Saturday, March 31, 2012

Another Zoo Adventure

Making the most of this sunny-and-warm-but-not-incredibly-sticky-and-humid-yet-spring-weather, we set out for another “Zoo Adventure” this week.

We saw the usual giraffes, elephants, lions, and tigers. We also saw these animal friends….

These monkeys put on a hilarious display, but due to the graphic nature of their play, I will not disclose the details!

Jake and Lilly LOVE the Children’s Zoo and are now frequent flyers to the Petting Zoo. I’m pretty sure they are on a first name basis with most of these goats.

Dodging the six elementary schools that were on field trips, we managed to squeeze in some playtime on the playground inside the Children’s Zoo as well.

Abandoning the stroller (since no one ever wants to ride in it anyway,) we opted for the much loved wagon.

I wish I could say that Jake and Lilly both rode in it the entire time. I honestly hope we are not the only parents of toddlers who struggle with getting our kids to ride in the stroller/wagon/shopping cart/etc when out and about. These two little people (who think they are completely independent of Momma and Daddy) did come up with a creative alternative to sitting inside the wagon, though.

I guess they thought Daddy looked tired after pulling that wagon full of kids all throughout the zoo. How thoughtful of them to get behind and help push it for him!

Friday, March 30, 2012

"Like Little Children"

As exhausted as I am at the end of each day after chasing around two rowdy toddlers, I absolutely love this age. We have our fair share of fits and grumpiness, but there is something so magical about watching them explore the world around them. I am amazed at what brings them joy. Like a toilet paper roll. Or a broom. These simple things that delight them so have long since lost their luster for me. I really can’t say I get any tingly feelings from an empty toilet paper roll, and I am definitely sure I don’t have warm fuzzies when I come across a dirty broom propped up in the garage. But to Jake and Lilly, these are sources of wonder and excitement. Here are a few more:

Swiffer dusters: These keep Jake and Lilly entertained while I clean the house. I’m convinced they just create more dust, but I guess I can’t be picky!

Plastic Easter eggs: Opening them and closing them and putting them neatly inside an egg carton keeps them occupied for a good ten minutes… at least. They make awesome shakers, too. And, yes, we play with them all year round, not just on Easter!

Peanut Butter: This is a new one in our house! While Ritz crackers have always been a favorite, a slab of peanut butter transforms Jake and Lilly’s favorite snack into an extra-delicious treat!

Gravity: Thank goodness they have quit tossing food and cups of milk from their highchairs, just to test this phenomenon. They now settle for stacking blocks until they fall down. They think this display of gravity is absolutely hilarious!

While making this list of things that are both simple and thrilling to my two toddlers, I was reminded of this verse:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

I am sure that when Jesus referred to “little children,” he was acknowledging the pure innocence that they possess that causes them to clap their hands and be filled with wonder and delight over things that we often take for granted. To a child, the world is a simple and uncomplicated place.

After thinking about all that brighten my kids’ day, I realized that I, too, have my own list. My list involves routine occurrences that happen so many times throughout my day, yet each brings me such happiness that I can’t imagine living without a single one of them.

Belly laughs

Sweaty, slobbery kisses

Tiny feet walking around the house in my shoes

Praying hands at mealtime

Hearing “Momma”

Maybe I’m not all that different than my kids. It’s the little, everyday things that get to all of us, I guess, and make our day just a bit brighter. The challenging part is remembering to focus on the simple stuff instead of all of the complexities that life hurls at us every single day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ties & Tutus

Jake and Lilly’s individuality is best seen as they are at play. There are few toys or games that they both show the exact same enthusiasm towards. For instance, Jake loves to tote around his Daddy’s golf club while outside, and Lilly is content to sit and color on the driveway with chalk. Lilly loves books; Jake loves the vacuum cleaner. Jake is obsessed with remotes; Lilly is fascinated with animals. Jake adores bubbles; Lilly enjoys puzzles. The list goes on and on.

Only a couple things have the ability to pique both kids’ interests simultaneously. One of such activities is admiring themselves, whether it’s in front of the mirror or watching videos I’ve taken of them on my phone.

Today we played “Dress Up"... For Lilly we pulled out two tutus, a ton of bracelets, and a few necklaces; for Jake, we found a tie from Daddy’s closet, a pair of his shoes, and a cowboy hat he wore when he was a kid. All three of us had a blast… both kids were thrilled to dress up and make faces in the mirror, and I was tickled to watch their excitement from behind the lens of my camera.

When it was time to clean up and get dressed to go outside, Lilly politely shook her head, “No,” insisting that she continue to wear her pretty tutu outside to play. She chose her zebra rain boots for her feet, and was extremely proud of her wardrobe selection. While running around outside in her colorful tutu, she did not avoid the mud or wet grass... not sure why I expected otherwise!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saved By The Ritz.... Again!

The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring. ~Bern Williams

Last week Jake and Lilly spent a whole day playing at Grammy and Pop's house. They were not so sure what to think of the hundreds of tall, blue flowers that covered most of the front yard. Armed with a camera of our own and a whole lot of optimism, Grammy and I set out to take the perfect photo of these two toddlers who were not at all thrilled about the idea of actually getting close to these beautiful Spring surprises that pop up every March.

We were not a bit surprised that Lilly was the first to make her way through the bluebonnets, while Jake hung back, patiently assessing the situation before joining her.

Careful not to crush any of the flowers, she lifted her legs way up in the air as she made her way through the yard.

Lilly will always find time for her animal friends. Blue and Sadie had so much fun watching Jake and Lilly's reactions in the bluebonnets. And Jake and Lilly loved watching the two dogs run and play with each other.

This is one of my favorite shots of Lilly, mostly because of her adorable yet unruly hair blowing every which way. The longer it grows, the curlier it seems to be. As cute and precious as it is, her hair definitely has a mind of its own.
Just like her.
After our continuous coaxing got us nowhere with Jake, we resorted to picking him up and plopping him right in the middle of the bluebonnets! We got hundreds of photos of him, because he stayed in the same spot we left him for a good ten minutes before working up the courage to venture off on his own.

Clarification: When I say "we got hundreds of photos," I mean ones just like this, which clearly demonstrate his disapproval.
Needless to say, he was not very happy with either one of us. I can just hear him saying, "Mom, I can't believe you made me wear this pink shirt and now you expect me to stand here surrounded by flowers with a smile on my face. Does Dad know about this? I'm sure he would not approve!"
But after a while, Jake finally gave in to his curiosity and decided to investigate the bluebonnets...

...and forgot about the fact that I dressed him in pink and abandoned him in a patch of girly flowers.

He was not the only one who wore a frown, though. Lilly was having too much fun mowing over the bluebonnets with the little green tractor and chasing the dogs across the yard. When I suggested sitting next to her brother to pose for a picture, this was the look I received.

Determined to capture the beauty of Spring, and two little ones with plans of their own, I did what every mother does. I pulled out the crackers.

And just like that, they sat side by side in their carefully-picked-out-coordinating outfits and their matching cowboy boots, totally oblivious that Grammy and Momma were snapping photos like they were the paparazzi.

I've been saved by the Ritz cracker so many times I've lost count. It is a staple in our house, and I never leave home without them. In fact, they should just add a box to every Baby Registry, so new moms and dads don't have to figure this one out trial-and-error-style like us. Forget the cute, cuddly blankets and teddy bears. I'm bringing a box of Ritz crackers to every baby shower I'm invited to from now on!
Jake was so enthralled with his salty snack that he wasn't even fazed when Grammy stuck a bluebonnet inside his shirt pocket. (OK, so he did swat her hand away, but then he quickly forgot about it upon receiving his second cracker.)

When it comes to photographing kids at this age, it's really very simple. You can have the latest and greatest camera, equipped with a zoom lens for optimal results. You can arm yourself with all kinds of props (bells, shakers, puppets, hats) to get their attention. You can sing every silly song you know in an attempt to get them to smile (or in this case to stop crying). But none of it matters at all. When it comes right down to it, you have to learn to speak their language. When Momma pulls out the crackers, everyone is suddenly cooperative. Amazing!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Grandpa Green

I bought Grandpa Green for Jake and Lilly because the cover reminded me of my Pop.

Written and illustrated by Lane Smith, it is a beautifully simple yet profound book. The story is told by Grandpa Green’s great-grandson, who is just a little boy. He talks about the era in which Grandpa Green grew up, the one before computers or cell phones or television. Grandpa Green wanted to study horticulture, but went to fight in a world war instead. Grandpa Green met a girl and married her. And they never ever fought. Grandpa Green creates beautiful works of art out of bright green topiaries that tell the story of his life and the generations that follow. The pictures, more than the words, tell a beautiful story of aging and about what is left behind. When Grandpa Green grows old and cannot remember any longer, the garden remembers for him.

This book reminds me so much of my Pop, I cannot help myself. When I sat down with Jake and Lilly to read it to them, I was in tears. We read it cover to cover. Then we read it again. And again. And again. It’s as if both of them knew that this book was special.

My Pop, just like Grandpa Green, was a soldier, a husband, a father, a gardener. Though he went to be with Jesus just six weeks before his great-grandson was born, he left so much behind. He left his garden. He left my sweet Grandma who is now the Keeper of the Garden. He left my son, Jake, who carries his name. He left all of us a little changed… for the better. He left this world a better, brighter place. He left us an example to follow. He left a legacy.

Today is his birthday. I’m not sure how it all works, whether this “Happy Birthday” will reach him in Heaven, but I do know that he will be celebrating his special day with Jesus. I miss him so much it hurts. We all do. He was a good man, a loving father, and a playful grandfather. If I could talk to him today, I’d tell him thank you.

Thank you for watching all of my puppet shows when I was a little girl.

Thank you for sharing your secret stash of Peanut M&Ms with me.

Thank you for teaching me about Jesus.

Thank you for making me laugh.

Thank you for keeping your faith; for never giving up, for fighting strong, especially at the end.

Thank you for seeing the best in people.

Thank you for being my “Grandpa Green.”

Thank you for all you left behind, including your garden.