Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012: To Do List

I pretty much stopped making resolutions a long time ago. Anything I care enough about, I'll do regardless of whether it's on a list or not (even if it's written in loopy pre-teen handwriting, includes something about holding hands with a boy and is rolled up and sealed with wax. Yes, I did that. Dear god I hope none of those documents are still in existence anywhere).

I do tend to lose focus every now and then, though, and so what I am doing this year is writing sort of a master To Do list for the entire year. Some items are actual goals I'd like to achieve, others are more like reminders of how I want to live my life. It'll be nice when I start to feel a little foggy to have this list to look back at and re-focus.

1. Actively practice random acts of kindness.
I'm sort of a sensitive soul, and while it can be easy to hurt my feelings, it's also easy to totally make my day with just a single smile, genuine offer of help or other small kindness that isn't obligatory. I always try to go out of my way to be friendly, to wish people a nice day, to offer a helping hand to a mom with her hands full or an older person that looks to be struggling. But even beyond that, I love figuring out one little unexpected way I can make someone's life a little better, even just for a moment. It helps to be a natural observer...I feel like sometimes I can intuit ways that someone might need a little help they'd never think to ask for. This is a reminder to me to put those observations into action.

2. Read 50 books, at least 5 of which are nonfiction, and keep a list of them. 
I could probably shoot for a much higher number than 50, but I want to avoid spending November and December reading crappy books purely because they are short and I can get through them quickly. Also, I think my husband would like me to actually talk to him now and then. I'm terrible about branching out and reading nonfiction, although my book club has at least two on the list for the next few months which will help.

3. Continue this blog.
I'm definitely not going to commit to posting a certain number of times a week, but I'd like to continue regular-ish posting and try to move away from just detailing our activities (at least once in awhile).

4. Find a place for regular, structured exercise in my weekly schedule. 
Ugh, such a cliche it's almost painful. I live a pretty active life; in general, unless I'm at the computer or eating meals, I'm on the go. And in the summer time, we spend so much time at playgrounds and similar that I can get my heart rate up without relying on the gym. That's much harder in the winter though and, while I am naturally thin, I'm rapidly heading towards being pretty out of shape. Not to mention how good physical exercise is for my mental health and self-esteem. I have a gym membership with free childcare...there is no excuse for not achieving this one.

5. Go paperless wherever possible.
Confession: I still pay a lot of my bills with actual paper checks. Because I like to. I like the ritual of writing out the checks, noting the check number and date paid on the statement and filing them away. Not because I EVER reference these, but because it's how my parents did it. I'm left with folders upon folders of useless paper though, and because I don't have a shredder they just build up. So, I'd like to go through all my bills and sign up for auto-pay wherever possible. If nothing else, I can save the stamps I'd normally use on bills and instead send fun mail to people (see #1).

6. Continue to make connections and nurture friendships.
Friends are just so important. Especially when you're a stay-at-home mom, and even more so when you don't have family nearby. It's not always easy to convince my homebody children to willingly get out of the house to join various activities, and quite frequently they do embarrassing things like unwrapping gifts under someone else's Christmas tree. I know I can't let that stuff prevent me from staying connected though.

7. Potty train my daughter and enjoy some diaper-free days.
After our attempt with the sticker chart, B still didn't seem overly interested in using the potty. She goes most nights before her bath and will occasionally tell me when she needs to go. For the most part though? I am met with serious resistance if I suggest she might like to sit on the potty at a time when it does not suit Her Royal Highness. I am going to have to put some thought into how to best manage this effort with her particular personality.

8. Complete the plan we hatched a few days ago to redesign our downstairs space. 
We currently have an entire room in our basement that gets used about twice a year. My husband has been wanting to install a bar down there to make it more conducive to adult entertaining (hmm, that doesn't sound right) but I have been unable to envision how to incorporate it into our current set-up. A particularly compelling deal on Craigslist kind of forced the conversation, however, and we were able to come to an arrangement that suits us both. I get to tackle turning the unused room (currently referred to as the gym because it holds a weight bench that no one ever uses) into a new playroom for the kids and Chris will convert the current playroom into a Man Cave of sorts. The main family room down there will remain neutral territory. I'm pretty excited to get this project going, and I think it will add value to our house.

9. Continue to take my kids to the library once a week (ish).
I'm really fortunate in that our closest branch of the library is very child-friendly. Sometimes my kids are complete monsters and the trip is fraught with grabbed upper arms and hissed threats to leave early. More often though, they play nicely with the wonderful playspace, we come home with new books to read before bed and I can usually grab 45 seconds to run through the adult stacks and get a few for myself. I really want to continue to do this so that visiting library is entrenched in their habits as they get older. I do everything I can to foster a love of reading in them and I so, so hope that one day they will love books as much as I do.

10. Avoid complacency in my marriage.
Chris and I met 11 years ago in January and we've been married for eight. I don't really write a lot about our relationship here because, well, some topics are a little more off-limits than others. I haven't ever really discussed with him how much he is comfortable with me sharing, so I'm erring on the side of privacy. I don't think he'd mind me saying though, that I think we have a really great partnership. We're very different in many ways but also very compatible and I think we are both generally mindful of nurturing our relationship. It takes work though. With small kids and jobs and all the technological distractions these days, it's pretty easy to let the days slip by without really checking in with each other. And if you're in it for the long haul - which we are - there is a certain amount of growth and change and adaptation that takes place over time. Perhaps this is really just a long-winded way of saying More Date Nights!

I could definitely keep writing but 10 feels like a nice round number. We're celebrating New Year's Eve with friends tomorrow evening, so I'll sign off for the year now. Regardless of how 2011 treated you, I hope nothing but the best for 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


C'est fini.

For the first time in our shared history, both Chris and I were a TEENSY bit sad to take down the tree. I think it's good though...a bit like the perfect length of stay for houseguests. Better they leave one day earlier than ideal than linger on an extra week.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


One of the traditions we started several years back in California was to host a Boxing Day gathering at our house. If you want to read up on this British holiday, here's a link.

Anyway, last year was our first year hosting the event in our new house and we were thrilled to learn that our friends would be able to join us again. Chris had the brilliant idea of creating a menu entirely around traditional British cuisine. The menu included:

Cottage Pie - basically a mixture of meat and vegetables cooked together and placed in a baking dish, topped with piped-on mashed potato and baked. Unfortunately I forgot to get a photo of the finished dish...not my best piping work anyhow but it was reportedly delicious nonetheless.

Toad-in-the-Hole - this is essentially a large Yorkshire pudding (think giant popover), baked in a glass dish with whole sausages. Again, I forgot the photo.

Bubble n Squeak - this was a surprise winner (and, along with British baked beans was the basis for my vegetarian meal). It's a mixture of cooked cabbage, onions and mashed potato, formed into patties and fried on the stove in butter. They were DELICIOUS. Here's a photo of the mixture before I formed it into the patties:

I know, it doesn't look like much, but you didn't see the whipping cream and butter I used to mash the potatoes with ;)

And for dessert, Banoffee Pie. This is an incredibly rich and delectable pie consisting of a digestive biscuit base (digestives are Britain's answer to graham crackers...slightly less sweet and they form a finer crumb), sliced bananas, toffee and whipped cream. 

Mmmm, toffee. To make this, you just boil
unopened cans of condensed milk in water
for about 3 hours. 

Banana layer

Finished pie with shaved chocolate on the top

The meal was a big hit and, if we're being honest, I think everyone including Chris was sort of surprised at how yummy everything turned out. We're already excited about planning which dishes we'll try out for 2012.

A rare photo of the two of us together. Chris is in his London
Wasps rugby top and I am wearing my Brighton & Hove
football (soccer) shirt. 

Silly centerpiece

Didn't manage a photo of full hat compliance

The kids running laps after dinner. Considering how much
butter was used in making this meal, we all probably should
have joined them!

A little love between two adorable girls

This gathering is the perfect end to our holiday celebrations. It's really nice having our small, quiet family Christmas but hosting friends the next day keeps things from feeling lonely - plus we get to share some of Chris's heritage.


Oh man, what a day. I was right, this was totally the year that Christmas was beyond awesome. No one threw up in their bed, Santa came and left very well-received presents and it was a lovely, lazy day of just being together.

The only slight snag was that at 4:55 when our Christmas dinner was about halfway cooked, the power went out. We couldn't get any information about the source of the problem, but could see on the power company's website that it was a very widespread outage. Being the resourceful guy he is, Chris headed outside and powered up his grill (I KNEW there must have been a reason to spend that much money on a thing that cooks meat) and was all ready to cook as much of the remaining items as he could outside. Thankfully, about 25 minutes later the power came back on and we were good to go. Could have been a lot worse...many people were estimated not to have power back until 10:00 that night. It has also been a freakishly warm December, so we weren't too concerned about heat, at least in the short term.

There's something so quintessentially Christmas about a race track in the
living room.

In the midst of (another) long winter's nap.

I'm not sure who likes this gift more.

"Chocolate BUNNY!" (she calls money

There was no flashing involved in acquiring these

This was a bigger hit than I thought.
There is a padded jersey and pants to
go with it, but we haven't fully suited
him up yet.

Christmas game of baseball!

Confirming once again that she's a lefty. 

Spying on the deer in our woods. There is a herd that hangs out back there
and I just missed a gorgeous photo of a buck mid-leap. 

Her Christmas dinner consisted of bananas and string cheese. Sigh.

Master Christmas Dinner Saver

Not impressed with his silly hat

See, I WAS there too.
Anyway, it really was a completely perfect day and I was left with a real sense of satisfaction and deep appreciation for all that we have. Hope everyone had a really wonderful day too!


An early Christmas present for me: my new favorite picture of my two little beasts in their Christmas jammies

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ghosts of Christmases Past

December 2006:

First Christmas - in the NICU

Practicing bottle feeding so we could bring him home. He had been born
for seven weeks but his due date was still three weeks away.

December 2007:
A crawling madman

He had no trouble figuring out what to do with presents!

"Seriously, guys?"

December 2008:

Me and Brighton (in utero)

Why yes, his Christmas jammies from the previous year DID
still fit him. 

Busting a move while we waited to see Santa

December 2009:

B's first Christmas!

First baby doll

Cape, Handmade by Nana

"Hi Mom, could you hurry up? There are presents to open!"

So angelic (ha)

December 2010:

Soooo excited

In case you wondered why Pacey is dressed, it's because he
totally barfed on his Christmas jammies. Gotta love the
Christmas Eve Bed Barf of Excitement.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A True Christmas Miracle

Our house sits, with one other, at the end of a relatively long driveway. I love it because it's pretty private and quiet back here, and we don't get many unintentional visitors. Anyway, the one downside (well, I suppose Chris would argue that dragging the trash and recycling all the way down to the street every Sunday night is another sizeable downside) is that the poor UPS guy has to park his truck at the end and walk all of our packages down to the door. I tend to shop an awful lot online...since and Amazon Mom came into being, I have been able to order a lot of our essentials online and save at least one trip to Target each week. Anyway, point of this part of the story is: the UPS guy delivers packages to our doorstep nearly every day normally and every single day during the holidays.


Here's a view of our entryway and front door:

See that blind next to the door? That's a tall window that looks out onto our porch and the driveway beyond. Would you like to know where I was when I snapped this picture? I was sitting on the toilet (no, not ON the toilet, just sitting on the lid) in our half bath. The photo is not as compelling as it should be, since I keep that blind open during the day, being the light-a-phile that I am.

The final significant fact here is that (WARNING: OVERSHARE AHEAD) since having children, I pretty much never shut the bathroom door when they're awake. Unless we have guests, in which case I have to remind myself. Seriously. It's just easier not to deal with whining outside the door, incessant knocking, or little fingers poking their way underneath and, more often than not, getting stuck.

Adding this all together, the true Christmas miracle of 2011 is that in all of his four gazillion trips to our front porch, the UPS man has not yet caught me sitting upon my throne. Well, I suppose there are still five delivery days you think I should wave when the inevitable happens??

P.S. The kids got Christmas haircuts today. In case you wondered, I am one of the nice moms that says yes to the lollipops when they're done.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Say Nothing at All

* This week - not my best in history (though far from the worst) - culminated in having to get up close and personal with a plastic device full of, well, full of my child's output to have analyzed on Monday. If you happen to stop by and look in my freezer, ignore the specimen cups.

* I think I am finally done Christmas shopping. Every year I start in November, feeling all ahead of the game and taking advantage of early sales. And every year I am still shopping the week before Christmas, feeling thoroughly sick of typing my credit card number into various websites.

* I'm becoming a little disillusioned with Amazon lately. The shipping "deals" never seem as good anymore, and many times I've found better prices on items elsewhere. However, they are still the best option for gift-buying for our international family. They actually allow you to ship to a UK address but enter billing info for a US credit card. It's kind of surprising how few retailers offer that flexibility. Amazon, I wish I could quit you.

* I've probably written this before, but my kids generally hate going anywhere in the afternoon. Post-naptime, they just want to hang at home. Unfortunately, and especially during the winter, it really helps me to get out of the house during the witching hour(s). One afternoon this week I lured the kids into the car with the promise of a new DVD. No, I don't normally let them watch DVDs in the car on short trips, but I was pretty desperate. I had several errands I needed to run that didn't involve getting out of the car so this was a good solution. Anyway, I had picked up Ferngully for something like $5, intending to put it in a stocking but decided to break it out early. Although I was only listening to it and taking occasional looks back at the screen at stoplights, it was kind of creepy!! In general, as I see the older Disney movies again I'm kind of shocked at how scary the Bad Guys used to be. Ursula the Sea Witch, the voodoo man in the Princess and the Frog (ok that one's not so old), the Beast...all pretty darn scary. Pacey fell asleep so I couldn't gauge his reaction, but Brighton seemed a little creeped out. Perhaps we'll put that one away for awhile.

* Chris has a friend in town this weekend, so they are off doing boy stuff (think brewery tours, greasy food and football...lots and lots of football). I'm glad he gets this opportunity to socialize as he doesn't fit much of it in around his work schedule and hanging here at home with us. However, after being stuck at home for most of the week with sick kids, I'm struggling to figure out how we're going to fill our hours. We were supposed to be at a birthday party this afternoon but the birthday boy's family are sick now too. Damn cold/flu season.

* I think I genuinely have some PTSD related to how often and how severely Pacey got sick in his first few years. In the first 12 months, he was in the hospital something like six times and I came to expect that any little cold would ultimately develop into something horrific. When I was pregnant with Brighton, as I've mentioned before, I was sick with a respiratory illness for about three months. The lowest moment was when Pacey was in the hospital with pneumonia and, at 22 weeks pregnant, I had to ask the nurses to keep an eye on him in his hospital room while I went and spent the next eight hours in the Emergency Room myself. And then when Brighton was born and we had two kids in daycare, we spent the whole first year passing illness after illness around. It was so stressful, never getting the rest we needed to recover and constantly stressing over who was going to take time off to stay home with sick kids. Anyway, since then the kids have developed some immunity and I don't have the stress of worrying about work when we need to stay home. I have a really hard time not assuming the worst though. When I hear Pacey cough, even a dry little nothing cough, it's like a switch flicks in my head and I immediately jump ahead to urgent care visits and hospitalizations. I struggle a little with depression anyway and I have to work really hard not to let dark clouds gather when the kids (well, now that I am thinking about it, it's really just Pacey being sick that triggers it) get sick.

(Aaaaaaaaand lightening things up a little)

* I made these muffins this morning and they are delicious. I always love an opportunity to sneak some nutrition into baked goods and this is a great recipe for it. My pickiest eater (Brighton) inhaled two of them.

* Although I'm not terribly bothered by the lack of snow, I do wish we would get at least enough so we could do some more of this:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mid-December Slump

I think the theme of this whole Avent-Activity-a-Day thing is flexibility.

Today my plan was to join a MOMS Club outing to a nursing home to sing some Christmas carols for the residents. Now, admittedly I was pretty skeptical about how successful this was going to be anyway, given the...unpredictability of certain children's behavior of late. As it turns out, we won't be going anyway. It is pouring down rain, one child has toxic diarrhea and the other child has...the opposite of diarrhea and is phenomenally cranky as a result (and who can blame him/her).

I'm thinking my Advent activity is going to be making a pan of fudge and eating it myself.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the First Day of Christmas... true love gave to me one brand spankin' new ear tube and a sedated hearing exam!

Today was the day for Pacey's ear surgery. Being the natural planner I am, I packed a bag for him last night, left instructions for Chris to manage Brighton's morning and set my alarm for 5:00 to arrive at the hospital by 6:00. Imagine my shock and horror, therefore, when my alarm went off and it was 6:30 am. I had, of course, set my second alarm for 5:00 PM.

I confess I sort of fell apart...I couldn't even figure out what to do, who to call or anything. Chris took charge, told me to go get ready and he pulled a sleeping Pacey out of bed and buckled him into the car in his jammies. I brushed my teeth and we got on the road while Chris called the hospital to let them know we were coming.

Now, anyone who knows me at all can guess at the level of utter mortification I was feeling about this situation. I am NOT LATE. I routinely take the first appointment at various offices because I am confident about being on time and I know how much doctors' (and their nurses') days can be put off by one late patient. We'd managed to get this appointment squeezed in by the end of the year to take advantage of having paid our health insurance annual maximum, and by some miracle Pacey had stayed healthy in the midst of flu season. I was distraught at the thought we'd have to reschedule. Anyway, everyone was extremely kind and they got us right back to pre-op and things went as planned. I have to say again that Children's Hospital in Minneapolis is truly superb. The staff were amazing and have such a great way with the kids and parents alike. The facilities are nice and well thought-out and they really do their best to minimize everyone's stress levels.

For the first time I actually stayed with Pacey while he went to "sleep." While it was incredibly unnerving to see him unconscious, it was so lovely to see how gentle they were with him...several of the staff, including the anesthesiologist sang "Wheels on the Bus" while he dropped off. Everything went very smoothly and we were back home by 11:00. We have a quiet afternoon of movie watching and napping on the schedule, and then tomorrow it's back to regularly scheduled December excitement.

In other news, the weather has been so warm that all our snow has actually melted and we may yet have a non-white Christmas. Quite the change from last year, and not a terrible one in my book. I will be hoping for some colder weather though as I need the lakes to be frozen enough to send Chris out ice fishing between Christmas and New Years or he might actually drive me insane :)

And finally, just a brief showcase of Pacey's latest journal entry for school. I made a note that I helped him draw the circles, but he added everything else and made, in my humble opinion, a rather fantastic snowman.

Advent Catch-Up

Well, so much for posting every day. We have been doing lots of fun things though! My sister and her husband and son were here from Friday to Monday and we had lots of fun with the kids. D is 18 months old and...boy, I forgot just how busy that age is (for baby AND parents). We were going to take the kids downtown to see Santa Claus but between nap scheduling and the short hours on Sunday we didn't end up doing it. We did make a gingerbread house and decorate cookies, torture D in the snow and exchange some gifts. My sister and I also went for a pedicure (for which Brighton ended up joining us, due to her refusal to be separated from me) and we all spent some time in the hot tub. It was a great visit, though short, and I'm so glad the kids all got a chance to hang out with each other.

First salon experience. She hopped right up in the chair and
took off her socks and shoes.

The three kids plotting escape routes.

A cookie masterpiece

Baby's First Andes Mint

The two Ds

Baby D and me

One of D's most favorite activities is to get his mama's hair
in a death grip and hang on for dear life

Before he face planted in the snow

This expression on his face pretty much sums it up (it was
t-shirt weather for us Minnesotans)

Taking a break from his mayhem to watch a little Elmo

Bonus question for extra credit: what is
this delightful creation Brighton brought
home from school?