house

Notes From a Polar Vortex

I saw it coming late last week when I looked at my weather app. Wednesday loomed large, -16 for the high. Yikes. School would certainly be cancelled since the windchills were predicted to be more than 50 below. Yuck, I thought, I guess winter is finally here.

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The last time we left the house was Sunday afternoon. We saw The Little Mermaid, went out for dinner. There was a winter storm warning, we were supposed to get a snowstorm before the deep freeze hit, though the sky was still sunny and clear when we drove to the movie theater. By the time we left dinner it was dark, about 6:00.

“Let’s swing by Target,” I told Tyson, “I’ll just run in quick. We could use some things to get through the next few days if it’s really going to be as bad as they say it is.”

I ran into Target, threw some necessities in the cart: bread, eggs, marshmallows for hot chocolate, stickers from the dollar section, a rotisserie chicken for soup.

By the time I walked out 15 minutes later, it had started snowing.

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Monday would have been the day to leave the house. It wasn’t that cold yet. The 6-10 inches of snow predicted petered out to a measly 4-5. But school was cancelled. I’d been prepping for Wednesday in my head, but Monday was called off already by late Sunday evening. I heard it was because the Department of Transportation wanted the roads as clear as possible - the more traffic the more the fresh snow would get packed down on the roads, making it impossible for the plows to clear, and impossibly slippery as it got colder. Salt wouldn’t work to melt the ice with the subzero temperatures headed our way.

Because of that, we stayed home, off the roads. We had a couple of playdates, went outside three separate times to play in the snow, drank our hot chocolate. Let the adventure begin.

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That was my first thought: this was all some big, grand adventure. Except instead of being really exciting, the adventure was survive being trapped inside your house for a bunch of days with three kids under five.

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My next thought was to wonder about the homeless. Where would people go? There’s no way to survive this, not without shelter. My heart and mind kept turning back to them. I did hear that shelter workers were out, full-force, to help and encourage people to find shelter. And that city buses and other public transportation would be running all night as a place for people to find refuge from the cold. It made me feel a little better. But only a little.

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I raided my drawers for my coziest sweaters. If we were going to be trapped inside, I was at least going to look the part. Maybe this wasn’t an adventure so much as the ultimate hygge challenge. I made plans to hygge the shit out of this thing: I pulled out our warmest blankets, drank hot tea and coffee, sat in front of the fireplace, planned my baking schedule.

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Tuesday we walked over to a neighbor’s house for a change of scenery. We bundled up: inner fleece jackets zipped into the outer waterproof ones, snowpants, boots, our warmest hats and mittens. All for the 2-minute walk four houses down and across the street. I warned the kids that we couldn’t stop to play; we just had to walk straight over and go inside. I told them how dangerous this cold was, tried to explain frostbite.

“Do bugs give you the bites?” Brooklyn wanted to know.

“No,” I told her, “The cold does.” It was very confusing.

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It was weird that we couldn’t leave the house, a sort of forced confinement. I mean, we could have - and eventually did - but we were strongly advised not to. And with all the reports of cars not starting I didn’t exactly want to successfully leave the comfort of our home only to risk the car not starting to return, leaving me stranded with three kids. Not to mention the cold just plain hurt your face.

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It felt sort of like a holiday, except not. Everyone was pretty cocooned up in their own houses. And Tyson still had to work (maybe a downside to working from home?). My motivation went to nil, just like it does between Christmas and New Year’s. I could’ve/should’ve written more, prepped more for the kids’ upcoming birthday party, maybe even cleaned my house. Instead I embraced my cocoon, more often opting for books and blankets than not.

(I finished this book in just a couple of days, and made some decent headway into both this one and this one.)

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Besides the homeless, I wondered about employees missing work because their businesses were closed, or parents who still had to work but suddenly had children to take care of for four straight days. So many businesses were (justifiably) closed, but what if their employees couldn’t afford to miss work, even for a day? I viewed this all as a lark, my grand hygge adventure. I winged up prayers for those who thought this was anything but.

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By Wednesday I was over it. We all were. Wednesday was the worst day of all. We’d already been through two days of this and then Wednesday rolled around. I mean, the entire state was shut down. Schools, restaurants, stores. Even mail delivery was suspended.

In my own house, there were more tears, yelling, and tantrums than the previous two days combined.

“DON’T PLAY WITH A TOY BY YOUR BROTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT HIM TO TOUCH IT!”
“HE WILL STOP CHASING YOU IF YOU STOP RUNNING.”
“RESPECT YOUR SISTER!”

Angry mom came out on Wednesday. She enforced an unprecedented 11:00 am quiet time because we could no longer all be in the same room together. She shook her fist at the heavens for allowing such a thing as a polar vortex to exist. She self-medicated with strong coffee and cookies.

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Monday we baked chocolate chip cookies. Wednesday we made compost cookies. Today we made granola muffins.

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Generally speaking, I noticed a pretty clear divide in the emotions of parents whose kids were home all day every day for four straight (week)days.

The parents whose kids were usually at school (and could easily be home to accommodate this change in schedule) seemed thrilled.

Those of us who are usually with our kids for the bulk of the day anyway: not so much.

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Wednesday afternoon some neighbors came over.

“I hope they don’t get any of those bites!” Brooklyn said when I told her they were on the way.

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Thursday, we left the house.

We had to. We were desperate for groceries and a change of scenery. There was the sense that the worst was over. I loaded everyone up in the car (noting the -26 degree temperature displayed on the dash) and just prayed we would make it back home. (Spoiler alert: we did.)

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More polar vortex recipes: chicken and dumpling soup. Swedish meatballs. Pasta alla vodka.

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Well, that’s one way to close out January.

Godspeed tomorrow, preschool teachers. They’ve been home with us all week. TGIF indeed.

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Slow Decorating

Recently, I bought stools for our kitchen island. I started with two but quickly added another, since one kid always felt left out. (You’d think I’d have learned by now.) During our Month of Two Stools there were too many fights to count and I cursed even buying them in the first place. (Sometimes I still regret buying stools because my two-year old thinks he has full access to everything on the island at any given time, but that’s another story.)

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We’ve lived in our house for almost three years. I didn’t care much about stools at first during the chaos of moving and adding another baby and having twin two-year old climbers who didn’t need any more temptations. But after awhile the island looked kind of lonely and empty to me. It was time. I searched and I researched and compared prices. I found some. Now I love having our simple kitchen stools. The kids have easy access to help me bake, I often sit there for breakfast or to work on a project, cold brew or craft brew by my side. The three little Williamses often sit three across for breakfast or lunch or an afternoon snack.

But I had to find the right stools first.

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It was the same in our bedroom. All this open space, what to do with it? A (very first world) problem I had never had before. Our previous apartment barely had room for a bed, two nightstands, a dresser, and space to walk around them all without bumping into something.

I thought I hated the tan walls (It's grey that's in, not tan!) but despised all that painting would entail. Then I saw an image, burned into my brain now, of a bedroom full of tans and whites and creams and walnut and it looked so beautiful, so serene. That picture became my inspiration. A cream-textured bed with nailheads, white and walnut dresser, cozy chair in the corner. I’m not done yet. But it took me at least a year of living there to realize I even liked the space I had to work with. To realize I could mold and transform and even love it.

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I’m wary of buying any pieces I don’t love. Afraid that if I just buy something to fill the space, it will become normal, I’ll get used to it, I’ll never update. Until recently, our ottoman was a $79.99 faux leather (Does "vegan leather" sound fancier? Let's go with that.) dark brown piece with storage from Target that desperately needed replacing. The hinges didn’t quite work after four years of kids using it for everything from a boat to a hiding spot. There were a couple of rips in the “vegan leather” on the corner. But it worked. It held my feet up. It was easy to set it and forget it and not worry about upgrading.

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I’m a big fan of slow decorating. I think you have to live in a space before you know how you want it to feel, how you want it to look, how it will function best for you and your family. I know many people buy houses and immediately go about their renovations and binge on furniture purchases. I’m a bit more tortoise-like, quieter. I often don’t have an idea about a space until — suddenly — I do. It often comes to me, in a flash, and then I can’t tackle a project fast enough.

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I guess we’ve never really had the budget for major renovations or a plethora of furniture purchases to begin with. The lean days of our early married years made even a $79.99 ottoman purchase an investment for us. It amazed me that after putting a down payment on a house anyone had any money left to buy furniture to fill it with. In a way, we’ve been forced into slow.

But I do love the slow accumulation, over time, of pieces that speak to me, of pieces that are just right, of a corner I had no idea how to use until suddenly the exact right, perfect idea pops into my head - ah ha! So that’s what to do with you.

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That ottoman has been replaced now. A bigger piece, one more suited to the size of our space. Without hinges because now I know those will just get broken again. With a cream fabric that will probably get stained but since it was a steal at $169.99 it’s a risk I can take for something that’s more my style, something I like, something that feels like me. (It's still from Target, though. Some things never change.)

I’ve been eyeing some nightstands for our bedroom, a couple of chairs for our living room, still have no idea what to do with the long wall in our entryway. Maybe I won't for another three years, five years, eight. This house will probably never be "done", not finished in the way I see on Pinterest or in the pages of Dwell. And that's alright.

I'm okay with taking it slow.

Life Lately

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Important Update:

IT'S WARM! 

The last time I posted a Life Lately update, we were literally days away from a blizzard to end all blizzards, one that buried us under (almost) two feet of snow. IN FREAKING APRIL. I'm happy to report that the sun is out, the birds are singing, and the only thing we're digging ourselves out of right now is the sandbox. 

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And not a moment too soon since preschool officially ended last week. As far as I'm concerned it's the first of two Terrible Awful Times of Year until the summer activities begin. (The other being the month of August, after all the summer activities end but before the school year ones begin.) Our calendar is a lot emptier now that preschool, dance, and swimming lessons are all coming to a close. I'm not going to argue with a bit more flexibility but the end of all that structure always feels a bit abrupt. 

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These two look like they grew about a foot since September. It's like I sent babies off to preschool and they returned as Big Kids. I'm sure next year will leave me an emotional puddle on the floor what with Kindergarten looming over us and all, but for now we're looking forward to the summer ahead of us before returning in the fall to the same building, the same classroom, and the same teachers, the only change being three mornings each week instead of two.

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In other News I'm Not Quite As Excited About, Nolan leveled up to a toddler bed.

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If you can't tell from the grin, he's a lot more excited about this new development than either Tyson and I are. 

People have told me I'm "brave" for making the switch and I'm here to set the record straight: NOPE. No bravery here. As IF this were my choice. I would have kept this over-active boy stay in a crib until he graduated high school if it were possible, but he up and went and figured out how to climb out of the dang thing. At the age of two plus a few months he lasted longer than Caden and Brooklyn did, though still not long enough for my taste.

It's actually going pretty well, and in fact much smoother than the twins' transition did, but of course it's not as convenient as dumping him in a crib knowing that he's unable to get out or bother us and would eventually fall asleep. Instead of being miserable about it, I've been claiming the time as my own, sitting in the hallway outside his bedroom with my phone, a book, or my laptop, catching up on messages, reading, writing, or some good old-fashioned online shopping for the hour or so it takes him to settle down and fall asleep.

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In other Nolan news, you may see him around wearing an eye patch. Nothing major, just a little lazy eye we're working to fix. He's only wearing it for an hour a day right now and we'll re-evaluate with the optometrist in September. I should say he's SUPPOSED to be wearing it an hour a day, and while we've had a few good days we've also had some terrible ones. He's not super fond of the thing and waits for the moment I walk or look away to rip it off. I'm thinking of getting some fun patches like these but I don't think even that's going to make him care very much. I've tried decorating his eye patch with stickers and all he wants to do is rip the patch off to see them, and besides sitting in front of a mirror for an hour I'm running out of ideas. 

It WOULD all be good if just kept your freaking eye patch on.

It WOULD all be good if just kept your freaking eye patch on.

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In house news: I stained our deck! With my own two hands! By myself! Somehow it was really important for me to tackle this project on my own. Partly because this is our third summer in the house and we have yet to buy adult-sized patio furniture. (Of course the kids are taken care of.) Staining our desperately beat-up deck was motivation for that purchase. I guess what works to motivate my kids is also what works to motivate me right now, "If you do X then you get candy!" Except instead of candy it's a set of patio furniture. And I totally rewarded myself with candy, anyway.

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Caden and Brooklyn not only celebrated the end of preschool, but also had their first dance recital this past weekend.

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Preschool didn't do it to me this year, but dance sure did. Being backstage and then watching their show, with their little costumes and the makeup and that HAIR and those grins and all those little attempts at dancing DID ME IN. ALL the feels, that's for sure.

I'm not sure how to explain it exactly, besides this that I jotted down as part of a writing exercise yesterday:

It's strange to be the one behind the curtain. Tears spring to my eyes. They're equal parts sad and happy; both mourning that my time is over (does that sound selfish?) while also feeling so full that my proud mama heart could burst. Wasn't I the one out there just yesterday? And yet look at them, these babies, in their tutus and their bowties and their makeup. It's the beginning of the story for them. They're ready for the magic and the beauty of it all.

I take out my phone from my back pocket as they watch the dancers before them, captivated. I take a few photos and pray one turns out in the dim light. A behind-the-scenes photo of the next generation. Maybe they'll be the ones backstage with tears in their eyes someday.

As of now, Caden isn't sure he wants to continue next year. He loved the costumes and the stage but hasn't been too fond of the actual classes the past few months. He's thrown out trying everything from hockey to gymnastics to focusing on swimming next year. Then he caught my attention yesterday morning when he said that maybe he does want to dance next year, after all.

Of course, I kind of hope he does. If nothing else, Brooklyn will continue on, and I'm so glad we had at least one recital with them together.

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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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Home

We've been here for a year.




When everyone knew we were moving to Minnesota - back to Minnesota, for me - lots of people said, "You must be excited to move back home!" and I kind of shrugged and nodded and agreed, but didn't really know how I felt.  I mean, I hadn't really lived here for a decade - 10 years and a couple of months - so it didn't quite feel like moving back "home".  We were pretty well settled in Madison.  Family aside, it sure didn't feel like I was moving "back" home so much as I was moving away from it.

Plus, let us all please recall the whole "20-weeks pregnant + twin toddlers + moving states + buying a house + Tyson working out-of-state" utter ridiculousness that was our life last year.  Ahem.


(Boxes and babies in an empty playroom.)


(Exploring inside.)


(Exploring outside.)


(Our OWN SWINGSET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!)

We've unpacked the boxes.  Hung pictures on the wall.  Purchased some furniture.  Filled the pantry.  Made meal after meal after meal in the kitchen.  Met the neighbors.  Made some friends.  Taken care of the yard, shoveled the snow, built the sandbox, claimed the neighborhood park as our own.

We've added a member to the family.


And filled up that playroom (and not just with more children).


It feels like home now, y'know?  


Our house - "my boo (blue) house", as the twins call it - feels like our own now.  Not just another temporary place to move on from, like Tyson and I were so used to, but a place to stay and grow and live and breathe and continue to make our own.  We kind of like this place. 

We'll keep it for at least another year.