a good birthday

Today was Eli’s 9th birthday.  It was a good day.

We started the day with a Christensen family tradition where the birthday boy (or girl) chooses any kind of cold cereal they want for breakfast (we went shopping with Eli earlier in the week and got “Krave” and “Lucky Charms”).

After breakfast he opened cards and presents.  Sharon was really sweet, having made him a DSC05012nice card and purchased him (with her own money) a small plastic archery set.  They played with the toys for an hour or so while Clairie slept and we cleaned.  At 10:00 we loaded up the car and drove to MN.  We started with lunch at IKEA and then went to the mall.

IMAG0275We spent the next several hours at Mall of America in Bloomington, MN.  This is Eli’s first birthday in 5+ years where he opted NOT to have a friend party but chose instead to do a family activity.  Sadly, I’m afraid part of that decision is that he hasn’t made a lot of close friends yet here in Wisconsin.  Whatever the case he was excited to spend a day at MOA.  We first went to Nickelodeon Universe (an indoor amusement park) and spend several hours going on rides.  We got a punch pass because the all-day wristbands are quite expensive and our kids don’t last that long anyways.  However, after we had gone on just one ride a stranger approached me and Eli (waiting to go on a crazy roller coaster) and asked if we’d like two wristbands he had received for free but didn’t need.  With those bands the kids were able to go on several more rides and we saved our punch pass for another time.  We had a great time and Clairie was even able to fall asleep in the stroller so we could spend even more time there.

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Mid-afternoon we left the park and headed over to the Sea Life aquarium. We have year passes there so we cruised through but still enjoyed seeing the sharks and other sea creatures and there were very few people there which made it doubly nice.  We headed out and on the way home stopped by Target to see if Eli had anything he wanted to buy with all his birthday money (there wasn’t).  We also stopped by a firework stand and got some great parachuters and rockets.  We then picked up some pizza and went home to eat while we watched Eli’s favorite television show (Psych).

DSC05018After dinner we did cake and were preparing to do fireworks when we had an unexpected but welcome visit from a neighbor down the street.  She brought us “Mittens” (I maintain that the name is still TBD), a cat that was abandoned by another neighbor several weeks ago.  The kids have been working on me (with Natalie’s help) and on Sunday after much deliberation I relented and said we could take in the cat.  We scoured the neighborhood for the next two days but couldn’t find him.  We hadn’t given up, but did accept that he might never show up.  Instead he arrived on Eli’s birthday and the kids went nuts.  DSC05021I’ll admit that even though I’m not a big cat fan “Mitt” has grown on me.  After I got all the kids to bed (Natalie was at a school meeting) and got things cleaned up I sat down to relax for the remainder of the evening.  Mitt had been following me around all evening and as soon as I sat down he hopped up on my lap and within 10 minutes was asleep next to me. I guess it’s his birthday too.  All in all it was a good birthday.

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Ultramarathon boy

Over the last several years I have done some (but not too much) prodding to get my children to go running with me.  While they’re happy to go if it means getting outRunning with Eli of doing something less desirable, I rarely hear that they want to go simply because they want to run with dad.

Inexplicably that changed a few weeks ago.  While I was preparing for my Saturday run Eli asked if he could go with me.  Knowing that he had never run more than a mile I told him that he could run the warm-up with me and we proceeded to run a one miler together (in about 14 minutes).  I let him decide where we’d go and he chose to take us down to the river bottoms to do a little exploring.  It was about a half-mile there so we jogged for a few minutes, explored for a few minutes, and then jogged home.  It was quite enjoyable and Eli surprised me by running the entire way there (1/2 mile) and only having to walk up a couple of the hills on the way home.

Fast forward to this past weekend.  Eli again spoke up as I was preparing for my long run that he would like to go.  I said sure and planned on doing something comparable to what we did a couple of weeks ago.  Natalie had just run 3-4 miles with a friend (the most she’s ever run) so apparently the “running bug” was in the air.  We started out to the river bottoms and at the 1/2 mile mark Eli was going strong so we decided to keep going.  Eli talked my ear off cover topics as diverse as Ninjago, what we should do when/if we go to China, how he’s going to create a sword that converts into a jet, how pretty the river is, etc.  However, the bulk of our conversation centered on being able to run long distances.  Eli made up his mind that he would be able to run four miles, which he claimed was double the distance any of his peers had ever run.  I bought into this and told him we could try two today and then up our mileage next weekend.  Once we hit the one mile mark we did a little exploring but Eli insisted he wanted to keep running so rather than turning around we kept running up the river banks.  Eli showed no signs of slowing so I took him a full mile hoping we’d find another river crossing so we could get home.  Well, no such crossing came so at two miles we turned around and headed home.  We only had to stop one more time… a thirty second break at the bridge to look at the fish and catch our breath.  From there we completed the four mile run.  Eli completed the first 3.1 miles (his first 5k) in 48:22 and we did the four mile course in 1:00:33.  I was amazed as he never seemed to slow and did not once complain of being tired, cold, or bored.  We talked the whole time and had a great time being out in beautiful Wisconsin together.  Next week he wants to go for eight… we’ll see how long this enthusiasm lasts.

4th of July with the TyandNats

I like the 4th of July.  I wish I could say that it is one of my favorite holidays because I am a true patriot and I love my country, but the truth is, I just like to play and we have a lot of fun traditions for the 4th.  (Note:  I still do love my country, appreciate all those who are serving in the military, and try to teach my children about our history and privilege).  I was not a huge 4th of July guy until I met Natalie and the Barlow family.  They do it up right: huge bar-be-que, fireworks, candy canon, etc.  We’ve started small since we are not usually around extended family for the holiday, but we have started some traditions of our own.  Here’s what we did this year…

We started the day off with our church’s bishopric breakfast.  I am a clerk for the ward so I don’t know how I get roped into this each year, but I am one of the ones who gets there early to set up, do the cooking, etc.  So I was up early to get things going.  The family arrived around 8:30 and we ate and the kids sang a song about the flag and the scouts posted the colors.  We visited with friends until 9:30 and then hurried across town for the parade.

The parade. The Bloomington fourth of July parade is an interesting one.  It is like most local parades… lots of people throwing candy, lots of high school bands and cheerleaders, lots of government and military types driving by in big cars and trucks.  There aren’t a lot of the “floats” I grew accustomed to seeing in my childhood.  Instead, in Bloomington those themed entries have been replaced by really random groups of sometimes scary people (i.e. anime, roller derby girls, Miss Gay IU, the circus, and the God of Pointless behavior).  The kids, of course, don’t care about the scary people because they are still bringing them candy.  They love the parade because it provides as much candy as what they collect at Halloween.  In fact, many of the passer-bys now simply dump candy into the kids bags just like at Halloween.  The only difference is that instead of just saying “trick-or-treat” the parade entrants usually are the ones doing tricks, and they come to us instead of us having to walk to them.  Natalie found us a great spot this year that was near the beginning, had good parking for a quick get-away, and wasn’t too crowded.

The TyandNat party. We decided to throw a small party this year so after the parade we hurried home to finish preparations.  After cleaning the house, watching the coney island hot dog eating contest, and preparing the food we started moving everything outside.  We borrowed a big canopy for shade and set it up with a few card tables and lawn chairs.  Natalie made English Trifle and firework cupcakes to go with our fried chicken and pigs-in-a-blanket.  All who came to the party brought side dishes. The party started at 3:30 but things didn’t really get rolling until about an hour later when we started eating.  After some good grub (but no grill) we had a water balloon throwing contest, with the target being a pirate ship drawn in chalk on our fence.  The distance you had to throw from the fence was dictated by age (one pace for each year).  From thirty two paces back I didn’t even hit the fence, but my five-year-old Eli was able to hit it dead on.  Good work buddy!  After that, the real men who had gathered had a watermelon eating contest.   The goal was to eat as many slices as possible in a single minute.  It was close but I squeaked out a final slice (my fifth) in the last five seconds to take the win.  I think the separation started happening at about 45 seconds, so maybe next time we’ll go 90 seconds instead of 60.  After the watermelon we did fireworks.  It was still broad daylight but we didn’t want to wait for the dark because many of us would have kids in bed by then.  We did mostly small fountains, tanks, hens, etc.  Nothing too fancy, but we did have a lot and the kids enjoyed watching them.  We had so much, in fact, that after a while I got tired of lighting them and simply packed up the remaining third and hid them while the kids weren’t looking so they wouldn’t know we stopped short.  After the fireworks things started winding down and by 7:30 everyone had left.   That gave us about an hour and a half of hard-core picking up and cleaning.  We made good time and the house was spotless by 9:00.

Fireworks.  We told our kids that this year we would let them stay up to watch the big fireworks.  I don’t think they knew what we were talking about since we’ve never done this before, so Eli was happily surprised to watch a big show (Sharon slept through it).  Rather than driving across town for the city fireworks we decided to walk around the block to watch the show put on by the large Christian church on the corner.  We stayed in our neighborhood, setting up lawn chairs on the grass about a block up the street.  Eli thought the fireworks were amazing, Sharon slept peacefully, and Spencer didn’t seem at all phases by the loud noises and bright lights.  We had a great time.  Walking home wasn’t as enjoyable… Sharon may not be heavy, but carrying a sleeping three-year-old will wear anyone out after about ten minutes.   We got in around 11:00 and no one had a hard time falling asleep.

New car, new job

On Monday we sprung for a new, old minivan.  We’ve been looking one for sometime but could never find one in our price range that we were happy with.  Over the weekend Nat saw a listing on Craigslist that looked too good to be true but called on it anyhow.  Turns out that the seller was a used specialty car salesman who picked up the Odyssey on a trade-in and couldn’t sell it until Monday.  We arranged to be the first ones in to see it and he sold it to us for about $2,000 under blue book.  It’s an older car, but it will work for the next few years as we grow and I settle into my career.

Monday was also exciting for me as I was offered another job, teaching a psychology course on learning at Indiana University Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC).  I will continue to work next semester in Instructional Consulting here at IU, but when I saw this job listing I applied because I’d love to teach 1) at another school (especially for one that values teaching like IUPUC does), 2) in another discipline (psychology), with less traditional students.  This will be a great opportunity for me.

“Summer vacation” in Toronto

Last May I was scheduled to present a paper I had written in a teaching conference in Toronto.  Never having left the country I was quite excited that my paper had been accepted and was looking forward to going to a strange new land.  Discussing this opportunity with Natalie we decided that it would be fun to make it into a family vacation and we set about getting passports and planning the trip.  Long story short is that the conference was canceled (it will now take place next May and I’m still presenting).  We were pretty bummed about that but determined to still take a trip to Toronto.  We had hoped to do so in August but then I got a new job working for instructional consulting and August was a very busy month.  We postponed our trip until we were finally able to make it happen in October (20-25).

What we did:

  • We drove to Toronto via Detroit, where we visited a children’s museum (free with our Wonderlab pass) and ate at Big Boys (a horrible, horrible hamburger buffet).
  • In Toronto we stayed in a nicer hotel (always a highlight for the kids), went to the Zoo, the Toronto Science Centre, attended church, and ate in Greektown
  • On the way home we stopped in Kirtland, Ohio and saw some LDS church history sites (Whitney store, Kirtland temple, visitors centers)

Our adventures:

Canadian gas stations are not our friends. We were thrilled to get through customs, where they were suspicious of us planning a family vacation in the middle of October, with very little planned (no existing hotel reservations and plans only to visit the zoo and perhaps a museum).  I think the lady thought we had kidnapped our kids and were simply trying to get across the border.  Luckily, we were still let through.  A few hours into Canada we saw a sign for a cheese factory, so, of course, we had to stop.  We got off the interstate in a little town and soon learned that the museum is only open during the summer months.  We stopped at a gas station to use the restroom and after 15 minutes waiting in the car the battery died.  We asked a few cars to help give us a jump and were actually refused by an elderly man.  Two others tried but the jump didn’t work.  Natalie decided that the battery was dead and we used GPS to get the phone number of a nearby auto parts store.  They were kind enough to drive the battery over to us.  It worked and we followed them to the store to pay and deposit our old battery.  We then hurried over to Toronto and checked into our hotel.  That was our first of a few automobile snafoos.  It turns out that we had problems at every single gas station we stopped at in Canada… either the machine wouldn’t accept our credit card, wouldn’t work at all, or something.

Planning, without planning too much.

Zoo people.

Hotels.

All in all we had a great time (and have a greater appreciation for the wonderful country we live in).