Monday, June 30, 2014

Soaking Up the Exceptional

I overheard an involved dispute this evening between the five-year-old and the 10-year-old over whether "poisonable" was a word. Little Girl held her ground, which is not surprising. Earlier in the day, she told me numerous stories where she "hadid" to do this or "hadid" to do that. While swimming this afternoon, she totally bucked up by buckling her life jacket and swimming out to where the water trampoline is anchored. Madeline climbed up and jumped and jumped. All the while, she was singing at the top of her lungs and belting out encouragement to her imaginary friend and playmate Brightly.

just grin over our Madeline-- the things she says, the things she does. Sometimes I think she is so lively, so creative, so active. Maddy seems exceptional. She is exceptional, but in the way all our children are exceptional. I believe I just notice it more because there's not another coming along behind her. I get to enjoy Madeline.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Wakeless in Buffalo

Due to the relentless rain causing high water, the Lake Improvement District (LID) has imposed a no-wake zone on our lake for the next 30 days. The ruling is not sitting well with everyone and will be difficult to enforce. I do not know enough about the issue and the shoreline effects to weigh in one way or the other... and, due to our crazy schedule and some mechanical issues, we actually don't even have our boat in the water, anyway. 

It is a big bummer, though, to know we are not even permitted to go out on the lake in speeds exceeding five miles per hour. We are also well aware that significant winds or one big storm can do plenty of damage to our shoreline and landscaping. It's happened before, and it will happen again.

In the meantime, we are still trying to enjoy lake life. A friend picked us up this evening on her pontoon for a very slow cruise. A great way to end the week!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Love, Love

Benjamin and Madeline had their first tennis lesson today. This is something Maddy, in particular, has been asking to do for some time. Two high school boys-- one of them a family friend and alum of the kids' school-- are offering midday classes on the middle school courts. There were 10 kids in all, varying in age from five to 12, and definitely varying in ability. They sure seemed to have fun!

It was sunny and hot, really hot. One of the coaches brought Popsicles for a treat and Madeline took hers and made a beeline for the shade. Here's hoping she'll cool off enough to go back for her next lesson.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Coordination is Everything

I was bent over in the store, retrieving something from a shelf.

"Mom, Mom," Madeline tapped my shoulder. I turned in my awkward position and hissed, "What?" She gestured me to lean more closely into her and then whispered a string of wet, gibberish vowel sounds into my ear. "What?!" I demanded.

She did it again.

I pulled back and straightened up a little bit, reprimanding her, "Madeline, I cannot understand your 'whispering.' Please, just tell me what is so important for me to know." She cleared her throat and loudly stated, "Mommy, I SAID, 'It's a good thing I can see that your underwear matches your shirt!'"

Thank you very much.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Funny Things That Happened On Our Trip

On a completely uncrowded sidewalk, I happened to walk past my all-time favorite Broadway star Sutton Foster. I said nothing. I did nothing. I kicked myself for days afterward.

Upon setting foot in Times Square, the girls and I immediately encountered the Naked Cowboy. I asked whether they would like a photo with him, and they took off running and didn't stop for a full block.

Amanda, not grasping the meaning of the term "gentleman's club" asked her father whether he had taken his colleagues to Cheetah's.

We saw this guy on the street and burst into "Guys and Dolls" references.

Even after receiving the notification "Coke products" in restaurants, Todd repeatedly tried to order Diet Mountain Dew.

Some nights, we had Cold Stone ice cream for an evening treat. (Todd is obsessed.) He always chose cake batter ice cream with cookie dough or peanut butter cups or something like that mixed in, and Amanda and Libby always had their spoons poised to eat off of his, in addition to theirs. I ordered tangerine sorbet, or coffee ice cream with Heath. I never had to share.

A woman offered to take a photo of the four of us at the Empire State Building, but then zoomed in so close it looks like we did it ourselves.

In really popular shows, where tickets were scarce, we sometimes sat spread out in different areas of the theater. For one show, Todd and I were in the same row, but a family of five separated us. The woman sitting next to me noticed us making faces at each other and tried to insist on moving down the aisle so Todd could come and sit next to me. He refused, telling her, "No thanks, I'll just stay here-- it's a better seat."

Elisabeth had a completely visible reaction to the filth of the subway. I imagine her face reflected mine.

We arrived at Port Authority terminal three hours before our flight home, planning to catch a shuttle to the airport. Advertisements for the buses said they run every 15 minutes. Two stopped in the first half-hour, but they were both already packed with riders from earlier stops. Other waiting people began to defect from the line and head for the taxi stand. Even the attendant was advising travelers to take taxis. Eventually, the next bus came around the corner and crashed into a taxi cab. We were scratching our heads and trying to decide what to do next when another bus arrived. The attendant was beside himself by that point and gave us a reduced rate, letting the girls ride for free. We made it to the airport with time to spare for dinner.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wheels Down, Curtain Up

Todd and the girls are off to an evening movie (yes, he does see movies EVERYWHERE,) leaving me alone in the hotel for the first time in days. I have been thinking about ways to document and remember this trip to New York City with Amanda and Elisabeth... and I have plenty of blog fodder... but there has been no time to organize my thoughts or put them down.  Run, run, run in the City That Never Sleeps!

the view from our hotel room-- that's the Empire State. Building, and 42nd Street to Times Square below

The decision to take our 12-year-old and our 10-year-old (and their mother, incidentally) to the Big Apple came just days before we actually went. Todd had been scheduled to take a business trip to San Diego for the week following Father's Day, but then got diverted from that to train a surgeon in New York. We had JUST seen the Tony Awards on television, so we were feeling the pull of the Great White Way. Todd and I had visited about four years ago, when I took in my first Broadway shows, and we discussed taking the children when they were older. I still was kind of feeling like even the older girls might be too young for the kind of trip it would be, but we looked into travel arrangements. 

In this high time of summer vacation, everything was even more expensive and booked up than anticipated. At first glance, we dismissed the idea. A few days later, I checked with Todd before registering the girls for a basketball camp, and he said he was still calculating frequent flier miles. It ended up the girls had no other conflicts, and my parents agreed to take the younger kids (and the dog-- pray for them!) So, we made the decision and all the plans about a week before the trip took place. Todd wanted to go for at least a week, but there was no way I would leave the other kids for so long... And I was worried about how we would afford things as it was... So we settled on a really long weekend, Thursday-Monday.

Amanda and Elisabeth were ecstatic! Who wouldn't be? We tried to explain what the city would be like, but that's kind of an impossible task. I figured we would take them to a Broadway show, so we started discussing which one we would like to try to get tickets to. I asked each of them individually about the top item on their tourist agenda, and, interestingly, they both wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. (We have tickets for Monday morning.)

After flying out on a stormy morning but still managing to arrive on-time, midday in Newark, we went through the usual hassles of figuring out where we needed to go and how to get there. Todd helped us zoom into our hotel and get situated, but then he had to dash off for an afternoon and evening of meetings. He was hopeful he could get all his work done the first day (which he did) and then we would have the weekend all for us.

It was near-paralyzing for me to be plopped into Times Square and supervising solo two of my most precious possessions.

I love to travel because I love to see new places and meet new people. But I hate to travel because I am a really, really big wimp and chicken. How do I figure out where to go and how to get there? What if I get lost? What if it's closed? What if they don't take American Express? What if someone gets hurt? What if someone gets sick? What if my other kids miss me and cry all the time? What if I miss them and cry all the time? What if there's no Diet Mountain Dew?

I love traveling with my husband because he has very particular ideas about everything and just makes it happen. I am happy to go along for the ride. But if I had to hail the taxi myself, well, it would be a long    walk. It just would.

Todd knows this. Plus, everyone knows Manhattan-- the circus of Times Square for Pete's sake-- is overwhelming for anyone. In my favor, Todd booked the same hotel at which we had previously stayed, so I already had familiarity and convenience on my side. And, since the girls had never been to New York, or anywhere even close for that matter, it did not really make a difference what we did or where we went. Well, it made a little bit of a difference... I might have holed up in the room with my book club novel and waited for Todd... But they wanted to go SOMEWHERE and see SOMETHING on their first day in the metropolis.

So, we went for a walk.

In the rain.

We went to a little souvenir stand and bought postcards and wrote them out and gave them to the concierge for mailing. 

We went to the satellite Cake Boss bakery at Amanda's request ("I love that show!") and she tried a cannoli, but was not impressed.

We looked up, up, up at all the screens and all the lights, and everything flashing in the place to see and be seen.

The girls quickly spotted the Naked Cowboy and smartly wanted nothing to do with him.

We went to the huge toy store and shopped around, and marveled at the Ferris wheel. Amanda wanted to shop a lot more. Elisabeth said, "Really, Amanda, we have these same stores at home!"  And then they spotted the red tkts booth and asked about it. I explained it was one of a number of places to get discounted tickets to seats for Broadway shows that day. They asked, "So, can we?"

Todd had earlier in the afternoon suggested I take the girls to a show that night, because Todd was trained early on in life by his Broadway-loving mother that seeing musicals is pretty much all you do in NYC. (The last time Todd and I were here, we saw four shows in three days.) But I said to Todd, "Yeah, right, like I would take the girls to their first Broadway show without you being there!" He said he would be OK with it either way, but I think he might have suspected I wouldn't have the guts to navigate on my own how to choose an appropriate show, get tickets with good seats at a good price, and make my way to the theater along with two over-tired, over-stimulated children.

At first, I thought it was sweet the girls were suggesting going to a musical, because I figured they were just saying it because they thought it's what I would want. But they soon convinced me they were not interested in the wax museum and they'd had their fill of the candy store. They were Broadway-bound!

Amanda and Elisabeth were pushing to see "Violet." I am sure they had heard me talking about it, and they probably remembered the performance from the Tonys. They knew the star was Sutton Foster, and they knew I became a big fan of hers from my last trip, when Todd and I saw her play Reno Sweeney in previews of "Anything Goes," which was fabulous. Tickets for "Violet" that night were half-off, good seats, and the clincher was it was playing at the American Airlines Theatre, which is literally in the same block as our hotel.

Done deal.

We went back to our room, changed clothes ("in honor of the performances" my girls always say about dressing up) and grabbed a quick supper, also in the complex of restaurants adjacent to the hotel. We tried texting Dad to see if he was OK with this, or if we should get him a ticket, too, but he was still working. Oh, well.

I tried to prepare the girls by discussing what I knew about the show. I didn't anticipate it being inappropriate; I was just worried about it being heavy and slow, because it is more of a dramatic story, and the music is a bluegrass-gospel style. As for plot, I knew only what I'd read: "Violet" is the story of a young woman in the South, who has grown up with a facial disfigurement and who is taking a bus trip to meet a televangelist who she believes can heal her of her affliction.

They were just excited to be going to a BROADWAY SHOW!

As well, they should have been excited. I cannot imagine the American Airlines Theatre sees too many tweens from Minnesota who are all jacked up to see Sutton Foster and Joshua Henry live on stage! The girls loved every moment of the experience. They loved the small, beautifully appointed, old theater. They loved sitting seven rows from the stage. They loved it when the usher offered them boosters. 

And then, the lights came up.

Libby did not breathe for the entire hour-forty-five minutes with no intermission.

It was a heavy story with a lot to absorb-- themes of self-worth and self-realization. I loved it. It reminded me quite a bit of "Memphis," which we saw on our last go-'round. While I knew Todd would be disappointed to have missed seeing Sutton Foster, I didn't think he'd be too bummed about missing this particular show, which was something of a chick flick. Amanda and Elisabeth said they loved it, and I hope they did. I loved watching them watch it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pitfalls of Adventure

So, Todd, Amanda, Elisabeth and I are headed out in the morning on a last-minute trip, and I am freaking out, because that is what I do. I am a horrid traveler. I love the idea of traveling, and I love seeing and experiencing different places... But I am a big chicken, unsure and afraid of everything. I'm working on it.

In the meantime, I was surfing through local news headlines and I came across this one:

It's about an event happening this weekend in our hometown, and we will miss it. But there's some real adventure for you. Darn.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Secret Sisters

We attended a social gathering with a number of families from our church, and, when it was time to leave, I had to traverse the property to collect our children. I finally found Madeline squirreled away with one of her dear friends (both soon-to-be kindergartners) and three or four "older" girls from Benjamin's class. They were playing something imaginative and involved, and, as I helped Madeline get herself together and clean up some of the mess, her little friend suddenly announced to the group, "Listen, everyone, I have something important to share: Maddy and I are Secret Sisters."

The girl went on to explain that she and Maddy know they are not actually sisters, but that they like to pretend to be sisters because sisters are so important and so fun. I stayed quiet and smiled a little into the dress-up gowns. There was no giggling, no ridicule, and certainly no questions from the older girls-- just affirmation. Soon, the others began chiming in, "Yeah, Maeva and I pretend we are sisters, too." And, "Oh, yeah, Annie is my Secret Sister."

I started thinking how interesting it was because both Madeline and the other little girl do have real-life sisters. Each of the older girls in the room, however, does not; they are not only children, but they are all from families where there are only brothers. Maybe that is why they identified so fully and reverently with this Secret Sisterhood.

I get it, too.

I've had a sister for pretty much as long as I can remember. And, in adulthood, I have gained two sisters-in-law. Their presence in my life does nothing but enhance and augment the bond of sisterhood in which we all share. 

I do not call all (or any) of my girlfriends "Sister." In fact, I used to find it quite silly when people would attach familial nicknames to people who are not from the same family.  However, the older I get, the more natural and honest it seems to refer to just a few of my dear friends as my "sisters."  When you've known each other so long and been though so much, "friend" just doesn't seem to cut it.

Weather Watchers

I should have been putting the kids to bed, but I was still puttering around the kitchen when Madeline started screaming from upstairs, "Mom! Mom! What's wrong with the sky?!" I looked out the window to double-check what I had seen earlier...
...and the photo does not do it justice.

We had storms earlier and, though the rain stopped, the evening had turned really, really windy. "Nothing's wrong-- what do you mean?" I called back. She said, "But there's all those colors!" Yeah, it was a cool sunset, again, not really captured by the iPad camera:

A few minutes later, when I was tucking in the kids, Maddy asked, "Mommy, why did you not build this house out of bricks?" I sighed, "Well, bricks are heavy... And expensive... And not the look we were going for... Why?" Maddy said, "I just think it would be better because then if there was a tornado, the tornado could not knock down a brick house, so we would not have to go to the basement." I assured her that was not the case-- first, that tornadoes were extremely rare and not something about which we should worry too much; and, also, that tornadoes can actually take out brick structures as well as wooden ones. Benjamin interjected, "Plus, it's a lot more dangerous to live around a brick house because, if you are playing outside and you accidentally trip and fall, if you hit your head on the corner of a brick house, it could really hurt you bad and scrape you up, but if you hit your head on the side of a wood house, it wouldn't do as much damage." 

Well, there is that.

Then, Madeline said, "Oh, wait-- it wasn't tornadoes I was thinking of that can't knock down brick houses, it was the Big, Bad Wolf with those Three Little Pigs!"

Sunday, June 15, 2014

To the Fathers

We celebrated a low-key Father's Day, with brunch here, followed by some real estate shopping with Todd's dad and lake chores for Todd and Ben. Then, we attended a farewell gathering for our parish priest and now Todd and the two older girls are at a late movie. All in all, a nice day... Hopefully, everyone thought so.

There is so much I could write about fathers and Father's Day. I have an amazing father. I chose an amazing man to be my kids' dad. I really try to honor men as fathers, because it is NOT easy. My brother is a stay-at-home dad of little girls, a 'round-the-clock job that we all know is thankless and unfortunately sometimes still carries a social stigma seemingly not associated with stay-at-home moms. My BIL is charged with raising four boys to men, while also mourning the sons who are not tearing up his backyard and taking care of the mother of all those boys, my sister.

I tell my own husband on a regular basis: Being DAD is hard. I know it is. You have to willingly get up and leave us every morning to provide for us, and when you return each evening, everyone is clamoring for your attention and affection, and for your hands to fix something, and for your legs to chase, and for your arms to hug. This isn't the bygone era when you are gifted with a scotch, a newspaper, and some quiet time to yourself.

Thank you, for pulling double, triple, quadruple duty every day...

...and for assuring us you wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Attention, Code Crackers!

While each of the older girls had their own social agendas today, the little kids did not, so we had a Mommy-Daddy-Ben-and-Maddy night out for a movie and ice cream. We were in two cars because Todd met us on his way home from work. There is a running gag that whenever we have two vehicles, there is a "race" home. Typically, no kid wants to ride with me, because I always lose. Tonight, though, they both wanted to ride with me. Benjamin asked if he could use my phone to text Daddy. Here is some of what he sent:

Anyone?  Anyone?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Just a Summer Night

This evening, I took Elisabeth to her first Junior Master Gardeners class of the season. She loves gardening, the class, and the instructor.

Then, Todd and I and the younger ones attended this flash-mob-style send-off for friends who are moving (bet you can't guess where) this weekend:

After leaving there and picking up Libby from her gardening class, we went to the park, because it's our town's annual festival and our town does cool stuff like show "Frozen" on the big screen once the sun goes down.

Luckily, the cool breeze kept the bugs away (and maybe some of the viewers, too, though the hillside got more and more crowded the darker it got.)  Still, everyone put up their hoods, bundled up on blankets and really sang along!

Even with the cool weather we experienced today, it was a perfect, memorable evening. Here's to many more!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Season of Suffering

I have just come from book club, where we discussed "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes. If you do not know the novel, you can read about it here: If you have read the book, you can imagine it was an interesting discussion. It always is. For some reason I do not fully understand, our book club seems to discuss the same few issues and themes with every book, whether they seem central to the plot or not. This can be both agonizing and enlightening.

Tonight was no different.

One of the main topics of this novel is euthanasia/right-to-die... But we did not only discuss the various views associated with this topic; we also discussed the impact on whole families, particularly mothers. This kind of situation (book club discussion) is always personal and emotional for me, because I love my friends; I respect their opinions even, especially when they differ from mine; and I know bits and pieces of their stories, their family histories, their joys and pains.

Coincidentally, or not since there is no such thing, I got home and sat down with my iPad, opened up a blog I follow, and was led to this post:

I different perspective I had not considered... And one that makes me admire even more my fellow mothers.  Amen.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Best Places to Be

M: "Hey, Target! There's Target! Mom, it's your favorite place! Mom, isn't Target your favorite place?"
M: "Well, I do like Target, but it's certainly not my favorite place."
M: "It's not?!"
M: "Of course not. My favorite place is HOME, and there are lots of other favorite places I like more than Target-- like my mom's house... and church..."
M: "My favorite place is Up Your Butt to the Left."
B: "It IS?! Are you sure? It's so stinky in there!"
M: "Mmm-hmm, and your favorite place is Mom's vagina. Remember when you went through there? It's so fancy!"

Sometimes I wonder what these kids would be like... without the amazing influences of their older siblings.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Faults in our Family

Grandma and I took Amanda and Elisabeth to see the movie "The Fault in our Stars" today.  See the trailer here:  Amanda had been waiting and waiting to see the film because she and I both read and extensively discussed the book. It's a novel about two teenagers who meet at a cancer support group and fall in love. There are touching moments and silly moments and sad moments... It's a good story with an interesting message.

Mom-- who had not read the book but had read the movie reviews-- asked me before we went into the theater, "What is this movie rated?" I told her that I knew the movie was rated PG-13 and I knew why it was rated that way, and I had made an educated decision to bring the girls. However, that was one of the reasons I wanted another adult there; if the story got too sad or intense for one of the girls, then I could take her out.  Grandma asked, "Well, you know there's S-E-X, right?" Immediately, she caught herself, "Oh, wait-- they can spell."

Yes, I told her I knew but was hoping it would be handled well.  Again, this was something my daughters and I had discussed.  When it came close to that scene in the movie (I knew it was coming because I'd read the book) I turned to Elisabeth who was next to me and said, "I want to make sure you know this is not acceptable behavior for teenagers.  Daddy and I do not believe in this, and I want to make sure you understand that-- it is not OK, even for teenagers with cancer."  She just tried to shush me. "Tell your sister that," I urged.  She and Amanda both rolled their eyes and started pushing me, "Mom, why don't you just go to the bathroom till this scene is over?  Seriously-- go."  So, I did.

A bit later, there is a death and very emotional funeral scene.  (Sorry, I hope this is not a spoiler post... But I think it's pretty much expected that someone dies).  I was concerned, as any mother would be, about how my children were handling the story, and turned to try to figure out if all of the sniffling was coming from one of them or from the people sitting behind us.  There sat one of my offspring, dry-eyed and impassive, pointer finger in nostril up to the second knuckle.  Well, I guess we all have different ways of coping.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Kids Never Act Sick in the Clinic

I don't really have anything to say.  I just wanted to show you this cute photo I took of Madeline when we were at the clinic at the beginning of the week, awaiting the results of her quick strep test.  Maddy did not have strep, though she had been erratically crying for three previous days and complaining with great drama that her throat hurt badly.  Of course, the crying began shortly after I showed her the ant bait traps I placed near the doors and the bin of dog food.  Though Maddy never actually came in contact with the ant bait-- and all the packaging says it's not exactly poisonous, anyway-- she was still convinced she had been poisoned.  The doctor and I both reassured her... But he was looking at me with those sideways eyes, as if thinking, "Why does this child think she has been poisoned? What did you do to her?  What's with the ant traps?!"  I finally redirected him by asking whether drainage from seasonal allergies might be the culprit of the sore throat, and he agreed it might.  We started some Children's Claritin and it seems to be helping.

Monday, June 2, 2014


I think most parents recognize that volunteering is part of the job description.  Whether in our church community, at the kids' school, with extracurricular sports, or wherever our kids are involved, Todd and I-- however we are able-- sign up to help.  It's just one of the duties.  Plus, it's fun to see our kids in their own elements.  Also, sometimes, we get a Cling-On who will only participate if Mommy or Daddy is close by.  So, volunteering it is.

Each spring, the Catholic school our children attend hosts a volunteer mass to thank all those who help out during the school year.  It is lovely.  Some years, I attend; others, I am busy volunteering somewhere.  This year, Elisabeth asked me to come because she was one of the students selected to read her volunteer thank-you letter to the congregation.  Leading up to the mass, classroom teachers have each student write a letter to any volunteer, thanking that person for his/her hard work.  The letters are posted along the main hallway of the school, so attendees can read the kind words.  Some children choose their parents.  I figured this was why Libby wanted me to hear her letter-- but I was wrong:

Elisabeth wrote her letter about another classroom mom, my friend Chris, who pretty much on her own designs, lays out and edits the school yearbook.  She also teaches the kids their Art Adventure program through the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which I tried once but it nearly caused me to poke out my eyeballs.  There are many other things Chris does in the classroom during the year, to make sure the children know how valuable they are.  My favorite parts of Libby's letter were when she called Chris "clever" (she is) and said how she loves students a lot (she does.)

Today, one of the children brought home a packet of letters that had all been written to me or to Todd or to me and Todd.  Now, it is important to note Todd and I definitely learned the art of volunteering from our parents.  What's more, my mama always taught me dedicating your work to a cause does not mean you should take credit for it.  In fact, if you prance around telling people about all the good you do, well, that basically undoes it.  ("Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven."  --Matthew 6:1) 

So, I will just say one of our children did write his letter to us, and in it he states: "Thanks for always telling us where to go, Mom."  That sounds about right.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

To Laugh

The girls are hooked on these silly videos, and, I admit, they really had me giggling today, too:

Recently, a mommy blogger posted this and it had me chuckling, too.  However, before you watch, a disclaimer-- I know he's naughty.  Really naughty.  Bad words.  Also, he may be downright evil based on some of his other "songs."  But, as for this one, it's just honest: