Thursday, April 14, 2016

Spring Break, Finally!!

Spring break has come and gone, and I know you're still eagerly anticipating dozens of adorable photos of my adorable children during our perfect adorable Easter spring break trip.  But I hated to update the blog with a spring theme when we were still in the doldrums of winter!!  However, because you five readers have been so patient (and the weather is now sunny and warm.... and truthfully because Anna is taking a rare 2 hour nap because I gave her Benadryl after she was still fighting the nap at 1:30 so now I have time to update the blog....), I'll spare you my wordy anecdotes and just load this up with pics.

Favorite Outing: The Northwoods Children's Museum

Favorite Past time: Helping in the Kitchen

Favorite Adventure: The Front Yard

Can you spy Charlie? 

Favorite Activity: Eating

Favorite Special: Dyeing Easter eggs

Favorite Game: Battleship

Favorite Bribe  Store: Grandma's Toybox

Favorite morning:  Easter

And then we played with the face swap app when we got home and died laughing because we are so dang handsome/attractive/ adorable that it's hard to handle.

Ha!  Happy Spring y'all!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring Break: The Departure

The week before Easter, we carved out a little time in our week to squeeze in a trip to the cottage.  We didn't have too much time, but we had just enough to enjoy a few days in the Northwoods.  Naturally, I set my expectations very low, and therefore, was delighted with the way things turned out.  And even though we hit a few bumps along the way (or snowstorms, actually), everyone held it together and had a great time.  I'll share more pics in future posts.  For now, here's the departure info:

12:00 PM  Estimated Time of Departure.

12:02 PM:  I return from Parkersburg and make a quick stop at the library to pick up the following movies:  Lincoln, Blended, Draft Day, Guilt Trip, and and Labor Day.  My hopes are that we will get to watch half of one, but the reality is that we won't even have a chance to take them out of the case. Plus, they're free from the library so they're probably all scratched up anyway.

12: 07 pm:  Mason picks up Charlie from school.  He's missing lunch and the afternoon portion of school.  Mason surprises him with Subway in the van.  He is thrilled.

12:12 pm:  My day at work has been hectic and a little heavy.  I'm trying to decompress and tell Mason about it when he kind of walks away from me mid-sentence.  Now I'm pissed and not excited to drive 8+ hours with this guy.

12:13 pm:  Mason and I argue in a passive-agressive non-speaking sort of way.  We're even.

12:15 pm:  I am rushing around looking for last minute things to throw into the van when I hear screaming from the garage.  I immediately assume Charlie is throwing a tantrum about his seatbelt being too tight or his shoes being too itchy or maybe something completely unrelated.  Mason goes out to check on him and discovers that he is just shouting, "Cold Cut Combo! Cold Cut Combo! Yes! Yes! Yes!  I love Subways!! Yeah Baby!!!"

12:17 pm: We pick up Anna from daycare and sprinkle magical sleeping powder all over her.

12:18 pm:  The sleeping powder has not kicked in so we give her a pretzel stick and she's happy.

12:19 pm:  Anna has fallen asleep with the pretzel stick in one hand and her binkie in the other.  She sleeps all the way to Dubuque.  Charlie is playing his Kindle and using the headphones, thank god.

2:30 pm:  We arrive in Dubuque and stop at Jeff's house to pick up a telescope that he wants at the cottage.  Mason admits that he's not sure he grabbed the right telescope because it was all set up for observation.  We hope it's the right one and jam it into the back of the van even though we are packed in tight.  It's just a telescope, after all.

2:37 pm:  I am driving through Dubuque over the Mississippi River toward Wisconsin now.  Anna is awake and I'm planning on Mason entertaining her so that I can drive in peace.  He is on his phone.  "Working".  Apparently we have different ideas on the role of the passenger.

2:42 pm:  Anna is squawking so we break into the goldfish crackers and pass them back.  She's happier.  Charlie hasn't looked up from his Kindle.

3:10 pm:  Mason is playing peek-a-boo with Anna.  He pauses, smiles, and says, "only six more hours of Peek-a-boo left!"  We laugh.  Sort of.

4:15 pm:  We make it to Madison and stopped at a McDonald's to change Anna's diaper.  Mason buys a cheeseburger and fills up water bottles.  Charlie stays in the van with his Kindle.  He's a junkie and we're fueling his addiction because it makes traveling easier.

4:17 pm:  We are getting back in the van when Mason jumps in the driver's seat and I nearly kill him for doing so.  (I am wrongly assuming that he wants me to entertain Anna for the next 250 miles.) He hops out and lets me drive instead.  I am happy again.

4:20 pm: Madison traffic sucks.  There are so many cars and there is always road construction.  Since I am driving, I feel entitled to complain about the traffic.  I also feel compelled to argue with Mason about the population of Madison.  He googles it.  It turns out, he is correct. The population of Madison is under 250,000. This blows my mind.

5:00 pm:  It is raining and I'm eating Jolly Ranchers.  The temperature is 38 degrees.  Anna takes another nap.  Charlie's still absorbed with his Kindle.

5:30 pm:  The rain is turning to sleet.  The temperature is 34 degrees.  I hit a patch of slush while passing and think we're going to die.  I start freaking out.  I am complaining about winter.

5:45 pm: The temperature is 33 degrees.  Everything is freezing and the road conditions are deteriorating.  I pull off at a rest stop so Mason can drive.  The exit ramp is completely snow covered. We pull a Chinese fire drill and Mason resumes driving.  After getting back on the interstate, he notices we're almost out of fuel.  Now I think we're going to get in an accident and run out of gas to heat our vehicle.  We are for sure dying.  At least we have our AAA Survival Kit under the seat (unless Mason took it out when he vacuumed the car last week....).

6:01 pm I am checking radar and there is a giant blue/white/purple monster blob covering the whole state of Wisconsin.  I see the words: **Winter Storm Warning**.  Crap.

6:05 pm:  I start looking at hotels near Steven's Point.  Mason is still not convinced we need to stop.  I can tell you this:  He's not winning this argument.

6:32 pm:  We stop at McDonald's in Plover.  Anna is super excited to eat again.  She whips out her binkie and tries to pull a high chair over to our booth.  We are looking all over the floor for the binkie that rolled five million miles in Mc Donald's.  Charlie is trying to open his happy meal toy that will break in about six seconds, but he's happy.

6:59 pm:  We pull into the Country Inn & Suites in Steven's Point, WI.  The lady at the desk tells Mason that they are expected to get 8-13 inches of snow tonight.  I might mention something about how stupid it is that people live in this area.  There is a fireplace in the lobby with big cozy chairs-- these are obviously here for people without little children because people with little children know that there's no way their evening will allow for curling up by a fire in a cozy chair.

7:10 pm:  Mason brings in 90% of the things in our van.  We always overpack and this was no exception.  The kids pretending to be bunnies and hopping back and forth in the hotel room and swinging their arms around.  They think this is awesome.  I"m wondering if Triggs delivers bottles of wine to hotel rooms....

7:30 pm:  We're all unpacked and ready to go.  Charlie finds his swimming trunks in his suitcase and is naked before I know it.  Nobody else brought a suit so Mason must either skinny dip or go in his gym shorts.  He opts for the shorts, and all the hotel guests are grateful.

7:43 pm:  Anna and I decide to walk down the hallways.  She runs to a luggage dolly and climbs up on it.  She points down the hall and says a word that only she understands.  I push her on the dolly to the pool to say goodnight to Daddy and Charlie.

7:44 pm:  We enter the pool area and Anna lunges out of my arms.  She sits on the deck, tugs on her onesie, and scoots toward the water. Mason and I shrug and let her swim in her diaper.  The water feels warm and I'm sad that I didn't bring my suit.  I remind myself to always pack an emergency swimsuit.

8:02 pm:  Charlie is swimming around in the shallow area and Anna keeps trying to put her face in the water and then chokes when she breathes it in.  Two ladies from an insurance company in town start talking to us about our cute kids and the weather.  They are staying the night so they can get to work tomorrow.  I tell them they are dedicated.  They chuckle and say they have a bottle of wine in their room.  I feel a twinge of jealousy.

8:30 pm:  We are all back in our hotel room and wondering how bedtime is going to go.  The lights are off and we're being quiet.  Anna is crying.

8:33 pm:  The lights are on, we're watching hockey on tv, Anna is hopping around like a bunny again.

8:50 pm:  Mason and Charlie head to the lobby to enjoy the fire and the cozy chairs and read a Magic Treehouse book.  Anna and I re-do the bedtime routine and try again.  She cries but I hang out in the bathroom with Instagram while she falls asleep.

9:40 pm:  Everyone's back in the room and pretty quiet.  Charlie is snoring softly and Anna's making little kitty sounds in her sleep.  I fall asleep thinking about the storm roaring around us and how we're all safe and sound in one little room.

Monday, March 21, 2016


I learned to Rollerblade in high school.  Spring of my senior year, to be exact.  I'm not sure why I never learned as a kid (maybe I couldn't put down the latest "Babysitter's Club" book or maybe I had to practice the piano, or maybe I was just too chicken shit...) but I knew I couldn't attend college in the 90's without Rollerblades.  So I headed out to Dunham's and used a friend's employee discount to purchase my sweet new wheels.  Then, I strapped them on and went searching for a place to learn-- this before "recreation trails" were found criss-crossing most towns.  I wound up at our town cemetery where smooth concrete paths and small gradual hills created the perfect place for me to practice my new hobby.

I always parked my Reliant near my grandpa's headstone and thought of him as I buckled up my blades.   While I'm still not sold on the idea of an afterlife (and wasn't back then either), I've always believed in a continued energy that extends beyond us when life ends.  I always felt my grandfather's presence during those times and as I skated around the park, I enjoyed the peace that seemed to have settled all around me.  Perhaps it was the result of the smooth and methodic sound of my wheels gliding against the pavement, or the slightly meditative state that comes from performing repetitive and comforting movements.  Or maybe that peace came from the energy of the souls laid to rest in the park.

As I glided through the cemetery paths, I often wondered about the people who had gone before me-- I studied their names and reflected on their birth and death dates.  I noted special symbols, pictures, or tidbits engraved on the headstones-- and wondered what specifically influenced their survivors to choose them.  Angels and puppies, butterflies and flowers, golf courses and even college mascots.  They all told a story, did they not?  Even now, when I visit a cemetery I find myself wondering, who were these people?  What was their story? Why did they die so young?  How did they live so long?  What happened that they died so close together?  How did they touch other lives?   Who did they leave behind?  Were they happy? Were they lonely?  And how is this world different because they were here?

Last week, we returned from the funeral of my aunt and uncle.  They died suddenly as the result of a tragic and senseless car accident. And while people are killed in auto accidents every day, a person never really believes it is going to affect them.  Rationally, I understand that my tribe is just as vulnerable to accidents as yours, but nothing prepared me for the shock of hearing this news.

In 2015, we said goodbye to my grandma Viv on Charlie's birthday.  We mourned her death, but truly celebrated her long 92 year life.  We shared stories about her life, reminisced about the wisdom and truth she brought to us, and felt grateful to have had her in our lives so long.  Later that year, my uncle died suddenly from an aggressive form of cancer.  We were shocked and stunned.  We mourned his death but couldn't quite celebrate-- as it didn't seem fair for someone to have been taken from us so quickly and without reason.  My heart broke for my cousins-- all of whom are my age-- with young children who now were missing their grandfather.  Now, with the deaths of Mary and Mike, my heart feels like it has been broken wide open again.  This time, I'm mourning for them, but more so because of the pain my cousins must be feeling.

I wish there was a way to carry their pain, to ease the weight upon their shoulders for just a few moments.  Long enough for them to play with their children, eat a nice dinner, or get a full night's sleep, without remembering the nightmare that has become reality right now.  But of course, this is not possible-- as much as we wish it could be.  So instead, I remember these people we've lost and answer those questions about the life they lived:

* Mary & Mike were amazing people, who really connected with their family, friends, and community.
* Their story is decades old-- a love story, a family story, an Iowa State Cyclones story, a community-volunteers story, a 'faith-filled' people story, a 'people you want to know' story.
* They were taken suddenly in a tragic accident
* This couple that seldom left each other's side also died side-by-side
* They touched many other lives-- probably more so than they ever even knew-- lives of their children, their grandchildren, siblings and nieces and nephews, friends, students, and community members
* They leave all these people behind, mourning their absence but remembering their presence
* This world is different because they were here.  They connected to people, they found time for others.  They truly said 'yes' to the life they were living

We all know how fragile life is, but when we are dealt cards like this, it's impossible not to think about our own mortality, the choices we're making, the life we're living, at this moment.  And as we grieve those we've lost, we discover gems of comfort by taking time to remember stories and anecdotes, and honor the legacy that they leave behind.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Plan B: Daytrippin'

Typically, we spend this week in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.  We bring flannel sheets, flannel jammies, books, magazines, puzzles, movies, and fixin's for lots of comfort food.  We light a fire within minutes of arriving and basically hunker down for five days-- no expectations of what's to come, just taking the moments as they come.

But this year, we are still reeling from the news of my aunt's and uncle's sudden death ten days ago, and our hearts needed to be with our family during this time.  However, we also knew that we had an incredibly excited little boy, eagerly awaiting his spring break trip.  So, how to cut our trip short while still giving Charlie a little taste of spring break???  The solution: Day Trip.

We went ahead and drove up to the twin cities on Monday morning.  Naturally, a three hour trip turned into slightly over four once two kids' hunger and bladder needs were factored in.  (can you believe them!?) The timing worked out perfectly, however, as we were able to check in to our hotel and settle in before heading over to the Mall of America.

Our first stop was a little kiosk of a children's museum that promised fun and interactive play for little kids.  In honor of pi day (3/14), they were only charging $3.14 admission and honestly, I'm not sure I'd recommend paying more than that price.  They had a dinosaur exhibit set up and a few little physics experiments with ramps and golf balls.  I was bored after about two seconds but my six year old loved every part of it and my 18 month old loved being free to run around and throw golf balls on the floor.

Anna loved this little 'tunnel' area and ran back and forth for what felt like 100 hours. 

She was not as crazy about having been placed in the Troodon 'nest' with the dinosaur eggs.  

This guy, on the other hand, loved every-single-second of every thing we did.  

After leaving the "museum", we started to wander the mall a bit.  We popped in a store or two and Charlie talked Mason into doing an $8.00 mirror maze.  (Things my parents would have never ever in a million years said yes to) After finding their way to the end (after admitting to winding up at the beginning a few times...) we headed over to the Rainforest Cafe.  Along the way, we stopped in a candy store and I cringed as Charlie picked out 6 pieces of sugar coated gummy things.   But I have to admit, the perma-smile on his face made it totally worth it.

Next stop: The Rainforest Cafe.  Turns out, you need a reservation a day in advance if you want to eat in the rainforest so we ate on the 'patio'.  C was bummed and I felt bad so we remedied the situation with a new stuffed animal and an ice cream sandwich.  These two avenues lead straight to Charlie's heart so he was totally fine with it.

(I had to include all the pics below because C's face just cracks me up...)

Charlie reeeeally wanted to take a picture of the three of us.  I'm pretty sure I need to work on my fake smile a bit....

When our bellies were filled up with overpriced food, we headed back to the hotel for a little dip in the pool.  Again, notice Charlie's face.

This one is a total fish-- it's everything we can do to keep her from launching herself under water.  (Makes my heart so happy!)

The next morning, we woke in plenty of time to watch a good chunk of Sports Center and snuggle with Charlie's new stuffy and Anna's baby doll.  (Just for the record, this was about thirty seconds before Anna totally fell off the bed and lodged herself between the mattress and end-table, causing Mason to nearly dislocate his shoulder while leaping across the room to rescue her.  Notice that I just took pictures because I am obviously not a rescuer.  I'm a documenter.)

Eventually, we packed up and headed back to the mall for our final hoo-ra-ra:  Riding rides.  So help me God, this is supposed to be a fun activity.  And one of us really did enjoy the morning.  I'll give you a clue:

Charlie loved every single ride and would have ridden them multiple times all day long if he had the choice.  But Anna was not a fan of the place and mostly whined and cried and pulled her socks and shoes off and tried to run around.  The lines were long, the rides weren't all operating, and stupid middle schoolers kept budging in front of us.  Mason tried to get me to wipe the scowl off my face but I really just needed a glass of wine at that moment.  (Come to think of it, Anna and I should have just headed up to the bars and gotten a Bloody Mary and some graham crackers....)

But, we survived and everyone was pretty happy.  I think Anna was asleep before we buckled her into her car seat....

And Charlie was out as soon as his Happy Meal was in his belly.  

I followed suit and curled into the headrest to 'rest my eyes' while Mason drove us safely home.

Although we were only gone for just over 24 hours, we had a sweet little getaway.  Charlie's smile alone made the trip worth every second.
Notes to self for next year:
* The "toddler Tuesday" wristband is a great deal!-----But, it's only good for two hours and doesn't include most of the rides Charlie likes to go on.
* The amusement park offers a twilight special wristband after 5:30 for ten dollars off the regular price and it's good until 9:00.
*  The Homewood Suites is worth every penny for a hotel room.  Having room to spread out and a separate room for "bedtime" is amazing.
*  Pack more food for the car trip.  Anna's a big eater.  Period.
*  Call ahead for the Rainforest Cafe, or put our name in an hour ahead of time.  Even if it's only 4:45 on a Monday evening-- they still are packed.
*  The Children's Museum of St. Paul looks really cool but is not open on Mondays, of course.
*  Hypothetically speaking, if you have 'just one thing' you want to do  (like find a new pair of black heels) and your husband has 'just one thing' he wants to do (like sit in a massage chair at Brookstone for ten minutes), realize that neither of these things is probably going to happen.
*  Try try try not to get annoyed with Charlie's excitement and enthusiasm and just go with it.  This is why we do these things....  (I really did try and I really did a good job, for the record! I just want to keep this in mind next year too!)