Monday, September 30, 2013

Sometimes, Today.

Sometimes I want to check out before the day has hardly started.  Sometimes it's 8:30am and my patience has already been completely tapped.  Sometimes I lose my cool and I join in the morning yelling and fighting.  Sometimes after I drop the kids off at school I am too tired to do any of the errands that need doing and I go home, put Felix up for a nap and stare off into space for a while, completely wasting my time.

Sometimes I call my mom and I cry.  I just let it all out.  That I feel like a complete failure, am terrified of kindergarten next year, so worried about so many things, so in love with Felix, so worried that a third baby was too much, that I am in fact spread too thin and screwing it all up.  Sometimes that cry feels so good and five minutes after I hang up I'm miles away from where I was.

Sometimes I can reboot, embrace what I'm working with right now, move on.  Sometimes deep breaths really work.

Somedays turn out perfect despite their rocky start.  Sometimes chicken fingers and cheese curds for lunch are just what we need to set the tone.  Sometimes I don't feel guilty for take out.

Somedays I don't make the girls nap.  I let them play in their room together.  Sometimes I take a bath while they play.  I should be doing lots of other things, like cleaning up from lunch or sweeping the floor, scrubbing the tub that I'm bathing in.  No. Sometimes I do none of that and I take a bath.

Sometimes the afternoon starts too soon, but I love it.  Sometimes the sun is shining and the mood is right and we fill it to the brim.

Sometimes I don't give them a choice, have my own unyielding agenda.  Sometimes we scoot and walk to the library and spend lots of time there exploring.  Going hoarse from reading, tired for squatting and bending for new books.  Sometimes the bag I have is overflowing with new finds.  Sometimes Bill Nye and Madeline find their way in with the princesses and Dora in the DVDs.  I love that.

Sometimes we take a while to cross the street on the way back.  Sometimes a driver is antsy.  This time I flew my hands up charging after the antsy driver, Felix in the stroller, Louise in my arms, swooped out of harms way.  This time I got a Good job mama bear! from a bystander.  Sometimes I feel fearce and unafraid.

Sometimes we go to the park on our way home.  Sometimes we take off shoes and play in the volleyball court, the sand being so much softer and bigger than the pit.  Sometimes I get a moment or 5 while Felix sleeps and the girls play with twigs and leaves.  It's always great.

Sometimes we head home and I'm amazed at how fast the time has gone.  Sometimes I put on a new library DVD, thankful for the calm after a long napless day.

Sometimes I don't think about dinner.  Sometimes I know we'll survive without a 4 star meal.

Sometimes it's about surviving and getting by.  Sometimes that's ok.  But sometimes it's about rising above it, proving myself wrong.  Sometimes it's about watching Felix eat his feet and listening to Ainsley's newest made up fairy song and snuggling with Louise tiny baby style.  Sometimes it's just about that.

Today it was about all these things.  Today I'm thankful for it all.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Today Felix turned 5 months old, and today I lost my Bop.

I wrote that sentence and I paused for about 30 seconds, not quite sure where to go from there.
Pause again.

My Bop was a great man.  A man with personality and presence.  I have lots of fond memories of him as a child, mostly up at their Wisconsin cabin telling bear hunt stories in the old red chair in cabin 2, and playing a silly close eyed owl game that I still play with my own children. And visiting them at their home in Winnetka.  Every single time you pull out of that driveway Bopper was there to direct you.  He was the first one to offer you a drink at cocktail hour and taught me that holding your pinky up while you sip is not a lost art.  Oh, and don't even think about wearing a hat to the dinner table or using your fingers to get food on your fork.  Don't, even, think about it.

This is not to say that Bop was without his faults, just like the rest of us.  He was an opinionated man, a stubborn man.  He was hard on waiters and all around a bit intimidating.  But man, he could build the most beautiful furniture with just his hands and the tools in his workshop, was always fixing something in his flannels, and one summer helped all of his grandchildren (all 11) make beautiful walking sticks from branches we found in the north woods.

The summer before my freshman year of high school he took me on a trip, just us two.  It was a new tradition he'd started with my older sister, and continued with my other sisters and four more cousins until his age caught up with him.
He took me to Williamsburg VA.

I remember packing my bags for my trip.  Full on in that pre-madonna pubescent stage of girlhood I packed a different outfit for every night, and two separate ones for each day.  I believe that I and a whole separate bag just for shoes too.  Bop made fun of me for that, relentlessly.  But every night he'd squeeze my hand with his strong bony ones and say "you look nice kiddo".

The first night of our trip I called my mom crying.  Bop and I had gone to an authentic colonial tavern for dinner and all they'd had on the menu was a half of a chicken or roast beef.  Full on pre-madonna Becky didn't eat meat like that.  And Bop had scolded a young waiter for bringing him the wrong type of glass for his cocktail.  I felt scared and small and worried about connecting with this great man on our week trip.

But then?  Magic happened.  We strolled along the streets of colonial Williamsburg, visiting plantations and the Jamestown dig.  We watched demonstrations and reenactments and took tours.  We ate delicious food, swam in fancy pools and ate breakfast the moment our feet hit the floor.  Just as Bop liked.  We connected over our love for the past, a simpler harder time.  I got him, and he got me and we had an absolute blast.

He and I kept reliving that trip over the years to come.  For Christmas one year I made him a scrapbook of our trip.  Another year I painted a small picture of The Slave Quarters an adorable cottage that Bop and I stayed in.  We talked about that trip every time I saw him until he couldn't' remember it anymore.  That was about 5 years ago.

It's been hard to watch my grandpa decline.  First they thought Alzheimer's, then no, dementia and aphasia.  He lost words and memory, but not the spark and ability to communicate.  We've all known that this was coming.  That doesn't mean it's not still hard and sad.

The last time I saw Bop was up at their cabin this summer.  I wasn't supposed to go, there hasn't been enough time in the summer to get up there with all the kids.  Then Ian's plans changed last minute and a stopover on our way home from our family cabin seemed like just the thing.

I hadn't been up there in 4 years, not since Ainsley was 6 months old.  It was a hard trip with all the kids on my own, but I'm so glad I went.  Mostly because I got to see Bop in his favorite place in the world, one more time.

Though I'm not going to remember Bop the way he was this past time.  I remember his full face and thick white hair, broad chest and strong nimble hands.  I remember his smell.  Like wool and flannel and sawdust and pine needles, sometimes a bit of pipe tobacco or scotch thrown in there.

That's the beauty of the end of a life, to me.  You get to remember all the bests, the most perfect version of the person you lost.  Though he's not lost, we know right where he is.  I am sad, yes,  but I know he's not in pain anymore, not confused or frustrated or weak or tired.  He is whole.  And I will see him again some day.

I love you Bop.  I am so thankful for the time I've had with you.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

To Be Little

Tonight I went to the girls' parents night at preschool for the new school year.  It was at 6pm, giving me just enough time after Ian got home from work to do a quick catch up on our days and a full on switcheroo.

I pulled up to the familiar spot.  Strange that it's been three whole months since parking and walking in, stranger still without a large belly and my girls in tow.

I had to orchestrate my time well.  Two classes this go around, one me.  Since I'd met Louise's teachers on numerous occasions and visited the class with her in the spring I opted to put my attention towards Ainsley's class.

I walked into the room.  Three times the size of her classroom from last year.  I greeted the teachers, they asked how to pronounce our last name.  Laughing, as they always do, when I tell them my maiden name was Rogers...what a jump!  Then the squat down to those tiny chairs, the blank page lined with flowers or crayons or balloons to write a first day note to my girl.

Short and sweet, I think to myself.  Positive.  Upbeat.

Dear Ainsley,
   I am so excited for you.  I can't wait to hear about all of the new friends you're making and the great things you're learning from your wonderful teachers.  What a grand adventure! I love you!
  Love, Mama

I am satisfied.  Remembering last year when I agonized over the same letter, only to realize that it was pretty much passed over for all the fun she was having at her new school.

Then the teachers began.  Welcoming, explaining.  I sat and listened, eager, calm.

As they walked around the room, pointing out amenities, favorite spots and activities, it hit me.  Ainsley is so little.

She is the biggest of mine, yes, but in the grand scheme?  So very tiny little.

She imagines and dreams and writes and helps and sometimes I forget that she is still so very small.

Others in her class are their parents' babies and they know so acutely how little they are.  I?  Need reminding.

Because I ask a lot of Ainsley.  I expect so much.  Most of the time this is good.  For her and for me.  She rises to the occasion of big sister. LOVES fetching and checking on and caring for.  Feeds off of leadership and a bit of authority.

But still.  She is so very little.

Before Felix was born Ainsley got a package from my big sister, the biggest of us four girls.  In it was a signed copy of Rapunzel (now one of the girls' most prized possessions).  Along with the book was a card, a letter really that my big sister wrote to Ainsley.  I've placed it in her baby book, because that's where it belongs.

The gist of the note was this.  How wonderful to be a big sister again! for the second time! but oh, a bit hard too.  To be the biggest, the one overlooked sometimes, the one who is expected to be strong and helpful and extra good. It's a hard job to be the biggest, wonderful, but hard.  I love you.

I've read that note so many times.  All at once understanding so much about my big sister, her place in this world and our family, and my biggest one, my first one, my still so tiny girl.

As her teachers talked about tiny plush bears being used to talk about feelings and play dough as a first week of school manipulative for soothing nervous hands and mud play and water tables and carpet time, it hit me over and over.  Ainsley is so little.

I glided through the rest of the meeting.  Scooted over to Louise's class to catch the end of the chat.  Smiled and hugged the parents I know, caught up briefly about summer goings on.  Got back in my car and drove home.

Now here I sit after tidying and bedtime and potstickers for dinner.  And truthfully?  I feel a bit sad.  I bit guilty that it took this session tonight to remind me of my little girl, of her smallness and fragility.

Just today we had a write down moment.  I was flustered with a fussy Felix, trying to organize the clutter I'd taken out of our car after hand detailing it with them all underfoot, readying it to be traded in. Ainsley had asked to get herself and Louise some juice for snack and I snippily agreed.

Mommy? Would you like some juice?
No! No thank you.  Mommy does not want any juice.
(ensue a few minutes of trying to multitask unsuccessfully)
Mommy? Would you like some juice?
(the sweetest saddest most disappointed face ever)
Well, is there anything else that I can get for you then?

Oh boy. I wish I could take that back.  But really, it's just one example of many when I don't have the time and mental capacity to be receptive to her sweetness, her thoughtfulness.

I have those moments with all of my kids.  The ones when I'm busy with the girls and Felix is over being in his bouncer and all I want to do is hold him and comfort him, but I can't just then.  The ones when I'm nursing Felix and Louise is desperate to play a floor game with me and I just don't have the hands at that moment to set it up with her.  The ones when I'm snuggling Louise on my lap and Ainsley wants in and the two can't seem to fit so well on my thighs anymore, and they fight and I wave the white flag and leave them to their own devices.

Those moments can overtake me so easily. But just as easy? to ride them out, count to 5, 10, whatever it takes.  Wave that white flag and start again.  Find that scrap of patience, pick even one small thing to do just with them, with that one, for a moment or two.  Because? they are so very little, and they deserve that from me.

I am the big one.  The only big one around most times.  I can handle it.  But they? are so very teeny tiny little.  What a precious time this is.  I needed that reminder.

Good Problems

There's a man who I see walking nearly every day.  He's elderly and I'm fairly certain that he resides at the local assisted living facility just up oak park avenue.  He waves at every single person that passes, chats to himself with a big happy smile on his face.  Once I saw him walking speedily with a large wet spot on the front of his pants, and still that big ole smile.  Even loss of bladder control can't get this guy down.

Every time I see him I smile, "good for him" I can't help but think.  To be that happy and energetic at that stage of life, what a goal, what an accomplishment.

I saw this man this morning, driving back from preschool drop off and errands with Felix.  It was a well timed siting.  A reminder of simple and happy.  I was feeling a bit iffy.  These last two days have not gone as I'd planned.

The end of last week and this past weekend was amazing.  I got so much done, was in such a good mood.  This weekend was nearly perfect.  Apple picking and outdoors all day on Saturday, a full on rainy cooking baking cleaning movie watching day on Sunday.  It was so good.

This week so far I've felt a bit stressed.  For as smooth as the start to school has gone (knock on wood!) there's always something big and looming on the back burner.  Right now it's where we will be next year.

Ian and I decided not to talk about it much until March, until he has a full year of his post doc well under his belt and is better apt to make a decision, but we just can't help it.  It's such a big thing, it's hard to ignore.

The hardest thing for me right now is I truly don't know where we belong.  Somehow we fit in this funny place that I never thought I could love.  Some days it seems easier to stay than to go.  Then I get on my computer in the morning and find the remnants of Ian's job searches on tabs.  Germany, Italy, Minneapolis, California.  Right now he's taking online certification courses to add to his resume in case he decides that data analysis is more his thing.  I'm so proud and happy to have such a motivated man, but it's a lot.  A whole lot.

I'm finding it hard to focus on the everyday, hard not to bypass all the stuff that will have to get done before a move from here.  So many house things, so many getting rid of stuff things.  It swamps me all the time.

Right now I'm trying to take a step back, remind myself gently over and over that we don't know yet, and goll darnit calm down until we do.

It helps that right now is so good.

Felix is right in the thick of magical baby stage.  He coos at me and squawks and rolls and bats his long dark lashes and I simply know that he has all the answers, am so acutely aware that he is perfect in every way, the best baby in the world ever.  I just drink him in every second.

Louise is three, and acts like it.  I'm finally understanding why every parent ever has told me that three is worse than 2.  With Ainsley 3 was SO much better than two so I was hopeful that Louise would just stay magnificently delightful and agreeable all the way through teenagerdom.  Nope!  That girl, for all her opinions and sass and defiance of late, that girl, she has some character.  Every single day I hear some great story from her teachers.  Once day she was making her friends laugh raucously at the snack table, the other she was posing top model style with a fish in her net over the water table, another she covered 3 2'x3' pieces of paper from edge to edge with beautiful marks of every color imaginable of tempera paint.  That girl.  I adore her.  Sass and all.

Ainsley has blown me away this school year so far.  The transition has been as seamless as I can imagine.  She loves her teachers and the new friends she's made.  She bounces right in the door every day and is full of stories of her mornings when we get in the car.  Outisde of school she continues to be the most imaginative child I can imagine.  Every moment of every day is filled with creative pretend and elaborate story telling.  It's remarkable to watch.  I accepted long ago that she will always be a challenging kid, so much vigor and personality is hard to corral most days, but man, I love her, life is never ever dull with  Ainsley May around.

 just a normal every day play set up for this girl...most likely a home for a fairy or a bug friend, one can never really keep it all straight

 singing singing always singing (only original made up rhyming to her own tune songs mind you)

Ah, so this morning I take a deep breath.  Try to sink down a bit further into fall, my absolute favorite of all time season.  So thankful for this home, for right now with my perfect little people and this man I found who takes away most of my angst.  All our problems are good, and that is the luckiest of all.

pumpkin spice donut from OPB, I never EVER should have tried it, INSTANTLY addicted

Happy Thursday friends!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


All summer I've been trying to find the time, the motivation, to write a bit more.  Now when did I used to do that?  How did that all fit in?  Oh yes, right NOW.  These precious glorious preschool morning hours.  That's where.

My two big girls.  Now both in school four mornings a week.  I remember last spring being all emotional about the end of school.  Half out of terror that I now had to occupy all three of my children all summer long and half because them ending a school year meant that next year they'd be one whole year older.  

But I must say these first days have gone so well for us all.  Ainsley clinged a bit to my skirt this morning, but still walked right in.  Her sensitive calm teachers seem so good for her.  I'm excited for all that this year has in store for her.  And Louise?  A quick lip kiss and a "bye mom!" big wave and smiles and she's off.  I've heard from four separate people how hilarious she is over the past 3 days (two of the people being her teachers).  Ah Louise, what a joy you are.  And now it's just me and Felix these mornings.  I'm so excited for my little guy to have a big morning nap in a quiet house and the time and mobility to get some things done for me...all.  good. things.

As for me?  There's something about the start of school that always turns a fresh page for me.  An excuse to reconfigure things a bit, revamp and energize our days.  I've so enjoyed our summer of laze and snuggles and fun but am definitely ready to get back to a routine and with it rekindle our love for crafts and cooking.

To start, I engaged the girls' help to make lots of babyfood for Felix.  After I gave him a taste of sweet potatoes last week he's been eating one serving a day so it's good I stocked up!

My mom gave me this baby food maker as my first mother's day gift after Ainsley was born.  It's amazing and makes making food so easy.  So far we have apples, peaches, plums, carrots, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, and rice cereal all ready to go.

Next up was a craft inspired by a book we found at the library last week.  Ian had to work late so I took the kiddos all to the library that evening and we had lots of fun purusing.  This very old fall crafts book wasn't great overall, but did have a few rather brilliant ideas. First up?  Pipecleaner and button trees!

While we did have brown pipe cleaners for the trunks and branches the girls insisted on using our sparkly mulitcolored ones.  I pulled out our big bag of lose buttons from the thrift shop, some play dough to stand the trees in and they were off.  This was a solid hour of fun for the girls, twisting and threading their trees.  They now stand up in their room on the dresser, surrounded by cotton to make it look like snowy Suessian scene.  It's great.

But of course among the crafts and cooking, we can't forget our favorite parks.

I've learned to take advantage while we still can!

And double of course, fresh cookies with afternoon coffee.  I made Ian take the bulk of them to work today because I have no self control with oatmeal chocolate chip confections.

Just a typical Sunday scene.  Louise NEVER wears jammies.  Ah, that girl.

Right now I feel so good.  I've been waiting for these 5 minutes (or more, please!?!) of peace all summer long.  It's amazing what a difference that makes in my mood, in my motivation, in the momentum of our days.  I'm excited to pick the girls up from school, hear all about the ice in the water tables and the popsicles for snack (their school sure knows how to handle a hot day!).  Eat lunch together, rest a bit together, fill up that pool in the backyard this afternoon and enjoy this hot day.

Happy Tuesday friends!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Big Stuff, Little Stuff

The string of big stuff going on lately just keeps going and going.

This past weekend Sonya was married.  It was such a wonderful celebration and a very full weekend.  Ian's brother and family were in town.  We haven't seem them all together in over two years and the girls hadn't seem their cousins since Christmas.  They all got along so well considering there were 5 little people under the age of five.  Thank Sonya for having a casual beach wedding so our kids could play in the sand and water while you got hitched!  It really all couldn't have gone more smoothly.

 The fun big stuff for me with the wedding was making the girls' dresses, the boys' bow ties and cooking for the night everyone was here.

The dresses are the flower girl dress pattern from Heather Ross' Weekend Sewing, my all time favorite sewing book.  The fabric was all from my stash, the lace too.  Sonya and I had fun picking out the combos and they all somehow seemed to suit the little girls who wore them.

The bow ties did not come together quite as easily.  First, the fabric I ordered looked nothing like the online swatch so I had to reboot and went to Mill End while I was in MN.  Thankfully two sweet elderly women were shopping at the same time as me and helped me make the fabric choice.  Then the Martha Stewart pattern that I found wouldn't enlarge properly on my printer so I had to make a pattern using one of Ian's ties.  Then!  All the interfacing and precise cutting and turning right side out of four bow ties (one teeny tiny baby bow tie included in that)  Ah!!!! It was a bit brutal and dramatic at times but they turned out! and those boys looked quite dapper if I do say so myself.

And the cooking?  I only mention it because it was a crock pot meal that everyone seemed to enjoy so I thought I'd post the recipe.

Crock Pot Chicken Stroganoff

5 boneless skinless chicken breasts (can be frozen)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (or cream of chicken)
1 can of mushrooms
16 oz sour cream
1 pkg dry onion soup mix (like lipton)

put chicken in the crock pot, mix the rest of the ingredients and spoon over the top, cook on low 8 hours.  Take out chicken and shred (most enjoyable done with a preschooler or two and many forks), return to sauce, serve over rice or egg noodles.
I opened it up to flip the chicken around in the sauce every once in a while.  I halved the recipe for the sauce again, so made a 1.5 recipe for my big chicken breasts and it was perfect.

And dessert? This and this.  It was too hard to choose.

Big. Fun. Stuff.

Then everyone left and the girls started preschool for the year.  The first day went so well.

Despite Ainsley's nerves in the morning she walked right in after a quick hug from me, no more fuss.  And Louise was so excited to be starting her day out on the playground with new friends.  She even tried to comfort a classmate, Sadie, who was very upset to leave her mama.  "It's ok friend, just be brave like me!" she said with an outstretched hand a big Louise grin.  It was great.

Today I was told they both missed me a  bit and Louise had her crank on in the car on the way home, but they're excited to go each morning and Ainsley's already sad that tomorrow is the last day of school for the week.  I'll take it!

I've had so much fun with Felix these past two days.  Yesterday I put him in the Ergo for the drop offs and left the car on a meter to walk up to our cute book store and toy store.  I decided to treat us all to Apple, a book I've wanted for a while.  Perfect for my tiny boy and the girls love it too.  I just browsed at the toy store, really just enjoying looking and meandering because I could.  T

Today we went up to the local yarn shop.  I'm itching to get some fall knitting underway and apparently the five half finished projects I have in my basket aren't enough.  Mainly, I NEEDED things for my boy.  I'm wavering between being practical and just knitting him one sweater and hat or giving in to my desire to knit him two sweaters, a hooded jacket, and at least two ear flap hats (in addition to a little something I have up my sleeves for Halloween....SO EXCITED!)

For now I settled on a peacock blue wool for another baby surprise jacket.  I loved his newborn green one so much, I hope this one fits him all winter!

In other making stuff for my son news he has two new pairs of quick change trousers.  That big cloth diapered bum is blowing through the sizes and I was down to about 4 pairs that fit him well.  Couple that with a very spitty uppy baby and we had a problem on our hands.  New pants it is!

One is entirely flannel and the other is flannel lined.  All of the fabric but one were from my stash, the plaid being from two of my grandpa's, Bop's, old flannel shirts that my Aunt brought me from their Wisconsin cabin.  It's especially special to me right now that I'm using these shirts to clothe Felix, because my grandpa's health has been failing.  I'd been saving these two particular shirts for just this purpose.  Now every time I put them on Felix this fall and winter I'll think of my Bop, robust and alive up north, telling Bear Hunt stories and smelling of woods and dark beer.  Upcycling can be such a special special thing.

And a bit more about that tiny Bop's plaid shirts turned cute pants clad boy?  Well, he's sitting!  Kind of.  I about died of shock when I walked into the kitchen yesterday to find him upright in the bouncy chair, just hanging out while Ainsley chatted and sang to him.  He was strapped in but not using the back support at all.  It was crazy!  So I tried him out on the floor and sure enough, there he sat!  For a full half hour off and on he'd sit up straight and tall, hands on his knees, then teeter totter over after a minute or so.  Today has been the same, lots of baby sit ups from reclined positions and sitting while holding my hand only.  I could hardly bathe him tonight because he keeps sitting up in the little baby tub!  Oh boy.  He's growing up way too fast for my liking.

As a tribute to his new almost skill I decided to give him a taste of real food tonight.  He's been pretty fussy at dinner time lately, desperately trying to swipe our food, licking his lips while he watches us eat.  It's really rather sad and pathetic.  So now that he can sit up straight I made him some sweet potatoes laced with my milk and tonight at dinner he ate an entire bowl full.  

Wow. Lots of big stuff going on.

And of course, among all the big, is the little stuff.  The everyday.  It's still really hard to get out the door in the mornings.  Our 8:45 role call tomorrow for school should be interesting.  But really there's so much that's great too.  I'm finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.  I'm finding I'm able to get things done, things I want to do, things that need to be done.  My big girls are so very big.  Today while I made dinner Ainsley found a can of barbosol in the pantry and asked if she could play with it at the table like we used to.  I took a deep breath and said sure, convinced it would end up a terrible mess. But my girls?  they just played, then walked themselves into the bathroom, wiped off and cleaned the whole table all without me asking.  It's almost heartbreaking how little they need me some times, but really nice too.

dinner tonight + pork chops

Life feels really good right now.  Still super tiring, still not nearly enough time in each day, but really really good, and hopeful.  Fall, school, schedules, open windows.  These are all really good things.

Happy Wednesday friends!

p.s. a mama was peed on in the making of these photos