Sunday, November 30, 2014

helping, drama queen, Christmas

This kid encourages me to do yoga. "Let's go to the basement, mama," he prods. When I acquiesce, he gets to watch a movie of his choosing and tries to tip me over when I'm barely balancing on one foot. Yes, we have two TVs next to each other. It's for Steve, so he can watch RedZone and Dolphins at the same time. But it works out for me while doing yoga, too. Everyone should have side-by-side TVs!
Yesterday was just about as perfect as the end of November can get. We got a 60 degree day so I ran to the lake and Steve played golf and at the end of the day, we got this sunset.
My boys get to watch TV every day. Perhaps too much, as I'm noticing that lately everything Brandon says sounds like a cartoon character - "hooray!" or "we did it!" - basically a lot of exclamation marks. Well, that and yesterday he said, "I'm sad," and when I tried to cheer him up he said, "don't make me happy." He is dramatic on either side of the emotion spectrum.
This is the first week Holden has showed any interest at all in books. He is growing into a boy that wants to be like his older brother.
I'm thinking about reinforcing nap time for Brandon. Every time it's afternoon and we drive anywhere  he falls asleep in the car. Which makes me think he really is tired, he just fakes it to get out of naps. This kid is outwitting me at every turn.
The sweetest sight you ever saw. Holden's hair finally seems to be turning blond.
Our first attempt at a family selfie. Not the best thing ever. But it will do. #whyismybabysheadbiggerthanmine
I just reactivated my Twitter account, so I feel the need to insert hashtags everywhere.
I love the day when we put out the Christmas decorations. Brandon came downstairs and said, "it's Christmas, mama!" Then he pulled his step stool up to the tree and rearranged the ornaments.
Addressing the Christmas cards tonight while watching a JTT classic. Time to get that portion of my night started!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Good shit

I know, I know, I'm unoriginal and completely cliché and ordinary. But here is what I'm thankful for this year: 

Adoption - that my wonderful daughter is being raised by loving parents (and that there is this beautiful alternative to the other two choices in surprise pregnancies)
Books and baths. Couldn't choose. Plus they go together so well.
Coffee (Crane Coffee particularly!)
Donuts (shout out to you too, LaMar's!)
Etsy - for all the homemade things in my house that constantly remind me of what I can't make myself
Fantasy Football - I love it and I hate it. But I'm guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, so today I love it.
Groom (aka, Stephen. All the other letters that might have worked were already taken). For loving me as I am, as I was, and as I will be. It's awesome to be loved 360 degrees.
Home - I love my little nest where I am safe and warm and happy
Instagram - sometimes I just hashtag Pacific Northwest when I'm feeling homesick. It's amazing that anything you want to see is there, and not in the creepy Google Images kind of way
Jigsaw puzzles - and to you, Charles Wysocki for puzzles that aren't just cats, flags, or beer cans
Kids - they test me and completely love me at the same time. I love them for it.
Library - I think they're getting pretty sick of my mug around there by now. But they ain't getting rid of me (until I have too many fines on my card, of course)
Music - instant mood lifter. And the boys dancing around is an added bonus.
NikePlus app - for motivating me to run and to PR. Not that those little motivating voices do anything for me, but the record and PRs and trophies are what a geek like me needs to push herself beyond her treadmill runs.
Ob/gyn - I know this is a bit unorthodox, but mine kept me and my baby safe eight months ago on the scariest day of my life. 
Parents - and not just my parents for being my parents - for the way they parented me: I appreciate it so much now that I have kids of my own. My morals and work ethic I credit to them growing those alongside me. 
Quality Time - the time I spend with my family when we are fully engaged in each other - at the children's museum or the zoo, or playing together in the toy room. Sometimes I catch myself smiling that this is my life and these boys are mine.
Running - not just because I lost 60 pounds. But also for the mind clearing and mellowing it provided me. We all know I need as much of that as I can get.
Siblings - ah, the people who know me best. Seeing Joel last weekend was good for the ol' soul. We reminisced about how tight we were that dreadful summer in 2005. He got me through a hard patch and we're laughing about it now nearly ten years later.
Therapy - not the lying on a couch kind, but the kind I get for much cheaper: happy hour with friends where we vent and chat about things we didn't even know mattered to us until our cheeks get flushed
Uninterrupted free time - this might sound like the opposite of Q, but I believe everyone needs space to be themselves. The time I get to exercise or read or take baths or write is much appreciated. I am still mom, but I'm also Holly.
Vacation - I love the little breaks we get from our routine. And then returning to our blessed routine.
Writing - even if it's just mushy scribblings and incoherent ramblings, it pauses a moment of mine that I can forever relive.
Xmas - tomorrow we trim our tree and make hot cocoa and listen to Bing Crosby! And mom, I know, you taught us against writing Christmas this way and I don't, it's just for my list because I thought "Excel spreadsheets" was too much of a stretch.
Yoga - thanks for my new muscles. And I'm glad I can do this while Brandon is awake (half-hearted parenting at it's best, be sure)
Zorinsky - my favorite running trail. Again, I know, how cliché.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bullshit wedding gifts

I don't agree with the way we do wedding gifts. It's fucked up, really. Think about it - some young kids get scan happy with a scan gun and start agreeing that yes, indeed, they need a tent even though they fucking hate the outdoors. And yes, a quesadilla maker is a needed appliance and not just a waste of valuable apartment cupboard space. And while we're at it, maybe an air mattress for when they never go camping or to make their unwelcome in-laws feel like they really can stay there (but please don't).

I have been married for eight years, and only recently did it hit me what I really should have registered for back then. Like a salad spinner - have you heard of those? I don't have one, but I think I'd like to, seeing as I eat salad every day. Or a food processor. A hand mixer. A steam mop. Now that I'm becoming domesticated, I'd like some of the gear that goes with doing mother/wifely duties well. Because let's be honest, I'm just skating on thin ice as it is, getting by until spring thaw (and no one better get me any of that stuff as gifts as if the only hobbies I have in life are cleaning the house and cooking. Those are chores. I'm not wasting my gifts on chores. I have hobbies. Beyond being a chore-doer, I do exist).

Perhaps what we should do instead for wedding gifts, is give money on a sort-of trust fund allowance schedule. Newlyweds really just need cash. They don't need tents or salad spinners or quesadilla makers. They might need towels, but they probably won't appreciate the nice ones you get them or will scoff at the shitty ones you buy. So how about 1/3 of the guests' gifts are sent to one bank account, available for immediate use. A lot of newlyweds are young and/or poor, so they would rather have cash to pay rent than a Kitchenaid mixer. They are trying to pay off their honeymoon and credit cards, and sometimes even their rings.

The next 1/3 of the guests' gifts will go into another bank account, available when the first real nesting move comes: either a new home or a baby, whichever comes first. That is when they have room for those kitchen appliances that they might actually use now. Now that they aren't going out to eat or surviving off only boxed and frozen foods. And we all know babies require a million things. If we go with this model (my model, the best way), anyone who attended the wedding gets a "get out of jail free" card to use on the baby shower. Only new friends have to participate in that bullshit.

The last 1/3 of the guests' gifts will go into the final bank account which is available on the ten year wedding anniversary. It's a, "Wow! Ten years! What's your secret?" account. But seriously - ten years: there has to be a secret. That's a long time to not get tired of someone (I'll tell you our secret in just under two years). At this point, the couple has been through a whole lot of shit together and deserves a nice vacation. Not a budgeted honeymoon, but a fucking awesome vacation where the drinks are endless and include paper umbrellas. If the couple doesn't last ten years, all of the wedding guests get part of their money back. It won't even be enough to cover the dress or shoes you had to buy for their wedding, but hey, something is better than nothing.

Whose wedding is next? In the card I will enclose a voucher for "1/3 committed" - the idea I have that if someone is willing to run with and actually set up, I will donate into an account for these newlyweds. And only at today's going gift rate. I'm not paying inflation on that shit.

Monday, November 24, 2014

road trip

Nearly a decade ago, my friend hopped a flight to Seattle and I picked her up at the airport, my Saturn loaded down with everything I owned. We drove to Omaha, stopping to sleep in Montana. Now in our thirties instead of twenties, when she told me she was going to be moving halfway across the country, of course I was going to make the road trip with her. 

Ten years later really complicates matters. Adult responsibilities certainly shirk spontaneity. The planning involved was much more than one purchased plane ticket. There were multiple plane tickets bought, a house sold, a U-Haul booked, lodging procured, daycare secured. And of course, when a mother leaves, a week of preparation is required. I cleaned the entire house, did eight loads of laundry, wrote a detailed schedule. 
I spent Thursday morning giving the boys baths, packing the diaper bag, then my carry-on. I ate lunch with Brandon then I drove myself to the airport. I marveled at exactly how easy air travel is without kids (seriously - what was I bitching about before?) In Phoenix, Marie picked me up at the airport and we grabbed dinner and some much needed coffee, then made it to Las Vegas by 2 a.m. The hotel's happy hour went from midnight to six a.m. That boggled my mind. Don't these people sleep?

 As you can tell, I was unlucky in Vegas.
 I think it's hilarious that when you exit Vegas, there is a billboard telling you who to call to get sober.
 We drove up US 93 which doesn't have a whole lot going on. A gas station that was turned into a picnic gazebo on the outskirts of a trailer park.
 A church. Electrical lines, trash.
 I love wind turbines.
 
 We went from cacti and not seeing a tree for too many miles to snow and mountains.
 I like the beauty of ugly things.
 Usually a window reflection ruins a picture, but this captured our road trip - the map on the knees.
 I began getting giddy as soon as we entered Pacific Northwesterness. Every time I run outside, I've noticed I run either north or west. It's as if I'm always subconsciously running home.
 My up-for-anything younger brother came and met us for a delicious sushi dinner. We had joked we just wanted dinner on a plate after foraging a small town grocery store for dinner the night before (seriously - pickles, an apple, triscuits, beef sticks, V-8 juice).

I got home at 1:30 this morning and went to check on Holden and immediately started crying. This morning, he actually hugged me. And he is by no means a hugger. He usually just flails around, but this time, our hearts beat against each other and I could feel what he can't say - that he missed me. Although spontaneity evaporates with our youth, I remembered all the things I love about my anchored adult life. We can still do things we did back then, we just have to battle logistics. And us adults have learned how to do that in those years when youth was escaping.                                               

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

keeping warm, gnawing, and playing

 
It has happened. Last week was our first snowfall. Maybe it will melt soon. Maybe what little we have will be here until March. It's hard to tell. But it certainly got cold fast. One week I was running with the boys in the jogging stroller to the park, the next it was 0 degrees. 
 
We've got to keep warm around here!
If you asked me what my perfect date was, this would be it. So no, it's not a date. But it is perfect. I am a loner; a married loner.
My little pal.
 
He hasn't been sleeping as well and is always gnawing on something. It looks like that other front top tooth popped through today. Holden and I have been spending a lot of time together in the mornings, so he is forced to hang out while mommy reads or brushes her teeth. He doesn't seem to mind much, as long as he something to chew. 
Every time I take a picture of Holden with the flash, he makes the cheesiest face. 
 At dinner the other night, Brandon said, "Hold my hand, daddy."
 I love to watch my boys play. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

i'm an outlaw

You know how people are always saying crazy phrases that don't make any sense at all? Like "I froze my ass off"? Well I literally ran my tits off. My working out has made sense of a non sequitur idiom. I'm not bragging about my breasts previously known as large - trust me, I don't find that to be an asset. I was banished to department store basements looking for my grotesquely large cup size. I mean, Heidi Montag and I were only one letter apart at my largest. I don't know why she did it - I would get mine reduced, but why enlarged? I guess she can afford custom-made bras. I guess she doesn't run and doesn't care about her posture or her back or have kids to lift. I guess she actually welcomes the attention of creepy men who look just at your breasts without ever looking at you. Me?  I am happy to be able to now go to a regular store and buy a bra. There's a Meghan Trainor song that says something like, "we all want to be different, that's what makes us all the same." Well, in the case of my bra size, I just wanted to be the same.

So of course, this meant I needed to go bra shopping. I've read that 80% of women wear the wrong bra size and I knowingly have been up until this shopping trip. I know what measurements said would be my size, but you really can't buy a bra and expect it to fit without trying it on. And no way in hell was I doing this with my two little boys in tow. I can picture it now: them crawling underneath dressing room partitions, knocking over clothing racks (yes, my siblings and I did those things as children).

Since I was out on a rare shopping excursion sans kids, I decided to do a return. I have some jeans that are a double digit size from the time between Brandon's birth and Holden's pregnancy. There was a time when I determined not to wear maternity jeans anymore. Obviously I never stuck to it because they have the tags still attached. I knew if anyone could get store credit out of them, it would be me. These jeans are years old, but I'll manage it. I believe exchanges and returns are a bit of an art form. It's a gift that I have; I just have a knack for it. I get an odd thrill from getting something back from a store when I shouldn't per their return policy. I'm an outlaw, really. Just a white-collar outlaw.

I have never met anyone who shares my love of exchanging and returning. It makes people jittery, nervous. They end up hanging onto new things they'll never use just to avoid the whole rigamarole. Well just return the shit already! You have money sitting in your house. Money you spent. It's time to reclaim it! So here's how to do it. First thing is to scope out the cashier options. Just casually walk by and look for the right kind of person. I used to go for older cashiers, thinking they can't see very well. This was a strategy I employed when returning slightly used items. I thought their older eyesight would neglect to find shrunken pant legs, tags taped back on oh so carefully, but also obviously if you take a good look. That was my first mistake. The older cashiers take their sweet ass time. And glasses correct vision problems, for Chrissakes (yes, she has glasses! They were just hanging on a chain when you walked by originally). I don't know what I was thinking. They are usually too hardened from years of bitchy shoppers returning things the wrong way that they don't want to help you. They will find a way to deny your return.

So what you want to find is a cashier with hustle. Someone who is relatively new to the retail world and still cares about customer service (but not brand new! They will call over a manager! You don't want that) but also takes pride in never needing to ask for help. Once you're at the register, be polite and relatable. This is the mistake most people make. They are frantic and pissed from doing the return in the first place and it transfers over to the cashier quickly. Just remember: you get what you give. Yesterday I found a bossy young man with Ray Ban glasses who wriggled his way into a situation to offer his expertise. I wouldn't have normally even tried this, but since I observed his behavior, I asked (very sweetly and naively of course) if this coupon would apply to my purchase (I totally knew it shouldn't - my item was clearanced). He scanned the bar code, frowned that it didn't work, then just punched in some manual discount code. When I asked him about them being busy (find something they can talk to you about! It will distract them and make them like you - everyone likes someone who allows them to talk about their interests), he told me how much their store did in sales that week. It seemed like proprietary information that a mere customer shouldn't have, but for that moment, I was his confidant, his friend.

Then I got to the store with the return. Keep in mind, these jeans are years old without an original receipt. I found another young man, this time training a new cashier (jackpot! That means not a manager, but a good worker that definitely isn't going to ask a manager for help with someone watching him). He asked if there was anything wrong with them (the dreaded question most shoppers blurt out something stupid at). I smiled at him and told him, "no, nothing wrong with them, they've never been worn, I just lost so much weight that they won't fit anymore."
"Good for you!" he congratulated. For a second, I was a Biggest Loser contestant and he was a fan of the show, proud of my hard work. We bonded instantly. He gave me much more than I originally paid as store credit with which I bought a black blazer and still have a gift card left over.

I came home and relayed my retail successes to Steve, who listened with mild interest (oh, you also got the $10 gift card with our Target receipt from earlier today when you forgot the coupon? Nice!)
I might take even more pride in my returning abilities, now that it is my only method of making money. Not long ago I returned a broken bubble maker toy (never buy those! They never work!) without any bubbles left in the canister, the whole assemblage barely held together with too much packing tape. "I can't believe it worked!" I exclaimed. Like I said earlier, I'm an outlaw, really. Just not in the bad ass Jesse James kind of way.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Duos

In the months that I've been making an effort to not be grossly unhealthy, I've noticed that a lot of times when I reach for something unhealthy, it's not really because I'm craving it, but because I'm used to it. It's a habit. We have coupled unhealthy choices with another one - handcuffing one to another one.

Once you choose something unhealthy, you usually pair it with its partner. Like:

Hamburgers with french fries
Pasta with wine
Pizza with beer
Nachos with margaritas
And my personal favorite - donuts with coffee

Even our entertainment is paired with unhealthy consumption:

Movies with popcorn...and then popcorn with gigantic soda
Shopping with an Auntie Anne's pretzel. And with an Orange Julius
Dancing with drinking
Karaoke with cocktails
Sand volleyball with beer in plastic cups
Video games with Doritos
Gambling with drinking, then drinking with smoking

So to curb this, I have created my own duos:

Running outside to girl power songs
Salads with water (yeah, this craze hasn't caught on)
Running on the treadmill with Bravo TV
A bath with a book
Puzzle races with more singalong songs

If I sit on the couch and watch TV, I will probably snack on junk food, because it's what I'm used to. So now, if I'm going to watch TV, I do so from the treadmill. Instead of letting my mind's autopilot take over and me remembering what goes with what I'm doing or eating, I am recreating my life into healthier duos. Reading never went with anything unhealthy anyway, and that's one of my favorite ways to spend my free time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pure joy

It was great having my sister stay with us last week. She was so great to have around with the kids. In fact, when Brandon saw this picture, he went up to our guest room to look for her. "Where's Aunt Amber, mama?" he asked. 
 
My neighbor asked about her, too. "How'd your pictures turn out on Halloween?" she asked. "I only ask because you were the only trick-or-treaters with paparazzi following you." 
You wouldn't even recognize the me that existed when my sister was around. I was like Suzy Homemaker along with her help. One morning we made homemade donuts; the next: breakfast bombs (which is sausage, eggs, and cheese baked into a biscuit. Yes, it is bomb). I even finally inaugurated my CrockPot.
Holden and Brandon already have a special brother bond. Holden looks up to Brandon already, and laughs at his jokes and always wants to be near him. 
Brandon already knows Holden better than I do. Once I fed Holden prunes and he scarfed them down (probably because he was famished) so I thought he loved prunes. I have tried repeatedly since then to get him to eat them. He gives me all the signs that he hates them: he spits it out, shakes his head. The other day, he even dumped the entire container out when I was turned away. This morning, Brandon just looked at me as if I was an idiot while I was cajoling Holden into eating prunes. "He doesn't like them," he explained rationally. Duh. Who needs baby books and parenting advice when you've got a two-year-old to crack the infant code for you?
 This little guy's top right tooth popped through those gums yesterday. He is one drooly boy. And a bit whiny, understandably, but still not nearly as crabby as I would be in his situation.
I caught Brandon reading while I straightened my hair. He looked guilty of something, as if reading is only for bedtime, not to be involved in morning routines. He doesn't know that I read a chapter of a book each morning before coming into his room.
Holden's last time in our favorite pajamas. I switched his clothes out into 12-18 month size today. Which, speaking of, we have 19 (yes, 19!) pairs of shorts in this size. What baby needs that many shorts? I'm sure Steve and I don't have ninteen pairs of shorts between the two of us in all our sizes combined.
Brandon fell in love with the mini bananas at HyVee. He insisted on carrying them around. People marveled when he walked by. At the bananas it turns out, but I imagined it was at his adorableness. One little girl said, "Look mom, how cute!" and when I turned to smile at her and nod in acknowledgment and pride, she added, "those bananas are so small!"
I've known Brandon likes coffee for some time now. But it was only the other day that I discovered he is an addict. I smelled coffee on his breath and knowing there was no brewed coffee around, I demanded he tell me where he found coffee. He sheepishly led me to the pantry where I discovered he punctured K-cups with the Keurig machine and ate the grounds. Had to get his caffeine fix, I see.
Today we went to the bookstore to pick up If you Give a Pig a Pancake. This is the second time we have returned a book to the library that Brandon loved so much that I just had to go get him his own copy (the other one was Oliver by Syd Hoff in case anyone cares).
Brandon is the best little buddy there ever was. He insisted on exchanging hats the other day and I must say, he wears my hat better than I do (and his, too).
 
When I take pictures of Brandon, I get a lot of scowls, quick turnaways, and "no cheese!" protests. My sister, however, managed to capture a moment of pure joy.  Pure joy. That's what these boys are. I never knew it before them.