Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Retrospective

It seems we blinked and 2010 was gone. Charlie went from speaking a few words to complete sentences. We stayed close to home and ventured far, and enjoyed what all these experiences had to offer:

January: Did anything happen last January? It was cold. We watched the Vikings in the playoffs and had our hopes crushed in the NFC Championship game. We shopped for items for the bathroom remodel.
February: We finally bid goodbye to our nasty bathroom and remodeled it into a beautiful new space. I traveled to Austin, TX for an old friend's wedding. Nate began a journey of healing after some tumultuous years.
March: Ellis turned seven. We tried our hand at starting seeds for garden plants indoors for the first time (it worked!). We began the acquisition of various musical instruments to support Josh's music-making and integrate the family into it.
April: Alaska grandparents came to visit and grandpa helped us clear new garden beds and plant potatoes.
May: I dug up the grass on the boulevard and planted prairie plants, starting a season-long attempt to transform our front yard.
June: I got a promotion at work, which meant moving up to a four-day weekly schedule. Charlie turned two and then Nate turned sixteen a week later.
July: We travelled to Chicago to visit family and to Duluth for weekend trips. We fixed my old clarinet and Josh and I began adding a little music playing to our wine drinking evenings.
August: We spent two weeks in Alaska. It was Charlie's first time. I fell in love with being able to walk out the door right into nature.
September: I got sick on Labor Day weekend. Charlie, Nate, Ellis, and Josh followed close behind. We coughed the whole month. Alaska grandparents visited, but we hardly saw them because we were sick and grandma had eye surgery.
October: Everything glowed this month in orange and red and yellow. I tried to get outside as much as possible with the little boys. We travelled to Blue Mounds State Park for my thirty-seventh birthday.
November: Josh turned forty-five. We finally fixed the water-damaged ceiling and painted the little boys' room reclaiming yet another space in the house. Ellis started taking Aikido lessons and piano lessons. Josh took a second job.
December: It snowed. Then it snowed again. Then it snowed some more. Then it really snowed. Josh was buried under work and I was too until my holiday vacation time. We looked back on a year that was so full of activity and love and the pursuit of dreams.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Where We've Been (2009)

I like to spend New Year's Eve with my kids. Once, when Ellis was very little, I went to a party without him, and I missed him so much that I vowed to never to celebrate in a strictly "adult" setting again. Closing out a year and beginning a new one is most enjoyable when you are with the ones you love the most. I am lucky enough to have four boys that I want to kiss at midnight, and resolutions are easier to make when you have a reminder right in front of you that so many of your dreams have already come true. Tomorrow, we will make our own pizzas, watch movies, and eat popcorn. We will read our wishes from last year and write down new ones for 2011. We will wear silly hats and dance. We will see who is able to stay awake until midnight. When all is said and done for 2010, Josh and I will be able to look back on all we've built this year and it will encourage us in our continued work as partners in this big long creative process that is life.
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Where We've Been (2007)

Right before this picture was taken, we had been outside watching Nate set off fireworks in the warm June night. 2007 was the year we began working on the house to make it into what we want it to be. The house project can only be described as glacial, since we are still at it 3 1/2 years later. In 2007, we cut through the floor between the upstairs and downstairs of the house to turn the duplex into a single family home. Judging from the paint cans on the floor, 2007 was also the year I scraped all the wall paper out of the bathroom, painted, and began to rip up the floor (I called uncle on this project this year and paid to have it done right). A couple months after this picture was taken, we painted the living room and dining room and got some new furniture.

I like this photo because it helps me check my perspective. First of all, when I struggle with the slow process of transforming this house, I can think back on the time when the living room walls had a mauve and blue country-themed stenciled border or any of the other atrocious things we've changed over the years. More importantly, I look at this picture and I see that things were never quite as bad as I thought they were in my quest to complete the vision I have for our living space. There always was and always is a lot of warmth, love, and happiness - in short a lot of loveliness in the space because of who we are. I am grateful for the reminder when focused on the house that the thing I really love is the home.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where We've Been (2008)

A couple of weeks ago, I got a virus on my laptop and for about a day I thought everything on it was toast. Including hundreds of photos that I hadn't backed up to my external hard drive. Well, my computer got rescued by a coworker of Josh's (xoxoxo, John) and I got religion about backing things up regularly. I'm in the process of uploading every single picture I've taken since I've had a digital camera onto Picasa Web Albums to have another back up of everything in the cloud.

On the bright side, I've gotten to look back on our everydays for the past four years. I'm so grateful to dip back into these memories - some so sweet, they make my heart ache. The photo above is from early 2008. Charlie was born mid-year 2008 on the summer solstice, but before that, there was that special time when Ellis had his moment as the littlest member of the family. On a cold February night, Josh and Ellis played rock stars (the paper in the lower right corner is their set list that Ellis wrote with songs titles like "Hi" and "Rock Paper Scissors"). Behind the camera is me with Charlie tucked in my belly, growing away.

More to share in the next few days as 2010 winds down. I guess this is the time of year for memories.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Around Here

It's mellow around here with just the five of us socked in. I have found that the winter holidays are better when they are focused on relaxing when it's cold and it's dark. Sure, there are a few new fun things to wear and read and play with. There are also many tasty fancy things to eat and drink. Best of all there is snuggling and drowsing and giggling and singing - and lots of uncomplicated loving. Wishing you a quiet time as we roll peacefully down the hill towards the end of the year.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 Winter Solstice Jack-o'-lantern Dance Party

There's something striking about the way the darkness closes in like a deep fog during the days surrounding the solstice. Then suddenly, in the weeks that follow, the light returns quickly as if the world is opening up with a big exhale. A few years ago, Ellis and I played with glow sticks on the solstice and I was thinking about that today as I made my way home from work in another snow storm. Charlie somehow tuned into that and asked me if we could play with "jack-o'-lanterns," which is what he calls glow sticks. I've had a bunch on hand since Halloween and we've developed a ritual for these long evenings: snap some glow sticks, turn off the lights, and set the iPod to shuffle. What happens next is pure spontaneous fun with darkness and light.
Happy solstice, everyone! We've made it through the darkest part of the year.
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Epic! Brutal! (aka SnoMFG)

Ok. I have no idea where I'm supposed to park my car right now. St. Paul snow emergencies are usually pretty clear (unlike the byzantine rules those folks across the river have to bear), but this is not a usual snow emergency. We got 16.3 inches (enough to collapse the roof of the Metro dome). This morning everyone on our block was out shoveling the street so we could move our cars in advance of the plows. At 9:57 p.m. our street still hasn't been plowed. Now a brand-new snow emergency has been called and theoretically we're supposed to move our cars from the night plow route (that is clear) back onto our unplowed street to get stuck again. Huh? There's an absolutely brilliant tome right now on the city's website about the snow emergency. It is written with great pathos by some beleaguered city worker who has clearly been yelled at by too many people today, but having laughed my way through it, I'm still left with "huh?" (I saved a copy of this tome because it's such a great specimen of raw unprofessional writing so if it's off the site by tomorrow and you want to read it, just let me know).
The confusion has been brutal, the shoveling has been brutal, the cold has been brutal. However, this was one epic snowstorm. I just spent two days stuck in the house with my kids and I am still laughing at their antics and the things they say. I remembered how much I love my neighbors when we all figured out together how to get through the rutted streets and the 4 ft. berm to move our cars. All is well.
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Storm

As predicted, we are having an early December blizzard. In fact, I can't remember the last time there was this much snow in one storm. Later tonight after the plows clear the night plow route, we will dig out our cars and move them around the corner to make way for the city of St. Paul's snow emergency. All our busy weekend plans were curtailed. Ellis' aikido and science museum classes were cancelled and there is no way we'll be able to go bowling tonight at Charlie's request. Instead, I made sweet potato pies and jello with my little kitchen helpers and Josh has some bread baking in the bread machine. The little boys are jumping from the footstool onto the couch and making beds on the floor.

I am grateful that Charlie and I ventured outside yesterday in advance of the weather. It was mild and pleasant walking in the snow. I always think I don't like going outside in the winter, but the truth is, winter is better if you go outside every so often. In the context of blizzards and below zero temperatures, a twenty degree day with a little sun feels great and it's good to see it as an opportunity to be outdoors for a change. I'm looking forward to seeing some of my favorite natural spots in winter this year (see Harriet Alexander Nature Center above).I want to know them as they are all year round in order to deepen my affection for them and keep myself grounded in the natural world.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

December, I love you.

The snow came and that was all it took for me to get over that final hump and embrace the coming of winter. The transition into the dark season presents a challenge for me each year - I get tired, I get blue, and I feel claustrophobic as things move indoors. December is new, but there is already so much to love:

  • Last night we slept in our brand new bed for the first time. We have been sleeping on a crappy old mattress forever with its attendant hip pain and back pain and sliding helplessly into the middle. Actually, I don't think I've ever slept on a really nice bed - from crappy futons to various hand-me-downs. Our new bed is like being massaged all night by angels.
  • The theme for the end of this year does seem to be all about comfort. It was a new strategy to manage the bumpy transition from summer to fall to winter to find things that would make the winter seem wonderfully comfortable. In addition to the bed, I got new pajamas, a new robe, and flannel sheets. The cashmere scarf is on its way so that coupled with my favorite down coat it will make me feel like I never got out of bed on those cold winter mornings when I'm scraping the windshield.
  • Did I mention the snow? The snow and the sauna at the YMCA almost make me grateful for the cold instead of walking around as miserable as a wet cat.
  • The beautiful, compostable swag made of winter greens and heather on my door and the amaryllis and paper white bulbs on my table remind me that the winter doesn't have to mean the end of my gardening spirit entirely. Thank you, Mother Earth Gardens.
  • There's nothing like brunch to get you moving on snowy, cold Sundays. My favorite places include: Birchwood Cafe, Bon Vie Cafe, and Turtle Bread Company (hooray they are opening a new location just across the river from us!).
  • Winter cooking is catching my fancy - sweet potato pie, pot roast, sausage and cabbage, oatmeal with dried cherries, and soups and stews of many kinds. As my grandma used to say, "It sticks to your ribs."

I'm hoping December continues to be a lovely as the first few days have been. I'm looking forward to time off at the end of the month - quiet time for myself and noisier cozier time with the kids. I hope yours is lovely, too!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I'm thankful that he loves us so much and has such a strong sense of family. I'm thankful that the sage grows close to the house so there was enough that survived the snow storm to cook with. I'm thankful for the sleepy quiet rhythms we've developed for these end-of-year holidays.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gutter Ball

We went bowling. We've done it before. It's one of those rare group activities that can be done with kids with an age spread like ours have. No one is very good. Our top scores are barely above 100 and Ellis has this weirdly successful unorthodox method of play that makes use of the bumpers so he usually ends up winning. Nevertheless, it's usually fun.

Tonight was a disaster, though. All three kids were pulling in their own directions. I could hear myself being strident and angry mom, although no one listened to a single thing I said. Josh and I felt bewildered as parents. And then there was the family in the lanes next to us with the four well-behaved kids who all seemed to like each other. There we were out in public completely sucking as a family. But we will do it again. Winter is long and you need a variety of indoor activities for all those Saturday nights. The thing you learn in long-term relationships is that there will always be another time to get it right. Over time love bears fruit if you work at it.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Art Table

Papa had a great idea for a gray day at home with the kids that I decided to implement this morning. I covered the whole dining room table with butcher paper and laid out supplies for a day-long as-you-go art project. There are usual favorites like pens, pencils, and markers as well as Charlie's new favorite that he calls "painting with ovals." Thanks to these great water colors not only is the table a work of art, but Charlie's face, hands and shirt. Perhaps the wintry indoor days that are coming won't be so bad after all.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

Knitting Season

I bought a bag full of yarn in October and I have been quickly knitting my way through it over the past month. Overly ambitious projects never work for me, so I stick mainly to hats and scarves to spruce up the winter wardrobes of my beloveds. Luckily, in a family of five, someone always needs a new hat. I am nearly finished with my fourth hat and just started a scarf for myself yesterday to match the new green hat I knitted two weeks ago.

There is something wonderful about settling in for a long winter's evening with knitting needles in hand. The repetition is meditative, like a rosary, and for me, process is definitely more rewarding than product. Although, I admit, it is cool when something turns out really well. It's even more cool when my darlings ask me to make a hat for them. They know it's really a transfer of love.

Yesterday, Charlie watched me knit and said, "Mama, are you making yarn?" The kids are interested in the process, too. They are natural little makers and they tune in when they see me making something, too. Is there anything more delightfully, naturally human than to create?

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Love

Charlie used to be one of those kids who laid right down and went to sleep at night. Not anymore. Recently he insists on sitting up in his crib while he chatters to himself, sings songs loudly, and kicks his feet. This goes on for at least a half an hour and usually after a few stern warnings to go to sleep. Ellis, his roommate, has shown extreme patience with this new nighttime routine. He has chosen not to go back to sleeping in his upstairs room to get some peace and quiet because he wants to be where Charlie is. One night last week, Josh and I listened from the living room as Charlie sang a rousing rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" at the top of his lungs. When he finished, we heard Ellis's small quiet voice say, "Charlie, that sounds beautiful, but can you please sing more quietly so I can sleep?" Sometimes a life-long friendship begins with the compassion of an older brother.
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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lucky Thirty-Seven

We drove southwest to Blue Mounds State Park. We soaked up the prairie and saw bison from a distance. There was a point in history when this landscape dominated the southwestern part of Minnesota - an ocean of grasses and flowers and bison like black flies all over the hillside. I reflect on the stories that preceded me in this place, tragic and triumphant. I reflect that the land goes on, more eternal than me or my little family. Our footsteps fade in the dust. I am grateful to be conscious of the transitory nature of my life so I can fully enjoy these sweet beautiful moments. I want to dedicate the time I am given to add to the human legacy of love and compassion so that this legacy outweighs the blight of ignorance and cruelty. This is our only chance to be eternal.

Friday, October 15, 2010

More Autumn Wanderings

This Friday includes:

  • A crisp morning walk through Crosby Park with Charlie, checking on the marsh, picking a few asters, saying "hi" to squirrels, and quacking and flapping our arms like ducks.
  • Stopping by a neighbor's makeshift pumpkin patch, putting $5 in the box for a medium carving pumpkin and three "baby pumpkins" for my own baby pumpkin.
  • Cooking purple viking potato leek soup.
  • Planning a possible birthday weekend trip to the southwestern Minnesota prairie.
  • A backyard bonfire party at a friend's house.
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Friday, October 8, 2010

Everything is Golden

I've been working way too much lately and have been sick way too much lately and while I was distracted by my inner surliness, nature set ablaze. I may feel gray and drizzly, but it's in dissonance to the world around me, which is incandescent with yellow and orange and red. So today, I meandered around Como Lake with Charlie with no agenda but finally to enjoy the glorious weather we've been having. We saw the eagle that hangs out around the lake perched in a tree and lots of mallards diving and playing and quacking. We saw the last wildflowers of the season and a few final bumble bees. We sat on benches and lamp posts pretending they were beds or roller coasters. We took our time to enjoy a landscape that is like being surrounded by a million glowing paper lanterns.
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Whither September?

September has been a month of (rough) transition as summer (and I) frankly ran out of steam and sputtered into fall. The weekends were a blur of illness, travel, and work. I have felt like I was just barely holding on this month, drawing inward to keep a sense of equanimity as everything swirled around me. I have a rough time with transitions. I have a rough time with the growing darkness at this time of year. Nevertheless, it's time to write again or else I will lose the thread and have a really hard time getting back to it.

The photo above is from my trip to Duluth a couple of weekends ago. This was a perfect clear warm September day and the downtown lake walk was all red, white and blue. I got to share Superior with two international students that I carpooled with up to a weekend conference. I can already feel myself transitioning away from my outdoorsy summer self to my indoorsy, wintry, book-reading, nap-taking, saunaing, football-watching, soup-making dreamy drowsy self.
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