Saturday, January 9, 2016

Veteran's Day at Mason's School

Mason's school 5th grade put on the most wonderful program for Veterans Day this year. We invited both Grandpa and Papa Kay to come be part of the day. Grandpa was planning to be there, but Grandma ended up having open heart surgery a few days prior, so he was unable to make it to the event. Papa Kay came, though, and it was a really awesome morning!

First, we met with Mason's team (2 classes put together), and the veterans belonging to the students on the team each took about 2-3 minutes to tell about their military experience. This was an impressive group of men and women, who have served all over the world, many in combat. These are the best of the best, right here.

Papa Kay told the classes about his military experience.  He served in the Army, and then the reserves, from 1960-1966.  He talked about working in ordnance supply, and then a little about his time as a smoke jumper (although not technically the military, it does involve jumping out of planes!). His talk was very inspiring, and Mason was pretty proud to have him there!

The students had each prepared a poem or other written work about veterans, and they had a moment to give their "gift of writing" to a veteran. Mason and a few of his friends gave theirs to Gordon.

There was an awesome display, with pictures and service information for the veterans from each class team.  I had sent in pictures of both my dad and Gordon for the display, so we looked for them. I'm so glad my dad was included, although he couldn't be present for the program.

That's my dad, the day he came home from boot camp, in his parents' family room.
Doesn't Gordon look so handsome?
This gives you an idea of the display. This was just one wall of many, and that lady photobombed my shot.

I took another, but it was blurry. My phone doesn't do well indoors.
After the in-class portion, the veterans and their student escorts went on a parade/walk though the school.  The 4th and 6th grade classes came out to line the hallways and cheer for our veterans. Gordon said he couldn't believe how many students there were!

Inside the gym, we waited for the veterans and their student escorts to make it back. Family members sat on the bleachers, and the veterans sat on the chairs on the floor.  The 5th grade students sat in the bleachers on the other side (and some on our side as well). It was a very full house! I can see why the program is just for 5th grade students. They simply couldn't fit everyone in there at once, otherwise.

A student choir sang some special musical numbers, and there was a slide presentation of the students' descriptions of veterans in three words only, set to music.  For example, "Brave, True Patriots" or "Courage, Honor, Strong." Then the winners of the poetry contest read their poems.

Toward the end of the program, one of the veterans (a Marine from Mason's class, in fact, who fought in Korea) asked if he could say a few words.  Apparently, this had never been done before, but the principal was cool with it. So he stood up and took the mike and said this had been the most wonderful veterans day presentation he'd ever witnessed. He thanked the students and their teachers. There weren't too many dry eyes in there, at least among the adults.

Look at that crowd! We love our veterans.
At the end of the program, Mason went back to class and I stayed nearby while Gordon talked to a fellow vet he'd been seated with during the program. Gordon is always one to strike up a conversation! While I was waiting, I noticed this gentleman - a WWII veteran who served in Japan, in his full uniform. Everyone wanted to shake his hand and thank him for his service (me, too!).  He was rather spunky and seemed to be enjoying the day.

It was really a fantastic program. I left feeling uplifted and so very proud of our country and the amazing men and women who are willing to lay down their lives to defend it. We owe them a debt of gratitude indeed.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fall birthday happenings

This year, we did things a little differently. We celebrated as a family on the boys' actual birthdays (which fall 4 weeks apart), and had one party in the middle, where they each invited friends. It worked out pretty well! I may have to do this again sometime, as long as they are both OK with it.

First up was Mason! He turned 11, and I can't believe it. He is getting SO TALL. His feet are bigger than mine. He definitely has the tall Livingston genes going on. All he wanted for his birthday were Nerf guns, but we managed to come up with a few other ideas as well. He loved it all. We enjoyed an ice cream cake from Graeter's and his favorite dinner, tacos. 

I am so blessed to be the mama of this boy. He is creative and funny. He is also a sensitive soul, without a mean bone in his body. He is a good friend and big brother. It is so much fun watching him develop his talents (piano, tae kwon do) and try new things. I'm so glad he's my boy.

In between their birthdays, we had a shindig at Lazer Kraze! It was easy as can be, all I had to do was bring the cake. I made this Minecraft cake, inspired by Pinterest. I though it turned out pretty good!

It's a creeper!
That's a lot of M&Ms!
I've never been a fan of goodie bags, so I tend to try and find something else to give to the party-goers. I bought some of those movie candy boxes and covered them to look like creepers and TNT. They turned out so cool! I should post these on Pinterest myself. Ha.

It is hard to take pictures inside Lazer Kraze.
We also had 30 minutes of jump time on the trampolines, which was fun and sweaty! Holland joined in for the trampoline portion.
Danny, taking a break from all the jumping!
Then in November, we had another home party, just the fam. I can't believe our Danny is 9! Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday I was holding him in the hospital. His was my easiest C-section and being in the hospital with him was such a joy. I always loved those early days of snuggling. Pure joy.

Daniel requested my ice cream cake, which is always a hit. 

Daniel is such a ray of sunlight. He's also tenacious (stubborn!) and will NOT back down until he gets what he's after. He's super ambitious and always puts 100% into his school work. He sets challenging goals for himself. His teachers love him. He is kind and gentle with Holland and helps her when she needs it. He is such a good kid. We are blessed.

Mmmm. Ice cream cake.
We had a great time celebrating these two special kiddos. They bring such fun (and mischief!) into our family. We love them dearly and are so grateful to have the joy of raising them.

Happy birthday(s), Mason and Daniel!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Trick or Treat Fun

Halloween was a blast!

Daniel decided to be Harry Potter again, which was totally fine by me.  Holland was going to wear a puppy costume Daniel wore when he was her age, but then I found this little bee costume 70% off at the craft store, so I bought it. I gave her the choice - puppy or bee - and she chose the bee. "It's prettier!" It was.

Mason wanted to be a marionette from a video game he likes, Five Nights at Freddy's.  I Googled pictures and made his costume using plain black clothes, white felt, and medical tape. I also bought a plain white mask from the party store and painted it to look like the character, more or less. Mason ended up liking it, although his initial reaction was that it shouldn't have a nose! Well, it's hard to find a mask with no nose holes. Breathing is important.

Brandon took the kids trick-or-treating and I stayed home to clean up dinner and hand out candy. The brought home an impressive haul!

We also dressed up for the church fall party. Brandon graciously allowed me to dress him up again this year! We went as the Swedish chef and a lobster in a pot. Brandon helped me cut the bottom off this plastic tote, and then I spray painted it silver and added a strap. The claws are kitchen mitts! We had a great time and Brandon was perfect with his "Bork! Bork! Bork!"


We kind of like Halloween around here. Until next year!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Belt Test Time

In August, the boys tested for their next belts in tae kwon do. At our school, the kids can earn an intermediate striped belt in between the solid colored belts. Mason was testing for his blue belt with a purple stripe and Daniel was testing for his orange belt with a green stripe. They prepare 4-6 months for each belt test, so it's a big deal when it is time to test.

One thing I love about our school is that the owner, Master Martin, really cares that the students know their skills. He will not even allow a student to test if he isn't prepared, unlike other places that simply promote on a schedule, whether you know anything or not. Master Martin wants his students to be able to walk into any dojang in the world and be proficient at their belt level, which is the way it ought to be. There are far too many unethical places out there that are just in it for the money and don't care that the students are really mastering the skills. I'm so glad Master Martin has a different philosophy!

The tests work like this: the kids wear their full uniform. They warm up, and then the test starts right on time.

Warm up time

More warm ups!
Everyone lines up according to belt - dark (most advanced) to light (newer students). The class works through the skills, starting with hand motions.

Hand motions - that's Mason up in the front, blue belt.

Hand motions, Daniel is in the middle, orange belt.
They start with the easy skills everyone knows, and then the lower belts drop out as they move on to more challenging skills, until all the belts have shown that they've mastered the skills for their new belt, as well as all the ones they've learned for lower belts. It's quite comprehensive, and you never know exactly what will be asked. It's best to be ready for anything.


More punches! They also demonstrate the "turn arounds" for each move, which differs depending on the skill.
 The kids demonstrate both offensive and defensive hand motions (attacks and defenses).

I think this is called reverse knife hand strike, but I could be wrong.
Once hand motions are completed, the students move on to kicks. Here they are, ready in their fighting stance.

The instructor calls out the kicks. The kids must kiyi at the right places and have the technique mastered for each different kick. By now, they are starting to get tired. Kicks are tiring.  Kids testing for darker belts are also required to do some kick combinations, which the instructor will call out. I'm always so impressed with how they can remember the sequence and do it - pretty cool.

After kicks, we move on to forms. Forms are standard choreographed sequences of attack and defense moves. Each belt level has a corresponding form that is learned. By this point, Mason knows 4 forms and is learning the fifth. For his test, he had to do the first half of the 5th form. Daniel had to do the first half of the third form. I have videos of these, but they don't load very well!

After forms, the kids each have an opportunity to break a board using the kick that corresponds with their belt level. I think Mason's kick was a spin-back side kick, which is pretty challenging. I think Daniel's was a Korean sidekick, but I am not sure! I also took video of that, so no still shots. Some kids break their board, and some kids don't, but it doesn't affect whether you pass the test. The instructors are looking to see that the technique is proper - that is the key.

Mason is getting more advanced, so he also did what is called two-step sparring, where he partnered with another student to demonstrate specific defensive techniques. He was so amazing!

Finally, the test was complete! The whole things takes about an hour at this level.  The kids all did a good job and were pretty tired. Like I said, Master Martin will not let a student test if he or she is not ready, so it is really rare to fail a test (although I know it does happen occasionally). It is more common to be told you have to wait to test, because you are not ready. That definitely happens.

Test complete!
The kids line up again by belt color, and then are called up individually to receive their new belt and shake hands with the instructors. I love that Master Martin is teaching these kids to make eye contact and be respectful. He is really an amazing teacher, in so many ways. He cares about the kids and it shows.

Daniel shaking hands with Master Martin!

Tying on the  new belt, with a little help.

Mason shaking hands with Master Ruff.

Mason shaking hands with Master Martin

Happy boys! And look - Mason broke his board! He was so proud. So was I!

Mason and Daniel with Master Ruff (L) and Master Martin (R).
We love Martin Martial Arts and the fantastic program there. Master Martin is committed to teaching the kids respect, honor, diligence, focus, and confidence. The school attracts families with strong values who want their kids to develop these character traits. I love that the boys are learning tae kwon do skills along with these important life skills.

Good job, boys! You earned those belts.

School Days

The first day of school came way too fast this year! Before we knew it, summer break was over and it was time to buy school supplies and new shoes and get ready for another school year. I am always a little sad when summer ends, and this year was no exception. I think I really just don't like change! I don't like when the school year ends, and then I don't like when summer ends and school starts again! It only takes me a day or two to get back in the swing of things, though. And luckily, my kiddos love school and are always excited to go back and see their friends.

Mason started the 5th grade this year. The intermediate school classes are grouped as "teams," and Mason's two best friends (Matt and Ryan) are on his team this year. Truth be told, I requested it, since it took Mason awhile to make good friends last year. Thankfully, the principal was on board and Mason had two friends to start out the school year. My mother heart was so happy!

Ready for this adventure!
Daniel started 3rd grade this year.  He is also in class with his best friend, Ben, and they even sit right next to each other! He was thrilled! He is in a wonderful class this year, with two teachers who job share. They are both amazing and he is already off to a great year.

My baby boy is in third grade! What?!?
After the boys got on their buses, Holland and I joined the other moms at Bob Evans for a little back to school celebration! I swear, I have the most beautiful breakfast buddy ever. She picked out this awesome piggy pancake and ate a lot of it. That, plus the curly straw, made for a happy little girl.

Holland didn't start school for almost an entire month after the boys, so we had 4 weeks to really party.  We hit all our our usual hot spots (Target, Costco, visiting teaching visits, etc.), but also some fun outings like the zoo:

Zoo train selfie with Holland and her dollie, Olivia
We also took full advantage of the warm weather and the fact that the outdoor pool was still open during the day until Labor Day. Holland and I went several times while the boys were at school. They were not too happy about it, so we tried to keep our little swim parties to ourselves.  It was so fun! The only people there were moms with little kids (or just moms by themselves!), and not too many people in general. It was low-key and relaxing.

Swim time with my girl!
Before we knew it, September was here and it was finally Holland's turn to go to school. She was So. Excited. to be in the Butterfly class this year. She goes to school 4 days a week in the morning and just loves it. She is enthusiastic about learning and gives me a full report every day of all the goings-on.

I was sad to part with my best buddy, but school is good for both of us. I am able to get my legal work done in the morning hours, and she loves being in class and learning with her friends.  Her preschool has a Christian focus, which I love. The teachers and administrators truly love and appreciate our kids, which is a beautiful thing. I can't believe this is our last year there. If I think about it too much, I'll start crying, so let's save that for another day!

Now it's October and school is well underway. Everyone is off to a good start and we are looking forward to the new adventures this school year will bring.

Seize the day, kids!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Y is for Yummy and Z is for Zoo!

Sometimes, at the end of the alphabet, you do two letters in one day! So efficient! Did I mention that school started August 12th? We were under the gun to finish. In keeping with tradition, we ended our ABC Summer with a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo.

We are really lucky to live so close to such an amazing zoo (and botanical gardens, too!). We have a membership and I get to go often with Holland while the boys are at school, but it's a rare treat to have all three of my kiddos there together.  So this was fun!

It was a pretty warm day, so we cooled off with a soft serve ice cream treat. Y is for Yummy! See those smiles? Those are some happy kids!

Holland looks a little crazy in this picture, but I think she was just excited. That ice cream is as big as she is!

Mason was so sweet on this day.
We saw all our favorites, but the funniest was this polar bear, who was just floating there in the water. I couldn't resist this picture of the kids and the polar bear's bottom. Ha! We thought it was funny.

We took a spin on the carousel. You know, when the boys were little, we never went to the carousel. I don't think I realized it was there! But with our membership, we have free rides on the carousel and the train, so we always stop by now. Holland LOVES the carousel. It usually isn't crowded, so you can keep riding it over and over.

And last but not least, we took a ride on the zoo train. It is tradition to take a group selfie whenever we ride the train, so we did just that.

So, another ABC Summer comes to an end! We made it all the way through the alphabet, and just in time. I am always a little sad when summer break is over. As soon as school actually starts, I get into the swing of things and it's OK again, but those last few days of summer break always bum me out. I wish I could have more time to spend with these little ones, who are growing up in front of my eyes. It is, at the same time, the most beautiful and bittersweet thing. I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that these boys will never be little again, and that my girl is getting older by the minute! I wish I could freeze time and just hold them close. I absolutely cherish those moments when Mason reaches for a hug, and when Daniel tells me he loves me. Everyone still wants me to tuck them in at night, and Mason and Daniel still want me to sing to them. Every day that I am their mother is the greatest blessing.

X is for eXplore!

I knew we wanted to get a visit in to the museum before the end of the summer, so we decided to make it work for the letter X. Don't judge me! X is hard!

Actually, there was a cool exhibit in the museum at the time called "The Science of Sports." The kids were able to explore different things having to do with sports and sporting equipment. It was a fun, but Holland was anxious to get on to the children's museum, so we didn't stay too long.  Also, it wasn't very brightly lit down there, so my pictures turned out blurry.

Here, the boys raced a cheetah, which was projected onto the wall behind them. I think the cheetah won, but they certainly gave it their all trying to beat it! X is for eXercise, right?

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the children's museum. The kids never seem to get tired of it. They had lots of fun climbing and exploring the tree house area. There was a new fish tank with a little tunnel you could climb in side to get a good view of the fish. It is actually pretty cool! Holland loved it.

We also visited the water play area and the construction zone. I'm telling you, if the kids put as much effort into actual work as they do in the "pretend work" at the construction zone, we'd be getting some serious projects done at our place!

When it was time to go, we snapped a few pictures outside at the fountain. Look at these cuties! Can you believe how tall Mason is getting?

Cincinnati was hosting the MLB all star game, and as part of that, the city had placed these mustaches all over town. The kids were good sports and let me take more pictures. Thanks, kids!

And, of course, we ended on a selfie. I just love these three. They are the best.

Museum selfie! Whoops, we've got a blinker!