Friday, February 26, 2016

32, and This and That

I came on to write something specific, then realized I never wrote about my 32nd birthday.  It's a post I treasure each year to mark the time and where I am, so I'll start there.

This 32nd year of mine is off to a great start.  I wanted to post the few photos I got from our time in Big Sky.  I'm still reflecting on how wonderful that trip was.  That photo of my knitting in the lodge while Ainsley skied her third day on the mountain?  That was particularly magical.

I posted on facebook about the beautiful weather we had the day before my birthday.  We pulled the cover off the gas grill that we bought with the house and cooked up some delicious marinated salmon while the kids enjoyed the warm february sun on the patio.  The patio is my current favorite spot in the backyard. With the bare winter trees we get sun and I can sip my half shared beer with Ian after work and watch the kids play.  They are currently filling up each tiny brick with sidewalk chalk drawings.  I'm loving that.

On my birthday I made overnight cinnamon rolls and my family came to join us.  It was such a treat to have them all here, it's been years and years since we were together on my birthday.  I got such fun things.  I've especially been enjoying all the new reading I received, and the new art supplies and sharpener from my mom (and I have yet to take my new slippers off when I'm indoors Julie!).

That night Ian's parents came to watch the kids so we could go out the eat, such a tremendous treat.  He took me to Wise Acre Eatery, a spectacular farm to table restaurant where I received a free cocktail AND dessert for my birthday.  I could have eaten that whole menu, it was tremendous!

I remember last year thinking ahead to this birthday, this 32nd year, hoping so much that we'd be settled.  Here we are!  It's taking us a bit to adjust, but we're here and this year ahead feels so hopeful and good.

In regular life things continue to settle.  I'm finding that our move has really punctuated for me that things are changing.  We are in the big kid routine of life and I find I'm sad about leaving behind those long together preschool days with my girl.  Sadder still is that I still have those days (mostly) with  my boy but they seem to fill all too easily with errands and indoor playgrounds and him playing by himself while I get things done.

I've been working on an oak park photo book for us and going through the old photos of all the things I used to do with the kids, it's crazy!  I do so little that is planned an elaborate with them now.  I want to up my game again.

Just yesterday Felix was finally able to go back to school after missing days for stomach flu and our trip to Montana and this bad cold that he's now passed on to me.  I spent the morning running errands, again!  I think I've been to Target more times in the past 3 months than I'd been in the past 3 years in Oak Park.  This time is was a second set of sheets for Louise's bed, an electric griddle (I still can't figure out our stove for our griddle) and dozens of odds and ends.  I had an odd amount of time after that before picking Felix up so I decided to run across the street to one of the local thrift shops.

Oh goodness.  I found so many great little things.  I was most excited to find another pair of jeans for Felix (that boy will ONLY wear jeans!) And they were the exact Levi's he already owns and love which felt like a dose of thrifting serendipity.  I got a few cute little Easter decorations, something we've never had before. The kids are loving the egg shaped candles in the bunny holders and the white ceramic bunny surrounded by plastic and paper eggs.  I also found Louise and Felix baseball mitts (Louise is playing t-ball this spring!) and a set of coffee mugs to replace one of our favorites of the exact same type that I'd found at a garage sale a few years back that had broken.

In some silly way that shopping trip made it feel like home.  I found my love of second hand shopping in Oak Park.  I remember walking with baby Ainsley up the block from our 2 flat apartment to the resale shop a few times a week just to browse and get out of the house with her.  I'm still getting comments on my awesome Merrel snow boots I found back then.  Still going strong!

So here's to 32.  To a new beginning in a mostly new decade.  I'm looking forward to spring and summer and making our home here.

Things To Do, Food Too.

That last post was getting too long and these little mundaner things belong on their own in my opinion.

Getting back to the golden days of preschool parenting, I need a reminder.  There have been so many excuses these past months for not doing things with my children and handing over and ipad or slapping some play dough on the counter while I do my own thing.  No more!  I'm finding I'm missing the groove I had in Oak Park.  I knew it was so awesome to have a conservatory, giant parks (1 at the end of our block, 6 within easy walking distance) pool with water slides, quaint shopping, and our adorable perfect library.  The truth is, while I took advantage of those things, we did a lot at home.  I got good at finding simple meaningful ways to spend our time.  I need that list written out!

Sensory activities - even for the girls these have not grown old.  Shaving cream on the counter, homemade finger paints and pudding paint, playing with warm soapy water in the sink, rice and beans in a big container on the floor, flour in a sided baking pan.

Easy (low mess!) crafts - though I used to never shy away from a mess I've gotten a bit more anal as I've aged.  The thought of setting up and cleaning up messy projects on a daily basis just seems horrendous to me these days.  Still there are many ways to craft with minimal set up and clean up.  Watercolor painting, cray pas on black paper, stringing beads on pipe cleaners, simple embroidery, finger knitting, hand sewing (dull big needles and yarn through well washed styrofoam meat trays is a favorite!), magazine and construction paper collages.

Cooking and Baking - I've gotten worse about this too as three kids in the kitchen equals lots of squabbles and mess, but with our new big kitchen we all fit and I'm determined to rekindle my love of cooking with them all!  I let the girls help make dinner at least one night each a week and we usually bake something all together at some point.  Muffins have been big lately for school snacks and of course cookies and treats on the weekends are always appreciated.

Learning - I've struggled with this so much since Ainsley started elementary school.  That girl FIGHTS homework like mad and I know those little bodies have been sitting and listening and learning for 7 hours a weekday so to make them do anything more at home just seems a bit cruel most days.  Though so much of day to day life involves learning and needing to know how to write and read well.  I find I can slip in a bit here and there without too much fuss.  Letter writing, journaling, dictating a story, reading a recipe, writing a grocery or wish list, drawing and writing about nature, making still life drawings, skip counting songs, helping teach Felix letters and numbers to reinforce my big girls' knowledge, simple math with household objects, scavenger hunts to count the number of certain items in the house, sight word hunts with post its.  Each single thing only takes a few minutes and just doing one or two things at some point after school is helpful for us all I think.

Easy Outings - this is the category that has most changed. Gone are the days of walking one block to the park or walking out the front door after texting neighbors and having 5 little friends right there, though I'm finding most things can translate to our new home, in their own way.
Outdoor play, mud kitchens and yard work, fairy houses and fun.  The greenhouse up the street with fairy gardens galore! the library, not as great as Oak Park's but it'll do! Caribou for a $2 hot cocoa, the great independent bookstore in Excelsior, the yarn shop, open skate at the ice arena, the indoor playground and pool at Williston Center, cousin play dates! We've also found a great church and have really enjoyed getting active there.  Ainsley loves choir and they have so many fun events.  It's helped us meet a lot of people in the community and keep busy in a positive way.

My cooking - I feel like we've been in a free for all with food since we found out we were moving in October.  That plus holidays plus new places to explore/food to eat equals way too much spent, consumed, and eaten out.  This week I feel I really hit the nail on the head, spending a mere $111 on groceries for the week and eating well and simply every meal.
Tacos, Homemade Chicken and Rice Soup Cauliflower Cheese Pie, Baked Frank and Beans and Salad, Peanut Noodles with Baked Chicken Drumsticks and Green Beans, Chicken Fried Rice, Potstickers, Meatloaf and Tater Tots and Peas (capitalizing makes it feel important right?)
I'm really getting into marinated meats again.  Having a gas grill hooked up to a gasline is going to change our lives.  The weather now is mild enough to use it often.  That and simple sides like roasted sweet potatoes (really roasted anything) is all we need.  It's glorious. That plus one or two bigger meals for leftover eating throughout the week and we are set.

I'm feeling like we're so close to normal here.  Learning to live with a pang in my side for the things loved and left in Oak Park, and revving up the excitement we feel about being here, finally home.  I'm not sure when I'll be done talking about this transition.  8 years in Oak Park and I never quite got to 100% there.  It may be a long ride!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Big Sky

Now that the cat is out of the bag I can spill my own beans.  (So many figures of speech in there, I love it!)

For my dad's 60th birthday my mom flew all us kids and sons in law and grandchildren to Big Sky, Montana for a President's Day weekend bash (all 18 of us! Imagine the 16 children and grandchildren all on the same 10pm flight from MSP.  It was pretty epic).  We'd been anticipating it for many months and I will say it did not disappoint!

Personally, I was on the fence with how I thought the trip might go.  Correction, how the skiing would go.  I used to love skiing but have gotten more reticent as I age and the kids had never skiied before so I wasn't sure how they'd take to it.  I knew we'd have a blast being in the beautiful mountains and enjoy winter and our family time together, but 8 tiny people on a trip is always unpredictable.

It was simply amazing.

The whole time was such a giant celebration.  We had dinner in a private upstairs room at a local brewery that my dad has supported in over the years.  Such great food and house made beer and a big space for the kids to play and dance in.  There was so much dancing!

Valentine's Day found the kids noshing on Valentine's treats my mom brought (wrapped in individual festive bags for all, of course!) and a delicious steak and potato dinner with the most giant delicious four layer costco chocolate cake.

My dad's birthday celebration day found us eating delicious barbeque take out, opening gifts and 50+ envelopes of letters collected from family and friends and students and coaches and colleagues.  What a testament to the amazing man my father is! Here I need to diverge for a minute...

I am the ONLY one who forgot my letter in the flurry of packing madness.  I still wanted something in my envelope and decided to capitalize on an inside joke of my dad's and mine.  Throughout my whole life my dad has taken advantage of my extremely gullible nature by casually walking by and saying "here Becky hold this" and dumping something odd and usually disgusting in my hand.  Often it was toenail clippings or some flake of skin.  The best was when we were at the cabin swimming off the pontoon and I was in the water.  He yelled "Becky!  Catch this!" and threw what appeared to be a splash ball right at me.  Of course I caught it and the mass immediately began to dissolve and I screamed "EWWW!" as I realized it was in fact a wad of chewed up and spit out pretzels. HILARIOUS!

So! of course the appropriate response to forgetting his 60th birthday letter at home was to fill a ziploc with my sister's heel shavings and slap a post it on it "a sentimental placeholder for a fun-loving dad".  I was rather proud of myself.  I hope my letter lives up to the anticipation! Ha!

My dad has been wanting to get us all out to Big Sky for years.  It's where Ian and I had our honeymoon and our last trip was 5 years ago, when Ainsley was a toddler and I was newly pregnant with Louise.  It is such a magnificent place to travel and in the darker days of Ian's job search we thought "we'll just move to Montana house and wash dishes at the resort".  I'd actually be pretty ok with that life plan.

This time I enjoyed the skiing more than I had the last few times I'd gone.  I skiied confidently and joyously for two days while my big girls took lessons.

I'd forgotten how much I love ski culture.  Meeting friendly people on chair lifts, beers in hot tubs after a day on the slopes, outdoor swimming and sledding and fires crackling all the live long day.  Amazing.

And the kids?  They did SO well.  All 5, ages 4 and up took lessons for two full mornings.  It was so fun to pick them up and see their confidence as they showed us their skills on the bunny hill.  Louise seemed reticent off and on but never wanted to leave the hill and by the second day wanted nothing to do with me skiing next to her.  "Let me go first mom!".

I need a separate paragraph for my Ainsley girl.  Excuse me while I tear up before I even start to type.  Ainsley BLEW us away.  The first day she advanced a level halfway through the two hour lesson.  The second day she advanced again, this time away from the bunny hill and onto the beginner lift.  I took her on her first lift ride with my sister (the best skiier in the family!) in tow for support and she skied her first big mountain green run with complete confidence and a bit too much speed for her mom's comfort.

She went twice more up and down with different adults each time to film her and encourage and support her.  It was simply magical.  After dragging her off the mountain at the end of the day we signed up her for a third morning of lessons.  I took her the next morning and spent the time sipping on a bad cafeteria machine cappucino and knitting while my girl spent the entire morning up on the mountain.  By class' end she'd advanced again, now ready for the high speed quad chair that takes you all the way up the main part of the mountain to the more challenging green and blue runs.

I was honestly sad to go.  I wanted another day or two to keep my girl in lessons and watch her soar.  I'm having this parenting moment where I'm seeing my kid thrive and explode and be so damn good at something and it just feels incredible.  My rambunctious energetic conniving girl was a leader and followed directions and reigned it in and learned so much.  She bought a big sky shirt with a map of the mountain runs on the back and a ski keychain as souvenirs and brought them to school today along with her trip journal to share with her class.

In a moment of complete seredipity I went to pack my skit boots to take home and found my old ski bag that I used for ski school.  On the side were 8 hash marks, marking my age and distinguishing my bag from my sister's.  Next year Ainsley will be 8 and she can use that bag if she chooses, perhaps for her own boots as she continues her jounrey in this new sport she's found a tremendous love for.

So yeah, the trip was amazing.  We're already putting pennies in a jar for next year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Little Big Things

Just the other day I thought out loud in my brain, "Felix has never had the stomach flu! Score!'  Last night at approximately 11:40pm my little dude wandered into our room.  "Mama?!" RAPLH! all over our bed.  Run to the bathroom, barf more and more and more and more.  Sorry if this is graphic.  He's my third little person so I truly didn't even blink an eye.  You just do it.

Then I go to throw our sheets and blanket and giant queen quilt in the wash and oh hello sopping wet non drained washing machine in our beautiful perfect new to us house.  Nice to meet you.  Thanks to youtube and a giant ego after 6 years of 100 year old house ownership I was SO SURE I'd nailed the problem to the wall.  One tiny sad non drained load later I gave up, put that we bought a car on black friday so we got a best buy gift card to good use and come Thursday laundry will be done again.  Until then thanks mom for the pick up laundry service while I try to figure out how much drink Felix can handle without instant barf relapse.

This week was feeling super stressful for some reason.  Honestly I'm just still not HERE.  Does that make sense?  This fall has just been insane and now the winter has been harder too.  I really could pinpoint the moment last week that WHAM! I felt at home.  I am such an incredibly good worrier and there is just so much to worry about when you are moving and buying and selling homes and pretty much changing everything about your lives.  There's this hilarious horrible balance between, let yourself worry! be kind to yourself! and STOP IT! you are so lucky, life is amazing.  It's exhausting.

So I've done A LOT of sitting in between my bouts of madness and worry.  Way too much napping on our new red couch and not enough marked productivity.  Yesterday I told Ian about this crazy 2 hour nap I took "Which I didn't even need!!!" and he laughed through his annoyance and it was such a great moment.  I told the kids AGAIN "find someone in life that you can annoy and accepts your annoyance and that laughs at you and with you.  It's really the stuff of life".  

I do this though.  I am such an up and down person I really should have a whole lot of roller coasters named after me (but I totally hate roller coasters so, no thank you).  Right now I'm really up and that feels good.

Yesterday I went to my new favorite store and bought FOUR new paperbacks to read with the girls.  We read every day but longer chapter books are still tricky to find time for so I recommitted and am so excited.  Three chapters into Half Magic sitting by the fire with my girls is a good place to be.

I'm still totally over food and cooking, mostly spending SO MUCH on food.  I actually went to Aldi for the first time in years and while the generic corn chips were "spot on" according to Ian I was underwhelmed and felt a bit like I was grocery shopping in prison.  I am one of those people who will totally pay for a good food shopping experience.  I LOVE our co-op and still burn a bright fierce candle for Trader Joes and just yesterday stepped foot into a brand new Kowalski's that blew my socks off (and has so many options for locally smoked fish I just, I can't even) so that's where it's at for me.  Make it work Becky.  Make it work.

Last night it was local eggs in tomato sauce, toasted fresh baguette, sauteed baby greens with garlic and smoked salmon.  Other rustic delicious meals on the docket: calico beans made from whole dried beans and good bacon, grits with stoneground cornmeal and whole milk and good cheese, flatbreads from homemade dough with roasted winter veggies and whatever free range meat is on sale at the co-op.  I find I much prefer cooking this way.  Going more often and seeing what sounds good.  It almost always works out that I spend less and enjoy more this way.

I can't believe I'm 32 soon.  I actually really like even numbers so I'm hoping it feels more comfortable than 31.  I sure am sinking into this place more every day and am really really thankful for that new washing machine coming on Thursday.  It's the little big things isn't it?  Always the little big things.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Happy February

girls playing with kitchen ingredients
 Felix's sick day, lots of basement fires and tea and couch snuggles

 Ainsley's sweater, getting closer!
 the new couch, making the living room my new favorite place
 sight words at sunset
 my little licker helper with Nana's birthday cake
 crazy hair day at school + chocolate decorators
 every time my dad goes to get his eyes checked he gets us a giant donut at the local bakery, I like this routine
 pantry dinner, usually better than my planned dinners
 10" of snow!  And of course we haven't bought a snow blower yet and I insisted Ian stay at his parents after work and I happened to have a fever and three tiny "helpers", oh boy! (actually Ainsley was legitimately helpful...a new day is dawning!)

We just got back from my Uncle's funeral, well really, life celebration.  It was of course a very sad occasion but also in a strange appropriate way, really fun.  We all kept commenting that at any moment we felt Big Uncle Steve would walk through the door and give us big hugs and cheek kisses and ask us what buffets we'd been to lately.  It was just the kind of gathering he would have loved.

The kids were at the house with Ian's parents and it sounds like they had a blast.  We realized Felix has never stayed away from us both overnight so we're extra thankful it went so well on this end.

We have a couple fun adventures coming up, skiing in Montana for my dad's 60th birthday and Sanibel in March, over Easter this year to boot.  I found myself getting stressed out about the details of these trips, then stopped myself.  We're so lucky to get to go and it's going to be awesome.

School is really settling well with the kids.  It's become familiar and more comfortable and they are both really starting to thrive.  It's been quite the relief.

I'm still working on finding my new routine.  I'm feeling sad about leaving a lot of the familiarity of my little kid routine in Oak Park.  I'm missing the conservatory and our little library and musikgarten and Pilgrim and the Buzz big time this winter.  Though in place of all that is sledding out our back door and the fitness center and cousins and family every which way to play with and a big comfy house to romp around in, and Felix's great preschool.   I wasn't expecting a culture shock moving back home.  Clearly I'm not an "adjuster".

I find with cooking I'm heading back to simple staples.  It's Wednesday and I still haven't been to the grocery store but I have two good pantry meals left in me so I'm holding out.  I get a real kick out of making do with what we have and nothing helps tighten up the ol' food budget like moving across states and buying a house twice the size of your old one.

I'm realizing I most need to get back into my groove of making.  It's the place where I feel the most comfortable and good.  Ian got me a fat quarter stack of some beautiful Anna Maria Horner fabrics for Christmas and I'm agonizing over what to make.  I've been wanting to try some textile art for a while and with all the wall space we have in this house that may be just the thing.  I still haven't made Ainsley's valances or decided on fabric for the dining room.  These are all things that would feel good to do.

FIRST! Valentine's days at school and my dad's birthday and our Montana trip, then time to continue to ease into this new Minnesota life of ours.

Oh, and happy February!