The Tobin Times #54

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:43 pm

My little Tobes,

You’re four-and-a-half, little guy!  We celebrated with brownies for everyone at home and a special lunch date for you, Callum and me after school yesterday.  Our lunch dates are one of the biggest reasons I’m glad we’re holding off for another year before you start kindergarten.  We’ll still have lunch together during weekends and breaks, but I’m not quite ready for you to be a lunch-box kid yet.  Yesterday we went to Panda Express, where you got your favorite broccoli beef.  You used to be a big broccoli eater, but lately you’ve been ever-so-kindly sharing most of your broccoli with me and focusing on the beef and rice.  It’s okay.  You still like lots of other healthy and interesting things.

You’re funny and witty and curious.  The other day, your dad and I were urging you to get ready for school.  We’d gotten you over to the area where your coat and shoes were, but instead of putting them on, you whined, “But I want to do more math.”  It reminded me of a fond memory from long before your birth, at the wedding reception in Norway of our friends Kaspar and Sabine.  Reminiscing about Kaspar’s youth, his gruff, sea-faring Norwegian father said, “Ah we raising a nehrd?” Nerds rule, though, and Kaspar turned out fine.  If you’re going to be a nerd, you’ll be one of the very best kind:  the sparkly-eyed, quick-to-smile type.  Think Neil deGrasse Tyson, not Urkel.

You were “Star of the Week” at your school, and that was pretty cool for you.  You got to decorate a poster just like Miles did when he was Star of the Week for his class.  You said your favorite foods are pasta and bagels (though you seem to see bagels as more of a cream cheese vehicle than an actual foodstuff) and your hobbies are Minecraft, cooking, computers, and snuggling Callum.  You also did a lot of hard work making hand-made Valentines for each of your classmates and teachers.  Of your three teachers, there are two whom you like a lot, and one you’re not so crazy about.  We doled out the work of making Valentines over several days so as not to overwhelm you, and on the last day, you’d finished all the cards except one.  “Okay,” I said.  “You just have to make Ms. [redacted]’s card now and you’ll be all done.”

“I need to take a break,” you said.

I convinced you to press on, and you got the cards done.  You did a good job writing everyone’s names (with help, but you did it) and signing your own.  You haven’t quite embraced the left-to-right requirements of English.  Sometimes if you can’t fit a whole word on a line, you just write the remaining letters where ever there’s room.  It makes perfect sense to you, but it can be a little hard to follow.  You’re working on it.

You’re high-energy and irrepressible.  You can be a little on the wild side sometimes, especially at night.  I don’t know why you get a surge every evening before bed, but for some reason, that’s the moment you pick to run laps up and down the hallway.  You also like to curl your toes around the boards under the top bunk and dangle, or turn around so your head is at the foot of the bed and you can kick Miles while I attempt to read Harry Potter out loud.  I think Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a little boring to you, but Miles would never let us quit now.  I’m hoping you don’t pay too close of attention so the deaths in the upcoming books aren’t too traumatic.

Your parent-teacher conference is tomorrow, and I’ve promised you boys that we can have dinner at Noodles & Company if your teachers have good things to say about your progress.  You warned me that you’re “kind of good, kind of bad” at school.  That’s the same thing you said last time, and when I asked you what you do that’s bad, you said you sometimes get out more than one toy.  Fortunately your teacher didn’t seem to think this was the first sign of a descent into delinquency.  If so, and she looked around our house, she’d be sure you were doomed.

Your current favorites:  vanilla ice cream cones, Wild Kratts, Minecraft, Berenstain Bears books at bedtime, coming in to see Callum the moment he wakes up in the morning or from a nap, writing words, and pepperoni pizza.  You also seem to enjoy haircuts, though I’m glad to report that you never let the hairstylist take all your curls.

I’m so happy you’re mine, sweet Tobin.  We’re counting down the days until our Florida Keys trip, and I hope you’ll take more early morning walks on the beach with me.  I can’t wait to see the sunshine bouncing of your hair and the water reflecting in your eyes.

Photo by Denny




Oven barbecue chicken in quick brine

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:08 pm

This is a favorite around our house.  Inspiration taken from The Pioneer Woman and Michael Ruhlman.

Several hours before you want to start cooking, make the quick brine.  In a small saucepan, combine

  • 15 ounces water
  • 3 ounces salt (type doesn’t matter)
  • a couple of big spoonfuls of brown sugar.

Bring it to a boil and make sure the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Remove from heat and stir in

  • 15 ounces ice.

When all the ice is dissolved, pour solution into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and add your chicken parts.  I like to use a pack of thighs (4) and a pack of legs (5).  Let the chicken soak in the brine for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400F.  When your chicken is done brining, dry it thoroughly and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Spread a little peanut oil or other oil that can tolerate heat all over a half sheet pan.  Place the chicken skin-side down on the pan.  Roast for 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and brush the top with your favorite barbecue sauce.  Carefully, using a spatula, slide under the chicken and flip it.  Coat the skin side with sauce.  Return to oven for 7 minutes.

Remove from oven and coat the skin side with more sauce.  Using an instant-read thermometer, check the chicken’s temperature.  If it has reached 170F for dark meat or 165F for light meat, turn on the broiler and let the sauce bubble and char a little bit.  If it needs more time, return it to the oven to reach temperature before you do the broiling.

Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.



The Callum Chronicle #13

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:42 pm

My sweet Callum-a-zoo,

Happy thirteen months, sweetie!  It’s been a really big month for you.  At your one-year well-child checkup, I was mildly concerned, because one of the developmental questions was whether you could say a word or two.  You hadn’t said any yet, and while I wasn’t super worried, your speech (or lack thereof) was on my radar.

As is so often the case, my worrying was unfounded.  About a week after your appointment, you took off, literally and figuratively.  You can walk short-to-medium distances now—we stopped counting at 14 steps, but I bet you can do even more.  You save your best walking for your brothers.  You squeal as you walk toward either one of them, your arms up in the air.  You love to collapse into a big hug at the end.  They’re about as proud of you as you are of yourself.

Best of all, you said your first consistent word:  mama.  I’ve been waiting eight years for a baby to have mama as his first word, and my last baby came through for me.  I suspect that your dad knew how much it would mean to me and coached you in that area, but I’m not complaining.

You also say up when you want to be picked up, buh for brother, Do for Tobin, and Muh for Miles.  You say ah duh and do the ASL sign for “all done” when you’re finished eating or doing anything else.  I’m not completely sure whether you’ve said dada yet or not, but it’ll come.  You definitely get excited when I hold you up to the window so you can see him walking home from the bus stop.  You have fully embraced the “pew pew stinky feet” game, and you always prompt me with an ooooooh for the second foot (“Oooooh, so niiiiice”).

You’re active and full of mischief these days.  You love to explore the bathroom, unraveling toilet paper and upending garbage cans.  Today we went out for lunch, and you were playing with some crayons.  Time after time, you held one up near your mouth, looked at me, and waited for me to tell you not to eat it.  I don’t think it ever went into your mouth, so I guess you’re getting the point.  You even did some coloring.  Tobin was pretty thrilled about that.

You’re a great eater for the time being.  You are now at the stage where you can eat pretty much whatever your dad and I have at meals, minus anything really spicy.  You’ve enjoyed pork chops, green beans, oranges, rice, bread, crackers, apples, chicken, pizza, and all kinds of other things.  Your brothers love to share ice cream with you.  You’ve also gotten really good at drinking from a straw.  I bought you a special cup that has a toddler-friendly straw built into it, and you grab onto that thing and suck like a little Hoover.  It’s a good skill to have.

I was re-reading your very first Callum Chronicle yesterday.  We’ve certainly come a long way since those challenging first weeks.  Now we just deal with the daily struggles of life with three smart, energetic, emotional, sometimes frustrating boys.  Our days of having an infant are done, and while I miss your tiny little self, this last month has been really great.  Watching you clear these developmental hurdles is so rewarding.  I love watching you smile and laugh and communicate in all the ways you know.  One of my favorite of your quirks is the way you dance to any music you hear, or even anything rhythmic.  I often pump breastmilk to donate to babies in need, and the sounds of the pump are enough to get you moving.  You dance when anyone is singing under his or her breath, at Family Folk Machine rehearsals, and when Miles practices piano.  I love that you feel so much joy you just have to wiggle it out.

Spring is coming, my little love, and you’re going to tear the playground up.  Before that, though, you’ll get to experience your first plane trip and first dip in the ocean.  That’s still a ways out, but you can bet it’s going to be well-documented.  I went through boxes of your brothers’ old clothes last night, and I’m looking forward to putting your chubby little legs into some shorts and watching you toddle on the sand.

We’ll stay bundled up for the time being, though, because there’s an Arctic blast headed our way.  I’ll keep you warm if you keep me warm.



Defying expectations

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:22 pm

Tobin was checking out the Valentine’s Day treats he got at school.

T:  I like Smarties as much as the next kid, but…I love them.


Monthly Miles Memo #97

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:09 pm

Dear Miles,

Year eight is off, sometimes with a whizz-bang and sometimes with a slog.  That’s how February is.  We’ve had some tantalizingly nice days and a lot of predictably awful ones.  You told me that the other day you hid from the wind during recess in a hollow tree stump.  That sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Your school changed how it identifies students for ELP.  Now, instead of having to go to a room and take an oral test with a stranger, the ELP teacher came to your classroom, led some activities, and made recommendations based on her observations in conjunction with input from your classroom teacher.  Suddenly, you qualify.  I’m not surprised.  I knew that testing format was totally wrong for you—like the time you failed an eye exam not because you couldn’t see the letters on the chart, but because you panicked and clammed up in an uncomfortable situation.  Not that I wasn’t already, but it makes me even more concerned for an educational system based on testing.  I just hope you continue to enjoy school and find appropriate challenges.  I’m glad you’re now able to participate in ELP, because you love it so far.  After your first meeting, you came straight home and started working puzzles on a math website you learned about.

Piano is still going well.  You’ve really improved, and your latest piece is “Hedwig’s Theme,” aka the main theme from the Harry Potter movies.  You’ve done very well in the nuances.  We talked about how to form a story about what’s happening in the song and use dynamics to express those ideas.  Your teacher Tara said you did a really good job in your last lesson.

Tara is moving to a new house that will include a home music studio.  You’re a creature of routine, so I wasn’t 100% sure you’d like the idea of ending our weekly trips to West Music.  I told you it was your choice:  you could keep Tara as a teacher and go to her new house for lessons, or we could stick with West Music and get a different teacher.  You hesitated exactly zero seconds before telling me you want to keep Tara as a teacher.  That was even before I reassured you that her new house is close enough to Dairy Queen that we can continue our weekly ice cream dates.

I was 95% sure you’d pick Tara.  I just wanted to make sure it was your decision.

You’ve been resisting haircuts.  I’m not sure if you’re cultivating a particular style or emulating anyone, though we did watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last weekend, and your hero Harry is pretty shaggy in that one.  Your dad has been trying to talk you into getting it trimmed up.  It gets pretty wild, especially when you go to bed with wet hair after a bath or swimming lessons.  It’s your head, though, and I’m not going to make a fuss about something as transient as hair.

You just started a new session of swimming lessons, and the only time slot I could find that worked for both you and Tobin was 7:30-8:00 on Thursday nights.  That’s pretty late, but so far you’ve handled it fine.  I’m glad you’ll have some review under your belt before our spring break trip.  I haven’t gone to any of your lessons this session, because it seems like a potential disaster to bring Callum into the mix.  I’m looking forward to seeing your progress.

Photo by Denny

I definitely won’t sign you up for that kind of schedule during the next school year, because after a year of 8:45-3:45, the school board has decided to change the elementary bell schedule once again.  Next year you’ll start school at 7:55, which could be a serious challenge for a fan of sleeping in like you.  You’ll finish at 2:55, though, so I’m looking forward to having more time in the afternoon together again.  Nowadays, we don’t have time to do anything but go home and get dinner started.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do some of our old favorites again, like trips to the library and the Natural History Museum.

I’m none too psyched about dragging myself out of bed to get you ready for school that early either, but I’m hoping it will be worth it.  I’ve really missed you this year.  I’ve enjoyed our special Java House dates, but it’s not the same as having some actual time together every day where we’re not scrambling.

You’ve gotten really into Minecraft again, which we feared you never would after a traumatizing (seriously) situation in which a lot of your hard work got destroyed.  I don’t claim to understand it all, but it’s very popular with a lot of kids, so it provides a good entry point to conversation with other people you meet.

Your social development is an area I watch closely.  I coordinated childcare at your school on caucus night, and you seemed to fit right in with the other wiggly kids.  We still sometimes have to remind you about listening to people’s tone of voice and making smart choices based on nonverbal input, but maybe you’re not the worst in the world at it.  At school and at Family Folk Machine, I see you getting along with other kids and working through the complicated world of human relationships.

Photo by Gary Clarke

I love you, my sweet firstborn.  Next thing you know, it will be spring, and we’re going to have some serious fun together.



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