Family

Raising the Good Guys and Bad Guys

The three people in my house under the age of five have been obsessed with the idea of good guys and bad guys lately.

“I’m Batman!” Caden, my four-year-old-son, proclaims as he runs around in his blanket cape.

“And Robin!” the two-year-old replies, right behind him.

“Let’s get the bad guys!” they cry in unison.

My husband and I are usually stand-ins for the villains. I sigh inwardly at their use of the term “bad guys”. But this is all so developmentally appropriate, this cop-and-robber-type play, I’m not sure I should step in, or even what to say if I do.

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“The world turned upside down. The world turned upside down,” The kids and I sing along to Hamilton as we color at the kitchen table. “The world turned upside down.”

“What’s this song about?” Caden asks me. His twin sister perks up to hear my answer to his question. (The two-year-old continues on his mission to break every crayon we own.) I pause. While we’ve been singing along to this soundtrack for months, this is the first time they’ve asked about it. Usually it’s enough for them thatMy Shot” makes an excellent dance tune.

“Well...” I fumble. I minored in history in college. My brain tumbles over facts and stories, but which ones are appropriate for preschoolers? “A long time ago, our country fought another country. They were kind of in charge of us but we didn’t think they treated us very nicely. So we fought them and, well, we won.” I’m not sure they even have any concept of what a country is yet.

“We won?” he asks, eyes brightening. This he understands.

“We did.”

“And the bad guys lost?”

“Well...they weren’t really bad. They just believed different things than we did. They weren’t bad people, we just didn’t feel like they were treating us fairly. So we fought for what we thought was right. And they fought for what they thought was right.”

I’ve lost him now, though. He goes back to coloring, now singing his own little song under his breath that talks about how “we won and the bad guys lost.” Well. I tried.

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Continue reading how I’m working to teach my children about the shades of gray in the world over at SheLoves Magazine.





What I See (Part II)

Thursday afternoon, we went to Nolan’s Early Childhood Screening appointment. I guess I’m not sure how this works in other states, but here in Minnesota, all children are screened at the age of three by their school district to prepare them for Kindergarten. They check vision and hearing, standard doctor appointment stuff, but also their verbal abilities, fine and gross motor skills, etc. The goal is to intervene and help kids as soon as possible - refer them to speech therapy or an appointment with an optometrist - to catch potential problems sooner rather than later.

I wondered as we drove if I should have rescheduled Nolan’s appointment. The twins had done theirs at his age, but they seemed more mature. Maybe I should have waited six months or so. He was smart but was he really ready? I thought of his energy, his defiance. Would he even answer the teacher’s questions? I prayed the next hour or so would go well. If nothing else, I figured we’d be directed to a therapist.

I sat in the hard, blue plastic chair across the room filling out paperwork as Nolan copied the teacher as she stacked blocks, drew a circle and some lines on a page. I listened as he quietly told her all about the yellow car she handed him with the red wheels that were circles and went vroom. My shoulders relaxed; it seemed to be going well.

It did go well. It went very well.

“He scored a 23,” the educator told me as we went over his score sheet afterward, “He only needed a 14 to pass. I’ve almost never seen a 3-year-1-monther do so well.”

I stared in disbelief at the paper, noted that he scored far past what he would have needed even six months from now.

“His cognitive abilities are impressive,” she told me, “He was able to do things even the four-year olds I see have trouble with. And he is very verbal.” (Yeah, tell me something I don’t know.)

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The day before, Wednesday afternoon, I had knocked gently on Tyson’s office door. I try not to bother him during the day. I usually only knock on the door if I need to raid his office for a fresh roll of tape or some batteries.

He opened the door and I put my head on his chest and started crying. I could sense his surprise. (We can both probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in our eight years of marriage.)

“I’m so...tired...of parenting Nolan,” I finally told him.

That morning Nolan had tried every single ounce of patience I had and even a couple extra ounces I didn’t even know were there.

“Nolan, don’t go in the sandbox right now, it’s too muddy,” I told him. About twelve times. (Along with a few other variations such as “Keep your feet on the sidewalk” and “Show me how you go down the slide instead.”)

“Leave the chalk in the bucket,” I told him. Only to find him a few minutes later sending stubby piece after stubby piece down the slide.

“Put the chalk back in the bucket please,” I said. He defiantly looked away. I touched his cheek to make him look at me. “I told you before not to take it out. Your consequence now is to pick it up.” It took a few minutes, but he did pick up a few pieces from the rainbow pile on the ground, now wet from the morning dew and still-melting snow. Half-heartedly. I found him eating pieces of chalk not long after.

These were not isolated incidents in an otherwise calm morning. This was all in the same eight-minute span. Previously he’d also waved a stick around and hit two people in the face, taken off both his shoes and socks at the park in the 42-degree weather (one landed in a puddle), and refused to throw his granola bar wrapper in the garbage at snacktime. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, the boy needs constant vigilence!

It wasn’t an unusual morning, either. It was just the latest in nearly three years of days that had gone just the same. Three years of attempting to balance his needs for high energy and high socialization without burning myself out in the process.

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The drive home from the screening appointment was very different from the one there. I kept glancing back at him in my rearview mirror, his big, bright eyes searching the sky for airplanes as they so often do, munching on some bright orange crackers that were leftover from his earlier snack.

Who are you? I kept thinking. His score was high, higher even than Caden and Brooklyn’s when they completed their own screening just two years ago. I was just hoping you would pass and now I feel like my world is upside down.

It’s not that I didn’t think he was smart - he is. But Caden and Brooklyn’s high scores for the same screening weren’t a surprise for me. They’re the ones I’ve always been concerned with pushing academically. Nolan with all his energy — I’ve just been concerned with trying to keep him alive.

As I drove I thought of my prayer for him every night, Lord please just channel his energy into good, and I wondered at the blue-eyed boy in the backseat, babbling about PJ Masks and oblivious to all of my thoughts.

2019 04 04 Nolan Playtime 01.jpg

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“So how’d it go?” Tyson asked as I made dinner that night.

I looked at him, wondering how to answer. “It went fine. He passed,” I finally said.

He sensed the hesitency in my voice, “Just barely?”

“Tyson, he more than passed. He scored even higher than Caden and Brooklyn did.”

“Oh,” Tyson’s eyes widened and he laughed, “I just hoped he would pass. Awesome!”

I smiled even as my mind continued to swirl, wondering what to do with my trouble-making, energetic, clever little boy.

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Thursday night, I sat at my kitchen island and Googled what to do with him. I researched energetic three-year olds and smart three-year olds, and didn’t find much help. It’s not exactly like there’s advanced preschool. (Also felt like the world’s most obnoxious parent for Googling “gifted three-year olds”.) I read about engaging him in as many activities as possible, to give a direction to his energy and focus his high capacity for learning. This at least explained why he’d excelled in dance class all year.

It also gave credit to the theory I’ve had in my head for awhile, that he was smart but bored, and his energy and constant search for attention was the outward manifestation of the intelligence buried inside.

I rubbed my forehead as I searched for programs and activities - anything -  for three-year olds which were either a.) nonexistent or b.) combined with the two-year olds. I sighed and gave up for the evening, relieved that I had at least signed up him for three mornings of preschool in the fall.

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Over a week later and I’m still thinking about that screening appointment, still feel a little as though my world has been turned upside down. I’ve told some relatives and friends how well his screening went and have mostly been met with the response, “Yeah that doesn’t surprise me”. Maybe because they’re further removed from the day-to-day challenges than I am, of parenting a little someone with such boundless energy.

I feel the weight of the responsibility - even more than before - to watch over him, push him, protect him. To work even harder to engage and advocate for him. If I can help him channel his energy now, guide him, direct him, parent him, love him. If I can find him the right activities, teachers, coaches, so that he can thrive.

He burns so brightly already. I want him to shine. I want everyone to see just what he can do.

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Tyson has been playing a game with Nolan lately, taking inspiration from the book Dear Zoo.

“First God sent me an Emily,” Tyson tells him, “But I didn’t want an Emily. So I sent her back.”

“Then God sent me a Logan,” Tyson continues, “But I didn’t want a Logan. So I sent him back.”

Tyson continues on, listing off the names of Nolan’s friends and sending them back. Nolan’s smile grows bigger every time.

“Then God thought really hard and he sent me a Nolan,” Tyson finally says, “And he was perfect. I kept him”

Perfect. We’re keeping him. I’m going to watch him climb some more.

Weeknight Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli

I love food. Like, love food. Cooking and baking are up there in my top five favorite things. I’d say my family is lucky but really I’m just selfish - I’m kind of picky and like to eat good food myself. Unless you pay close attention to my Read, Watched, Listened posts, where I often read about food, listen to podcasts about food, or, more frequently, watch various miniseries about food, you may not know this about me. All this to say that while this never has been and never will be what you might call a “food blog”, I’m going to try adding favorite recipes of mine every once in awhile. I’d love to hear if you try any of them - and if they become one of your favorites, too!

While my kids may refuse to eat soup, they will never turn down a plate of pasta. Nobody in this house would dare look away from a bowl of hot, glorious, Parmesan cheese-covered carbs. Penne, angel hair, fettuccini, orecchietti, linguine, tagliatelle, tortellini, ravioli. We may not claim a drop of Italian blood but when it comes to pasta we are all in.

“What you make, Mommy?” Nolan asks every night while I cook dinner. I guarantee that when I show him a pot full of boiling pasta he does a big dance, smacks his lips, and screams, “Pasta! Yay! Nummy nummy num num num!” If you haven’t caught on by now, subtle this kid is not.

Basically what I’m saying is, if you want to be a hero in my house at dinnertime, make pasta.

And pasta and I get along just fine. I make a pretty good plate of pasta if I do say so myself. This specific dish came about because Tyson once ordered something similar from one of our favorite restaurants in Madison. I snuck a couple bites of the deliciousness before my wheels started turning and I thought, “Hey...I could make that…”

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I should clarify here that I’m good at making pasta in a pretty lazy way. The weeknight way. I’m not talking about rolling out my own pasta here (though I would love to tackle homemade pasta sometime very soon). I’m talking about getting pasta on the table for dinner because people are hungry and I need something simple that’s going to taste good.

The addition of sausage in this dish catches the attention of the boys. Broccoli delights all three of my kids, who have yet to catch on to that whole “kids don’t like broccoli” thing. (Don’t worry, they still quickly and happily reject Brussels sprouts, white potatoes in all but French fry form, and whatever fruit I’ve currently stocked up on because it was their favorite last week.)

It’s quick enough for a weeknight - on the table in less than 30 minutes - yet delicious enough to make for guests. There’s enough here for lunchtime leftovers the next day, especially if you serve it with a Caesar salad on the side. It’s nothing revolutionary, yet this has been in my meal planning rotation for years now and it’s not going anywhere. Possibly ever.

A simple, yummy, dish with the possibility of leftovers on the table in the month of December in 30 minutes or less? And all the parents said, “Amen.”

Weeknight Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli
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I prefer to use gemelli or orecchietti here, though you can use any medium to small-ish sized pasta. Penne would also work, as would rotini. And if you can get your hands on some broccolini to sub for the broccoli (and you’re cooking for adults or there’s the chance your kids will eat it), the bitterness adds a nice contrast to the cream sauce.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 16-oz. box pasta

  • 3 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 8 cloves garlic, don’t be shy here

  • 1/4 cup chicken stock

  • 1 large head broccoli, chopped

  • 1/4 -1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 3 Tbsp. dried basil

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Prepare pasta according to package directions.

  • Meanwhile, add olive oil to skillet. Add sausage and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up and crumbling until browned. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add broccoli and stir to combine, cook for 1 minute more. Add chicken stock and cover skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until broccoli is crisp-tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.

  • Add pasta to skillet and toss well. Add cream and stir to coat. I err on the 1/2 cup or sometimes more side here - until everything is well-coated. Add basil, salt, and pepper. Serve topped with Parmesan and watch smugly as your kids gobble it up.

Life Lately

2018 04 01 All Easter 01.jpg

Easter. Has it really come and gone already? Looking out the window it seems impossible (just leave us alone already, winter) but the gallon-sized Ziploc bags in my pantry filled to overflowing with jellybeans, chocolate rabbits, and pastel colors suggest otherwise. While we had a nice Easter, it also just didn't seem very Easter-y. I'd feel like we should have a do-over if I wasn't already burned out on holidays by this time of year. Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year's to Valentine's Day to Birthday Week to Easter is quite enough for me by now, and I'm happy to sit back and basically coast again until fall. Just yesterday Brooklyn asked me, "Which holiday comes next, Mommy?" and I thought for a moment before happily replying, "Mother's Day." I'll take it.

As for Easter itself this year? Less than two weeks ago and I don't have much to report. We dressed up, went to church, the Easter Bunny hid their baskets, Uncle Tyler hid a bunch of eggs, the kids gorged on candy and I bought tulips just to make it feel like the slightest bit of spring. Hahaha.

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Swimming lessons have commenced and you are looking at three little fish. With "Do we have swimming today?" being asked on the daily around our house, it's become the most highly-anticipated activity in our week. They've taken to the water with ease and you should have seen Nolan's enthusiasm for jumping into - and under - the water this week. (Unfortunately his attitude of no fear applies to water, as well. Great.) Just a few weeks in and Caden and Brooklyn have already progressed to using goggles (earned only by keeping their faces in the water to the count of "five bananas"). I may be projecting here, but maybe swim team will become our sport of choice? I'm all in just for the joy of sitting in the 92-degree heated pool area.

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We're into all things super heroes lately. We being primarily Caden, Brooklyn most of the time, and Nolan just because whatever his big brother and sister do must be cool. Batman, Batgirl, and Robin are the favorites (and the Halloween costumes for the year - or so they've told me and given the obsession lasts all the way to October) and Caden is rarely seen without his blanket cape.

"Mommy," he asked yesterday, sitting pensively on the couch, "Who is your favorite super hero? Batman or Batgirl or Superman or Elsa or Iron Man?" After further questioning, I figured out that Elsa is a super hero because she has a CAPE attached to her dress. Duh. 

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Have I mentioned the part where it's still basically winter here and everything is terrible? It's all anyone talks about lately. We're going on our sixth month of snow and cold and everyone is over. it. all. "Do you think it will ever warm up?" "Some winter, huh?" "Can you believe this winter?" " It's been a long winter" and "UGGGGHHHHH" (from the parents) have all become standard greetings around here.

Keeping the kids occupied, particularly Nolan, is my main challenge lately. At the beginning of the cold, I was eager for the chance to hunker down and be cozy. Let's snuggle up with blankets! And read books! And watch movies! And drink hot chocolate! And play with Plah Doh and build block towers and create art and do all the indoor things! Six months later and I'm burned out, I have no new ideas, we've gone to all the indoor play areas one billionty times and the TV has come to the rescue with more and more frequency. We. just. need. to. be. outside.

Don't let the photos above fool you. The train track and the Play Doh didn't keep that kid occupied more than a hot minute before he was over it and onto other things. I'm sick of looking at my house, I'm sick of toys strewn everywhere because the kids are bored to distraction, and I'm sick of trying to come up with new things to do. No one should have to parent three kids under the age of five through six months of snow and cold. This rant brought to you by: the longest winter EVER.

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2018 04 03 Food 01.jpg

In other news, we're on day 11 of Whole 30. So far so good. I guess. I still miss cream, sugar, pasta, rice, ice cream, and most other dairy products. Anyone who tells you otherwise or says "You won't even miss ______!" is a lying liar. I do miss those things. We have actually discovered some truly tasty recipes (such as the chicken fajita bowls pictured above) and I'm sure some of the recipes and changes will stick with us. But I can't wait for day 31 when real cream and sugar is going straight back into my coffee. Dairy-free creamers taste like lies and just aren't the same.

One nice change for me is a significant change in the amount of bloating in my body. As in little-to-none. I didn't even know I was bloated before, I just thought that was how my stomach looked after having three kids. My stomach area feels completely different now, in the best of ways. I was surprised at how soon I noticed that change, too, really only five days in. Otherwise I've felt mostly the same, thankfully avoiding the raging sugar-withdrawal symptoms that others warned me about. 

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Nolan calls buttons "butts". It's as hilarious as it sounds. "I push the butt!" "My turn to push the butt!" "My butt!" "I want to push the butt!" "Push this butt!" Etc. Insert all the laugh-cry emojis here.

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All these two want is to play together lately. All the imaginative play. Give them a couple of dinosaurs, Barbie dolls, or Moana figures and they're all set. Or sit back and watch the epic tales that ensue as they send their dinosaurs off on a spaceship where it meets up with an airplane, and the pilot loads every figure in existence in our house from Olaf to farm animals to all the Little People onto the plane, and then Elsa flies to the rescue (because she can fly with that cape, obviously) because they all get stuck in outer space, and afterwards they fly home to eat candy and go to bed because it's clearly time for nigh-night after such an exhausting day.

Life Lately

"Joke," Nolan says, "Joke!" It started with our Google Home. Caden and Brooklyn discovered they could walk over, "Hey Google. Tell me a joke!", and it went from there. Then Tyson told them the classic "Why did the chicken cross the road?". Since then they come up with their own versions, all ending with the punchline "to get to the other side." Caden's are usually something like "Why did the chicken cross the road and fight the car and then fall into a tree?" If you ask Nolan what his joke is, though, he responds with, "Cross...tree!" or "Cross...cheese!" or "Cross...water!" or "Cross...*insert noun of something in his immediate vicinity here*!" He thinks it's just hilarious. 

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At the end of January - a mere month ago, though it seems much longer - we traveled to Arizona to visit Tyson's brother and his family. It was the first time we flew with the kids and they did great! We filled their backpacks up with snacks, Target dollar section goodies, and, most importantly, their tablets. Caden and Brooklyn did just fine on our 3+ hour flights, though Nolan tended to bounce around between Tyson and I, to Tyson's mom, to Tyson's dad, who traveled with us. 

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Our flight back home was late, we didn't land until 11:00 at night, and while everyone was certain the kids would fall asleep on the plane I knew better. Caden conked out during the last hour, Brooklyn literally fell asleep as we touched down on the runway, but Nolan was active on his tablet until the bitter end, until we were taxiing to the runway and he gave up while I rocked him on my shoulder. "Bed! Go to bed!" he sobbed and the entire airplane laughed in solidarity.

It was nice to escape to the sunshine for a few days in the midst of this long, cold winter. We visited the beautiful and amazing Phoenix Zoo, explored the concrete structures and fed the ducks at the Riparian Preserve, and ate some delicious, local food at Joe's Farm Grill. We also learned that Tyson's brother and his family will be moving this summer to join us up here in Minnesota! We're very excited to have them nearby, and glad we took what was probably our last chance to visit them in the Arizona sunshine.

2018 01 26 All Arizona 02.jpg
2018 01 27 All Arizona 02.jpg

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I'm sure you've seen that we celebrated a slew of birthdays recently. First the twins', then Nolan's. I curse February every year, especially birthday week since it all feels like just so much, but as soon as it's all over I think, "Hey, that wasn't so bad. And now we're done for the year!" Basically I spend two weeks in February overwhelmed with all things birthday and am thrilled about it for the other 11 1/2 months out of the year. 

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Something less fun during our mega-super-birthday week was getting rear-ended while we were sitting at a red light. On Caden and Brooklyn's birthday. We're all just fine, but our van...

not so much. Caden was more curious about it all than anything else ("It was really loud and then our window broke.") while Brooklyn was upset once the police showed up ("Are we going to jail?") but they really haven't talked about it since, so I guess they're over it? We're waiting to hear back from the repair shop before moving forward with anything (And at just what point do they total out the car? Seriously, how much does an entire rear power door to a van, and then some, cost, anyway?) but since the driver who hit us was charged with a DWI, well, they're in a lot more trouble than we are right now.

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The Parkland shooting has been weighing heavy on my mind. I plan to join the Minnesota March for Our Lives taking place on Saturday, March 24th (Local? Join me!) and have been waiting for our local Moms Demand Action group to have a chapter meeting near me (South and East metros...you're just not doing it for me). 

I've toned down my news consumption and social media usage since the 2016 election had me reading ALL THE THINGS for too many months and I found it obsessive and ultimately not good for me. Of the few things I have read, Emma Gonzalez and her fellow students are giving me life, this article by Washington Post's editorial board was both direct and insightful, and these parents are my heroes for standing up and asking the intense, direct, right questions of both their senators and the NRA.

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We've had quite the winter this year. Some years are cold, some years are snowy, this year we've had more than our fair share of BOTH. As I type this it's snowing and we're in the midst of yet another Winter Storm Warning. We've had snow since before Halloween, making this our fourth month of full-blown actual winter. It's safe to say I'm over it

Except when it's pretty.

Except when it's pretty.

One way I've been tackling the winter blahs is to really create a schedule for us. Not only for activities outside the house but also for when we're at home. Art Time has been a major life saver these past few months. At 4 or 4:30 or so we put everything away for the day. I pull out some sort of art supplies or project, (as well as my own coloring book and pencils), turn on some music, and we wind down.

Caden has been working on this piece for weeks now. He calls it his "beast's castle" (we have a slight Beauty and the Beast obsession) and it's something he pulls out almost every day to work on. He usually values quantity over quality, cranking out page after page after page in his coloring book, construction paper, etc., but this is something he continues to come back to. I'm impressed by his attention span and the level of detail he's put into it. I also can't recommend ginormous pieces of paper enough, since the sheer size keeps them occupied far longer than your average piece of construction paper.

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Nolan has hit full-blown two-year old independence in recent weeks. "I do it" has become his life verse. Except he says, "I did it!", even before he's even done anything. Garbage to throw away? "I did it!" Me grabbing the remote to turn the TV off? "I did it!" Putting the lid on his sippy cup? "I did it!" This is often accompanied by lots of jumping up and down and stamping of feet, of course, for sheer emphasis.

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We've also been about all things OLYMPICS! The kids have gotten into it a little this year and you better BELIEVE the birthday party theme four years from now will be a winter Olympics one. Nolan cries out "Hockey!" whenever we turn the TV on, whether hockey is actually playing or not. (That's my boy.) I've been particularly into the women's skating events, the pairs free skate, skeleton (y'all are bananas), bobsledding, and the snowboard cross racing. I didn't watch, but I'm also thrilled the women's hockey team picked up the gold medal. Now that everything is all wrapped up, our lives can go back to normal, and we can resume catching up on everything from the shows to the podcasts to the household cleaning we've missed from being camped out in front of the TV from 7-10:00 pm (at least) for the past two+ weeks.