Monday, November 14, 2016

We are here for the sake of each other

Last week was a heavy week for me. First, the election. When Adam woke up Ben to tell him the results on Wednesday morning, Ben’s response of “UGH” summed it up for many of us. It felt like a mass funeral here at work, we were collectively grieving. (And still are, though now I see more and more people trying to find ways to use their fires to light the world.)

Then one of my best friends—one of my “string sisters” since sixth grade—texted that her 39-year-old brother Sean, who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in the spring of 2015, had been hospitalized with pneumonia, found out his cancer had spread, and would likely not live through the week. Megan, an oncology nurse, has seen her share of heartbreak, but I imagine nothing can truly prepare a person to watch a member of their immediate family die. 
He had a terminal illness, but he didn’t look or act sick (he kept working out at the gym, even when undergoing chemo) and he was always posting uplifting quotes on Facebook and had such a positive attitude, that I guess we all thought he’d somehow be ok. 
And then, on Thursday night, he wasn’t.
“He passed peacefully” Megan texted us. With that text, he went from present to past tense. A devoted dad, a kind and thoughtful friend, a loyal son, uncle, brother … no longer in and of this world. At one point, he had told Megan’s sister Casey that he didn’t want to die, he didn’t want to miss out on anything, he wanted to grow old and become a grandpa one day. He wasn’t ready.
Even when death was imminent—ready or not—he was gracious, saying please and thank you to the doctors and nurses, asking how they were doing, telling people he was grateful to have the chance to say goodbye, promising his nephews that he’d be watching over them, then joking “but not when you’re changing.” He had a friend go out and buy Megan’s young son one last birthday gift—an Xbox—because he “had to go big, since it was gonna be the last time he’d buy anything for Jacob.”
It still seems surreal. 
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” - Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Children get older and I'm getting older too

In the last year, I had a first-ever mammogram (not painful, like people will tell you, and only slightly awkward, especially when the sweet, motherly tech says to you "I'll direct you to how you should position yourself for the camera, kind of like dancing, only I'll be holding your breast instead of your hand"), first-ever full-body skin cancer check, in which one of my "suspicious" moles was removed and biopsied (benign, thankfully) and a routine eye appointment, when the ophthalmologist asked me if I was having trouble reading up-close (sort of) then told me 1.) I could buy "cheaters" (NOOOO, NOT READY FOR THOSE YET!) and 2.) I *might* have signs of corneal arcus, when you get a slight tinge around the cornea (the medical name is corneal arcus SENILIS, because it typically occurs in the elderly population), which isn't a big deal when you're 70 or 80, but is when you're under 50 and "could be an indication of heart disease, so I recommend that you have your cholesterol checked." (well FUCK.)
At my age, it's all about preventive healthcare. And even though I know these appointments are beneficial in the long run (it's not rocket science ... the earlier you find a potential issue, the easier it is to treat), I still put off making these dreadful appointments because "what if?" I'm terrible at scheduling appointments for the kids, too, and am grateful when the dental receptionist will do that for me, then send a reminder. When it comes to scheduling a hair appointment, however, I have NO problem! I'm all over that, multiple times a year! And it took me approximately 12.2 seconds to schedule my first-ever couples' massage when Aaron and I went to Detroit Lakes for a weekend getaway last month. (Ahhh, an hour-long relaxation massage - now that was something.) I also had no problem scheduling a pedicure before Aaron's uncle Jay's wedding, because duh, it was a NECESSITY. (I mean, come on. It was July.) The "fun" appointments, the ones that make you look AND feel better, those are easy to schedule. They don't make you think about your mortality and what would happen if the test results didn't come back ok, and they don't make you worry that you're going to get hit with some astronomical bill in the mail a few weeks later because your insurance doesn't cover what you thought it covered. (Surprise!)
Many times these appointments land on my personal "to-do" list ... and the list can feel so overwhelming, that instead of tackling them one by one, I do what any mature adult would do. I just avoid it altogether. (Because hey, that's productive).
The older I get, though, the less I want to be that "put it off until later" procrastinator, even though I know it's going to be a process to shift my mindset. I'm not getting any younger. I see this on Facebook (who are those bald, middle-aged men with the beer bellies and outdated carpenter jeans?! OMG. THOSE ARE MY CLASSMATES), I see it with my loved ones (where did those wrinkles come from? when did conversations start focusing so much on health ailments?! how did those kids get so BIG?!?), I see it when I hear about someone just a few years older (or younger) than I am diagnosed with a terminal illness. Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow, so you sure as hell better make the most of today.
How, though, do you do that? How do you get out of a Groundhog Day routine? How do you get out of the feeling of "time famine" and into "time affluence?" *I just learned those fancy terms today. I like them. It went right along with this quote: "Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life."  
On a whim, I bought the book "The One Thing" and I really like the message—"extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can focus"—it's just putting that message into action that's a challenge. If you want success, you have to FOCUS ON ONE THING AT A TIME. What?! Now that's a novel idea! It seems so easy, yet far from it in our do-10-things-at-once over-stimulated world. 
When I was thinking about the people I consider most successful, I kept coming back to one thing: They know how to focus. (The also live in the moment, and spend far less time doing mindless activities and far more time getting shit done.)  
My friend Holly is a pharmacist with four kids, and she's an avid gardener, excellent cook, disciplined logging-weekly-miles biker/runner, home-improvement queen, and just a really good mom (and friend, and wife, and person). When I'm with Holly, I wonder how she finds the time to bring her four school-age kids to piano, karate, and soccer, help them with their homework, take the dog for a walk, run 5 miles, pick the garden veggies, make a healthy meal, spend quality time with her husband Kevin (also a dear friend), buy groceries, go shopping, and take care of her health and her loved ones, all while working full-time (yes, she does sleep).   
My sister-in-law April is equally ambitious. She gets up every morning before 5 a.m. to get in a workout—it doesn't matter if she was up until midnight the night before—and she takes the time to prepare healthy meals, even if her three kids are pulling her in all directions. She used to do daycare for 12 kids, and was able to quit to devote her time to her passion: helping others achieve health and fitness goals. I don't think she realized how good she'd be at the whole fitness coaching thing (and how much her advice and words of encouragement would really move people to action), until she became a fitness coach. She makes it a priority in her life. Exercising and eating healthy is not a complicated concept. You put the calories in, ya gotta burn the calories off. I have more energy when I work out. I feel better in my clothes. I sleep better at night. I have more energy when I eat better. I feel better in my clothes. I sleep better at night. 
Would it be different if I worked from home? Would I have less excuses? I like to think yes, it would be different if I eliminated the frazzled morning routine, long commute to work, and tiring work day staring at the glow of my computer under these awful fluorescent lights, but who knows. And I like to think that it would be different if our living situation was different. I sleep next to Ben (going on nine months now) and my sleep has SUFFERED, so every extra minute before the alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. is golden (whereas I used to do early morning workouts), and I can't just bust out an evening workout when my dad is trying to watch a game in the basement. I do have high "get this body back into shape" hopes for when we do finally find a house. And while I would get a D in the "activity" category of my life, I would give myself an "A" in the kicking caffeine category. I had a serious (and expensive) Starbucks/Caribou addiction going on, and I also drank FAR too much Coke Zero, even though I knew it was badbadbad for me, so one day I just decided to stop. That was about five weeks ago and the more H2O I drink, the more I crave. I will drink wine and beer when I'm out, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't take the occasional sip of lemonade or pop, but I honestly haven't missed my morning iced skinny vanilla latte or afternoon Coke Zero fix at all. (And when I walk by the coffee shops on my way to the office and see those long lines, it feels kind of liberating to keep right on walking.) I have cheated twice, though, and stopped for a hot chocolate. (I'm not perfect.)  
So, I've made some goals and I'm trying to be more focused. Nothing changes if nothing changes, right?  


Every day after school when I ask Adam how his day was, his answer is "Same." It's as if school is a giant nuisance and he merely tolerates it. You can imagine my surprise, then, when—at conferences—Adam's teacher told me he was "Mr. Popular." Apparently, the teacher had the students do an assignment stating who their "best friend" and "close friends" were, in addition to who they didn't want to be friends with (I think maybe this is a sneaky way of figuring out who the bullies are?). Three kids listed Adam as their "best friend" and three more listed Adam as a "close friend." I'm going to risk sounding like a sap, but hearing that almost made me cry. "He's very well-liked," said the teacher. "He's got a lot of friends." He still won't play with the "football guys" during recess, no matter how much Aaron and I urge him to just ask them if he can play or simply JOIN THEM without asking. (The horrors!) I have a visual of him just standing there, all alone, watching the other kids play during recess, but I think that might be inaccurate. He likes math and reading, he LOVES gym, he doesn't like music, he wouldn't dress up on any of the dress-up days at school, or wear his costume to school on Halloween (he was one of only three kids in his class to not dress up - HOW IS HE MY CHILD?!?!), and he would rather have a root canal than ever have a speaking part in any play or choir performance. And even though we have the same regular lunchtime battles, he hasn't had a migraine (yet) while at school. ((Knock on a redwood forest.))
He remembers people's last names and pays attention to details about them and wants to know who's texting me and what they're saying and listens whenever I'm sharing stories with anyone, which I attribute to his genuine interest in people and wanting to be "in" on everything. Also, maybe he's a tiny bit nosy. He's not a baby anymore - he can have an intelligent conversation with adults, but then he'll show his age when he hides under a table when a cute girl walks into the room. He's terrified of tornadoes and was incredibly nervous during summer storms (and told me recently that he doesn't mind winter, mostly because there's never any rain). He's a good reader but dislikes reading for fun. He can be stubborn (so stubborn). He can be irrational. He still has moments of high anxiety, typically showing up at bedtime. It's hard to know what to say to calm his fears, because to him, they're very, very real. I feel like we're always repeating ourselves. He and Ben can be best friends and worst enemies in the same five minute span of timethey know EXACTLY how to push each other's buttons. They regularly wrestle, and when I say wrestle, I should say roughhouse. I think it's how they show their brotherly love. Amazingly, nothing has been destroyed and all bones remain intact. They also love playing football, or soccer, or basketball with Aaron, and are genuinely sad when he has to work late. (I have tried playing football with them, and it's not the same - I clearly don't understand the game that well, I rarely ever catch the damn ball, and they easily outrun me.) A perfect day of meals for Adam would include eggs, waffles, chocolate or powdered donuts for breakfast, a veggie Chipotle burrito bowl for lunch, a Honeycrisp apple for a snack, and a nice filet with mashed potatoes for dinner, then a root beer float for dessert. (**Unfortunately, we don't have a steak-every-week kind of grocery budget.) He has an adult coloring book and will regularly color in it ... I think it relaxes his always-thinking/always worrying little brain. He hates milk (and many other foods, but that's a blog post in and of itself). He's the second shortest kid in his class, and the second oldest. He is loving and caring and kind. He plays fair and gets upset when Ben doesn't, and because he's more laidback than his short-fused brother, will usually give in. He still wants to sit on my lap and snuggle, and I will take every single snuggle. He has an iPad and regularly sends me texts, including the time that I told him I loved him (with three hearts), and he responded with this gem: "You can't outlove me" with row after row after row of hearts. He is sensitive. He's gonna make some girl VERY lucky one day. 

Ben and Adam share the same button nose, the same double-jointed bendy thumbs (a genetic trait shared by Aaron and his mom), a love of sports, and a current obsession with watching Disney's "Kickin It" karate show, but their similarities don't extend much beyond that. While Adam is friends with a number of people, Ben has two or three friends and will probably never have a mentality of "the more, the merrier" like his mom, although he makes friends easily when we're out and about. He's a numbers guy/math whiz, his favorite game is Monopoly, he loves counting money (real and fake, but preferably real), and he's constantly quizzing people about math equations (me, know the answers to math problems?! ha ha! Joke's on you, Kid!). He scored above average on the reading portion of his standardized test, but didn't do as well as he wanted to (he's extremely competitive), so we went to the library last week to keep practicing. His teacher said he sometimes rushes to finish his work, will skip questions that he knows because he's going too fast, and will then get agitated when she asks him to complete what he missed. He gets impatient when things aren't going as quickly as he thinks they should be going, he can be impulsive, he gets easily frustrated (if he's drawing and his picture isn't turning out, he's more likely to crumple up the paper rather than correcting the mistake or starting over). On the flip side, I love his adventurous spirit and active imagination. He's willing to try new foods, new activities, new experiences (he volunteered to drive a tractor at a recent orchard outing, I mean he DROVE that tractor, without the orchard employee putting his hands anywhere on the giant steering wheel!), and I love that he can be so affectionate, so loving, and so unconcerned about what other people think. He's very good with his baby cousin, and will make up songs and sing them to him while gently stroking his cheeks. He still sits on my lap and I love it. There's a boy with special needs in his class, and Ben told me once, "Sometimes I just let him pat the top of my head." When I picked him up from after-school care and his friend said something unintelligible, Ben smiled, gave him a thumbs up, and responded with "Ok, Buddy." ("What did he say?" I asked when we were out of earshot. "I don't know. I just give him a thumbs up and say 'Ok Buddy' whenever he does that," Ben responded.) The same thing with Emma, a little girl in his class who (according to Ben) doesn't speak. Ever. At all. She must like Ben, though, because she made him a paper football (then threw it to him) AND made him a special pencil drawing of the two of them standing together. (I saved it.) He still finds comfort in his blue blankie, he's religious about washing his hands (wish I could say the same for brushing his teeth), he likes Pokemon and football cards and little stuffed animals, and his perfect day of meals would be cereal or donuts for breakfast, Jimmy John's for lunch (Slim #1), steak or a giant bacon cheeseburger for dinner, and a milk shake for dessert. He has no volume control and we're regularly asking him to lower his voice, "Shh, we're all in the same room." I'm clearly biased, and I know there are many funny kiddos out there, but he's the funniest kid I know ... his comedic timing is spot-on, his impressions are hilarious, and he says funny things without trying to be funny. I have laughed so hard I've cried many times, like when he got into my parents' bin of Halloween costumes and dressed himself like this:  

There are challenging days and there are wonderful days; days when I feel like I'm failing at everything and days when I feel like I'm doing alright. I suppose that's normal. I don't regret moving the kids from their school, even though I know they still miss their "old" friends and still talk about their old teachers. About the only thing I miss about our old neighborhood was the proximity to everything. I love seeing my parents so often, and I love that the kids—and adults!—feel safe now, but sometimes the commute is a little taxing, more so for Aaron than for me, since he drives and I take the bus. If we have a really snowy winter, I imagine he'll be working from home whenever possible.

Here are a few things we've been up to this fall

We drove down to Marshall for Aaron's cousin Kirsten's wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and a fun farm reception. Nearly a year ago we had been in the same Catholic church for an entirely different reason: Aaron's aunt's funeral. 
Adam's American Ninja Warriors-style bday party. His old school buddies all showed up.
Aaron got out there, too.
Fall camping at Willow River - not as cold as I thought it would be!
Aaron, wake up!
Weekend away in Detroit Lakes - just what we needed. 
I wish we could have a couples' getaway once every year.

Aaron was very patient with me. (I'm still learning.)
Mountain biking - SO MUCH FUN!!! My legs were jelly afterwards.
I try!
It was cold and rainy at this year's Halloween Parade, but still fun.

Annual tradition with Aaron's dad

Pumpkin Lady (my dad made this creation, and the spider behind her).
Squirrels stole the eyeballs, though, and we had to use wiffle balls instead.
My friend Alex saw this photo and said "I LOVED your mask!" Um, it wasn't a mask, Alex. That's my face. Is that a compliment (excellent makeup skills) or an insult? (ha ha!)
We drank a lot of good beer this fall.
I can't get enough of this little guy.

Friday, September 2, 2016

New Beginnings

SORRY FOR THE GIANT FONT. It's kind of nice, though, isn't it? (Or is that just me?) 

I didn’t prepare myself mentally for the highs and lows of Wednesday. It was the kids’ last day at their daycare center (where they went to preschool, full-time summer care, and before-and-after school care), and I stupidly thought the drop-off would be like any other day. It was going fine until my favorite teacher, Miss. D, got all choked up, gave me a hug, and said she was really going to miss the boys and our family (I mean, you really get to know people when you see them five days a week for four years). Her tears got me, and pretty soon I was wiping my eyes, too.
We’ve had such a great experience there—I honestly can’t say anything negative about the school or the teachers … it’s just too far away now. It doesn’t make sense to drive out of our way to drop them off and pay $600 a month for before-and-after school care, knowing all along that we’re moving from that district. (Summer care is much, much more, but jam-packed with field trips, library outings, and soccer.)
After the sad (long) goodbye, I missed my bus by two stinkin’ minutes (which, according to my phone, was two minutes before the driver should have left—and it was the last bus of the morning), so had to drive to work, then had one of those mentally draining days putting the book “to bed” (this was a crazy issue for me—like beyond crazy crazy), then drove back “Up North” to meet Aaron and the boys at my parents’ house to get to orientation before 5.
The boys start at their new school on Tuesday, and after orientation, I feel a lot better about our decision to pull the kids from their old school and open this new chapter in our/their lives. There was such a great vibe at orientation… I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, but I could almost feel the positive energy, genuine excitement, and sense of PRIDE. The boys were able to meet their teachers and see a little bit of the school, which I think helped get them excited, too. (Ben announced that he was “going to be brave” at his new school. Fingers crossed.)
We looked at a school lunch calendar (PRAISE THE LORD NO MOZZARELLA CHEESE STICKS!!!), put money in their lunch accounts, talked to a PTA parent, and looked for the school nurse (gotta give her a heads-up about Adam’s migraines). The boys couldn’t wait to play tag on the modern playground (zip line and all). And while we didn’t talk to any of the parents or kids, I think—just by seeing them—Adam and Ben felt better about who would be going to their new school. People seemed approachable. (“Mom, that boy talking to my teacher is named OWEN. He’s going to be in my class. He looks nice,” Ben announced after doing a tiny bit of conversation-eavesdropping.)  
What really struck me is that there are 10 less students in Ben’s first grade class this year than there were in Adam’s second grade class last year, making me realize just how overcrowded (and underfunded) their last school was (and making me appreciate those teachers that much more, because no teacher should be solely responsible for 31 eight and nine-year-olds without any support or assistance!)
Adam’s new teacher has been in the profession for 30 years, and handed out a form stating that he expects a “quiet and busy classroom,” and will NOT give any math homework because there’s no research proving that it helps, the parents weren’t taught this new way of doing math so it’s confusing to even them (TRUE THAT), and he’d rather families have a “pleasant evening together.” (Adam loves math, but he was pretty happy to hear that he won’t have any math homework.) Instead, Mr. C asks that the students read for 20 minutes each night. (Adam wasn’t too happy about that. “Read for 20 MINUTES EVERY NIGHT?! That’s impossible,” he hissed to me after we were out of earshot. He definitely didn’t inherit my love of/for books and reading for fun.)
I can’t say that I’m still not worried about the transition, or the kids aren’t worried, or I’m not worried that the kids will struggle with listening (Ben), volume control (BEN!), anxiety (Adam), lunch issues (Adam), or, you know, ENJOYING school, but one of their preschool teachers reassured me that they’re both bright and personable and “will make friends in no time.” I also feel better thinking about my friend A’s solid advice (from her daycare provider) that kids NEED to learn to adapt to change, it’s actually good for them.
Positive vibes, please, on September 6. We’ll take all the good thoughts we can get. 

And I apologize for the information overload (so much copy!), but I think I might want to relive these moments one day, so here's a super long summer recap:

Ben's golden birthday was June 6 and we talked and talked and talked about his special golden birthday for months leading up to the big day. Did he want to go to Disneyland or Dave and Buster’s? (You keep on dreamin’ big, Ben.) Should he invite Drew and Sidney? Drew invited him to Pinz but Sidney didn’t invite him to her party and maybe she wouldn’t want to go because she’s a girl? Should he invite Lane and Logan? Leo and Lou? Was it ok to invite adults, too, because he REALLY wanted Josh, Shawn, Nick, Kyle, and Jeremy there. His request, in the end, was a disc golf party. Sure, fine, we can do that … because ain’t no WAY we can afford Disney this year, Kid. Sorry.
On the day of his birthday, Aaron volunteered with Ben’s class on a field trip to the zoo (the Birthday Boy got to wear a fancy paper birthday crown all day) and for dinner, we went to Jimmy John’s (more of the fancy). 

That weekend, we hosted his “disc golf” party with a BBQ at my parents’ place. A group of kids/adults played disc golf at the parkland next door, thanks to our friend Kyle bringing over his basket and discs, and then we played more lawn games. We had an excellent turnout and people were overly generous with gifts. Ben’s favorite? Money. He counted his cash over and over until we had to take it away and hide it on him so he wouldn’t start losing bills in random places around the house. (We did let him spend some of it, though, and what did he buy? Pokemon cards. Our lives have become overrun with Pokemon battles, questions about damage and health, the Quest for the Great EX Card, trainers and coins, and Reyquaza, Charizard, Venusaur, Kyogre, and Blastoise. (And Dillysnap and Googlyroo and Fohrigwa and other names I make up to try to trick the kids.) 

We also:    

Attended the last kindergarten event for our family, Ben’s portfolio  picnic. Another milestone to mark The End of an Era. *Sigh  “Let them be little ...”

• Went to Adam’s first fast pitch baseball game of the year playing for a different league … he got hit in the nose with a wild throw during warm-up, started spraying blood like a garden hose (blood, blood, everywhere blood), and tried really hard not to cry but you could tell he wanted to cry, so we headed home before the game even began. (But hey! His nose was ok and I got the blood out of his jersey.)  

• Saw my friend Remme’s dance recital at the U of M with my sis-in-law Trish. (Rem’s 4-year-old twins danced too, but I gotta be honest, we were mostly there for Rem.) The positive? The women, ranging in age from 20-something to 60-something. So inspiring! (And they rocked those burlesque costumes.) The negative? We had to sit through a three-hour concert to see Rem perform twice, and the woman behind us kept taking off her stinky shoes and polluting our air. (“Is that a dirty mop???” Trish asked. “What is that STENCH?!?! Did someone throw up? WHAT IS IT? I can’t even breathe!”) Stank feet aside, I give the dance company mad props for the creative choreography and costumes. And those little, little kids?!?! GAH. There was The Boy Who Froze Like a Statue, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Stop Twirling, The Boy Who Fell Down (and Stayed Down), The Girl Who Did Her Own Moves, The Jumper and The Cryer. The competition dancers were so beautiful to watch, especially the ballet routines.      

• Went to Valleyfair with my brother Shawn and Trish (a private event through Shawn’s work). It was the first time we brought the kids, and I was surprised that Adam LOVED the scary rides and Ben was terrified. (Ben told me, in all seriousness, “I thought I was gonna die,” after the white rollercoaster came to a stop. “I’m never going on this again.”) We waited in some reaaally long lines, got too much sun, cooled off in the waterpark, walked more than 15,000 steps, and had a really good, exhausting time.  

• Hung out with a group of friends in honor of our friend Jesse and his boys visiting from Huntington Beach, California.  

• Went to our dear friend Holly & Kevin’s cabin north of Green Bay for five glorious days of sun, sand, boat rides, swimming, Corona Light, horseshoes, girl talk, floating down the river (I think there were 24 of us this year!!!) and college-friend-bonding.

• Went to a pool party at my sister Mary’s house. She and my BIL Ben have a pool, a trampoline, an arsenal of Nerf guns and bullets, video games, really good food, a cat, a dog, an older daughter and two older sons (older as in older than Adam and Ben, but just by a few years), so basically their house is like the Taj Mahal.

• Co-hosted a baby shower brunch for my brother Nick and his girlfriend Ashley, in honor of Baby B due in August. Nearly everyone on the invite list was able to make it. It was fun to see/catch up with relatives, but when you’re co-hosting for nearly 40 people, you’re never sitting still for more than a few minutes. When the shower was over, I made myself a margarita, sat on the couch, and didn’t move for the next two hours. 

• Went to Adam’s baseball tourney—our first (of many?) weekend sports tournaments.  During one game, Adam shocked us with a from-his-knees throw from shortstop to first base, just like in MLB. (My dad exclaimed with pride, “That’s my grandson!” and my heart just swelled.) I hate to sound like I’m bragging, because Aaron and I both find it incredibly annoying when parents do that, but he’s actually pretty good. He gets a decent hit nearly every time he’s up, he makes good plays in the field, and for the first time, he didn’t let his anxiety stop him. He genuinely enjoyed playing and it showed. He was invited by his coach and his assistant coach to play in two different fall-baseball leagues, but we had to politely decline due to it already being a season of uncertainty and unknowns. (It would be different if either league was based in the city we’re hoping to live, but they’re both between 30-40 miles away.) 

• Got together with friends on many occasions for dinner, drinks, BBQs, or “just because. I’m beyond grateful that Aaron is so supportive of my NEED to maintain these different friendships/connections.

• Helped Jay and Pete celebrate their love and commitment at a beautiful Minneapolis riverboat wedding 

• Hosted a going-away party for our friends Kyle and Rachel, who moved back to the East Coast (we met them while camping four years ago). She’s a doctor; he’s an aerospace engineer, they’re brilliant, theyre fun, theyre kind, we just click. Theyre both far younger than we are, and we still can’t figure out why they like hanging out with us old people. 

• Helped my parents acknowledge their 45th wedding anniversary. That is a LONG ASS time to be married. My mom didn’t want a big party, so instead they planned a trip at the end of July. They flew to Vegas for the sole purpose of seeing J Lo in concert, then drove to the Grand Canyon on their way to a wedding in Colorado. After the wedding, they went to Red Rocks and the Coors Brewery and other places I’m forgetting. “I saw enough mountains to last a lifetime,” my mom said. They did a lot of driving, spent a lot of money, and enjoyed one another’s company (I was worried they’d start bickering with so much together time.) We grilled steak and chicken when they were home, and did a little champagne toast.   

• Enjoyed another fantastic evening at the Pizza Farm for J’s bday (we love this annual tradition). No rain, but lots of flies. (*Note to self: Do not set up camp in front of the cow barn next summer.)

• Spent bonus time with T and Evan, who flew in from Idaho last-minute to visit her sick grandma. I took a vacation day and T, Meg, and I brought the five kiddos to to Cascade Bay (lazy river, waterslides, and mini golf), the high school group was able to get the kids together at Karla’s another night (11 kids, ranging in age from 3 to 9), and we pulled some major strings to organize a girls’ dinner in downtown Stillwater, with both Tonya-who-lives-in-Coeur d’Alene AND Becky-who-lives-in-San-Diego in town at the same time, which hasn’t happened since Money’s wedding in 2009. 

  Celebrated Adam turning NINE with Chipotle, grandparents, and godparents at a park. (Our goal is to have an ANW party with friends later this fall.) 

• Went camping with my side of the family at Baker Park. Got rained on Friday (couldn’t even have a bonfire, it was too wet). Went swimming, hiking, and biking Saturday. Got attacked by mosquitoes. Found a really cool bug. Ate walking tacos (my parents brought their camper, so we had the luxury of a stove), hot dogs, and s’mores. Drank G&Ts. Played Apples to Apples. Slept like #$%@ wedged between two little boys on a giant air mattress. (The kids loved every minute, though, rain and all.)

• Got together with college track friends who I haven’t seen in-person in 20 (!!!!) years. Do any of us run anymore?

• Went to Madden’s Resort—just for the four of us—for a work travel story. It was a wonderful weekend, filled with tennis, pickle ball, croquet, badminton, bingo (we won three of the eight games, it was almost embarrassing how much we dominated!), lawn bowling, swimming (in an indoor pool, in an outdoor pool, and in the lake), Surly X-Tra Citrus, pizza, ice cream, burgers, more lawn games, mini golf at nearby Pirate's Cove, and a really good lunch at the Roundhouse Brewery.  

• Welcomed our nephew to the world, born healthy with thick black hair and beautiful coloring and big chubby cheeks. I fully plan on spoiling him. (You can do that when your own kids are 6 and 9 and you’re no longer “in the trenches” taking care of babies.)

• Had our photos shot by a professional photographer and will probably hate all photos of ME (I know, I know, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but that whole self-love/acceptance thing is a daily challenge), but was glad that the boys cooperated and followed direction and smiled on cue and didn’t wind up wrestling on the ground. Some days they are the best of friends; other days our house is like a war zone. After a super buggy shoot, we drove less than a mile to Kelly’s parents’ house (Kelly arranged the photo shoot) for tacos and margaritas and interesting conversations with Kelly's family and Book Club friends. I still miss working with her, even after all these years. Being writers in the marketing department (for seven years), we just “got” one another. Our personalities mesh. I miss a lot of people who have left the magazine, but I keep in touch with the ones I care to keep in touch with [thank you text messaging and Facebook and regular dinner dates]. More than anything, I’m grateful the “old-timers” are still here, because without them, work would be far less fun. (Also grateful for the opportunity to write more travel features and get free trips!)   

• Brought the kids to the MOA on a rainy Saturday during prime back-to-school shopping season and NEVER EVER EVER AGAIN. *The reason we went to the MOA was so that Adam’s godparents, Shawn and Trish, could have a special day with him at Nickelodeon Universe. I think it’s awesome that his godparents created a “special day with Adam” birthday tradition (last year they went to the State Fair; one year they went to lunch and a movie) and I hope I don’t sound like an ungrateful bee-otch by complaining, but between the traffic, the crowds, not really knowing the lay of the land, Ben asking me to buy this-and-this-and-this-and-this-and-OMG-KID-IS-IT-NEVER-ENOUGH?!?!??!, and trying to keep track of/gently steer/corral both kids, I was just a LITTLE stressed and cranky. After eating lunch together, Adam went off with his godparents to enjoy the rides and obstacle course, and I brought Ben to The Secret Life of Pets. (I apparently cannot handle a day at the MOA anymore, I needed to be a hermit and hide in a dark, cool theater, away from humanity.)     

• Saw the Dixie Chicks with Aaron, my SIL April, and Aaron’s uncle Jay (who had three last-minute tickets and was kind enough to offer them to us) on their second night performing sold-out shows at the Minnesota State Fair. If this is the only concert I see in 2016, I’m ok with that. What a performance. What talent. What FUN. My favorite was their cover of Sinead’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which holds special significance because not only is it me and my girl T’s song (we played it during a dorm-room memorial our freshman year at college, after hearing the news that T’s yellow lab, Kayla, had died), but also because Prince wrote and composed that song for Sinead, and the DC had a Prince symbol/backdrop/purple explosion on stage while singing. I think I’ll buy their new CD. Wait. Do people still buy CDs??! (This is a serious inquiry.) I wouldn’t go as far as to classify myself as a country music fan, I still can’t/won’t/don’t listen to country stations, but I have been a Dixie Chicks fan since Wide Open Spaces and used to have at least one of their songs on every mixed CD I created, and I like the Zac Brown Band and Garth Brooks and Keith Urban, and if a random country song is really good, I will pay $1.29 to iTunes because good music is good music, genre be damned. Anyhow, the concert was worth every penny and every Monday-morning yawn, reinforcing my belief that we need to see more live music because, during the time you’re immersed in the show, the world outside fades away and you just feel HAPPY and ALIVE, and really now, can't we ALL use more of that???