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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bits and Pieces: November

Aside from the election, which clouded my feelings about many things this month, we had a nice November at our house. It was mostly just the usual routine. And Thanksgiving, of course.

At the beginning of the month, I went away on a girls' weekend to Duluth. We ate, drank and walked by the lake. It was a beautiful November weekend in Duluth, and I love being on Lake Superior. I am so grateful to have found a group of friends to do things like this with. It was a much needed break.

Christopher and I went to the Como Zoo by ourselves a few weeks ago. Josie was with her other Grandma. It was so fun to spend time just one on one with him. We looked at all the animals. He especially loved the Polar Bear, which he was able to see up close through the glass. The giraffe was inside, probably because it was a bit chilly outside. Christopher looked at it for a few minutes and then said, "He looks sad." It was heartbreaking, because the giraffe did seem sad. Kids are so intuitive sometimes.

We had Thanksgiving at my parents' house. Katie, Andrew and Josie were there, too. We had a great time. Thanksgiving was filled with food (all of the usual dishes) and drinks. We went to my aunt's house the day after Thanksgiving to see my grandma and celebrate her 89th birthday. My cousins were in town from Los Angeles, and it was nice to see them, too. Saturday I met my friend Christina for lunch. And Sunday we joined the thousands of other people on I-94 heading north. Yeah, the ride home was long, but it was worth it to have that time at the Cuckoo House.

The kids are both doing well. Christopher is turning into quite a comedian, and he loves to have an audience. He has been struggling with the darkness in the morning - it is quite confusing for him that we have to get dressed in the dark. Clare is doing well in school. They have been playing together a lot, which is great, even if their favorite game is coming downstairs with no pants on and demanding I call them "little bare butts."

I am having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, which I think might be because of the weather. It is too warm for November! I never thought I would complain about that, but it is disturbing me. I have to say, though, that so far I have remained very zen about the Christmas tree lot next door. They finally moved their party area further away from our house, and it has helped a lot. At least so far.

One thing I am excited about is the new episodes of Gilmore Girls! I've only watched the first one so far, and am watching the rest with friends tonight. It's the little things, right?

Happy December!

Polar bear!

Ready for dinner. Except when it was actually time for dinner he declared everything "yucky" and left the table.

Decorating Meema Jo's tree.

He hung all of his ornaments on the same branch.

Throwing decorative gourds into the woods. An annual tradition.

Happy Clare. She had the best time over the Thanksgiving break.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What's Next?

I am grieving. I am dismayed, worried, and sad. Clare came home from school yesterday and told me that another little girl in her class told her that "Donald Trump wants to kill all the girls." Sick. The good news: Clare quickly assured me that she knew that was NOT true and she told the girl so. My girl is strong and is not afraid to tell people when she thinks they've said something wrong or untrue. I hope she never loses that.

The fact remains that hate won on Tuesday. I feel devalued as a woman. I worry for the safety of my friends who are not white men. I am concerned about the environment and what the planet will be like for my children when they are adults. We need to grieve, but then we need to ask, "What's next?"

For me, in the short term, it's going to be this.
1. Write a heartfelt email to Hillary Clinton, telling her how much I admire her and how sorry I am that things ended the way they did.
2. Help my sister with the get together/fundraiser she is hosting. The plan is to gather a group of like-minded women to support each other and hopefully raise money for Planned Parenthood or the Battered Women's Coalition. (Local folks: I'll be in touch.)
3. Hug my kids and talk to them (again) about kindness, and how important it is that no matter the person's sex, skin color or religion, they deserve our kindness and respect.

In the long-term, I don't know. I think that's part of what is scaring me right now. I just don't know. However, I will do my best to make my little corner of the world a better place. I won't sit back. I will be writing representatives, joining protests, and doing whatever I can to fight for the causes I believe in.  And I will look to the future, and hope that in what feels like the darkest of days, we will do better. We have to do better. For them.

For all of us.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Bits and Pieces: October

It's that time of year again.

Oh Clare. It's okay, though. I can tell you were feeling uncertain here and trying to do exactly what the photographer was asking.

I had intentions of writing a few smaller posts this month. That never happened, though, so forgive me for this excessively long post. Actually, it might not be that long because I am not sure that I can remember the beginning of the month anymore. Oh wait, it was Christopher's birthday!

We had a small party for him with just family, including one set of grandparents, two aunts, three cousins, a great aunt and his Godparents. We cooked out, ate cake (homemade by Ben) and opened presents. He had a good time, but did NOT want to share the dinosaurs we gave him. There was lots of roaring.

I also left a few things out of the update I wrote about him at the beginning of the month that I want to record here, so I remember them. Christopher had his well-child check and the doctor kept calling him Mr. Muscles. He is a sturdy guy, 90th percentile for height and weight. My mom said that was how I always measured, too. And I'm a sturdy gal, so there you go. The doctor asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up. His response: "Big and Christopher." Well, that makes sense. He also had an appointment with his cardiologist this month. He had an Echo done and he was a champ. He cooperated through the long procedure, holding my hand and watching "Paddington." It was all good news - his heart is still perfect. The doctor said his main risks are high blood pressure as a teenager and an adult. For now, though, we're all clear until we go back when he's five.

Christopher has an uncanny sense of direction, too, and always knows which way we are supposed to be going in the car. He yells from his car seat if I am going in what he thinks is the wrong direction. He also made me realize that I have specific nicknames for each of the kids I care for each day. The other day he told me their names are Christopher Buddy, Clare Honey and Josie Sweetie.

Christopher, Josie and I are all taking a music class together (one of my 40 x 40 goals!) and he has a surprisingly nice singing voice. He can also keep the beat. He loves it. His favorite instrument is the triangle and his favorite song is about a rocketship. We also sing the songs constantly in the car, so I am sure I will tire of them soon.

Speaking of 40 x 40 goals, another birthday has come and gone. I accomplished seven of my goals this year, so I need to pick up the pace if I am going to make it by 40. Also, is it cheating to change some of my goals now? I just don't think I am ever actually going to master knitting socks.

This month has been a busy one and it seemed unusually long.

We took a day trip to La Crosse earlier this month to visit my grandma and aunts. My parents were there, too. The kids always love seeing their great-grandma. They also went to a football game with Baba Ralph, which they found very exciting.

The next day we took our annual trip out to Whistling Wells Orchard. The apple picking was already finished for the year, but the kids had a good time choosing their pumpkins and fighting over the wagon.

During MEA weekend we went camping at Cascade River State Park, just south of Grand Marais. I was wary of taking a camping trip that late in the year, but we were invited by the same friends we camp with in the summer and we decided to give it a shot. It was really fun. It is so beautiful up there, and we had great weather on Friday and Saturday.  Was it cold? Yes. Did the pouring rain on Sunday morning put a damper on things? Yes. Would I do it again? Definitely yes.

And now Halloween! The kids went trick or treating in Highland Village on Saturday. They loved it. I did not. It would have been easier if Ben had been there. Instead, I found myself carrying 40 different things while trying to make sure my little stormtrooper and Darth Vader didn't break anything in any of the stores we entered.  We went to my friend's annual Halloween party on Saturday, which is always a good time for both adults and kids. Tonight was trick or treating in the neighborhood. We met up with friends to hit a nearby street's annual block party. It was awesome. I normally stay home and hand out candy on Halloween night, preferring the comfort of my own home and a glass of wine to being out in the cold. The block party was really fun, though, with houses going all out in the decorating department, Morris dancers, and even a police horse. Christopher loved the house decorated with scenes from "Where the Wild Things Are" (his current favorite book. He ran up to the house screaming "The wild things! The wild things!), while Clare preferred the house with the full tea party from Alice in Wonderland. It was a great night. Now, the kids are passed out in their beds and I am watching the Vikings lose. (I feel like I can start the trash talking again now that the Vikings are not so pathetic.) Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Family Photos: 2016

We had family pictures taken a few weeks ago. Christopher was not into it. He kept crying and was generally uncooperative. He had his precious My Little Pony with him, which was obviously a mistake on my part because he wanted it in all of the pictures. Our photographer, Britt, is a miracle worker, though. There are pictures of Christopher smiling! And the My Little Pony is nowhere to be seen.

The pictures were taken at Hidden Falls in St. Paul. A few of my favorites:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


He did not want to pose for the picture, but he was having fun with his moose in the kitchen so I managed to snap this one. Is this the three-year-old stubbornness starting early?

Three. I am always surprised when another birthday comes around, yet here we are. I have to say, three was not a good age for Clare, so I am hoping for better with Christopher.

I think he has grown recently. He just looks like such a kid.

Lately, Christopher has been snuggling up against me and saying "I love you, Mama," several times a day. I, of course, eat that right up. He is such a sweet boy. He occasionally gives me grief by running away when I am trying to get him to do something, or throwing a temper tantrum, but he is really pretty good overall.

He loves to antagonize his sister, but he misses her when she's at school. He was so happy last week when he found out Clare was going to an ice cream social at his school. He thought that was quite special.

At the beginning of the month, we took away Christopher's diapers. He was so ready. I could just tell that if he wasn't forced into it, he wasn't going to volunteer to give them up anytime soon. It has been going well so far. I mean, he is far from perfect, but overall I'd say he's well on his way to being fully potty trained. (Knock on all the wood.)

We have a new routine now that Clare is back in school. We go to ECFE and music, both once a week. Christopher really likes both classes. I think he is probably ready for preschool, too, but we'll wait until next year for that. He has basically given up naps, which is sad, but maybe we'll go for an afternoon preschool program next year.

He loves trains, and his favorite place is Choo Choo Bob's.  He is also into dinosaurs and Star Wars. He is going to be a storm trooper for Halloween. (Clare is going as Darth Vader.) His favorite movie is "Frozen" and his favorite TV show is "Kate and Mim Mim." His favorite book is "The Tiger Who Came to Tea." He still likes Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street, especially Super Grover. He'll eat pretty much anything that I put in front of him, but he especially likes pizza and spaghetti. He still eats lots of fruit every day. Right now he is particularly into mandarin oranges, but really any fruit will do.

Christopher is still very attached to his blanket. It slowly becoming smaller as strips tear off bit by bit. I am hoping it will last until he is less dependent on it. He also loves his Anna doll (from "Frozen") and his My Little Pony. And whatever stuffed animal strikes his fancy that particular day.

He talks constantly. If I am gone for a few hours, he likes to tell me everything he did while I was gone. ("Mommy, we came home and it was dark out and we read books and we brushed teeth and then Daddy's phone rang, and it was YOU, Mommy, and now you're here.") He is in the stage of why. He asks why constantly, and also wants to know what everything is, especially when I am driving. (And while he is asking me to explain everything in the universe, Josie is yelling "What doing, Em-ly?" Car rides are not as quiet as they used to be.) He can be extremely serious when having a conversation, but also loves to make people laugh. When he does, his eyes light up and he'll keep doing whatever it what was that people found funny.

We are having a small family party for Christopher on Saturday. We are going to make a chocolate cake and grill brats. His two best friends, Josie and Clare, will be there, along with assorted other family members.

We went to Osceola, Wisconsin, on Saturday to ride take a train ride to look at fall colors. Christopher was in his element. We are looking forward to more fall fun this month, and to another year of snuggles with this sweet little guy. Happy birthday, Christopher. You are just the best.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

First Day of Kindergarten

In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, Clare kept insisting she didn't want to go back. She was not ready to leave summer behind. When we went to school on Tuesday to meet with her teacher and drop off her school supplies, she barely spoke to her teacher (who she had all of last year, so she is not a stranger) and told me when we left that she was not ready to go back. Well, fast forward to this morning when she was up and dressed well before she had to be out of bed, announced that she was too excited to sleep last night, and bounced around the house until the bus FINALLY came. She is ready.

She is in a combined pre-K/kindergarten class, and I think Clare will really enjoy helping the pre-K kids get adjusted. Since she'll be at school all day this year, she'll get to take music, art and gym as well, along with eating lunch at school. My picky eater will likely never take hot lunch, so I am going to have to get creative when packing lunches. Today I left her a note in her lunchbox, which I hope she can read.

It has hard to believe my little girl is in kindergarten. I know she is going to do great. And we all needed to get back into a routine; things were falling apart at the seams here at the end of summer. Christopher cried when Clare got on the bus (mostly because he wanted to get on the bus, too), but he is happily playing now.

Here's to a great school year!