As I may have mentioned, Rachel and Miriam have been staying at Grandpa's house while we've been under construction over here. It's given us a little taste of what life might be like in the next five years or so, with both those girls grown and gone. And, really, it hasn't been so bad...but only because they're still close enough to come home for dinner.
They'll be happy to be back in their own room (soon), I'm sure.
The last couple of nights, Rachel has stayed late working on Alexander's birthday cake, requiring rides home (to Grandpa's house) in the wee hours of the morning. I drove her home on Thursday night. Andrew drove her home last night.
It's really kind of a strange dynamic we have at our house lately.
But Alexander's cake turned out beautifully. He requested an owl-shaped cake, which he felt would be a challenge for Rachel, who prefers to make round cakes. It would help her expand her skillset, he told her—help her grow in ways she didn't think she could.
And it was a challenge that allowed her to explore several new techniques.
Anyway, when Rachel and Miriam turned up at the house this morning, Alexander took one look at them and said, "PRESENTS!"
So that's what we did.
Miriam had helped wrap presents one evening when she was here late and we had them set out in the music room the last couple of days. Alexander mentioned that he decided for his birthday he might like to have some presents and I said, "Too bad. I don't think we have any of those."
"Can't I just have those presents?" he asked, pointing to the stack of presents.
"Oh, those presents? I guess so," I said.
Here he is ready to open presents this morning:
Phoebe got all dolled up for the occasion (with the help of Zoë) and plopped herself right in front of his pile of presents. He's so sweet that he didn't even mind (though I did eventually rearrange the two of them so that Alexander was in front of his pile). Rachel noted that Phoebe was giving off strong "Charlotte le Bouff" vibes (from The Princess and the Frog).
It was hard for her to watch Alexander open his presents, but she managed to get through it.
The first present he opened was from Naanii. He wanted to know how Naanii managed to find the same wrapping paper that we used (and why she used so much tape). The answer, of course, is that she shipped it directly to us and I had Miriam wrap it with everything else...and she used a lot of tape because it was an awkward shape.
Inside was a set of nesting dolls—in the shape of owls!
Alexander was thrilled by this present!
Kids tend to love nesting dolls, but—my mom pointed out—they rarely get to play with them whenever they want. They always have to play with supervision. But not so if you have your own nesting dolls!
The smallest baby owl is about the size of a chocolate chip—so tiny! Alexander was very impressed and is so excited to have so many owls!
He also got a couple of books:
A hot lava game (thanks, Buy Nothing Group)...
And some magnetic blocks that look like Minecraft blocks:
And here he is with a cute birthday sign that Zoë made for him:
It's sweet to see how much the kids love and appreciate each other (especially in light of a pretty horrendous argument that I heard the kids (not this specific combination, but a combination of the kids) had on the way home from Grandpa's house the other night).
Oh! He also got a bag of little dental flossers that he was particularly excited about. We usually just get the standard green ones from the store. Last time they were out in the kids' bathroom, Alexander put "dental flossers" on the shopping list and Andrew picked up the generic Kroger brand of flossers. Alexander was not impressed.
"I was really hoping for the Orial-B ones," he said.
"Oh, well, you can use these first and we can look for Oral-B next time."
Kids these days and their brand loyalty!
Well, when we went to the dentist last month, Alexander got a sample of bright multi-coloured kid flossers. He did not know those existed and thought they were wonderful—too wonderful to even use! He told me all about his plan to use them slowly so they would last him a full six months until he got to go to the dentist again, and maybe get these beautiful flossers again. He'd use one in September/October, one in November/December, and one in January/February (having to use the store-brand generic flossers in between, I guess).
So I thought to myself, "Why not just get the kid a pack of flossers for his birthday?"
It's a couple of bucks, made him feel like a million bucks, and will help promote good dental hygiene.
(Let us not speak of the environmental impact...)
We usually have birthday greetings floating in from various dentist and doctor offices when the kids have their birthdays. We've just had so many of them (children and dentists/doctors, both) that they seem to be coming all the time. Today I saw one of these messages took me off guard for a minute.
Peak Otolaryngology?! I had no idea what that was!
Further reading clued me in—because I know what we did at Peak ENT! That's where Alexander had his laryngoscopy and was formally diagnosed with laryngomalacia (though I'd figured it was that before we even went in). My brain was able to parse the word just fine, looking at it a second time—it clearly has the root for LARNYX in there—but at first glance my brain was just like, "Whoa!"
This is either the first birthday greeting we've gotten from them or they changed their name in their email account because I don't remember seeing an email like this before. It was pretty funny!
Anyway, there was an annular solar eclipse today and we wanted to be sure to view it. We have a bit of a clearing in our cul-de-sac, but I wanted to be in a space that was a little more open. It can be hard to find places here where you can see the sky! There are just so many trees. I love trees. But sometimes you just want to see the sky!
We also needed to hunt around town for some rocks for Rachel, since she's supposed to be identifying various rocks and minerals and landforms and things for her geology class. Andrew remembered that we have the Eastern Continental Divide (where water flows either towards the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean) right by the middle school and there are rocks around there!
Unfortunately, there's no parking there. But I remembered that there's a marker for it at the Duluth Town Green (not that I'd ever been to the Duluth Town Green, but I remember hearing about or reading about a marker for the Continental Divide there). So that's what we decided to do—we'd visit the Duluth Town Green, catch a good view of the eclipse, and check out the Continental Divide (and hopefully see some rocks, which are also proving difficult to find in the city).
Here we are looking at the eclipse:
It was pretty cool, even though we weren't in the path of totality. I'd ordered some new glasses from Amazon since ours were pretty old (and pretty lost). The film in the glasses isn't guaranteed to last from year to year and...well...we like being able to see...so I figured it was worth the little splurge. They only came in packs of 20 (or, at least, it was cheaper to buy 20 than it was to only buy 10, so I bought 20), but we only needed 8 of them, which meant we had 12 pairs to give away. That part was actually quite fun.
Miriam and I went around and asked people if they (a) were aware there was a solar eclipse today, (b) that it was happening right now, and (c) wanted a pair of glasses to view the eclipse safely.
We handed pairs out to families at the playground and people walking around the green and Andrew noted that it just seemed to make every recipient's day—a feeling we totally understand!
I don't think Andrew or I will ever forget the transit of Venus from June 5, 2012. Benjamin was born prematurely (on June 3, 2012) and was transferred to the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center (the same hospital Alexander would be born at five years later!). I got to visit him once on June 4 when I was discharged from my hospital stay. June 5th was our second visit with him, and it was a hard visit because he was not doing very well yet. He was in the super intensive care unit still, hooked up to all sorts of machines, and it was...just...not easy...to see him there. It was even hard to leave him there, but we tore ourselves away and were making our way out of the hospital feeling sad and scared and a little empty, and this man stopped us.
"Excuse me," he said. "Were you aware the transit of Venus is happening today?"
"I think I remember hearing something about that..." Andrew said.
We were still pretty excited about celestial movements, having watched the May 2012 eclipse in Grover just a few weeks before.
"Did you know it's happening right now?" the man asked, excitedly.
"We...didn't...no..." we stammered.
"Well, come here!" the man urged, waving us over. "You can use my welding helmet. There's a perfect view from this window!"
And it was just so wonderful to share that little bit of joy with that man—a complete stranger. He helped us slow down and enjoy a moment of peace and wonder. He didn't know us or what we were going through, he just wanted to share something awesome with us, forge a little connection of shared humanity with us. He helped us (or at least me) remember how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Even though I felt like I was being swallowed up in problems, I could take a minute to breathe and recognize the power of God's creations.
Looking back, I can see that that situation, which felt so big and so long, wasn't actually so big or long, after all. We made it through. And we've made it through a lot of hard things since then (which made me think of Sister Wright's talk from conference—and the assurance that "everything is going to be OK").
Today it was especially wonderful to be on the other side of handing out solar eclipse glasses, rather than being the one to be stunned to be offered a reminder to pause and look up and be amazed. It means that we're doing okay. It's nice to be doing okay, to be the one that remembers solar eclipses and is equipped and pulled together and ready for action. It's also okay to be the one to have a stranger invite you to share a viewing of the solar eclipse with them.
I don't know if we really turned anyone's day around, but we did put some smiles on a few faces, so it was well worth it.
Anyway, back to Alexander's birthday!
The last solar eclipse we saw was in 2017 when I was hugely pregnant with Alexander and we were having all sorts of new beginnings in Spanish Fork. Andrew was heading off for his first day of teaching at BYU. Rachel and Miriam were getting ready for their first day at Sierra Bonita (though they'd delayed the first day of school to account for the eclipse because so many people were travelling to the path of totality; we didn't because...I was hugely pregnant). Benjamin was preparing for his first day of school ever. And I, obviously, was preparing to welcome sweet Alexander into our family.
Zoë was just hanging out, I guess, feeling like everything around her was new.
So, long story short, this was Alexander's first solar eclipse! What a day to turn 6!
I realize now that we should have invited Grandpa to come with us...but these plans just came together quite spontaneously this morning (obviously we'd ordered glasses, but we maybe thought we'd just watch from our front lawn). We'll snag him for the next eclipse—April of 2024, folks!
We were actually surprised to see the Town Green so...lively. People were milling about everywhere. There were foodtrucks—pretzels and schnitzel and stuff. A live band was playing...polka music.
"Guys...I think we've stumbled into...Oktoberfest!" I laughed.
And, indeed, we have.
Fortunately, I have a latent affinity for polka culture and shocked my husband and children by singing along to The Pennsylvania Polka.
I think Andrew thought I was just fudging along, guessing the lyrics, until we got to the part that breaks off from the tune with, "We kiss...*smooch, smooch*...and then...we start to dance again!"
His jaw dropped because I'd even timed my air kisses to the music.
"I do not know her!" he said loudly to no one in particular. "I do not know this woman. What are you...? Who are you...? How do you even know this music? Why do you know this music?!"
"The Andrew's Sisters sing it!" I explained.
"Oh, that explains it!" Andrew and Rachel said, because...it does!
They're only one of my favourite music groups ever! Of course I know The Pennsylvania Polka. I knew a few other songs that the band sang as well. I can't help it. Polka music is catchy, okay?
Anyway, we watched the eclipse, we handed out glasses to people, and then realized we were in the middle of Oktoberfest, so we figured we'd see what Oktoberfest had to offer.
I'm not sure that part (watching all the big people throw axes) was especially thrilling for the little people, but perhaps it was. They screamed when the axes bounced off the target and clattered against the cage. They cheered whenever anyone sunk and axe into the wood. People enjoy watching sports like archery and stuff...so perhaps just sitting and watching was fun for them. I mean, I didn't not have fun watching Andrew and Rachel...
Here's half our family flowing toward the Atlantic Ocean (Benjamin, Andrew, and Miriam) and half flowing toward The Gulf of Mexico (Zoë, Rachel, and Alexander):
And here's Phoebe yanking on the balloon arch and yelling, "Want uh-loon! Want uh-loon!"
These balloons, however, were not up for grabs and I explained that to Phoebe. She thought perhaps a smile and "peeeese!" would soften me up. Unfortunately, these balloons were simply not mine to give, so Phoebe had to sit with her unrequited desires.
Once back at home, Alexander and Benjamin (and Benjamin's friend Reed) took apart a broken fan we hauled up from the basement. Alexander thought that was thrilling. And then the boys hauled off pieces to their junk collection to build little robot creatures. Zoë went off to play with her friends. And we didn't see any of the little kids until dinner.
We had cake—a lovely blue owl that was everything Alexander wanted. "Like, you read my mind, Rachel!" he exclaimed when he saw the cake.