Thursday, April 13, 2017

Three and a Half

He absolutely refused to take a picture with his moose. I took this one while he was taking a break from playing in the gym. With sunglasses on, natch.

It occurred to me over the weekend that I should do a half birthday post for Christopher, since I usually do a Clare update on her half birthday. Well, he is now three and a half. And as any kid will tell you, once you reach that "and a half" stage of the year, it is a big deal. (Whenever we get together with a group of friends, the kids all immediately compare ages and whoever is the oldest is pretty lucky. Maybe adults should do that, but the opposite would be true, right?) Anyway, I think Christopher is pretty great. I might be biased.

He loves cuddling, still. We spend many afternoons curled up on the couch watching baking shows, at his request. I am planning to start doing some baking with him weekly as well.

He is funny and sweet. When we were at my parents' house last weekend, our good family friend Ruth came over. She had lost her voice, and he kept giving her crackers dipped in cheese. "This will make you feel better," he solemnly told her.

He can, of course, be whiny and throw tantrums, but he gets over it pretty fast. He is easily distracted, and if he is ignored he gives up. He is also still very attached to his blankie (which is now two blankies because it ripped in half) and his thumb.

Christopher and Clare love to play together, although it usually ends in a fight. Ah, siblings. I love watching them have fun together. They also enjoy inventing jokes and alternate lyrics to songs, usually involving the words poop and pee. Sigh.

His other favorite things include the playground, dinosaurs, "Peppa Pig", reading books, playing with cars and trucks, making pancakes with Daddy, singing, music class, eating fruit and his cousin Josie. Dislikes include tickling, picking up toys and getting dressed by himself. (That will happen before he goes to college, right?)

I've been interviewing Clare on her half birthdays, so I thought I should do the same for Christopher. For some reason he insisted on talking in baby talk and not using his normal voice, but it took so many attempts to get him to do even this that I gave up.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bits and Pieces: March

So March went by, and I forgot to write on this blog. I just remembered today that I should do an end of the month post.

We had Clare's conference with her teacher. She is doing very well academically, but needs to work on keeping her work space clean. This came as no surprise to me. She is a little hoarder at home. I knew right away which desk was hers, even without a name tag. She and the other kindergarten girls are also having problems getting along, apparently. Clare claims she is completely innocent in this, but her teacher says otherwise. We have been talking a lot about respecting other people's opinions since the conference.

I went on a field trip with Clare's class to Dodge Nature Center. I had never been there before. It is a beautiful place. We learned about making maple syrup, and tasted sap from the trees and the maple syrup they make there. I loved riding the bus with Clare. It was also fun to see her friends in person.  I hope to be able to do more of these types of trips once Christopher starts school. It is hard for me to get away right now, with two little ones to watch.

Clare has started playing Minecraft. I still only vaguely understand what it is, but she connects to our friends' server and plays with her buddies James and Simon. She is also reading a lot. I am thrilled that she shares my love of reading and she is doing very well reading on her own.

Christopher has been being three. He throws a lot of tantrums. Luckily, he gives up quickly. He has started writing some letters and recognizes his name when it is written down.  He also knows how to spell one word. Unfortunately, that word is poop.

We were at the park on Saturday, and he climbed (with help) onto a large rock. I was hovering, ready to help him jump down. He refused my help, saying, "I am big and I am brave!" Then he flexed his biceps. It was pretty hilarious.

The kids had a few birthday parties this month, but other than that we haven't had much scheduled on the weekends. My dad came to visit for a few days while my mom was in Europe. The kids were thrilled to see him. I was also happy.

I've been going to a weekly trivia night with friends. It is really just an excuse to drink beer, but it has been fun. I also booked a trip to Sonoma for September with my college friends. It should be wonderful.

Clare has Spring Break this week. Wish me luck.

Clare in traditional Hmong dress at the Multicultural Fair at her school.

Christopher coloring a South Korean flag at the Multicultural Fair. He was distressed that his didn't match the example.

He wasn't sure what to think about the Sesame Street show we ran into at MOA. Later, he was disappointed that Cookie Monster "didn't show up."

Christopher wanted a ponytail, like his big sister.

Clare made a closed sign for her door. Lovely.

My two Irish kiddos on St. Patrick's Day.

Clare and I have had a weekly Starbucks date after her swimming lesson. I love having one on one time with her.

Clare looking for sap at the Dodge Nature Center.

Ice cream with Baba at Snuffy's. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Bits and Pieces: February

This has been a busy, yet long, month. We were all sick at the beginning of the month. Christopher had the dreaded pinkeye, while Ben and I both suffered from horrible colds. Clare escaped with just a minor cold, and no pinkeye, thank goodness.

Clare has been busy with swimming and ice skating. She loves ice skating for fun, but did not love her lessons. I made her stay with it until the end of the session, but she will not be taking lessons again. She says she wants to take gymnastics and ballet again, so we will probably do that this summer. She loves her swimming lessons, though. She still will not go under the water, but I am happy that she seems to be getting more and more comfortable with swimming. Her school just completed their biggest fundraiser of the year. It is a fun run where the kids collect pledges for laps. Clare ended up running 44 laps around the gym, which I thought was pretty good. School is going well - we have conferences next month, so we'll find out more then. She is doing well with reading and math. We have been reading "The Little House in the Big Woods." It is so fun to share books from my childhood with her.

Christopher is busy being his funny, charming self. He is very much into imaginative play, and it is fun to see what he comes up with. The afternoons get long, sometimes, because he doesn't nap most days, but it is fun to watch his little brain working. He still loves to snuggle, and one of his favorite games is to play kangaroo and joey, where we sit under a blanket and he hides in his pouch. He also pretends to be asleep whenever we arrive home from our daily outings so I'll carry him into the house. (I don't know if this is laziness or a desire for closeness, but I don't really mind either way.) His favorite TV show right now is Peppa Pig, and he has picked up a lot of British-isms from the show. (He mends his toys, rides the lift, plays in the garden and wants to know what we are doing "at the weekend".) He'll fit right in the next time we visit his aunt, uncle and cousin in England.

Christopher has developed a fear of the dark. He'll wake up crying in the night. Luckily (?) there is a light in our alley right behind our house, so we can just open his curtains and his room is flooded with light.

Josie and Christopher both love to play "I spy" in the car, but neither understand the rules. (Christopher: "I spy, with my little eye, something white! Snow!" Josie: "I spy with my little eye something blue!" I take a few guesses. Josie: "It's Lightening McQueen's eyes!" Lightening McQueen is not actually visible or even in the car, etc.)

We went to my parents' house over the long President's Day weekend. We were supposed to leave that Friday, but I was too sick to make the drive that day. Ben stayed home and built shelves for the basement. Our basement is finally coming together and looking organized, which is really nice. The kids and I had a nice time with my parents. The weather was beautiful, so the kids spent a lot of time running around outside. We went to the zoo and to a few restaurants. The kids baked cookies with my mom. Unfortunately, I couldn't taste them due to my cold. On Monday we drove back through La Crosse and had lunch with my grandmother. I am always happy when I get a chance to do that, and the kids love seeing her. This is such a little thing, but the best part was that my sense of smell had just come back on the drive there - and walking into her house I could smell her freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Heaven. (And yes, my 93-year-old grandmother still bakes cookies.)

I have been staying off Facebook lately. I think I've only checked it once in the last month. I have to say, I don't miss it at all. I am probably missing some news from friends, but if it is something I need to know I am sure I'll find out some other way.  It was just making me way too crazy, and I don't need that. I am still following the news closely, just not on Facebook.

Now it is almost March. I always remember the first time Ben and I hung out together, because it was on my friend Chelsea's birthday, which is coming up this week. It will be 16 years since we first met. How do these numbers keep getting bigger?? I guess we do have two kids to show for it. Speaking of whom, here they are!

Ben convinced Clare to cut her hair short again.

Clare playing at the park near Aunt Katie's house.

Not at all excited to be on Baba's shoulders.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Oscars: 2017

Last year, I accomplished my 40 x 40 goal of seeing all of the Best Picture nominees before my friend Kerry's Oscar party. I almost did it again this year. Although many of the films were sad, it was a great distraction from the real world. And it got me out of the house, something I desperately need to do more of this time of year. Here is my sort of thought out review of each movie, in order of my least favorite to my favorite.

9. Hell or High Water: This movie was both intense and boring. It was very violent, and I didn't particularly care about any of the main characters. Even Chris Pine's baby blues couldn't save this one for me. So yeah. Not my favorite.

8. Hacksaw Ridge: I watched Moana instead. No regrets.

7. Manchester by the Sea: Whoa, this one is hard to watch. Casey Affleck grimaces a lot. He is good, but I don't like him, so that may be clouding my opinion of this movie.

6. Arrival: Interesting premise, but I had many questions.  Ben liked it a lot more than I did, so maybe I was just feeling too cynical on the day I saw it. And Amy Adams should have been nominated for Best Actress. She deserved it more than Meryl, as much as I love Meryl and her award show speeches. (And yes, I did see Florence Foster Jenkins.)

5. Hidden Figures: This movie was really good. I can't wait to show it to Clare some day as an example of what strong, smart women can accomplish. (And so she can see how poorly people are treated based on the color of their skin.)

4. Fences: This movie is a master class in acting. Viola Davis will win for Best Supporting Actress, and she deserves to. I also think Denzel should win over Casey Affleck. (See above note about bias against Affleck.) I will say, though, that I almost fell asleep. The guy sitting next to me did fall asleep. In my defense, we were at one of those theaters with the reclining arm chair-type seats. They are so comfortable! And this movie isn't exactly action-packed. It is very well done, though.

3. La La Land: I really liked this movie. It is so different in tone than most of the other films, and I did take issue with the ending, but it is a great homage to classic movies as well as a great showcase for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Great singers, they are not, but they are both extremely likable in this movie. I hope Emma wins Best Actress.

2. Lion: If you see this movie, make sure you have lots of tissues on hand. Lots. If I had been watching it at home, I would have been ugly crying. Because I was at the theater, I held it in somewhat. Not totally. This movie is so good. And Dev Patel is so cute. If you are only going to see one of the nominees, this one should be it.

1. Moonlight: How do I describe this movie? It is excellent, for one. Watching it, I couldn't help but thinking about people in similar situations in real life, and why they might choose not to vote. (This movie is not political at all, but because of current events politics are on my mind at all times.) It really is eye opening and definitely worth seeing.

Last year I cleaned up with my picks at my friend's party. I need to defend my title this year.

Should win: Moonlight
Will win: La La Land

Monday, January 30, 2017

Bits and Pieces: January

It has been a tough week. Day after day of very concerning and frightening news stories has left me worried, sad and depressed. However, I decided this morning that I can't keep reading news story after news story and then binge watching Friends reruns to take my mind off things. It is hard not to feel a sense of impending doom, but worrying, overeating and watching TV are not going to help anyone, including me. So, I am going to do what I can to resist: calling my representatives, attending rallies and donating money. I also want to work on campaigns and volunteer for other organizations that do good work.  And I need to keep busy and sane, if not for myself, then for the little people who I take care of every day.

My sister and I attended the Women's March here, along with my friend Peggy. Many of my other friends marched, too, but it was impossible to connect with everyone, since there were so many people. It was an inspiring day, to say the least. And when we found out how many people marched all over the world, it was even more inspiring. My cousins marched in D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles. It gives me hope that people are not going to be complacent.

As for what we did this month as a family, I already wrote about the best thing - our trip to Florida. I wish we could just be on that trip all the time and not have to think about the real world.

My mom was here visiting for her birthday weekend, and the kids always love having her. She babysat so Katie and I could go to the march without the kids. Katie, my mom and I went out for martinis at Moscow on the Hill and burgers at Red Cow. It was a good time.

This past weekend we took the kids to the Winter Carnival in St. Paul. There is not much there, to be honest, but the kids enjoyed the pony rides. It was Christopher's first time on a pony, and he started yelling "giddy up!" as soon as he sat down. He loved it. Clare remembered the pony she rode last year - Fiona - and she waited in line until she could ride her again. We also took Christopher ice skating for the first time. He enjoyed himself, even though he fell many times.

Christopher is talking a mile a minute, and loves to make people laugh. This is not new, but now he is really into telling jokes. When he makes someone laugh, he says "I am very funny." I think he is going to be a class clown in school, while Clare will be a serious student.  Christopher is enrolled in preschool for the fall. He is definitely ready to start some regular school. We are in music class again this semester, and Christopher and Josie both look forward to class all week.

Clare is doing well in school, although the she has been complaining about not wanting to go quite a bit the last few days. I think everyone is going stir crazy. It is isn't even February yet, and we are all ready for winter to be over. Clare started skating lessons this month. She is doing great - she is one of the kids who can stay on her feet since she has been skating since she was two. She also started swimming lessons. We've only had one class so far, but it went well. We'll see what happens when they ask the kids to go under water.

It is Oscar movie season again, which as provided a wonderful distraction from reality. I am trying to see all the best picture nominees like I did last year. So far I've seen "La La Land", "Fences" and "Hidden Figures." I have a ways to go.

On to February.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Sunshine State, Part 2

We spent a week in early January in Florida. It was nice. It was very nice. Sitting in the warm sun and not having anywhere particular to be is, to me, the perfect kind of vacation. We went to the same house we stayed in last year. This year, it was the four of us, my parents, and my Uncle John and Aunt Conchita, who live in Memphis. The kids were immediately attached to their great aunt and uncle, which was nice. Also nice: having six adults to two kids. A good ratio. We swam in the pool every day, except one, when it was rainy and "cold." We ate dinner outside at a pizza place, complete with many bottles of wine. We went to Sanibel Island and took a boat trip. We learned about the native birds and fish and dolphins. I went hiking, and the kids and Ben and my dad went canoeing in Lover's Key. We sat around. We had dueling dinner parties, again. Clare came up with the theme: Disney Princesses. We made crowns. We watched football. We ate lots of Key Lime pie. We visited a historical site on Fort Myers Beach - the Mound House. Some us drank gin and tonics on the beach (sorry I ditched you with the kids, Ben). We went to the beach. I wish we were still there.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Year in Review: 2016

Well. This year. I think it quite fitting that today is the day that Christopher correctly used "damn it" in a sentence for the first time.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

Wrote freelance articles for a magazine. Took a trip with Ben without kids. Flew to England with Clare and my mom.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

My 40 x 40 goals are some of my resolutions, and I accomplished seven of those. I am planning to keep working on them, with a few modifications. I also resolved to create a budget (nope, but we do have a new financial adviser who has helped with some long-term things) and set stricter screen time limits. I did fairly well with that one overall. Some days go better than others, of course.

3. Did anyone close to you die?

We weren't particularly close, but Ben's aunt Rita died on Christmas Eve. I'll always remember how welcome she made me feel when I first started going to family events.

I am also grieving for a dear friend who lost her sweet baby shortly after her birth a few months ago. I am devastated for her.

4. Did anyone close to you have a child?

My brother and sister-in-law had my cutie pie nephew Bambos. Alex and Beth had Sebastian. Sara had Naomi and Eve. (Identical twin girls!)

5. Where did you travel?

Florida, England, Lake City (girls weekend), Whitewater State Park (friends' camping) Chicago, Lake Itasca, Bemidji, Grand Marais (fall camping), Duluth (girls' weekend), and many trips to Evansville.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

I think I say this every year, but more date nights with Ben would be really great.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory?

Sadly, November 8.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

This is boring, but probably fairly successfully handling the transitions from school to summer to full day school. It was a challenge. Also, I am proud of the work I've done on the Parent Advisory Council that I co-chair.

9. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I have a mysterious problem with my foot (only mysterious because I have yet to see a doctor) that is making it hard to exercise. Other than that, it was just the usual colds.

10. What was the best thing you bought?

Probably carpet and a few clearance rack toys for our new basement playroom. I also bought Ben a hand drawn picture of Campus Pizza, our favorite pizza place in our college days. The building has since been torn down and replaced with condos.

11. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Ben, who has talked me off of countless ledges, has done the dishes every night, and never bats an eye when I tell him I want to go out for drinks with friends.

12. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Do I need to say it? I think I am more appalled and depressed than I have ever been.

13. Where did most of your money go?

Same as last year: Things for House and Children.

14. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Meeting my nephew for the first time. Taking a trip to England with Clare and my mom.  The Gilmore Girls revival.

15. What song will always remind you of 2016?

"A Whiter Shade of Pale." Any song from our music class CD. The Magic Flute.

16. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

Sadder, probably fatter and same.

17. What do you wish you’d done more of?

I wish I'd done more self-care. Gone to bed at a decent hour, exercised, washed my face every night.

18. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Wasted time on Facebook. Eaten my feelings. (Curse you, cheese!)

And, because I think I need to repeat this every year, what I wrote last year and the year before:

Worried about things that are out of my control. I think I'll wish that every year. Also: obsessed about things that have already happened. (And are therefore out of my control.)

19. How did you spend Christmas?

We had several celebrations. The first was a weekend in Evansville when Rob, Andri and Bambos were here. We did all of our usual Christmas traditions, including eating too much and drinking martinis. The only thing we couldn't do was turn on "A Christmas Story" and watch whatever scene was currently airing. (I made Ben watch it with me on Christmas Eve, which was a huge sacrifice for him because he hates that movie.) We had Ben's extended family party on the 23rd. Christmas Eve day was spent at home, with dinner at Ben's parents' house. Christmas Day we opened presents just the four of us, and then hosted Ben's family for dinner. The kids had a great time and were spoiled rotten. It was a nice Christmas.

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Veep, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Brooklyn 99, The Good Place, Jane the Virgin. (I am on a comedy kick.)

22. What was the best book you read?

My top five:

1. "The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah
2. "Room" by Emma Donoghue
3. "Eligible" by Curtis Sittenfeld
4. "The Secret Keeper" by Kate Morton
5. "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" by J.K. Rowling

23. What was your greatest musical discovery?

This isn't a musical discovery, but I really enjoyed MPR's holiday choral stream this month. It was very soothing.

24. What did you want and get?

My girls' weekends and my trip to England.

25. What did you want and not get?

I said it last year and I'll say it again: more time to myself. I'd love a day or even a few hours at home alone.

26. What was your favorite film of this year?

"Room" was really intense, but really well done. And I loved "Bad Moms." I haven't laughed that I hard at a movie in a long time.

27. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Ben and I went out for dinner at The Commodore. They have very strong drinks. On my actual birthday, we went to an apple orchard with the kids. We got pizza for dinner because no one wanted to cook. I turned 37.

28. What one [or three] thing[s] would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

More time with Ben and more time alone. There's no time! There's never any time!

29. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

I think I should delete this question.

30. What kept you sane?

The thread on Google hangouts that I have with a group of mom friends. We send messages many times a day. Also, our girls' nights out and weekends away (two this year)! I don't know what I would do without them.

31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I've admired Dan Rather's writing and reporting since the election.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

UGH. UGH. UGH. Just. Everything. AACK! (Am I eloquent or what?)

33. Who did you miss?

Christina. My grandpa. Robby and Andri.

34. Who was the best new person you met?

Bambos, of course!

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

On a small, personal scale, I've been really stressed about many things. I realized I have been taking that stress out on the kids. Not all the time, but enough to make me pause and think. I need to stop doing that. It is not fair to them.

I've also been doing a lot of thinking about how to stand up for what I believe in, and I am ready to fight for good. We cannot be silent during the next however many years. I am going to keep our family rule close to my heart:  Be safe, be kind, be responsible.

And that's 2016, damn it!