Category Archives: family

Second Grade

Jackson holds a chalkboard apple on his first day of second grade.

On Monday, Jackson started second grade. Actually, since he is the first-born, we all started second grade together. I fussed over the chalkboard apple and my subpar font. And his outfit. And his hair. And what do you put in the school bag? At least I had his lunch is down pat. Uncrustables & Capri Suns since day one of kinder. Lunch, consider yourself, phoned in. Judge all you want, readers.

Darcy spent the morning pissed that it wasn’t her first day of school. She is generally resentful of being the youngest and so she is always finding ways to commit family treason on special mornings like this one. Sidenote: Yesterday Darcy helped me start Jackson’s laundry. After diligently putting all his clothes in the machine, as instructed, she poured bleach on them and started it. While I applaud her self-direction here, she could have stopped after she completed her task and chosen NOT to be treasonous whilst my back was turned.

Anyway, we took Jackson in the classroom, did the requisite pictures, seat finding, etc. He seemed happy but a little tentative. We then made our the PTA coffee, said hellos, caught up with some friends, and fed Darcy a kolache. NB: A kolache is basically a large pig-in-a-blanket. Texans heart kolaches big time.

Darcy parked herself at the food table, grabbed a kolache (like a good native-born Texan), popped the breakfast sausage out of the pastry, took a bite, then popped it back in.

I was clearly the wrong person to get C.K. and I coffee since doing so took about twenty minutes. So much chit-chat. It’s a life skill. I have mad chit-chat skillz.  And I forgot my car keys on Jackson’s desk so I had to travel back for those. His teacher met me halfway, keys jingling in the air, a knowing look on her face that spoke, “You are the mom who will ask what I want from Starbucks and then completely forget or get my order wrong.” At least now she knows I am an overly apologetic hot mess. Better than me overachieving in these first weeks of school only to find out that it’s all downhill from Halloween.

Monday night I got to thinking about my time in the second grade. I sent a note to my future second grade teacher when I was still in first grade. I wonder if it was before or after I got in trouble for drawing privates in a marble notebook during recess. There were two other depraved kids there but I can’t remember their names or faces. So maybe I imagined them. And it was just depraved little me, sitting on the playground, doing some risque sketches.

Whether Ms. Triola knew of my first grade transgressions, I can’t say. But clearly what I wrote in that note I hand delivered to her classroom was enough. I wrote a letter. And I got what I wanted. The note told Ms. Triola that she was the prettiest teacher in the school. And that I loved her high heels. (She legit had pumps in every color.)

The high heels remained a point of fascination even after I’d gained access to the best second grade class Dutch Broadway had to offer. I remember walking up the stairs behind her and Ms. Triola wouldn’t put her whole foot on the step in front of her. So the sole of her impractically-high-for-a-teacher-heel would be on the step but the four inch heel would balance off the edge. It was a weirdly marvelous thing–and something I copied when I became a teacher years later. I soon learned that high heels were ridiculous to wear when you stood for most of your  work day.

This is THE Porsche!

And I didn’t care. Just like Ms. Triola taught me.

She drove a Porsche. And even though it was an ugly 1980s Porsche, I could tell this vehicle was better than the Pontiacs and Datsuns that populated the rest of the faculty lot. A vehicle for someone who wore Porsche-like footwear.

I even heard my mother tell our across the street neighbor Rhonda that Ms. Triola’s “sugar daddy” bought it for her. I remember thinking that maybe my father would buy me a red sports car one day. And I would punch the gas over each speed bump in the school lot and completely ignore the school zone speed limits, just like Ms. Triola did.

At least I think she did. The car was red and therefore appeared capable of mildly illegal behavior.

Ms. Triola got married later that year–presumably to said Sugar Daddy–but I don’t remember her married name. It’s a law in elementary school that all teacher’s names are whatever they are when you first meet them. I can’t learn a whole new surname because of your life milestone. I’m seven.

 

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Lieselotte Landgrebe, 1932-2016

lieselotte-landgrebe08112016My grandmother died last month. Below is the eulogy that I wrote for her and read at her funeral…

Oma wasn’t your typical grandma/nana type. No smells of baked goods wafting from a kitchen window or overly saccharine compliments.

She was German-American, a child of the Great Depression, and she survived many hardships. Her way of loving was influenced by that.

But, make no mistake, it was a way of loving—of loving fiercely and steadfastly. You saw her love in her successful marriage, in her commitment to her children—one of whom was a special needs child. You saw the love in her attachment to her grandchildren and her delight in her great-grandchildren.

So this morning, let’s talk about her way of loving.

Oma was a character. She had spunk and fire and she was fun to be around. A quality of hers I’ll miss most is her sense of humor. Oma had this brilliantly irreverent sense of humor. And she had no qualms about employing shock value. No filter. That was her. If Oma had been born a bit later in the 20th century, I’m certain would have had her own Bravo TV show.

011_8aWhen a person has such a sense of humor, there’s a treasure trove of stories and memories to share. Unfortunately, not many of these stories are appropriate to share with a Pastor present.

But I’ll tell one.

At a holiday gathering a few years ago, we sat together and chatted about a new show on HBO—Rome. (This chat, of course, happened after I received the ritual $20 from her shirt. “Here. For gas. Or nails,” she’d say.)

We agreed that Rome was a great show—a little violent but a riveting political drama. But then we got to what Oma really wanted to discuss. Anyone who watches HBO knows the network is not shy about actors baring it all. Oma wanted to talk about James Purefoy—a particularly “talented” actor. My cousin Laura, who was maybe in middle school at the time, came over and tried to sit with us. I thought I would dodge this part of the conversation. But before Laura even sat down in the chair, my Oma promptly dismissed Laura with, “we’re discussingsomething private.” I’m unsure if she intended the double meaning there, but it wasn’t lost on me.

img_8997I giggled so many times when I talked with her. And because my grandmother was so candid and never prim or phony, you could talk to her about anything. She was real. She never tried to put on a façade. And I’ve learned a lot from her in this way.

Oma also grand-parented with a steady hand and a strict eye. If we did something wrong, we knew it. She held us accountable. Like when I was in elementary school and she’d lend me some of her coveted Disney VHS tapes. I believe she delighted in having a movie I’d love to watch and borrow but Oma would also threaten to charge a late fee if I didn’t return it in a timely fashion.

Or there’s the time when she and Opa babysat for Mags and I when my parents went to Jamaica. I cut Driver’s Ed one day and she made me vacuum the same room for like three days in a row. Of course as 15 year old, I felt this punishment was like I was in a chain gang.

img_8100And then there’s the time, I cut rips in my jeans for a cooler look. She took them from me. I thought oh, no. What would she think that I ruined a good pair of pants? And I got some classic Oma side-eye for this. But a week later, I got the jeans back with perfect rips up and down the legs. My grandmother had painstakingly cut and pulled each thread so they looked like they were straight from a designer store. I didn’t realize it at the time but this task must have taken so long and been so tedious. This illustrates the kind of grandmother she was. Sometimes a bit rough in the delivery, but underneath that roughness was a gem of a woman and mother—a gem with diamond strength and clarity in her devotion to her family. Oma held us accountable. Because Oma was never failing in her accountability to her family. And she was unfaltering her accountability to me, to her other grandchildren, to her children and she was unfaltering in her dedication to my grandfather throughout their 63 years of marriage.

I’ve just started a book called Present over Perfect—it’s a bible study written by a mother in her thirties for women at my age and stage. It invites mothers to be present and not strive to be perfect—something mothers often try to be. It says to live with intention and soulfulness. The feeling of love and connection with family and friends will come from that intention, that presence. Oma did this. And she didn’t need a Wednesday evening Bible study to remind her to do it. She was always present. She was always there at her home on Norfeld Blvd until she passed in her bedroom on Monday. When I called to chat, she was there. But of course, after about ten minutes, you’d get “Okay, I’ll let you go.”

birthday-party-pictures-14Well, now it’s up to us to let her go. We will revel in a memory of a woman who was devoted and fun and anything but cliché. She set an example as a grandmother and as a mother and as a wife. Her marriage to my grandfather is an example to me and my husband everyday—a lesson in devotion, in accountability, in faithful love. And I know I can move forward today knowing that I am a better woman for having known and loved my Oma.

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Morning snuggles…sort of

People enjoy me on social media too.

People enjoy me on social media too.

Earlier this week, in an effort combat the longer summer days and make sure my kids sleep in (purely for my own sake), I taped cardboard on their window behind the blackout curtains. See the screenshot from Facebook. Judging by the emojis, other moms are in the same boat or were when their respective children were small ameba-humans like mine.

The results have been inconclusive. Darcy is coming down with a cold so who knows what’s going on in her little dragon brain all night. Or who knows why she got up at 5:13 this morning after a long day of pool play time yesterday.

Here’s my morning inner monologue for your entertainment…

(Hold on. It’s 8:16 am and we’ve already had breakfast and danced in the kitchen to The Village People. But my writing is interrupted by the sounds of rage from the play room. And indeed when I walk in, they are locked like two rams, heads butted against each other, over a new set of Legos. I’m not kidding. The image you have in your head should be of two kids on all fours, legos on the floor between them, tops of their heads touching. I marvel at how strong both of their noggins must be and see veins popping from reddened necks. Then I intervene.)

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

5:13am: I look at the clock but it’s still pitch black outside. I lie to Darcy who is standing eerily silent at my door. “It’s still night-night,” I say and change her diaper. Then I put her back in her crib.

5:38am: I hear a soft thump. No doubt this is Darcy getting out of her crib. Her ninja skills are good until the landing. The monitor shows the empty crib and closed door. She’s up in her brother’s bed tryin’a get comfy. She must be stopped. Jackson can sleep through an atom bomb but not in the early morning hours. I grab her and she is mercifully silent. “Want to lay with mommy?” “Okay,” a tiny nasally voice in the dark.

5:39 am: She lays facing me, eyes closed and smiling. To the victor goes the spoils. She looks cute in the early morning light peeking through the sides of my blackout curtains.

5:42 am: She moves away, now perpendicular to me. And the toe digging in my side begins. I’m reminded to cut her toenails. They feel like small razors. And her feet are surprisingly strong. It’s the worst shiatsu massage ever. Between this borderline torture and her ability to deprive me of sleep, she has a career in the CIA ahead of her.

5:50 am: Sitting up. Playing with both of her lovies.

Lounging like a boss at 10am.

Lounging like a boss at 10am.

5:51 am: I pretend to sleep and Darcy notices. I must needs the lovies. In an expertly executed role reversal, she puts the lovies on my forehead and gives me her blanket. “Night-night, Mommy,” she whispers coyly. Her chance at escape. I clutch the lovies while I decide whether or not to care. The lovies are surprisingly comforting. I spend the next few minutes working through a business plan for adult lovies, ignoring the toddler altogether.

5:56 am: She is at my door fussing with the childlock. No CIA yet for you. Foiled by a piece of plastic around a doorknob.

5:57am: I weakly attempt discipline and then, research be damned,”Want your iPad?”

5:59 am: I doze to the horrifying sounds of children’s programming. My half-dreams while the Yo Gabbas sing are the closest I will ever get to an acid trip, I believe.

6:25 am: Jackson slams the door open. Take that, childproofing! I’m six! He rubs his eyes. “I went potty, Mommy. I slept later too. See, I tried to help.”

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Farewell, Austin

IMG_1685(written from the Embassy Suites on Congress Avenue in Austin, TX on August 20, 2015)

Hi, I need to order four pies.
Beat.
Yes, pizza pies. 2 pepperoni and 2 regular.
Beat.
Yes, 2 with pepperoni and 2 with just cheese.

My husband called our local pizzeria to buy lunch for our moving guys. His clarifications reminded me that yep, I’m actually not a Texan. I’m not from Austin. I order “pies” at a pizza place. Why do I need to explain further? I’m not calling a bakery. I also stand “on line,” not “in line”–but that regional language irregularity justifiably needs correcting. You’re reading this online. Or if you’re on Long Island and standing in a queue, maybe you’re reading this post “online while on line.”

Okay, get to the point. It’s 7 am and I’m in a hotel room with my littles before we drive to Dallas to meet C.K. So I’m groggy. The point is—these jarring moments remind me that I’m not actually from Austin. And it’s unsettling because most of the time I walk around considering Austin my home. In fact, it’s where I’ve felt the most “at home” as an adult. Apologies to New York where my heart still beats a little quicker. And no apologies to Los Angeles because it’s the hellmouth.

Why Austin has such a strong hold on me? Why do I (and so many others) feel so comfortable in the city’s embrace? The answer is summed up in two phrases. The first is from a volunteer coordinator at my church. While presenting on Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a charity that rehabs roach coaches and stocks them with food daily to drive around and feed the poor, Bob remarked of the charity’s founder, “Bring anything to him. Any stupid idea. And he’ll hear you out and try your idea.” That may seem a little condescending but I assure you it wasn’t meant IMG_1648that way. There’s an openness to MLF’s structure that can been seen in many organizations around town, both charitable and for-profit. Austin is a place where you’ll be heard, your ideas won’t get shot down, your thoughts are valued. Any. stupid. idea.

I heard the second phrase before we moved to Austin in 2013. A friend from New York, Sarah, told me repeatedly that I’d really like Austin, that I’d be happy there. I thought it odd—we hadn’t been friends for too long when she told me that. Maybe she was just well-wishing since she knew moving to a brand new place with a 3.5yo would be traumatic no matter what. “Austin is a very come as you are city. You’ll really like it,” she smiled sweetly as we watched our sons play at the local community center. And she was right. And the phrase “come as you are” is the best way I can think to describe this amazing place. Granted, sometimes come as you are means not shaving your legs or armpits at the hippy-dippy Bouldin Creek Cafe. Granted, sometimes come as you are means arriving to a posh club on a segue in a nerdy T-shirt. Or looking like you just failed a urine test with your patrol officer but you’re really a tech shot caller.

But it’s true. Austin accepts you as you are. There is no uniformity to how people look in the city. And that come as you are attitude permeates everything. I believe it’s why my husband has flourished at Chaotic Moon, a company that doesn’t just pay lip service to innovation–they innovate again and again. I think it’s why I was immediately asked to serve on the board at Jackson’s school. (Imagine that happening in Westchester County? Never. Unless, Mama gets out the checkbook early on.) I think it’s why Women’s Storybook Project trusted me to pitch to the New York Times. Austin makes the fact that you’re creative a good thing. It’s something to explore, not ignore.

IMG_3622So I love this place. My children love this place. My husband loves it here. My sister moved here. She loves this place. My New Yorker parents who are the poster children for townies, love this place. That’s because it’s easy to love. But they better expand Mopac soon because word is really getting around. #understatement

So good bye, bats under the Congress Ave bridge.
Good bye, Zilker Park.
Good bye, food trucks.
Good bye, hipsters and vegans and other types I can’t stand.

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Saying Goodbye to Funny Girl

DSCN1236This will be a long post.

This will be a sad post.

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, about the experience of eulogizing a beloved family member. And first and foremost, I’d like to thank my Uncle Kenny for not only allowing me to speak at my aunt’s funeral service but also for giving the okay for this blog post.

My dad called at 7:15 on Friday morning November 21, 2014. It’s not completely unusual for my parents to call early–they know that with two young children that I’m up and caffeinated. But the way he said my name when I answered told me something terrible had happened. I can’t remember the exact phrase he used but it was a wild understatement. Something like “we had a little problem last night.” And his tone of voice and failure to find the right words for that first sentence told me that “little problem” probably meant something unfathomably tragic.

I wished I was wrong. I still do.

My dad barely got through telling me that Arzie was gone and the little information about her passing. My mother, Arzie’s best friend for over 50 years, couldn’t even speak. I spent the rest of the day in a quiet panic. As I waited for information, I went to a meeting at Jackson’s future elementary school (albeit in a daze and absurdly disliking everyone there) and then I put up our Christmas tree. All the while, I was writing her eulogy in my head–before I even realized I would ask for the honor of speaking at Arzie’s services.

IMG_0237I wrote the first draft that night. Don’t even ask where I got the energy. I finished the second draft on Saturday afternoon…at my hair appointment. Ridiculous, I know.  I think of Arzie now, probably shaking her fists at how I wrote a remembrance of her on the Google docs app on my iPhone then texted it out to her family all while getting my roots dyed.  By Sunday, I was on a plane to NY. And my husband and babies were all packed up for their trek from Austin to Jackson, MS for Thanksgiving. And by Sunday, my mother and my uncle Kenny had read the initial text of the eulogy and thankfully, my uncle said I could speak.

The time from Sunday evening to the Tuesday morning service passed in a slow, surreal way. It’s the mixture of shock and sadness and busyness of funeral preparations. I snuck in little moments to reread the eulogy on my phone, change a phrase here or there. I made my sister, my mother, and my father listen to the speech. I thought the more I practiced, the less I would cry the day of. The last thing I wanted to do was blubber through the whole thing on the altar.

My husband called Monday night from Jackson. Darcy had croup and would have to go to the emergency room. I can remember texting with him late that night and then taking out my iPad to read the eulogy again. And the whole time, it just felt like we were in Connecticut visiting the Milio family and Arzie was working or away on one of her Choral Society cruises. She wasn’t there. But the permanence of her death hadn’t hit yet, for me at least.

I sat through the beautiful services feeling much the same way. I was clutching my iPad and every time I looked over at my mother weeping, my sister would gently remind me, “Don’t look at Mom right now.” As the time drew nearer, I prayed that God give me the strength to address the hundreds of people who filled the sanctuary. I prayed for the grace only God can bestow. I wanted to offer some solace to the people who Arzie left behind and memorialize someone who deserved a much better eulogy, a much better speaker.  If you knew Arzie, you’d understand that my last statement is not just fishing for reassurance. Arzie was truly the best of us.

I firmly believe that it was through God’s intercession that I didn’t sob until the very end of the eulogy. And even then, I found the strength to speak the last few sentences through tears and shakes.  There were even a few laughs–Arzie was a funny person; she wouldn’t have wanted all bleakness at her memorial.

 During the recessional and throughout the repast, people would come up and introduce themselves and hug me. Most of them I’d never met before. However, every time someone hugged me I cried and had to really pull myself together. Now that the eulogy was over, I guess I could let go. Surreality became the crushing reality of Arzie’s loss.

One of Arzie’s good friends even told me that until I spoke, the service was beautiful but so tense. “I think it was perfect. We all started to heal,” she said through tears that were almost a little hopeful. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for her words. Every compliment or thank you I got was both uplifting and intensely humbling at the same time. Being a part of the formal goodbye to such an incredible human will forever be something I cherish. Giving that eulogy will forever be a formative event in my adult life.

I put the actual text of my eulogy below. Some of Arzie’s friends asked for a copy of it and I thought that since I’ve been talking about giving the eulogy, you might want to read what I said.

For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Arzie’s “niece” Kristin. I use the air quotes because I’m not her blood relation. She’s my mother’s best friend. I’m Marian & Curt’s daughter. I asked Uncle Kenny if I could speak today and I’m so grateful that he’s allowed me to speak about Arzie–a woman who was very much my aunt.

Arzie. That nickname says it all. She was the perfect hostess. But not in a Martha Stewart kind of way–although I think she’d claim to have better cookie recipes. What made her the perfect hostess, the embodiment of Irish hospitality in fact–was how fun she was.

That’s what I’ll miss. That’s why I was so excited to be around her. It was the fun–carefree fun. She was fun in the truest, most infectious way. I started thinking about why Arzie was such an irresistible presence. She could make you laugh. And not giggle. Belly laugh. Pee your pants laugh. The type of laughter where you tell someone to stop because your ribs are hurting, because you can’t catch your breath. You knew whatever story she was telling was embellished, but you forgave the fabrication. Because it was probably the best laugh you’d had in a long time.

She was a relentless buster and fiercely competitive.  Arzie threatened to bring a kazoo to my wedding for a solid year. Said she would get a golden kazoo and hide it under the toilet at the wedding venue like Michael Corleone in the Godfather.

Then when I taught her how to make cosmos (that’s right I taught her and my mom the recipe although both deny it), Arz changed the recipe slightly and claimed that she made the world’s best cosmos. I remember one time at my moms when she asked me to remind her how to make her cosmos. “How do I make my cosmos?”

“How many cosmos have you had so far?”

“Shut up, Krissy. And don’t tell Kenny.”

Of course You forgave her incessant teasing because it was never bitter or malicious and because in the blink of an eye, the teasing would be self-deprecation. She would constantly joke about her weight—”Well, Krissy you’re not as skinny as me so you can’t really wear those jeans”. In these ways, her humor was quintessentially Irish—borne out of nostalgia, and good drink, and good old-fashioned self-criticism.

That good humor extended to her hospitality. And it extended to how much she loved her family and friends and how far she would go for them. I’m sure you all have a story about Arzie doing some favor or going out of her way for you. I have countless stories like that. Many of them have high calorie treats involved. One of my favorites is when she drove down from CT to Long island to help with my mom’s 50th surprise party. She was going to make her famous seven layer taco dip (again, the best dip according to her). But instead she came in like a hurricane–actually she called ahead to make sure that my dad had a Coors Light on ice for her.  So she comes in and immediately sends my dad to the store for cherry tomatoes. Apparently the tomatoes had all tumbled out her car’s back window on the way from CT to Long Island. “Well, I could retrace my steps and rescue each one. But then I’d be back in Connecticut, Curtie,” she laughed. The way she relayed the story about the fate of these cherry tomatoes was enough to make me and Dad (who were in the throes of party stress) stop and laugh and appreciate her friendship.

She loved her friends. Arz and my mom were friends since elementary school–apparently the friendship was started because Arz’s first choice playmate was sick that day. So my mom filled in. But Arzie was the type of person who made you feel so special, that even if you were second fiddle, it was enough to be in the band. And she loved her husband, my Uncle Kenny. And she loved all her boys–three sons with her same light, her same infectious humor. They are three of my favorite people. Arzie loved Bryan’s wife Maryellen, more daughter than daugther-in-law. And I think that family for Arzie was forever changed for the better with the arrival of little Caroline in the world–her little Care Bear.  In Caroline’s story of survival and perseverance we can see Arzie’s light there too.

03_3A 3I know it’s cliché but she could light up a room. And she could make you feel like you were the only person in the world who mattered. Not everyone has this special gift. Not everyone I know is as fun to be around as Arzie. And I’ll think of her fondly every time I fix myself a Cosmo.

My husband lost his father this summer and so my four-year-old Jackson has become prematurely well acquainted with loss. We explained to him that we are all God’s creation, on this earth for a certain amount of time, taking up a certain amount of space, and then we go back to God, our Eternal Father. We are His and His alone. I truly believe that and want my son to believe it. “Why are you so sad, mommy?,” he asked guilelessly. Because we are human and to be human is to be selfish. I will miss Arzie. Everyone who knew Arzie will miss her. If you knew Arzie for even a week, you would miss her. She was indeed a special gift from God, a light from heaven returned home. And if there is any solace in this tragic loss, it’s that a mother is reunited with a beautiful angel that God called away too soon.

*******************************

20_11And now…

Now I miss her more each day. I think this is the opposite of what people feel when they grieve. I don’t know. At least I’ve heard/read that for the first days, weeks, months, every object reminds you of the deceased. And then that sinking feeling subsides slowly over the first year. That was not my experience. I felt a level of acceptance of this tragic loss in the beginning but not so much now. Perhaps the eulogy delayed the stages of grief. Perhaps it’s that my Uncle Kenny is visiting Austin in a few weeks with my parents and I want Arzie to come too. I want to see her sitting my couch with a pillow on her lap, playing Words with Friends on her iPad, calling me “Krissy” and making fun of the uber-Modern chair we just got from Restoration Hardware. (Her house was an impeccably decorated country-style colonial. Decor was always something we agreed to disagree on.)

But I guess I’ll keep praying about it. I’ll lay  it at God’s feet. I know he’s listening…that is when Arzie doesn’t have His ear as she redecorates Heaven. After all, God needed a best friend too.

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2015 Goals

Notice how I didn’t call this post New Year’s Resolutions? I hate resolutions. So permanent. So scary.  If I haven’t made the change already, the chance that it’s going to happen just because there’s a new number on my calendar is pretty slim.

Besides, my New Year’s resolution always has to do with losing weight. This could be due to the barrage of Weight Watchers commercials and news pieces about dieting or fitness that tend to gather like media storm clouds at the beginning of each year.  Moreover, the weight loss resolution takes me right out of the positive, hopeful attitude that accompanies the new year. I’m constantly focused on my flaws, on what I don’t have, on what I’m not.

So this time, I’m setting “goals.” Much less intimidating. A goal is something to aspire to, not to fear. And since I’m solidly a millenial with a millennial’s attitude, if I don’t achieve my goals, at least I tried. I’ll still get that little trophy at the end of the little league season whether I got a hit or not. Right?

Pink-dress-lisa-lisa-simpson-7864705-303-550This is not to say that I’m going into 2015 with a laissez-faire attitude. I usually get it done when it comes to my goals. I’m the lady who gave birth to her first child and went to graduate class a week later so she wouldn’t be deterred from finishing her second Masters. (Confession: I also did this to scare impress the professor into putting in a good word for me at her school district.) Yes, I’m that person. I’m a Lisa Simpson.

With an eye toward achieving these goals, I thought I’d make them public.  They are all about self-betterment and therefore have a New Year’s resolution “feel.”  But they are about focusing on adding to my life and being thankful for what I have and how God has blessed me so abundantly.

Not about diets.

Here’s the list (in no particular order):

1. Drink the recommended 8 glasses of water per day. This lady drank a gallon of water everyday for four weeks and look at the difference in her face. I even bought a snazzy pink bottle that holds all eight glasses. I enjoy that it makes me look a little intimidating when I bring it everywhere because I’m all about the branding of my mommyness. Whoa, that lady is such a supermom she gets dehydrated from it.

2. Take real estate apps off my mobile devices & disallow notifications from all social media on my phone. The only notifications I get on my iPhone now are texts or calendar alerts or actual phone calls (<–what a notion!). I took Zillow and Trulia off because we are not shopping for a house until next year at the earliest. Looking at homes just makes me think of something I don’t own: a home. I should be focusing on the beautiful, spacious place we rent, incredible elementary school across the street, and fabulous neighbors like the Sipping Sisters. And as for the social media app notifications, I wish had the fortitude to do away with all of it but I don’t. And I won’t cause I like fotchbook and twitterest. But really? Do I need my phone to have a banner come up every time someone repins my pin about crockpot recipes? No. I’m busy trying to finish this enormous jug of water.

3. Take more iTunes U courses. I think I can replace listening to the same Taylor Swift or Pitbull songs over and over with listening to some podcasts in the car. And while I’m getting ready in the morning or doing dishes, I could be learning something. The course I started on the History of the New Testament is given by a Yale professor and it’s free! When I listen to him talk about Peters travels in Acts or the Gospel of Mark, I feel like my brain isn’t melting from laundry and child rearing anymore.

4. Practice yoga everyday. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes, even if it’s a few sun salutations and that’s it, I think this could be one of the more important parts of my day. I started this practice a few weeks before the holidays, skipping only a day or two. My back already feels stronger and I think I’m sleeping better. However, now with the 8 glasses of water, I’ll be getting up a lot more to use the bathroom. Rats! Foiled again!

Blank book5. Finish my novel Stagecraft. I told my agent it would be done by the time Darcy was born. Yeah, Darcy turns one next week. I better get on this. Where’s my Lisa Simpson hat?! There is some editorial interest in the novel so I owe it to myself to finish the book and see where it goes. If you’re on facebook, like the novel’s page and follow my painstaking process.

Okay, that’s it. I’ll post an update in a few weeks. I promise to be honest about my progress.

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Christmas Reflection

Dec. 27th…

This may turn into a 2014 reflection. In which case, I apologize in advance for the long-windedness and waxing sentimentality. This post will also be rambling and slightly incoherent. It’s 6:02 here in Austin. I’ve been up since 4:09 when my 4yo Jackson busted in our room in tears because he had a bad dream. Zombies again, I think. At 4:34, my 11-month-old dragon baby stood yelling at the corner of her crib and pointing at the red lights on the dropcam. On the monitor itself, Darcy looked like she was pointing at me, eyes glowing fluorescently with camera’s night vision. So I can’t promise anything too profound in this barely caffeinated state. Perhaps “reflection” was a bit of a reach.

So…reflecting on Christmas. This was something I tried in vain to do on December 25th but with all the cooking, cleaning, unwrapping, playing, talking, drinking…well, you know how it goes.

For the second year now, I hosted Christmas. This was something I’ve always wanted to do, even before kids, even before marriage. I alway envisioned my fully decorated home filled with good people, good smells of food cooking, and lots of laughter. That tableau is the Norman Rockwell version.

The saner among us (perhaps those who have hosted Christmas before) know that hosting Christmas is not all its cracked up to be. It is an endless “to do” of menial tasks and endless stress about budgets and whether or not your food will suck. To Do Before 12/25: cookies, cards, decorations, gifts, more cookies because you ate the first batches, menu planning, food shopping, cooking, freezing, defrosting, cooking. And somewhere in there, everyone gets sick and you are somehow supposed to make it to church. I totally failed on that last one. Christmas was most definitely an “Xmas” for us this year save a few reminders to Jackson that “IT’S JESUS’s BIRTHDAY!”

Last year’s Christmas was a blur. I was 36 weeks pregnant with Darcy. Unable to bend too much or stand very long, I can remember sitting on a step stool in my kitchen mired in recipe cards and dirty dishes and suffocating from the heat of the oven. I was just waiting for it to be over.

This year was much different in that regard. I made the conscious effort to accept any offers of help, to split up tasks and accomplish them throughout the month, to plan a menu that was simple, and to take lots of deep breaths. The result was one of the most enjoyable Christmases I’ve ever experienced and yet we had more food, more guests, and more wrapping than ever before.

They say many hands make light work. And mom, dad, my mother-in-law Karen, and C.K. did not disappoint. My mother-in-law, in addition to bringing several side dishes and desserts, helped everyday in the kitchen doing too many tasks to enumerate. By Monday we had basically a full Thanksgiving dinner to serve as our lunches and dinners leading up to Christmas. On Christmas day, she stood there washing and trimming mushrooms for about forty five minutes while I pulled together the other dishes and tried to hide my terror. She did so much in the kitchen that I looked at the dishes last night and thought “Oh, I have to do those?” She left early yesterday morning. Yes, Kristin. You have to do your own friggin’ dishes again.

And it was so nice to have her with us this year. This was the first Christmas we combined both sides of our family and I can’t even begin to express how lovely it was to see my children showered with attention from their grandparents.

My parents got here on Christmas Eve…just in time to take everyone out to a delicious dinner at Truluck’s. Last year, I made the traditional seven fishes dinner. And no, I don’t miss it. Dinner out on Christmas Eve for the win! On Christmas day, my parents arrived with three bags of gifts for us and then spent the day juggling an overtired sick baby girl, drifting in and out of the kitchen to clean and help with any extra tasks. Things just get done when my parents are around. A child is bathed. Clothes are folded and put away. A high chair is wiped down.

My husband, like my parents and mother-in-law, does too much to list here. I just give two examples of how generous a heart he possesses. First, he spent 2.5 hours putting together this Marvel Lego battle station thing at the end of Christmas day. When Jackson finished his bath, he strutted out in his Christmas pjs and promptly started taking it apart. C.K. didn’t complain at all. We did take a picture of him with the finished product for posterity though. And second, my husband, in addition to all his support of my “Christmasing” (especially the parts where I go over budget,) he got me basically everything on my Amazon wishlist.

Today we will celebrate Christmas with my little sister Maggie who spent her holiday working in the ER. She will never say it aloud but she is a fantastic physician whose medical knowledge is only outweighed by her compassion. I can’t wait to see her today, exchange gifts…and do more eating and drinking!

So Christmas was great. It was Darcy’s first. She killed it in her red velvet dress and despite being sick, she handled all the hoopla like a champ. And Jackson seems to enjoy it more every year. He is the best “gift-getter” I’ve ever met. Really, if any of you ladies out there don’t want to open all your bridal shower gifts in front of your party guests, Jackson will stand in. Upon opening his yoga mat, Jackson exclaimed, “A yoga mat! Finally! I’ve wanted one for so long. Thank you so much.” Every gift, toy or otherwise, was met with the same enthusiasm and gratitude. When I asked Jackson at dinner what his favorite gift was, he responded matter-of-factly, “my new jeans.”

Aren’t you lucky I didn’t go through the entire year? It’s late now but I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa, and/or a Merry Feastivus/long weekend. And may your 2015 be filled with joy.

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The Elf on the Shelf Debaucle

It sounded like a good idea. All my friends on facebook were doing it. All my church pals who had little kiddos were talking about it.

The Elf on the Shelf.

I decided that this year Christmas would be extra magical. There would be decorating of cookies, our annual Nutcracker trip, tree trimming, present wrapping…and now there would be a stealthy elf who would hide in a different spot every night. Jackson would wake up, find him (maybe even with a little note or an advent present), and be the happiest kid ever.

That didn’t happen.

It all started this Thursday. I put Darcy down for her afternoon nap and Jackson and I went and played on his iPad on my bed. (Disclosure: I dozed while he played on his iPad. It happens.) But before we retreated to the master bedroom, a package arrived. I spied inside and saw the box set, complete with cheaply made toy elf and the classic book that explained his mythology. While Jackson was getting out his iPad, I snuck over to the tree and put it in plain sight.

When Darcy woke an hour later, I walked out in the livingroom and the act was on. “Jackson! Something came from the North Pole.” He ran out, little socks trying in vain to grip our parquet wood floors.  “What is it?,” he said, eyes filled with wonderment and glee as he held up the box. I grabbed Darcy from her crib and sat down to read him the book.

“I bet some of your friends already have one,” I smiled. But then I realized that he might ask why we only just got a scout elf . Think fast. “I knew we would get our elf when Darcy came along.” (If you’re keeping score, that’s friendly fib number two.)

I read the book with such feeling. I highlighted all the parts about how the elf is magical and comes alive at night. For those of you who don’t know the Elf’s mythology, here’s a quick run down…

  1. He’s from the North Pole. (or Amazon.com)

  2. You have to give him a name. (Saves money on personalized box printing.)

  3. He comes alive every night and visits his friends in the North Pole then goes all inanimate during the day. He’ll always be in the different place though. (Think Toy Story when humans are around.)

  4. He reports on his child’s behavior to Santa.

  5. He comes every year on Thanksgiving night and leaves after Christmas.

  6. You cannot touch him. His magic will fade if you do.

So I made sure to highlight the magical-little-elf-who-comes-alive-at-night part. I knew Jackson would have a blast looking for him each morning. I downplayed the whole Foucaultpanopticon part. We won’t have any Big-Brother-is-watching-you crap in this house. Besides, Jackson is good–and not because he’s afraid of some fictional portly man who lives up north. Jackson behaves because he has a healthy fear of me and C.K. Duh. Like when I say I’m going to vacuum up his legos if he doesn’t pick them up…NOW. And then I walk to the hall closet. Jackson gets his little butt on the floor and scoops all those precious legos into their bin. Why? Because I actually will vacuum up those little legos. Anyone who has stepped on a lego with bare feet will know how insanely gratifiying vacuuming up legos might be. Eff those legos.

But I digress. We read the story. His face was so precious, so full of awe. He took the directive about not touching the elf very seriuosly, using it as an excuse to boss around his 10-month-old sister. “Don’t touch Mr. Elf, Baby Darcy. No presents for you!”

We read the book a second time. Jackson was still completely plugged in. Then I suggested we call his grandmother to tell her about this most magical event that has transpired. “Yes! Call Meema.”

And that’s when it happened. Not five minutes into that fateful Facetime call, Jackson’s mood changed. “I don’t like him,” he whispered, a grim expression on his face.

Jackson realized it–something we all know about the Elf on the Shelf. That shit is creepy. He’s small. He grins all the time. He wears a ridiculous hat. He watches your every move. And then, the worst of it, he comes alive when you sleep. Now, supposedly the Elf just goes to the North Pole. But Jackson doesn’t know that. Maybe the Elf breaks your toys, vacuums your legos, climbs into bed with you, takes your soul. Who knows?

“I don’t like him. I don’t like his magic,” he cried. Now there were tears. I told my mom I’d call her right back. And then the lies just poured out of me. “He’s a good elf. He’s not a bad elf.” (Shit. Now he thinks there are bad elves.) “The elf is just Santa’s helper.” “The elves are making your Skylanders.”

“I don’t want him!” Jackson screamed, really terrified now. I called my mom back thinking she would help. He adores his Meema. Surely, she would play along with this amazing little fib.

But she was no help. We’ll leave it at that. No, we won’t. Not only did my mom yell at me to get rid of the elf, she could barely contain her laughter that this had gone so horribly wrong for me.

All the while, Jackson is now hollering at the top of his lungs, “Get his magic out of the house!” And my favorite line: “Give the elf to the poor kids.”  This was a clear sign that another advent activity was going wrong. I want Jackson to pick some toys to give to Salvation Army or Any Baby Can. I’ve been prepping him slowly for this painful decision. I want him to know that others don’t have as much and so it’s important to make some efforts to take care of others. Evidently, he’s not absorbing these values.

 After getting off the phone with Meema a second time, I had to come clean. “He’s just a story and a toy. He doesn’t really come alive.”

And that was all it took. Now “Knob” the elf is a happy addition to our home. And every few hours, Jackson asks me to hide him again. He shouts, “Let’s play Elf on the Shelf!”

Jackson did agree, however, that we should keep the magic part for Baby Darcy. And for Daddy.

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Our Heroine Goes to the Pool

Recently I’ve added pool time to my stay-at-home-mom daily routine. It breaks up the afternoon and simultaneously gets us out of the house and out of the heat. As I float around today with my two babies, I can’t  help but ponder my pool times before the arrival of these cherubs in my life. Back then, my main objective was to look good in a bathing suit. Now, vanity plays a much lesser role. I smirk as I wonder “Does this count as my shower for today?”

Before kids, I would see how I could weasel another drink out whoever was dry enough to go inside. Oh hey, are you getting out? I’ll take another beer. And then there’s the internal monologue that ensue when nature calls.  Damn, I have to pee. That means drying off, going inside, wriggling awkwardly out of my bathing suit then pulling the wet suit back on. Would anyone really know if I just peed in the pool?


But any young parent knows that pool time with kids is different, much more than sucking in your gut and debating the ethics of swimming pool urination.
There’s the hyper vigilance of having to keep your children alive. There’s the cramp in my left arm that’s cradling my 21 pound six-month-old as she kicks her chubby thighs frantically through the water. There’s the repetitive, ridiculously loud exclamations of my four year old. And then there’s me, pacing back and forth in the shallow end, trying to engage in whatever deranged narrative Jackson has created for today’s play and employing phrases like “use your walking feet” whenever Jackson scampers dangerously around the cement edge.

And you know what? Pool time is pretty awesome. Today Jackson wants to play a live action version of Plants vs. Zombies. Darcy and I are the “plants.” I am equipped with a green beach ball that I pelt at Jackson as he repeatedly swims from the stairs to my location. Even with the aches in my back and my four year old droning on about how he wants to eat my brains, I’m enjoying his laughter. And even though he thinks he’s a zombie, I’m watching him teach himself how to swim as I move farther and farther away each time we restart the game. And Darcy is happy too. She’s floating in my arms, breathing the summer breeze, and feeling the contrast of the Texas heat and the cool water.  As a typical second child, Darcy has no pool toys of her own. Still the baby contently chews on Jackson’s old water wing. And she’ll take a nap when we return home.

I’ll take it.

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Kickstarter–SUCCESS!

I take a spin class every Friday morning and the teacher is both a spinning instructor and a yoga instructor. She oddly pairs yoga affirmations like “Be thankful for what your body can do” with spinning affirmations like “Let’s GO! Burn off that good livin’!”

Her style is off-putting to say the least. But today, when she inevitably tells her minions  to “Dedicate our class to someone” as we go on three minutes of climbing resistance, I will dedicate my spin class to everyone who helped get me funding on kickstarter.

THANK YOU!

THANK YOU SO MUCH!

With ten hours left, I’m 102% funded and I have 70+ backers. I’m grateful for your generous pledges. I’m also grateful for your support in bringing awareness to my project (and for not hating me the past few days when all I’ve talked about is kickstarter). The tweets, status updates, etc. were instrumental in widening North Shore South Shore’s audience.

Thanks for bringing me to the next step in this process! Thanks to you–I’m actually going somewhere. It’s quite the opposite of spin class. My legs cycle furiously to loud music and I get nowhere.

Next up: Electronic release!  Like my facebook page for details. (It’s coming soon. I’m sending the manuscript to a formatter next week.)

Have a nice weekend everyone!

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