Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Countdown

Is it me or are the school calendars screwed up these days? Back in the dark ages when I went to school, we started right after Labor Day weekend. School ended the second week in June.

Our school district starts school on August 17. Yes, in three weeks, the girls will be back in school. The school year ends the week after Memorial Day.

Here's my problem with this. We live in Chicago, which means June isn't always very nice. The weather is really unpredictable. This year is was mostly rain and cold.

August, though, can usually be counted on for some really nice, sunny, warm days. The girls will be observing the nice weather from inside a classroom, rather than playing in the back yard. I'd rather they went to school a bit later in June and started after Labor Day.

It isn't that I don't feel like we've done enough this summer. Trust me that we did summer well. In my normal frugal style, we found loads of free things to do from concerts on the grass at a neighboring park district to library shows. We met friends at Millennium Park for a free evening concert and the girls played at every park within a 3 mile radius. They went to camp at Brookfield Zoo, took swim lessons, and went to Farm Camp at their old preschool.

Neither girls would have trouble filling the "what I did on my summer vacation" report. Still, it just feels wrong to be thinking about back-to-school shopping until Labor Day. We have the supply lists and are working on the back-to-school clothing, shoes, coats, etc. In my mind I associate back-to-school with falling leaves, not sunscreen.

It could be that I'm just not ready for them to go back to school. Of course, that's a different problem.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Get Your GroupOn

Okay, I'm not always at the forefront of trends, but I have to admit I heard about GroupOn a while back. I just never did anything about joining until today. I confess I finally joined after reading an article on the program and its creator in the Chicago Tribune yesterday.

A friend joined GroupOn as one of the first subscribers. She swears by the service. Here's how it works...

A company offers a great deal (say, $100 in services for only $50) if --and only if -- a certain number of people buy into the offer. If the minimum number of participants is reached, then everyone gets the deal. Most companies use this as a way to get you into the store. Of course, these companies hope that you'll become regular visitors.

My girlfriend used the service to buy low-priced restaurant coupons, a speedboat ride on Lake Michigan, and theater tickets. She has had great success with it. Most of the businesses she has visited are local, not national chains. I like the idea that we're supporting local businesses.

GroupOn has offers in several dozen major cities in the United States. I was thinking that if I have good luck with the Chicago version, I might sign up for another city if we're headed their for a trip. It would require a little planning, but it's a free service, so what is there to lose?

I don't know how often I'll use it, but we all know I'm always looking for a good deal. If we can take the girls some place new at a discount, it's all good.

I signed up for the daily email to see what comes across. With a little luck, I'll find a good deal and a few new local businesses to support.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm Officially Out of My Mind

A few months ago I took the girls to see the Hannah Montana movie. It was cute, fun and they really enjoyed it.

After listening to them try to figure out the words to the Hoedown Throwdown, I finally broke down and bought the soundtrack CD. I just couldn't take any more fighting about the lyrics considering we heard the song once, so neither girl really knew the words.

Since the CD came into the house, we've listened to it every day. Saturday a friend came by and taught them the dance.

Of course this morning the girls turned on the CD and started dancing. I just realized the girls went upstairs. This is frightening because I didn't turn off the CD and I'm singing the songs.

It's official. I've lost my mind.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

How to Earn an Allowance

Last night after dinner, the girls announced the things they need to do to earn their allowance.
  • Do chores without being asked
  • Don't be whiney
  • Be polite
  • Be nice to people
  • Go to sleep without fighting about it
  • Eat food without complaining about it
  • Be nice to Sissy
  • Sleep past 7:00 a.m.
  • Don't wake up Mommy and Daddy in the middle of the night
  • Help Daddy work in the yard
  • Pick up toys after done playing
  • Don't leave crayons on the floor

I have to say, they came up with a much more detailed list than their parents. Maybe we should let them make their own rule more often?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Raising a Money Savvy Generation

We've decided to start giving the girls an allowance. This is causing great angst in our house. We want to make sure the girls have an earlier financial education than we did growing up as neither one of us thought much about money until it came to spending our first paychecks.

My mom is a retired banker. You would think she would have taught us the financial ropes, and she did to a certain extent. The problem is that those rules no longer apply. She encouraged us to get a job at a company with a good pension. She never talked about saving for retirement in a 401k because it never applied to her. Mom talked about saving for long-term goals, like a house. I have to admit that this lesson stuck. When we bought our house, I kept repeating, "We will put 20% down. We will not pay PMI. We will get a 30 year fixed rate mortgage." We bought at the height of the "flexible" mortgage plans. When I told our mortgage broker these things, you would have thought I had two heads by the way he looked at me.

So now we're trying to navigate the new financial order by teaching the girls the importance of the four money buckets -- save, spend, donate, invest. My friend Julie told me about a piggy bank she bought her son that has four slots, one for each of these options. She has been drilling these lessons into him for a while now. In fact, he brings his own money to the store so he can buy a treat or two.

Us? Well..the girls are only five, so it's not like we're behind on the topic. The girls understand that we're not buying anything at the grocery store that is not on sale or has a coupon. They know that when we say, "No" to a purchase, we mean it. We talk about donating money and why, so they have a basic understanding of that. The problem is all these things happen with Mom and Dad's money.

We started by purchasing banks from the Money Savvy Generation. The web site is a great resource for raising -- here it comes -- a money savvy generation.

We opened their banks last night. Of course, one is pink and the other is purple. We talked about what each section means and gave them some coins. We talked about how much each coin was worth and the girls triumphantly deposited their allowance.

We haven't settled on a weekly allowance amount yet. We're debating how much is appropriate for five-year-olds. I read somewhere a dollar for each year is a good amount, but that seems like a lot. We're toying with $4 per week because it works out nicely with the four different categories. For me, the biggest problem is going to be remembering to have the money on hand. Once we start this, the girls will never let us skip a week.

We don't have all the answers yet, but we're working on it. This is an ongoing process, so we have time to figure it all out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Frustrating Conversation with the Postal Service

You know, as if having young twins and a full-time job doesn't keep me busy enough, I have the occasional unplanned interaction with complete idiots. Granted, I don't know they are idiots when I start the conversation. It is not until I'm actually immersed in the interaction that I realize I might as well be hitting my head against a wall.

Here is today's example.

We haven't received any mail at all for the past two days. I mean my mailbox is empty. Yesterday I just let it go. It seemed odd, but it was too late for me to call anyone. Today I went to talk to a couple of the neighbors. Everyone else received mail yesterday and today. My mailbox was still empty, so I called the local postmaster general.

Here is the reason our postmaster said I didn't get any mail for two days. Are you ready?

The economy is bad and people aren't mailing as much.

Really? This was the best he could come up with? I explained that we usually receive three to five pieces of mail every day. He said, "What do you want me to do? Create mail just for you?"

I ignored that remark and said, "If I don't get any mail tomorrow, who do I call? You? The police?"

He replied, "You want to call the police because you're not getting mail? Most people would be happy not to get any mail."

Then he asked if I wanted them to leave a note in my mailbox on days when we didn't have any mail. You know, just so we don't think they forgot about us.

Yeah, he's a charmer.

Of course, I could get mad, but why bother? I am just going to make sure that every possible thing I can is done online. I realize this will reduce our mail even more, but at least the computer doesn't make rude, sarcastic remarks when asked a simple question.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Complicated Questions

The brunette twin looks at a every situation from all angles and needs answers to all her questions. This is especially true for new experiences. This weekend was a perfect example of how her mind works.

We were on a pontoon boat on a lovely lake. The rest of the passengers were chatting and enjoying the scenery. Not the brunette twin. She was a bit uneasy, and I thought she might get sick, so I had her sit on my lap. I figured if she did get sick, I could toss her head over the side of the boat so she didn't throw up on the boat.

What was bothering her was her head, not her stomach. As soon as she sat on my lap, she started talking. In no particular order, she started asking questions.
  • How does the boat stay up on the water?
  • How many people can fit?
  • Why does it float?
  • What causes a boat to sink?
  • How do we know this boat won't sink?
  • Is there enough gas in the boat to keep it running?
  • Where does the gas come from since I didn't see a gas station?
  • If the motor stops running, will we sink?
  • If the motor stops running and someone had to rescue us, who will go first?
  • Does everyone know how to swim? (Asked because the adults weren't all wearing life jackets, but the children were.)
  • Why isn't everyone wearing a life jacket?
  • Are there enough life jackets?
  • Where are they?
  • Does everyone know how to find them?
  • Why is there only a cover over part of the boat?
  • Why is the water wavy?
  • Why doesn't the boat rock in the water?

She did not understand so many things about the boat that she couldn't enjoy the trip. After I answered her questions, she finally started relaxing and enjoying the boat trip.

This is a trait we've come to expect from the brunette twin. She constantly thinks of questions I wouldn't expect from a five-year-old. She won't let you give her some blow-off answer. She asks the questions in a way that compells you to give her a decent answer. More than once I have said, "I don't know, but let's try to find out." And then we do try to find the answer. Once she makes up her mind that something is okay and all her questions are answered, then she's fine.

I talked to her preschool teacher about this trait as I thought it was unusual for a child her age. Her preschool teacher said most children have a question or two, but she rarely has a student who logics out a situation to the extent that the brunette twin does.

We are proud of this trait and try to encourage it. Of course, the day is quickly coming when we won't be able to answer her questions. It's a good thing we're pretty good at Internet research.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Weekend Payback

You know the saying "Payback is a b*+ch? Well, every once in a while, we get a live, loud demonstration of that old adage.

This was a fun weekend. Yesterday we went to a party at a lake house in Indiana. Today we went to a nephew's graduation party. Both required a lengthy drive, but we had the DVD player going, so the girls not only had parties, but they had movies. It was a dream for them.

We knew we had back-to-back parties, so we tried to plan for this weekend. The girls were well-rested going into the weekend. While travelling to each event, we required "quiet time." Today they actually slept a while during the drive.

Last night they went to sleep pretty quickly and woke up late this morning. They slept through the night like rocks. We thought we were pretty safe today.

Ha!

This evening the girls both melted down during our attempts to put them to bed. We followed the normal routine. The girls sat on the couch while Daddy read books. We did the same brushing hair, brushing teeth, story, prayer routine we always follow. By this time the girls were whiny, but given the long day, we weren't surprised.

Then it all fell apart.

We aren't quite sure what or how it happened, but it ended with lots of crying and screaming. At one point we closed the windows so the neighbors wouldn't think we were beating the girls.

Yes, it was that bad.

We knew part of the problem was that they fed off each other. My husband took the blond twin into our bedroom and tried to get her to calm down. She was screaming and hyperventilating and wanting to come back to her bedroom with her sister. At one point I actually thought about getting a brown paper bag to see if that would help the blond twin, but I thought that might only make things worse. Then again I wasn't sure it could get worse.

I crawled into bed with the brunette twin who kept whimpering, "I just want my sissy. I'm so lonely without her." She cried because she was so tired that she couldn't do anything else. After a while, she calmed down and stopped crying.

About the same time, the blond twin calmed down and came running into their bedroom. In true drama queen fashion, the blond twin ran right to her sister and said, "Sissy, I love you so much. I missed you."

A few minutes later, both girls were sleeping. My husband and I came down and found some pain killers. After we both downed our pills, I said, "Hey, that was fun."

Given the look I received, I'm not sure he thought I was funny.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Heat

It was so cold in the Chicago suburbs last night that our heat turned on.

How is your summer going?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Junior High Dance Rehearsal

Out in our backyard there was a Junior High Dance rehearsal going on. It didn't involve music or party dresses. It involved those "what's your name" moments.

Our girls and a neighbor girl were playing when three little boys visiting the house next door came into the back yard. These boys are the neighbors' grandchildren and we have seen them before. Sometimes we come home and find them playing in our yard, which is fine with us because we have the play set and toys for kids their age. Plus, their grandfather helped us move all the parts to our play set, so we feel like he's a partner in the project.

This time, though, the girls stood in our yard and the boys stood in their grandparents' yard. They all stared at each other like they had never played together on our play set.

The questioning was simple. What's your name? How old are you? What grade are you in? We're going to play cars. Do you like to play cars? It was pretty funny to watch the awkward dance of information being passed across an imaginary line. The two lines never got too close to each other. They stood close enough to hear each other, but only if they all spoke loudly.

It reminded me of the junior high school dances where the boys line up on one side and the girls line up on the other. They are not quite sure how to make the first move to dance.

I laughed as I said to my husband, "The boys next door are checking out our girls." He turned around and didn't say a word, but kind of rolled his eyes. I just said, "Welcome to your future honey."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

To Test or Not To Test

I have read a lot about genetic testing. I don't know what I would do if a doctor ever presents the idea. Until today, I never knew anyone else faced with the decision.

My college roommate called this morning practically hysterical. She babbled on about a mutual college friend whose brother and his 14-year-old daughter were both recently diagnosed with colon cancer. This caused my to skip a breath. It wasn't just the idea that a 14-year-old had colon cancer. It was the thread this news extended.

This news follows our friend's battle with ovarian cancer and her sister's death earlier this year from colon cancer. Her mother battled several types of cancer before passing many years ago. The most devastating news followed. The oncologist suggested the family had a genetic pre-disposition for colon cancer. The brother's children were genetically tested for colon cancer and all three carry the gene. Many years ago our friend had an infant who died at about nine months. At the time it was called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Today, for the first time, we wondered out loud if it was really undiagnosed cancer.

What I cannot stop thinking of now is what do they do with the news? This is the dilemma that genetic testing creates, isn't it? Yes, they now know to be careful and test more often. They also know that no one in the family has ever survived cancer for more than a few years.

I cannot stop thinking about the brother's wife. A few weeks ago, she was living with her true love and three children. I don't know them well, but they seemed like an average, middle-class family. Now she is faced with the very real possibility that she will bury her husband and all three children. How does she process this?

The brother already announced that the odds are not good he will survive five years. His goal is to watch his eldest (the 14-year-old with colon cancer) graduate from high school. He is trying to figure out the best way to use his remaining time.

I don't dare think about how the 14-year-old handles this. Or how her siblings feel knowing they are genetically pre-disposed to the same fate. I realize they might not end up with the disease, but given the family history, it's not very likely.

I realize we don't know what tomorrow will bring or how much time any of us will spend on this earth. I think our time is always too short, whether you are my 93-year-old Grandmother or a 14-year-old girl. For me it's how we spend each day that determines the quality of our lives, no matter how long. And, I struggle with how I would spend each day knowing my genetic destiny.

I would like to think I would take the opportunity to find out my genetic pre-dispositions so I could try everything in my power to change my future for the better. A big part of me thinks that I might just prefer to take things as they come because I'd rather just do my best to live a healthy, happy life each day than worry about something I cannot control. My genes are not something I can change, so why worry?

Of course, I haven't been faced with the type of life-altering illness that faces our friend and her extended family. For now I'm just going to keep praying that they all find the strength to face their future with all the happiness and joy they can find.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Life as a Spelling Bee Contestant

Our girls are learning to read. They made the connection between letters and words, so now they understand that you can put letters together to make words. At first I thought this was so cute. Now I feel like I live in a never-ending spelling bee.

Every day we spell new words. And, I have to explain the whys and hows of spelling. Have you every really thought about the English language? It's really a bit of a screwed up mess.

Today I had to explain why there is a PH in elephant and not an F. I had to explain why there is an "i" in receive. We talked about the silent "e" at the end of words as a signal that the vowel should be said with a long vowel sound.

I have to spell words in my head before I say them out loud. I realize how dependent I am on spell check's magic. Many, many times a day I question my ability to spell an every day word with an unusual spelling. This is in part because I don't thnk about how to spell these words too often and in part because I'm usually doing something like merging into traffic or stirring something on a hot stove when the girls decide to ask me to spell the complicated word.

I do realize this will help them in the long run. I know that this connection between letters and words helps them read and comprehend. I get it, really. Their preschool teacher last year thought it was so cute when the girls would ask her to spell something in class. She raved about how they remembered every word and could spell them back to her days later. I'm sure it was cute because she only had them in class three hours a day. I have them 24-hours a day. It's not so cute when it happens all day, every day.

The worst part is when I am distracted in the middle of spelling a word. Then I have to start all over again. By this time the girls are impatiently asking me to hurry up so they can ask me to spell a new word. Okay, maybe the worst part is when I have to spell a word twice because I misspelled it the first time. For days after that they girls say, "Are you sure Mom? Are you sure you spelled it correctly this time?" No, that doesn't get old too quickly.

I think this is some kind of cosmic revenge. A while back, I worked for a medical association. Whenever I ran across a new word, I would ask the doctors to "spell it, define it, use it in a sentence." I needed to figure out how to take the complicated medical word and turn it into something normal people would understand.

Now the girls are trying to figure out how to spell words and use them in sentences. Somewhere the universe is laughing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Aladdin at Navy Pier

I have to admit that I was predisposed to like this show. I have seen several shows at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier and enjoyed them all. The productions are always completely creative and professional. The space is just a joy for a theater enthusiast. No matter where you sit, the view is wonderful. The sound is consistent in every part of the theater. Even empty, the theater is beautiful.

With this as my base, I was excited to learn that Disney's Aladdin was playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. This is not the first foray into family theater at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, although it is the first one that seemed to fit our young daughters' interests. Sure, we know the basic story, but there is something much more exciting about seeing it as a live production.

This show has an amazing cast. I think too many people believe that family theater is filled with second-tier actors. Boy, are those people wrong. I would be excited to see these actors in an adult show, let alone a family theater production. Even before I read the playbill, I knew that Larry Yando had played Scar in the Lion King. It was his voice that sent me in that direction. Given that we saw the national touring company in Chicago at two different times, it's a good bet we saw him in that role as well.

What I really liked about the show was the adult humor. I don't mean the raunchy, late night comic-type humor. I mean the references to current events, products and people. It was thrown in as part of the regular dialogue, so the children laughed as well -- but for a different reason. The show referenced Prince, bab ganoush and snuggies. There were also great quotes with a twist such as "Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do for me." Each reference was accompanied by silly stuff for the children, but the parents were laughing like it was an inside joke between the director and the adults.

As with all good family theater, Aladdin had a bit of movement through the audience and an opportunity for the audience to interact with the performers. Even though the show was just a bit more than one hour, the director recognized that children have short attention spans.

A personal bonus was that the Chicago Shakespeare Theater validated our parking so we received a healthy discount. I think it was 40%, but my math isn't always reliable. This made the show a good way to anchor an afternoon on Navy Pier. After the show we walked around enjoying the free dockside entertainment and munching on popcorn.

Our girls sat in the audience mesmerized by the show. They loved the dancing and singing. They stared at the stage until the last song ended. Then they asked if they could see it again. Yes, I think it was a hit for everyone in the family.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bathroom Accessory Designers Must Not Have Children

I recently saw the cutest shower curtain in the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue. It is based on the Dr. Seuss book "Red Fish Blue Fish." I mean it is soooooo cute. I immediately bought it and the matching bath rug. Both are in the girl's bathroom and are as cute as I had hoped.

We painted the room blue to freshen the whole look, then I decided it would be fun to get a new bathroom cup and soap holder. This was when I realized that the people who design bathroom accessories do not have children. And, the companies that market this stuff must be crazy.

Have you looked for bathroom cups lately? First of all they are stupidly expensive. Secondly, they are ceramic. Yes, someone sitting in an office decided it was a good idea to make children's bathroom cups in a breakable material. Duh!

I wasn't looking at the high end cups in high end stores. I was looking at the obviously-meant-for-a-child's bathroom stuff in a chain store known for its designer stuff at reasonable prices. (Okay, I was at Target.) I decided this was a fluke, so I looked at Kohl's. Same result. Then I looked at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I couldn't really find anything there that looked like it was meant for kids, but what I did find was either breakable or clear plastic.

I was not looking for anything fancy. I thought a cute cup with a fish or some other sea-related decoration would be cute. Who knew I was entering the retail dead zone?

I have been in marketing long enough to know that the field is ruled by 20-somethings without children who are considered "trend setters." Okay, I get that. What I don't get is how this stuff gets to the stores without someone saying, "Hey, I think it's probably not a good idea to make stuff for small children that might break and cut them." I would have thought that if nothing else, someone in the legal department would have said, "I think we have a liability issue here."

Okay, so I am biased here. The girls have been known to drop a few things here and there, but they are only five years old. I think dropping stuff is what five-year-olds are made to do. I talk to enough other Moms that I know our girls are not the only ones dropping stuff.

So, we're keeping the perfectly usable and matches well enough plastic bathroom cup for now. I'll try again in a few years when I probably won't care if the cup is plastic or not. Of course, you know that by then plastic bathroom accessories will be trendy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Death Talk

One of the disadvantages of being "older" parents is we have a lot of extended family members who are old. Not in the "getting old" range, but in the 80+ years old category. No matter how you look at it, 80+ is considered old.

In the past few months, the girls lost two "Grammas." One was an uncle's 95-year-old Mom who became an honorary Gramma to the girls. She adored them like her own. This past weekend, they lost my 93-year-old Grandmother, who the girls called "Great Gram."

Our conversations about death have been general as they are only five years old. When we first tell them, they ask the usual questions about what happened, how a person dies, etc. We talk a lot about how when a person dies their heart stops, they stop breathing, etc. We never use the "they went to sleep" line. I've read enough about how that frightens the children and they really don't want to go to sleep. The blond twin can barely sleep after watching a Disney movie. Can you imagine what would happen if we told her that dying is like going to sleep?

The brunette twin talks about us dying. She wants to know when we'll die and who will take care of her then. She wants to know if it will hurt and why people die at all. She's quite practical in her approach to the topic.

The questions that follow, hours or days later, are pretty funny -- if you can call any question about death funny. Yesterday we were driving when the blond twin said, "Can we turn off the music and talk about the death thing again? Tell us again how Great-Gramma died." And, so, we did. We talked about how Great-Gramma died and what it means to die. Both twins asked a few questions and then changed the topic.

This is how it will go for a while. They ask questions as they think of them. We answer them in the most age-appropriate manner we can come up with at that moment. It's not a perfect system, but it's the best we have right now.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Waiting to See a Parade

What did we do before Internet weather radar and the Weather Channel? Our only real plan for today is to go to see a parade. The girls love parades, so we want to celebrate the Independence Day holiday by waving a flag at a parade.

But, this is Chicago, so today the weather is cool and drizzling. We haven't given up on the parade idea, yet, though because this is Chicago. Many of the area suburbs are having parades. We have lots of options, depending upon how far we want to drive. We found parades every few hours from 10:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. There is probably one after 3:30 p.m., but we haven't found it yet.

We did what all good planners do. We watched the Weather Channel for a bit this morning to see the forecast. We thought about going to a parade at 12:45 p.m., but it's still drizzling, so we're holding out and hoping it stops.

We wouldn't be so confident that it will stop without the Chicago Tribune weather radar. On the front page of the web site, there is a thumbnail with the current radar showing. So, we check it regularly to see which parade we are going to target.

Yeah, I know it's not exactly the way the Founding Father's celebrated Independence Day, but it is the modern version, isn't it? When is the last time you went somewhere without checking the weather? We often work our day around the weather. If it looks like it's going to rain in the afternoon, we are certain to get out in the morning. If it is raining in the morning, we check radar to see when it might stop.

Checking radar is not the most exciting way to spend Independence Day. In the end, we're going to see a parade even if it is drizzling. It will just be more fun for all of us if we're chily and dry, as opposed to chilly and wet. We're just playing the odds that we can wait out the rain/drizzle and end up with a dry flag to wave.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Summer Gardening Bounty

We're in the midst of summer gardening. For me this means lots and lots of beautiful plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. I was skeptical at first, but these really work.

We were sitting on the front porch the other afternoon when a hummingbird flew up to a flower and had a snack. The girls squealed a little, then told each other to be quiet so they didn't scare the hummingbird. I kept thinking that if the squeals didn't scare the hummingbird, then a few whispers wouldn't do it.

A few years ago, I bought little gardening gloves at an end-of-the-year clearance sale. This year, the gloves finally fit. The girls make a big deal about putting on the gloves and helping in the garden. I have to admit that they do a pretty good job of pulling weeds. For them it's an adventure, so they happily go through the various flower beds pulling the little trees that sprout up and the various weeds.

The one place none of us dares to venture is the tomato garden. This is Daddy's domain. We just admire it and make sure it gets watered. The girls are so protective of Daddy's tomatoes that they warn everyone -- children and adults alike -- to stay out. Of course, we have 15 tomato plants (no, it's not a typo), so a little damage won't hurt too much. Woe to the person, though, who goes near the tomatoes. Just like all things Daddy-related, they are very protective.

The best thing about the garden is watching the girls play among the flowers. Nothing is off limits in the garden. They can touch and smell every flower. And, they still marvel every time a butterfly flutters by.

It's really a bounty of wonders. They get to watch the plants grow and die and come back the next year. They get to watch the butterflies, hummingbirds, dragon flies and other creatures enjoy the garden. They learn about taking care of plants. They play among the flowers like one of nature's jewels.

For us, the best part is watching them learn and grow. I was watching a friend play with her baby the other day and felt a bit jealous. In those baby days everything is a new adventure and everything is amazing for both the baby and parents. I realize as I'm watching the girls in the garden that those moments still happen. It's not the "you took your first steps" kind of moments any more. These are more subtle. You just have to pay attention a little more to make sure you don't miss them.