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???

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


This logic might sound twisted, but the last time I felt a real sense of UNITY in our nation was in the days following 9/11. Anyone old enough to process what was happening can remember where they were when they heard the shocking news reports. Aaron and I were on the way to work as reporters at a local weekly newspaper and thought the first crash was an accident. ("A plane accidentally crashed into the World Trade Center? How does that even happen?") By the time we got to work and the second plane hit, everyone pretty much thought the same thing.  "Oh, shit. This was definitely no accident." One of our coworkers turned on the radio and we listened in disbelief. What was happening? Why would anyone do that ... on purpose? I will never forget those images that came out following the attacks, the smoking towers, the brave firefighters that ran into the buildings as others ran away, terrified New Yorkers out in the streets, totally covered in white ashes like ghost people, dazed loved ones looking for missing family/friends (candles and photos and hope and fear), the altered skyline. In a lot of ways, it was the day we lost our innocence. No way was I going to fly, I was nervous/anxious in crowded places, I was scared of another attack. Our sense of security—as we knew it—had been rocked to the core (I had a hard time sleeping ... although part of that might have been thanks to Aaron's rickety futon in his little efficiency apartment on Marshall avenue). 

But can you remember what happened AFTER the attacks? Do you remember how Americans came together? We stopped seeing our differences. Gay, straight, black, white, man, woman, old, young. It didn't matter. We were American. We were scared, yes, but there was this overwhelming sense of community and pride. Look at everyone rallying together, helping one another. You can just feel the love and support, the UNITY. Look at all those American flags. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave and we can get knocked down and come back 10 times stronger.
I hope, in my lifetime, I'll feel that same sense of unity again (without it being a result of a terrorist attack). 

Last week's events were awful (and just when I thought it couldn't get much worse ... the attack happened in France). I read my Facebook feed and so many people are hurting. I keep thinking, "But what if it was YOUR loved one? How would you feel then?" There seems to be an awful lot of misinformation being circulated as "fact," and some really wild assumptions out there. Anything that divides people can spawn hostility, and right now our country feels more broken than ever. How do we learn to listen to one another and consider other points of view? Am I being insensitive? Am I being too sensitive? Can I feel sad about one thing and mad about another without being labeled a certain way? What's the answer? How do we get there? And around and around we go. (The topic might be slighty different, but the sentiments are the same.) 

This world of ours... must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Read more at:
This world of ours... must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Read more at:

Thursday, June 9, 2016


It’s a 35-45 minute commute from school to my parents house every night, and the first thing the boys want to do when we pull into the driveway is play ball or soccer in my parents’ side yard. Forget dinner. Forget homework. If they don’t have a chance to play for a few minutes, there will be tears (Ben) or whining/pouting (Adam). Sometimes just the two of them play, sometimes Aaron pitches them balls, and a few nights ago we ALL played. It was Aaron and my parents vs. me and the boys. I think we won. I can’t remember. I haven’t seen my mom laugh that hard in a long time, and my dad seemed more youthful than ever. It was good for the soul … for all of us.

Aaron is one of those dads who gets home from work and immediately channels his energy into his family. He doesn’t disappear to putter in the garage, sit at the laptop and check email, watch TV, head to the gym, or come up with excuses not to hang out with the little people in his life. He takes off his tie and is IMMEDIATELY either helping with dinner or playing with the kids. He isn’t cranky, either, when he walks in the door, even if traffic was a nightmare and his commute took well over an hour. I’m a pretty half-glass-full kind of girl, but when I’m crabby, I can’t hide it. Somehow he can. He’s good about not taking out a bad day on anyone else. That’s not to say he’s perfect, because no one is perfect, but he’s respectful and kind and helpful and thoughtful and really listens when people talk, and those personality traits make not only a good husband and friend, but a good son-in-law/temporary roommate.

When I tell people we’re temporarily living with my parents while we look for a house, they either look horrified, look at me with pity, or make some lighthearted joke like, “How’s that going?” Very rarely do people say “You’re living with your parents? That’s SO COOL!” But really, it IS cool. I like it. The boys like it. Aaron doesn’t even mind. My parents have reassured us that they like having us here, they swear they don't hear us getting ready in the mornings—although I think they're just saying that, because how could they not? And once we get home from school/work, they say they like the activity and energy (so much energy) to interrupt the routine of their retirement years, some new conversation, happy news instead of the sad news you start receiving on a more frequent basis when you're 65+. We all get along so well, and I consider that a blessing. For a long time I've said that I'd rather go on a double-date with my parents than anyone else, and I still believe that. When we do finally find our house, I’ll miss things like impromptu ball games in the yard after school/work, our late-night tradition of watching House of Cards when the kids are in bed, having extra help with the boys (I think my dad actually LIKES helping the boys with their math homework. Me? Not so much), evening boat rides, always having a gender ally (thanks Mom), and dinner! Oh, dinner. My mom prepares dinner every night so that it’s hot and ready when we roll up around 6 p.m. (We buy all of the groceries and come up with the meal plan.) I didn’t realize how very much I hated making dinner until I didn’t have to make dinner. 
Nearly every night, Aaron and my dad bond over a “good” beer. Last night they watched the Twins downstairs while my mom and I watched All Good Things upstairs and we were all happily doing what we wanted to be doing, and bonus! We had someone to talk to about the game or movie (*what a disturbing movie, based on a true story, but RYAN GOSLING). We are saving money by not having a mortgage. We are surrounded by the fruits of my parents’ labor: their beautiful updated kitchen, spa-like bathroom, fireplace, peaceful backyard, pontoon. As most parents do, they share what they have with us. Not that I ever doubted the benefits of generational living before, but now I understand from personal experience why it works so well. My parents get to see their grandkids every day. The boys are developing a close and special relationship with my parents. We have been given the gift of quality time with them, because let's be honest, we're not getting any younger and tomorrow isn't guaranteed for anyone. We are completely spoiled by this living situation and we know that. We don’t take their generosity for granted.

Adam would like to live with my parents forever. He feels safe and secure there. Of course he does: Aaron, Adam, Ben and I are all sleeping in one room downstairs. You can’t get much more together than that. And while it’s sweet to be right there with my boys, just an arm-length away, I miss getting a solid night’s sleep in my own bed, with Aaron by my side. I miss having access to our things (the other day I wanted to use a blender, and my mom said they didn’t have one. Ours is packed away in the Pod.) I miss having our own space and our own dirt to clean and our own grass to mow. Even when something goes wrong, there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment when it’s yours. I miss my privacy. I miss being able to hide ugly moments from my parents (ridiculous meltdowns (the kids), stupid arguments (me and Aaron), those times you don’t feel the need to bring up when you’re at your house and your parents are at their house, but have nowhere to hide when you’re all under one roof).

I want to find our next home so the kids can make friends and get settled before the start of the school year. I want to entertain friends and family in an open kitchen, relax after a long day by taking a bubble bath, have a bonfire in the backyard, and walk to the park. I want to go for a run around the neighborhood while the boys ride their bikes in front of us. I want to recognize our neighbors, the friendly ones, the distant ones, the ones with the beautiful flower garden, the ones with the little dog that always runs away, the ones who might one day invite us into their fold. I'm ready for the next chapter in our lives.
Man oh man, though, is this housing market DISMAL. We’re trying not to get too discouraged, but it’s frustrating when home after home after home on our search just isn’t “right.” That one looks nothing like it does online, that one is too close to the freeway/the prison/that possibly contaminated site, that one doesn't have enough storage, that one is too small, that one has a goofy layout, that one smells like cat pee, that one smells like cigarettes, that one is in a sketchy neighborhood, that one has a miniscule backyard, that one has issues. I have decided that this is what online dating must feel like. You put in your requirements, see the potential matches, get excited at the possibilities, “meet” in person, then leave feeling disappointed because there wasn't a love connection, the photos were deceiving, the inadequacies are so obvious when you're standing right in front of them, and you don't want to settle because DAMMIT you DESERVE to find “The One.”
So, the search continues. And in the meantime, we’ll appreciate our roommates and random games of ball in the yard, because I know these days/weeks/months, this blip on our overall timeline, will create happy “remember when?” memories that we'll cherish forever.

Friday, May 20, 2016

My Bucket List

Recently, two of my dear friends (shout out to Em & A!!) created 40 x 40 lists, a list of 40 goals they want to achieve before they hit that milestone birthday.
At my “advanced” age, it’s too late for me to create a list like theirs, but it’s never too late to set goals (right?). They don’t have to be life-changing goals, they can be practical (one of my friend Emily’s goals is to get new storm windows); or they can be educational (my friend Amanda has a goal of reading five biographies); community-oriented (volunteering); or fun (traveling, trying new things). The options are only limited by your imagination! (Ok, and in reality, your wallet.)
Here’s my own bucket list, to be completed before I kick the bucket (which hopefully won’t be for a long, long, very long time):

1. Go on a family trip to Disney (preferably for Adam's 11th golden birthday)
2. Volunteer!
3. Learn more about our family tree 
4. Go somewhere warm in the winter before 2020 (Jamaica? Costa Rica? The Dominican?). *I would love for this to happen in 2017, but realistically—if we're buying a house (and possibly going to Disney in 2018)—we gotta ration the greenbacks.   
5. Grow a vegetable garden and eat tomatoes all summer long 
6. Go to Australia with Aaron
7. Visit all 50 states
8. Do the Polar Plunge
9. Get a couples’ massage
10. Run a half marathon
11. Swim with the dolphins
12. Go geocaching as a family  
13. Adopt a shelter animal (cat)  
14. Adopt a shelter animal (dog) *yes, I would love to have one of each.
15. Camp in the Boundary Waters
16. See Aurora Borealis
17. Go to Oktoberfest in either New Ulm or Lacrosse (but probably not in Munich, Germany, although that would be amazing)
18. Go skinny dipping at night
19. Hike in the mountains
20. Become friends with our neighbors! 
21. Own a kayak and a decent road bike    
22. Take a long-distance trip by train and experience what it's like to dine in the dining car and sleep in a sleeper car.
23. Stick to a disciplined budget. Use more coupons. Be more mindful of purchases.
24. Come to peace with my body.
25. Buy a high-end designer brand leather bag/purse (but find a good deal, because #23)
26. Break 160 in bowling (my current high score)
27. Bake something complicated and take pride in it actually turning out!
28. Start a once-a-month meal tradition (pizza night? Taco night? Cereal night? ha ha ha) and a 10th birthday tradition for the boys.
29. Step outside of my comfort zone and take on new challenges.
30. Kiss in the rain
31. Host a murder mystery dinner party
32. See a concert at Red Rocks
33. See Justin Timberlake perform 
34. See a Springsteen show
35. See Pink, Katy Perry, or Lady Gaga 
36. See a good country music band at an outdoor festival 
37. Try stand-up paddleboarding
38. Buy everyone’s meal at a restaurant (everyone dining with me at my table, not, you know, everyone in the entire restaurant)
39. Make a bowl on a pottery wheel
40. Take the boys to a drive-in movie
41. Read more classic literature!
42. Play bingo in a bingo hall
43. Attend a pig roast
44. Give blood
45. Take a CPR class  
46. Plant a tree
47. Send a care package to a soldier
48. Attend a luau
49. Go on a sailboat
50. Learn how to salsa, tango, or samba
51. See Wicked, The Lion King, or Book of Mormon on Broadway
52. Walk the Freedom Trail in Boston
53. Sample wine in Napa!
54. Tour the caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
55. Visit Zion National Park in Utah
56. See a bluegrass band in North Carolina
57. Go to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta  
58. Participate in NaNoWriMo
59. Learn all 10 constellations
60. Release sky lanterns
61. Celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

This is where we used to live

The big news in our lives is that we’re looking for a new (or, more accurately, new to us) house. FINALLY. FINALLY. FINALLY! **insert an obnoxious amount of exclamation points and happy music here.** After writing about realtors for the magazine this fall and finding a duo I thought could be “the ones,” we contacted them (it’s a daughter-in-law/father-in-law team), met with them, liked them, set the wheels in motion as to “What if we could sell this place? What if we could move to a different school district/family-friendly neighborhood/bigger house?” and received valuable, realistic advice about what, exactly, needed to be done to sell our house. At one point we were so upside down on our house I worried that we’d never get out. Times have changed in the real estate market, though, and our realtors gave us something we hadn’t had in YEARS. They gave us hope. 

This winter we devoted nearly every weekend to Operation Sell Our House, gave many, many, many dollars to Menards & Home Depot, and devoted many, many, many hours of labor into home improvement projects (I did some serious de-cluttering and heavy cleaning, but the repairs/improvements were all Aaron, my dad, our friend Russ, and my brother-in-law Josh, who runs his own painting company. When the job was outside of their comfort zone, our trusty, affordable handyman stepped in). Our house was ready to list one week before our goal of March 1. In 10 days we had 10 showings and one of those became an asking price offer. Say whaaaat?!
Goodbye, dear sun porch. I'm so sorry that we only ever used you as storage and not as you were intended to be used. My mom sewed all the curtains. Josh and Aaron painted.
Fingers crossed that everything goes ok. If it does, they close mid-April. 

I’m cautiously optimistic that everything will work out, but have a hard time getting too excited and probably won’t truly *celebrate [*=drink like I did at my 21st birthday] until every legal paper is signed. I’m trying not to freak myself out about what could go wrong (could the sellers financing fall through?!?!), but why is selling a house like having a baby in that so many people want to tell you horror stories of either their own or their friends’ experiences? Thank you for giving me YET ANOTHER REASON TO WORRY.

Long ago I emotionally detached myself from the house and am more than ready to move on, despite the fact that it’s full of milestones for us: The first place we ever lived together, our first address as a married couple, the location of our "taco" vs. "burrito" fight, and where we had both of our bouncing baby boys. The truth of the matter is, it's a good house; a solid house (so well-built), but we've outgrown the space and we're ready for a change of scenery and a new beginning in a new neighborhood.

We just only started looking at homes in our price range of $2 million (ha ha haaa I’m so funny!) and it is pure insanity in the market right now, with homes in the affordable price range being snapped up in a matter of HOURS and bidding wars pushing home prices up to $10k (or more!) above what they’re actually worth. If you find a home and you like it, ya gotta act lightening fast, then hope that other people aren't ALSO putting in offers. And I find it really, really, really weird that not only are we moving this spring, but my MIL is moving in with my BIL and his fiancé, who moved to a house on 6 acres last weekend; my younger brother and his pregnant girlfriend are moving from an apartment to a house in a few weeks; my good friend Alex moved into her own apartment two weeks ago (freedom! Independence! New chapters!), and my good friend Jeremy is moving in with his girlfriend May 1. Who else wants to join our Moving Club?!?!

In order to celebrate another trip around the sun (gosh, I am OLD), a group of us went snowtubing at the usual spot, where I've been going since my 26th birthday. I decided this will be the last year of a fun annual tradition (it’s just too much work coordinating … I’m not going to say we won’t ever go again, but the occasion won't be in celebration of my birthday). By the end of our session, both boys had mastered the tow rope. Especially Ben. After riding up the hill on Aaron’s back for the first part of our session, we thought we’d let him try it on his own towards the end and WOAH. He figured it out right away (he has more upper body strength than I realized) and once he did, he was totally fearless. He didn’t even wait for us at the top or bottom of the hill, just kept getting in line and going down solo, over and over and over again (there were hardly any people there or I wouldn’t have been comfortable letting him do this. I could always see where he was, and we had a lot of friends/family in our group keeping an eye on him, too). Who was that independent little 5-year-old?!

On another cold but not snowy weekend, Aaron and I had a date night at the Beer Dabbler on the State Fair fairgrounds. OUTSIDE. It was SO COLD and Aaron forgot his hat. He was freezing but he toughed it out (the beer helped). I discovered a new beer there, Shake Chocolate Porter, from Boulder Beer. I also waited in line for the Castle Cream Ale from Castle Danger. Every other sample was just a bonus. Beer. Yum. 

We had the "Last Sleepover" at my MIL’s house before she moves (my sweet and sentimental SIL April kept playing “The House that Built Me” by Miranda Lambert). Lots of memories for the siblings in that house. There's part of me that thinks, "It's just a house. You'll make beautiful new memories in another place!" but I get it. I was just as sad when my parents sold the house I grew up in. I used to drive slowly past the "old" house when I was home on break from college (did they plant new flowers? Move the old swingset? Do something different to the porch addition?), and I've had many, many dreams about that house since then. The house where you grew up becomes part of you. How could it not?

Aaron, April, and Josh at the house that "built them."
couldn't make it.
The whole family went to my brother Shawn’s annual ice fishing contest on a balmy February day, when there was so much standing water on the lake that if you slipped and fell—and it was EXTREMELY slippery thanks to the recent weather warm-up—you instantly got soaked. A lot of people didn't go because they were too nervous about unsafe ice conditions. There was still a good foot of ice, though, so I wasn't concerned. I trusted my avid fisherman dad. (We didn't drive on the lake — we took a four-wheeler out.) My brother, who organizes the event every year, was too sick to go, so my dad and SIL Trish hosted the event. About 30 people showed. I didn't fish, I just socialized. (I have more fun that way.)

We celebrated my dad and niece Eva's birthday with family at an un-named Grand Avenue restaurant and had the worst service I have EVER experienced IN MY LIFE, but the company was pretty spectacular. I'm glad we share this birthday tradition with my sister Mary's family

I also went out to dinner with my best high school girls at a restaurant in Forest Lake, where we mostly talked about our kids. (So much subject material with eight kids under the age of nine!)
I love that we have history together, and have been VIPs in one another's lives as we graduated from high school and college, said "I do," and years later peed on sticks (aka took pregnancy tests) and became moms. We have always been very open with one another, whether we're complaining about family or job stress or kids, and I love that we can be serious or stupid, and our mutual admiration and unconditional love only grows stronger with every year that passes by.

String sisters 2016

Once again, I worked at the company's annual Food and Wine show (but not at the wine glass table for a change! Score!) and was THRILLED to be scheduled an early shift, so I could hang out with my family for a few hours before closing time. Aaron usually stays home with the boys while I work, but he attended this year and was a total social butterfly. I *think* a good time was had by all.

A few weekends ago I organized a successful Girls’ Night Out with 11 of us, ranging in age from 29 to 45. The girls were mixed from different parts of my life: high school, college, family, old work friends, girls I met through Aaron, and then THEIR friends. We consisted of marrieds, singles, divorcees, moms, stepmoms, homeowners, renters, Republicans, Democrats, a fierce firefighter, two talented art directors/designers, a defense attorney, a writer/editor, a physical therapist, an FBI intelligence analyst, a tough-as-nails car dealer, an ad rep, a hair stylist, and a health care specialist. We started out at a really cool brewery in northeast Minneapolis and then went to a total dive bar, complete with a Guns N Roses cover band, where we ended our evening. 
No, no. I’m not being totally honest. 
Some of us ended our evening in the drive-thru of Taco Bell, just like old times.

Recently I had dinner with some writer/designer girlfriends, and was reminded how fortunate I am to have such smart, insightful, passionate, funny, honest, confident, TALENTED, and kind women in my 'circle.' At one point, Amanda, Katie and I worked together at the newspaper (along with our dear friend Emily!), then Amanda left and told me about a job opening at a certain magazine, and then—years later—told Katie about another open position at the mag, and the rest, as they say, is history. We worked with Jamie and Kirsten, lunched together, and supported one another during good times and sad. It's down to just three of us "old-timer's" working together now, but I know we'll ALL stay in touch long into the future. Our conversations are so interesting (and honest). 


Adam and Ben are in a groove at school, and it makes me feel like throwing up whenever I think about moving into a new district (especially Anxious Adam). I know now is the best time to rip off the Band-Aid, Adam will only be in third grade next year, but the thought of taking a kid who NEEDS routine out of his routine (new house, new neighborhood, new school, new friends) breaks my heart. We went through so many agonizing screaming/crying/fingers-clutched-around-my-neck mornings at preschool, and then we went through many, many nights of School Dread and mornings of I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school! protesting and crying, before graduating to anxiety-induced migraines at school and regular calls from the nurse. Adam still gets the occasional migraine, but not like before. He has a special bond with his best friend Michael, and I like that he's in with a nice crowd—especially after some incidents with a less-than-positive influence (Cameron!). He is completely comfortable with his school and the routine. That, to me, is golden. The fact that he's doing SO WELL academically is icing on the cake. He was even invited to attend an enrichment camp for “high potential students” this summer. He can push our buttons when he wants (he can be so incredibly STUBBORN), but in general, he is a good kid, a good student, a good friend. He listens, he's respectful, he asks questions, he participates, he adds to the conversation, he is so eager to please. Sometimes his competitive side gets the best of him and he tries to finish his homework too fast, then winds up with 'fixes' that could have been avoided, but he usually understands the assignment and does his homework without complaining as soon as he gets home from school. (Ben, not so much. He only has homework once a week and it's already a battle.)
Now that the snow has mostly melted, Adam is obsessed with playing basketball in the driveway. Yesterday his goal was to make 1,000 baskets. He was a Mini Man on a Mission. It took him all day, but he got there. He likes watching Disney's A.N.T. Farm and the Food Network's Cupcake Wars with Ben, and playing computer and Kindle games. If we had a gaming console, he's the kind of kid who wouldn't know how to control himself or limit his game time (and therefore, we will never own one). He loves reading jokes from his joke book, coloring intricate pictures, and playing Trivia Crack. His favorite foods are Chipotle burrito bowls—although we took a long break when the media reported so many people getting sick—and pesto noodles, spaghetti, burgers, slices of ham (no bread), Big Daddy's Pizza at school, lasagna, cheddar broccoli rice mixed with hamburger, mac and cheese, waffles, my dad's french toast, scrambled eggs, grilled pork chops, and steak. He would eat steak every night if we could afford it. His favorite dessert is a root beer float.   

During conferences, Ben’s teacher told me that he's doing really well in math (“I think he's going to be a math whiz when he's older”) *Are we sure these are my kids?!? Math was always, always, always my most challenging subject. I dreaded math class, math homework, math tests. I felt like a big dummy in high school and college. Math was the bane of my academic existence! and she told me that his reading is above where it’s expected to be, but he still has a hard time refraining from talking when she’s talking, and can occasionally be disruptive to the class. Aaron and I have talked and talked and talked to him about being respectful of the teacher when she’s trying to teach, and waiting to talk until she’s done, and did you know those words just JUMP right out of his mouth before his brain can stop them?
He can still be our grumpy old man (especially when he's tired), and when he's in a mood, it's best to just leave him alone. He says his best friends are Drew, Tatum, and Sidney, two of which are girls, but if he's ever invited to any other girls' birthday parties, his immediate reaction is "Nope. I don't wanna go. She's a girl." He's scared of the Sesame Street comforter at my parents house, yet will go down a waterslide without any fear. He's very opinionated about his clothes, and prefers wearing athletic pants and sports-team sweatshirts over anything else. He regularly asks if he can wear shorts, even in winter. He remembers the names of songs and artists and loves watching The Voice and American Idol. He's a big fan of Pharrell and Harry Connick Jr. and a total fashion critic when it comes to J Lo's wardrobe choices. He LOVES hockey and regularly wants to be Canada when he and Adam are playing floor hockey (neither one of the boys can skate ... yet). He is terrified of a stuffed deer head in my parents' basement and requests an escort whenever he needs something from the basement because "that deer ... it LOOKS AT ME." He loves to count money, whether he's selling raffle tickets for school or counting his loot, and will spend way more time than is healthy rearranging his ones and fives and counting, counting, recounting his greenbacks until I have to tell him to put his money away before he loses it, money is not a toy (my brother Nick's girlfriend Ashley joked that the only person who loves money more than Ben is Trump.) He reacts to red food dye and sugar with extreme hyperactivity, similar to how I imagine about five cups of coffee would affect an adult. Suddenly he has no volume control and just wants to GET RIGHT IN YOUR FACE! AND WON'T STOP MOVING! AND LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! WOO HOOOOO! (We're trying to limit those foods in his diet, but it can be challenging.) He can be very animated and do some hilarious impressions, but he does NOT like to be the center of attention, so there goes any hope of an acting career. He loves playing basketball with Adam, but doesn't really care if he plays on a team. He does NOT want to EVER PLAY T-BALL AGAIN (so boring!), but definitely wants to play soccer again (so fun!). Both kids just barely tolerate swimming lessons, but only because they love their teachers, otherwise they don't look forward to going. At all. Even a tiny bit. (We don't care. They'll go until they can swim on their own in water over their heads.) His favorite foods include Jimmy John's, burgers, ham sandwiches (no mustard, just mayo), hot dogs, mac and cheese, powdered donuts, pizza, and steak. His favorite dessert is sherbet or ice cream sandwiches. He'll try almost anything once. Just the other day, he told me that one of his favorite school lunches was the shrimp. The SHRIMP? I had NO IDEA he liked seafood. I really do love this stage in their lives ... I mean, every stage is gratifying and rewarding in its own way, but I do NOT miss naps, diapers, constant safety/choking hazards, and tantrums. (Truthfully, we still get those sometimes.) It's been a long winter consumed with house "stuff," so we recently surprised the boys with a trip to the Kalahari indoor waterpark in Wisconsin Dells ... even though rates were completely inflated for spring break and we should be saving every penny for future home expenses. What the hell. Everyone needs a break, amirite? This was the fourth time we've met our Green Bay friends in Wisconsin Dells (three times at the Kalahari; once at the Wilderness) and every experience is better than the last, especially now that Ben is tall enough to participate in nearly everything the "big kids" do. They walked around the house singing "I wanna go, to, the Kalahari ..." I even painted my toenails for the occasion. Yep, I go ALL OUT for vacation, baby! 
Are we there yet? Are we getting close? How many minutes now?

Adam - I may have found the cause of your frequent migraines!
Perfect fit.
3D game at the indoor arcade/theme park.
We played MANY games of mini golf (18 holes!)
Adam hit the jackpot and won 1,500 tickets!
Pure joy!
Ben's favorite place to be (mini golf course).
Quinn, who has three sisters, was thrilled to have his buddy Adam around.
Kenya, the Kalahari mascot. I was shocked when the boys asked for a photo.
Our motley crew.
Hot tub a la mode ... half is hot, half is cold.
We do it all for these smiles.
Sign of a good vacation.