Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Crazy for Keva Planks

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Two weeks ago, a good friend and I moseyed over to Dodge City for an afternoon of shopping at Hobby Lobby.  With the blissful scents of fall in the air and cooler temperatures in the forecast, my mood was set to spruce up the house in reflection of my most favorite season of the year. Below the usual list of school and craft supplies, I neatly scripted details of my decorative wishes, wondering which items would be negotiated first if not on sale. 

Just a few paces into the store, I quickly realized that my shopping expectations were clearly not going to be met.  All fall, harvest and Halloween decor was already on clearance and dedicated staffers in blue vests were buzzing around making room for all things Christmas. And so it is true for most stores...red and green and lights and trees are popping up into our line of vision, reminding us that it's never too early to shop for Christmas.  So much for savoring each season, one at a time....

Since we all know that the holidays, snow-days and even birthdays are never far away, I thought I would share with you one of my all-time favorite gifts for kids:  Keva Planks.

With five boys in the house, you can only imagine how our playroom resembles nearly every isle of Target, but only a few treasures have stood the test of time.  By test, I mean physically endured the rigors of rambunctious play and managed to keep captivated their interest and imagination as well.
Whatever gift-giving opportunity might be on the horizon, I highly recommend Keva Planks, for boys or girls.  I was introduced to them five years ago, and since then, not a week has gone by that the boys haven't pulled out their bag of building possibilities to create a masterpiece.
Our family became so enthralled with them, we decided to host a Keva Club for our home school network in Kansas City.  It was wonderful!  The planks can be used to teach architecture and design but also mathematics, physics, even history, art and science.  
Children of all ages can manipulate them, and feel proud of their work.  If your kids need a little inspiration, You Tube has a number of very exciting demonstrations as well as exhibitions of incredible works of art composed by individuals of all ages.  

We purchased a book filled with lesson plans for instruction.  Many of the plans have been implemented in the classroom....but honestly, the inventions crafted by the boys are so much better than anything I could ever teach.  Their creative muscles get stronger the more frequently they are exercised! Here are some examples:

After a study on Roman History, Ben and Andrew crafted the Coliseum, and St. Peter's Basilica
A cantilever, which looks incredibly difficult, was accomplished with a little help from dad the first time...now they can do it on their own.  Benedict is in second grade in this pic, I snapped it just before he pulled out the end supports...and yes, it stayed up!
They can be incorporated with other toys to create what my boys like to call "set-ups."
From army men to Lincoln Logs to Play mobile, the possibilities are endless!  If you have Nerf guns in your home, the planks can be set up in a variety of configurations and used for target practice.
If sports are your child's only interest....Keva Planks can satisfy even the athlete's imagination. This is Benedict's interpretation of a football stadium.
To re-cap, here are a few reasons why Keva Planks really stack up:
*  They are timeless - most likely your kids' kids will play with them.
*  The design possibilities are infinite, and children's imaginations are not restricted.
*  They are indestructible!
*  They can be used to teach a variety of subjects, and come with design plans and online tutorials.
*  They don't require batteries, software updates or Elmer's Glue!

If you have relatives who generously give gifts for birthdays or holidays, Keva Planks are a great consideration. They are a wonderful investment that will last through generations of play.  Keva Planks can be purchased through several online retailers, such as Amazon and E-Bay.  

I recommend beginning with a set of 200.  If your kids show enthusiasm toward the idea of building large-scale projects, keep adding to your collection.  We have collected about 800 over the past few years, and the boys always seem to "need" more.

If you would like to inquire about lessons that can be incorporated into school work or daily play with the Keva Planks, feel free to contact me by leaving a comment or through e-mail: suehusband@yahoo.com

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.  ~ George S. Patton 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mr. Fancy Feet's Moose Cake

Remember who these belong to??
Well, it was Mr. Fancy Feet's birthday last week.  He officially turned four, which means I am four years older than when I had him, which is sort of depressing, so we shall not discuss aging until I've had at least one more cup of coffee.  Never mind. Let's not discuss it at all.

As many of you know, birthdays around here consist of two very important traditions:
1.  Birthday Breakfast - cinnamon rolls followed by... 
gifts from the brothers.....
(Is the brother with the inside-out-and-backwards shirt heroic or what?  Keeping the laundry flow low cuts right to my heart, man!)
followed by...
the ceremonial viewing of photos of the birthday dude from birth to present and a smothering with hugs and kisses.

2.  The official birthday cake.

So, if Henry's socks are any indication of his current field of interest, what kind of a cake do you think he asked for. Sports? Nope, too easy. Tractors?  That was so 2010.  Super-heroes?  Naw.  Moose?  BINGO!

"Ohhhh, Lord!" I says to myself. Then, in a panic, I begin to graph a strategy of negotiation in my mind in hopes of outsmarting Mr. Fancy Feet: tell him moose cakes don't exist, or the store is out of brown frosting, (nope, those choices end in going to confession) or have the cake made at Dillons, or maybe tell dad you'll pay him a million dollars to make it. No good.

I've made army combat zones, football fields, Star Wars, farm equipment and a zillion others, but a moose??  Okay, I gave birth to this kid, isn't that enough?  Then again, 'twas I who began these dang traditions anyway.  Well, where there's a will, there's a website!  This one had just what I needed for the inspiration to make a very persistent 4 year old's moose wish come true:  http://www.coolest-birthday-cakes.com/
The red pipe-cleaner was a little weird, but I live 20 miles from Twizzlers, so any pipe cleaner fuzz stuck in the frosting must be forgiven.
Moose flambe.  I am sure the kind folks at Papa Johns were on stand by with fire extinguishers.

Then, for the real icing on the cake...
Jr. Baby's first bike.  (Calling my next to youngest "Jr. Baby" is like therapy.  It helps me feel like he's still wittle, vewy, vewy wittle.  And, that makes me feel young. Not vewy young but a wittle.)  

Yes, he's riding the thing in the house.  Mom, if you're reading this don't call me.  It was dark and raining outside and the boys insisted on giving it to him ON his birthday.  That's the story.  He only made 2 laps, 17 skid marks and knocked over one lamp.  Promise! Luv you, Mom!
Next time one of your kids has a birthday, make him or her a homemade cake.  Even if it's a moose or a Pterodactyl. You can do it! They will love it, and love you forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.  At least I hope they will!

P.S.  Thanks, Mom, for all of the amazing cakes you made for me as a child growing up.  Strawberry Shortcake was tops.  And, I love you forever.  And ever. :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Invitation...

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. 
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Have you ever experienced one of those days where, as the minutes drip slowly, thick like syrup off the clock, keeping time of the longest day, you find yourself losing your mind, your patience, your breath.  And, you think to your pitiful self, "If I could just have two little minutes to myself...just two little minutes..."  

Then, suddenly, your mind is deterred by something random, like the mail.  Secretly you celebrate, "Yes! I can go outside, walk a few safe paces from the house, and on the way to the mailbox find my mind, renew my resolve to be patient and catch my breath."  

For me, this happens at least once a week, and I cannot be deterred from the promising postal pod. Not by wind, nor sleet, nor rain nor snow (ask my kids, I have seen them stare quizzically out the window wondering if I'll find my way back to the front door in a snow storm.)  

And, every once in a while, on my escape to paradise island, reaching into the treasure box, I find sandwiched in between bills and junk mail something delightful, something special, like a wedding invitation.
When those ivory washed envelopes of a particularly heavy weight adorned with an admrable script happen to be the announcement of a friend, a close friend, Steve and I cannot contain our excitement. We love weddings. Perhaps it's because we are, for an instant, reminded of the sweetness of our own wedding day. Most likely it's because the grand news pulls us back into the reality of hope.  

Love always restores hope, hope that for me can become so easily weighted beneath the burden of negativity, bad news and sin - those irritating anxieties that sift into our lives, piling up before our eyes, blinding our vision of what is true, good and beautiful, the very things in which we are to place our hope.  Love is the beacon that bursts into the most remote corners of our hearts.  Corners that have slowly slipped into dusty dormancy, unattended, sleeping in the shadows of soccer practices, laundry, dishes and duties to many to mention.
Love between Sean and Barbara, the bride and groom, was a luminous beacon of hope to those who shared in their wedding day.  But, to us, the love of many others, those who shared our company, also shined bright, encouraging us on in our commitment to each other.  
This was especially true of one couple in particular, Luis and Carolyn Brown, a couple we were blessed to know during our years at Franciscan University. They are truly an inspiring couple, as Christians, spouses, parents and friends.  At every opportunity possible we came together to share our life stories. We talked for hours about our former college days, old friends, our children, education and philosophies of life.  Over copper mugs brimming with Moscow Mules, we laughed whole-heartedly over everything from parenting to Spanx (yes, Spanx).
This is the high five between two moms who know the value of Spanx and their incredible ability to disguise the rotund remnants of repetitious pregnancies.
But, in reality, we both know that those "remnants" are evidence of something soooo very special.
And squishy. (Not, you, honey, Charlie.)
And kissy.
And c-a-utie.
A little honey.  Yummy, yummy.
Ok, I got a little off track there.  Posting pics of my husband and our precious little Charles always derails me....!

There is a popular quote by Gandhi that, as of late, seems to be resurfacing in aspects of my daily reading or correspondence with others: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

I'm not sure that his words are always reiterated with emphasis upon purposes of an equivalent nature - the word change seems to be a bit obscured these days.  But, taken to heart, taken to action in my life, it might not affect the appearance of change on a grand scale. A sincere dedication to daily change, the small attempts and efforts to pursue virtue over vice, to live love in a sacrificial, unselfish manor, to say "I do" over and over again to those often uneasy, uncomfortable vows, these are the changes that when added up might some day miraculously become something of substance. 
When we returned home from St. Paul and wrapped our arms around the fiesty frames of five endearing boys, I couldn't help but rejoice in our love.  In the days that followed, I found, to my surprise that so many of the things I so often chant to my children throughout the course of the day had fresh perspective and meaning to my own life. Words like:

Be the kind of friend you want to have,
                  No matter how difficult life may seem, don't give up.
                                              Think of someone besides yourself, and 
                                                                                 Please say you're sorry.
                                                Look me in the eyes when I speak to you, and 
                                 Thank you, thank you so very much.

Simple words, like the simplest foods, that when taken in, savored, and digested might nourish us, giving life and energy to our love. 
Perhaps today, and every day, I might choose to live the words I proudly profess to my children in my relationship with Steve, and in doing so, those shadowed corners of my heart might just remain freshly lit. Shining bright enough be the change I wish to see in the world. 

How beautiful the change: no more divorce, and the flourishing of happy, holy, faithful marriages...for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, 'till death do us part. Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Legend of the Guardian

Living in the country offers our family many opportunities to view wildlife.  Deer, pheasants, fox and coyote are the most common, and for some reason skunks and snakes seemed to be populous this year.  They made my daily running routes interesting, well, actually stinky and freaky (I'm terrified of snakes!).  

Anyway, last week, we were given a rare treat when Steve's dad pulled up the driveway with a "surprise" in the back of his pick-up.  "Hallelujah!" I says to myself (in my inner Southern voice - don't judge, you know you have one too!), knowing that whenever Grandpa has something to show us, it's usually fun and educational.  
Oh, the blessing of spontaneity, excitement and enthusiasm in a school day.  And, blessed be the teacher when she doesn't have to plan, or search creative web-pages at midnight only to admit that she doesn't have enough of the "stuff" needed to make the perfect craft or she lies awake in bed at night straining the noggin' in hopes of light bulbs, flickers, flares, or flashes of inspiration. Blessed be the teacher who lives close to Grandpa Bob.  That's me - yippee!!

So, skipping out the door, baby in arms, camera on neck, bagel in mouth, spit up on shoulder, I found that this was the surprise.... 
In the early morning hours of work, two of the hired men discovered a nest of baby barn owls taking refuge underneath a hay tarp, and managed to coax one into the back of the pick-up.  This little guy doesn't exactly look like a baby, but despite all appearances, he wasn't technically ready to leave the nest.  (I mean, let's face it, we're all babies until we leave the nest.) His wings were just shy of being fully developed for flight. And check out those baby fine feathers swirling around on top of his head. So cute!
We were in awe of such a wild, tenacious creature.  He definitely knew he was in a foreign land, amongst foreign faces.  Giving no hint of intimidation, he stood alert, ready for action.  
To show the boys just how dangerous an owl can be, Bob teased him with his hat, and the little guy instinctively fell into pounce position.  
In fact, he hissed and screeched at the "enemy" with as much ferocity as one baby barn owl can muster.

Then, the kids hissed and screeched back.  And, that's what we humans do, we moo at cows, bark at dogs, and screech at owls.  Don't think so?  The next time you're at the zoo, just casually observe the fellow attendees. I don't know why we do this, but we do.  Here's proof:
Baby barn owl screeches, kids screech.  And back and forth, yada, yada.
Not wanting to shirk my teacherly duties, I felt compelled to demonstrate some knowledge of avian wild life.  So, I simply translated the owl's behavior to my kids (imagine the Planet Earth narrator-type voice here):
"Back off homo sapiens or I shall be forced to demonstrate the power of the claw!"
And, demonstrate he did! Right on cue. The owl and I were in sync.  How I love cooperation! He was such a show off -  a lot of fowl fitness and ferociousness going on here. Someone call Animal Planet.

Before we could blink he snatched the hat into his talons, and we all took a quick step back.

The one on the left may be permanently owl-o-phobic after that maneuver.  
I love this pic.  It looks like he's protecting the Diet A & W.  At that moment I began contemplating adopting and training him to strategically guard a few of my things, namely chocolate, I-Pod and scissors.  I can never find my scissors.

Finally, we all agreed that our new-found "friend" so wonderfully reminded us of the incredible and memorable characters in the movie Legend of the Guardians, the Owls of Ga'Hoole.  Our family loved the movie so much.  I would not recommend it for very young viewers, because although the movie is beautifully animated, some of the scenes are very dramatic and intense (not inappropriate, however).  If you have boys, they will especially enjoy it, and it offers many topics to discuss with your kids, namely the virtues of courage, loyalty, sacrifice and the value of family.  Clicking on the link will take you to Focus on the Family's Plugged In resource which contains a quality review of the movie.

If you get a chance to see it, let me know what you think!