Monday, November 14, 2016

Year in Review 2016

1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
Moved into my parents’ basement. That “temporary” stay has extended into a *gulp* 10-month stay (and counting!) because the housing market is nuts. This spring the houses were selling within 24 hours of being listed; now it’s the Sahara Desert. (I think the same 20 homes have been on our search since this fall.) I have faith that the inventory will pick up this March. FINGERS CROSSED. 

2. Did you keep your New Years resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Resolutions, schmesolutions. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
 Yep – my brother’s girlfriend Ashley had my nephew Brayden in August. I am so in love with that little guy. 

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thankfully, but loved ones lost loved ones and it breaks my heart to see them hurting.

5. What countries did you visit?
Stayed put in the good ol’ USA 

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
A house! 

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Prince’s death on 4/21/16. I didn’t think I would be as affected as I was … it somehow felt personal. Brayden’s arrival on 8/24/16. SO MUCH JOY! The election … for obvious reasons. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Staying positive in the midst of this gut-wrenching political environment.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Budgeting  $$$$

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing memorable, thankfully.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
It wasn’t my purchase, but I love my parents’ Netflix account.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I got goosebumps during the Olympics when, during the 5,000-meter qualifying race in Rio, an American runner tripped and fell and a New Zealand runner—who also went down—helped the American back up and encouraged her to finish the race. (They finished together.) Good sportsmanship never gets old. 

I also have mad respect for the Standing Rock protesters in North Dakota. 

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
 One guess. 

14. Where did most of your money go?
Getting our house ready to sell ($7,000 later). It worked. It sold in 10 days. 

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Brayden! A long weekend at the Kalahari. Our annual summer trip to our friends’ cabin north of Green Bay.  A weekend at Madden's. A kid-free getaway to Detroit Lakes, complete with golf, mountain biking, good food and drinks, and couples’ massages.   

16. What song will always remind you of 2016?
“Unsteady” by the X Ambassadors (my love of this song was amplified after reading and watching Me Before You); “Closer” by the Chainsmokers; “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by JT (the Official Anthem of the Summer of 2016) 

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?  Same   
ii. thinner or fatter? Same, thanks to a YMCA membership. Running, how I had missed you. The kids swimming skills have improved tremendously since we joined in November. They can swim to one end of the lap pool and back, Adam can tread water with confidence, and Ben can swim in the deep end without a life jacket. 

 iii. richer or poorer?  Slightly richer, thanks to ongoing freelance work 

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

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

20. How did you spend Christmas?
December 16 was the Ugly Sweater party with my mom's side; Christmas Eve at my brother and SIL’s house; Christmas morning at my parents' house; Christmas Day at my MIL’s house; day-after Christmas in a small town in southern Minnesota, near Rochester, with Aaron’s extended family (we spent the night at the Holiday Inn, which was a lot of fun until someone pooped in the pool—SO GROSS!)  

21. How will you be spending New Year’s Eve?
Making a nice dinner at home with Aaron and the boys, my parents, brother, brother’s girlfriend, and nephew, playing board games, drinking wine and champagne, hoping we can stay up until midnight. (only slightly joking) 

22. Did you fall in love in 2016?
I am madly and deeply in love with Aaron, and every year I think I couldn’t possibly love him more, and every year he proves that theory wrong. 

23. How many one-night stands?

24. What was your favorite TV program(s)?
House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Last Man on Earth 

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No. I don’t hate anyone. Rampant hate is what’s wrong with our world right now. 

26. What was the best book you read?
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – I’m not typically into zombie fiction, but this was SO, SO, SO good. 

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Gnash; The Strumbellas

28. What did you want and get?
A weekend away without the kids. 

29. What did you want and not get?
 At the risk of sounding redundant, a HOUSE! 

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
Room was really good. (Nearly as good as the book, and it’s my favorite book, so that’s high praise.) I also loved Me Before You.
31. What did you do on your birthday?
Last year of the snowtubing tradition! I think we had chowmein hotdish on the actual day, and my girls took me out to dinner in Forest Lake a few weeks later. I felt very loved.   

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I try really hard not to get sucked into that mindset. I have to remind myself: “I don’t have everything I want, but I have everything I need.” 

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
I love, love, love REI. If I was independently wealthy, I’d shop there all the time. I love that comfortable, classic, outdoorsy style.  

34. What kept you sane?
Who said I’m sane? 

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
 Patty Wetterling (RIP Jacob) 

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
 Gay rights, women’s rights, the environment 

37. Who did you miss?
 My grandparents, Tonya

38. Who was the best new person you met?

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016:
 “When pain knocks on the door—wise ones breathe deep and say: ‘Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave me until you’ve taught me what I need to know.’” – Glennon Doyle Melton
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
“Mama I’m coming home.” ;)

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.