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!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December, in Pictures

Last day of gymnastics. She was pretty good on the beam. Now, on to ice skating lessons.

Clare and I went to a fun Christmas concert with my in-laws. VocalEssence at Plymouth Congregational in Minneapolis.

Meeting their new cousin Bambos for the first time. He is such a sweet baby,

Cookie decorating at Aunt Katie's house.

Another tooth lost! She swallowed this one, so she left the Tooth Fairy a note instead.

The cousins meeting Santa. Clare was suspicious, because he didn't look like the Santa she'd met in St. Paul. I told her he has many helpers. She was satisfied with that explanation. For now.

Christmas in Evansville, Part 1.

Christmas in Evansville, Part 2.

Decorating a gingerbread house on the first day of Christmas break. It looks terrible, but she had fun.

Playing Santa and Rudolph in the backyard.

Santa is tired.

Christmas morning!

Stocking time.

She got a stash of American Girl doll stuff, along with a science kit, some Legos, a book and a Lottie doll.

Very excited about the excavator he asked for from Santa. He also got a book, some Kate and Mim Mim toys and Duplos. They really made out this year, when you take into account all of the nice gifts from grandparents, too. (Including a gymnastics set for Clare's American doll and a parking garage for Christopher.)

The best present of all: a play room in the basement! Ben worked really hard cleaning the room, making a box to cover the water meter, and putting down carpet. Unfortunately, we got water in that room for the first time in two years with the rain on Christmas Day. Luckily, we should be able to dry in the carpet and put it back in place. Sadly, not soon enough for them to be down there all of Christmas break. They were thrilled with this surprise on Christmas morning, though.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

5 and a Half

Clare asked me a few days ago about doing the video where she answers questions. I am glad she said something, because I totally forgot. I did the video the last two years, and it is fun to see her answers change from year to year. Her memory is still incredible. She does not forget anything. She also holds grudges. I am worried about this afternoon, because Christopher just broke one of her favorite Christmas ornaments. Sigh.

Mostly, though, Clare is great. She is fun to talk to - she is so smart and funny. Josie and Christopher are overjoyed when she gets home from school. She is doing well in school. We are taking a family trip to Florida next month, and her teacher said she is not worried about her academically at all. She has started reading, and is just getting better and better.

I can trust her to play on her own and look out for her brother and cousin. (Obviously she is too young to have responsibility for them, but I know she'll inform me if anything is amiss.)

She is VERY excited for Christmas. We had a long talk about how she can ask for anything she wants, but she is not necessarily going to receive everything on her list. Luckily, she thinks Santa only brings one present per kid. She and Christopher met Santa Claus last week. It was very sweet. Christopher was thrilled to meet him. He asked for an excavator. Clare did her shy thing (slouching, mouth forming an "o" , looking sheepish), but managed to spit out her request: an ice cream cart for her American Girl doll. As you'll see in the video below, Clare is very into her American Girl doll right now. (And wow, is that stuff expensive. I am glad I hung on to my doll so I can give her all of my old stuff. And glad that she is young enough that she doesn't care about it being used. Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

Her other interests include Star Wars, The Magic Flute, making lists (she likes to sound out the names of all of the kids she knows), singing, Legos, telling jokes, doing handstands and playing games.

She is still a supremely picky eater, although she has consented to eating hot lunch a few times.

Traditions are important to her, and because her memory is so good, she lets me know if we've done anything that's different or wrong. This makes me happy, because I also like traditions. This next month should be fun.

Five has been great so far, and I can't wait to see what the next year brings for my best girl.

Of course, Christopher also wanted to participate. I couldn't resist posting his video, too.