fall

Art Time

I’m a planner by nature. Always have been, always will be. My husband and I use an app to synch our family schedule and I use another one to plan our meals and create a grocery list for the week. After a two-year hiatus, I recently caved to the purchase of a beautiful, lovely, glorious paper day planner again. I’m eyeing an enormous whiteboard calendar to fill a wall in our kitchen, to help with the question my kids ask every morning at breakfast, “Where are we going today?” Bedtime, nap time, quiet time, and wake-up time are all coordinated by the Okay to Wake clocks in each kid’s bedroom. (Well...maybe those times aren’t quite as carefully coordinated as I would like them to be.)

So it should come as no surprise to you that as a stay-at-home mom I’ve given a similar structure to the planning of our days. I thrive on routine and my own kids, like most kids, do too. They anticipate the ordering of our days: wake-up, breakfast, get ready, preschool or other activity outside the house, lunch, nap and quiet time, screen time, snack time, playtime, dinner, clean up, pajamas, bed.

Afternoon playtime can be the longest and most tedious part of our day. With a two-year old who caps out at a 60-minute nap and twin four-year olds who don’t really nap anymore, the afternoon hours from 2-5 pm can drag on as we all go slightly stir-crazy from the close proximity to each other. In the summer we find relief in gathering with neighborhood friends to go run around outside, burn off all that energy, and splash in the pool until it’s time to prep dinner. It’s these cooler months, the ones that have all too soon arrived this year, that really take a toll.

Enter: art time. Four o’clock is art hour at our house. Despite the name, it’s nothing too creative. Nothing too novel. Come 4:00 pm, whatever we’re doing, I stop and call out “It’s art time!”

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!

Breakfast Scene

I flip on one light after another as I come downstairs. Another cloudy morning makes it feel more like 5 am than 7. I open the wooden blinds — the bane of my existence, the way they collect dust — but they do little to add light to my space this morning. The smell of coffee, already made and waiting in the pot, helps slightly. I grab my favorite rusty-orange mug and fill it up, then take a lap around the island, making pit stops to add a little sugar and a swirl of heavy cream.

Oatmeal awaits me on the stove, this overnight oat recipe one of my favorite life hacks to cut down on busy mornings. A little olive oil, a scoop of steel-cut oats, toast it all up before adding some water, bring to a rolling boil, cover and switch off the burner. In the morning all that’s needed is to heat it up and — voila! — breakfast. I switch on the gas burner and give it a stir, adding a little whole milk to the mix. The kids have been begging for oatmeal for days, weeks. I’ve always had an excuse; it’s too hot, we don’t have any, or (most often) I forgot the night before. That’s when I hear six little feet thundering towards the kitchen through the mudroom, home from their morning walk with daddy.

“Oatmeal! Yummy yum! Yay!” Nolan screams as he runs in and sees me, complete with exaggerated lip-licking, mouth-smacking, and dancing. He never has been my subtle child.

Brooklyn and Caden trail behind. Brooklyn huddles close to my legs, smiling, her blue eyes gleaming up at me as she asks, “Did you really make oatmeal mommy?”

I show her the full bronze pot in response. I’d doubled the recipe last night, remembering how last winter we could go through a single pot before everyone was full. I smile, glorying in a proud mom moment as I scoop globs of oatmeal into colorful bowls and top them each with dried cranberries, ask if they want cinnamon.

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Nolan takes one bite, “Yum!” Then, because he’s two, changes his mind. “I no like the oatmeal.” He pushes it away and asks for Cheerios instead.

Caden this morning has been uninterested in the oatmeal from the start. “I just want Golden Grahams and strawberries,” he says.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Yup,” he replies with a furled brow. I sigh but don’t argue. I choose my battles and this morning this isn’t it.

Brooklyn is my last remaining hope. She takes a few bites (“I want to put the cranberries on myself.”), then pushes it away, declaring herself “not really hungry”.

Huh. Well then. So much for life hacks.

Once they’re settled with their assorted food items, I grab two bowls and scoop generous portions. I slice bananas and arrange them on top, scatter dried cranberries, add lines of chia seeds, top it all off with cinnamon sugar. I grab two spoons and pass one to Tyson, along with a bowl. An Instagram-worthy bowl. Someone is going to eat this long-awaited oatmeal around here. And it’s going to be damn good.

The Summer Neighborhood

It's a wet and muggy first day today. Not for us, preschool doesn't get going until next week, but for the rest of the neighborhood. Most years the day after Labor Day has dawned sunny and bright. I usually forget it's not just another Tuesday until we walk down to the park after 9:00 am to find everything quieter than usual. Windows and garage doors closed, empty yards, general stillness.

Our neighborhood comes alive in the summer. Most Midwestern ones do, I suppose. We have to enjoy it while we can. The big kids run around, free from school (or are shoved outside, away from their screens, reluctantly), little ones chalk in the driveway (or scream bloody murder because they “don’t want to get wet” even though they’re in the pool with their swimsuit on), everyone is out grilling burgers and kabobs and brats.

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One yard or another fills up with assorted neighborhood kids and parents. Some of the older kids’ parents stay inside their air-conditioned homes. I’m not sure what they do inside. I imagine they’re luxuriously soaking up stacks of books, enjoying Netflix marathons, and eating ice cream by the pint in their pristine and organized living rooms. (I’ll report back in about a decade or so to let you know if that is in fact true.) It’s a win all around. The older kids help referee the little ones while us parents chat and occasionally crack open an adult beverage.

I’ve been taking advantage of some of those bigger kids this summer, putting them to use. As babysitters for date nights or, more importantly, as “mommy’s helpers” because I desperately need a break in the afternoon. Others wander the neighborhood, offering their services. One neighbor girl came along to pull the ever-present weeds from our landscaping. (Her rate? “$2.30 for 30 minutes”. You can’t beat that, people.) Another mows our grass. For FREE. (Okay, I guess you can beat the $2.30 girl. Though we paid the grass-mower anyway.)

For the most part I’m doing a little dance inside at this time of year. With the days cooling and the leaves about to change and the pumpkins and the apples and the sweaters all headed our way, what’s not to love? I come alive again at this time of year, a fall girl who glories in the lack of humidity, the wearing of booties, and returning to the routine of a school-year schedule.

At the same time something is lost. Not quite yet but soon. The chill will go from a literal breath of fresh air to something more brutal. Everyone will turn to the warmth of their homes and blankets and fireplaces. Backyards, sidewalks, and driveways will be empty. I’ll admit there’s a beauty to this rhythm, too. I do love cozying up, decorating for the holidays, hunkering down during the first snow, and remembering how to play inside again. But a couple months of that and I’m ready for people. For the ease of social interaction without the coordination of text messages and calendars. For the easy-breezy days of stepping just outside our door to find friends. For afternoons that aren’t quite as long and tedious since we can spend them at the park. Or in the backyard. Or anywhere but the same four walls surrounding us all day every day.

We're planning to glory in our own last week of summer. Plans to spend our last few days at the park (when it's not wet), our own backyard, the farm, and topping it all off with an overnight at a local waterpark. A last hurrah. We'll enjoy our summer neighborhood while we can before embracing the indoors all over again.

Life Lately

Usually after Thanksgiving I'm ready to dive into Christmas - bring on the decking of the halls, music that fa-la-las, and all things peppermint, please! This year, though, I'm content to have a buffer week. Though I will admit to feeling a twinge of jealousy over everyone's festive photos this past weekend. One drawback to traveling over Thanksgiving is that it doesn't feel like we're around to begin the Christmas festivities. Driving down our street late Sunday afternoon to find each house on the block adorned with bright lights and garlands as we arrived home gave me a false sense of failure as we pulled into our own dark driveway.

We'll decorate as we typically do:  this coming weekend, the first of December. I'm thankful that Thanksgiving came "early" this year, so there is plenty of time to put it to rest before moving on to all things green and red. I don't feel quite so rushed as I do when we arrive home to December already on the calendar.

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Unrelated but related: a neighboring house has lights that change color each day. Red and green the first night, bright white and blue the next, tonight their house is lit up in alternating red and blue bulbs. It's amazing but also it's 2017 so OF COURSE this is a thing. And I'm totes jealous.

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Before Thanksgiving break, Caden and Brooklyn had watch week for their dance class. After class I asked them what they liked best. Brooklyn said, "All of it." Caden's response on the other hand? "Waving hi to you guys."

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He must have waved to us fifteen times during class, finding us across the room and sporting a proud yet shy grin as he shook his hand back and forth until we waved back. I can already see him at their spring recital, frantically scanning the audience and waving from the stage.

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Nolan's new thing is "poopy!" He points to himself and says, "poopy!"

"Are you poopy?"

"Noooo," he replies, with that little nose-scrunching grin. But he continues.

"Poopy!" he cries, pointing to me. 

"I'm not poopy!" I say.

"Poopy!" he cries again, pointing to Caden, then Brooklyn, and everyone else in the room. He thinks it's hilarious. And it's pretty adorable. Figures that he's already picked up potty-talk at a year and a half. 

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We leveled up in parenting as our travel to and from Iowa saw our most successful car trips EVER. One potty stop on the way, with kids who either napped or were entirely engaged with snacks, toys from the dollar section, and, yes, their tablets. On the way home we had - wait for it - NO STOPS WHATSOEVER. We made a straight trip in four hours and fifteen minutes with three kids under the age of four. I really think that might be some sort of record.

Their teachers asked about our trip when we arrived at preschool today. Apparently visiting Grandma and Grandpa's house was something that had been much publicized in their class the week before we left. But when I asked what exactly they said to their teachers, Brooklyn's response was, "I told my teacher that we are going to ride in the car for a long time and eat food and play on our tablets." Accurate.

Snacks and tablets aside, the real draw was cousin Quinn. She was overwhelmed with a bit TOO much love (ranging from bringing her a blanket every 4.2 seconds to hugs and kisses to helping her do things she's already been able to do for months, i.e. eat food) and is probably glad to be recovering at home with the peace that comes from being the only baby in the house.

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We also had another family photo session while we were in Iowa. Our matching game was on point, and I can only hope the photos will be as well given the CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP attitude of these kids and can you just say cheese and STAND FREAKING STILL FOR ALL OF TWO SECONDS?!?

(We looked good, too. And even knew how to stand still. #adulting)

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So...who's excited about another royal wedding? Because I DEFINITELY am and am totes over the comments on every single engagement article that are to the effect of "Who cares?" I CARE, DAMMIT.

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But probably the most significant event of the past couple of weeks was:

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Our first ER visit. (I'll tell you what I told my mom when I called her: EVERYTHING IS OKAY. He split his chin open going down the slide backward and it was pretty disgusting, but nothing that some super glue (seriously) and technology couldn't handle.) 

I KNEW that our first ER visit would be with Nolan. I just knew it. I had always predicted it would be daredevil Caden, but then Nolan came along with his GO GO GO attitude I knew by the time he was six months old his fearlessness was at another level.

He was bleeding pretty good and screaming about it until we got in the car and I gave him his tablet. Then he calmed down and followed all directions with his eyes glued to the screen, following each nurse along from one room to another to another like a little duckling. The doctor warned us that the cleaning and gluing of his wound would probably sting, but he didn't bat an eye. Then we took the tablet away and he screamed bloody murder the entire way out of the ER. "Tab-bet! TABBBB-BETTTTT!!!!!!111!!" We may have been the only people who ever brought a screaming child OUT of the ER instead of INTO it. We assured the few bystanders and the charge nurse that he really was fine, we had only taken his technology away, but honestly I'm surprised they let us go home with him. ("TAB-BETTTT!!!")

Also, this all happened within an hour of our arrival home after being gone for nearly a week. We arrived at the ER with a kid splattered in yogurt from a GoGo Squeez enjoyed on the drive from Iowa, a diaper that should have been changed two hours ago, and covered in crumbs (why change when bedtime is in less than two hours?), which meant we looked exactly like the type of people who have no business parenting in the first place, because that's how life works.

He also apparently has no memory of the incident, or at least didn't seem to have learned any lessons from it, because the pictures above are from the VERY NEXT DAY, where he tackled the wound-inflicting slide like a boss as well as about 14 other gravity-defying stunts.

Room to Breathe (Or: Celebrating Less Pile-Ups Around the Train Table)

Words haven’t been coming very easily to me lately. The blank screen or empty page has seemed more intimidating than usual. Part of it is this season of the busy — last week either Tyson or I or both had something each and every evening. Our weekends have been full, with fun things mostly, (a wedding, a birthday party, meeting Santa at “Elsa’s ice castle”), but full nonetheless. My typical free time has been taken over by either Christmas shopping (my goal: 100% online) or a little girl who doesn’t want to nap. I suppose it's hard to find the words when I can't even find the time.

Last weekend, though, I kicked everyone out of the house. Actually, I warned Tyson the night before that they had better be gone before I got up. I needed a few hours alone in the house and I didn't want to see or hear anyone. The seeing part worked well — they vanished before 8:30 — the hearing not so much. (The energy that three kids under four have at 6-something am is truly amazing.)  I attempted to sleep a little longer before I gave in and propped myself up on pillows instead to read a book and wait for the calm. 

I made my way downstairs to a fresh pot of coffee (bonus points, hubby) and a quiet house. I may not have had the words, but I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish without small children around.

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The playroom. (Feel free to shield your eyes from the sheer horror.)

It's been a source of frustration to me for awhile. It was...okay. It worked well enough, and in fact a playroom that I could sort-of-but-not-quite-see from the kitchen was one of the selling points of the house. But things had become sort of hodge-podge since we'd moved in. The bottom line: it wasn't laid out as well as it could be. The kids were constantly tripping over one other (admittedly on purpose sometimes) and there would frequently be pile-ups around the train table. Paintings were falling off the wall, only weakly held by the washi tape that seems to work for everyone else but only causes our creations to float to the floor. (Seriously, any washi tape recommendations?)

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As it always is with me, I didn't really have a plan for the space until suddenly I did, and then I couldn't tackle the makeover fast enough. I set to work, throwing out broken crayons, used coloring books, and dried up Play-Doh. The old artwork came down, markers were relegated to a drawer away from the reach of little hands, furniture was moved and (sort of) dusted.

Then, the fun part. Toys re-arranged. New pictures hung. Colorful wool garlands draped.

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I finished less than two hours later. I was surprised at how much I did in so little time. (Do you KNOW what you can accomplish without small children around?!?) It felt so good

I haven't tackled a project like this for...awhile. Maybe since Nolan's nursery. Going from the before to the after. Exercising my creative muscle (my interior design creative muscle at that) gave me a rush, a sense of energy, a hit of adrenaline. It was like solving a puzzle. Besides the poster frames, everything in the room was stuff that we already had. (I knew I would find a use for those pricey wool garlands that I just had to have for their birthday party.) Truly, all I really did was throw out junk and shift things around. The best kind of update. 

He knows that he's not supposed to eat in here but also that mom is too busy taking pictures to stop him.

He knows that he's not supposed to eat in here but also that mom is too busy taking pictures to stop him.

There is space to play, less junk on the shelves, room to breathe.

It's nothing major, but it's a change, a cleansing, a re-invigorating of a little corner of our home. I feel a tangible relief in the fact that I've created a space that we all actually want to be in now. It wasn't the creation of words, but a different kind of before and after, one that I used to do quite often. A check-in with a part of myself. Oh, hello. You're still there after all. And it doesn't hurt that I completed it all just in time for the toy influx of the holidays. 

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