Saturday, December 27, 2014

Never Too Old for Toys

Some weeks ago Lindsey began working on her Christmas list.

She wrote down -- with gusto -- fuzzy socks. Pajamas. Lip balm. Manicure set.

"I don't really want the same things for Christmas I used to want," she observed.

She is 11 going on 12, after all, and this year there truly is no doubt in her mind that her parents are Santa. There were no pretenses of asking me to mail her list to Santa this year, she simply handed it to me with a "here you go."

And because she doesn't believe her little sister, for the most part, doesn't believe. There have been a few times over the past few weeks when I've had to stop one or both of the girls from going into a closet that had gifts stashed in them. "Why can't we go in there?" Marissa would ask, "Presents," Lindsey would reply.

Yet Christmas morning, the magic was still there.

Not-so-little bodies filled with excitement as we prepared for bed on Christmas Eve, squeals and giggles as they imagined what was in the presents under the tree, and what other gifts would magically appear before morning.

We played musical beds in the middle of the night due to excitement which made sleep hard to come by. We awoke early, made kids go back to sleep, and finally got up around 7:30.

We had the special treat of having Kristi join us this year, decked out in fuzzy red pajamas with matching Santa hat. She helped me "play Santa" the night before, wrapping the last of the gifts and even wrapping a forgotten 5:30 a.m. (All communicated via text from two floors away.) She really IS a Secret Santa!

Coffee cake, coffee, presents, and glee.

Lindsey wanted to get something for everyone in the family. She spent her own money and bought Caribou gift cards for her parents (always appreciated), a candle for Kristi and a stuffed toy, movie and "squishy toy" for Marissa.

Over the past few weeks when Marissa saw Lindsey wrapping presents for her, she wanted to get something for Lindsey, too. So she wrapped a piece of pottery she had made over the summer and a book that had been laying around the house. Lindsey expressed great delight and gratitutude as Marissa jumped up and down with excitement. Marissa had purchased a gift for her too, but I think the unwrapping of the "here's what's laying around the house" present was more fun.

Lindsey got a pair of boots from her Aunt Kristi, who cleverly wrapped just one, then hid the other boot in a sweater that had been wrapped separately. Wayne got a "gift" of a plaid shirt and plaid pants (non-matching) from his family to make up for the gifts of clothing he got last year. He got real gifts too, don't feel too sorry for him.

Plaid, anyone?
All the gifts were unwrapped by 8:30. One hour is all it took to unwrap every single item under the tree.

And for as much as Lindsey hadn't put toys on her list, she put enough toys that she spent the rest of the day playing with Magnatiles and her new Disney Sleeping Beauty figurines, while Marissa entertained the family with her new karaoke CDs from the Hoyt cousins and microphone stand.

No one fought. No one asked Marissa to be quiet. Everyone said "please" and "thank you" and were polite to each other.

Now that's the true magic of Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Six Pounds of Sugar

I found these in the garbage this morning.

Lindsey had been saving the full-sized candy bars from Halloween for after our sugar challenge was done and planned to have them the day we were done.

Except she realized that if she ate them she would get all crazy first, then get sluggish and want to take a nap. And since it's the beginning of Christmas vacation she doesn't actually want to take a nap, she'd rather enjoy her time off than nap.  Her solution was to throw the candy bars away today so she wouldn't be tempted.

A couple of years ago I would've been the kind of person who would've fished them out of the trash (Hey I'm not above this, they were JUST thrown in, there was nothing burying them yet!). Except now the idea of eating them myself is quite intolerable.

What an educational two weeks it's been.

I learned that sugar is in EVERYTHING. Just start reading ingredient lists. It's hard to avoid.

I learned that drinking coffee without sugar is just fine. Not my favorite, and I really, really loved my sugar in my coffee, but I can live without to avoid the sugar roller coaster for the day.

Eating a sugar-free diet is nearly a gluten-free diet, because sugar and flour go together in most foods. Our family ordered pizza once during this two weeks, and Lindsey and I ordered a gluten-free pizza because that was the only way we could avoid sugar. I've seen friends of mine eat those unleavened cardboard-looking things in the past, and they always looked so unappetizing. But when you've adjusted your diet and aren't accustomed to how sweet and filling regular pizza crust is, it's actually quite delicious.

I've discovered that I actually have will power. When I tell myself I absolutely cannot have ANY, then I don't.  I get in trouble when I tell myself, "Just one bite," because I don't stop at one bite.

And I've been shocked and surprised to find that I lost 6 pounds during these two weeks. Six. Pounds.  That's crazy talk, because I've been thinking about those 5 pounds I want to lose, and I dropped six like that. [snapping fingers]

Lindsey learned that she likes wheat bread better than white, but she's excited to go back to white flour pasta. And dessert, but only every once in a while, because her energy was definitely more even.

For me, here's what's sticking:
  • Sugar free coffee
  • Wheat bread, not multigrain (which ironically has more sugar)
  • Sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes
  • Non-sugary afternoon snacks
  • Sugar-free peanut butter
  • Wheat pasta (when I eat it with sauce I can't tell the difference)
I won't avoid white potatoes/white rice altogether like I've been doing, but substitute wheat and brown rice here and there.

It's been a great two weeks, and truly is the start of a new journey in healthy eating for me. Now to get the rest of the family on board...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Honey. Awww, Sugar Sugar.

Wow, I have rarely gotten so many responses so quickly on a blog post. Sugar is clearly on people's minds. I heard from lots of people who have done a sugar-free trial, eat low-sugar diets or otherwise watch their sugar intake. Lots of notes of encouragement and "good luck!"

We're a week in. How are things?

So far, awesome. This has not been as hard as I thought it would be.

Well, I have a confession. There is one item, okay, two, that we didn't cut out of this diet. Well, two and a half, depending on how you interpret the third.

One is bananas. On a sugar free diet you are supposed to stay away from bananas and pineapples, the fruits with the highest glycemic index (HGI) of all fruits. I put a banana in my protein shake at lunch, and haven't changed that plan. (Seriously, it's a banana. In a protein shake. I think we're fine.)

The other food we're still eating is corn, also a HGI food. We aren't eating corn as a side dish, but we bought blue corn chips to go with salsa, and if a food has corn starch or corn product in it we aren't staying away from it. Corn taco shells? Yes. Corn on the cob? No. That's our interpretation. She's a kid, she needs to eat something she likes, so that's what we decided.

Some resources said absolutely no alcohol, others said alcohol in moderation. I am doing the "in moderation" thing. They recommended red wine;  I am all over that.

There are my confessions. Not bad, I'd say.

One thing that I miss terribly -- sugar in my coffee. That has honestly probably been the biggest adjustment that I've had to make. But what a way to start your day, with a jolt of sugar to get your sugar roller coaster started. I have noticed my energy is more even without it.

Sugar for coffee has been relegated to the cupboard.

Also, there is one little snack that Lindsey and I are both missing; it was a nasty habit, but oh so good. Here's how you make it.

The Evil Duo
What You'll Need: A jar of peanut butter and a bag of chocolate chips.

  1. Pour a small amount of the chocolate chips on the countertop. 
  2. Get some peanut butter on a knife, then dab the peanut butter on the pile of chocolate chips until some chips stick to the peanut butter. 
  3. Eat the peanut butter/chocolatey goodness off the knife. 
  4. Repeat. 

(By the way, you don't ever want to come to our house and let me feed you a peanut butter sandwich after the number of times a knife that has been licked has been put back into the peanut butter jar. Just saying.)

This had become our after-school/work snack. And worse, we could never get the proportion of chocolate chips to peanut butter exactly right, where you don't have leftover chips or peanut butter, so you are always getting just one more little dab of peanut butter for the 3 chips that are left. Except now you've got too much peanut butter so you spread a few more chips out there...oh now there's not enough peanut butter for that...

You get the picture. Even worse, it's wicked easy to "make," so it's incredibly accessible.

By the way, we replaced our peanut butter, too. Found several options that have a really short ingredient list: peanuts. No sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, no nothing but peanuts. You have to stir them and they are not sweet, but tasty all the same.

Move over, Skippy "natural," you've been replaced.
Now when she gets off the bus she's snacking on some gluten-free crackers (no white flour) or some cheese and sausage. One day she came home from school and had absolutely no energy, as she hadn't eaten enough at school. She ate some veggies and a piece of toast and pretty soon she pepped up.

I am loving eating sweet potatoes instead of white -- they are more flavorful, in my opinion. And if you're looking for a "sweet" recipe to try, this is one way I prepared them.

  1. Skin and thinly slice sweet potatoes (however many you need)
  2. Place in a ziplock bag and toss with olive oil, sea salt and pepper.
  3. Put them on a roasting pan or jelly roll pan, bake at 350 degrees until tender but not brown, about 15 minutes.


We'll see how week two goes, I may extend this challenge, and there may be some foods that I keep permanently out of my diet.

Lindsey and I both agree, though -- we are having coffee cake Christmas morning.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sugar Free and Care Free

About a week ago Lindsey told me she'd like to go on a sugar free diet, and asked me to join her.

What 11-year-old asks this? One who overheard me quoting an article (with infographic) about how much sugar Americans eat, around 130 pounds per year. In the Forbes article they stated that The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 teaspoons per day. The average American adult eats 22 teaspoons per day; more disconcerting is that the average American child eats 32 teaspoons per day!  Think about the affect of those 32 teaspoons on little bodies and brains that are a fraction of the size of adults, and you start to understand where our country is heading healthwise, and why ADHD diagnoses are on the rise.

I digress.

As long as Lindsey was not asking out of some misguided idea that she needs to lose weight, I was all for it.

So....what does it mean, to not eat sugar? I mean, sure, I've got a sweet tooth, but a sugar-free diet has to mean more than just skipping dessert, right?

Boy did I get an education.

I learned that you can be as strict or as liberal on a sugar-free diet as you wish. It is naturally occurring in fruits and some vegetables, some dairy and in all leavened breads in some shape or form. The resources I read said to cut out white foods because the point is to cut out foods with a high glycemic index, so no white potatoes, no pasta (unless it's wheat pasta), no white breads, etc.

Oh boy. This is my pasta-loving, white bread sandwich-eating kid. Hmmm....

We made a list of the foods we couldn't eat and those we could, and headed out to the grocery store, where the practical application of our education began.

It took us two hours to get $100 worth of groceries because we spent so much time reading labels. First Lindsey began by looking for sugar in the list of nutrients, but then we realized that naturally occurring sugars are listed there, too. So we started looking for sugar and its relatives in the ingredients list.

Sugar is in EVERYTHING. Holy cow.

All yogurts contained sugar. Ironically the ones that were marketed to kids contained more sugar than the regular yogurts. Now I understand where that 32 teaspoons per day comes in.

We read bread labels until we found a whole wheat one that had an acceptable amount of sugar in it.

We read cracker labels until we found a few with no sugar. (They are quite yummy, too.)

We bought whole wheat pasta and bread.

The cereal aisle proved to be the most daunting. We knew the obvious ones -- we could spot them from a mile away.
19g of sugar per serving. Excludes the milk.
But the healthy ones? All had sugar. The only two we found that met our guidelines were Grape Nuts and Nabisco Shredded Wheat. Luckily Lindsey eats and likes both of those.

Most surprising was when we decided to make tacos one night and were looking through the ingredient list for taco seasoning. We usually buy Ortega taco seasoning, but just to make sure, I read the label.


I start picking out other brands. The only one we found that did not have sugar in it was Old El Paso.

While we were doing this picky sugar-free shopping, the store was packed with ingredients to make baked goods for the holidays. We even picked up chocolate chips because Wayne asked me to make a batch of cookies for him to take in to work the next day. (Which I did and totally did NOT snitch any of the batter OR eat a cookie!)

After reading so many labels to try to avoid sugar, the sight of a pallet of sugar was almost disgusting to us.

And so our journey began. Lindsey asked to do this for two weeks, because she doesn't want to miss out on coffee cake on Christmas morning. I couldn't agree more.

We're nearly a week in. Check back soon for an update on how we're doing after a week of sugar free eating.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Were We Swindled?

We've migrated to become an Apple family.

It started with the iPhones, then with the ease of syncing the phones to a Mac. Now it's two Air Mac books, two iPhones,  two iTouches and an iPad.

One of the big draws has been the lack of viruses and worry about suddenly having your PC compromised or infected. We were confident in this, until this past week.

One Sunday, Lindsey tried to log on to the Mac only to get the following message when she opened Safari:

"Your computer has been compromised. Please contact Apple Support immediately at 1-800-XXX-XXXX."

You could open other programs but could not access the Internet. So Wayne called the 800 number, was on hold for about 10 minutes, and then got through to a person who identified himself as an Apple support person.

Wayne gave the person the IP address for our machine and the person took control of it remotely. He noticed immediately that our firewall had been disabled, and after some searching on our hard drive determined that we'd been hacked and that someone had access to all of our logins and passwords.

Meaning our financial security was at risk.

He gave Wayne two options:
  1. Take the Mac to an Apple store. They would need to send it away to get it scrubbed and put virus protection software onto the computer. It would cost about $149 and we would be without a computer for an estimated two weeks.
  2. Allow their personnel to install this software remotely right at this instant. It would cost a little more, $199, but would be done immediately, security would be restored and we wouldn't have to go without our computer.
Of course, given those two options, Wayne opted for #2. The Apple support person transferred the call to a third party that would do this work for us.  The Mac spent the next several hours running scrubbing software, resetting security systems and being worked on by someone who I can only believe was in a time zone halfway across the world, because at one point during the chat the person said, "Good Morning," even though it was nearly 11 o'clock at night.

Three hours and $200 later, the Mac was ours again.

The next morning, I questioned the validity of this whole process. how hard would it be to install a program that makes a message pop up saying your PC has been compromised, and give a false 800 number for you to call? Then have the person on the phone give you the worst possible scenario and offer to charge you $200 to "fix the problem?"

And really, when is it every more expensive for someone to fix something remotely, and cheaper to send it away? Usually it's the opposite, as companies don't want to have to spend time and money on the logistics of shipping and tracking their products to get them fixed.

It reminds me of bullies who offer to "protect" weaklings from bullies. Meaning from themselves.

But no matter, we have the virus protection software, we're out $200, and our peace of mind has been restored.

Kind of.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Giving Up

A quick photo before all the clothing changes. (Note the stocking feet on Marissa.)
 Today was supposed to be a celebratory day.

This morning was the Girls on the Run 5k run. Marissa has been in the program all fall, all 10 weeks of it. While they train for a 5k, they also do great activities promoting good self-image, anti bullying, and other confidence boosting messages. That's rather ironic, considering what happened today.

On October 30th we had the practice 5k, which didn't go well. Actually, it didn't go. Unbeknownst to me Marissa had planned to walk the whole thing. Since we didn't get started until 5:00, I didn't have an hour to walk around the lake, as my husband was traveling and I had to pick up my eldest from Minneapolis Kids by 6 p.m. We ran for a little bit, then we walked, I cajoled her to run, she responded by refusing to move. In 20 minutes we had gone approximately a quarter of a mile. So we turned around and left. We walked back to the start, which was also the finish line, and could see and hear other girls finishing. In the time that it had taken us to walk a half a mile other girls and their running buddies had run 3.1 miles. Marissa was so embarrassed that we didn't do it that we intentionally walked a path around the finish so they couldn't see us ducking out.

The next session the coaches asked the girls how it felt to run the practice 5k. Girls talked about it being exciting, fun, challenging. Marissa's response was that it was embarrassing and disappointing because "my mom didn't want to walk it."

So it's my fault.

I felt awful. I felt horrendous. I felt like the worst mom in the world. I thought to myself, "I'll make it up to her for the 5k. If she wants to walk the whole thing, we'll walk it."

That race was today.

Of course it was all of 10 degrees this morning, and snowing. Rock star weather to have a bunch of 9-11 year olds run a race. But this is Minnesota, we're hearty people, and we know how to layer like nobody's business.

It began by Marissa refusing to get out of bed. "Why is this so early? I'm not even up this early for school." she complained. 

She got dressed. She didn't like what she was wearing. She changed her pants. She changed her shirt. She put on snow pants. Then decided not to. Then took off a layer of pants and put the snow pants back on. She put on running shoes. Then took off the running shoes and put her boots on.

We were 20 minutes late leaving the house, and we were already planning on not being there right when the activities were supposed to start. At this rate we were barely going to make it in time for the start, assuming we knew exactly where the start was and drove right there.

Which, of course, we didn't. I knew the race was at Como Lake in St. Paul, but had missed the message that due to the inclement weather they had moved the pre-race activities to Como Elementary School, just a hop skip and a jump from the lake.

But which side of the lake? I drove all the way around the lake at least once. We stopped and parked at the rec building on the lake, but it wasn't there. We got back in the car and drove around some more. In the meantime, Coach Kristi was texting asking where we were.

Well fuck if I know.

Once I found out it was at the elementary school I started driving towards it, but they had already left the school to walk down to the lake. We drove around the lake some more. Finally I saw some Girls on the Run volunteers, parked near there and figured we'd get to the start from there. They informed me that the start line was about a half a mile down the path and pointed us in the direction of the start.

We began walking to the start, me texting/talking to Coach/Aunt Kristi as we walked. We could see all the encouraging words and sayings printed in chalk on the race course. We got a ways down the path and then Marissa sat down on a bench.

What a 5k run is not supposed to look like.
"I don't want to do this," she said.

We talked about how she had trained for weeks, had spent lots of time with her teammates, how her friends were expecting to see her. We talked about finishing what she'd started, and that this was the BIG FINALE. 

She would have none of it. Finally I said that we'd wait there, when the runners started coming by we would find her friends, get in the pack and then pick up the race from there. Because of the weather they had already said that if you only wanted to do one loop around the lake instead of two you could. 

"Let's just walk the one loop," I said. She said nothing.

We could finally see the first runners coming our way. "Come on!" I said. "Let's go!"

"No, let's wait until they go by," she said. 

"What are you talking about? C'mon, let's join them," I said.

"I'm too embarrassed. No one else is wearing snow pants. Let's just go home."

Eventually that's what we did, both of us in tears. 

I am frustrated. I am angry. I am disappointed. And she is all of these things, too. We both talked in the car on the way home how disappointed we both were in the day. 

After a while she went up to her room, and a little later I found her sitting on her beanbag chair, crying. She said she was upset about missing the 5k, disappointing her teammates and disappointing herself. And she blames it all on my not knowing where to go for the start line. 

It's my fault. Again.


She needs to take responsibility for not wanting to do the race. She had plenty of opportunity to still do the run/walk, even though we were late. Those were her decisions to not participate, not mine. We talked, she got mad, and she told me to leave as she curled up in a ball, sobbing.

"Now you know what it feels like to give up," I said. "It doesn't feel very good. I don't recommend doing it again." And I walked out and shut the door.

Maybe it was harsh. I don't think we are harsh enough at times. She needed to hear it, better to learn this lesson now.  Later on she came to me in my room as I attempted to nap away the bad feelings from this morning, curled up and snuggled up to me, tears still on her face. 

We're still sad and disappointed. Everything that Girls on the Run is not supposed to be.

Rock star day.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fabulous Fall

Fall has come to an abrupt end today, but it's been an amazing one.

The trees turned color slowly, seemingly one species at a time, lengthening how many weeks we had to enjoy their colors. The wind stayed calm, so the leaves stayed on the trees until when they finally fell, they made that satisfying crunching sound when you stepped on them.

We have a majestic maple in our front yard that we planted years ago for its spectacular color, and it did not disappoint.

This year the girls were able to hold their tradition of "helping" with leaves one day so I could get lots of pictures of them. Raking leaves into a pile only to throw them about and leave them in random piles isn't exactly "helping." Last year they never got to do this because it rained the entire month of September. Who wants to play in wet soggy leaves that acts as camoflage for hidden dog poop? Yeah, no.

But this year it stayed dry all September and October, so we headed out.

I am now awaiting a collage that I made of the various pictures I took, which will adorn our wall upstairs. At least until I get the snow pictures taken.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Flower Girl Times Two

When Marissa was in 1st grade she had a nanny who would come in the morning,  spend time with her and take her to school. We were quite lucky to find her; I had met her through social media networks and she had babysat the kids a few times. When we were left with a gap in morning coverage before school started, we couldn't think of anyone who would be willing to nanny for just 1 1/2 hours five days a week.

Then we discovered that Katie was happy to do it.

Katie became a big part of Marissa's life, and even after the school year was over and she wasn't nannying anymore, we stayed in touch and she often would come and take the girls to the Holidazzle parade, or to Caribou for a treat or other outings. Katie eventually moved to England, fell in love, and came back to get married before moving overseas for good. (At least that's the plan.)

I was honored that she asked Marissa to be a flower girl in her wedding.

One of Marissa's friends from school was also asked to be a flower girl, so Marissa was super excited to have a friend to hang out with during the activities.

What a week it was.

Katie's fiancé's family and friends trickled in over the course of a week. They planned activities all week long so everyone could get to know each other, and of course Marissa was invited to every part of it. We pulled her out of school early on two days for the rehearsal and the wedding itself, which was a Friday evening affair.

This one gets me teary-eyed just looking at it.
Throughout the week, I learned what a loving and generous family Katie comes from. I learned about her selflessness in putting others first, and her love of children (not just our own kid). I also learned how much she enjoys social media, expressed by the Twitter bird on her wedding cake.

Marissa gloried in the affair, in being in the spotlight (as much as flower girls are), in being in a pretty dress with flowers in her hair.

Guests blew bubbles on the happy couple for their first dance.
Unfortunately Lindsey came down with a miserable cold the day of the wedding, so she and Wayne ended up staying home for the wedding itself while Marissa and I were off for the evening. I hardly saw the girl all night, she was having so much fun playing with Eleni, the other flower girl, and the ring bearers in the wedding party. They had so many kids in the wedding party that they actually had a kids table just for the kids in the wedding.

Now that's a kid's table.
I sat at a table with neighbors of Katie's parents and Nicole, the woman who had introduced me to Katie through social media, and her 17-year-old daughter.  Not shocking, we managed to have a blast. Nicole even got to keep the fabulous British hat of the mother of the bride, who insisted on finding someone in the United States to give it to so she didn't have to take the thing back with her on the plane.  Hats that size aren't normally her style, but she said she wouldn't be a "proper English mother of the bride" if she didn't wear one.

Me and "Astronaut Abby," Nicole's daughter, both wearing the hat of the mother of the bride.
It was large enough for two.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Kids Write the Darndest Things

For 4th grade, one of Marissa's weekly projects is a "Common Core" reading assignment. A passage comes home on Monday, and every night a different exercise around the reading has to be done.

This week her reading exercise is about informational text. The first day's assignment is to read a bar graph about the planets' distance from the sun and then answer some questions.

She dutifully answers the two Monday questions about the bar graph, and then ponders the last question:

"How does the graph help you understand the passage?"

She thinks about it and then writes her answer:

And there you have it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Overheard at the Inline Marathon

This past weekend I skated the North Shore Inline Marathon, my fourth or fifth year (I've lost count). And unless you know the sport of inline skating, there are lots of things you can overhear at a marathon that you might take the wrong way. Things like...

"You're so big, I could draft behind you forever."

"Want me to pull?"

"Did you squib the whole race? Oh man, that's embarrassing."

"Who wants to pull now? I'm beat."

"If you can't keep up the pace you should fall back."

"She's like a locomotion, get behind that engine."

"He's great at breaking wind."

I heard all (except the squibbing comment) just today.

Put in context:

Drafting in inline skating is just like drafting in biking: someone takes the lead and others fall behind, benefiting from the leader taking on the wind resistance. The person in the lead is called the "puller." If a person drafts the entire race and is never the puller, s/he is called a "squib." It's not cool to be a squib.

I am always faster in races than I am skating alone because of drafting. And, if you are built like me, I benefit from drafting behind tall, broad-shouldered skaters, usually guys. Even if I take the lead, they never get the benefit of drafting the way I do, because I can tuck behind them and be invisible to the wind. They never get that break when they draft off my 5'6" frame.

I ended up skating the majority of this race with a guy named Chris from Superior, WI. He is tall and broad-shouldered, and we both were skating about the same pace. We tried to get in with other drafting lines, and a couple of times other people drafted off of us, but for most of the race, until mile 24, we were together, taking turns being the puller.

Which was when I made the first comment I wrote. Yep, I actually said that to a man I do not know. And neither of us laughed, we totally took it in context.

We skated together from probably mile 4 or 5 all the way to mile 24, where the pavement gets really sketchy and drafting lines break apart for safety reasons. Last year I saw three people bite it because they were drafting on this part of the course and the girl in front went down, taking the two who were right behind on with her. Not a pretty sight.

Even though I skated with Chris the majority of the race I couldn't find him at the finish line, because I didn't know what his face looked like -- I never once saw the front of him. He was wearing a North Shore marathon shirt from several years before which many skaters were wearing, and I had no idea how tall he was when he wasn't tucked over or on skates.  If he'd put his helmet on turned away from me, I probably would have recognized his neck hairline.

Last year a friend of mine saw a t-shirt at the race which read (on the back) "Do my muscles make my butt look big?" Which is totally funny to us skaters, who spend the majority of races looking at other people's backs and asses.

For posterity, so I remember next year what I did.
My fastest mile was the first one of the race, which is all downhill. Before I knew it I had passed the one-mile marker. Turns out I skated that mile in 3 minutes and 18 seconds. My top speed of the race was going down a hill near the end of the race when I reached 25 mph. Such a rush. I'm going to have to do this one again.

This year Wayne decided to run the half marathon that starts at 7 a.m. He beat his goal time and had a great race. He loved it so much that our friend Junal, who lives in Duluth, has already decided to join him in the half next year. Because seriously, who wouldn't get up at 4:30 a.m. when this is what you get to see and you get to run or skate alongside of this for 13.1 miles?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Tale of Two Downtowns

I'm a little over a month into my new job now, and eventually I will look forward to my work-from-home days.

But for now, most days I'm commuting to our corporate office in Oakdale, a city east of St. Paul, for training. As much as I'm not loving the drive, it's easier to be there while training. Plus I get to know my new co-workers this way, see pictures of their kids and pets, put faces to names and email addresses.

Mapping my route to work.
Do not be deceived by the "35 minutes" estimate. That does not take into account the traffic into and out of two downtowns. While the drive is only actually 25 miles, it takes me an hour to get there in the morning, and more than an hour in the evening to get back.

On the way, I get to see this.

Downtown Minneapolis.

 And this.

Downtown St. Paul.
And eventually this.

How far am I going here?!
Which amuses me to no end. I'm used to seeing this sign only when we're actually leaving the state of Minnesota and going to Wisconsin to visit relatives. So to see this on my morning commute makes me laugh.

The days I'm driving in the girls take the bus home and Lindsey has the key to get into the house. I'm happy they are old enough to let themselves in and be home alone for a little while until I get home.

The drive through two downtowns is pretty cool. But I have to say, I look forward to the day when I don't have to do it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Two Kids. One School. Finally!

Finally -- one drop off, one school. Big changes for both girls.

For the first time since Marissa was in kindergarten, Lindsey and Marissa are finally in the same building. Their school is broken into Lower (grades K-3) and Upper Campus (grades 4-8) buildings which are an annoying distance from each other. Too far to walk but so short to drive that you spend more time at stop signs than actually driving.

Lindsey is in 6th grade;  middle school for her. This means she has 3 minutes between classes to get to her locker, change materials and get to the next class. She was nervous as could be Sunday night. She spent hours organizing her school supplies, labeled the binders and determining which ones would be used for which classes.  I kept reassuring her that all the 6th graders would be in the same boat, no one would know their schedules or where they're going, but it didn't do much to allay her fears.

Marissa is moving to the Upper Campus, where she will have more autonomy and responsibility. She also has the fabulous Mrs. O'Hara as her teacher, who was Lindsey's 3rd and 4th grade teacher. She already loves her teacher and her class. Even though she doesn't have many friends in her class at the beginning of the school year, knowing Marissa she will have lots by the end.
Another big change is that for the first time in their lives, the girls are taking the bus home from school. Now that I'm at a job where I'm working from home, they can take the bus which drops them off around 4:30. And a couple times already their first week, I was in our St. Paul office for the day and I gave Lindsey the key to the house. They let themselves in and the girls had their backpacks hung up, lunch boxes on the countertop and had started homework by the time I arrived home.

Marissa brought home a math test with specific directions from the teacher that students work on it alone with no corrections from parents, so the teacher could get a sense of each child's knowledge base. Marissa completed it in 10 minutes flat and when I looked it over she had gotten everything right, a far cry from last year's start to the year with her math assessment.

Lindsey got to sign up for an elective specialist and she opted for choir. She decided to drop orchestra after two years of viola.

More independence. More challenges. More fun. Bring on the school year!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Save the Animals but Break Children's Hearts? Apparently So.

Marissa visits with a guinea pig at Unleashed.
Back to the reason for Camp Kristi.

For several years, many of Lindsey's friends' parents and I have gotten together to plan our girls' collective summers. It would be easier and cheaper to put them in Minneapolis KIDS for the season. Instead, we chose to organize carpools, change work schedules and do what I've termed the "summer schlep" to create rich and rewarding activities for our four musketeers.

We do this planning in February, as many camps fill up within the first week they become available. We go through numerous websites with some easy and some difficult forms, pay for everything in advance on credit cards and then each week of the summer work out details of carpooling and after-camp drop-offs. This gets coordinated between two girls because Marissa doesn't always want to do the camps Lindsey does, and also has her own friends that she does activities with as well.  Many weeks we are dropping one kid off somewhere and the other somewhere else, then picking them back up at different locations than the places they were dropped off at. It's a lot of details to keep track of; I practically need a minute-by-minute scheduler for the mornings and afternoons. Oy.

Last year Lindsey and friends had participated in a camp hosted by the Animal Humane Society called Unleashed, and Lindsey absolutely loved it. They spent the week learning about different animals and visiting all the pets waiting to be rescued.  She talked about it so much her little sister wanted to take part in it this summer, too. Great. Let's make that week easy and register both of them at the same time, then work out carpools between the families.

This is one of the camps that fills up in a matter of days, so the minute the summer programs were available in February I completed a registration for both of them.  I felt like I was in a race to get concert tickets for a popular artist. Yet another website, another confusing registration form to figure out, and then afterwards, instead of getting an email confirming their registration information, I got an email that said the information was available on the website and gave me the link to log on to retrieve it.

As if a month later I could remember the username and password to one of a multitude of websites that I had filled out. I always said I'd check it later but didn't until the Friday before the camp, at which point I realized I had made a mistake.

In filling out the form, I had registered both Lindsey and Marissa for the camp for 3rd and 4th graders. Lindsey was supposed to be in the camp for 5th and 6th graders along with her friends. I was surprised the form even let me make the mistake. The form asked for the 2014-15 grade for the student, and I had entered "6" for Lindsey. So why would it let me register her for a camp for 3rd and 4th graders? I know that online forms can be programmed to limit selections users can make based on answers to questions, but this form was not built to do that. Even more surprising was that in the six months between when I filled out the form and when the camp was to take place, no one at AHS had caught my mistake either.

"Easily remedied," I thought, "I'll call the camp and let them know my mistake, they should be able to  add her to the roster for the 5th and 6th graders."

Silly me.

I was informed that she would not be able to take part in camp with the 5th and 6th graders, that not only was the camp full (I knew that; a fourth of the campers were Lindsey's friends), but there was a waiting list and this wasn't fair to those who were on the waiting list.

"Yes I understand," I said, "but I'm not asking you to add someone who suddenly decided today she wanted to go to this camp, I have already paid for the camp. I did so six months in advance, as a matter of fact. I am just asking you to put her with the appropriate age group so she can take part in the camp with her friends."

Sorry, I was informed. Not possible. The only way she could take part in the camp was by doing the curriculum with the 3rd and 4th graders. No exceptions. The good news, I was informed, was that she would be doing the camp with her sister.

I was pretty sure Lindsey wouldn't think that was "good news."

Oh and by the way, there are no refunds at this point in time, I was reminded.

Late Friday afternoon when Lindsey got home from the final day of that week's camp experience, I let her know of the error and of our only option, which was to take part in the camp with the 3rd and 4th graders. She resolutely refused to do so and said she wouldn't go to the camp.

At first I told her she didn't have any choice and had to go. I was all of two weeks into a new job and would be driving to Oakdale for training throughout the week. No one would be home and we had nothing else lined up.

After discussing with Wayne and Kristi, they both sided with Lindsey that it was a bit much to ask a middle schooler to take part in the camp with 3rd and 4th graders. They convinced me that the embarrassment factor was quite high, especially when she would be within eyesight of her friends who were in the other camp group.

We decided to take the risk that the camp counselors would be more accommodating and try to send her anyway. I had been talking to someone in the main office, who clearly has to follow the rules. The person I spoke to on the phone didn't state that safety or census requirements would be violated by accommodating this one child, only that it wasn't fair to others on the waiting list. Surely the counselors themselves would be more understanding.

Thankfully Kristi had much of the week off and was going to be dropping the girls off at camp on their first day anyway. If it didn't work out for Lindsey to take part in camp, she and Kristi would make plans for the week.

When Kristi arrived at the camp with the two girls in tow, the counselors had the groups line up by grade; 3rd and 4th graders on the left, 5th and 6th graders on the right. When they saw that Lindsey's name was with the 3rd and 4th graders, they said she would not be able to switch groups. Kristi explained the mistake; they understood the issue as they had been told about the phone call the prior Friday, but there was nothing they could do. Either camp with the 3rd and 4th graders, or don't camp.

"Then she is not taking part in this camp," Kristi said, and they walked away. A fellow parent who was dropping off Lindsey's friends saw them leaving and asked what was going on. He couldn't believe that an 11-year-old was being turned away from camp.

Kristi and Lindsey ended up having a lovely day, and ultimately an amazing week. After the first day of camp I received an email from the camp asking for feedback. They got it and I subsequently got my refund, minus the administrative fee, which is fine; I took up their time and energy to process her registration and deal with my ire. They also received letters from the parents of Lindsey's friends, who expressed their dissatisfaction with the "options" we'd been given, and expressed how not having Lindsey be a part of this camp affected their own children's camp experience.

Lindsey visiting the animals (and her friends) at AHS while picking up Marissa at the end of the day.
Here's my point on this: people make mistakes, and clearly I was at fault for registering for the camp incorrectly. No one caught the mistake for six months, despite my having identified her as a 6th grader on the form. When I realized the mistake myself, there were no creative solutions presented. No solutions at all, actually, considering that the impact of this mistake fell upon an 11-year-old.

I fully support the good work of the Animal Humane Society, but I do not choose to support them through their camp offerings. We will not be signing up for this camp next year.  I urge anyone who does so to make sure you register your kids correctly.

Tell-Tale Tourists

Wisconsin Dells has a population of 2,600 people and its neighboring town, Lake Delton, has a population of 2,900. Which totally explains the dozens of restaurants, water parks, attractions and theaters in these towns.  Actually, families like ours explain all of that -- tourists.

Look out! The Floria-Horsman tourists are in town!
Spending a week at Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells is like being transported to another world, one in which money doesn't matter because everything you do you charge to the room. Even buying tickets to other attractions in the area can be done at a discount and charged to your room. Why not do it all, it's all free!! (Ignore that piece of paper under your door on the last morning of your stay, it means nothing.)

Since it was all free, we rode the Ducks, those 7-ton hunks of 70-year-old metal that move from land to water and back again. You may remember them from that beach in France.

Lindsey went zip lining while the less adventurous of us went on a horse-drawn carriage of a canyon. Yes, a canyon, carved by a prehistoric glacial lake smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin.

We explored different restaurants and spent hours in the various pools at the GWL water park, sipping those free margaritas by the outdoor pool while the kids splashed and played in the water.

We posed for a 1930's gangster style photograph and had to keep straight faces through our giggling.

We spent a rainy morning in the arcade, spending that "free" money to buy cheap prizes for entertainment.

We ordered ice cream, muffins and iced coffee on a nearly daily basis from Bear Paws, the cute bakery/coffee shop/ice cream shop in the resort. Why not, it's all free!

Our last evening we went to the Del Bar for dinner, a restaurant that's been run by the same family since 1943.  We were the only ones wearing our typical tourist t-shirts with GWL water park bracelets on our ankles. The hostess took one look at us and said, "Enjoying the Dells?" We were the tell-tale tourists in this place, because everyone else looked like locals.

When we walked in I felt like we had stepped back in time, in a really good way.

The bathroom was vintage, with alternating pink shades of tile on the walls and floor and a lounging area before the swinging doors that led to the toilets and stalls. And while the bathroom was entertaining for the girls, their wine list was extensive and their steaks divine.  That had to be our best meal out of the entire week.

Our best customer service experience was at the arcade at GWL. Lindsey had won a game that dispensed 1,000 tickets. (For context, the previous day her entire evening's activities netted her only 285 tickets.) They put all the ticket points on a card which is then traded in for prizes. She couldn't decide on which prizes to get, so she decided to wait and come back later.

Unfortunately she lost the card in the few hours she had to hold on to it. We tore the room apart, looked up and down the hallways in case she had dropped it, asked various housekeeping and retail staff and eventually declared it lost. We went back to the arcade and explained what had happened. The manager took our word for the number of tickets that were on the card and gave us a new one with exactly that many points on it. What could have been a downer for Lindsey turned out to be a high point.

I keep saying that each vacation we take is the best vacation we've taken. I guess the best vacation we've ever had is always the one we took most recently. Each time, we are making memories we will cherish. I'm pretty sure that's the point.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Don't Scare Me Like That!

Our youngest daughter has a bit of a dramatic flair. She's the one who will tell you her toe was "practically ripped off" on the playground, only to see that the actual injury was just a small scrape. She'll milk any injury for what she can, unless she doesn't know she has it. One time I pointed out a large scrape on the side of her knee and asked, "How'd you do that?" She didn't have any idea it was there. But once she knew, boy oh boy, it was the reason why she couldn't bend down to pick up her clothes off her floor.

When she started complaining of a painful neck a week or more ago, I took her complaining with a grain of salt. A large grain of salt. I expected it to go away, yet after three days she was still complaining about it. She said it hurt to take a full breath, but the pain was in her neck. I couldn't feel anything and massaged it, thinking it was tight muscles. She kept complaining. Her Aunt Kristi listened to her lungs, since she said it hurt to breathe, and she sounded fine.

Finally, one day last week she came up to me with her back to me and asked me to feel her neck. From behind, I could tell that one side of her neck had a hard lump. It almost felt like a bone it was so hard, but I knew it couldn't be. It was located where she had a lymph node on the other side, which is normally soft and rolls around a bit under your fingers. Not this thing -- it was hard and stuck in place.

I know people tell you not to do this, but it's hard not to resist. I can make a personal recommendation on this one: do not Google health symptoms, especially "hard, immovable lymph nodes."  The first page that showed up was the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, followed by the American Cancer Society and then the oncology page for the Mayo Clinic.

I made an appointment for her at her pediatrician's office at 11 a.m. the next morning to have it checked out.

I absolutely expected the doctor to come in, examine her and say, "Oh it's this muscle group, blah blah blah, have her do these stretches and ice it. Here's a sticker."

Instead, he found the spot after much description from Marissa and pointing from me, and got a puzzled look on his face. He asked another pediatrician to come in and assess the spot as well, then the two of them went into the hall to consult.

"Well," he said when he came back, "It could be a muscle group that's spasming, but if that were the case she would be in a lot more pain. We think she needs to see a specialist to get a second opinion, so we'd like her to see an ENT. Today."

We already had a relationship with an ENT due to Marissa's ear tubes and adenoid surgery as a baby; amazingly enough, he had an opening at 2 o'clock.

The ENT also found the spot on her neck and said it was a deeply seated lymph node that was acting up; none of the other lymph nodes were involved, and otherwise she was a very healthy girl; no fever, no night sweats, no loss of appetite. However, the possibilities if it was an indication of a greater illness was too serious not to fully investigate.

He ordered a CT scan, and insisted that we have it done as quickly as possible. When we were first given an appointment time of the following Thursday, he had his nurse call the hospital back and get it moved up to the very next day.

While I appreciate that the physicians wanted to get us an answer as quickly as possible, the fact that they all wanted this thing checked out immediately was disconcerting.

Friday morning was supposed to be the start of our vacation. Wayne was going to be starting his Ragnar 200-mile race Friday morning, while Kristi, the girls and I were going to be driving to Wisconsin to spend the weekend with my parents. Instead, Kristi and I and the girls would be checking Marissa in at the hospital for this procedure, while Wayne debated whether or not he should do the Ragnar race at all. (I insisted that he did it.)

This felt like the start of a journey I did not wish to take.  

The ENT thought Marissa would have to be put under for the CT scan because they would need to put in an IV to inject the contrast dye and he didn't think she'd sit for it. The next morning when we got to Children's Hospital, the nurse there thought that she would be able to do it while just using nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas. We decided to give that a go.

Marissa got to keep the mask that's in her hand.
Apparently my hair looks like an afro that reaches the ceiling under the effects of laughing gas.  We told silly stories to distract Marissa and she did really well.

We got the results on Tuesday of the following week: normal. She does had one swollen lymph node and the ENT recommended putting her on antibiotics to help her body fight whatever it's fighting, but otherwise she is a perfectly healthy kid.

We were so relieved.  That's a scare that I can do without.  And now, on to vacation at Great Wolf Lodge.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Camp Kristi

Summers are supposed to be fun. Sleeping in, playing games, biking with friends. At least, that's what it should be to me. My kids have different summers than I had, since they have two working parents. But this means their days are filled with day camps that are a blast, something I never had as a kid.

Except when something happens and your child is turned away from going to a day camp. That's what happened to Lindsey when her registration for "Unleashed" got screwed up. She had been looking forward to this camp hosted by the Animal Humane Society all summer, only to literally be turned away at the door on the first day of camp.

Her Aunt Kristi was supposed to drop her off that same day, only to walk away with Lindsey still by her side. They could have walked away dejectedly, heads held low. But not them.

Instead, they went and had breakfast at Bruegger's. And then they made plans for the rest of the week.

They went to the Big Thrill Factory.

They went horseback riding. They went to the Galaxy Drive-In for lunch and played chess on a huge chess set that made Lindsey feel like Alice in Wonderland.

And of course they had to visit the animals at the Animal Humane Society, which was her favorite part of the camp that she was sad to miss. That way she got to see her friends at the end of their camp day, too.

We came home from work to a tired, sweaty and smiley girl. All thanks to Aunt Kristi, who gave Lindsey one of the best "camp" experiences of her summer.

Thank you, Aunt Kristi!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On Turning 50

To make this clear -- I have not hit 50 yet. But I have friends who have, and they have funny ways of celebrating it.

Our friend Mark had a backyard party to celebrate his 50th. We drank and ate and laughed like teenagers, while our kids ran around spraying each other with the hose and jumping on the trampoline. Some of the moms took a turn on the trampoline as well, showing off with backflips and somersaults. Gymnasts, those two.

Yesterday a group of us celebrated my friend Janey's 50th with a pedal and pub tour of Minneapolis breweries. Our friend Eric (henceforth known as Eric the Bike Man) organized the tour, with his considerable experience of the bike trails of Minneapolis. We met at their home, close to Lake Calhoun, to begin.

This was probably the most fun I've had on a bike. Ever. Rain sprinkled on us a bit on the way between stops, which made it all the more fun.

We biked to Harriet Brewery in the same amount of time it would have taken to drive and park, minus the hassle of driving and parking. It happened to be Food Truck Festival day, so the parking lot was filled with about a dozen food trucks Chicken wings, burritos, fish tacos, cupcakes, smoothies, pick your palate and enjoy.

Then off to Fulton Brewery, a brewery that started in our neighborhood of Fulton and moved its operations to downtown Minneapolis near the Target Field, where the Minnesota Twins play. Another food truck and an amazing patio, with a view of downtown Minneapolis.

We ran into a group of bikers wearing matching jerseys that read "Liver Strong," with graphics of a liver that is actually a beer tap. They had stickers to share with all.

At one point Janey commented to me that she felt so fortunate to have friends who were up for this adventure. As I looked around at the group, I realized that at age 43, I am the youngest. Everyone would be classified as mid-40's to early 50's. Biking for 12 miles at an average speed of 15 mph was no big deal for any of us.

We talked about moving out of our homes and taking over one of the beautiful condo buildings we biked past. When we get old.

By the end of the evening I had determined a philosophy for turning 50:

Turning 50 should feel like being a teenager again. Only with money.

Just good health, good friends and good times.

I'm pretty sure a classmate of mine wrote that in my yearbook back in 1989.