Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays 2009

Dear Friends & Family,

We would like to wish you a very Happy Holiday season and hope that you are blessed in the year to come!

Christmas promises to be white this year and our holiday spirit is overflowing. Many lasting memories are in progress and we cannot wait for the excitement of Christmas morning and being with our family.

We hope that you all are warm, happy & safe this season!

With much love,

Ben, Laura, Caitlin & Cara

Monday, December 07, 2009

Santa @ his Tropical Retreat

This year, we decided to take the girls to see Santa at a local (huge) garden center. We told Caitlin & Cara that this is where Santa goes to escape the bitter cold of Colorado and especially the North Pole.
Both girls had fun looking at all of the plants and hundreds of Christmas trees. They even got to plant their very own "Christmas" plants.
Unfortunately, Cara would not go within 6 feet of Santa this year, even with Ben holding her. We'll keep trying and maybe, just maybe we'll be successful. Caitlin, of course, hopped right up and whispered her wishes to Santa.
All in all, we had a great time.

'Tis the Season

We have officially begun our holiday festivities. It began on Friday, December 4th when we went to downtown Denver to take in the annual 9News Parade of Lights. This is our second year going and we still enjoy it immensely. Before the parade, we battled the chilly night air to roam the streets surrounding the 16th Street Mall to take in the sights & lights. Downtown Denver is so pretty & festive this time of year.

Afterward, we headed to our parade viewing location. This year, we were lucky enough to be able to view the parade from a unique vintage point--indoors on the 3rd floor of Ben's work downtown, right on the parade route. It is a very different experience than being out on the street with the crowds, but we were thankful to not have to deal with the below freezing temperatures! The girls (especially Cara) were captivated by the parade, eagerly watching for which float, band or group was coming up next. Both went crazy when they saw Santa's float appear. We all waved from our 3rd story perch in hopes that the man in red would wave back. Before disappearing out of sight, he turned around and waved right at us! I bet you can imagine how excited everyone was (even the grown ups).

The Parade of Lights officially started our season of holiday madness. We will be visiting Santa (post to come shortly), attending a holiday party, participating in a Daisy Scouts unit event, partaking in some delicious German cuisine at a company party and many more activities sure to bring us lots of great memories!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Slip, Slide and a Crunch!

Please send a Band-Aid or some duct tape this way as my poor car is in pain! This morning, after learning that the the youngest one's bus was running very late (darn snow, ice and bus heaters), I decided to drive Cara in myself as the main roads in town were not all that bad as the road crews had been out at dawn to plow, sand & ice. As we pulled out of the parking spot when had been sitting in waiting patiently, before receiving the news on the tardy bus, and started to approach the exit of our complex, poor Sally (my husband's name for my car) hit a patch of ice on a "plowed" road and headed straight for the end post of the open gate. Slip, slide, CRUNCH! Sally yelped and came to a stop while I sat in shock. I had made all humanly attempts possible to save the poor vehicle from its ultimate fate, including braking and turning the steering wheel away from the gate but, it wasn't enough. I promptly got out of my car in the freezing cold to inspect the damage. The gate took quite a bite out of the driver's side front bumper and gave Sally quite a bruise.

I backed the car up and went into our complex's office and spoke to the maintenance guy. Alright, I'll be honest, more like snarled at him. He then followed me back (out, once again, into 16 degree air) to the accident scene to inspect the damage and then told me to contact the property manager, who was out of town. Call her I promptly did, but I was disheartened to know that due to a very convenient addendum to our lease agreement, she didn't believe that the complex was liable for any property damages since a reasonable attempt was made to deal with the "conditions" on the roadway.

Not willing to take no for an answer, I went about getting a quote for the repairs ($1200 and some change *gulp*) and coming up with a strategy for when I talk to the property manager tomorrow. I believe, truly, that the complex is at fault for not dealing with the snow & ice more effectively and in a more timely matter. I'm not asking them to pay for the repairs, no-no, just all or part of my $500 deductible to get the damage fixed. Since we pay for snow removal services, I have a reasonable expectation to be able to exit my home without having a run-in with the gate.

I am going armed with pictures, a time line and sincere hope that our property manager will work with me on this. Poor Sally needs to have her front end fixed. In the meantime, did you know that duct tape comes in 14 colors? I'm sure I can find one that comes close to my bumper color!

Comfort & Joy

Some of the highlights of our trip to my parents' house for the long Thanksgiving weekend. Much relaxing was done, delicious food consumed, company enjoyed, cookies and Playdoh made. We left full & refreshed though not wanting the weekend to end.
I certainly counted my blessings--health, happiness, love, family & friends (just to name a few).

Here's hoping that you & yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

With Honor

A big thank you to all the men & women who have dedicated their lives to protecting our country's freedom! THANK YOU! We take it for granted but without your sacrifice, our country wouldn't be what it is today.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hodge Podge

My profound apologies for slacking in the blogging department as of late. Time just flies by when you're busy & having fun! Here's what we've been up to.

Halloween 2009--
As usual the weeks & days leading up to Halloween were full of fun activities for our family. We received an invitation from some dear friends in Boulder to come to their church's Halloween celebration. The girls had fun painting little pumpkins, decorating cookies, getting their faces painted, making treat bags and playing with festive orange Play Doh. Caitlin, Ben & I went to the "kid-friendly" haunted forest but Cara wanted nothing to do with it and promptly started crying and wanting to exit the forest. We ended the night by listening to Halloween stories followed by the long drive home.

We also received an invitation to a Pumpkin Party hosted by Caitlin's Daisy Scout leader. We enjoyed hot apple cider, yummy cookies and a fantastic pumpkin cake, that looked like a real pumpkin. The girls & I carved our pumpkins too, even Cara got in on the scooping out of the pumpkin innards.

Finally, we wrapped up Halloween by going trick-or-treating not once, but twice. Both girls love the idea of getting candy for free, just by asking politely. During the day, we went to a local pedestrian mall where the girls trick-or-treated at various stores along the mall and also got to participate in a few Halloween activities and see some very creatively carved pumpkins. This was the perfect location and time for Cara since it wasn't scary or dark.
After this, we went to my brother's house west of Denver and trick-or-treated in his neighborhood. Cara lasted for about 10 houses, even though she was scared at time and wanted both mommy & daddy to go with her, before she wanted to find her big sister, who had gone ahead with her aunt & uncle, and go home. Caitlin was satisfied with doing about 3 streets. She was very pleased with her bag full of loot (which was carefully rationed by her loving parents...why didn't some one tell me that dentists were buying candy?).

All in all, the girls had a wonderful Halloween and this was the first year that Cara really understood what it was all about.

Birthday parties--
Caitlin has been invited to two birthday parties so far this year, both for classmates. The first was a party held at Monkey Bizness, an indoor inflatable play area. Caitlin and her classmates had a lot of fun bouncing and climbing around. She even talked me into climbing up and going down the big slide. I have to say, it was blast!

The second birthday party is this weekend and will be Caitlin's first sleepover party! She's so beyond excited to see her friends and stay up telling stories (I'm guessing that they will all crash hard at some point). All that I have to say is that the birthday girl's mother is one brave soul to have a house full of sugar-high 1st grade girls! I can't wait to hear Caitlin's recount of the night.

School projects--
We have been really busy with all things school related in our house too. Having two kids in school means double the projects and fundraisers. We've had a Daisy Scouts candy & nut sale, school picture days, a Hawaii poster project, an "I am Thankful for" bag and much more in addition to the regular load of homework and nightly reading. Caitlin's school is participating in the Book-It program with Pizza Hut and Caitlin is eagerly awaiting her first coupon for a free pan pizza! Cara & I do daily enrichment activities in a variety of areas, which keeps my creative gears turning as I search for fun and engaging things for us to try.

Right after Halloween, everyone in the family, except for me, came down with Strep throat. After several nurse visits and prescriptions for Amoxicillin, Ben & the girls recovered and were back to their normal selves. I thought it was so comical that Caitlin loved the taste of the medicine so much that she reminded me when it was time for a dose and wanted more after we'd finished the prescribed amount. Thankfully, minus the bout of pretty minor strep throat, everyone's been healthy so far this winter. We are thanking our lucky stars, for sure. As long as I cover every inch of our house with Lysol, I'm sure the germs will stay at bay, right?

After this very lengthy post, I can honestly say that I've caught you all up on happenings in our house. We are now gearing up for Thanksgiving, which we plan to spend with my parents at their home. Being around family is what the holidays are all about.

I hope that you & yours are happy, healthy, warm & safe!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fall Blizzard '09

If you've been watching the news lately, you've undoubtedly heard about the snow storm that hit Colorado on Wednesday. Many areas are digging out from under more than 2 feet of snow! Here in our part of the metro area, we've gotten about 14 inches and it's still coming down. A high school friend who lives a bit north of us has about FOUR FEET!

When I heard of the incoming storm, I decided to get smart and headed to our local grocery store to stock up on meals and snacks to tie us over until the storm moved out. I'm glad I did because I wouldn't have wanted to drive on the roads (even though the road crews have been doing a great job) or haul my kids out in the below freezing temperatures.

Yesterday, I made crock pot chili and corn muffins for dinner, the perfect meal for a cold winter's day, and the girls & I settled in for some snow day fun. Thankfully, both kiddos are off of school for Fall Break. We watched movies, played Uno and created Mr. Potato Head masterpieces. The girls also braved the cold, briefly, to romp in the fresh snow. They had a blast! Click here and here for some picture of our day. My poor hubby had to drive into work downtown yesterday. A drive that would normally take about a 1/2 hour took an hour. He was, thankfully, able to work from home last night so that he didn't have to deal with the roads at night.

This morning, we woke up to an additional 6 inches of snow (click here for some Day 2 pictures), bringing our two-day total to over a foot of snow! We haven't seen this much snow in such of a sort period of time in awhile.'s still snowing! The forecast is calling for another 3-6 inches by this evening and then, gradually, the snow is to taper off and we are to see highs in the 40's tomorrow. Our Halloween forecast calls for a mostly clear evening but chilly.

Our plans for today include doing much of the same things we did yesterday as we are, again, home-bound by choice. I also plan to do some cookie baking with the girls though I'm a bit confused...should I be making Halloween cookies or Christmas cookies? I am so thankful that we have a warm house with a pretty fireplace to stay in and watch the snow fall. What would make it even more perfect is if Ben was here to enjoy it with us. Alas, he trekked downtown again this morning and, having arrived safely, is working hard. We have discovered, however, that his car is in need of new tires. What says Merry Christmas like tires, I ask you?! Haha

Hope that you & yours are happy, warm and dry! Cheers for the white wonderland known as Colorado!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Motherhood Makes You A Celebrity!

**I "borrowed" this from Parenting Magazine. I read it, thought it was hysterical, so I had to pass it on.**

Top Ten: Ways Motherhood Makes You a Celebrity---

1. Someone's always hounding you for your autograph. Even if it's just on a permission slip for the class trip to the recycling center.

2. You travel with an entourage. Okay, so two of them are fighting over a bag of Doritos and one of them has a crusty nose, but STILL.

3. You spend your days club-hopping. How else would your kids get to Brownies?

4. You're front and center at every awards show. Because your 10-year-old would never forgive you for being absent when he wins the school carnival karaoke contest.

5. You change clothes three times a day. And it's much more fun if you pretend it's because you're being stalked by the paparazzi, not a messy toddler.

6. You're on a spa diet. Your kids only leave broccoli on their plates for you.

7. You've flashed your boobs in public. Hey, it's not easy to juggle a hungry baby in one hand and unhook a nursing bra with the other!

8. People beg to sleep with you. Well, only because there's a monster under their bed.

9. You're covered in tattoos that your kid got in a birthday-party-goody bag and plastered on you when you were too pooped to resist.

10. Hassled as you feel right now, in 20 years you'll miss all the chaos.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Toys My Girls Actually Play With

Fellow blogger Christy over at Superheroes and Princesses has a post about the top 5 toys that her kids play with, without fail. It got me thinking...our house is overflowing with toys...but which ones do the girls play with regularly? With the holiday season comes my annual toy sort & purge. The toys that will be staying are---

1. Play Food:One of the cheapest toys out there has brought hours upon hours of fun as the girls have played restaraunt, house, bakery, etc. Cara and I have also used the food to work on colors, similar versus different, shapes and phonic activities.

2. Building blocks:We have Duplos, Pop-Onz, Peek-a-blocks and the old school ABC wooden blocks. Cara's favorite at the moment are the Duplos but she can be found creating architectural masterpieces out of just about any blocks in the house. Caitlin, Ben & I even get in on the building action.

3. Dress Up Clothes:The girls have a big chest that is home to a wide variety of dress up clothes. We've got "princess" dresses, a cowgirl costume, purses, hats, scarves, you name it. One of the favorite past times in our house is to dress up and dance to some music.

4. Balls:With a little bit of creativity, the various balls that we have in our house have been meatballs, snowballs, scoops of ice cream and eggs among other things. Both girls just love the Roll-Arounds that Cara got a few years ago.

5. Magnets:Not just for putting artwork on the fridge. Both girls love to play with them--writing words, sorting by color and just transferring them from a plastic cup to the fridge, to the table and back provides hours of entertainment.

6. Dolls:This encompasses baby dolls, Barbies, Polly Pocket and everything in between. My girls are little mommas and love to role-play with the dolls and dress them up. Caitlin prefers Barbies and Polly Pockets these days while Cara shows a preference for soft dolls that she can carry around. For years, we had a doll stroller in which both girls have pushed around their babies.

7. Books:While not a toy, like Christy mentioned, books are a favorite go-to activity for both Caitlin & Cara. At times, you can find both of them curled up on the couch looking at their favorite books. Nightly reading time is looked forward to and enjoyed by all. Our library card never has fewer than 30 books checked out on it and we love to browse at the book stores. Caitlin is reading chapter books but still loves reading the shorter story books while Cara loves board books, especially touch & feel.

As I look around my living room, I am not surprised to see that it is the toys listed above that are scattered around. If only I could honestly say that these are the only toys in my house!

So, what are YOUR child's favorite toys? And, I want to add another question...actually, it's more like a do you keep the toys organized without breaking the bank?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pumpkin Pickin'

This past Sunday was the perfect day, with the perfect weather (highs in the 70s), for pumpkin picking. We loaded everyone (including my youngest brother, Matt) into the Subaru and headed an hour or so north to Fort Collins to Bartel's Pumpkin Patch. We all had lots of fun getting lost in a corn maze, petting some farm animals and searching for the perfect pumpkins and gourds among thousands of candidates spread over hundreds of acres. The girls got to pull their pumpkins from the vine, a unique experience that I wanted them to have. It was so neat to see all the variety of pumpkins, not only in shapes and sizes, but colors too. We even saw melons and other members of the squash family. The girls were also able to see how pumpkins and other fall crops are grown and harvested on this working farm. Even though it was a bit of a drive, I just know that Bartel's will become an annual tradition!

Here's a sampling of pictures from our trip to the patch, for more, click here:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Riding on a Bus

Cara recently started riding the bus to preschool. We decided that since it was offered, we'd take them up on it. It saves me from playing taxi all day long. Right now, she only rides to school but soon, she may ride both ways. We just wanted to ease her into change but she's been handling it like a pro. My only reservation to having her bused both ways is that I won't have any time to connect with her teachers and therapists. I'm kind of torn becauseit sure is nice to save the time and money of having to drive her (especially come winter when the roads get bad) and she loves riding the bus.

Here are some pictures from Cara's first day riding the bus:

Obviously, she had no problem adjusting to riding the bus, in fact, she was so excited! She tried to hop up the steps on her own (they must look like mountains to a 3 year old) and climbed right up into the seat. Now, Mommy & Daddy felt a little bit differently--just another way in which our littlest is growing up!

Now, when the bus pulls up, she runs toward it and says, "BAAA!". She tries to wave at us as the bus departs but you can barely see her little fingers.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

War on My Rack

I'm so proud of my husband. Ben walked a 5K with his co-workers early this morning for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. He actually thought that he had to ask if it was okay if he took a Sunday morning to go and participate! Crazy man! He joined 15 other co-workers and thousands of Denver area residents in the walk/run. He said that there was no civility though because their were protesters out with signs protesting everything from abortion to the war in Iraq while all people were trying to do was raise funds and awareness for a good cause. The most humorous sign that he saw was one that said, "Stop the War on My Rack". Too bad he didn't take his phone or I'd have some pictures to share. He is currently taking a hot shower and is going to recuperate for the day by watching some football. He's is in pretty high spirits now, we'll see how he feels later!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall Colors Driving Tour

I wanted to share with my readers some of the beautiful photos that we took as part of a drive that we went on this weekend to take in some of the beautiful colors of autumn. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day. Temperatures in Denver hovered around 80 degrees, the sun was shining and the sky was a brilliant blue.

We headed out from our house and decided to follow Highway 74 from Evergreen to Morrison, Colorado. Evergreen's name really does suit it as the roads are lined with lots and lots of evergreen trees. While pretty in it's own right, wasn't exactly the range of colors that we were hoping for.

We continued our drive along Highway 74 until we reached the quaint town of Kittredge and spotted a road-side park. We decided that the park looked the perfect spot for a picnic. We unloaded our car and spread out our blanket to feast on chicken salad, croissants, grapes, chips and peanut butter cookies. The girls had fun playing on the playground structures and chasing their daddy around the park.

I wandered on my own, to get some nature shots, and discovered that a path ran behind the park and down to a lazy little river. I grabbed the family and we all had fun dipping our toes (well, Cara fell down at one point) in the cool water.

We got to talking to other families in the park and discovered that we had just passed a road that promised much more spectacular fall colors--Squall Pass which leads up to Echo Lake and Mt. Evans (a 14,000+ foot peak, able to be reached by car). We decided to alter our course and headed up Squall Pass Road, just outside of Evergreen. The locals were right and the scenery along the way was absolutely breathtaking. We really do live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. I pulled over numerous time just to appreciate the splendor.

At one point in our journey, I pulled over to get some shots of the mountains as well as Denver's skyline from way 5,000+ feet above, and we found snow. That, of course, led to an impromptu snowball fight. How many kids can say that they got to play in real snow in September? We had a blast even if we did come away with some cold fingertips!

We ended our trip with a stop at Echo Lake (at an amazing 10,600 ft) before heading down into Idaho Springs. We had a wonderful, relaxing and very simple day--something that we need to do more of!

You can click here to see an album of the pictures taken on our tour.

My Favorite Time of Year!

Fall is, by far, my most favorite time of the year.

I love the crispness in the air, the cool nights made for curling up under blankets and sipping cocoa.

I love the beautiful contrast between brilliant blue skies and the color of autumn leaves.

I love the colors of fall, the reds, oranges, deep yellows and browns. So very comforting.

I love how fall seems to foster a sense of family togetherness. Hunting for the perfect pumpkin, getting lost in a corn maze, playing in piles of leaves.

I love the foods of fall--apples, cider, donuts, pumpkins and the familiar comfort foods like soups, roasts and casseroles.

I love wearing layers of soft clothes that make me feel warm and safe.

Fall is the most wonderful time of year!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Opposite ends of the spectrum

I have discovered that a great deal of the time spent parenting is spent being an advocate for one's children. While we fight for Cara's IEP to be honored, on one end of the spectrum, we push Caitlin's school and teachers to challenge her academically, on the other.

We've always known, since Caitlin uttered her first words and drew her first scribble, that she was academically advanced. This is the child who knew her ABC's and could count to 50 by the time she was 2. She asks to do math, workbooks and to read chapter books. The questions that she asks us lead us to a Google search in the quest for answers. Her knowledge base and vocabulary are just astounding. Just the other day, she was telling me how people get different skin colors and freckles.

It has been a challenge, faced by her teachers and ourselves, as parents, to keep up with her quest and hunger for knowledge. Her Kindergarten teacher recognized Caitlin's enthusiasm and met it by advancing her in both reading and math throughout the school year. By the end of the school year, Caitlin was doing 2nd semester 1st grade math with ease and reading chapter books fluently. Her standardized test scores showed that she was at the level of the average 3rd grader in most subject areas. We were blown away and so very proud!

Over the summer, instead of dreaming away her days, Caitlin was doing a Summer Bridge workbook and learning more and more interesting facts as we explored the area where we lived. We checked out about 100 books a month from the library and discovered more wonderful learning websites. Her quest for knowledge did not ebb over the summer. In fact, she went into 1st grade knowing more than she did at the end of Kindergarten, which according to her 1st grade teacher, is very rare.

So, imagine, if you will, how bored our poor child must have been when, at the start of first grade, she found herself reviewing the very basics of mathematics and reading. She was coming home from school every day saying how bored she was and even pretended to be sick on a few occasions to escape the boredom. Now, I want to say, that I know that Caitlin is just one of 28 students in the class and that her teacher has to figure out, after a summer away, where each student in the class was, academically. That said, I had a talk with her wonderful teacher (Mr. H, we'll call him) and we agreed to work together to keep Caitlin interested and challenged while he got her classmates up to par.

Mr. H has since divided the class into groups based on their academic ability and Caitlin is in a group with like-minded peers. Within the group, she is able to work at her own pace using the current math book and activities. She is soon to start the second half of the 1B math workbook that she started on in Kindergarten. At home, we are working on carrying and borrowing, addition and subtraction with money, basic multiplication and story problems.

I'm not going to lie, at one point, we were considering trying to find a school better equipped to handle Caitlin's educational needs. I went and toured 4 different schools only to learn that they are all full for this school year. Coming to terms with the fact that we needed to make the best out of the situation at her current school (and the fact that Caitlin genuinely liked her school, teacher and peers), I approached her principal, who was not very supportive, and asked me what exactly I wanted her to do. Did I want her to promote Caitlin to the 2nd grade? No, what I wanted the school to do was to teach my child at a level which best fits her needs, within her current classroom. My argument being that each child learns at their own pace.

Feeling a bit defeated, I went back to her teacher. I should have approached Mr. H right from the get-go as I found him to be a very wonderful and caring teacher. He had noticed, in just a few weeks of school and very little one-on-one time, that Caitlin soared above most of her peers. He pledged to help me keep her interested and together, we formulated a game plan. It was full steam ahead!

In the short bit of time that has passed since the changes have been made, Caitlin has come home mostly happy after school, enjoys and is even challenged by, her school work and is looking forward to starting a new math book soon as well as moving up to another reading level (she is currently on Level I--the levels start at A and go up. Mos of her peers are at around level D or E--but feels that it's too easy!). I guess I've fostered my love of books onto my children! It is so refreshing to know that a little bit of advocacy has paid off in big dividends.

I have learned that having a positive relationship with your child's teacher is the best tool you can have for making sure that your child is getting the most out of his/her education. It is so helpful when you have your child's teacher on your side, working to do what is in the best interest of your child. I am very blessed, thus far, that Caitlin has had teachers who really do want her to succeed and are willing to go "outside of the box" for that to happen. I have no doubt, that with Mr. H's support, Caitlin will have a great year in 1st grade and continue to learn new things.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Parent Day @ Preschool

Cara's preschool hosted a Parent Day a little while ago. It's a chance for parents to come into the classroom during class hours and see their child's daily routine.

It was great fun to watch Cara participate in class and I was just amazed and how much progress she's made and the things that she's learned. She isn't totally up to par with her classmates, but it's still so amazing to think about how far she's come.

Here is a glimpse at a typical day in Cara's class:

This is the routine chart, so that the students know what they are doing next.

Here, Cara is waiting for her teacher to ask who's hand print she's holding. Each child has a hand print with their name on it that they put on the felt board as they come in each morning. I'm am proud to report that Cara can pick out and recognize her own name!

Next, her class sang some songs for us. Cara really got into several of them and it was fun to watch all the kids singing and copying their teacher. Cara's special education teacher helped her participate in a couple of the songs as well.

Every week, they write a new story, one line at a time. Her teacher picks a different student to contribute to each part of the story. It's funny to see what the kids say for the next line. I bet they've written some wacky, off-the-wall stories! They also work on vocabulary as new words are introduced into the story.

At the end of the day, we did a project to coincide with the theme of the month, which is "Our bodies, ourselves". The parents traced their kiddos and then helped them color their bodies to match themselves. We made a flat Cara! It is now hanging in her room. We had fun coloring though Cara was much more interested in what everyone else was doing! I got to flex my (very small) creative muscles.


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