First Woodworking Project: Mother’s Day Gifts

When I was a young boy, I fondly recall spending hours in the garage with my father’s bright orange K-mart electric drill. With this drill and a few other odd tools from my dad’s peg wall, I cobbled together my masterpiece: a new coat rack for Mom and Dad’s room; a very special gift for Christmas. This awkward and wobbly apparatus found a home in their closet where for all I know it remained until they recently sold my boyhood home.

It seems to me the best way to ensure I never need entrust my good jacket to such a Rube Goldberg-ian contraption, is to teach them early how such a thing is properly constructed. So when my eldest daughter and son expressed an interest in building their own wooden creations, I decided to take them into the shop.

But first a word about shop safety…

Naturally I used the power tools, however Sean insisted upon wearing his safety glasses at all times. That’s my boy!

Safety glasses

A Cherry Heart, a Painted Bird, and a Custom-Designed Violin

Sean’s project was a wooden heart constructed of cherry plywood and various odds and ends. Annalise designed a violin for her Mommy. Just like her dad, she spent time carefully designing her project going so far as to draft a full-size drawing.?Nathan joined us after the build to paint a wooden “bird.”

Annalise's design drawing for her violin

Needless to say these weren’t constructed with K-mart drills or rusty hammers. The violin joinery is all Festool 5x30mm dominos. This is one solid violin!

A violin, bird, and heart for Mommy

Sean and Annalise showing off their projects

Two Newest Blue Belts!

Annalise and Sean completed their Taekwodo blue belt testing yesterday. We were both impressed with how well Sean remembered his forms when demonstrating solo. Annalise was her usual confident self. Great job!

Annalise breaking her board

Our new blue belts

Showing off the uniforms grandma made for "Teddy" and "Ella"

Emma gets into "fighting stance"

And naturally to celebrate, we had blue pancakes with blue M&M’s covered with blueberry sauce!

Blue pancakes with blue M&M's and blueberry sauce!

You’ve earned it.?Congratulations!

Bunny Day 2012 Photos and Emma Turns Two!

Emma Turns Two

Yet another long pause between posts…and much has happened in the interim. We’ve had an awesome Christmas and a great start to the new year! Our sweet little baby girl Emma is no longer quite so little. She’s turned two and is talking up a storm…though still clearly the “baby” of the family; never passing on a chance to be carried, held, or hugged. In fact, frequently demanding to be carried, held, and hugged! ?Grandma and Grandpa visited for a week to help us celebrate.


Sean and Annalise continue to make progress in Taekwondo. They’ve now achieved green belt and are working towards their blue belt within a month or so. Last testing, Sean took the trophy for showing significant improvement! He’s much better at focusing in class and has really come a long way. Annalise continues to do well and show great enthusiasm. ?We’re incredibly proud of them both!

Sean earns his trophy!

Nathan Plays Hide-n-Seek

Nathan, not wanting to be left out of having school friends like big brother and sister, has made his own “school friends.” One of these, ‘Daidan,’ engaged Nathan in an impromptu game of ‘hide-n-seek’ with Mom and Dad. Unfortunately we were unaware of the game. After a frantic 20+ minute thorough search of the house, a wild ride back from the store for Mom (who was out when this began), and a call to the Naperville Police, we finally found Nathan on his third check under Mom and Dad’s bed. He had been fairly well hidden behind the summer clothes storage bags and ‘Daidan’ told him not to respond to our repeated calls. We’re not big ?fans of ‘Daidan.’

Learning and Growing

As Emma continues to amaze by picking up new words every day, speaking in 3 to 5 word sentences, Annalise has made enormous strides in reading. In the span of a couple weeks it seems, she went from reading her “sight words” to short children’s books. She’s a great little reader!

Mitt Comes to Schaumburg

This year’s Republican primary in Illinois was meaningful for a change. Suzy allowed me to attend Mitt’s election night event in Schaumburg. It was a great night!

Mitt and Ann Romney

Meeting Mitt

Bunny Day

For the past two years now, Suzy and Beth have taken the kids out to a local photographer for her “Bunny Day” photos. Last year’s shots were adorable, and this year is no exception. But don’t take it from me…see for yourself.

Trick or Treat 2011!


This year’s Halloween was extra special for two reasons. First, there were two days of “trick-or-treating.” Second, the kids got to spend it with very good friends.

The Costumes

While hunting around for age-appropriate versions of “Spider-Man” for my Spider-Man-obsessed kids, we discovered a real gem from my own childhood — Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Upon the first viewing the older three assumed the roles of Spider-Man (Sean), Iceman (Nathan), and Firestar (Annalise), and began having adventures fighting numerous bad guys (usually Mommy or Daddy).

When it came time to pick their costumes for this year, the decision was unanimous. Good thing Mommy is very creative, and has some talented helpers available (Kathy and Lisa). The Spider-Man costume was in the bag — Sean has 4 already. So for Iceman and Firestar, Suzy purchased some sweat suits and had Kathy dye and draw “muscles” for Iceman, while Lisa helped with the Firestar flames.

And here’s the trio, with Emma completing the cast as the trio’s dog, Ms. Lion:

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends -- with Ms. Lion

Trick or Treat in Downtown Naperville

The first of the two-day festivities consisted of trick-or-treat in downtown Naperville. Dean and Suzanne, parents of Sean’s preschool classmate Laila, and far and away our kid’s favorite playtime friends (Laila, Luke, and Ben) organized a group of preschool families and friends to meet for the annual event. It was quite the group and the crowds downtown were incredible.

The crew in downtown Naperville

Luke and Sean

Annalise and Laila

The Main Event

The next night, Laila and family joined us for Trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. The kids had a blast, racing from house-to-house, a marked difference from the previous year of getting in and out of the wagon as we pulled them between driveways.


…and what Halloween night would be complete without a giant chicken?

The Halloween House

A house in our neighborhood goes “all out” decorating for every holiday (even Easter). This is the first year we’ve actually visited the house on Halloween. A lot of work, but way cool….

The result — 8 pounds of candy! (donated to our troops overseas, after taking a small cut!)

Happy Halloween!

Yellow Belts

Annalise and Sean had testing for their yellow belts last night. This was our first belt test and we honestly weren’t sure what to expect. Annalise takes it fairly seriously and works hard to please. And I knew they were both capable of doing the forms and kicks. However Sean’s a bit hit-or-miss in regards to the focus and discipline aspects — he’s only four afterall and often finds humor in the proceedings.

Last night they both proved our fears unfounded.

The white belts were tested last, which meant sitting around for the first 20 minutes or so.

Waiting their turn for testing to begin

I loved the large banner hanging in the space

Master Tony guides the white belts through their forms.

Annalise and Sean (mostly) paid close attention to the others during their tests. During stretching, Sean was typically the loudest “Yes, Sir!” in the bunch — which was unusual and provided early indication that he in fact was eager to work hard and do well. Following their kicks and forms, it was time for each to break a board. The kids have been looking forward to this for some time. Sean got his on the first try. Annalise hesitated a bit at the end of the swing and needed a second turn — which resulted in breaking her board into three pieces. Most surprising for me was the fact that the hit obviously stung a bit, but our typically very sensitive Sean picked up his board and moved as instructed without comment or complaint. Way to go, buddy!

Breaking boards

And here are our two yellow belts breaking their boards…

Mom and Dad are incredibly proud of both of you!


Green Ticket and Tape Day!

Annalise’s school has a program where students are awarded with “green tickets” whenever they’re caught doing something good, such as following directions, assisting another student, etc. Unsurprisingly, Annalise has really taken to this program and works hard to earn these tickets every chance she gets. We promised we’d celebrate with an activity of her choice when she earned 25 of these. Little did we know she’d hit that milestone within the first month of school!

A few weeks ago we enrolled Annalise and Sean in Taekwondo. They’ve enjoyed earning the tape on their belt, and by coincidence, the very week we decided to celebrate Annalise’s 25th green ticket, they both earned a green tape stripe on their white belts. Two things to celebrate!

Thus was born “Green Ticket and Tape Day!”

Green Pancakes

The celebration began with our traditional Sunday morning pancakes — with a twist. I threw in some green food coloring and we had green Mickey Mouse pancakes.

Riverwalk Picnic

Next up, a picnic on Naperville’s picturesque “Riverwalk.” We realized today that the last time we picnic’d there was days before Nathan was born. The riverwalk has since undergone substantial renovation, however the path is basically the same and lovely as ever.

Feeding the Duckies

We brought along some old bread and, against admonitions stamped into the concrete walkway, fed the numerous ducks gathering at the water’s edge. As usual, the kids then spent some time running in circles around the amphitheater and generally having a great time enjoying the mild fall weather.


The Bouncey Place

Annalise choose “the bouncey place” for her celebration treat. So next, we headed out to Airtastic for an hour or so of jumping, climbing, and sliding down inflatables.


I think this photo pretty well captures what it means to be “Nathan.”

"Nate" by Dean Thorsen

…and in case you didn’t get the full picture from the photo alone, here’s Nate and his older brother and sister playing with a musical greeting card from Grandma and Grandpa.


Wild Kratts at the Brookfield Zoo

The Kratt brothers have been around for some time and their latest show on PBS, “Wild Kratts” ?is a major hit with the kids. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Hammill Family Play Zoo at the Brookfield Zoo, they invited the Kratt brothers, Chris and Martin, to make an appearance and sign autographs.?Aunt Bethie was off from work and happily decided to come along.

And so we made a day of it.


Our first stop was actually to the butterfly garden. Annalise has been anxious to see the butterflies, but the exhibit wasn’t open the last time we visited. This time, we got a chance to see the butterflies and even a couple emerging from their cocoon.

A butterfly emerges from its chrysalis


The first show was set to begin at 11am, so we headed over to the open area where they had setup the stage. The crowds were huge and the 1/2 hour stage show the Kratt’s put on was entertaining…the kids had a great time.

Annalise enjoying the show


the crowd was huge


After the show, Aunt Bethie got in line for autographs (still a few hours away!) while we took the rest of the kids around the zoo. Annalise and Sean had a great time painting their faces outside the Hammill Family Play Zoo (Nate decided to be grumpy).

Meeting the Brothers

After their second show, the brothers sat for autographs and pictures. The odd bit was they had set up separate lines for Chris and Martin — and folks started lining up hours before the signing. Beth was able to reserve a spot for us fairly close in Chris’ line, but we wound up a couple hours back in Martins’. So it was a very long wait and a very long day. I think it was worth it.

Meeting Chris. Chris and Martin had separate lines, and long waits for each!

Meeting Martin after waiting in line over 2 hours! (Nathan was still grumpy)




Emma Turns One! (from the better-late-than-never dept.)

The excuses are wearing thin, true, but it really is a rather hectic time around here. However, it would be inexcusable to not post some pics of our littlest Jaromin’s first birthday celebration!

Here’s our little princess on her first birthday…

the Birthday Girl!

Annalise on Yahoo!’s “This Week In Mom”

The video of Annalise’s first haircut made it into Yahoo’s “This Week In Mom” production.

Here’s the video:

And the original: