Saturday, January 14, 2017

Firetrucks and Penguins

Happy Winter!

We have had a good winter here in KC this season, though we had hoped for more snow!  We celebrated Quinn's 4th Birthday on Saturday January 7th with an "all boys" party at the Fire Station in Mission, Kansas.


The party was really fun and it started with a tour of the station given by the firefighters who live there. They were really nice and also explained several important safety related things to the kids (for example how and why to call 9-1-1).  After the tour, we went to a Mexican restaurant next door for food, cookie cake and presents.


Quinn was really excited about his birthday especially because he got lots of LEGOS.  Quinn really loves LEGOS and he is really good at following the directions step-by-step to assemble really complex things.

Here is Quinn making a really cool firetruck that Papa Craig and Grandma Kim got for him.


Olivia and Quinn have been having a blast each Monday evening 'practicing' with the Little Penguins hockey team at the Carriage Club where we belong. This year's group of Little Penguins is really large which means we will have a great crop of hockey players coming up with our little ones too!


Jason and I both got skates and we've been taking them to the outdoor rink once a week or so this season during open ice time to practice our skating skills.  It's neat to see them improve each and every week.  Of course, the better they get at skating, the more fun they have with it (and so do mom and dad!).

Here's a picture of our Penguins all geared up and ready for action!


Each year at this time, though the weather might be dull and gloomy, I'm reminded why I do like the KC weather - because we generally do have four distinct seasons.  Spring is just a stones through away at this point and with it comes baseball (go Royals!).

Though we don't have season tickets this year, we will be going out to several games.  Here's a snap from last season when the person next to us caught a foul ball then gave it to us.


Signing off for now.  Stay warm and snuggley and we'll try to do the same!

Love, claire

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Sun and Fun

Hello!

The Cunningham family spent the last two weeks of 2016 in the Cook Islands! The trip was amazing, relaxing and so very memorable. We had so much bonding time as a family, and as a additional treat, my parents were able to join us for most of the trip so they got a lot of time with their grandkids too :)

During the weeks leading up to the trip, the kids were a bit stir crazy and maybe a bit over-excited in anticipation of the trip, being more fussy and argumentative than usual. But once we departed KC (considering the unexpected travel delays we encountered), they both turned in to model "travel citizens". Perfectly flexible for whatever we encountered and overall just a joy to be around. Jason and I are happy to point out to them how good they were being because it really does enable us to do more things like this without the strain and stress of worrying about the kids.
Excellent Travelers!
The Cook Islands is really a special place for families and people who love the ocean and South Pacific Island culture. It is not overly crowded with tourists. There is only one direct flight from Los Angeles to Rarotonga weekly, so American tourists only make up a fraction of the people who visit. The pace is slow, shopping and dining opportunities are relatively minimal which is fine by us. A significant percentage of travelers who visit come from Australia and New Zealand.

Here are a few stories from the trip;

1. Olivia fell in love with coconut on the trip! She now loves both the water and flesh of the coconut. From our place on the beach at the resort, she would hunt for a good coconut and then take it to the Beach Hut and then sweet talk one of the boys in to husking it for her. She would then drink the water and ask someone to cut the flesh into wedges which she would offer to folks along the beach, of course making new friends the whole time! Daddy also learned how to husk a coconut and apparently it's harder than it looks, especially if you don't have a sharp stick to work with!

2. Santa bought all of our airline tickets to the Cook Islands, but we thought he might bring another little something while we were over there, so Jason and Quinn made a Christmas tree out of the palm plant in our villa!

3. The kids played hard all day and in the evenings we usually let them have a special ice cream treat. Here's Quinn getting ice cream at the Muri Night Market which was a cool event that happens 2-3 times per week when local people prepare and sell home cooked meals to tourists and residents alike, kind of like a food truck festival but with mostly food tents instead.

4. We went to two Island Nights which were really cool. One was an over water show with fire dancers and the other was a cultural show in the mountain region which my Dad enjoyed in particular. Olivia and Mommy got our hair braided for one of the nights. Quinn was generally sacked out before the show ended!


5. The snorkeling was amazing, particularly in Aitutaki. We went there for two nights and spent a full day with a charter boat on the lagoon, snorkeling and exploring the lagoon. That day had to be the highlight of 2016 for me! Jason had his GoPro camera under water and got some cool shots but we don't have them available yet. We did upgrade our snorkel equipment in Rarotonga and I got a mask that is much more comfortable as a little Christmas present to myself. Olivia is an expert snorkeler now. Quinn has yet to try it but he has all of the gear when he's ready for action!

Best day of 2016!


Our villa in Aitutaki

Taken at a deserted island that we kayaked to

That's a BIG fish she's looking at!
6. Villa 100 at the Pacific Resorts in Rarotonga was our home base and the place was lovely. By the end of the trip, we did rename it the "Crab Shack" due to the encounters we had with various types of crabs in and around the Villa. My dad was awakened the first night he was there with a LARGE crab clawing at his shoulder in his bed - quite a wake up call, I'm sure!
View from back door of  the Crab Shack
The kids and Jason hunted for crabs on the beach each night using the little flashlights we got for them. I'm telling you the crabs they caught kept getting bigger and bigger. I would for sure not want to sleep on that beach at night because it is absolutely crawling with crabs and other critters! They made an environment for the crabs to keep in the room and every day or so we would release all of them and they would catch more that night.
This was like the one that woke my dad up!

It rained a few afternoons which was fine by us because we were able to read (I finished two books cover to cover!), do puzzles and other games. My dad taught me and the kids how to play chess, or as Quinn likes to call it, "chest".

After two weeks of sun, fun and the most enjoyable family time imaginable, we returned to Kansas City just minutes before the clock struck midnight on New Year's Day. What a way to bring 2016 to a close and start 2017 on a positive note.
Buggy Tour - we swam in a (cold) waterfall after this pic!

Thank you Cook Islands! We will be back someday!

Love always, Claire

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Today

Hello!
Five years ago today the entire world changed.  Because on Tuesday November 22, 2011, we welcomed Miss Olivia Marie to the family.  Ever since that day, she has blessed us with her own unique brand of sweetness and light.

People say that there's a country song for everything, and I agree because these days there's a Brad Paisley song on the radio that goes...

"Because the memory of a day like today...
Can get you through the rest of your life."

Sometimes when I'm sitting in traffic, I think back to the pivotal and defining moments in my life. Olivia's birth is right up there at the top of the list.

Olivia likes to hear about when she was a baby, so we've been looking at her baby book and telling stories. She loves to hear about how when she was born, and I was still on the operating table, she cried really loud and the nurses called Daddy over to meet her for the first time.  As soon as she heard his voice, she stopped crying immediately.  It was amazing.  His voice was familiar to her and all of the sudden she was at ease.

When they took her to get her vitals, she initiated contact with him by reaching up and grabbing his finger with her hand. That's the first hand she ever held.


Here's another one of her on Daddy's lap on our bed shortly after coming home.  We really took the time to 'nest' with her as a family for the first few weeks.  And it was coming into Winter so it was the perfect time to just snuggle up at home.

After I would nurse her and then put her down, she often had this look that was just divine... completely pure, satisfied, loving sweetness.  One day I snapped a photo of it.

One of these times when she was laying down sweetly just after nursing, instead of love and happiness, I felt something like sadness or yearning from her... she wasn't crying or distressed, but just thoughtful, like she was missing something and it felt like a male energy.  Don't ask me how I felt this because I can't explain it.  A few weeks later, and rather unexpectedly, I found out that I was pregnant and I immediately felt that it was going to be a brother for Olivia.  Right now as I sit here typing, I am hearing them play very nicely and interactively together with the new Holiday Barbie set that Grandma and Papa got for her.

The kids are both doing great. They actually both learned how to ride bikes on the same day! October 24th.  We put the pedals on Quinn's bike because Olivia wanted to try it.  Once she figured it out, Quinn had to take his turn and he did great with it as well.  Fast forward one month and they are both practically pros at riding.  We bought Olivia a new bike helmet and a big girl bike for her birthday this year.  Come Spring when the weather gets better, we are excited to hit the trails and the parks with our bikes!

With Thanksgiving just days away and seeing my beautiful and sweet Olivia curious about reading and writing, healthy and strong, sweet and kind, life's blessings just don't get any better than this.

Love always, Claire

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Brass Monkeys

Hello!
Six short years ago, during a torrential downpour in Costa Rica, Jason and I tied the knot! God blessed me on that day with a husband who, while not perfect, is perfect for me. Since that day, I think we've both learned how to be married to each other, how to work together and we're raising a couple of beautiful and also incredibly silly kids.

What I didn't know when I walked down the aisle was how much fun Jason would be with the family and how downright silly he would be as a Daddy. So this post is mostly about Jason and the kids and all of the fun they have together. One source of fun is the music he plays for them...

I'll start by saying that Jason and I don't share exactly the same choices in music. For some people, choice in music evolves as people age, but not for Jason. If they say that you become more like your spouse as the years go by, I don't believe that his favorite music will ever grow on me. We've seen Jane's Addiction and Billy Corgan live in the past few years, and I can't say for sure but I don't think these shows were exactly comparable to their shows 25 years ago... we also just missed Rob Zombie (darn!).

Jason recently introduced the kids to the Beastie Boys, and everyone has a rocking good time blasting "Brass Monkey" while riding around in Daddy's truck. There are a few other BB songs that I have banned them from hearing due to the awful lyrics. I can only hope that is being enforced when I'm not around!

Before bedtime, Jason sometimes makes this quirky bird with his hand, and the bird likes to do silly things like tickle, hide and poke the kids before bed at night. They find this hilarious. Unfortunately, the jerky movements give him a wrist ache after a short while but I guess that is the price you pay for bringing out the quirky bird!

Jason sometimes tells the kids tall tales. A funny one recently was an attempt (successful!) to get Olivia to stop picking her nose. He pulled up the iPad and searched for a picture of Yoda. He told her that if she eats her buggers, she will turn green just like Yoda. She bought it hook, line and sinker and even passed this wise warning along to Quinn when she caught him picking.

Speaking of hooks and lines, Jason loves taking the kids fishing and he's already teaching them how to tell tall tales about the one that got away or the size of the one that we caught and released.

Both of the kids have very special and unique relationships with their Daddy. Olivia gets really emotional when she thinks about how much she loves him. Quinn and Daddy are "best buddies". It's really sweet to witness the bonds they have.

There are tons of stories about me being silly with the kids. I actually believe that silliness is the glue that bonds us together as much as anything. Those fun times are certainly the things we remember the most when we look back.

* We still miss our beautiful and loving brown dog, Morton.

* On a recent trip to Colorado, Quinn snuggled with his Pack Pack Monkey and snow globe, we all hiked the 224 steps up the Seven falls and we rode on the Royal Gorge train (not pictured).

* We had our last day (sniff sniff!) at Nina's Day Care because Nina retired this Summer.

* We've spent almost 3 out of every 4 days at the pool working on our skills and beating this Summer heat. Olivia has become a strong swimmer, but as you can see she needs some work on the diving!







Love always, Claire and Family

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Morton

Update:

After gracing planet Earth for 13 years, 2 months and 5 days, our beloved chocolate brown Lab, Morton, crossed the Rainbow Bridge yesterday.  This dog was special beyond words and truly the embodiment of an Angel in dog clothes.  The decision to euthanize him was a tough one, but Jason and I both listened to Morton and we know that the time was right.

Jason and Morton shared a bond of unconditional love that is so rare and precious.  It transcended a dog/owner relationship and connected them at a heart level in such a beautiful way.  Morton was there beside Jason through some tough times.  I believe the dog command to 'heel', meaning to walk beside, has a dual meaning to 'heal'.  Sometimes life can be lonely and hard and you really really need someone to walk with down a scary path.

I remember about 7 years ago when I met Jason joking to my friends that I think he likes me because I look like his dog - with my 'chocolate-brown' hair and brown eyes!  The first time I came to Jason's house in Olathe, Morton came trotting up to me around the car and I was like "Whoa!" He really was a BIG animal with a strong wide chest and an intent look on his face. I think he knew something was up and I was getting involved with his 'Dad' because he was definitely checking me out.  Morton would read people, always determining who was top dog, and who just thought they were.  He was not an alpha, but he was a strong beta.  We hit it off right away and we forged a wonderful relationship.

Times changed of course.  Jason and I got married, combined our dog family and then had babies.  Morton made all of these transitions gracefully, sweetly witnessing the ups and downs, challenges and milestones.  He did have some interesting phases, like his rebellious phase where he was trying to escape from the yard and go to the park by himself.  He went through a brief grumpy old man phase too.  Honestly, for the most part he was right there by our side, laying down nearby - it feels and sounds eerily quiet now at the house because we can't hear Morton's breathing, sighing, collar rattling and so on.  

Morton started losing ground health-wise about 2 months ago, but he rallied in early July and was able to join us on our annual summer Colorado trip which was the best time we've ever had out their since the kids were born.  Morton came pretty much everywhere with us and he also participated in the 'camping' event where Jason and the kids slept on the porch in sleeping bags!  The next to the last day, we went on an intense hike/fishing trip and Morton was definitely pushed to his limit and beyond, but why not?  We figured it would be his last hike, we all made it out alive and it further bonded us as a family.

Though we knew the day was coming to euthanize him, it still hit like a ton of bricks when the decision was finally made.  Morton would struggle pretty much non-stop through the night and then be better during the day.  After several days of this, Jason got the signal that he was ready to go.  I had been walking him around the block each morning and night for the last several weeks as part of our hospice routine, so I took him for a round and heard the same message.

I also heard some stuff that, whether it came from him or what, doesn't matter to me.  Love is never lost it is only transformed.  When times get tough, focus on the blessing that our relationship has been.  It is impossible to feel truly thankful and blessed and bad or sad in the same moment.  The energy of thankfulness trumps those other emotions.  Finally, make the most of the time you have and never squander or withhold love.  Life is too short.  Love is the most important thing so do not lose sight of that.

Olivia and Quinn both had a sweet relationship with Morton, and I know they will miss him greatly. Olivia in particular will be grieving this loss a lot.  I'm glad they got to learn more about death and the permanence of it through witnessing this.  Last night before bed, Olivia wanted to pray for Morton so we sat in a circle and each said something about Morton and how much we love, miss and appreciate him.

* Morton playing in the water at Mother's Rest in Colorado. This is where his ashes will be spread.

* Morton with Quinn on the path to Mother's Rest.
 * Morton's last day.  It was a peaceful and beautiful transition. I just wish we had more time together.

Love always, Claire

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Onward and Upward

Hello!
I know I'm lagging behind with these posts, but things are just so crazy/busy/fun around our house that it's like full time entertainment! As each milestone comes and goes, I like to remember back to the days when they each came into this world naked and helpless, sucking on my boob for all of their sustenance and relying 1000% on Mom and Dad for protection and survival. It seems each day since Day 1 has been an exercise for them to gain independence and for me and Jason to let them go just a little bit each day. Sometimes all of this change is downright exhausting!

I remember my brother-in-law saying one time when someone asked "What is your favorite stage?" He had the perfect answer "Whatever stage they are in right now is my favorite." I think this is a great outlook because there are pros and cons to all stages, and you might as well not miss any of it by waxing nostalgic about the past or looking to the future. But I have to say that the current stage they are in right this very moment is perhaps the cutest one yet!

There is so much to tell, so I'll just dive in.

Love and Logic (aka Mom and Dad) and MABEL
In typical form, I signed Jason and I up for a 6 part parenting series called Love and Logic at St. Paul's. I think most of L&L boils down to common sense, having a backbone with discipline and letting your little people make 'safe' mistakes so they can experience consequences. BUT perhaps the best tactic we learned that has (quite possibly) been overused and a bit twisted around by us a bit in actual delivery... We were introduced to Mabel.

Mabel is a fictitious the 'mean babysitter' who we now both have on speed dial. She is ready to come over at the drop of a hat, and she will actually even babysit for free. She is not nice or fun and she absolutely does not put up with any naughty behavior. The threat of Mabel coming to babysit whips them right back into proper shape from whatever shape they were in. There's a semi-abandoned house around the corner from ours and they even developed a theory that it is Mabel's House!

Jason and I sometimes struggle to keep a straight face with the Mabel talk, but the s__ works so who am I to judge? My biggest fear is that the kids will someday meet a nice old lady named Mabel and then run away screaming and crying. It is only a matter of time until they figure out that Mabel doesn't exist. That will be a Day of Reckoning and yet another milestone no doubt.

Olivia Update
Olivia is doing really well at St. Paul's in the Preschool program. Back in the Fall, she had a rough time adjusting to leaving the in-home daycare (Nina's house) where she spent so many years. She also struggled with some of the School Rules such as "no taking off your shoes", etc but those adjustments are long gone. She has made friends in her class, and she especially loves the chapel time that they have several times per week. She learns lots of songs from Chapel that she sings to us at all hours of the day. In fact, besides doing art, singing is perhaps her favorite pastime.

She has a great recollection for song lyrics and good pitch. One of her favorite songs from my iTunes account is "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show. There's a line in the song that goes "..nice long toke" and she sings it ".... nice long toe". This reminds me of my sister Chandra when we were growing up and how she used to misinterpret song lyrics in hysterical ways :)

Olivia is an adventurer - she LOVES the water and learned to snorkel while we were in Maui a few weeks ago! She took right to it and even saw a giant sea turtle too. Olivia has lots and lots of energy. Rare exceptions aside, she is a positive and happy little gal. She likes to hop and jump when she is excited, sometimes right in place. Her Fourth Grade Buddy at St. Paul's gave her an award one day for the most number of hops in one day.

The days are long past when I can clothes shop for Olivia without getting her input. These days she dresses herself and has an interesting style and sensibility when it comes to picking out clothes. She loves dresses, necklaces (from Aunt Molly!) and sparkly things. We joke that she is Celine because she sometimes has as many wardrobe changes in a day as Celine Dion in a Las Vegas show! I'm excited to get Olivia into music lessons when she is ready. We plan to continue to stoke her creativity with lots of opportunities to do her 'art projects' as well as really work on her swimming skills this Summer.

Quinn Update
Quinn is just about the same height and size as Olivia. In fact, when we are around town people sometimes think they are twins. Being about 13 months apart, we treat them very similarly, so I would say he is a bit advanced for his age. He is doing really well this year in the Toddler program at St. Paul's. The teachers even asserted that he is "top of the class" (!) and also very engaged when it comes to things that he is interested in.

Quinn is very strong-willed and strong-minded.... he will only do something when it is his idea to do it. We are working with him to become more flexible and accepting of other people's ideas. We are challenging his ultimatums at every turn. Recalling back when Quinn started talking at 16 months - he had spoken only a handful of words when all of the sudden he starts speaking in complete sentences. And with potty training, I tried to get him to work on it last May to no avail. Then he spends three days at St. Paul's and comes home the first weekend saying he wants to potty train. In the snap of a finger he was trained and I can count on one hand the number of accidents he has had since that day.

Quinn is interested in trains, riding his bike, clocks and watches, calendars and building things. In Hawaii, he was not so interested in snorkeling but he does love to build sand castles. Quinn is very perceptive and soaks up information like a sponge. The other day, I was telling my dad about my low carb/no sugar diet I started, and the next day, Quinn is telling his babysitter that he doesn't want to eat a peanut butter cracker because "it has too much sugar... I don't need all of that sugar!" We will be driving around town and he will say "Mommy! That's the (so and so) restaurant we went to last night!"

I'm so excited to use our new outdoor space for the whole Spring/Summer season this year. That new space has truly added another dimension to our home life. I really feel that the kids should be outside playing as much as possible. Funny story from last year... Quinn was playing in the backyard while I was on my cell phone outside. I hear him getting really excited and saying "Mommy there is a BIG BIRD! It's a BIG BIRD Mommy!!" So I go over to where he was and to my shock and surprise, there was a great big hawk on the ground eviscerating a chipmunk about 3 feet from where we were standing!

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So that's a current update on our home front. Quinn graduated to a big boy bed this past weekend. About 2 weeks ago, I got rid of all of our potty chairs, so we are officially a crib, toddler bed and potty chair free zone. All I can say is it goes by so fast! We are really enjoying every minute possible (of course some minutes are better than others!).  Signing off for now and leaving you with some pictures from recent adventures.
xoxo claire

- Big Boy Bed
- Jeep rental in Lanai (The Banana Car)
- Snorkel Bob
- Family Photos and other fun stuff!













Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Chicken Star Soldier

Hello!
Warning: This is going to be a long blog update. The Summer of 2015 has been so great and much has changed in the past few months.

A massive DIY backyard project has dominated nearly all of our free time from April until early July (final touches still in progress), but the end result is really fantastic! I'm amazed at Jason's design and building skills, and it was fun for me to get in the act too on weekends and evenings. We probably worked through 6 weekends solid (10 hour days) and it was exhausting at times. By the end of it, I had forgotten how to actually sit still and relax on a weekend afternoon!

The asphalt driveway was in shambles and so we ripped it all out, expanded the parking area and put in a low deck that ties the outdoor living areas and side porch together. It is all complete with lighting and irrigation. After the driveway was done, the kids were so thrilled to be able to ride bikes and play back there.





The kids have made some wonderful progress with swimming lessons this summer too. I found a great instructor named Sara who is a senior this year at Rockhurst College. She is actually staying on through this school year to help with morning drop off, pickup and after school care. I knew Sara was the one for us on day one when Quinn started giving her trouble and she was able to deal with my super strong-willed boy. By the end of the Summer, he has learned so much! Olivia is really getting the hang of swimming now too. If you aren't familiar with kids swimming lesson lingo, Chicken Star Soldier is how you teach the backstroke. It's become a bit of a theme for us this summer.

In July, we went to Destin, FL for a week and had a blast. My little chickens cried when the waves got rough, salt got in their eyes and sand crabs were scary. My little stars learned how to boogie board, got confidence with the waves and learned to catch the crabs. My little soldiers got down to business helping with sand castles, carrying water and eventually packing up and schlepping everything home.

A much harder transition than ending vacation just happened however. My chickens have flown the nest of their beloved day care provider, Nina, and started school (well... Toddler and Preschool programs but an official school schedule) at St. Paul's just last week. They've each adjusted to the change differently (and honestly I've had quite an adjustment as well).  Here is a picture of the kids with Nina:

The jury is still out on how this school thing will go. Each night we field various protests from each of them about not wanting to go back. I pray that these protests let up in the coming weeks. But then again I see them transform into little stars and light up when they talk about new experiences they are having each day. Then each weekday morning, they trudge off to their classes like little soldiers.


I tell them that "school is so fun!" and make it sound true but honestly I was not a huge fan of school either (Olivia's protest). Part of me wants to hold my little chickens and let them live at home with Mommy and Daddy forever and ever. But the part that wants them to be stars packs their lunches up and pushes them out of the nest each day. This is an exercise in trust and letting go for all of us I think.

Further proof that this change is good (and adding to this crazy time of adjustment) is that Quinn decided after only 3 days of school that it was time to potty train! We've been talking about it for months, but now it's really happening. This little chicken turned into a potty-training star almost overnight! I also attribute it to the "magic car potty" (his words not mine) that I got for him.

Jason and I crossed the 5 year mark of marriage a few weeks ago and the date came and went without a lot of fanfare. In fact, we spent the evening at our favorite pizza joint with the kids and everyone talked about their day. Then after everyone was down we drank a bottle of champagne. It was perfect for me. I think maybe we will do something big to celebrate an odd year like 7 or 9 years.

I feel that each day I get to spend with Jason and these awesome kids is a huge blessing and celebration in itself. All of these adjustments, though sometimes hard, are healthy and natural. Come to think of it, each one of us has to learn the chicken/star/soldier stroke in our own way to live our lives and find fulfillment.

Love always, Claire & Family