Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Radio Silence

It's my birthday today!

I think one of the reasons I like writing this blog is because I spend a lot of time inside my head during the day. I always get the kids and myself out at least once during the day, but not always for an activity that includes adult interaction. So I think a lot. And this is fine with me - I'm an introvert and the time to contemplate allows me to continue giving the kids the attention and interaction they need throughout the day (and to try to save some for extroverted Husband when he gets home!)

So anyway, I tend to come here and write about the things I spend the day thinking about. It's the same method I used for writing papers in college. I'd often wait til a couple of days before they were due to actually put pen to paper (so to speak) but at that point I'd already pretty much written the paper in my head.

When I have visitors, I spend a lot less time in my head. And, of course, don't really have the time to sit at the computer, upload pictures, etc. I guess this is a really long-winded way of saying that my parents were here for a visit, hence the 11 day absence from this space!

I love visits from my parents, but they have the unfortunate effect of reminding me, each and every time, how envious I am of people whose parents live locally. Mine do a really great job of getting out here to visit us multiple times a year (trickier now that we're here and my sister and her family are still in CA) and that's really awesome. But I'd love nothing more than for us all to live in the same state.

Anyway, we had a really awesome time with them. The kids were more excited than I have ever seen them when we picked Nana and Papa up at the airport. I had a full agenda planned for us and we started off great with a trip to the apple orchard and a ride on the Wayzata trolley. Unfortunately, after just a couple of days I came down with strep throat, ear infections and the WORST case of pinkeye in the history of the world (no exaggeration). It was great that Chris had the help with the kids while I was out of commission, but I felt very sorry for myself as they went off to the State Fair on Friday without me.

As an aside, every time Chris and I plan a night out or (rarely) a night away, the children manage to sabotage it with illness. Seriously, their track record is amazing. I'm sure you can see where this is going...since the grandparents were here we thought we'd sneak away for a night. We made no mention of it to the kids and they stayed well - and I came down with the plague. ARGH. (One more aside, I think the true definition of love is willingly sleeping next to someone whose entire head is infected and who is kind of acting like a gremlin as a result. Love you honey).

So, Nana and Papa left yesterday and I think the kids will be in Attention Withdrawal for awhile. My birthday gift to myself today is to utilize every bribe and treat in the book to avoid tantrums, and NOT feel guilty about it! We have a couple of days to ease back into life and then it's school orientations and two first days of school (a week apart, which is sort of nice). There will be plenty of time in my head and plenty of things to write about so watch for frequent posts to come!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What I've Been Reading

I noticed a couple of people expressed interest in what I've been reading. I think I'll try to share a list somewhat regularly here (since I've failed to keep up with Goodreads or similar) and create a record for myself as well.

A few notes about how I pick books:

* I read for entertainment/escapism. Period. I spent many long years in school reading what I was required to, and at this point reading is a luxury for me, pure and simple. So yes, some of it is "crap." But I like it.

* I am completely and utterly addicted to Amazon. I have a Kindle, and use the app to read books on my phone. Most of the time, I am reading one paper book and one digital book simultaneously (concurrently?) I take advantage of their recommended reads and they are very often spot on.

* I love the option of always having my book with me (on my phone) but more than that, I love the option to download the first chapter before buying. I can pretty much always tell if I am going to like a book within that sample so I rarely start something I don't want to finish. However, I do stop reading a book I am not enjoying - life is too short to struggle through something! I'll list at the bottom which titles I've tried and not liked.

* If I don't like the look of the cover, I probably won't read it. Same goes if I pick up a book in the bookstore and I don't like the way it feels.

* I read a LOT of books and so cost factors into what I buy to read. I do go to the library, but am often after new releases that are never available and I'm too impatient to wait. I buy a lot of used books on Amazon Marketplace and have tried to be better about waiting for the prices of newly published books to come down before I buy them.

Enough rambling, here's my recent list:

My Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle - I snagged this on the clearance rack at Barnes & Noble and it was...just ok. Sort of some interesting cultural details about the South, but who knows how true to life the depictions were. C+

Deep Down True by Juliette Fay - I really liked this book. It was roughly about a woman struggling to figure out how to co-parent and move on with her life following a divorce. There was a side plot involving teenage bulimia, but it was done in a really interesting way and not glorified. Kind of terrifying to think about. A-

Mrs Perfect by Jane Porter - This was on the fluffier side but I enjoyed it. It's interesting at this point to read about a woman re-entering the workforce (by necessity rather than choice) after being home with kids for a long time. B

Men from the Boys by Tony Parsons - This is the third in a series by a British journalist/author that Chris and I have both read. I don't want to say too much since he has yet to read it, but I found it very interesting what the author chose to do with his characters over the long time span between books. C

The English American by Alison Larkin - I just finished this book and it was intriguing. It's about a late-20s woman who was born in America and adopted by a British family. She decides to find her birth parents and the story is about the reunions and how they affect her. Particularly interesting as it does some comparing/contrasting of British and American culture. Also loosely based on the author's own experiences. A

The Confession by John Grisham - basically a typical JG pageturner, with a seriously creepy Bad Guy. I was disappointed in the way it turned out but enjoyed the read. B+

The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir by Patricia Harman - I am inexplicably drawn to midwife's memoirs, considering I am about as disinterested in having my birth attended by a midwife as is possible. A nice mix of birth stories and some medical stuff? I don't know, but I enjoyed this. A-

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand - I love Elin Hilderbrand. Awesome beach reads, and always take place on Nantucket which I find strangely more interesting than West Coast beach retreats. A

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken - This is a memoir written by a woman who loses her first child in the ninth month of pregnancy, while living in France. To be 100% honest...I don't remember a lot about it. I remember that I enjoyed it, but it was sad and perhaps I didn't feel the need to hold onto someone else's grief. Anyway, it's on sale at Amazon for $4.94 :) B+

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner - a kind of average story about a politician's wife who learns publicly of her husband's infidelity. The more interesting part of the plot centered about the main character and her two adult daughters who are all experiencing challenges in their lives and reconnect with each other as they work through them. B-

Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis - I absolutely loved this book. The main character is a formerly overweight woman who loses a lot of weight and subsequently loses her husband. She decides to start a business selling healthy convenience foods for people. For someone who isn't a big eater (me), I love books about foodies and food and this was no exception. A

Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt - a memoir written by a man whose 38-year-old wife dies suddenly of a heart condition. He and his wife move into her house to help care for their three young grandchildren. It's a weirdly uplifting story, despite the underlying tragedy. A

One Day by David Nicholls - This has just been made into a movie. A movie which I will not see. I intensely disliked this book. I actually really enjoyed the first quarter or so, but then just hated it more and more. All the characters made terrible choices and, frankly, were kind of unlikeable. C--

The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum - This was a fascinating book about an adult woman whose fraternal twin brother is mentally ill and is a stormchaser (basically people who...wait for it...track and chase major storms. To watch them, I guess). She is concerned that he will make bad choices in his mental state and so ends up chasing after him as he chases storms. There were some truly terrifying descriptions of storms, made more so by the fact it takes place pretty much in my new hometown. Well, not quite...the main character lives in St. Paul and the storms are all further out from the city, but still. Close enough! B+

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George - This was the most recent in a British mystery series I've been reading since I was a teenager. My mom reads them too, and she had actually already purchased this one when I told her that, under no circumstances, did she want to read it. The plot loosely follows an absolutely horrific crime against a toddler that actually happened in England when I lived there and the book was so, so hard to read. Brilliantly written, as Ms. George's books always are, so it gets an A-grade despite how much I didn't enjoy it (and my mom totally listened and got rid of the book without reading it). A

Tuscan Holiday by Holly Chamberlin - a nice story of an adult mother-and-daughter pair who take a trip to Tuscany and repair a shaky relationship. I like it because the daughter is kind of a brat to start with but she learns a lot from her mom and turns into a much nicer person. B+

Books I started and didn't finish:

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
Daniel Isn't Talking by Marti Leimbach
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Next up: my To Read list...

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Dog and His Boy

Simon Hercules

Yes, we took a family photo with him
Simon was our first baby. We bought him as a puppy and we'd had him for about 18 months when Pacey was born. Poor dog had quite a lot to adjust to. Prior to Pacey's birth, Simon was truly our child. We had Halloween costumes for him, took him to the beach regularly, and (shamefully), he slept in our bed. He got booted from the bed when my belly took up his space and the trips to the beach became less frequent.

Then, when Pacey came home from the hospital, he arrived with a wheezing, honking contraption that concentrated room air into oxygen for him rather than having the more traditional tanks. Even worse was the 70 feet of clear tubing that connected to Pacey and allowed us to move about the house with him - poor Simon was TERRIFIED of that tubing that seemed to have a life of its own.

Not at all convinced

Yes, that was supervised Tummy Sleeping

He got over it (mostly) and despite some pretty ridiculous quirky fears, Simon is an excellent dog. He was easy to train, doesn't have any overly obnoxious behaviors, doesn't stink and is amazingly tolerant of the kids. While we don't allow them to hurt the dogs, Pacey loves to tumble around with them and has been known to take a comfortable seat on one of the dogs' backs for some movie-watching.

Simon patiently being decorated with stickers

Ok, so this is actually Huff - he'll get his own post 

In fact, in order of the most important beings in our house, I'd say that Simon might rank slightly higher than I do on Pacey's list. Not surprising, I suppose....Simon never puts him in time out. Anyway, in spite of the minor annoyances of owning dogs (and the one GIANT AWFUL INCONVENIENCE that is the Winter Poop Situation), I love that Pacey loves them so much. We're nearly at the point where Pacey will start having some simple chores to do, and I think I'll start with feeding the dogs. If nothing else, I'll find it sort of vindicating to watch him try to convince Simon (who is skittish about his food sometimes) to eat the meal that's been 'prepared' for him. ;)

Oh, and in case you wondered, Brighton is not nearly as enamored with the dogs as Pacey is. They don't tend to listen when she bosses them around.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Midwestern County Fair in Pictures

In addition to the usual collection of barnyard animals there was this..WTF?

Feeding the kids was cheap

The Antelope Whisperer

And again...kangaroos, WTF? I'm dying to know where these animals live
when it's not fair season

Brighton with the used plastic straw she found on the sticky, dirty floor of the
grandstand. She thought it was hilarious to threaten to put it in her mouth.

Pork chop on a stick!!!

Pacey: "MMMMM" Brighton: "Is that...pig??"

The big, fancy state fair it was not, but this little gem of a fair hidden literally in the middle of a neighborhood about 40 minutes from us was the perfect Saturday outing. I had lots of other snarky observations to share, but I decided to just keep the cattiness to myself and say that it was a completely lovely day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A year - plus a little

We've now been living in Minnesota for just over a year. A full cycle through the seasons, and we've each turned a year older here now. Life in Minnesota just fits us. Sure, the settling in phase was rocky at times and it's been a learning experience to be a full time stay-at-home-mom. There was a particularly dark time around the holidays last year...we were on our own for Thanksgiving and Christmas and it felt pretty darn lonely at that time. Couple that with an unexpectedly early winter that we'd been in serious denial about and it wasn't really the best holiday season ever.

BUT. That period aside, we've been happier here than we could ever have imagined. The lifestyle suits us, the people are so friendly and having only one parent working outside the home is absolutely what works for us. Staying home has been more fulfilling than I expected. I definitely have days where I struggle with feeling as though I'm accomplishing anything, and I have to be pretty self-motivated and keep myself on task but I haven't missed working even a single day. I think back to the stress of managing it all, and for me the occasional day of boredom or being thoroughly annoyed by both my small people is so worth it in the big picture. I never, ever pictured myself staying home with the kids and in fact, was completely terrified to make the adjustment. I really resisted the idea for a long time but I think it was really important that I came to it myself, rather than feeling forced into it even the smallest bit. I know people (moms) love to debate what's harder, staying home with kids or working outside the home. Having experienced both I can weigh in - I absolutely found it harder to be a working mom.

Things I miss in California
1. My sister and her family
2. A few close friends (most had also moved away before we did)
3. My cousins and their kids
4. In N Out
5. The month of February
6. The kid-friendly wine bar we could walk to
7. Fresh & Easy

Things I don't miss about California
1. My job
2. The hot, usually smoky month of August
3. The traffic
4. The house prices
5. The house we'd outgrown
6. The public school situation in the Pasadena area

One of the worst things about our move has actually led to one of the best things. My sister and her husband FINALLY got on board with having kids just as we started considering leaving California. I came out to Minnesota one time to look at houses with Chris before we moved, and she went into labor with my nephew as I was on the plane. It was crushingly disappointing, although it turned out to be a pretty long, drawn-out process so they needed a few days to recoup before visitors anyway. We moved when Dylan was about six weeks old. Since I quit my job a few weeks before we left I did get to spend a pretty good amount of time with him as a newbie. Since then, however, he's become an energetic and robust toddler and I've missed most of it. I grew up with my cousins and I HATE that our kids won't have the same privilege.

However, moving across the country from my sister has actually allowed us to develop a much closer relationship than I think we've ever had. When she went back to work she was pumping and so had several periods of dead time a day that she usually used to call me. I could commiserate 100% with the stresses of going back to work after baby (although I'd quit breastfeeding by that time with both my kids). I was actually really bummed when it was time to wean Dylan because we didn't get that built-in chat time every day. Even still, though, it's rare that a day goes by where we don't chat or text or email. When we lived 5 miles from each other we often went a week without talking. I definitely wish we were raising our kids together (ditto for my other nephew, but there's no way moving back to Alaska is in the cards...sorry Koda :) but I feel like I've gained something pretty great in exchange.

Abridged version of the above: moving was the best decision we ever made.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Post About My Mom, Sort Of

My mom is a quilter. She sews lots of different things, but I would say quilting is her passion. Our house growing up was decorated with quilts on the walls and draping the furniture. Throughout our high school years you could almost always find a teenager asleep underneath a homemade quilt somewhere in the house.

I don't decorate the walls with quilts in my house, but we have lots of things my mom has made for us: our personalized Christmas stockings (size XXL, thanks mom!), an adorable Halloween wall quilt with little stuffed witch legs hanging off of it, aprons for Brighton and I and, recently popular, two gorgeous dress-up capes that she made for Pacey.

Pacey, modeling one of his capes
She made me a quilt for high school graduation and another for college graduation. They both sit waiting in my linen closet for this winter, when you need something to curl up with even though the house is warm. She made Pacey a quilt, this amazing colorful quilt that he sleeps under in his race car bed. When she asked what I wanted for a theme I was really unsure - his personality hadn't developed enough to say what he especially liked and so I think I gave her the very helpful directive of "uh, stuff...colorful stuff?" And she came up with the perfect design - lots of different fabrics with designs of, well, stuff! Bubbles and animals and different foods and stars and clouds and dots. He received it at a time when he was just starting to understand the labeling of objects and we spent lots and lots of time pointing at the various patterns and naming things.

She's working on Brighton's quilt now and I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Beyond the fact that she has given us lots of fun and useful handmade gifts, I love that there are little reminders of my mom and the kids' Nana throughout the house. I think it's safe to say she'd love nothing more than to live next door to each of her grandkids, but since she can't she provides these little pieces of her presence.

Pacey figured that if he was going to sleep under the dogs'
blanket, he better cover Simon up with the Halloween quilt

I'm not a quilter. My mom showed us all how to use the sewing machine, and did special little projects with each of us as kids. I am really happy that she did that, even though it didn't turn out to be my passion. I think about it though - how can I be "present" even when I'm not?

I love taking pictures. I'm absolutely not a photographer, but Chris gave me a nice camera for Christmas year before last and I think it allows me to capture things adequately. I definitely take about 90% more photos than I end up keeping, which is about the extent of "editing" I do. Sure, I use the red-eye tool and will sometimes make a picture black-and-white if I think it lends itself to that look. Beyond that, though, I don't do much fiddling. I keep looking at photoshop and considering buying it, but the truth is that I'm not really after technically perfect photographs. I don't really want special effects, or to create images that aren't real; I just want to take really great photos of people and moments I care about.

Ok, in the interest of full disclosure: I have been known to use the re-touching tool for those times when you have two choices as a mom - either wipe your kid's nose raw or accept that they will have a snotty face but you WON'T be wiping it raw. Thank goodness for option #3 - erase the snot :)

Anyway, because I love taking photos so much I've started making a point of giving them to people. Purposefully taking photos of my friends' kids and printing them out, making photo books of special events or visits, or sending updated framed photos to family that live far away. I've never met anyone who doesn't appreciate a nice photo, especially of their own kids. So I'm making it a point to try to continue growing in my ability as an amateur photographer. Again, not so much in learning how to use tools to edit my photos, but in learning to take better photos in the first place. Making myself bring the camera along, even when it's cumbersome and kind of embarrassing and taking a million photos in hopes of capturing even just a few really great moments. Like my mom and her quilts, I hope it will be a way I can give material gifts that also have a little of me in them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Change is in the Air

The breeze blowing in my open bedroom window was chilly this morning for the first time since spring. Bathing suits are on clearance, I'm getting back-to-school sale email notifications. Sure, the average temperatures for August are still in the 80s here, it's still light late into the evening, the trees are full of glossy green leaves. But change is in the air.


Days go by where I don't actually change a poopy diaper. Brighton is virtually potty training herself at the moment, and my boy has reached the point where he'd rather have privacy than help in the bathroom. I wonder how much longer I'll need a diaper genie. Change is in the air.


I'm browsing toddler bedding and strategizing Brighton's move to a big-girl bed, wondering how on earth it could go as easily as it did with Pacey (Answer: it won't) But she's ready - she loves Pacey's bed and, quite honestly, I'd like to get her transitioned before she's actually able to let herself out of her room. In the space of two years we'll have gone from a two-crib household to a two-crib-in-the-garage household. Change is in the air.


I'm filling out school forms for two kids this year. Two sets of immunization dates to tediously transfer from card to paper. Two parent orientation nights to attend. Two miniature backpacks to purchase (Elmo is SO last year). In just over a month I'll put my nearly-five-year-old firstborn onto a big yellow school bus...I've dropped him off countless times but I've never sent him off into the world like this without me. I'll be spending two mornings a week away from my little girl, while she learns and plays and picks up germs. Change is in the air.


It was a little lonely when I first started staying home with the kids. Neither really had any verbal language to speak of, and I spent a lot of time narrating my day just to hear something. Now they talk to me from the backseat, they ask for specific snacks, they tell me ALLLLL about it when they are displeased with something. Brighton has started a litany of delay tactics at bedtime: "more songs, mama", "boooooook, mama" "carry you, mama" (how she asks to be held). When we brush his teeth at night Pacey counts to ten along with me, in English AND in Spanish. Words are in the air.


I'm not historically a big fan of change. One of the best things about having kids, though, is that I've learned that change doesn't have to represent intimidating unknowns. Change can be growth and progress and enhancement. I look forward to bedding in our new routines this fall, to getting to spend some time with each of my kids on their own while the other is at school. Seeing them absorbing knowledge and making friends and extending their worlds just a little further outside our house and our family. Change is in the air, and it's good.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nature is Smart

It's 9:00 in the morning and I'm sitting here reveling in relative silence (punctuated by occasional screams of fury from my toddler banshee). After three weeks of visitors and fun, I suspect this might be a week of grumpy kids and a floundering mama, trying to back into our routine.

It was really fun having Kirsten and Caitlin here. I was really pleasantly surprised at how well the kids played together - three can be an awkward number but there were virtually no problems with exclusion or hurt feelings. We really made the most of the time and did a lot of activities, many of which we hadn't done before. The Minnesota Zoo really blew us away...clean, nice big enclosures, seemingly a focus on animals that actually exist in a similar climate in nature (unlike, say, elephants in Alaska!) and really well set up for kids. Nothing irritates me more than a kid/family based venue that doesn't allow for easy viewing from a stroller. We hit up the Children's Museum, a favorite of ours, a Saint Paul Saints baseball game, the local nature center, a splash pad and numerous playgrounds.

So in general, a great visit. However, I was reminded of one very important safeguard nature has put in place: it is impossible for anyone to have biological children four months apart.

The last time K & C came to visit, the girls were 2- and 6-months old. It was frankly kind of a nightmarish time of pretty much ceaseless crying from at least one baby at a time, having to stop virtually every 20 minutes during any attempt at an activity to feed or change someone, and two pretty grumpy sleep-deprived mamas. This trip was a lot better than that, but two two-year-old girls that are both somewhat...emotional can really create a lot of noise!

The girls got along in general, but each seemed to pick up habits designed to get attention from the other (and I'm not talking endearing habits here). For the most part they took turns with their tantrums apart from one extremely embarrassing moment while we browsed in Victoria's Secret when both girls completely lost it. K hightailed it out of the store with Brighton in a single stroller crying for me, while I tried to navigate a somewhat unwieldy double stroller through the crowded store (huh, who would have thought VS wasn't designed for double strollers?) while Caitlin screamed - and I mean SCREAMED - for her mom. I was literally apologizing as I went, assuring people I was trying to get out of the damn store as fast as I could, and I'm pretty sure I saw at least one twenty-something reach into her bag for an extra birth control pill.

In addition to that rather spectacular meltdown,  the girls spent a lot of time arguing over ownership of various (completely ridiculous) things: "my mama" "no, MY mummy"; "my feet" "no MY feet"; and, my personal favorite "my thunder" "no, MY thunder." Yep, they argued over who the THUNDER belonged to.

To sum that up: thank you Nature for ensuring I never have a 26-month-old and a 30-month-old simultaneously.