Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review: 2015

I think I may have ended the year by making a big mistake: I let Clare watch "Frozen." She has watched it three times in three days, and has asked to watch it at least 12 times. Sigh.

This year flew by, didn't it? As usual. I'd say overall it was a good one.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?

Sent a child off to school on the school bus. Became a daycare provider for my niece.

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

I actually kept 3 out of 4 this year! I think this is the first time I have ever followed through on my resolutions. Resolution one: get organized. I did this, but I think it needs to be a yearly task. I plan to try get rid of stuff every January. Number two: stick to my workout routine. I did this, for the most part. I have more work to do, and hope to be even better about exercising in 2016. Resolution three: read all of the books on my bookshelf rather than checking books out from the library. Nope, didn't do that. Resolution four: watch all of "Friends" on Netflix. Yeah, that one was easy.

3. Did anyone close to you have a child?

Yes! Katie had Remy, Peggy had Finn and my cousin Jackie had Violet.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes, my grandpa died in March.

5. Where did you travel?

Golden Eagle Lodge on the Gunflint Trail with my in-laws, camping at St. Croix State Park with friends, a girls' weekend in Hayward, Wisconsin, and many trips to Evansville.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

More time kid-free time with Ben. I am hoping we can take a trip for our 10th anniversary in May.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory?

March 4, the day my grandpa died. Also, the third weekend in June: we went camping with friends. Christopher was sick and crabby, and Clare had an allergic reaction after eating a cashew. There were some fun things that happened, too. (Mostly I remember devouring chili mac and beer.) It was a memorable weekend, even if not all of the memories good.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Not going crazy? I don't know.

9. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Luckily, nothing major went wrong this year. I feel like I had 10,000 colds, though. I even have one right now! Ah, life with small children.

10. What was the best thing you bought?

Our minivan! I never thought I would want a minivan, but it has been so nice.

11. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Family and friends who were generous and helpful and kind.

12. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Sadly, there are too many to list here without throwing myself into a deep depression. I'll limit myself to one name: Donald Trump.

13. Where did most of your money go?

The new car and the other usual Things for House and Children.

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

Going away on a girls' weekend to Hayward, Wis., with Heather, Kerry, Peggy and Sarah. I was so excited that I drank a pint of gin the first night and was super hungover the next day. All well. It was still really fun.

15. What song will always remind you of 2015?

"Dreams" by Brandi Carlile. Clare insists on listening to it nearly every time we're in the car. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which we sing to Christopher every night.

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

Happier, thinner and poorer.

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

Spent more time doing things to exercise my brain. Sometimes I feel like I am getting dumber by the year. I do read a lot, so that helps, but I need to find another activity to do as well. Maybe a crossword puzzle? Am I an old person?

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

I'll just repeat what I wrote last year:

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 hosted a Christmas Eve lunch with my in-laws here. That was the start of the present extravaganza, and Clare loved every minute of it. We went to church next door, and Christopher sang along to the music. Christmas Eve was at my sister's, complete with taco dip and more presents. Katie and Andrew gave me a ceramic tree with lights that looks just like the one my grandmother has, and I love it. Christmas Day was here. The kids opened presents and ate homemade gingerbread, and then I cooked a big English breakfast for my parents and Katie and Andrew. Clare got some great gifts. Santa didn't let her down: she got her Doc McStuffins kit. I also gave her my Samantha doll that I had when I was a little girl. She was pretty excited. Christopher got a Cookie Monster stuffed animal and a few different school buses. These are his two favorite things in the world, so he was happy. Among many others things, they also both got pillow pet dream lites from my neighbor. These might have been one of their favorite presents. They both insisting on having them on every night.

We had Christmas dinner here with my parents. It was nice, especially the martinis my mom mixed up. Overall, it was a great Christmas.

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Master of None, Parks and Recreation (I will miss you!), Broadchurch, Game of Thrones (Yes, I am very late to the party - I have only watched the first season so far), Veep and the Great British Baking Show.

22. What was the best book you read?

My top five:

1. "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel
2. "Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty
3. "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr
5. "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins

23. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I could use some recommendations here, actually. I haven't discovered any new music in a long time.

24. What did you want and get?

THREE girls' weekends away. I am spoiled by a very accommodating and understanding husband.

25. What did you want and not get?

More time to myself.

26. What was your favorite film of this year?

Once again I saw very few movies this year. I'll go with "Still Alice." Sad, but very well done.

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

Ben took me to dinner at the Surly taproom. They have really good food! I still think about the chicken sandwich I ate there. And the beer was okay, too. I turned 36.

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

Like I said before, Ben and I could really use some more time to ourselves. I am going to try to schedule a date night once a month in 2016. Maybe that can be one of my New Year's Resolutions?

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

I think I should delete this question.

30. What kept you sane?

Routine, routine, ROUTINE. Also, girls' nights out and my yoga class.

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

Aaron Rodgers. I love you.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

Gun control. Yes, Amy Klobuchar, that should be listed as an issue in your drop down menu!

33. Who did you miss?

Christina. Jenn. Sara. Rob and Andri. My grandpa.

34. Who was the best new person you met?

My new friend Sarah!

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

I've been better at putting things into perspective. When I start to get into a funk about something, I think about how lucky I am to have the life I do. I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or whether or not I'll have heat this winter. I spend a lot of time fretting about the state of the world, and it finally occurred to me that maybe I should try to do something about these things. My actions may be small, but they help me feel better, and hopefully will help the world be a better place, too. Is that cheesy enough for you?

Happy New Year, all! And here's hoping that I get "Let it Go" out of my head sometime before 2017.

At Ben's family Christmas party. (Which was really fun - she went swimming on her own in the hotel pool, and Christopher spent most of the time hiding under the buffet table with his school bus or chasing his Great Uncle Chris around the room.)

Getting ready for a puppet show with the puppet theater Meema Jo and Baba Ralph gave C & C for Christmas.




Monday, December 21, 2015

RIP Cat and Other Updates


The cat is gone. At long last. As most of you know, I never liked her. She kept me awake. I blame her for my other cat running away and, in all likelihood, getting lost in a cornfield and eaten by a coyote. She peed all over our basement. She scared Christopher to death.

That being said, though, it still made me sad. She was a living thing, after all, and making the decision to end her life was not an easy one. It was her time, though. She was ill and pretty miserable. She was 22 years old, which is quite old for a cat. When we adopted her, she was 10. I like to think we gave her those extra 12 years, because most people don't want to adopt a 10-year-old cat. (Including me. This was all Ben.) So RIP cat. I hope you are in cat heaven, taking a long nap in the sun.

I wonder if I should blame myself for Christopher's current fear of both cats and dogs. Our cat spent most of the time in the basement, and when she did come upstairs she walked around meowing at the top of her voice and looked fairly demented. I don't blame him for being a bit scared of her. My friends and I had our office holiday party at my friend Heather's house, which is also home to two cats and a dog. Christopher spent much of the time clinging to me. He finally calmed down when the dog was penned. Clare is also scared of dogs. (She is fine with cats.) I don't know.

Speaking of the office party, though, it was really fun. We decided that since our husbands all get fun holiday parties, we should get one too. We drank wine with lunch and ate a bunch of cookies. It was grand. I think I'll get a babysitter next year, though.

We've attended a few other holiday parties this month, including one without kids! We had a Christmas get together with Ben's family on Sunday, too. We went out for a nice dinner, and the kids are always so happy to see their grandparents. It has been a busy month and we haven't even gotten to the main event yet. I am hosting brunch and dinner on Christmas Day and a lunch on Christmas Eve, and have been waking up at 4:30 every morning with lists of things to do running through my head. I am trying to relax and enjoy the season, but that is only happening sporadically.

Luckily, I have been the recipient of many of Christopher's hugs. He gives the best hugs. He wraps his arms around me and squeezes as tightly as he can. They make my day.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and good luck during Christmas Break. I have a feeling it will be a mixed blessing here, but I am going to try to enjoy my extra time with this bearded lady.









Monday, December 7, 2015

4 and a Half


How to describe Clare at 4 and a half? Words that come to mind: attitude, independence, challenging, funny, sweet, and smart.

She wants to know everything. If Ben and I are having a conversation, she will be a part of it. Yesterday, she was pretty disappointed when she found out we were talking about speaker wire. Why would you talk about that when there are so many more interesting things in the world? When we read books at night, I almost lose my mind because she asks a question about something on every page. (And much of the time she is questioning the plot of the book. For example, in "Harold and the Purple Crayon" he climbs up a mountain, and then falls when there isn't another side to it. Clare cannot understand why he doesn't just draw the other side of the mountain. This bothers her.) And I can't get away with saying "I don't know" to anything. Her response to that: "Well, tell me what you think."

I mean, this is great. It makes me crazy, but it's great. I love that she is already thinking so critically about the world around her. She wants to know how everything works, too. She gets that from her father.

She's loving school, and is doing really well. We had a conference with her teacher a few weeks ago. Her only criticism was that Clare is sometimes too loud. I was not shocked. At home, she shouts all day long.

Clare is very excited for Christmas. We decorated the tree yesterday, and plan to bake cookies next weekend. I am trying to keep her expectations low, but it is hard. I hope she won't be disappointed on Christmas morning.

There are daily battles with this one, but most of the time she is just so fun. I just love talking to her. I miss her when she is at school, although I think we both need the break from each other. Christopher misses her even more. When she comes home, he runs to the door, screaming with joy. Josie is always happy to see her, too. And Clare is so good with both of them, although she does yell at her brother more than I'd like.

Like last year, I asked Clare a few questions in an interview. I had to start over twice because she kept using baby talk. Who knows why. The mind of a four and a half year old can be quite the mystery.


I was recently watching a video of Clare as an infant. I wished I could go back and hold her as a baby again, just for a minute. I know I can't, though, so I am trying to enjoy each stage while I have it.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Bits and Pieces: November

The year feels like a roller coaster to me. The first few months: slow. You're climbing  to the top of the ride. Then it's June and WHOOSH, down you go, and suddenly it's the end of the November. Have I used that analogy before? Anyway, here we are. The end of November!

I haven't put out any Christmas decorations yet, but the Christmas tree lot at the school next door is in full swing. I love Christmas music, but even I get tired of hearing it every night. All well, they give us a free tree. I am trying not to be a Grinch about it. (It really isn't bad, except for the nights that they are out there drinking until all hours. In the Catholic school parking lot. As you do.)

Christopher's vocabulary continues to grow daily. He also knows at least half the alphabet, the numbers one through 10, and the primary colors. (He can count to five in order, but gets confused after that.) Whenever we're out anywhere, he starts emphatically shouting out letters he sees on signs or buildings. We sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to him every night and he sings along. He knows quite a few of the words. I melt.

He and Clare are both having trouble adjusting to the cold weather. They insist on wearing their fall coats. Clare spent yesterday running around the house in a tank top. Clare's argument is that since it is technically still fall, she should be able to wear her fall coat. I keep trying to explain that in Minnesota fall ends with October, but she doesn't care. IT IS STILL FALL. I don't know what Christopher's deal is. I think he is just trying to assert his independence.

They are playing together more and more, which I love, and not only because it gives me a few minutes of peace.

Clare conquered a major fear this month: Santa. I've always been vague about Santa - you have to be when you have a fearful child. (And I mean really, the whole thing is kind of creepy when you think about it.) However, this year Clare was willing to meet Santa. (She would not sit on his lap. Again, understandable.) She even told him what she wants: a Doc McStuffins doctor kit. Poor Santa clearly had no idea what she was talking about. Luckily, Mommy does, and may or may not already have one in the basement. It was a really fun day all around. We were in Evansville visiting my parents. Evansville held an Old Fashioned Christmas celebration. Eleven inches of snow had fallen the night before, so it was quite Christmasy, even though it was the weekend before Thanksgiving. Clare and I took a ride on a fire truck, and she and my mom and I spent some time drinking coffee and doing puzzles at the local coffee shop. Actually, Clare did the puzzles mostly by herself. She is really good at them and can even do 50 piece puzzles on her own.

And, of course the kids had fun with their grandparents. They love going to the "Cuckoo House."

I hosted Thanksgiving for my in-laws for the first time this year. It went pretty well. Everyone helped. Ben washed all of the dishes after the meal, and made a pumpkin pie that morning. Clare stirred the corn casserole and tore the bread for the stuffing. And Christopher took an extra long nap on Thanksgiving Day, giving me a lot of uninterrupted time to cook. Wow, it is a lot of work to put together that dinner. It was worth it, though. Everyone had a good time.

Next weekend we celebrate my sweet niece's 1st birthday. Her two biggest fans (besides her parents) will be in attendance. Clare and Christopher are just so excited to see her every day. You would think it had been weeks since they had seen her, rather than, you know, the day before. I love that they have such a special relationship with their cousin.

On to December!


Christopher and Baba Ralph.

Watching the snow fall.
Clare got to go out for ice cream with Baba by herself. Can you tell she was happy?
Tearing bread for stuffing. Josie is not helping.

Clare sort of smiling with Santa!




Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Giving Thanks

I have been trying to write a post about how recent events, both here and abroad, have me so worried about what kind of world my kids will inherit. How I know that there has been evil in the world since the beginning of time, but that doesn't make it any easier. How I want to do my part to create a peaceful planet for my children, and to give them the tools to deal with what may come.

Instead, though, I'll just say that I am grateful. For everything I have, for my family and friends, and most importantly for my children. They are funny and smart and loving and most importantly, healthy. We have food and clothes and a warm place to sleep. What more can I ask for?

They find such joy in the small things. I am going to try to follow that example. Pure joy. Happy Thanksgiving, all!


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Bits and Pieces: October

I am done with the monthly photos of Christopher, but I want to keep doing a monthly update of some kind. I'll probably break out the moose and the dinosaur on the kids' birthdays, though. Do you think they'll still humor me when they're teenagers? I hope so.

This fall has been kind of a mixed bag. We've had some fun, but everyone had two colds within a month. Then I had a horrible stomach flu. Then Ben had the horrible stomach bug. Still in suspense as to whether not anyone else will get the horrible stomach bug.

Adjusting to our new schedule has been challenging. All of us have had our issues, except Josie. My niece is just getting funnier and more fearless by the day. Christopher misses his sister. He cries when she leaves. Clare is exhausted after school, especially towards the end of the week, and therefore more prone to tantrums and defiance. And I am getting used to a new schedule too, one that has me seeing less of my friends and Clare. It is hard spending so much time alone with a 2-year-old and 10-month-old, and has me actually thinking it might be time to go back to work. I just need to remember that I was in a similar situation two years ago. It took me awhile to find my groove after Christopher was born, and I need some time to figure out this new schedule, too.

Clare loves school, though, despite her tiredness. She has made several friends and seems to like her teacher. She has blossomed since school started - she is more articulate and more confident. She has started taking gymnastics. She loves that, too, and it is a better place to funnel her energy than the obstacle courses she sets up in the living room. (I blame American Ninja Warrior.)

Christopher is enjoying expressing his opinions, especially if his opinion is "NO." He has a new word every day. Last weekend he started speaking in two word sentences. "Mommy back." "Josie cry." Blankie mine." He also sings along with songs, but does not like it when I sing along. I love listening to him sing, though.

***

We went to an apple orchard on one of the many beautiful fall days we had this month. The kids had a blast picking apples and pumpkins while I tried to soak in as much sun as I could.






***
Until the day before Halloween, Clare wanted to be a pirate princess. She'd talked about it for weeks. We had the costume and Christopher was going to be her parrot. The day before Halloween she decided to be a magic butterfly instead. I found myself arguing with her in the car about it. I wanted pictures of Clare and Christopher in their coordinated outfits. Then I took a breath and realized I should not be fighting with my daughter about her Halloween costume. She went as a magic butterfly.

We had a fun Halloween. Ben ran a half marathon in the morning, and we made it just in time to see him run by on Fairview and Summit. Then we all went to a Halloween party at a friend's house, followed by dinner with my parents and Katie and Andrew, and of course, trick or treating. Clare didn't stay out as long as I thought she would. She had a great time, though. Christopher had fun getting all of the "cookies" although he tore off his parrot costume before heading out the door. He was willing to wear the hat, however.

Now, off to raid the kids' candy buckets.



Group picture attempts were futile.



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Recent Clare-isms

We were out to dinner the other night and Clare was her usual talkative self. A man eating at a nearby table turned to me and said, "Your daughter has such a beautiful speaking voice. She speaks so clearly." I thanked him while Clare literally sank to the floor in embarrassment. It's true, though. She has one or two verbal tics (hunderwear), but overall she speaks like an adult. (She definitely ACTS like a 4-year-old, though.) Here are a few of her recent gems.
***
Clare and I were shopping at Target. I noticed Clare staring at another woman shopping in the same aisle. This woman was dressed in a Burka. I was getting nervous because Clare was looking at her so intently, and I was worried she would say something that would offend the woman. Suddenly, Clare announced in amazement: "She doesn't have a basket OR a cart!" Whew.
***
We went to Lunds. I was looking at a pretty decorative wreath, but decided not to buy it because it was $45. As we were driving out of the parking lot later, Clare noticed a man begging for money at the parking lot entrance. She had questions. I explained to her what he was doing, and why we typically don't give money to people begging on the streets. (We prefer to give money to organizations who can distribute it fairly and better determine who needs the assistance. And I rarely carry cash.) Clare seemed to accept this. Then, a few minutes later: "Mommy, if you want that wreath maybe you should stand on the corner and ask people for money." So then we had a discussion about how we earn money, and making good decisions with the money we have.
***
My mom, sister and I are planners. We love talking about plans. We are the type of people who are planning dinner while we are at the restaurant eating lunch. (Note: we can be flexible if our plans change. It just means more plans to talk about!) You can imagine my joy and Ben's extreme dismay now that we have discovered that Clare also enjoys talking about plans. She and I discuss plans for the day and plans for the week. (Part of this is her temperament. It helps with her anxiety to know what's coming.) During one of our planning discussions, she turned to Ben and said, "Daddy, you should try talking about planning. You might like it!" I laughed. Ben slowly shook his head. 

Sorry Ben, your daughter is my mini-me.

Pre-K school picture!



Friday, October 16, 2015

40 x 40

Six (!) years ago today I turned 30, and totally freaked out about it. I now realize I was being silly. Thirty is young! I was a baby. Now that I am officially entering my late thirties (or is 36 still mid-thirties?), I decided to make some goals to accomplish by the time I am 40. That way I'll feel better about turning 40? Well, maybe not, but I saw this idea on my friend A.'s blog, and decided to do it myself. Some of these goals are already happening (the England trip is booked), but I am going to include them anyway.

1. Find an exercise routine and stick to it.
2. Add to college savings for Clare and start account for Christopher.
3. Get new storm windows in our house. (Completed Fall 2016)
4. Finish our basement.
5. Take Clare to England to visit my brother and sister-in-law. (Completed April 2-9, 2016)
6. Re-learn how to play Rhapsody in Blue on the piano.
7. Read the "Little House on the Prairie" books to Clare and Christopher.
8. Go on a family trip to the Boundary Waters.
9. Knit a sweater for myself.
10. Try sewing.
11. Cook my way through Ina Garten's latest, "Cooking for Jeffrey."
12. Learn how to cook Chinese food.
13. Finally accept the fact that I will never throw a Pinterest-worthy birthday party or be a "crafty" person. The kids don't care and neither should I.
14. Volunteer somewhere with the kids.
15. Participate in a wine and canvas night.
16. Take a trip with Ben without the kids.(Completed July 2016)
17. Visit my brother and sister-in-law in England, leave the kids with them, and go somewhere else in Europe. (Might not happen by the time I am 40, but it could be planned.)
18. Go to a Gopher football game at TCF Bank stadium.
19. Go to a concert at the State Fair.
20. Once in the next four years: watch all of the Best Picture nominated movies before my friend Kerry's Oscar party. (Completed in January and February 2016)
21. Volunteer at Clare's school.
22. Spend the night by myself at a hotel.
23. Visit a state I've never been to before.
24. Camp at Lake Itasca State Park.(Completed August 2016)
25. Take Clare to a fancy tea party. (Completed April 7, 2016, in Norwich, UK) 
26.  Bake an apple pie with homemade crust, using my grandmother's recipe.
27. Spend a day in Stillwater and Hudson with my mom and sister.
28. Find freelance writing work. I'll need some money to pay for all of these trips.
29. Attend a Minnesota Lynx game with Clare.
30. See a local performance of the Nutcracker.
31. Take both kids to a movie at a movie theater.
32. Enroll in a music class with Christopher. (Completed Fall 2016)
33. Do a "behind the scenes" tour at the aquarium with both kids.
34. Read "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck.
35. Go cross country skiing.
36. Organize my photos and videos.
37. Continue yearly camping trip tradition with friends and kids. (Completed in 2016, 
38. Have a night out with friends (couples, but no kids) once a year. (2016: Rails and Ales, 
39. Host a Christmas cookie baking party.
40. Attempt all of the technical challenges from one season of the Great British Baking Show.



Sunday, October 4, 2015

Two!

One week.
One.
Two.

He's two! Unbelievable.

The other night Christopher was a reading a book and we heard him talking. "E! Y! O! C!" he said. Ben and I looked at each other, shocked. Could he really know these letters? We asked him to point to the letter Y. He did it. Same with E, O and C. This is partly surprising because Christopher has a lot fewer words than Clare did at this age. He is in the normal range, though, so I am not worried. Clare was (and is) just crazy verbal.

His new words this month include blanky, home, Daddy, moon, Ernie, Bert, piano, balloon, door, shoe and plane . When I give him a snack or a toy, he says "Thank you, Mom." I love it. He is so polite.

Here are a few of Christopher's favorites at two: blanky, anything with wheels, balls, slides, swings, the sandbox, fruit of any kind, books (especially if they have pictures of anything with wheels or babies), babies, running, making animal noises, playing the piano, ECFE (especially Teacher Ugo), waiting for the bus with Clare (he actually shakes with joy when the bus turns the corner. "Beeeeeepppp!" he yells), snuggles with Mom, coffee, and Cookie Monster. Most importantly, he loves his people: Daddy, all four grandparents, Aunt K, Uncle Andrew, Josie, Uncle Robby and Aunt Andri, Uncle Andy and Aunt Meg, and Clare. Clare most of all. When she gets home from school, she runs to him and wraps him up in a huge hug. It is my favorite thing. He has a running list of people he asks for in the morning, too. Right now it includes Daddy, Clare, Aunt Katie and Josie. (Meema and Baba make regular appearances on the list, too.)

He is less enamored with sitting in his car seat, going down for his nap, the opening credits to Super Grover 2.0, and carrots.

Christopher's personality is a lot like his dad's: laid back, smart and so funny. Not much bothers him, except Mom leaving and Super Grover. And even if he does get upset by something, he gets over it within seconds.

We celebrated birthday number two with a small party. We had pizza and cake (homemade!) with one set of grandparents, Aunt Katie and Uncle Andrew and Josie, and Uncle Andy and Aunt Meg. He got several trucks, a helicopter, an airplane and a baby doll. Oh, and a My Little Pony and Mr. Potato Head from Clare. He couldn't have been happier.

Happy birthday to my sweet, cuddly, adorable little boy. I love you so much it hurts.


Clare opened most of his presents. He didn't mind.

Mommy and Christopher and a new dinosaur.

Aunt Katie and Christopher and a new helicopter.

Applauding after "Happy Birthday." For the first time, I made a layer cake. It is chocolate with a fresh strawberry buttercream frosting.

Best buds.

    Cheering on the 10 mile runners on his birthday morning. Go Aunt Katie!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

First Day of Pre-K


There were tears shed. By me. Clare did just fine. She has been looking forward to starting school for weeks. The thing she was most excited about? Taking the bus. I hope the novelty doesn't wear off, because she is going to spend at least half an hour on the bus every morning. She was so eager to get on the bus this morning that I couldn't even get a picture. I do have a lovely shot of the bus driver, though.

I baked banana bread for a special breakfast today. She helped. We also went out to dinner to celebrate her first day, her pick. She chose Snuffy's, of course.

Ben took the day off, so I decided to follow the bus to school. Yes, I am one of those parents. I can't help it. It is scary putting your 4-year-old on the bus and sending her off into the world.  I didn't actually follow it the whole way, I just went to the school to make sure she got there okay. I saw her get off the bus, talking to another little girl. She looked so grown-up.  (Note, and this is important: Clare had no idea I was following the bus and did not see me when I was at the school.)

When she got home, she didn't want to tell me much about her day at first. Later, she was laying on the kitchen floor when she said, "I did okay today, Mom, I didn't even play by myself. I just played with other kids." She paused. "Sometimes I am shy when I first meet people, but I wasn't today." She sounded surprised. I told her she was getting better at meeting new people, because she's had lots of practice. I am so happy she had such a good day.

Waiting for the bus.

 Christopher taking a coffee break while waiting for Clare.

Getting off the bus at the end of the day.

Monday, September 7, 2015

End of Summer

I think I'll start with my favorite Clare-ism of late. My parents babysat for us on Saturday so Ben and I could drink a lot of beer and ride on the light rail wearing matching T-shirts. (Rails and Ales: super fun!) Clare and my mom were playing restaurant.

Clare: "How do you like your ice cream?"

My mom: "It's really good."

Clare: "I stored it in my hunderwear!"

My mom: Slowly spits out her pretend ice cream...

Yes, she says hunder instead of under. Maybe it was all the beer, but I couldn't stop laughing when my mom told me the story.

Anyway.

We tried camping again at the begin of August, despite the mixed results from the first trip. This trip was worse, mainly because everyone but Clare had a bad cold. We stayed for one night and then gave up. Clare had fun, at least. We were at Blue Mounds State Park in southern Wisconsin. It is beautiful, and they have a nice pool, but even that wasn't enough to motivate us to stay longer. Christopher is at a hard age for this type of thing, too, mostly because he doesn't seem to think it's a problem to run into the road or walk through the fire pit while there is a fire blazing. Next year?





***

We were invited to a friend's cabin for a few days in mid-August. The kids and I went during the week, ditching poor Ben. It was really nice. The best part, though, was that Clare actually went tubing! It was a tube with sides that she could sit down in, and she had a blast. I was really impressed, considering her usual fearful nature. She has definitely become braver this summer.

***

At the end of the month, we went to Golden Eagle Lodge on the Gunflint Trail for the third year in a row. Being up north is so relaxing. Even with an almost two-year-old, I feel like I can breath better up there.





***

Clare and Ben are really in to the Fair.


I can take it or leave it, but if I have some beer and some Sweet Martha's Cookies I am usually happy enough.


Christopher hates it.


He did manage to choke down a few cookies, though.

We had one final summer playdate this morning with our neighborhood friends. The best part of a Labor Day playdate? The husband of one of my friends delivered Chipotle to the park.

Another good summer in the books. Now, time to get ready for another new routine.

Friday, September 4, 2015

23 months



Two nights ago I was giving Christopher a bath. I was home alone with the kids, and Clare was having a crisis downstairs. I ran down the stairs, leaving Christopher alone in the tub. (I know.) I quickly grabbed Clare and ran to the stairs. And what do I find? Christopher, halfway down the staircase. There was water everywhere, and a huge grin on his face. This kid.

He has hit the independent twos. Anything he can do himself, he will. And if I don't do things exactly how he wants, he gets very angry. The fact that he can only sometimes express his desires does not help.

He has started speaking in two word sentences. His new words this month include pee, poo, hop, popcorn, up, please, buggy (yeah, for bugs), and da (finally!). For reasons unknown to me, Clare and Christopher spend a lot of time yelling the word juggle at each other. We frequently ask Christopher if he can say certain words. His response: "Yeah." But he won't actually say the word. He is confident he could do it if he wanted to, apparently.

We had swimming lessons a few weeks ago, and Christopher got pretty comfortable in the water. At the end of lessons, his review from his teacher said, "Christopher likes to have fun! But if he doesn't like what we are doing, he won't participate." That certainly describes Christopher, although I think it probably describes most almost two-year-olds.

We were at my parents' house a few weeks ago. Clare took out my old Samantha doll, and set up her birthday party. I have a set of small glasses, plates, a pitcher and tiny cakes and ice cream. It is really adorable. Anyway, she had it painstakingly arranged in the living room. You can see where this is going. Christopher came barreling into the room. His eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning when he saw the doll toys. He ran toward them and immediately began throwing them over the couch. You can imagine Clare's reaction.

We spent the weekend up north a few weeks ago. Christopher and I were on the deck of the cabin when an overly friendly red squirrel came looking for seeds. Christopher panicked a bit, backing up and whining. The squirrel was undeterred. Christopher, seeing the squirrel wasn't leaving, chucked the bottle of bubbles he was holding right at the squirrel. It worked. That squirrel was out of there.

Even though he has become more independent, he is still sweet and affectionate. Whenever I am kneeling down changing Josie's diaper or putting away toys, he'll come up behind me and put his arms around me and lay his head on my back. "Mama," he says.

One more month until two!


Sunday, August 23, 2015

August Ennui

I've always wanted to use the word ennui in a piece of writing. Hey look, I've done it twice now!

It happens every year. I know others feel it too: that anxious feeling that starts to take hold in August. The days start getting noticeably shorter. Back to school preparation is in full swing. This year, the feeling set in for me when I saw mums for sale outside of the grocery store. Fall is just around the corner.

Now, I love fall, and am usually relieved for the change in season. I much prefer jeans to shorts. (I don't wear shorts.) Also, though, I feel sad. No more picnics or days at the pool. No more lazy mornings. I have very mixed emotions about Clare going to school five days a week. And, to quote from a popular show on HBO, winter is coming.

I often wonder if I would get this feeling if I lived in a warmer climate. Sure, there'd still be the change in routine that comes with school starting again, but maybe I wouldn't have the same sense of bleakness, of knowing the nice days are numbered.

Still, though, I am going to do my best to enjoy the rest of summer, and fall and winter for that matter.

On a summer-y note, we finished swimming lessons last week, and we made progress! Last year, Clare refused to go into the big pool at all, but this year she did it! Sure, it was just during the last two days of lessons. And one of the days it was 60 degrees and raining, so she realized she'd be much warmer in the pool than out of it, but still! Progress! Christopher passed into the next level, but unfortunately he will not be old enough to participate in that class next year. Which means I will be in the pool with him again. He had fun though, which I guess is the important thing.


At the beginning of summer, I was super strict about screen time and playing outside. If the weather was nice, the kids were not allowed to choose an indoor event. Now, I am tired of being an enforcer. I am tired of sunscreen. Even though I know the nice days won't last much longer, I let them go to the aquarium if they want to. Soon Clare won't be doing much of that kind of thing anyway. As Clare pointed out this morning, we are outside when we walk to and from the car. Can't argue with that kid's logic. Or her fashion sense.


Now, off to enjoy the last few weeks of summer.



Friday, August 14, 2015

Changes: School Edition

Clare is going to a new school this fall. I've been struggling with the decision, although when I lay out the reasons to send her to the new school it is a pretty easy call.  She is going to a public Montessori school. She'll be going five mornings a week. She'll have the same teacher and classmates for Kindergarten next year. She can take the bus. Oh, and it's free.

Change is always hard, though, and I will miss her preschool. She had a great experience, and part of me would like to keep her there. The school also houses a K-8 school. It's private, though, and we just don't have an extra $5,000 a year (or $10,000 for Christopher, too) to send her there. And then she'd probably want to go to the private high school where all of her friends would go. And I don't even want to think about that school's tuition.

Clare herself seems to be taking the change in stride. I was nervous to tell her, because she loved her school, but when I mentioned the change she said, "Okay Mommy." That was it. When I gave her some more details, like the fact that she could take the bus and that her friends Nora and Henry both go to that school, she was starting to get pretty excited. I told her I'd drive her on the first day, but she refused. She will take the bus. So instead of driving her, I'll be following the bus in my car.

Having her attend this school also allows us to avoid the troubled middle school in our neighborhood - she'll go to a different middle school and then end up at our neighborhood high school. Not to plan too far ahead.

I think the Montessori method will be a good fit for Clare, too. Lots of independent work at your own pace. The teacher is there as more of a guide, not as someone who stands in the front of the room talking. The lessons are all geared towards individual students' interests, too. I just hope it is a good teaching style for Christopher, too. If not, too bad for him, I guess. We should find out her teacher this week. I am sure I won't sleep the night before the first day of school (which is not until September 10! So late!) but I think Clare will be fine.



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

22 Months

He is no longer interested in cooperating with these pictures.
Nope.

Okay, expert moms out there. How do you stop the throwing of everything? Christopher is not discerning. Whatever is in his hand is tossed, frequently in the direction of his sister, his mother, or his cousin. I have been taking the object away, holding his hands tightly and telling him NO. This has not stopped the behavior.

Christopher has always been funny, but he seems to be working more on his comedy routine. He has figured out the face that always, always makes me laugh. I can't describe it properly, but he scrunches up his whole face with this ridiculous toothy grin.

Every time someone comes to our door, Christopher thinks it is Baba Ralph. He has an unshakeable belief (or hope?) that Baba and Meema are going to come through that door. Of course, they rarely actually do. For a long time I thought Christopher was saying "Mommy" but it turns out he is saying "ma-mee," Meema in reverse. (He does say Mama for me, though.)

He makes many animal noises to everyone's delight, including moo, baa, quack, woof, and a very strange, low hissing sound that he inexplicably makes when he sees a penguin. He also roars like a dinosaur when he has his dinosaur towel on. He gets upset if someone takes the hood off his head. You can tell he really enjoys being a dinosaur.

His new words this month include wheel, read, book, no, and row, as in "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" his all-time favorite nursery rhyme. He really, really likes nursery rhymes.

He loves playing with Clare and Josie. He is concerned about their whereabouts at all times. He hands Clare her things, concerned that she is missing them. He is very polite, saying thank you when someone gives him something. But he still throws food on the floor.

Christopher is not a water baby. Clare loves the water, as long as she can touch, but Christopher is very hesitant about going in. He likes playing in the water table and splashing in the bathtub, but when it comes to a large body of water he is not interested. We start swimming lessons next week. I'll be in the pool with him, but I have a feeling it will be a struggle.

He's been sick the past few days, with one of those pesky summer colds, so he has been extra cuddly. I don't love wiping noses all day long, but I'll take the hugs.

Only two more months until birthday number two! I hope they go as slowly as possible.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mid-Summer

We spent the week before the 4th of July at my parents' house. Uncle Robby and Aunt Andri were visiting from England, and we spent a lot of time eating, drinking and talking. We all piled in the minivan to visit my grandma, who lives north of Milwaukee. I had a happy hour with old friends from work. We also participated in the normal small town 4th of July activities: parade, pool, beer tent, fireworks, cookouts. Ben came in first in the 10K race on the morning of the 4th. It was such a nice week.

***

I think I mentioned that Clare had her first sleepover a few weeks ago. The best part, though, was when she came home. Christopher ran to the door, screaming Clare's name. He then proceeded to practically knock her over while giving her an enormous hug. Ever since then, he has been giving her a hug every morning.

***

Just because I like to keep track: at Clare's 4-year well-child appointment on June 8 she was 40 inches tall (67th percentile) and 35 pounds (53rd percentile.)

***

We went on a camping trip with friends Father's Day weekend. It was fun, except Christopher was a little under the weather, so he was SUPER crabby. It rained Saturday morning, and we all sat around the campfire in our ponchos and raincoats. Christopher walked over, hood over his head, and looked at each one of us in disgust and stalked off.  And Clare ate a cashew and had an allergic reaction. It was pretty scary, actually. She has an appointment with an allergist soon, and until then she is officially Clare No Nuts. Other than that, Clare had fun playing with her friends and I had fun drinking beer and eating delicious chili mac. (We all put homemade chili on top of the kids' leftover mac and cheese. It sounds disgusting, but it was divine.) We are planning to make it an annual tradition, and hope that next year there will be fewer ticks.
This picture sums up the trip.


***

We've been spending a lot of time picnicking at the park with friends. That is one of my favorite things to do in the summer. Christopher usually ends up stepping in or eating someone else's food, but there is just something so nice about eating outside. (And not having to clean up my house afterward.)

***

My mom came back with me following the 4th, and stayed for a week. It was nice for me because I had help with the kids, especially Josie. The most adventurous thing we did was walk across the Stone Arch Bridge, but low key was fine with me. My dad joined us at the end of the week. Christopher has gotten very used to having Baba around. He has asked for him every morning since then.

***

We went to the annual family gathering at Ben's uncle's cabin, north of Hinckley. We just stayed for the day, because we were reluctant to camp in case Crabby Christopher made a reappearance. It was such a nice day. Clare played in the lake for hours. Christopher worked up the nerve to wade in after watching Clare for an hour or two. We went out on the boat, and I floated in the lake, one of my favorite summer activities. There was beer and grilled hamburgers. A perfect summer day.

***

Of course, I've taken a picture or three.

Fresh, squeaky cheese curds at the Dane County Farmer's Market.

In the Capitol building in Madison.

Smoothie time with Aunt Katie and Josie.

Exploring in the woods at my parents' house.

Reading with Uncle Robby.

They were just slightly excited to see Daddy after a few days away. I wasn't there, but apparently lots of shrieking was involved. 

Carousel selfie at Ella's Deli in Madison.

Hanging out at the Evansville 4th of July.

At the parade.

Clare did much better this year. She was only cowering in my lap for half the parade. Christopher loved it all.

Clare and Meema Jo made a flag cake. It was very festive. And delicious.

Studying the Mississippi River.

Summer fun with dinosaur sprinkler.

Flying high on the bungy jump at Highland Fest.

Clare running the 1K kids race at Highland Fest. There were about 40 kids in the race, and Clare came in somewhere in the middle. She did great job. She ran the whole way. She's already asking when the next race is.