasionally nap with Corban on his bunk beds, but usually she’s in her crib in the nursery.

She calls people “‘bodies” (pronounced like “buddies,” but short for “everybody”). Ex: “Are ‘bodies coming over?”

We have a few book obsessions: “Snuggle Puppy” (by Sandra Boynton), “Spot Goes to the Beach” (by Eric Hill), “Mommy Hugs” (by Karen Katz), “Goodnight Moon” and a few others in heavy rotation.

Mara is still big on singing. Her little voice is a precious sound, and yes, she too is obsessed with songs from “Hamilton.”

She fell while playing on a playground about a month ago, badly bruising her cheek and developing a black eye. It looked horrible and you can imagine how many times strangers stopped to comment on it. Mara would just tell them in a no-big-deal tone, “Fell on playground.”

mara2yr6mo22

She waves at and says hi to people everywhere we go, and if they don’t reciprocate she says in a sad little voice, “They didn’t wave to me,” or, “They no say hi to me.”

It warms my heart to see Corban and Mara play together, often making up games to get each other excited. They are best buds and spend just about every waking moment together. It’s hard to even tear them apart to take one along to the store while the other stays home or have one ride with me and the other with Peter if we end up driving home from somewhere in two cars. If Corban is upset about something, sometimes Mara will pat him on the back, cock her head and say in a high pitched voice, “It’s OK, buddy.”

mara2yr6mo13

Their influence on one another is a double-edged sword—they’re either encouraging each other to behave and obey or to misbehave and drive us crazy. But as long as I can get one on board with whatever I’m trying to get them to do, the other usually will follow.

Mara is still snuggly, loving to be held and often kissing us out of the blue and saying, “I love you, Mama,” or “I love you, sweetie pie.”

Here’s a photo dump of highlights from the last few months.

mara2yr6mo04

Sipping great-grandpa’s cider at Thanksgiving.

mara2yr6mo05

Cousins at Thanksgiving.

mara2yr6mo10

Cousins at Christmas.

mara2yr6mo09

Christmas morning.

mara2yr6mo01

Loving the snow…

mara2yr6mo06

…but loving the hot chocolate afterward even more.

mara2yr6mo02

Thankful for thick glass.

mara2yr6mo03

So much love for the baby gorilla statue at the zoo.

mara2yr6mo12

…and for the woman in the medicare ad.

mara2yr6mo23

Blankets, doughnut pillow, purple pacifier and life is good.

mara2yr6mo20

Great-grandparents while visiting Florida.

mara2yr6mo19

Florida vacation… Mara was calling the sand “snow.”

mara2yr6mo17

Cousins in Florida.

mara2yr6mo25

Check out that mug. Mara was not interested in making friends with the lady at the post office who took it. (Passport was for the cruise we went on in April.)

mara2yr6mo00

Madison zoo (it’s free).

mara2yr6mo15

Those sweet little hands!

 

Corban at 4 years, 3 months old

Before I let any more time go by I want to capture the fun and ferocity that are Corban and Mara right now. Let’s start with my firstborn.

4yr3mo01

It is so much fun to see Corban’s mind at work* as he soaks up new ideas and begins to see how they are applied in real life. I can practically see the lines being drawn as he connects concepts across different experiences—when he learns a new word then hears it used the next day in a different context, puts letter sounds together and sees how they form a word or starts to grasp the connection between the faces on his “Presidents of the United States” placemat and the characters in “Hamilton.”

Speaking of “Hamilton”…

Both kids are obsessed, but we are taking a little break from listening to the cast recording because Corban is starting to pick up a little too much from it. He and Mara both love a few songs enough that Corban has them just about entirely memorized, including phrases like “I’m the ‘damful’ that shot him,” (as he pronounces it) and “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.” It makes me so, so happy to share things like brilliant musicals with them (and it is pretty fun that Corban’s starting to learn about our country’s history because of it), but we are switching back to children’s catechism and scripture songs for a while—music with lyrics that are 100% OK (and wonderful) to repeat.

Throwback

Corban also is obsessed with his Wildlife Fact File, a.k.a. remember those binders with pages about various animals that would come in the mail? Peter’s mom found one at their house from back in the day, and we read a few pages every day and learn so many interesting facts about animals.

471303624_a283b7f57c_z

Photo credit: Wade Tregaskis

Books

He loves to be read to in general, and we all enjoyed intentionally reading through the “Jesus Storybook Bible” start to finish in about three weeks during Advent. Other current favorites are still Beatrix Potter stories, “Where the Wild Things Are” and nursery rhymes/fairy tales from anthologies.

4yr3mo04

School

Corban is also very into his Sunday School class and Primary Praise (children’s worship) at church. He often asks when he is going to go to preschool (this is probably partially because adults ask him this ALL the time) and I know he would love it if we decided to send him. But as of right now we have no plans for 4K (for a variety of reasons).

4yr3mo06

Perpetual bedhead

Play

While last year was all about pirates, this year is shaping up to be all about super heroes. That’s the favorite game these days. Corban also is a card shark—Go Fish, Uno, War and Slapjack are popular in our house. He plays endlessly with little action figure-type toys, animals and cars, but is also a very physical kid, always climbing on things and jumping off furniture. When he plays outside it’s all bikes and sports. He doesn’t usually opt to color or do art unless we have a specific activity planned.

He and Mara are two peas in a pod, always playing together. They love each other well but do fight over toys like any siblings.

4yr3mo00

Learn

Like I mentioned, Corban is starting to understand how letter sounds form words. He sounded out a word almost fully by himself the other day (“Max”) and it felt like one of those special parenting moments like when he took his first steps. He is far from actually reading, but I just recently started working with him a little more intentionally using some Montessori methods for learning letters/words and it’s crazy how even just a tiny bit of that goes a long way when a child is ready for it. He has this letters activity book that he loves, and I’ve noticed recently he seems to be “getting” it and can complete the activities correctly on his own. We are more of a “learning through play” style family, but his brain seems to be ripe for phonics right now.

“Why?”

Corban continues to be very inquisitive and a HUGE fan of the question, “Why?” My response is almost always, “Why do you think?” and I would encourage every person who hears this question from a child to respond that way. Corban almost always has a theory in mind and a lot of the time he’s right, or he’s looking at it in a way that I hadn’t thought about.

I simply relish how uninhibited he is with sharing his heart with me and asking questions about life. This age is also sweet because everywhere we go and everything we do is a learning opportunity. I love how curious he is and it’s fun to explain life to a kid who devours everything you say!

4yr3mo02

“Learning” about senses and nature on a hike. Also saw a hawk eating a dead animal–wildlife in action!

Some recent firsts

The other weekend I took Corban to see a musical at FirstStage, “Just a Little Critter Musical.” It was geared at the preschool set but was just as entertaining and thought-provoking for parents. Every kid in the place seemed to be enthralled, including Corban. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next preschool-geared show there.

4yr3mo05

We also took both kids to their first movie at the movie theater this past weekend, “Zootopia.” I think Peter and I loved it even more than the kids. Corban enjoyed the whole experience but keeps talking about this one borderline scary scene (which thankfully Mara and I were in the bathroom during). It felt liberating to be able to take the kids with us to the movie theater (Mara was pretty antsy, though).

4yr3mo03

Peter bought a used Nintendo 64 late last year and introduced Corban to his first video games (much to my chagrin, though I probably need to lighten up). We will play Mario Kart, Starfox or this WWE wrestling game (which Corban somehow wins at) maybe once a week. Corban is quite into it (that might be an understatement). The nice part is that we play together as a family.

A few words I’d use to describe Corban:

Observant, social, silly, curious, loving, cautious.

Up next: Mara update (and more posts that have been sitting in drafts, hopefully soon!)

*work, work.

Pirate-themed 4th birthday party

Ever since Halloween, Corban has had his heart set on a pirate birthday party.

pirateparty17

I thought this would be a good age to have his first “kid” birthday party (as opposed to past birthdays where we’ve either just had family or invited all of our friends). We kept it small (by our standards) and resisted the urge to invite everyone we know, instead letting Corban pick a handful of friends and their families.

The invite

Of course every party starts with an invitation, and I’m game for any excuse to mail one. I used this ship font to make it in Photoshop. (This site has a bunch of awesome, free pirate fonts.)

pirateparty000

I wanted to add an interactive element, so I cut bands from red construction paper and tied them around the invites with baker’s twine.

pirateparty002

Inspired by all my reporting on hand lettering (for this story) I attempted a little pirate lettering on the envelopes. Not easy!

pirateparty006

I also get giddy over picking out stamps, and was pleased with this vintage rose option in stock at our post office. I know, nobody notices stamps, but it made me happy.

The decorations

On to the party itself! I think this was the most fun I’ve had planning a party.

pirateparty00

To start, I designed a few posters to get printed as engineering prints (black and white) from Staples.com. Unfortunately there are no Staples stores near us, so although the prints are a steal, the shipping fee is not. Anyone know of a place near Milwaukee for affordable engineering prints?

pirateparty01

For the banner, I just cut 8.5-by-11-inch black paper into quarters and painted the white letters on with a paint brush. The framed skulls and anchor are also just white paint on black paper.

pirateparty04

I found a bunch of huge black frames in Corban’s closet. I bought them on Clearance from Michael’s YEARS ago and never had a use for them, so decided to put them to use for the party. I desaturated and upped the contrast on some Halloween photos of Corban and us dressed as Jake and his crew and printed them out.

Then, of course, there wasn’t really anywhere to hang them so they ended up as the backdrop for the drink station.

pirateparty05

pirateparty07

pirateparty06

I also framed some Jake quotes (possibly will be putting the designs in my etsy shop). However, as my mom observed, most of the kids couldn’t read and most of the adults probably didn’t recognize the quotes. Oh well!

pirateparty10

pirateparty09

pirateparty11

My mom put up crepe paper, which is still hanging because I love how festive it is.

pirateparty12

This was my favorite detail (printable from etsy).

pirateparty005

The food

We kept it really simple. Jimmy John’s sandwiches for lunch (our go-to for parties), chips, veggies, dip, grapes and pirate bananas. I forgot to put out the cheese I bought.

pirateparty16

I saw this pirate ship-from-a-loaf-pan idea on Pinterest and attempted to re-create it using my favorite chocolate cake recipe. The results weren’t quite Pinterest perfect, but still fun. I used this fudge frosting recipe.

pirateparty25

I also made vanilla cupcakes using this recipe (which I will definitely be saving) and this vanilla buttercream frosting. Flags are just toothpicks and red Scotch tape.

pirateparty02

pirateparty24

The games

We gave Corban his birthday gift the night before the party—another Jake toy to add to his collection of pirate ships—and I had all of his pirate toys out for the kids to play with as they arrived.

pirateparty14

I also offered each child a red bandana, spyglass, pirate sticker and Jake temporary tattoo.

Peter made a little “walk the plank” game that none of the kids really paid attention to.

We had name tags out with a framed sign to help everyone find their pirate names. Peter’s name was the best—Stinky Creeper Chumbucket. I designed my own version of this and changed a few names.

pirateparty26

The first official game was a treasure hunt. It needed to be appropriate for ages 19 months to 6 years old, so I drew pictures of spots around our house on index cards, with a red “X” on the back of each card. The kids (as a group) had to use the picture to figure out where the next clue was.

pirateparty27

pirateparty08

They got pretty into it (at least the older ones did).

pirateparty18

pirateparty19

pirateparty20

The treasure hunt ended in the basement, with little goodie bags and treasure map sticker activities for everyone.

pirateparty21

I had way too much fun picking out junk for the goodie bags. In each bag there was a bag of fruit snacks, pirate stamper, pirate notepad, gold doubloons and stickers.

pirateparty15

Next we played pin the eye patch on the pirate. The pirate face is a framed engineering print, and I punched the eye patches out of black paper using a 2-inch circle punch and painted the kids’ names on.

pirateparty004

pirateparty23

After the party, my heart was full. It means so much to have friends and family who love our kids. Corban and Mara had a blast, and I actually felt like I was able to relax and enjoy it (which can be hard when you’re hosting). It was a really sweet celebration of our boy and we all felt very loved.

pirateparty22

Corban at age 4

I told Corban his birth story for the first time the other day. I relived out loud the joyous memory of meeting him for the first time, and he was all smiles. I think hearing it made him feel very special and loved, and that makes my heart leap.

Then I relived it on my own yesterday. This is the first year since Corban was born that I worked on his birthday. Walking out of the building at 5:30 p.m. unexpectedly brought me right back to that exact place and time four years earlier, when I hurried to my car in the freezing cold, tears pulling from my eyes due to the wind, mind racing with nerves and questions, knowing I was likely going into labor.

The memories were so vivid, it felt like I could have been thrown right back into that night (only it was much warmer and I was walking to a different parking garage this time). How little has changed since then, and yet how very, very much.

corban4thbday24

On his 4th birthday.

Corban and Mara both have this birthday book, which includes a questionnaire for each birthday. I sat Corban down yesterday to record his answers using the StoryCorps app (which is excellent, by the way).

There’s one point in the interview that embodies the spontaneous and surprising hilarity that is a hallmark of this age: he gets frustrated with me and calls me a “nasty [or possibly naughty] hedgehog.” No idea where that phrase came from.

Here is the full interview.

The photos I rifled through for this post are a measuring stick for the subtle changes Corban has gone through between his third and fourth birthdays. Not just in his appearance, though look at the comparison from last year:

The changes that were more apparent in the photos were the fears he’s overcome and the skills he’s acquired in the last year. He’s matured in measurable ways.

For example, in January, this was as far as he would get in a pool without screaming.

mara18months06

And here’s Corban today at swim lessons.

corban4thbday-01

He even jumped in without holding the teacher’s hands for the first time today.

And last year at Lindner Pumpkin Farm, he was afraid to ride the barrel train. This year…

corban4thbday09

Last year at Cozy Nook Farm he was afraid to feed the cows. This year…

corban4thbday11

corban4thbday12

He’s a machine on his balance bike (I’m betting age four is going to be the year he rides a regular bike without training wheels).

corban4thbday07

He learned how to ride the big kid swings this year, and is pretty successful at pumping his legs.

corban4thbday10

(He must have worn that outfit every day this fall, ha.)

Corban at age four is is so very observant. He sees, hears, learns, remembers everything (good or bad). He is curious—he’ll “Why?” you till you give up answering, and then some—and is so refreshingly open (though I’m starting to see some self-awareness creep in on this trait I love so much).

corban4thbday18

He loves us and his extended family so purely and fervently. And he is so cuddly. It. is. glorious. I want to snuggle his soft little self forever.

But he’s not so little anymore! At 40 pounds, he’s getting harder to pick up.

corban4thbday22

He is definitely an extrovert at this age, in the sense that he loves being around people. He takes advantage of every minute with his aunts, uncles and grandparents, and asks every day if he’ll get to see his friends. It’s a huge challenge to get him to leave any social situation.

corban4thbday14

corban4thbday08

Corban can be so sweet and loving toward Mara. In some ways, I know he looks up to her.

corban4thbday04

Of course, they fight and bicker at this age (and probably will at every age), but I am so thankful they have each other and pray they will remain close. It makes me so happy to see their relationship develop as they play and scheme together.

corban4thbday15

Corban is also very active and loves sports of every kind. Baseball, racquetball…

corban4thbday13

He became obsessed with mini-golf this summer, and has played in three states with more holes-in-one than me.

corban4thbday00

He was so excited to go to dance class with our nanny’s daughter recently. I think he was expecting something a little more wild than preschool ballet, though.

corban4thbday16

Bocce ball… he’s on it.

corban4thbday03

Snow… he doesn’t ever want to come inside.

corban4thbday19

Hiking… he’ll complain at first, but then hike two challenging miles and proclaim, “I love hiking!”

corban4thbday02

corban4thbday01

corban4thbday000

Some other favorites:

  • Jake and the Neverland Pirates
  • Beatrix Potter stories
  • Go Fish
  • Candyland (and other board games)
  • Toy cars and trucks
  • School buses (I always know when there’s a school bus nearby)
  • His “activity books” (these two preschool workbooks he does)
  • Playing outside
  • Building forts
  • Taking pictures with my big camera
  • Sunday school, and any songs with hand motions they do in church
  • Candy/treats (ever since Halloween this has been a big thing)

corban4thbday17

corban4thbday23

Sunday school Christmas song this past week.

Being Corban’s mom has slowly but dramatically changed my heart and grown my capacity to love in new ways. I love every part of him, even his tantrums and lies and ridiculous stunts and unreasonable behavior. I can’t imagine stopping loving him.

It is such a sweet, small picture of God’s love for me. Beautiful.

corban4thbday06

We did have a little birthday party for Corban on Saturday that was so much fun. I will share details soon!