Spring

Easter crept up on me this year.

Luckily, the Easter Bunny didn’t forget.

The hunt caught the boys by surprise, because it happened on Saturday. Sunday promised snow, and it did not lie.

Easter morning was a little strange.

Joe and I dressed up anyway, because it just felt like we should! He had ordered an amazing Easter dinner from a local restaurant, so we ate like kings. Then, since outside wasn’t too appealing, we put on a pot of tea and played some Trivial Pursuit!

We ‘zoomed’ with the Sikkinks, which was really great. Everyone shared a little bit about what they are up to, so we all got to see one anothers’ faces while gleaning the information we would have if we’d all been gathered together and chatting individually. Good going!

So, pirates are still a big thing for Henry, and both boys are very much into Lego-ing.

So, when Joe found this amazing Lego pirate set, we were intrigued. It re-imagines the classic Lego pirate ship from back in the day. It got shipwrecked, and has been turned into a tavern/inn for pirates on an island (you can also build the pirate ship in its original form as well).

Since we’re all home together, we thought it would be a great project for right now.
The boys freaked out!

Getting used to the instructions style of a 16+ project took some parental guidance.

But it wasn’t long before they were able to truck along themselves. We had to request that it be a whole-family project, and that we just build a little at a time. Otherwise Charlie would have had the 2,500 pieces put together that very day!

It ended up being perfect, because each stopping point on its own provided days of play and examination.

Charlie has been doing a lot of FaceTime calls with a friend, and they have morphed into them creating Lego sets for the other person to see on their screen. Then they tell stories about the characters. It’s delightful! This was only their second, so it’s still pretty minimal.

Oh, the sillies! Staying in a house all together gets us all a little goofy, and it feels great to be able to just be your most honest self. This was jammy time, and Henry decided both of his legs should go in one pant leg. It led to some nice hopping!

Even school can be fun when you do it right. Here’s Hennie’s ‘Sight Word Wall.’ He loves getting to stick them up with push-pins. A lot of the words are ones he’s decided he wanted to add, not just ones his teacher sends. And for the record, ‘go’ and ‘on’ are supposed to be separate. He just wrote them on the same slip. ‘Goon’ is not a word we are working on recognizing. Although it’s definitely the first thing I see every time I look at the board!

Bananagrams tiles are good for word practice as well! He doesn’t even realize he’s doing school. I like Charlie’s acrostic there at the top. He’d just read a book about the scientists who discovered each element. That’s where Lise Meitner and Glenn T. Seaborg come from!

I was feeling cooped up, missing local businesses and needing to make something. So, when Mo Willems, in one of his Lunchtime Doodle videos showed us a little village he made out of boxes to create the illustrations for one of his books, I dove in!

Here we all are at a local candy store and our favorite coffee shop. It felt good to see some version of us getting to go out, even if just in finger puppet form.

Warming up

Alright. Now that I’ve chronicled our spring break travels, it won’t be long until I’ll catch up to the where we actually are in time. I’m looking forward to writing in the more present tense.

That being said, this is a strange time, and one in which we all are needing to slow down and appreciate the moments. So I’m not going to sum up or rush to catch up. Here’s what happened next.

This is the new face of a nearly decade-long tradition of us Novaks all gathering together once a week for Family Dinner.

We took a hiatus and even tried out a Zoom Dinner. With the realization that six feet is so much nicer than a screen, we tried out a social-distance walk. Jim has dubbed them “Pop Up Walks,” since the location and time have to be more flexible. Also, it’s a more fun term that doesn’t involve the term ‘social-distancing.’ Look at us doing so well staying apart while together! As the weather warms and more people venture out, this is getting more complicated, but aren’t we all getting so good at being flexible these days?!

I know at the beginning of April there was (and still is) a lot of boredom happening in the world, but I am grateful that it is not happening in my house. If anything, my “free time” has dwindled to next to nothing. And again, I say, I am grateful. Here is a quick little 3-image montage of how my days were filled during my third week after leaving student teaching.

There was a lot of Legos, a lot of doing projects around the house to help with my own mental health (and productive!), and some really lovely togetherness. Adjusting to being all together all the time was pretty seamless. We all had moments of deep emotion, and it’s not like we flipped and switch and are all fine now. But the perspective of just enjoying now has been helpful. Especially since we have no idea what later will look like.

Distance-learning officially began for Minneapolis Public Schools on April 6.

It’s fascinating to do this with a kindergartner and a third-grader simultaneously. Most of Henry’s schoolwork either starts as or turns into delightful play that he conducts himself. It’s wonderful, and also deeply sad that he cannot have this time to do the real work of kindergarten, which is socializing with his peers.

Third-Grade is much more straightforward. Charlie does his assignments and turns them in through Google Classroom. That first week, he liked to do all of his work back-to-back to finish school before moving on with his day.

His teacher also scheduled a virtual class meetup. The students loooove that chat feature!

Both of their teachers have been incredible, and I am impressed at how they have adapted content for this new setup. The real work is figuring out the best mode of delivery at home. We’re still working on that, but so far it has been a success, if not a smashing one.

The best thing that has happened is that Charlie is now enjoying doodling and coloring again! We have Mo Willems to thank for that. We have been fans of his books for awhile, and even saw a live stage adaptation of one at the Children’s Theater Company. Now we hang out with him for 20 minutes a day, while he guides us through doodling and creative exercises. We love it.

I now realize that photo is of them filling out COVID-19 time capsules, and not, in fact, doodling at all. But you get the picture. ALL OF THE MARKERS!

We took a field trip that first week, because…yeah.

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This is at a sculpture park in St Paul.

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Can you find the Charlie?

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Heading back in a western direction towards home, we stopped at the Mississippi River Lock and Dam no. 1. I had been promising Charlie that we would go during spring break, and that obviously didn’t happen. So he really wanted this to be included in our field trip.

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Aaaaaaaaand….it was a wee bit of a disappointment. Henry’s phrase of the month, wherever we go, has been, “when all of this is over, we need to come back to this place!”

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I am SO happy that Charlie got over the hump of two-wheeling last summer. It would be a hard and frustrating time to work on that skill. Now we can all bike together and have grand adventures this summer. We took our warm-up ride of the season at the cemetery across the street. It felt so nice!

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See you soon!

Final Spring Break Destination

First off, I want to spread some sunshine that was shared with me today all the way from Maine. Thank you, Lynns!

We took the Friday of our spring break off from outings. Because it snowed.

It ended up working out well, though, because then we were all rested and ready for a Saturday explore with Joe! Our final destination? New Prague.

We switched the order of things and did our hiking first.

It was pretty muddy from the melted snow, but we got inventive, including using logs as mud bridges.

Henry was in super scavenger mode. He found two amazing feathers, one was bright yellow, and the other was this huge goose(?) feather. He immediately started envisioning himself using it as a quill.

We all found some rushing water by following its beautiful sound in the silent woods.

It was mesmerizing.

Joe spotted this tree that was hollow, and Henry decided to crawl right on in.

It turned out that New Prague itself is quite…condensed. So we didn’t end up spending a great deal of time there. But it made for a quaint little walk.

I liked the old train station, although when I sat on the platform, my jeans collected zillions of splinters. I worked hard to get them all out, but I still find more every time I put them on.

When we made it home, Henry headed straight for his writing/drawing table. When you have a perfect quill, it’s important to get to writing straight away.

Enjoying our Area

We’re still following the exploits of our Spring Break 2020. We’ve now made it up to Thursday, April 2. Exploring further afield was really lovely, but we also love what is nearby. So we took one of our spring break days to enjoy some places in town. We had a whole list of spots all around the Twin Cities. But we ended up embracing all our time in in our own area. We never actually got further than 1.9 miles from home.

Henry had been filling out a ‘signs of spring’ scavenger hunt that he’d found at the Stillwater courthouse. One of the items he hadn’t seen/heard yet was frogs croaking. I was pretty sure I knew a place where we could find that: Roberts Bird Sanctuary. But before you even enter the bird sanctuary is the Peace Garden. Henry proclaimed that to be one of his favorite places ever, so we spent a lot of time there before going on our frog hunt.

Pretending to sleep on a bed of pine needles like the Boxcar Children.

‘Paper’ crane art

Surrounding the sculpture are plaques with step-by-step instructions for making an origami crane.

I found my own ‘sign of spring!’

Eventually, we made our way into the sanctuary, and spotted/heard some beautiful birds right away. No frogs, though.

It is so peaceful in there.

When you go the whole length and exit through the back gate, you find yourself right by the Lake Harriet Bandshell. It seemed a shame not to make our way back by walking along the lake. And then, despite the wind, the beach was calling.

Luckily, we’d been expecting rain and mud, so we had the proper footwear for enjoying some lapping waves. Having the beach to ourselves, we soaked up some:

zen moments

sensory fun

contemplation

and, of course, some good sand engineering.

This is a fortress with guard towers. Obviously.

On the way home, we stopped to enjoy our PB&Js at the deserted Judson playground. The boys got in some good physics experimentation with weights and levers.

Red Wing

Red Wing, MN is picturesque. It has a lovely little historic downtown. It’s only about an hour drive from the Cities. It has a great art festival, and a bluff that’s great for a casual hike with a nice view at the end. But after all of our travels during the boys’ spring break, what made Henry really want to come back to Red Wing is how frequently you get to be right up close to real, moving trains.

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Not much was open, but the train station, understandably, had to be. We were grateful, since we’d pretty much been using port-o-potties all week. 

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And here’s the reason we come here most falls: 

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I do love my Red Wings.

They were especially useful this week trekking around, because we were on all kinds of terrain. We don’t shy away from mud. You just need the right footwear.

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Mimicking this odd little jester statue.

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There were a lot of fun-looking places where we might normally have grabbed a treat, but nothing was open. So, when we noticed a vending machine behind an old gas station that sold cans of pop for 50 cents…it was actually really exciting! Especially since these two never drink soda. We dug out enough nickels and dimes from the car coin-stash that we were able to each choose our own flavor. 

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Once we were all sugared-up, it was time to hit Barn Bluff. It’s hard to miss when you’re there, and Charlie was dead-set on getting up there. We took the easy, less-interesting path on the way up. It made for a quick walk, and the way was super wide, which was good for social-distancing. 

Here’s the town!

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On the way down, we took the Quarry Trail, at Henry’s request. It was so much more beautiful, and a bit more treacherous. It was also super narrow and muddy, so when people came from the other direction, we had to just hold our breaths, shrug and all look sorry at one another that we physically couldn’t stay six-feet away or one of the groups was going off the edge of the bluff.

The part was really pretty!

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We saw some rock-climbers enjoying the walls, which looked really fun, but above my skill level.

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On the backside of the bluff is the old kiln that used to process the limestone found on the bluff. Luckily, the mining was stopped at some point, so the bluff wasn’t completely hacked away. Look at this big ol’ thing!

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And as a perfect end to our day, right before we loaded into the car to head home, another train rumbled by.

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A Happy Easter

I hope you had a nice weekend. We soaked up the lovely weather on Saturday, and just stays inside all day Sunday so we could pretend it wasn’t snowing

In honor of Helen’s morning email, today we made an Easter Snow Bunny!

Still and not-so-still water

On our spring break Tuesday, we headed to Stillwater. The boys really enjoyed looking at and talking about all the boats on the river.

They threw lots of stones in the water while they did so. Henry found this piece of bark that he thought looked like a state. We took a picture so he could compare it to our states puzzle when we got home and figure out which one it is.

And nothing is a bigger hit than finding live construction. Dump trucks and skid steers. Can’t beat ’em.

The riverwalk was quite underwater, and the lift bridge was undergoing maintenance. So! That was a bummer.

But Charlie loves a good informational plaque!

We couldn’t go in anywhere, of course, but Leo’s had a take-out window for placing orders, and a patio to wait in with a specific pick-up table. Mmmmmm burgers!
It was cold, so we passed on the malts.

Henry created an ‘H’ with this stick.

The Teddy Bear Park was also closed. So we had our lunch on the wall outside it. It was a steep hill and tall walls, so it was kind of an exciting spot!

We hiked up the steep hill to the pretty residential area at the top of the hill. We all compared different strategies for making climbing the hill seem easier.

Here’s a little snippet

Up at the top, we found a big ol’ courthouse. By its entryway were activity books and architectural walking tour pamphlets. So Charlie guided us through the historic district!

When we were pooped, we headed to the Main Street Staircase to enjoy the view and take the steps down to our strategically-parked car loaded up with snacks and beverages.

Then we made our way up to Fairy Falls. I knew nothing about this place, including where the entrance actually is. It’s not marked or anything.

But we found it!

It was actually really exciting not knowing anything about what was here, because it meant the boys got to truly explore and discover. Here, Charlie is checking out a slippery, muddy way down that involves using a rope tied into the hill. We decided maybe not.

He was transfixed by the falls the whole time.

We tried another path.

With some wandering about and a tip from a high-schooler passing by, we found the right trail!

The base of the falls was glorious! I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Charlie so happy.

He could have stayed there for hours. But then, I noticed that Henry had already started back!

We kept exploring for awhile, seeing where other trails led. It was a pretty magical day!

Starting off

Well, we’re all off and running on this staying home thing. One thing that got me through the initial sadness/anxiety phase was a classic: the jigsaw puzzle! Helps when it’s a theme you love.

Our second week of homeschooling was more fun, because I had a better sense of incorporating our daily life into learning. Check out this map of the light bulbs used on our main floor! 

We accounted for them all, dusted all the fixtures, and then noted down the wattage. We (I) ended up breaking one bulb that turned out to be plugged straight into our wiring, but it was worth it. We learned that since we have LEDs for almost every bulb, our wattage is super low. But our bathroom light is a specialty fixture previous owners put in, and uses two tiny halogen bulbs. The amount of our entire floor, twenty different bulbs, is 531.5 watts. Just ONE of the two bulbs uses 100 watts. I guess there’s no hurry to replace that one that’s burned out! Or maybe time to think about a new lighting option in there for the future.

So, playground time is different now, and as I’ve mentioned, I’m doing a bit of catch-up. But with some good handwashing involved, we went to the park awhile back. Henry loved the feeling of his hair flowing in the wind. 

Joe felt he needed a shift in perspective.

Getting outdoors has been so huge for us. Luckily, we have a backyard and a whole slew of isolated hiking areas nearby. With some pre-planning and extra-mindfulness, we’ve been able to get outdoors every day but one of our isolation. That day it snowed, and we said, “No, thanks.”

I’m also so thankful that a couple of months ago, Joe’s aunt gave me a bunch of her pie-baking accoutrement, including more pie recipes than I could ever bake in my entire life. So I had some fun going through them, and have baked three pies in the past week. Peach-apple, lemon meringue and banana cream. They were all tasty!

I’m also lucky to have good help.

Alright. Entering Day One of our spring break.

On our way to St. Cloud, the boys asked if we could pull off and check out a building they spotted in Anoka. We ended up finding the confluence of the Rum River and mighty Mississippi.

We also stopped at a ‘geological marker’ a ways up the road. It was pretty underwhelming, but it’s always interesting to contemplate the glaciers for a moment, and the Mississippi is always fascinating.

Lunch on the abandoned St. Cloud University campus was nice, especially because the sun felt so good.

But again, wandering along the river was the winner. Especially when we crossed it and found a huge garden running alongside. 

I am sixteeeeen, going on seventeen…

AND there was a dam. Gotta love a good hydroelectric dam you can get mesmerized by. The boys spotted a big ice chunk flowing down the river, and followed it all the way until it crashed down the falls.

Then we went back to wandering the gardens. We acted like we were characters in a video game who had to roam around to gather bananas and coconuts.

Second time I felt like I was in Salzburg.

All in all, a lovely first day of break.

Into the Woods

It’s a strange time when everything from just a day ago feels dated. So, these next few blog posts that will cover the past couple of weeks may end up showing things that are no longer conceivable. It is what it is. Go with me!

Two weekends ago, we headed to Eagan for a walk in the woods. It was just what we needed after our first week all working at home.

Joe found a hole where a tree used to be.

That day, these three got some quality time together, because I got a call from Julia while we were out. It was delightful to wander the woods while catching up with my dear friend out in Oakland.

I think everyone was happy!

We stopped by the old Sibley house on the way home. It’s allegedly the first stone home built in Minnesota, 170 or so years ago. Not open, of course, but the boys peeked in the windows just to check what they could see.

The first part of the next week, Charlie, Hennie and I headed to the cabin to meet Grandpa Jim. It was so good to be out away from the city and separated from the internet. We had a glorious and relaxing couple of days.

Prepping the ‘mallow roast.

Charlie’s become focused on achieving the perfect golden-brown marshmallow!

Check out Henry’s loose tooth!

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He lost it while we were up there. His very first!

He soaked up as much swing time as he could,

And Charlie loved peace and quiet to read by.

The ice was just starting to break up on the lake, so the boys both spent a lot of time poking holes, breaking off chunks, and just generally playing on the dock.

So beautiful.

Waiting Game

Three weeks ago, I spent the day at home instead of going in to my student teaching placement. I was so so so sad, and to be honest, I still am.

But once the rest of my family was ordered home, too, my mood improved. I feel extremely lucky right now. 

That being said, this sentence Hennie wrote the other day really sums up a feeling many of us share.

I do have to be honest that what he actually meant by that was that he loves and feels attached to his house. It feels like a part of him. It was Day 1 of schooling away from school, and he was not at all expressing that he felt quarantined. But it resonated with me in a different way, and I thought you might appreciate it, too.

Here’s Hennie’s new drawing area. We found the desk in the alley, and set it up even before any of this pandemic whatnot was going on. It just happened to be great timing for a home desk for him. The easel we brought out to facilitate school activities! Their teachers have been using these weeks to figure out how to send curriculum home for “distance learning.” That starts this Monday. But in the meantime, we’re doing our own thing to keep them in school mode. Sure it’s good for them to learn, but more importantly, it keeps them busy, gives us some structure, and helps keep life feeling more routine and less flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants.

Hoooooomeschooooolin’. Charlie’s working on doing more writing, and has been really interested in the Periodic Table.

The focus for Hennie is reading right now. He’s doing great!

Math and reading combo!

Reflecting on life

This whole thing has allowed me to keep practicing my teaching and planning skills. It also gives me excuses to pull out specific art materials that I might not otherwise bust out at home. Here we are experimenting with watercolor pencils.

Luckily for me and them, these boys often seem to be doing activities where they learn things. This is not a planned “science time.” They just wanted to do experiments!

Hennie being so into counting money for stories about pirates and robbers has created some beautiful opportunities for math. It also made him ask me to create some ‘gold’ bars, which was a pretty fun challenge.

The highlight of every day for me is recess time. The boys are super happy doing their work, but getting outside is HUGE. I feel like we all breathe easier and are more relaxed outdoors. The backyard is wonderful, but we’ve also discovered some unlikely places for exploration…including the cemetery across the street.

We honestly had a beautiful hour here, looking at names, playing hide-and-seek and tag, and just breathing in the fresh air.