The Secret to Date Night

Corey and I struggle to schedule regular dates. Nursing babies make it difficult to sneak away for any length of time, and paying quality babysitters to watch four kids while we go out gets expensive. (You know it's bad when you pay more for child care than you do for dinner.)

(And yes, I know if we found a 14-year-old to watch the kids, we could probably pay less. But we have FOUR KIDS ages 0 to 9, which is the Mount Everest of babysitting. Our babysitters are all college graduates who can handle the chaos that is our family. We pay them accordingly.)

But one of my goals for this year is to go on a date with my husband once a month, minimum. We are starting to emerge from the infancy haze (which we've essentially been in since 2008 -- two babies in four years will do that), and we are desperate to reconnect and reinvest in our marriage.

So. Date night. It's a reality at Chez Love Well once again.

But here's the thing. Date night rarely used to end well. Our kids don't go to bed easily for other people, so we usually just tried to get home by bed time. But by then, the kids were overstimulated and hyper. By the time we wrapped up good-byes to our sweet babysitters, got through the bedtime routine and restored order to the house, Corey and I were exhausted. It was nice to have a break for a few hours -- but it felt like there was an extra high price tag attached.

So a couple of months ago, it occurred to me -- who said date night has to be at night? What if we planned a date morning? Or a date afternoon?

Bah-bing! Light-bulb moment! I can't believe it took me almost 10 years to figure this out.

So for the past few months, Corey and I have gone for our dates from 2:00 in the afternoon to about 7:00 in the evening. It enables us to do something (usually run errands without the kids -- last month was Home Depot, woo-hoo!) and then to catch an early dinner before heading home in time to put the kids to bed before they've hit the metaphorical wall. Bonus? Eating dinner at 5:00 makes it easy to score reservations at nice restaurants, even last minute, and we often catch the back-half of happy hour, when appetizers and drinks are half price.

It was been wonderful to reconnect with Corey, even in this small way. Our relationship has intentionally been on the back burner for the past few years; I think it's just a reality that goes with birthin' and raising' young ones.

But next week (NEXT WEEK!), Kieran will turn one. I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is my husband.

Date afternoon? You are awesome.

My Favorite Toys : Legos

I am a mom to four kids, two boys and two girls, ages 11 months to 9 years. If you name a toy, I probably have it.

But as all moms know, toys are not created equal. Some toys last for years. Others barely outlast the birthday party. And not all toys from our own childhoods are meant to be passed on to another generation. (I'm looking at you, Easy Bake Oven.)

When we moved into our new house in February, and I suddenly had space to unpack our toys, I found myself falling in love all over again with a few specific toys that I have come to adore. They are the toys I will probably not be able to part with even after my children outgrow them, the toys I will keep for my grandkids. They are My Favorite Toys.

To make this list, a toy must demonstrate the following qualities:
1. It must be attractive to both girls and boys.
2. It must be able to hold their attention for long periods of time (once they have attention spans longer than mine.) (Squirrel!)
3. It must foster imagination. This doesn't mean it can't have any bells and whistles. It just means it can't do all the play for them.
4. It must be able to withstand more than a decade of abuse from four children.

This will be an occasional series of posts that will come in no particular order. (Read: I'm not declaring one to be superior than the others. I can't choose one over the others. You can't make me!)

Today's pick? Legos.

Connor is a seven-year-old boy, which is Lego's sweet spot. And true to form, my son loves his Legos.

He started collecting Lego sets when he was four. I'm pretty sure his first Lego masterpiece was The Temple of Doom. He loves following the directions to build the projects. But even more, he loves to tear them apart and use the pieces for his own adventures.

(Remember this post?)

He also loves to tear apart the minifigs - Lego speak for people - to create new "guys." It's not uncommon for me to find Lego hands and heads rolling around under my couch.

I cannot speak further about this.

But it's not just Connor who loves Legos. Natalie has sequestered away a few of her favorite Legos -- mostly animals (dogs, horses and the like) along with a few walls and gates she can use to make a farm.

(She keeps her Legos in a repurposed grape clamshell. Because she's a nine-year-old girl who collects junk. But that's another post.)

Teyla, of course, wants to be just like her big brother.

(This picture is a few years old, but the same thing happens today. Connor leaves his Legos out when he goes to school, which is an invitation for Teyla to pounce. What happens when he gets home from school? I cannot speak further about this.)

And now, at 11 months, Kieran is turning into a Lego fiend.

(I took those pictures today. True story.)

At this stage, Connor has so many Legos, we had to buy a huge tub for him to store them in. Because Legos are technically a choking hazard for the toddler set, we keep the tub in Connor's bedroom right now. Which probably explains why he never goes to sleep before 10:00 PM.

But honestly, I'm OK with his staying up late when he is playing with Legos. (Don't tell him I said that.) Seven-year-old boys often have just two interests: Legos and video games. I'd much rather have him playing Legos for hours than sitting in front of his laptop.

Which is why Legos are one of my favorite toys.

For those of you who live in Minnesota, I invite you to join me at Lego Kids Fest in Minneapolis May 20-22 -- 175,00 square feet of Lego fun. Connor is already so excited about this, he asks me almost daily if it's May yet. ("Look out the window at the freakin' snow, buddy. Does it look like May yet?!?") It promises to be huge fun for any Lego lover. You can buy tickets through the Lego Kids Fest website -- or come back here in two weeks. I'll have a set to giveaway. (I know! Blogging is the best, isn't it?)

Endless Winter : A Real Parable

It feels like spring is never coming this year.

Intellectually, I know that's not true. Spring always comes. I can't remember a year when the trees didn't eventually sprout leaves, when the flowers didn't bloom, when the warmth didn't come and make me throw open my windows.

But right now, stuck in this April that thinks it's March, my emotions aren't swayed by truth.

Saturday morning, we woke up to this.

It melted by noon ("I just lived through a Southern winter!") but even after it was gone, the wind howled and the temperature stayed in the upper 30s and it was just raw and bitter outside.

This week is no better. Our forecasted highs are in the 40s, most days are supposed to be cloudy and windy. And now there's a winter storm watch for Tuesday night into Wednesday afternoon. We could wind up with six (or more) inches of snow.*

I am losing my optimism and natural sense of goodwill. I mean, come on, Minnesota. I chose you. And this is how you behave?

It's difficult, it not impossible, to maintain a vague, wishy-washy hope in an endless winter.

No amount of wishing, no Disney-esque "I believe" will get you through the numbing discouragement, the dull monotony, the raw despair.

When spring delays, only God-grown hope and faith will get you through. Believing truth in spite of what your eyes see or your heart feels. Having an eager expectation that you will receive what's been promised. Biblical hope and faith are action words, words that imply we will need to defy our surroundings to make them real.

I'm there.

There is little proof in my world right now of spring's imminent arrival. I'm grumpy about enduring another week of socks, another week indoors, another week without leaves or blue skies or warm lunches outside.

But in my deepest soul, I believe. I hope. I know.

Spring cometh.

*To be clear, the winter storm advisory is my fault. I washed and put away the kids' snow clothes this past weekend, which every God-fearing winter-dwelling soul knows is a weather jinx. Mea culpa.

When Hives Attack

“I look like I stumbled into a nest of hornets.”

It was the only thought I could manage at 7:00 AM yesterday, after a night of restless and uncomfortable slumber. As soon as I started to get into the shower, I discovered the reason I was so miserable: hives. I was covered in them. From my forehead, back along my scalp, to my neck and torso and arms and legs, I was more hive than human. Angry, red, itchy welts covered more than 85% of my body.

A cool shower helped. So did a double dose of Benadryl. I figured it was a reaction to the antibiotic I had just finished taking for my (latest) case of mastitis. (Did I mention Kieran got all four top teeth two weeks ago? And that he likes to bite? No? Hmmmm.) I thought it strange that the hives would show up a day after I finished the 10-day treatment. But I’ve heard allergies sometimes work that way. "It’s not the first bee sting that requires an Epi-Pen. It’s the fifth."

I figured I would be much better today, since I haven’t taken any dicloxicillan since Sunday.

I was wrong. This morning, the hives were back with the vengeance. (“When Hives Attack: Tonight, at Eleven.”) And this time, the Benadryl didn’t work as well or as fast. And while I was driving to church to attend a new moms group, I noticed my throat was swollen.

Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!

So now I’m sitting outside of the doctor’s office, waiting for my appointed time to go in and see how many drugs it will take to return me to my pre-plague-like state.

It’s either this – or bathe in the River Jordan.

And honestly? My own children recoiled in horror when they saw me this morning. You do NOT want to see me in a bathing suit right now.

Update: Lo, the doctor had mercy on me. Because my hives are particularly brutal, he prescribed a steroid for me that will give them a good Hulk Hogan body slam. I took a full dose yesterday immediately after leaving the doctor's office. By nightfall, many of my hives were completely gone. And while I woke up with new hives this morning, they are dramatically smaller and less red. Good thing, too, because tomorrow night, I'm attending a fundraising gala for Minnesota Teen Challenge. I'd rather not wear the plague.

Also, because I'm a compulsive oversharer, I feel the need to tell you that all that Benadryl I've been taking? It hasn't been making me sleepy. It's been making me hyper. (Google tells me this is a paradoxical reaction. I love Google.) Just a note for those of you tempted to give your active toddler a hit of cold medicine before you board a plane. (Not that I would have ever considered such a thing. Cough.)

Short Sighted

You know what’s funny about babies who have just started to walk?

Their short-sighted view of life.

Take Kieran, for example. (You knew that’s where I was going, right?)

He loves breakfast like Charlie Sheen loves crazy. He can out-eat many adults. (I’m looking at you, call-a-cup-of-coffee-breakfast people.) Most mornings, he’ll eat half a big bowl of oatmeal, a whole banana, some yogurt and a few Cheerios.

So you’d think, when Connor and Teyla are eating cereal at the counter, and Corey picks up Kieran to put him in his high chair, he’d be delighted with his future prospects.

But no. He writhes and wails and all-out fumes at the indignities of being controlled in such a fashion. “The high chair! NOOOOO! It’s confining! I can’t move! I can’t move! I can’t MOOOOOVEEEE!”

Of course, as soon as Corey puts some banana chunks on the tray, the mood flips immediately. “I can’t MOOO…. Oh! Wait. Banana? Wonderful. Keep it coming.”

This morning, Corey told me he’d thought of a way to minimize the high chair tantrum.

“I pick him up, take him to the bananas, carry one with him to the high chair and then he goes in easily.”


Short. Sighted.

(I just had to dangle the box of cheddar bunny crackers in front of him to get him to sit down willingly.)

Good thing I’m so mature, I’m never like that. (Says the lady who has to smell the coffee brewing in the morning before she’ll get out of bed.)


The Grilled Cheese That Wasn't

I love April Fool's Day. It's as if the universe has given me permission to punk my kids.* (Smack talk is our family's love language.)

Sigh. What a glorious day.

This morning, Corey poured Connor his normal bowl of cereal. But lo, as Connor ate his Cheerios, the milk started to turn green. This is because I put two drops of green food coloring in his bowl last night.

"Dad! The milk is turning green!" Connor said, his eyes as big as saucers.

Not to be outdone by my trickery, Corey said, "I don't see anything, buddy. That's weird."

And then. "Wow Connor. Look at your eyes! They're turning red! Maybe that's why the milk looks green!"

Which made Connor run to the bathroom in horror.

Which is when he realized -- April Fool's!

Welcome to our family!

But even better than green milk and red eyes is what Natalie and Connor will find in their lunches today.

Looks like a grilled cheese, eh? But it's NOT. (Insert evil cackle here.) (Note: I am also resisting the cheese puns at this time.)

It's actually vanilla cake and orange frosting, an idea I got from the Family Fun website. And so realistic!

My biggest problem might actually be Connor deciding to let it Brie (sorry!) because he doesn't like cold grilled cheese. Then the joke will be on me.

A few tips if you want to punk your kids with this particular stunt next year:

1. Family Fun recommends using pound cake to stand in for the bread. I agree that would be better, but I didn't want to make a pound cake from scratch yesterday. So I used a Trader Joe's vanilla cake mix (easy) and baked it in a loaf pan. I think pound cake would have a firmer, more bread-like texture. But for the record: regular cake can work in a pinch.

2. I grilled slices of cake to give it that golden glow we all associate with grilled cheese. I tried toasting and broiling as well, but those slices looked, well, toasted. Not realistic. Note: You don't need to butter the slices of cake. There's should be enough butter in the cake to make for a good grill. And if there isn't enough butter in the cake? Well, shame on you. Second note: It's really easy to burn cake slices. I almost set off the smoke detector last night during my first attempt. So watch those babies.

3. I made my own frosting, because really, how hard is it to mix a little butter and powdered sugar together? Family Fun says to mix red and yellow food coloring to get a good orange color. I agree, but I used 3:1 ratio of yellow to red to achieve that fake American-cheese neon glow.

It's not too late to get in on the April Fool's Day action. I did a post at 5 Minutes for Parenting a few years ago with tons of great gotcha ideas. (Actually, I wish I had read that last night. I might have played a few more pranks this morning.)

The only idea I have to add is one I got from Martha Stewart yesterday. (I know! Martha does April Fool's! Who knew?) If you have some colored bath fizzies laying around, unscrew the cap on the facet your kids use most and insert a colored tablet. It will temporarily turn the water a bright color -- which should be enough to make them jump and believe their eyes are turning red.
My kids would have woken up to colored water this morning but we don't have the right kind of faucets.

Any April Fool's tips you'd like to pass along? I'd love to hear them.

*I no longer attempt to punk Corey, seeing as he's an April Fool's Black Belt. (Read: He's a really proficient liar.) I prefer to pick on foes my own size. My kids are so lucky.