Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Viley: 7 Months Old!

Wow. She is closer to one year old than she is to newborn. How did this happen?

Check out her monthly photo, and politely ignore the puffy eyes and tears. We are struggling with teething right now, and non-tear streaked photos are not possible. She does look cute in her new sweater, onesie, and jeggings, though right? Throw in some sparkly red shoes and girl is stylin.At 7 months, crazy girl is doing very well. She went to the doc a few weeks ago and got an excellent bill of health. She is 17 pounds (60th percentile), 25.5 inches long (35th percentile), and her head is 16.5 (25th percentile). She got a bunch of shots, so naturally, I had a lot to do at work and Brian handled the visit himself. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have a husband who allows me to be a coward and does not judge me?

Vi is eating 3 to 5 jars of babyfood each day, along with 4 to 5 six-ounce bottles. Umm, yeah, chunkster. She takes two naps, a short morning one around 9:30 and a nice two-hour one around 1pm. She sleeps wonderfully at night from 7:30 to 7. She puts herself to sleep and other than right now with the teething, she still wakes up happy and cooing.

Per doctor's orders, we are trying to increase solid food and decrease formula, so we have introduced puffs and yogurt melts. It took several tries, but she finally understands they are food and chews them without choking.Jeremy was kind enough to provide a tutorial for her. He thinks it is hilarious that she does not know how to eat. I love his random pjs - star wars shirt and thomas pants.7 months is interesting so far with the new vocalizations and the teeth, but I think we will stick with her for at least one more month to see how things go. :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

"What?!" Too Much Christmas!

Well, it was Christmas yesterday. I don't know if time stood still, minds were blown, and kids went into trances in your house, but that is what happened here. It all began on Christmas Eve, when Jeremy simply could not contain himself any longer. The front door was pulled open at least 40 times to see if Santa was approaching, the tummy was full of nothing but sugar, and presents teased him from under the tree. Add it all up and you get a monster tantrum around 3:30pm when your 4 year old did not have a nap and refused to go to church. A huge fit and tears from both buddy and mommy later, we arrived at church later than planned and low and behold, Violet unleashed her bowels on the car seat. Nasty. Her brand new tights looked like sausage casings - and I am not talking about her chubby little thighs. It was rank. So, Vi and I had a little triage in the parking lot because there was simply no way to even get her inside to the bathroom. When we finally entered the church we saw Jeremy and Brian headed out, in full second tantrum mode. Yay!

Sometimes we love our kids just so much. I heard not one word of mass, I saw not one part of mass, I did, however, pass out snacks, read books, sing songs, make potty runs, and smile calmly at first-time parents of tiny babies in the packed cry room who looked to us as "experts." Heaven help us all. Here is our photo, post-mass, so sans tights and hair bow.We made it home and had a lovely feast with my friend Joel before opening Christmas Eve gifts (aka pajamas) and leaving out cookies and milk with a note for Santa.In what is now my all-time favorite Christmas activity, Brian and I then helped Santa get the gifts set up for the kiddos. Jeremy has been asking since April for trackmaster trains (motorized Thomas), so Santa was happy to provide. He put them inside this fun huge Thomas tent that was on sale at Toys R Us. Violet got some fun toys, though if you know my family well you will note that all but one of those things once belonged to Jeremy. I don't think she will mind.I have to note the stockings here. I made Jeremy's in time for his 2nd Christmas (he was born one week prior, give me a break), and I finished Viley's two days ago. I have been working on it since I found out she was a girl on January 6th. Clearly, I suck at sewing. Jeremy got a hold of it about 6 months in and cut it to ribbons on top, so I had to add random holly leaves and then a whole new top panel. Anyway, I am shocked and immodestly proud that I got it done in time. She did not care, but she will one day. But, how cute is it with a brother and sister spying on Santa as he lays out a teddy bear and a train? Perfect.So, here is the Christmas video. "What?!" "What?!" I think he was mildly annoyed that it appeared at first sight that there were no trackmasters awaiting him. He is a special child. I love the shout out to Target at the end. That's my boy.

Anyway, we started at 7am and finished opening presents 5 hours later around noon. We had to pause for bottles, a short nap, the assembly of an impromptu downstairs track for the new trains so that baby sis could sleep upstairs, etc.
Anyhoo, it was a lovely, perfect, frantically-relaxed day with the kids. They are spoiled rotten by relatives, and Brian and I are the luckiest parents, and kids, on earth. Jeremy was able to tear himself away from the new trains long enough to open a few presents and discard them as not as fun as his trains.Violet got her first real baby doll.And I looked down at one point and she had a gift bag slung over her arm like a purse. Love that girl.And Brian took Jeremy out to play on the trains, so here he is at the CSX sign with his engineer hat. We could not give him a real CSX train, as was his latest request, so we tried the next best thing.Happy Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The World of Books and Imagination

Ever since I found out I was going to be a mom, I have dreamed about the books we would read. The adventures we would have touring Pemberly and falling in love with Mr. Darcy's arrogant charm, antagonizing Boo in Maycomb with a note stuck to a fishing pole, forging the Mississippi River with Jim, hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the Kincaid kids, running through the moors screaming "Cathy!" with all our might, grabbing the Golden Snitch to secure the Quidditch Cup for Gryffindor, putting a girdle around the world with Puck to wreak fairy havoc - in 40 minutes or less! The list is endless.

Some of my best friends growing up were those who lived in the well-worn pages of my books, alive and thriving in my imagination. Oh, how I wanted to be a kindred spirit of Anne's and walk on rooftops with her at Green Gables. I dreamed of setting Sara free from the attic at Miss Minchin's school, dancing in the secret garden with Mary and Dickon, and I cried my eyes out with Jo, Meg, and Amy at Beth's last smile. Even as I grew up, I would simply close my eyes to see myself witnessing Louisa Musgrove's fall from the wall in Lyme, or take in a bull fight (Bocanegra!) with Jake and Lady Brett Ashley while full of ennui as an expatriate in Europe. Most recently, I have survived the 74th annual Hunger Games while leading Panem to revolution, and I am now once again revisiting my eleven-year old self as my Hogwarts letter arrives by owl to wisk me away to a magical future.

I have always known my kids would be given every opportunity to develop their imaginations in a similar way. I am so happy they have embraced it so soon! As my parents did for me, unfailingly every night, Brian and/or I read to the kids before bedtime. One would think it is a time to calm them down and send them gently into blissful slumber. Right. Our bedtime renditions usually look more like dramatic plays and most often end with sweat, laughter, and desperate pleas for more. Even Violet is engaged with books, though it may just be that she will gladly do anything if it means she can sit by Jeremy. Recently, Jeremy's teacher told me they read Skippyjon Jones at school with a knowing smile on her face. I laughed and asked if Jeremy stole the show. Turns out he recited the whole book for the class, complete with songs and a Spanish accent. That's just how we roll in the Hopper house.

In the last few weeks, we have upped our game and graduated to reading chapter books. I vividly remember my dad reading us The Hobbit when we were kids, one chapter at a time. I think it teaches patience, anticipation, imagination, and definitely strengthens vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Jeremy was excited to take on the challenge of "no pictures" and Brian and I have worked to create the pictures for him with how we read and gesture. We usually read about three full pages then pause and ask questions and recap to help with comprehension and attention.

And what book are we reading, you ask?

Why Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, of course! We are on page 113 right now, and he is LOVING it! Since he has a scar on his own face, he loves the lightning bolt scar thing. He also thinks Uncle Vernon is funny for stealing mail, wants to eat the cake Hagrid brought Harry, loves saying the word "Dumbledore" over and over again, and was beyond fascinated with the idea of Chocolate Frogs and beans that taste like boogers. We are about to be sorted, so some real fun is soon to begin!

My favorite part, though, is that he totally reads in earnest now. Full sentences. I will be reading and he will stop me and point with his finger on the page and read. A couple I can remember are "Harry sat down on the couch" and "The train left London." Only a week into being 4 years old, and he reads at such a high level!

Violet, meanwhile, is a bit more of a romantic. She and I have been sharing a love of all things Jane since back in the day when we stayed up all night together - and watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, etc. Viley recently asked me if she could dress up like her idol. How could I refuse? I think the likeness is uncanny.In a society where most female role models have the last name Kardashian or start off strong only to nose dive into Lohan-type disasters, I am placing my hope in books to provide my daughter with the mentors she needs. Who wouldn't want their kid to be as smart, loyal, and brave as Hermione Granger? As witty, strong, and loving as Elizabeth Bennet? As caring, mischievous, and ultimately humbled as Emma Woodhouse? As imaginative, creative, and innocent as Catherine Morland? As wise, mature, and passionate as Anne Elliot? As close, thanks to their differences as much as their likenesses, as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood? (I am omitting Fanny Price, as she is my least favorite Austen heroine, but I do still love me some Mansfield Park).

Long story short, I am so excited to open up the world of literature for my children. I want to see them discover places that exist only in dreams and people who overcome obstacles and fight for what is right in the face of overwhelming opposition. I want Jeremy to slay dragons and unlock secret codes. I want Violet to dance in the moonlight in a spinny dress and then go slay some dragons herself. I want it all. And the world I grew up in, the world of books and limitless imagination, can provide that for them.

Any favorite titles I need to be sure to include on their already-overflowing book shelves? I do love a good book recommendation!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Merry Christmas!

This is how Jeremy greets people these days - 'Happy Merry Christmas!'

I don't even know how to begin in describing the fun and frantic nature of our holiday festivities. So, I will let the photos do the hard work:
Our card photo shoot - this took forever and this was the best I could get. I am happy with it!Jeremy is SO excited about Christmas this year that we put up our tree 2 days after Thanksgiving. I have never put up a tree in November before, but the kid could not be denied!Here he is with the letter he wrote to Santa. He really wants Trackmasters - motorized Thomas trains. I initially said no, but then I realized they work on the regular Thomas track, so it seemed ok. We'll see if Santa brings them... (please note, we did vacuum, this was right after the tree went up)Speaking of trains, we went to the Holiday Express at the UT Gardens this past weekend. This is our 3rd year, and Jeremy's knowledge base of trains continues to overwhelm me. I made the colossal mistake of wondering aloud if they were standard gauge models. I was quickly informed they were G gauge. My bad. We saw all his favorites: Chessie System, Santa Fe, Southern, Union Pacific, Thomas, etc. We were a bit disappointed not to see a pantograph, but that's ok. (I just love throwing out the train lingo - anyone know what a pantograph is? Jeremy sure does.)As if the Holiday Express were not amazing enough -FREE for kids- they added Santa Claus in the garden pavilion. Also FREE! He was a funny Santa and since there was no line, Jeremy rambled on for ages about the trains, tracks, and more trains he wanted. When Santa asked what Violet wanted, Jeremy initially blanked then decided she wanted a teddy bear.When we got home, both kids were a bit train obsessed, so we headed up for some play time. Also enjoy my photos of Violet in random places. I don't know why I took so many pictures of her that day, but she sure is cute! I do find it hilarious that Vi loves Thomas. She will bypass her own toys to grab Thomas. Jeremy always grabs him back, but she thinks it is a great game. When he is not looking, I always sneak it to her. :)Finally, here are some of our projects. We are a bit low on cash this year, so we have been creative with our gifts. I made our Christmas cards completely myself - FREE - and way easier now that I know my way around Publisher like a pro. Also, we baked and decorated tons of cookies. I have a few more homemade projects I completed, but I will wait to post them after the holiday to not spoil the fun.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

School Days

Jeremy and Violet both currently attend school at the University of Tennessee Early Learning Center. I feel like when I refer to the school here I am mostly complaining that they close for a week in August and March, and while that does epically suck, the other 50 weeks of the year I love them. Some people smile when I say the kids are at school, but it really is a learning environment and so much more than a daycare. There are no TVs, the kids have a set curriculum, and all the teachers have master's degrees in Child and Family Studies, or a similar field. It is also a teaching school, so undergraduate and graduate students do field work in the classrooms for semester-long stints. This offers our kids some amazing opportunities to be a part of different classroom experiments and studies (that sounds weird, but by "experiments" I mean the kids experimenting, not that they do experiments on the kids themselves).

So, that sounds like a commercial for the ELC, but really I just want to document this moment in time for the kids. They LOVE school, and that is no small thing. So, here are a few of our favorite things about school:

Jeremy and Violet both have some very close friends at school. When William moved out of Jeremy's class for preschool, we were upset and worried he would not adjust well without his little buddy. But, then Will arrived on the scene. Same name, same friendliness, different kid. One of the great things about preschool is that it is a mix of ages, so Will is a year older than Jeremy. They share an obsession with trains, so are naturally joined at the hip, but having an older friend has also helped Jeremy to mature his social skills a bit. No more frequent biting or tantrums - yay! Jeremy's teachers say one of his strengths is how friendly he is with everyone. Violet is in an infant classroom with 7 other babies. Jeremy says her best friends are Tilly and Iris, so we'll just go with that. Teachers do report that Violet will sit next to Iris and talk nonstop while Iris looks at her and laughs. I guess that is considered friendship at this age.

The other day Jeremy wanted to stay home and watch his new train DVD, so I began asking him some questions about everything he would miss if he did not go to school. The first thing he said: "Well, I do love Emily." What? Not the toys, or Will, but Emily. She is one of the student teachers in his classroom. I told her what he said and she looked so genuinely touched. I really feel like the teachers actually care about the kids, like for real. Jeremy's main teachers are Tracy and Jennifer, who are both wonderful. Violet's teachers are Lizzie (Jeremy's old teacher) and Whitney. What is also great is that everyone knows my kids - Viley's teachers know Jeremy and Jeremy's teachers know Vi. And, I can list a million other teachers like Erin, Tiffani, Katie, etc that are also favorites with my kids. Jeremy went sprinting across the playground the other day into Erin's arms for no reason - he just loves her.

The Blue Roof
Ask where Jeremy goes to school and he says "the school with the blue roof in Knoxville, Tennessee!" What is special about the roof, though, is what is underneath it. The classrooms themselves are lovely, fun, educational places for the kids. Sure, I hate that I have to take my shoes off to get Violet, but it is wonderful that I know when she face-plants on the carpet it is clean. Each classroom has special stations for the kids to work on different skills: in preschool they have stations for computers, reading, group play, blocks, imaginary play at the loft, a sand table, a water table, an art area, etc. In the infant room they have a tent, soft toys, loud toys, anticipation toys, a gross motor area with mats for the kids learning to walk and crawl, and lots of cribs!

The Activities
I love that each day I know the kids are working on a new skill or experience. In the preschool class, they have been learning all semester long about buildings. They have gone on field trips, studied blue prints, explored different tools, and built their own house that they voted on and constructed completely themselves. In Violet's class, they have worked on different textures by exploring pumpkin goo at Halloween and reacting to the crunching of paper bags. They also played in water and explored different tastes with fruit varieties. The teachers then do a full PowerPoint presentation for the parents to see what the kids learned and got out of each activity. Jeremy got to help present and spoke about hard hats and how they are used to protect your head while building. Obviously, he was the best presenter in the class. It is fun to see it come to life with them. Jeremy now points out characteristics of buildings as we drive (that one has 12 floors, that one is made of bricks, that one is old and rusty and condemned), and Violet lights up when she sees a paper bag and immediately wants to hold it, taste it, and try to make sounds with it.

The Individual Attention
I love that I meet regularly with the teachers and get full progress reports on the kids. They give me lists, charts, development outlines, milestones, achievements, and goals. I am sent papers, pictures, and videos of my kids regularly. We recently sat down for semester conferences and I now know that Violet excels at eating, sitting up, and enjoys playing with her feet. Jeremy excels at literacy, memorization and recall, and friendliness. Violet needs to work on her sleeping and expressing her needs in ways other than screaming. Jeremy needs to work on his fine motor skills like writing and quit stalking Will. I also learned that Jeremy once tried to sneak into the infant room and talks about Viley a lot. Emily said he told her that "Violet is my sister and she is perfect." *Love*

Considering this has been our first and only foray into schooling for our kids, I am pretty darn pleased. Yes, it is massively expensive (I just try not to think about that part so I won't spontaneously burst into tears) but my kids are loved, happy, and thriving.