Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on Christmas

The gifts become a blur.
The wrappings are stripped away in a flurry of activity.

The boxes are tossed aside and trappings of the toys are hastily removed and discarded.

What will we remember?




Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Season of Giving

I had an interesting discussion with my co-worker yesterday about teaching our children about the spirit of Christmas giving. Her kids, ages 13 and 15, were spending the 23rd out shopping with their dad, looking for the perfect gift for each other and for their mom (my co-worker).

My kids, ages 6 and 8, do not shop for each other or for us. I remember being a child and buying presents for my parents and my sister, but don't remember at what age we started doing that. I distinctly remember the year I bought my dad a hammer. I wrapped the box so carefully and it turned out gorgeous, with perfectly angled corners and a ribbon tied just so. I couldn't wait to give it to him, but as I carried it to the tree I realized it was lighter than it should be. I had forgotten to put the hammer in the box! And I didn't want to ruin my wrapping job and re-wrap it.

No worries.

On Christmas morning, I handed Dad the box to open -- he joked about how light it felt and wondered if there was a gift inside. Little did he know there wasn't! He opened it, searched in the tissue paper for a while, and then I ran upstairs and got the present out from under my bed while the family laughed. It was the most memorable gift he received that morning. (At least to me it was.)

I don't remember the shopping excursions, and in most cases I don't remember the gifts I gave others. But I remember the stories like that one which fills the years with fond memories of Christmas.

Are we depriving our children of this same joy by not teaching them yet to give to others?

Yet I feel like they already have that spirit.

Every day for the past week and a half they've been coming home from school with various "treasures." Usually these treasures are of the paper kind, little love notes and drawings that they made especially for us. Marissa made a photo frame with a picture of her in it that she could not WAIT for me to open, so we didn't.

I've always told the kids that the best things they could give us are the homemade things, not something that comes from a store.

On Black Friday this year consumers spent $52.4 billion to kick off the holiday season. That's billion with a "b." Imagine the good that money could have done if we had spent it on something other than ourselves.

I think I'm okay that they aren't buying presents for others yet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Minneapolis: Big Town with a Big Heart

I've said it before I'll say it again: I love where we live. Even as winter descends upon us and we brace ourselves for bumper-to-bumper snowy commutes, and cold that takes your breath away and freezes the hairs on your face, I love it.

Here's a great example why.

I am on the email list for the Minneapolis Police 5th Precinct. On the other end of this email list are two Crime Prevention Specialists. They work with investigating police to enlist the help of the public to solve crimes.

Yesterday they sent out an email asking for assistance in gathering evidence for a burglary suspect:

On December 13, 2011, a suspected burglar was apprehended in the 3rd Precinct with several items of interest in his possession. One item was a camera that may have been taken in a burglary but we are unable to find a police report on this item. The camera is an Olympus Stylius. There are pictures from Vicksburg, MS of the Union Trench Matthies JJ Woods Brigade Historical Marker, one with a white male and female walking in the trench. If you are the owner of this property, please call Ofc. Goligowski at 612/673-XXXX.
Attached to this email is a document with a picture of the Vicksburg battlefield.
I'm pretty sure the police in my hometown of 7,000 people doesn't do this. Maybe they do, but if so, I would expect that of a police department serving 7,000 people, not of one that serves several hundred thousand. They aren't asking for assistance in solving a murder or an assault, but burglary, which is probably one of the lower priority crimes Minneapolis has to solve every year.

The best part was that a few hours later they had been flooded with so many calls they sent another email out to clarify:

We have been getting numerous calls from people asking if the camera we recoverd is theirs. The photos in the camera were taken in 2011, probably in March, in Vicksburg Mississippi at the Union Trench Battle field. If you weren't at that battle site, this camera is not yours.
Yep, there we go, showing our lack of reading comprehension skills as a public, and I'm sure that fielding all of those calls was frustrating. Yet the possible benefits of getting the public's help outweighed that hassle, and they had still reached out to us.

Earlier this year we were informed that the Crime Prevention Specialist positions in the 5th precinct were on the table to be cut by the city.  Budgets are tight everywhere, and Minneapolis was looking to the police department to be a part of cutting costs. The reason the 5th precinct was selected is because it is one of the safest areas of the city, and the resources in other areas are considered more critical to save.

It's kind of like saying that people who are physically fit don't need to work out. They are physically fit BECAUSE they work out, hello...

Because our two Crime Prevention Specialists have been the faces and voices of the MPD for this area, the public rallied. We showed up at budget meetings, wrote letters to the police chief and mayor and had tangible examples of all the ways the CPS positions have helped to keep this area of the city as safe as it is.

The positions were preserved, and we all got a touching email from the two people whose jobs had just been saved.

Now that's community.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Reindeer Run

This past Saturday I ran the Reindeer Run 5k with a friend who I met at Halloween. In our first meeting I discovered that she is a runner and has had her eye on the Reindeer Run as her next race. So we agreed to sign up together and dress up.

I found some Santa hats with leopard print trim -- sure, why not?

We had a lot of fun -- Lindsey's 30 mins 22 second 5k still stands as the record between her races and my own.

Our running gear was pretty tame in comparison to others. There were some who were *not* dressed up for the run.

Yes, seriously, we saw this guy. he arrived just as the race was starting. I would've too if the largest piece of my costume was my boots. It was 28 degrees at the start -- brrrr!

Monday, December 05, 2011

My Beautiful Girls

Without planning it, the girls happened to dress similarly one day, both in shades of black and gray, as had I (with the exception of a scarf to add some color.) We thought it was so funny we decided to take some pictures to document the event.

I love the headbands with similar red flowers, both of which were purchased in Tracy over Thanksgiving weekend.

They are growing up so quickly.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

First Snow

We finally got our first snow of any substance this past weekend. It was supposed to be a trace, it was more like 3 inches. It began around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and didn't finish up until after midnight.

I had been down at a neighbor's house that evening, and left her home to walk back to mine around 9:30. I walked outside to find 4 or 5 neighbors outside, shoveling, walking dogs or playing in the snow. It was a festive atmosphere, yet still quiet with the hush of new fallen snow.

My photo doesn't do it justice.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I've done all of 4 or 5 5ks runs in my life, starting with my first last November in the middle of a snowstorm. Remember that one?

Good times. No really, it was actually a lot of fun.

I'd like to say I've gotten faster since then, but not really. I spend most of my workout effort inline skating. After all, I really don't like running and it doesn't like me. If I'm ever out running and I see someone out skating I get envious that they're skating while I'm running. Well duh, get your skates on then, Jenny!

But skating is definitely a seasonal sport, and I have to find something to keep myself in shape when I can't skate, so I'm going to try to keep running over the winter.

And now, I've got competition.

Lindsey ran her first ever 5k the day after Thanksgiving. It was a run organized by someone in Wayne's running group to benefit an after-school program for low-income kids called A.C.E.S. They had an award for the fastest youth runner, and Lindsey won it.

She completed a 5k in 30 minutes and 22 seconds, or an average pace of 9:40.

She couldn't wait to get home to show me her 1st prize award, a small cowbell from a Ragnar run. And now she's writing an essay for school about how her first 5k time is 5 minutes faster than her mom's.

I think I have some training to do.

Lindsey on a "training run" with Dax on Thanksgiving Day.

Zombie Dog

After reporting several months ago that our beloved dog Dax has a serious eye condition, he is still here with us, with a new nickname: Zombie Dog.

His eye which has a floating lens in it goes from looking normal to being milky white in color. Usually after a few days it goes back to normal.

He definitely isn't seeing much out of that eye. It's easy to surprise him if you come up on his right. To let him back in the house after letting him out I slowly open the door until it hits him in the shoulder, because he doesn't see that it's opening until he feels the door on him.

He is snuggly and tolerant as ever to our girls, to whom his advancing age means nothing.

What a sweetie.

Thanksgiving Memories

For the second year, our family spent Thanksgiving just the four of us before heading to Wayne's hometown to celebrate with his family. In years past Thanksgiving at the Horsman's was overwhelming; grandkids playing and running around, a living room full of toys, a family room filled with bodies watching some holiday special on TV.

This year, it was just us, Wayne's parents and Wayne's sister, Sherrie. All the grandkids are grown and gone with the exception of our two, with their own families in all four corners of the country. A new great grandbaby was added to the family just last week, so one family was gathered in Colorado to welcome her to the world. Another grandchild was recovering from major brain surgery, and her family was gathered by her side in Rochester, MN, to celebrate and help out. Others gathered at their in-law's, and that left just us.

It was quiet; well, at least to us it was quiet. We bring our own noise with us wherever we go, named Lindsey and Marissa. We are so accustomed to their play that we do not realize how loud it can be to those who don't spend as much time with kids their age. Wayne's parents have 10 grandchildren and, with the latest addition, 8 great-grandchildren! It's funny to think that our two girls are closer in age to their cousins' children than to their cousins.

It was a wonderful holiday. I made the full traditional Thanksgiving dinner at our house on Thursday, for just the four of us. Lindsey piled mashed potatoes so high on her plate I couldn't imagine that one little girl could eat them all -- she couldn't. Marissa dug in to the cranberry jelly like it was candy (okay, so it kind of is). Marissa wore her pajamas all day, including for the dinner. That's what holidays are for!

Friday we headed down to Tracy and had a spaghetti dinner that evening which I had made ahead of time to bring down. Saturday the girls got to spend the morning with Aunt Sherrie, making Christmas cookies and eating donuts from the Tracy bakery. That afternoon we had another Thanksgiving meal, this one was of chicken casserole with salad and pie. (Thanksgiving is about who you're with, not what you eat.)

We spent the afternoon playing Quiddler, chatting and snoozing. A perfect time together with family.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Our Star Student

The week before Thanksgiving Marissa was selected to be star student in her class. Each child has an opportunity to be star student throughout the year, usually the week of his or her birthday. Apparently there were no birthdays that week, so Marissa's teacher selected her to be the star student, since she's got a summer birthday. The star student has to complete a poster about him or herself, and then gets special privileges all week like being the line leader and being the teacher's special helper.

Marissa was so happy to be selected! She brought home the poster and pulled it out to work on right away. What's her favorite color? Favorite food? Favorite vacation? She couldn't wait to share with her classmates. We looked through all of our pictures, carefully selecting which three would have the honor of being printed and taped to the poster.

Once it was complete she practiced presenting it with each of us several times a day. This is all over one weekend, mind you. This is the most Marissa has been excited about doing schoolwork -- ever. She was most excited about the end of the presentation, when she gets to say, "Any questions?"

Finally, it was Monday. The girl practically leaped out of bed, so excited to go to school and do her star student poster presentation.

She wore a special outfit with brand new sparkly tights that we'd purchased over the weekend.

I couldn't wait to pick her up that evening to ask how it went.

It went well, she reported. The favorite part that she told me about was when she said, "Any questions?" One little girl raised her hand and said how she also had gone to DisneyWorld.

Marissa's reply was, "That's not a question, that's a comment."

Nice teaching, Ms. Perez!

We're very proud of our star student.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It's been a while since I've written -- a little too much time taken up by Plants vs. Zombies, perhaps?

For all the silly little side stories and catching up I need to do, I just have one word for today: thankful.

I am thankful for things both big and small in my life. I do not know how I got to be so lucky.

A very blessed Thanksgiving Day to you all.

Friday, November 11, 2011

An Open Letter to Somebody Bigger Than Me

Hey You,

I just wanted to say "thanks" for making me strong and healthy. I appreciate that you think I'm such a strong person that you gave me all these burdens, but I am writing to tell you this: it's a bit much.

Thank you for making me a caring person. But I care too much sometimes, and I think have taken on more than I can handle.

My friend's 6-year-old daughter is having a bone marrow transplant today. My dad is in the final stages of treatment for cancer which by all accounts seems to have been eradicated. Thanks, by the way, for giving us human beings the smarts to be able to figure out how to treat this awful disease. If it weren't for the decades of research and work that had been done up to this point we wouldn't know how to diagnose or treat these two people who mean so much to me. I think of my uncle who is dealing with life after losing his wife to a 6-year battle with this disease, and wonder if he is lonely and how he is adjusting. At the same time, I found out that a neighbor of a friend of mine was just diagnosed with cancer, this just months after bringing home a baby she adopted from Africa. She is wondering who will take care of her child if she isn't here to do it.

My friend lost her baby at birth to a terrible disorder, and I think of her daily as she is home on her maternity leave, grappling with her grief.

Another friend of mine is miraculously rejoining life after a traumatic brain injury this summer.

Two people who are close to me have had depression enter their lives, and I think of them and wish I could help them when they feel hopeless, and worry that they will take the ultimate step of ending that depression.

I am thankful for all the good that has come of some of these situations, and am saddened yet and burdened by others.

So I'm going to unsaddle.

I'm going to hand these burdens over to you. I appreciate that you think I can handle them, but I can't. I can't fix them, I can't help them, I can only sit on the sidelines and watch what's going on. I feel helpless. So I'm going to give this over to you and ask you to help if you can.

Thanks so much.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Tooth Fairy Debunked

Marissa finally has her first loose tooth, at age 6 1/2. She is excited to be wiggling it and takes her tooth box to school every day in case it goes from just a bit wiggly to falling out of her mouth.

But I am sad to report that she let me know that she knows that I'm the tooth fairy! She hasn't even lost her first tooth yet! She said that Daddy told her this. I have not yet confirmed this with him, but I suspect her friends who have already lost 4 or 6 teeth have figured out that their parents are and have shared this with her.

Regardless, whenever the day comes, she will have a note under her pillow and a dollar from the tooth fairy. And she'll probably have a big smudge of a kiss on her face, because that tooth fairy loves to snuggle up kids while they're sleeping. I can't blame her.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fall Traditions

We had to buy new pumpkins this year.

Lindsey and I decided that zombie squirrels live in our neighborhood. They are zombies because they like to eat pumpkin brains.

Our pumpkins weren't carved, but that didn't keep the squirrels from eating right through them and making a feast of the pumpkin flesh and seeds.

So I bought a new pumpkin yesterday and we brought the survivors inside for carving.

While Lindsey loved getting up to her elbow in pumpkin guts, Marissa took a more conservative route.

Yes, those are rubber gloves.

After readying the pumpkins for carving we took a little walk with Dax to see the last of the fall colors. They were brilliant.


Then back in to see if the pumpkin seeds are done. They were warm and crisp from the oven.

Tomorrow will be the unveiling of the carved pumpkins. Nothing fancy, but lots of fun.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Evil Hair Days

Don't get me wrong, I love my curly hair. But sometimes it has a mind of its own.

And when it decides to go its own way, the results tend to turn out, well, evil.

Because when my hair misbehaves, it tends to resemble the hairstyles of various nemeses in books and movies.

Take this classic look, for instance.
Flattop, from Dick Tracy.
I achieved this one when I didn't pay attention while diffusing my hair one morning. I ended up with a bunch of curls on the outer sides of my face but the top of my hair was still flat.

Or this one.
Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men"
This one I managed to create when I decided to straighten my hair one morning, but I don't have a really good flat iron to do so. I kid you not, my hair looked exactly like this.

And I've managed to achieve this look several times.

Cesar Romero as The Joker in "Batman"
Yes, my hair will curl this way, especially on its own while I'm sleeping. It's crazy and sticks out in all directions, and wobbles in one big wave when I move.

The good part of having curly hair is that most mornings I wash it, I put a little product in it and let it dry on its own. Half an hour later I add a couple of spritzes of hairspray to keep it from frizzing throughout the day and I'm ready to go.

But when my hair decides to be bad, it is evil.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Listening to Ourselves

Tonight when I picked up my youngest from school I noticed right away that she was wearing some borrowed pants. Sure enough, near the end of the day she had an accident because she didn't make it to the bathroom on time. This after having an accident at the roller rink a couple of weeks ago and nearly having an accident while apple picking. She clearly isn't listening to the signals her body is giving her about having to go before it becomes an emergency situation.

As we walked to the car we talked a little bit about listening to our bodies. I said how our bodies tell us when we're hungry, when we're tired, and also when we need to go potty.

"Mama!" she says fiercely, "Nobody is in my body talking to me!"

I couldn't help but laugh.

She then informed me how her stomach told her when she was hungry, and her eyes told her when she was tired. She even demonstrated how her eyes half close when she's tired. But apparently no one lives in her bladder, because her bladder doesn't talk to her.

"My body only tells me two things: when I'm hungry and when I'm tired."

I hope she figures this out, but in the meantime it was an amusing conversation.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween Festivities

This year, I had an awesome idea for a Halloween costume.

A little history first.

Four Halloweens ago I dressed up as Amy Winehouse. This was when she was at the height of her career, with hits on the radio and a Grammy under her belt. Shortly after she began making news for her unsavory drug habit, for which she eventually went to rehab. It apparently didn't take, because she was found dead of an apparent drug overdose on July 23rd of this year.

And thus my costume idea for this year.

My problem was that I had nowhere to wear it. So I decided to create a place to wear it, and hosted a Halloween party with a few friends.

We scheduled the party for this weekend, when my sister was visiting from Indiana. She arrived in Minneapolis on Tuesday of this past week and spent three days with our girls during a break from school. They had an amazing time, going to the Children's Museum, going shopping, making dinner for us in the evening. We were utterly spoiled by her presence.

And because Kristi is an amazing, outgoing person, she packed a costume and was ready for the party with people she's never met.

Back to my costume idea.

Here is the original, circa 2007.
(Damn blogger, won't let it display in portrait. Tilt your head and deal.)
And yesterday's updated look.

Yes, Amy's been zombified.

What do you mean I'm dead?
Other players of the party were:

Kristi, court jester.
Lindsey, big bad wolf in grandma's clothing.
Marissa, the wicked witch.

Wayne dressed as himself, though he did pull out the orange Monster Dash t-shirt that had a skeleton on the front.

The party was a smash, with princesses, ballerinas, witches and others running around the house and on the swing outside, while adults in various costumes nibbled on food and visited over a beer or glass of wine.
It was a great time. Who knows, if someone else famous that I can imitate dies next year, we may just have to do it again. I've got a whole stack of "undead" make up to use up.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Restaurant Night

What do you do when you have a frig full of meals?

You have restaurant night!

This restaurant night was very special, because it was organized by my sister, Kristi, who helped the girls make actual menus earlier in the day.

What is restaurant night, you ask?

This is our family's way of dealing with leftovers. All available meals become items on a menu that people can select. They are reheated in the kitchen by the "cook" and served by the littlest servers. It's been a great way to make leftovers a fun meal.

When it came time to run the restaurant, I got to be one of the patrons sitting down instead of the one in the kitchen.

Why yes, you can take my drink order, thank you.

A serving of quinoa sounds delicious.

And dessert, compliments of Sweet Retreat? Yum!

What a fabulous meal!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Dog's Guide

I like to call him our first-born.

After all, he was born in 1998, a whole 5 years before either of our daughters, neither of whom know life without him in it.

I wrote a while ago about how he has an eye problem which requires an expensive surgery, one we have opted not to do. His quality of life is impacted, but as long as his eye condition is controlled with medication and drops, the condition is not painful nor life-threatening. This is what we've chosen to do, for as long as we can.

One day this past week Dax awoke early and wanted to start his day. I could hear him snorting and sniffing for attention from his sleeping companion, my daughter. Before he could wake her I got up and carried him to the top of the stairs, then set him on the floor to walk down the stairs, like he usually does. I started down the stairs but he didn't follow me. I looked back to find him sniffing and searching for the top step, reaching a paw uncertainly in front of him to try to feel his way.

I carried him all the way down the stairs and to the side door. I set him on the floor again and opened the door, only to have him not find his way out the door. On and on this went until eventually I had to carry him out to the back patio for him to relieve himself, then carried him back in. He found his breakfast by smell, and then found his way to the rug for his treat by routine alone.

It was pitiful. And thankfully it was temporary.

Once the day got started and more lights were turned on, his vision seemed to return and he was able to move around again with confidence. I can only guess that his limited vision is impacted by low light levels, and returns once there is more light.

He has always been a companion dog, preferring his humans to being alone, but he is more so now. He follows me around constantly, mirroring my every move as I go up stairs and down, cooking or doing laundry, or putting the kids to bed. If I am sitting in a chair he can access he will jump up and make himself comfortable right next to me. If he can't sit next to me, he will stand or sit near my feet.

I have come to realize that I am my dog's guide. I hope I am a good guide in the autumn of his years.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Apples vs Pumpkins

Our family trek to Afton Apple this year to pick apples was taken over by pumpkins.

Did you know that when four people pick you can fill an apple bag to the top in about 5 minutes? And our time among apple trees was cut short by Marissa's announcement the minute we were dropped off in the orchard that she had to go potty -- immediately. This after refusing to go potty before we left the house, at the Subway we had lunch at on the way there, or at the main entrance of the apple orchard when we first arrived.

We miraculously made it back to the main building in time and then were able to enjoy the rest of the day. There were hay bales to climb on, a petting zoo, and a playground partially made of farm equipment.

There also was a pumpkin patch, where the girls spent lots of time picking out the perfect pumpkins.

Lindsey fell asleep in the car on the way back, and took a nearly two-hour nap once we arrived home. She awoke in time to eat my favorite fall meal: stuffed pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy, followed by a piece of homemade apple pie.

It was a great way to spend a beautiful, crisp fall day.