Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Julia has found a new way to communicate: talk with sentences.

It all started last Thursday afternoon, on the flight from Maryland to Nebraska. Our seats on the plane gave us a good view of the wings. Julia would look out the window and say, "airplane." I responded by repeating the word, "airplane," and I would add some other comments. With about 20 minutes left before landing in Omaha, Julia said, "Up in airplane." I was shocked that she strung three words together to make a complete thought, and I repeated her words back to her and gave her a kiss.

Since then, Julia has learned to tattle on Evelyn. I was in another room when I heard a thud, followed by Julia crying. I hurried to the scene of the crime, the living room. I picked up Julia and asked her what happened. Her response was, "Evelyn push." Made that mystery fairly easy to solve.

Some other new Julia sentences are:
"Where is Grandpa?"
"Cheese, pretty please!"
"Where did bunny go?"
"Grandma's chair."
"Yogurt all gone."
"Coat on."

Saturday, December 26, 2009


One of Evelyn's Christmas presents this year was a (purple!) sled from Uncle Matt and Aunt Taylor. This afternoon, Evelyn took her new sled out for its maiden voyage with Matt and Troy.
We went across the street from Troy's parents' house to the third tee box of the Fontenelle Hills golf course. A gentle slope in an open area there lends itself to rookie sledders. On Evelyn's first run, she went much farther than she wanted to - she doesn't weigh much, so the sled just kept skidding on top of the 12 inches of fresh, powdery snow.

Part of today's sledding deal was that Evelyn wouldn't have to walk back up the hill after each downhill trip. Not a bad deal, as long as she didn't get dumped out of the sled.
After the first trip scared her, Evelyn insisted that Matt or Troy ride with her. It didn't take much convincing to get either one of them on the sled.
As the photographer, I gave up on the cold weather (23 degrees with a windchill of 14 degrees) long before the sledders did. Here's a shot I took from the house as the trio finally gave in to the cold and headed back home.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

First of all, we arrived in Nebraska just ahead of a blizzard. We got in yesterday afternoon, and it has been snowy and windy ever since. Our original holiday plans were cancelled (we couldn't make the drive to Holdrege), so we hunkered down at Troy's parents' house and made the best of it.

Now, on to the Christmas festivities! Julia found an Elmo phone from Santa this morning. The picture below needs no explanation:
Santa came through for our Peanut this year. Evelyn got the number one thing on her wish list - a CSX train set on the HO scale, as she puts it. This is her first real model train set, made by the Atlas Trainman company. Uncle Eric had a hand in helping Evelyn request just the right kind of train set, and he did a fantastic job. Evelyn's set came with a locomotive, three freight cars and a caboose. It has a power pack that controls the direction and speed of the train. Over the course of the day, Evelyn rearranged the order of the freight trains several times, and she ran it around and around and around the track. The look on her face in the picture below says it all.

We had a delicious Christmas dinner in between opening presents, plus lots of playing at Grandma and Grandpa Luster's house. Here is a picture of one of Santa's elves which sums up the mood of the day:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Day After the Big Snow

Just as we thought, when the snow was done falling, we ended up with a total of 21 inches. This morning I snapped some pictures from the second floor windows. Here's what the furniture on our deck looked like:
The snow blanketed our two cars. Troy's car was completely buried - you couldn't see any parts of the car.

Here's the neighborhood clean-up crew digging out cars. Troy is at the top left of the picture, shoveling a path between our cars. Evelyn is in the purple coat (of course) in the lower right-hand corner, brushing the snow off of one of our neighbor's cars.
Evelyn loved her broom work, including sweeping snow from the sidewalk. Naturally, a cup of hot chocolate awaited our hard-working Peanut.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

East Coast Snow Storm

We've only had three small snowfalls (less than five inches) in the two years that we have lived in Maryland. This weekend's forecast said that we would have a record-setting snow storm this weekend. When we woke up this morning, seven inches of snow was already on the ground, and it was supposed to snow all day.

By about 2:00 in the afternoon, the snow was 16 inches deep. The forecasters' estimate of 20-24 total inches of snow seemed to be fairly accurate.

After putting Julia down for her afternoon nap, Evelyn, Troy and I headed outside. After discovering just how deep the snow really was - halfway up to her thigh - Evelyn cautiously made snow angels. When she sat down, she was careful not to fall all the way through the powdery snow.
A couple of our neighbors were sledding on a little hill in our complex, and they offered to let us borrow their sled. Evelyn insisted that I accompany her on the first ride, but after that, she preferred to go alone. Evelyn loved the circle sled because she spun around as she went down the hill. She had a great time! Eventually the cold got to her (today's high was 26 degrees), and we went inside for hot chocolate with marshmallows.
As dusk fell, I took one last picture of our deck. I measured 21 inches of snow at 6:00 p.m., and there was still some light snow falling. We'll see what the grand total is tomorrow morning, after all the snow has stopped.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TV Time

Julia is a baby on the go, we all know that. When she has her mind made up about a play scheme, nothing can stop her. Julia also has no patience for TV. When the TV is on, she might glance at the screen for the slightest moment, but then she's back to her imaginary play-world.

Unless! Shaun the Sheep is on the television. If this claymation feature is on the screen, Julia will actually sit down on the couch or floor and watch an entire episode. Granted, the episodes are only six or seven minutes long. But Shaun should feel very honored that this little busy-body cares enough about him to stop whatever she is doing and watch him with his goofy farm antics.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Here's a post with numbers that reflect what's been going on lately.

6 - Evelyn's reading level at school. When Evelyn started Kindergarten a little over three months ago, she was on Level 1. The goal for all students is to read at Level 6 by the end of Kindergarten. We're not quite half-way through the school year, and Evelyn has already achieved that goal! Level 6 books have about three sentences per page, with about 40-50 different words throughout the book. We are very proud of our little reader.

3.1 - Miles I walked today. I logged my usual 1.6 miles by walking to and from school twice, and then I put in another 1.5 miles on the treadmill. On days that I both walk Evelyn to/from school and work out at the gym, I aim for 3 miles for the day.

11 - Pieces of fudge left in the house. We started with 48 pieces of fudge last week, with Troy saying he didn't want any this year. Well, it turns out Troy did want fudge this year, as he has been helping me eat it! We have also made sugar cookies, Russian tea cakes (also known as snowball cookies), cream wafers and peanut butter bon bons. Everyone (but Julia) contributed to the Christmas goodies wish list, and I/we filled everyone's requests.

45 - Length (in minutes) of Julia's story time this morning, which is longer than usual. And she was a good little toddler the whole time! This is a record for a structured activity for our girl-on-the-go. She has two story times per month, and she has caught on to the routine and expectations of this activity. When I first exposed Julia to this activity in September, I never would have thought she could make it through an extended story time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Cookies

I had two sous-chefs join me in the kitchen for this year's sugar cookie event. Whenever Evelyn is on her stool, helping me cook or bake at the kitchen counter, Julia insists on joining us. Since Troy was gone this afternoon, he wouldn't be able to see the mess that evolves from baking cookies with a 5-year-old and a 19-month-old. I found an extra stool for Julia to stand on, put on a little Mannheim Steamroller music and let the good times roll!
Evelyn used the regular-sized rolling pin to roll out the cookie dough, and Julia used her pint-sized rolling pin to push flour around the counter (and onto the floor). By the expressions on their faces in the picture below, you can totally tell who's in it to make cookies and who's there to have a good time.

As we began to accumulate scraps of dough, we tossed them over to Julia. She has the right idea - press the dough out with your hands first, then roll with the rolling pin. I don't think she ate too much cookie dough in the process . . .
After Julia got started with the rolling pin and the (Julia-sized) spatula, she was having so much fun that she didn't even think about using the cookie cutters. That was fine, though, because Evelyn was strictly business, trying to get as many cookies from the dough as possible. However, with both of my helpers this year, I only managed to make 23 cookies (whereas I usually come out with 30), but that's fine. True, we wanted sugar cookies to eat, but I also wanted the girls to have fun. Mission accomplished on both fronts! (And Troy was none the wiser about the mess . . . it was all cleaned up by the time he got home.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Too Much Paper!

Whenever I get a package from Pampered Chef, we are inundated with brown packing paper. Today, I received three boxes, which resulted in a plethora of paper. Now, while I complain about the ridiculous amount of packing material, Rosie simply loves it. Crumpled paper makes for hours of kitten fun! We'll see how long Rosie's new "toy" sticks around . . .

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Trains and Santa

Following last year's tradition, we decided to visit Santa at a train museum. This year, we went to Baltimore to take in all the Christmas-themed railroading sights and sounds.

One of the first things we did was go on a train ride with Santa. It was the usual 25-minute trip from the museum's station and back, with jolly ol' Saint Nick aboard. Evelyn was overjoyed to see Santa . . . and Julia kept her distance.
However, while on the train ride, Julia did find something that she liked: candy canes. Troy helped her eat the goodie given to her by Santa's elf, and she loved it!

Back inside the roundhouse, Evelyn saw Frosty the Snowman while waiting to see Santa. When her time came to visit with Santa, Evelyn gladly sat with him, asking for one toy: an HO-scale CSX train set. Well, she was certainly in the right place to make a request like that! As for Julia, she wanted nothing to do with Santa, and I obliged by keeping her away from that "scary" guy with a beard.
We spent the rest of our afternoon looking at several model trains. I think Evelyn could've stayed there until they kicked her out. However, checking out the train layouts for an hour seemed to satisfy her.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Trimming the Tree

We set up the tree yesterday, but we didn't put any decorations on it until today. We wanted to see what kind of response we would get from both Julia and Rosie. Sure enough, Rosie wanted to chew on the (fake) branches and climb up the middle of the tree. However, a few squirts of water from a spray bottle seem to have disuaded her.

Evelyn helped hang the ornaments on the tree, and she did a pretty decent job of spacing them out. Julia did a pretty good job of playing with the ornament boxes . . . and taking the ornaments off of the tree. I have a feeling this might be a recurring thing (removal of the decorations), but we'll see.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fine Motor Skills

Within the past week, Evelyn has learned three new "tricks" that she is very proud of. She can whistle, she can snap her fingers, and she can draw five-pointed stars. When she whistles, she has to inhale to get the sound. Eventually she'll be able to whistle the normal way, when she exhales. Evelyn has a quirk with her snapping, too - she uses her ring fingers instead of her middle fingers. Just as with her whistling, whatever works!

Julia has been feeding herself finger foods for quite awhile, now, but she recently started using utensils. It all started when she used a spoon to eat applesauce (thanks to our adventurous friend, Kat). Julia has just about mastered the spoon, and she has moved on to using a fork. Not only does she manage to get food into her mouth, but she can also stab the food on the plate with her fork. Her other new trick is drinking with a straw, which she figured out in no time at all. With all these new skills, Julia is ready for the world of fine dining.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner

Even though we couldn't be with our family in Illinois for the Thanksgiving holiday, we still ate some of the traditional Birch/Luster foods. Evelyn and I rolled out homemade butterhorns. Evelyn did so well with the rolls that you couldn't tell the difference between the ones she made and the ones I made.

Thanksgiving dinner wouldn't be Thanksgiving dinner without Evelyn's Corn Casserole, as we call it. This year, our five-(and-a-half)-year-old pretty much did everything on her own. She cracked the eggs, emptied cans and cartons and containers of the other ingredients, and then she mixed it all together. As always, it was delicious! I also made raspberry applesauce Jell-O salad and pumpkin cream cheese dessert. Fabulous side dishes (and a dessert) to go along with yummy Thanksgiving turkey.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Little Buddy

Recently, I was able to take some pictures of Rosie hanging out with Evelyn and Julia. She loves playing with the girls, she doesn't mind having her tail pulled, she tolerates Julia using her as a pillow, she doesn't mind being it when Evelyn holds and carries her, and she seems to enjoy watching TV or reading books with Evelyn. Such a sweet little kitty!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Good Fit

Our new little kitty, Rosie, is such a good fit for our family. You never know what you're going to get with a pet, especially a cat, and it seems that we chose the perfect one. Rosie is playful and silly, which is to be expected with a kitten. But when someone wants to pet her, Rosie immediately switches over to cuddle mode and doesn't try to scratch or bite. She is tolerant of Julia's unpredictable toddler ways, including tail and ear tugging. Evelyn is such a responsible cat owner, playing with Rosie before and after school, as well as making sure she has enough food and water. After the girls go to bed, Rosie usually curls up on my lap for a short snooze. So far, so good!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Imagination Movers Concert

Evelyn and I went to the Imagination Movers concert in Frederick, Maryland this evening. At the start of the show, when the Movers came out on stage, Evelyn was both excited and in awe. She couldn't believe she was really, truly seeing one of her favorite bands! Lucky for Evelyn, our seats were on the aisle, which is where she spent most of the concert dancing and be-bopping. Mover Rich frequently wandered out into the audience, and he even made it all the way to our seats toward the back of the theater. Evelyn ran up to him, and Rich waved hello and patted her on the head. What fun!Tonight's show was one of those concerts where you were bummed that it was over because you had so much fun. The Movers - Scott, Dave, Rich and Smitty - were just as energetic and funny in person as they are on TV. And they jump around all the time, too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ballet Class

Today we were invited to observe Evelyn's ballet class. I was really curious to see what she has been up to, both because she is at a new studio this year, and I am not able to watch her class. I was pleasantly surprised with how well Evelyn knows her ballet terms and phrases. At the beginning of class, she moved through the stretches and poses like a pro.
This is Evelyn's third year of taking dance, and this year she decided to focus on ballet. Her two prior years of dance consisted of combination classes, including tap, which she never really cared for. Her long-term goal is to become a pointe ballet dancer. She needs another six or seven years of regular ballet before she earns that status. I hope Evelyn sticks with it!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hiking at Gambrill State Park

The weather today was too nice to stay home - it was sunny and close to 70 degrees. Troy and I tossed around the idea of either going to the National Zoo in Washington, DC or hiking at a new (for us) state park. Neither one of us felt like going to DC, so we headed out to Gambrill State Park, just west of Frederick, Maryland.
After browsing online through our choices of hiking trails, I decided on the "Green Ash Trail." The description of this 2-mile round-trip trail said: True hikers will love this trail. There are several steep slopes and very little level ground, making this trail an adventure. As you hike the trail, imagine what it was like to cross the Appalachian Mountains on foot in the 1700's. Boy, they weren't kidding about an adventure!

Not only was the terrain hilly, but this was also one of the rockiest state parks we have visited in Maryland. Fallen autumn leaves in a forest can significantly increase the difficulty of a trail. Imagine climbing up and down a mountain, leaves hiding the rocks underfoot, and slipping and tripping on those rocks all the while. Thankfully Evelyn just laughed each of the four times she fell down today. At the end of the hike, we rewarded our hard work with a picnic lunch.

Julia (by far) had the best deal of any of us. She hitched a ride in the backpack carrier for all two miles, and she took a cat-nap while I was trying my best to stay sure-footed on the trail.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Recovering Well

Rosie went in for her spay and declaw surgeries Friday morning, and she came home today. She has a pain patch taped to her back, which makes her incredibly groggy. The poor girl will walk to a spot in the room, and then she'll just sit there. After we (Troy or I) notice her sitting in the middle of the room, we carefully move her to a soft blanket on the couch. She gets the pain patch off Monday. Knowing how quickly kittens recover, I'm sure Rosie will be back to her normal self by the middle of next week.

Return to Ralph's World

When I found out that Ralph's World was coming to Vienna, Virginia, I couldn't pass up the chance to go to his concert again. Evelyn and I were not disappointed - the show was great!

Before the concert began, Ralph did a meet-and-greet. Evelyn told Ralph how much she loves his music, and she also requested her favorite song, "Old Red Number Seven." (Ralph mentioned that not everyone in the band knew the song. So, even though she requested it, the band did not sing Evelyn's song.)
The kiddie mosh pit at today's concert was pretty calm. Evelyn was the only kid up and dancing throughout the entire show! Evelyn had an awesome time, seeing her favorite singer for the second time this year. I like his music, too; hopefully we'll be able to go to more of his concerts in the future.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Evelyn and I have been wanting a cat for a couple of months, but we needed to make sure Julia would be nice to a pet. All summer, Julia has been very gentle to our neighbors' cats, so we decided to take the plunge.

Troy and I knew we wanted to adopt a cat from the local humane society. We went there earlier this week to check out their adult male cats. But once we were in the cat room, we fell in love with a female 4-month-old kitten. During the adoption visit, Rosie purred while I held her on my lap, and both girls were very gentle with her. It was a good fit for everyone.

We filled out the application on Tuesday, had a phone interview Wednesday evening, and little Rosie was ready for us today. Julia and I picked up Rosie from the shelter this morning. That way she has some time to adjust to our house before Evelyn comes home from school.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Here are the girls, all dressed and ready for an evening of trick-or-treating. Evelyn went as Glinda, and Julia was Raggedy Ann. Don't they look gorgeous and cute?
"Is it time to leave, yet? Can we go trick-or-treating now?" The girls were itching to get out of the house and start the quest for candy.

The weather wasn't exactly favorable for trick-or-treating this evening. Even though we dodged raindrops from time to time, nobody melted and fun was had by all. Julia did amazingly well riding in the stroller for an hour and a half.
In the end, Evelyn ended up with 100 pieces of candy - pretty good for an evening out in the neighborhood.

Carving Pumpkins

It's pumpkin carving time! We finally cut into the pumpkin that Evelyn picked out at the pumpkin patch several weeks ago. Scooping out the pumpkin guts was the "funnest" part for Evelyn, even though I did most of the work.
You get a little goofy when carving pumpkins. Well, you do when you're a 5-year-old.

Even though Evelyn wasn't ready to use the pumpkin cutter, she was able to help pull the cut pieces out of the pumpkin.
Using a computer program, Evelyn was able to design her own jack-o-lantern face. Here are the results of her creativity: big googly eyes, a crooked nose and pouty lips. It looks like an Evelyn creation, doesn't it?
Our friends, Kat and Ross, came down today to join in on the Halloween festivities. Kat cut out a spider, Evelyn's funny face is in the middle, and Ross carved Shaun the Sheep. I think all of our pumpkins turned out pretty well.