Tuesday, January 31, 2017

bullet with butterfly wings

2017 is turning out to be an even ranker dumpster fire than 2016, no? Jesus Christ on a bike, everything is horrific. I'm going to try not to talk about it too much because it's exhausting. I've made more calls to elected officials in the past eleven days than in my entire life preceding this disaster. In the interest of giving my brain something else to do, here are some things that have happened that aren't governmental apocalypse-adjacent. I'm re-reading Harry Potter for the first time since the last book came out. I used to re-read all the prior books each time a new one came out, but I didn't have time after Order of the Phoenix, so I haven't read any of the early ones since then. I'm almost through Azkaban, which I suspect will remain my favorite. It's nice because now I hear all the actors' voices in my head doing the characters' lines. After this I might try to re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy since it also feels like it would be extremely timely. I'm also thinking about a re-read of Watership Down in remembrance of the author, who died at the end of the 2016 celebrity massacre. When I read it back in 2010 I loved it, so it would be nice to revisit it.

Nico has blossomed into a confident reader, and it completes me. He recently got started on the Magic Treehouse books and can read one to himself in about twenty minutes. He likes the companion research guides as much as (if not more than) the stories and has apparently been reading the Tonight on the Titanic research guide over and over in his free time at school. This has led to a barrage of questions, such as why weren't there enough lifeboats? Why did they say women and children first? Why did the Titanic break in half? It's all making me wonder how in the world the author managed to spin this as an amusing adventure for Jack and Annie while avoiding all mentions of horrible death. I guess I should read the book for myself.

I heard about bullet journals when they first became a thing, watched a few videos, and decided I was too much of a perfectionist to attempt one. Then all last year I was dissatisfied with my planner choices and lack of organization. In December as I looked at planner after planner that didn't meet my specifications, I found myself thinking, if only I could find a planner with daily pages plus pages for all my to-do lists, all in one book. Then I realized, hello, this is exactly what bullet journals are for. So I spent an evening looking at pictures and videos online and browsing Pinterest, decided on a few hybridized layouts that I thought would work well for me, and gave it a shot for the month of January. So far it's working out fantastically well for me, so below are some photos. I do wish I'd left myself six pages for Navigators to-do lists, because I filled my one allotted page by the third week of January and it annoys me to have to add another list section on a non-sequential page. Turns out perhaps bullet journaling is also going to be good therapy for my relentless Type-A tendencies. I only use it for personal life stuff, since I have an Outlook calendar and a separate daily planner at work. I also did not include a full monthly calendar page or spread because I use my iPhone calendar for all of that. I only list important or oddball events on my monthly page. I used a journal I've had lying around since before I got pregnant with Nico, because I didn't want to put any money into this project and then end up abandoning it. So far this journal has been perfect for my needs. Also, because this seems to be a thing people want to know, I am using a black Uniball Jetstream pen and a red Pilot gel pen right now. But I found out last night that Jetstreams come in red, and I plan to get one this weekend.

For fun, an update on Nico's hair situation, for lo, it is fabulous:

Reading:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Playing:  The Crane Wife by the Decemberists. I forgot how much I love it, and I bonded with some Twitter friends over our shared appreciation of it the other night, which is one of my favorite internet things.

I participated in a local rally and march on Inauguration Day. This was my sign.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

To my sons, on the last night of the republic

Little boys, I have so many things to say, and more things I don't know how to say. I'll start with I'm sorry. I'm so sorry there weren't enough of us adults who cared enough for you and your future to keep this from happening. I'm so sorry that we haven't yet figured out how to stop the hating, stop the fighting, stop the dividing and the judging. I'm sorry for any failing on my part that contributed in any way. I don't even know what I could've done differently, but I'm sorry for not knowing. I am equal parts heartbroken and furious that you may never remember America as it was under President Obama. While I do not think he was without fault or failing, I was proud to vote for him twice, and honored to call him my President. While the promises of his first campaign didn't all come to fruition, the message of hope took root somewhere in my being and carried me through eight years of progress and promise and the feeling that maybe we were going to keep our arc moving toward something better.

I've long been conscious of the weight of the responsibility of raising you to be good men in a world where those sometimes seem in short supply. Of raising you to be kind when assholes and bullies constantly get ahead. Of raising you to respect and protect girls in a culture that strips them of dignity in a thousand small ways every day. Of teaching you how to use your privilege as an umbrella to shield others rather than a weapon to subdue them. Now this weight has increased tenfold. It sits in my chest like a stone, it tightens my throat and makes my actual heart hurt sometimes. How can I carry your sweet spirits unbroken through the minefield of four years of the worst man, the biggest bully, being held up in front of you as an example of leadership and deserved victory?

I have always been an optimist, a pollyanna, a person who believes everything will be okay, but I'm scared. I'm scared and worried and angry and I feel helpless. I can feel my purpose diverging, splitting into two contradictory shapes. First, I can feel myself drawing in, circling up, pulling you close and wrapping anything I can use around you to shield you from all of this. It's my job to keep you sheltered and safe as long as you need me to do so. It's my job to let you be kids who don't have to worry about their country falling apart around them. I'm going to do everything I can to keep showing you the beauty and the good in this broken world, anywhere I can find it. Equally, I need to learn how to stand and fight. I am smart and pretty organized and really good at multi-tasking. I am not brave. I am not good at confrontation or argument. I don't like to rock the boat or tell other people what they should believe. But I owe it to you to figure out how to do and be all these things. I owe it to you to stand up for what I can, when I can, even when - maybe especially when - it seems pointless.

I have had my share of worries since becoming your mother, though admittedly less than most. I have had my share of doubts that I know what I'm doing, though also probably less than most. I have had my moments of fretting over the challenges facing you in the world as you grow up. But I never imagined I'd have to worry about this. I never realized I should fear the landscape of our country shifting beneath our feet, changing into something dark and frankly pretty terrifying. And for that, again, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't see it coming. I'm sorry I didn't know how to fight, or even that I should be fighting.

I still cling to a fierce hope that we will be sheltered and shielded from the worst of what's coming. I have to, to get through the days. I promise to do my best to carry you safely onward, to shield your hearts with mine, to shore up the foundation where it crumbles. No matter what happens, know that I love you both more than anything. You have made me and changed me and carried me, just as I have made and changed and carried you. Tomorrow I'm going to take your small hands in mine, and I'm going to face the storm, and I am not going to let go, no matter what.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Less than this.

I've taken advantage of two weekends mostly at home to start the year by tossing stuff out of this house. First I went through my own dresser and the stuff piled on / around it, and found five medium-sized diaper boxes worth of stuff to throw out, donate, or take to the consignment shop. Today I took the whole day to clean every bit of the kids' rooms. I even moved their beds and dressers so I could dust and vacuum underneath and washed the curtains. Going through their things yielded another diaper box of clothes to sell and a kitchen-size trash bag full of stuff to throw out. I finally repainted Nico's wall where I patched it before Christmas, and then while I had the paint out anyway I put a coat on the nightstand I bought to refinish for Elliott when he was a toddler. I keep finding stuff and more stuff and asking myself "Ugh, how much x does one family need?" and the answer is always "less than this." I'm not really a minimalist and I never got into konmari*, but it does feel nice to start the year with some divesting.

I roped MB into hanging up the corkboard I put together for the boys' state park pins and National Parks junior ranger badges, a print that has needed to be put back up in Elliott's room for at least a year, and a curtain rod so I can put a cute curtain up over Elliott's blackout curtain. He was efficient if not enthusiastic.

(Yes, Elliott still sleeps in a crib. He can't climb out, and also : last baby.)

On NYE I combined a painting and a frame that I bought on separate occasions at my favorite consignment shop and convinced MB to hang them in the dining room. I love this very much, even though I'm giving up on remembering to take a picture during the day without the lights reflected in the glass.

* I did co-opt one konmari thing - I refolded the kids' shirts so that they can see everything. I'm hoping this will result in them wearing more than a rotating three or four of their obscene number of shirts.

Reading:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I used to re-read the series every time a new book came out, but then I didn't have time once Order of the Phoenix came out, and now it's been years. A twitter friend is reading them for the first time and tweeting as she goes, and it's utterly charming and inspired me to pick them back up again. It feels like a comfortable cozy blanket to be back in these stories again.

Playing:  Hamilton, still.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Dead Reckoning

Past year-end posts: 2006 / 2007 / 2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015

A few weeks ago I didn't think I was going to do a year-end post. It seemed like it would be too depressing, after the disappointments of the past two months and the frankly somewhat horrific prospect of 2017. Then I spent a few evenings putting together a 2016 photo calendar for my mother-in-law and realized that despite the political disasters, my little family had a pretty great year. And as one of my twitter friends said at the beginning of the holiday season, I shouldn't let those monsters steal one more fucking thing this year...and so:

1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before? I drove in Chicago and lived to tell the tale.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? For the second (third) year in a row I didn't get back in the habit of doing monthly blog posts for the kids. For 2017 I'm going to try to keep an organized personal life planner, something else I have attempted and failed several times.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes! My best friend since Kindergarten had her spectacular baby in May, and he's the best.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016? Last year's wish list is still relevant, I suppose: Me time and the motivation to use it wisely. A well-organized personal life / planner. Bras that fit correctly. A Roomba.

6. Any memorable dates or events from 2016? I will always be sad that I don't get to always remember voting for the first female President of the United States. Other things that made me realize this year wasn't a total shitshow: taking the boys sledding for the first time, caving with Laura Danger, meeting my baby nephew, our Chicago / St Paul trip, reading the Mouse and the Motorcycle trilogy with Nico, the day my kids hiked five miles, the day we hiked the Punch Bowl at Turkey Run State Park

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
 I was a kick-ass scout leader and killed it at work, and still managed to take my kids on more adventures than ever.

8. What was your biggest failure? I wish I hadn't let myself get so caught up in election angst. I feel like I lost half a year to it, and nearly the whole holiday season.

9. Did anyone suffer illness or injury? I can't think of anything, so we must've been okay.

10. What was the best thing you bought? probably my iPhone 6 + lifeproof (waterproof!) case

11. Where did most of your money go? paying down debt, which still isn't very paid-down

12. What did you get really excited about? coming into our own as an adventure family

13. What do you wish you'd done more of this year? I wish we'd gone on more real hikes to more state parks. I wish I'd read more books. I wish I'd blogged more.

14. What do you wish you'd done less of this year? I regret the 14 pounds I gained, so I guess I should've eaten fewer of my feelings.

15. What was your favorite TV program? I didn't watch much TV this year. The current season of Project Runway isn't terrible. I'm hoping to get back to watching Supernatural in the new year.

16. What were your favorite books of the year? The best audiobooks that I listed to this year were The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater) and American Gods (Neil Gaiman). The best books I read on paper were Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.

17. What was your favorite music from this year? The Hamilton soundtrack, though I feel a sense of loss when I recall how defiant and hopeful those lyrics sounded before November 8th.

18. What were your favorite films of the year? The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film I have truly loved.

19. What did you do on your birthday? I had dinner and a game night with friends.

20. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? I'm going to have to go with Hillary Clinton winning the election for this one.

21. What was the best day-to-day thing you learned? I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks in the shower with my waterproof phone case.

22. Tell us a valuable life lesson from 2016. My life is kind of hectic, but I got this.

23. Share a favorite photo from this year:
I couldn't choose just one, so here are some of the photos that helped me realize how wonderful parts of this year really were:

24. One word to describe this year: It was both wonderful and crushingly disappointing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

thrift shop

I spent yesterday with my friend evilducky, on our twice-yearly thrift shopping trip. We hit every Goodwill in town, plus two other charity shops. I haven't added up everything, but I think I was pretty close to my planned budget of $75 for the day. Once I laid out all the stuff I got, it started to feel like a lot of things for that price. I got myself some work pants (for a dollar!) and summer camp / hiking shorts, plus quite a few new or like-new long-sleeved shirts:

I also got some short-sleeved shirts:

I got Nico a bunch of shirts - a pair of polos for school, two maybe brand new Children's Place dress shirts, some T-shirts:

I found a dress for an April wedding that is surprisingly flattering and comfortable:

I got little bags for the vet kits the boys are getting for Christmas, and a backpack for Nico who really wants one specifically for hiking. Even though we need another backpack in this house like a hole in the head, I think he'll be excited. I think the backpack is new.

Elliott really wanted a fireman hat from the children's museum gift shop the other day and I said no, but I'll say yes for a dollar. This may be horrifying to fans of Minecraft if that pig is some kind of official Minecraft thing, but the plan for that is to end up in the dog's stocking.

It's hard to tell, but that cooler is half the size of the typical personal Igloo lunch cooler. It's adorable and I feel like it might be perfect for Nico's summer camp lunches. I bought a long cooking fork thingie and some heavy duty tongs for campfire business. The book has really cool illustrations and info about interesting / unusual animals. The bird was 50 cents and is from the same line of cheeping birds for which I just paid 12 bucks a pop for the boys' stockings. The Smithwick's glass is for MB's brother.

I possibly wasted money on this, but it's a neat-looking train set that was $7.50. I had the idea that I could set it up to run in a loop around the bottom of the Christmas tree. We'll see. Right now I feel like the chance of achieving this thing that the kids would flip for was worth $7.50. I might change my tune if it turns out to not be in working order.

It was a really great day. I typically don't personally go in for retail therapy, but bargain hunting is definitely my jam. And it's always more fun to thrift shop with someone else.

Christmas activity report:

We hosted our annual kid-friend cookie painting party.

We visited the best Santa of all at the library, where Nico was chosen to be Rudolph and Elliott did adorably request a "noisy bird."

And we attended the annual holiday evening event at the children's museum, which was a lot of fun. I wasn't sure how it would go, taking two end-of-the-week-tired children out to play until 8:00 PM, but it was wonderful.

Happy Solstice! Three more days until Christmas Eve!

Monday, December 12, 2016

stocking / present post

Stocking posts are always fun to read and put together, so here's mine for this year. Santa usually brings a game or two and books to share, so here are this year's:

Nico asked for Sorry in a letter he wrote to Santa, after playing it at his great-grandmother's when we visited for Thanksgiving. We didn't have any particular favorite picture books this year, so I settled for the hot / cold books. I'm a little torn on the colorful creatures book. I really like the graphics - big pages of a bunch of photographs of animals in each color - but I'm not sure the kids will ever look at it. I still have the receipt, so I may return it. Or not. I don't know.

For Nico: a Captain America matchbox thingie, two packages of mini chess cookies, a Paw Patrol bath pouf, reindeer socks, two pairs of fuzzy socks (which he requests from Santa every year, to my delight), a dolphin tree ornament (he has liked dolphins since we visited the Shedd Aquarium back in May), Christmas themed underpants, a Paw Patrol learn to tie shoes book, Lego reindeer set, Rudolph bandaids, and a journal (because he told me he was planning to ask Santa for a journal this year also). After some overwhelming googling, a search at Barnes & Noble to learn what I didn't want, and some more refined googling, I chose Q & A Every Day for Kids. I hope Nico likes it, because I think it's pretty cool.

For Elliott: Captain America matchbox thingie, cookies, bath pouf, socks, a whale tree ornament, underpants (a moment of silence for the naive optimism I had last Christmas when I ordered these, thinking surely my child would certainly be potty trained at ALMOST FOUR YEARS OLD WEEEEEEEEP), Paw Patrol holiday book, Lego reindeer, bandaids. I may get him a cute blank notebook to scribble in for his own journal. I'm also planning to pick up a cheeping bird for each kid, since that's what Elliott has said he plans to request from Santa.

Every year I try to hold my buying in check, and every year I overdo it for the boys. This year I really tried to contain myself. Their birthdays are three weeks and nine weeks after Christmas, plus we are hoping to take two city trips this coming year and I'd much rather have spending money for experiences and souvenirs for them. I have one of these animal carrier / vet kit sets for each kid, which I will wrap up from MB and me. They both love little stuffed dogs and have a bunch. I'm glad I opened this one up for the picture, because the dog that came with it isn't that cute and it's weirdly stiff. I think I will try to find cuter / softer puppies to put in the carriers, or just let them use the multitude of puppies they already own. I also want to find some kind of pouch or bag for them to keep the medical stuff in, so that it's not always banging around in the carrier where the puppies are supposed to hang out.

I think I will also wrap up a Lego City set for each kid - I have several nice ones I've bought on clearance here and there, so that should be easy as long as I don't forget.

Did anyone else do a stocking / gift post this year?

Reading:  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Playing:  Hamilton. On their own the kids have started requesting my favorite tracks. I'm very proud!

Sunday, December 04, 2016


Despite not feeling much holiday cheer at all this season, I committed to my usual level of celebratory activities, mostly because the kids shouldn't miss out on a fun Christmas experience just because I'm terrified about the future of democracy. In this spirit of fake it 'til you make it, I broke out the red and green toe polish and put up the decorations and set up the countdown calendars. I took the kids to a reading of the Polar Express and a Christmas concert and a holiday open house. We had pictures done this morning and I ordered our holiday cards. I signed up for two ornament exchanges and scheduled a cookie decorating party for the boys and their playdate friends. My strategy is starting to work - I am feeling some genuine holiday spirit, though admittedly not to the usual levels. But it'll do. And I'll keep trying.