Five, Seven, Five… Starbucks!

AN ODE TO STARBUCKS
written in the form of a
haiku; because duh

Seven syllables:
Caramel Macchiato
Coincidence? No.

Your green signs beckon
like a beacon or lighthouse
or maybe Wendy’s

My kids recognized
your logo before age two
(That’s kind of creepy)

Overpriced java
Three dollars for a dry roast?
Have you lost your mind?

But, oh, the lattes!
(and sometimes frappuccinos)
So totes delicious

I’m frugal elsewhere
so I’ll joyfully indulge
in this happiness

Refillable cup
received as a Christmas gift
(thanks, mom and Steven!)

Which translated as
Free (to me) lattes daily
in January

photo-66Warm deliciousness
during this otherwise cold
cold, cold, snowy month

Daily Starbucks runs
are not normally part of
my weekly routine

But with the prospect
of free lattes all month long,
I could change my ways

I started out plain:
Caramel Macchiatos
(soy milk, decaf, please)

Then came the syrups:
Hazelnut and vanilla,
Cinnamon dolce

Experimenting.
Trying drinks I never had
ordered before now

(Because even when
you love Starbucks, fancy drinks
soon become old news)

Gleeful discov’ry –
the Starbucks secret menu
Internet, you rock

I’ve hit up eight stores
within twenty miles of home
Buffalo once, too

Plus one in O’Hare,
three more in the Twin Cities,
one in MSP

Would you look at that –
boldly making connections
Lattes for congress!

It’s a miracle
that I didn’t lose the cup
Take that, ADD

Frothy, foamy, hot
heaven-sent deliciousness
yum, yum, yum, yum, yum

But all good things end
or at least promotions do
(stupid bottom line)

January’s done
Which means that free Starbucks drinks
will then be no more

Tears freely falling
Sadness overflowing from
deep within my soul

(Um, that’s so not true
But no more daily joe will
suck #firstworldproblems)

It’s been a fun month
trying new drinks, indulging.
Feeling grateful, glad

If Starbucks has this
same promo next December,
I’ll be first in line

I’ve got to go now –
The day isn’t over yet;
one last coffee run

In the name of the
Lattes, frappuccinos, and
hot choc’late, AMEN.

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Booby prize: we win

So, let me guess: you’ve been having a really rough winter. (Unless you live in California, and then you can just be all smug and sit back in your short sleeves and sunglasses. It’s not like you’re living on an active fault line or anything. SMIRK ALL YOU WANT.)

This hasn’t been winter; it’s been hell. The unending assault of exceedingly low temperatures, gray skies, and constant snow have even worn down the likes of people who adore snow and cold (that would be me and the rest of my nutty family), so that each morning when I peek between the blinds whilst perched upon the ice-cold toilet and see a) an endless gray sky, b) that it’s snowing, or c) both, it takes an almost superhuman effort not to just give in, call it quits, and have a glass of wine at 7 a.m. Likewise, when the girls ask what the temperature will be and they hear, yet again, that it will not rise above the teens – and they know that recess will be cancelled – it takes everything we’ve got to force them to school, where they know they’ll basically be reenacting the story of the Donner party.

I think I may be responsible for some of this misery. See, I reveled in the early snow that blanketed Rochester well before Thanksgiving and continued – almost nonstop – straight through till New Year’s Eve.snow in early november
You’re trying to tell us that half an inch isn’t enough to sled in before school?
WRONG, Mom. Wrong.

I made Yay! First snow! pancakes.snowman pancakes
It’s snowing! Let’s CELEBRATE!!

I giddily took photos of the forecast on my phone.snow forecast in november
Ooooh!! SNOW!!!!

I joyfully documented the snow paths on the walk to school and the sledding and romping and attempted snow forts and gigantic snow piles.
snow path
Sun on the path! So pretty!!

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Look how happy she is. In the SNOW!!!

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Oh! Just look at how much she LOVES playing in that snow! ADORBS.

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Hey, look – packing snow!!!

snow pile
OMG there is so much SNOW!!!

And we hadn’t even reached 2014 yet.

Then came the New Year… and the cold. The Polar Effing Vortex and its Elsa-like black magic chill.

Did that stop me from reveling in the unusually bone-chilling weather? Hell no. It’s so cold, you worry that the dog’s pee will freeze in midair and then you’d really have a lot of explaining to do to the vet? BRING IT.

I cheerfully took photos of the frozen fractals suffocating our garage windows.snow frost
Oh, perty!

I allowed my child – who is allergic to the cold – to stand outside with wet hair after swim practice because she thought it was fun to feel it freeze.
snow frozen
The line for Parent of the Year forms right behind me.

We took advantage of the the sub-zero air to watch, with awe, as bubbles turned into malleable plastic orbs.snow bubblesYes, it was THAT COLD. How neat!!

I continued to take photos of the forecast on my phone – this time, not for the snow totals, but to capture how damn freezing it was becoming.

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Hm. I actually thought that was REALLY cold. Silly, naive little me.

I took pride in the fact that, no matter what the temperature, our kids still managed the trek to school with all of their digits intact.snow trudge
Feels like -20? We got this.

snow sun dogs
Sun + snow = awesomeness.

In short, I not only endured winter… I celebrated it.

Which is something I sorely regret now. I’M SORRY, EVERYONE. I THOUGHT THE SNOW WAS FUN AND PRETTY. I THOUGHT THE ARCTIC TEMPERATURES WERE INTERESTING. My bad.

My very, very, very bad.

Because I am THROUGH. This is ENOUGH, already. I’m tired of being a hermit. I’m tired of having to don gloves just to feed the dogs in the garage. I’m tired of shivering in my own house. I’m tired of shoveling. I’m tired of there being so much snow THAT NO ONE CAN PLAY IN. The photo above, of the packing snow? Pretty much the ONLY packing snow this year, because it has been SO DAMN COLD, the snow is totally useless.

And it’s not even February yet. Shit.

Since moving here in 2007, I’ve been fascinated with Rochester and its snow, and have made a point to follow The Golden Snowball website each year to see just how much we’ve gotten. Rochester is pretty much always within the top five snowiest cities nationally, usually getting edged out by Erie, Buffalo, and Syracuse – all of which are within a couple of hours of here.

In other words, we live in the snowiest part of the country.

When people have asked how we stand living with so much snow, I remark that the snow itself is completely doable; it’s cleared quickly, the roads are salted well, schools almost never close — and, unlike, say, Minnesota, where it remains snowy not because they receive such a large amount of precipitation, but because the temperatures remain so low, the snow they DO get doesn’t melt — it’s not terribly cold.

At least… that’s what I thought. But then a friend posted a link on Facebook to the twenty U.S. cities that are allowed to complain about the cold – i.e., the twenty coldest cities in the country. And I almost didn’t even click on it because I was like, oh, Rochester won’t be on there – it’s not all that cold here.

Well. So much for that Master’s Degree (although it was in Music, so I get some leeway, no?), because Rochester is the 8th coldest city in America.

So. If you’re doing the math… We’re the 8th coldest city and (currently) the 6th snowiest city (although that will surely change in the coming days; Ann Arbor is going down).

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 6.37.17 PM
Look out, Ann Arbor. We’re coming for you.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 6.38.10 PM
Indiana? Really?

Which means (aside from Buffalo – hi, Buffalo!) we’re officially the coldest, snowiest city in the United States.

So, yeah. The kids here haven’t had boatloads of snow days, and it didn’t take anyone seven hours to commute home. It hasn’t been below zero for two weeks straight, and our airport hasn’t run out of de-icing fluid.

But still? By definition, if we’re the coldest, snowiest city in America (aside from Buffalo – snowy there, eh?), we can say, without hesitation, that our winter has been the suckiest. IT HAS SUCKED THE MOST HERE.

I don’t know if that makes us the winners or the losers.

If we can just ditch this cold, I’ll be okay. Then, at least I can pack the snow into a snowball and throw it at the forecast. It was in the mid-twenties today – which made it feel like May – and the kids were outside at recess, doing exactly that. I don’t know how we’re all going to burn off the energy that’s been pent up these past couple of months, but when we do, we’re going to be able to power something enormous.

Like a jet to the Caribbean.

I’ll bring the de-icing fluid.

New York… New York

When Ella turned eight, Nick promised her that he would take her on a business trip with him. He travels for work approximately five days a month, and Ella has long been asking just what he does on these trips; rather than continue to explain (“Meetings… a presentation… grabbing something cold from the lunch buffet… another presentation…”), he thought it would be fun to show her.

In reality, of course, it wouldn’t really work to have Ella attend any of Nick’s meetings and presentations (and lunch buffets), so we’d thought that he could take a short flight somewhere, meet some of our extended family, drop Ella off to spend the day with them, do his work stuff, pick Ella up once he was through, hang out with her wherever they were, chill in a hotel room overnight, and finally, fly home the following morning. Ella turned eight in December of 2012 – more than a year ago – but our 2013 was a bit… crazy… So the opportunity for the trip never materialized.

MBAs and new jobs and mourning and nutty schedules don’t really mean much to Ella, however, so she remained determined that such a trip would take place. At last, Nick decided that he needed to make good on his promise – and so, last weekend, a month after she turned nine, Ella joined Nick on a business trip to New York City.

With Ella and Daddy gone for just over twenty-four hours, that left Annie and me to hold down the fort. And, oh, did we ever hold down our damn fort.

Watching her walk to school and greet our beloved crossing guard – without her sister – was a little bittersweet…

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Oh, look: snow. Such an anomaly.

… But once we hit the new indoor trampoline place, all missing-of-sisters-and-daddies was soon forgotten.

special overnight a3
The kid’s got AIR.

special overnight a4
Oh, yeah. I got game.

special overnight a2
When you can’t play outside for ten days because of absurdly frigid temperatures, bouncing yourself into a frenzy is SENT FROM THE GODS, I tell you.

During the hour that we jumped, I think I lost 7 pounds in water weight: trampolining makes you sweat, man (and also maybe, um, lose liquid in other ways; those of you who have birthed a child and are over the age of 35 know what I’m talking about. The bathrooms in these places should come equipped with paper towels, tampons, and Depends).

Downstate, it was a little warmer, so our other halves were able to venture outside and explore the city. My dad and stepmom – Papa and Grand Meg – had met Nick and Ella that morning, then spent the day with her while Nick took care of work business.

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Enjoying a muffin the size of her head at Papa’s office.

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Taking the A train.
(Not literally. They did go uptown, though, so I suppose that was possible…)

Although the temperatures were doable, they weren’t exactly fun, so Papa and Grand Meg decided that the American Museum of Natural History would be a dandy indoor adventure. Later, when she told me about her day, Ella couldn’t stop talking about how incredible the museum was – wisely chosen, Papa and Grand Meg FTW!

special overnight e2
My big girl in action…

Perhaps spotting a sucker when they saw one (or, more accurately, realizing that a grandma and grandpa were enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime one-on-one day with their eldest granddaughter, and would do anything to celebrate the occasion), the museum employees convinced my dad to purchase a photo package, to Ella’s delight and my great amusement. Maybe it was the cold… Maybe it was giddiness from the crazy-early hour at which they all awoke… Or maybe it was just the joy of spending this special day together, but my normally reserved, easily-embarrased nine year-old struck silly poses and smiled with abandon, while my normally reserved, not-too-silly dad pretended to see a flying dinosaur over his left shoulder.

In short, these are some of my most favorite photos, ever.

special overnight e7
RAWR.

special overnight e6Oh, look. A pterodactyl.

special overnight e5 This is the one Ella liked best, in spite of the neckpiece growing out of her cheek.

Knowing, especially, that Ella and Nick would be dining in Manhattan splendor, I’d offered Annie the opportunity to go to any restaurant in the Rochester area, just the two of us…

Instead, she chose to cook me dinner at home.
Could I find out the menu in advance, so I could supplement the meal with additional ingredients? No. Could I help her prepare? No. Could I offer suggestions? WHY WAS I BEING SO DIFFICULT??

And that’s how, on a Friday night in January, I found myself being served gluten-free pasta with jarred pasta sauce (with a little cream added for extra flavor), “the fluffy parmesan from the green container”, and broccoli sautéed with soy sauce.

special overnight a5
You may notice that she changed her clothes after the trampoline place – partially because she was a sweaty mess, and partially because she needed to dress up in order to properly make me dinner. Duh.

special overnight a6
Cutesie poses make everything more delicious…

For dessert, I offered – again – to take her out. Would she care to grab a piece of cake somewhere? Go to a candy shop? Get some ice cream? Indulge in Starbucks?
Or, if she’d prefer to stay home, would she like to bake some brownies? Make a sundae? Create a milkshake?

After some serious eye-rolling and a hissed, “Mom! I’ve GOT this!”, Annie returned with dessert…

special overnight a7
Why, yes, that is a carefully-arranged plate containing two Trader Joe’s chocolate
crisps, one jellied candy, and four Advent chocolates.

I know. She spoils me.

Meanwhile, back in the Big Apple, a slightly different experience was being had. Seeing that Nick had Ella with him (and, therefore, trying to make a kid’s day), the front desk guy at the hotel surprised them with an upgrade to an absolutely ridiculous suite (it had one and a half bathrooms and a 70″  flatscreen television, if that’s any indication of what I mean by “ridiculous”).

special overnight e4
Also? Two bathrobes. Per person.

And an equally ridiculous view.

special overnight e8
That’s Ella posing by the window, for scale…

special overnight e9
Yeah. Not bad.

Post-dinner at a delicious steakhouse (name: The Strip House. That won’t look strange on Nick’s expense report. Especially because he took his daughter there), Nick convinced Ella to take a swing through China Town, where they tried their first – and last – bubble tea.

special overnight e10
Tapioca balls just sound… weird…

Having awakened at 4:15 that morning for their flight, Ella was positively bushed, and passed out in the second of her hotel robes before 9 p.m. Annie and I, on the other hand, were still going strong…

There were nails to be painted:
special overnight a8
I didn’t notice until now that the American Girl doll’s hand had slipped into this photo.
Both super creepy and oddly appropriate.

And much snuggling before the two of us crawled into my bed for the night:
special overnight a9
She doesn’t thrash around but does keep the bed warm. No complaints from the mama!

In the morning, I offered to do whatever Annie wanted for breakfast: head out to one of her favorite restaurants. Enjoy a hot, toasted bagel from Bruegger’s (we could even eat there instead of bringing it home – the luxury!). Snag a doughnut – or two! – from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Instead – say it with me – Annie wanted to stay home and fix me breakfast.

special overnight a10
What? Your seven year-old doesn’t routinely pipe out A (for, you know, Annie) and M (for MOTHASCRATCHA) pancakes and hearts and blobs circles over the wildly hot griddle?
Mine neither. Hence, why I am six inches away in this photo, to Annie’s great chagrin.

To my surprise, the pancakes were quite delicious (and a lovely departure from my usual breakfast of only fresh juice), and she and I had a delightful conversation while we devoured our meals.
special overnight a12

By the time Ella and Nick arrived home (where Nick rushed himself to Urgent Care for a wicked cough, poor fellow), the girls were more than ready to see one another. They played together nonstop all afternoon and into the night, and although they would never admit it out loud, it was absolutely clear that they had desperately missed each other.

New York is a pretty fascinating state. From subways to the museum to bubble teas in China Town, snowy walks to school to devilishly fun trampoline centers, it’s really got just about everything you could need. Or, at least, everything that we need.

Nick and I had been mildly concerned that Annie might have trouble with Ella going on this trip – missing school, getting to stay in a fancy hotel, seeing Grand Meg and Papa… But, not only was she not jealous, she was genuinely excited for Ella (with more than a little sister bothering thrown in for good measure).
girls' text
Conversation between the girls on Nick’s and my phones.
Such love…

Even more to my surprise, Annie wasn’t upset that Ella would be having fun in New York City – because she was having such a blast right here in Rochester. It’s hardly a mecca of entertainment and excitement, but between jumping on the trampolines, having the opportunity to take over meal prep and make it her own, painting her nails, and sleeping in Mommy and Daddy’s “big bed,” Annie was in absolute heaven.

As we were eating our dinner, Annie leaned over and said, “This has been an amazing day, Mama!” I had just started to agree with her when she interrupted me with a grin, saying, “And it’s not even over yet!”

Similarly, Eleanor had a total blast. From the museum to the steakhouse to the hotel room (where she could have happily spent the entire day; she and Nick both agreed was the most incredible room they’d ever seen), it was one big blur of happiness and fun — but the best part, by far, seemed to be sharing the day with her dad and especially her grandparents, just the three of them, something they haven’t had the opportunity to do in the seven years since Annie was born.

It seems that the feeling was mutual; Papa and Grand Meg were heading out of town themselves on Saturday morning, and arrived at the airport early (where Nick and Ella were waiting to board the plane back to Rochester) to savor a few extra minutes with their granddaughter. I know I just said it, but I mean it: we may not live close to our extended family, but that has not diminished the closeness of our relationships with them – and the time we do have together, whether it’s at a large family gathering or on a private day trip, is all the more special.

Both Ella and Annie agreed it was one of the best days of their lives. In turn, it was one of the best of Nick’s and mine. Having one-on-one time with your kiddo is so important, but can be so difficult – almost impossible, sometimes. Having an entire day of one-on-one time is priceless. I know that neither Nick nor I will forget this weekend with each of our girls; having Annie all to myself was really pretty damn fabulous.

Next year, when Annie turns eight and is able to join Nick on a trip, I’m sure they’ll have just as much of a blast. I, myself, am looking forward to a little one-on-one time with my big girl; now, we have some catching up to do.

I bet I can convince her to join me at a local restaurant. Or order pizza. Or just get a bagel.
If not, I know where the leftover Advent chocolates are stored, and I’m not afraid to get them.

All Systems Go

So, remember back when fall started and we were juggling new schedules and grieving the loss of Bill and Nick was traveling and I began substitute teaching and things got a little hairy for a while? No? It’s largely a blur for me, too.

But I do remember kind of, I don’t know, losing it during a visit with my therapist, frustrated that not only did we have a million balls in the air (and I suck at both sports and juggling), but also that the girls were struggling with all of the change. My therapist asked me what I thought I could do to help get things under control (not in an OMG you are such a mess way, but more in a literal way), and I told her that once I had a system for things – a way of keeping us organized, some checks and balances – it would get better.

Or at least we’d know what the hell was going on, when.

Annie, in particular, was growing agitated that every day was different than the one before. Did she have library? Was our babysitter coming today? Would Daddy miss bedtime because of an early hockey game? Did she have soccer practice? Would Mommy be gone at breakfast because she was subbing? Was dinner going to be before, during, or after Ella’s swim lesson? Did Ella even swim tonight?

Damn. Just typing that makes my head spin.

And she couldn’t even have a glass of wine at the end of the day. Or, say, for lunch. No wonder the kid was out of sorts.

In typical ADHD fashion, I hatched a plan the moment I left my therapist’s office and decided to put it into play that afternoon. Yes, it meant that the vacuuming wouldn’t get done and that our dinner might never get made, but we would be organized, damn it.

Home base would be the fridge, in part because it’s in a central location, and in part because the girls open the fridge doors, like, 238 times a day, so I knew they’d be facing the information over and over again.

systems4
What? This IS organized. Go with it.

Although we have a large wall calendar, it’s up high and the girls never check it, so I decided to put a monthly calendar above the ice dispenser, specifically tailored to the girls’ needs. Visits to the vet and oil changes and annual checkups for my lady parts? I’ll keep those to myself, thanks. Daddy’s early hockey games and Mommy’s subbing and the visit from a relative at the end of the month? Vital.

systems3
Feel free to click on any of these fabulous photos to see them larger.
Come on. You know you want to see the puppy up close.

Next, there’s the two week dry erase calendar, which is more detailed than the monthly view. This way, the girls can know, at a glance, if I’m teaching piano and a babysitter is coming, or if I’m teaching piano at home sans sitter, or if they need to gather their library books or should plan to stay after school for an activity.

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Below this calendar are the girls’ weekly homework assignments as well as the monthly hot lunch calendar, which they check nightly to determine which days they’re buying and which they’re not. I don’t think they’ve missed a pizza Wednesday all year long.

Finally, away from the fridge, there’s the daily dry erase board – an idea I got here – which is kept by the girls’ backpacks and lets them know what they need to bring with them that day. systems2

systems1
Can you tell we live near Rochester? What gives it away?

Annie and Ella tell me what to write on the list each night, and then they’re responsible for packing their bags in the morning. While they both go down the list to see what they’ve got and what they don’t, only Annie actually crosses things off… but, ironically, she still occasionally forgets things. I don’t know anyone else in our family like that. *cough*

systems6

I’d love to say that this has eliminated frantic goings-to-school, but it totally hasn’t. There are still tears some days as we head out the door, because hair doesn’t fix itself, you know, and breakfast cannot magically teleport itself into hungry stomachs… but at least I know that the daily WHAT ELSE DID YOU NEED TO BRING?? craziness has been largely eliminated.

systems5
Boots on… bags packed… maybe we can sneak out the door without having a brush come anywhere near our heads…

We started this whole “system” thing back in October (ish), and it’s pretty much accomplished what I wanted it to: namely, I know what the hell is happening,  and when, and Annie feels like she’s got a sense of what each day looks like. Nearly every night around dinner, I’ll catch her standing in front of the fridge, muttering things like, “So, tomorrow I’ve got library… Looks like Daddy’s playing goalie again… HOLY COW WE’RE GOING TO MINNESOTA IN THREE DAYS!” She really seems to thrive with everything laid out so clearly in front of her, and although we’re going through enough dry erase markers to buy stock in Expo, I’m down with it.

Ella, however, didn’t really seem to care. Although she’s always been our kid who craves predictability, who struggles with change, and who absolutely cannot handle a surprise, she didn’t voice any opinions about the system. Yeah, I’ll see her rechecking the school lunch calendar from time to time (making sure that she’s really chosen the best options for the week), and she seems to peruse the dry erase checklist each morning, but like I said, she doesn’t mark anything off, and she doesn’t talk about it one way or another. So I wasn’t sure that she was even paying attention.

Because Ella really needs to know what to expect each day – as mentioned, homegirl cannot stand being surprised – I always make sure to remind her, casually, of anything I think might throw her for a bit of a loop. Sometimes, I’ll just work a reminder into conversation while we’re walking to school: “After Sammy picks you up from school, you can try one of our new snacks!” Other times, I’ll be more direct: “Don’t forget that I need to take yearbook photos tomorrow after school, so we’ll need to stay at the building for an extra twenty minutes.” Sometimes, she rolls her eyes at me, but she’s ultimately grateful to be in the know.

Last week, it was already well past bedtime when I remembered that I’d completely forgotten to tell Ella that I’d be pulling her from school the following day to take her to a doctor’s appointment. I was afraid that, in the hustle and bustle of the morning, I might also forget to tell her – and also, I know that she likes to know things like this as far in advance as possible – so I crept back into her room to supply her with this critical information.

Ella! I’m so sorry, but I forgot to tell you – you have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning…

“… at 10:30. I know.”

(She said this without lifting her head or even opening her eyes.)

Oh. Well then. Glad we got that straightened out. ‘Night.

“‘Night.”

Sooo… I guess she actually is looking at the kitchen calendar. Like, a lot.
Maybe we should buy that dry erase marker stock after all.

Where else would you go for a January vacation?

When we moved to Rochester in 2007, we knew what we would be gaining: a great job for Nick, a super-short commute, a very affordable cost of living, amazing schools, a wildly family-friendly community, a superb neighborhood, more time with my Grandma, and more snow than we could shake a stick at. We also knew acutely what we’d be giving up: living near family and friends. (Because we’re so awesome, we have since made more friends, but the family thing is probably never going to change.)

As a result of living near none of our parents, siblings, or extended family (save for my aforementioned stupendous Grandmother – hi, Phoofsy!), we do a lot of traveling and hosting-of-guests – averaging at least twelve visits a year, both here and there (and everywhere). We try to see everyone fairly equally, but sometimes that’s just not possible.

To whit: Nick’s mom (whom the girls call Gigi, rhyming with jiggy) and stepdad (whom the girls call Grandpa Ray, rhyming with Grandpa Jay), who live in Minnesota, kind of got the shaft in terms of visits over the past several years; we were seeing as much of Grandpa Bill (and GranMary) as we could – quite understandably, and we’re damn glad we did. But still… although they’ve never complained (or even mentioned it), Gigi and Grandpa Ray definitely got the short end of the visitation stick.

But wait! you might say. They could have come and visited you, instead! And yes, technically, that’s true. They’re certainly welcome, and they have visited us, indeed – but it’s not quite that simple. You see, in the fall of 2008, Gigi earned superhero status when she beat the (almost unbeatable) odds and survived a ruptured brain aneurysm. Yes, you read that right: she had an aneurysm. That ruptured. In her brain. And she kicked its ass.

The aneurysm did its share of ass-kicking too, however, causing Gigi some rather significant problems – including making it difficult to travel. Complicating things, Gigi has been battling Multiple Sclerosis for nearly fifteen years; her symptoms have worsened recently, and have effectively prevented her from being able to visit us and Nick’s sister (and her family) as often as we all would have liked.

When it became clear that Gigi and Grandpa Ray wouldn’t be able to head out to New York any time soon, it became equally clear that we needed to book a trip to Minnesota. The long weekend in January provided us with the perfect opportunity for a quick jaunt west, and so we found ourselves headed from one frozen, snowy suburb halfway across the country to another.

Come on. When you think, Where should we go in the dead of winter to escape all of this Rochester cold and snow? the Twin Cities are SO the first place that comes to mind.

Although the purpose of our visit was to spend time with Gigi and Grandpa Ray, Annie and Ella had another mission: to get to know their Aunt Emi’s fiancé, Matt, and decide whether or not they approved of their upcoming nuptials. I bet Emi and Matt are thrilled they asked the girls to be in the wedding.

Turns out, they needn’t have been concerned: Matt (who, by the way, is a freakin’ neurosurgeon. So he’s not smart. I can totally talk music theory circles around him, though, don’t worry) jumped right in and assumed his soon-to-be-uncle role. He carted the girls around on his shoulders, shared his sweet dance moves, watched kid movies, sprung for ice cream, and braved amusement park rides with nary a sigh. He was earning it, you guys.
jan mn visit1
Ready for lift-off at the Mall of America.

Not to be outdone, Gigi took her grandmother role equally seriously. Waking up early because her granddaughters were still on east coast time? Done. Smiling and laughing through lunch at a St. Paul restaurant, despite fighting wicked nausea from her MS medications? Absolutely. Resting in the afternoon so that she could trek to Emi and Matt’s downtown Minneapolis apartment for dinner on Saturday night, then playing an epic game of Go Fish with Annie and Matt, fighting through dizziness to see the cards? Her granddaughter asked her to play; of course, she would.

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Getting clarification on Annie’s “rules,” which were ever-changing… which might explain why Annie won this round.

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Come on! It’s not brain surgery!
Yes, I went there. For both of them. Awwww, snap.

Watching the girls with Grandpa Ray so that we could go with Emi and Matt (and also Molly and Molly’s sister, Katie) to a Wild game? Wouldn’t miss it. Braving the American Girl store in her wheelchair so that she and her sister could take the girls to lunch with their AG dolls? You better believe it.

Then finally, on Sunday night, searching through her sewing materials to find an adhesive backing that I could take home with me to sew up Annie’s hole-filled, most favorite silkie blanket, all the while apologizing that she didn’t feel well enough to actually fix the silkie herself… then holding the wall for balance so that she could ransack her fabric to locate an appropriate silk-like piece that I could bring back with us, admitting sadly that if she weren’t so nauseated, she could mend it in no time flat… then explaining that her medication often causes her to awaken super-early, so perhaps she could repair the silkie at 4 a.m. before our flight… then drawing herself up and visibly steeling herself and saying with determination, “No. I can cut these silk fabric patches myself. I’ll make them the right size and you can bring them home and iron them on – it’ll be simple”…? YES. I BEAT A DAMN BRAIN ANEURYSM AND THIS EFFING MS MEDICATION WILL NOT STOP ME FROM DOING THIS FOR MY GRANDDAUGHTER.

Except she didn’t say “damn” or “effing” or actually any of that, but the sentiment was there. And I know reading this will make her laugh. Hi, Karen!

… and then deciding, Screw it, I’m in, and not only cutting the silk patches and adhesive backing, but getting out the iron and the silkie and having everything ready to go to repair Annie’s damaged blanket… When Annie appeared, sobbing, from the bedroom, saying that she couldn’t go to sleep without her silkie, and she just had to have it back.

In spite of all of the superhuman effort she’d just put in to cut the fabric and the adhesive and get the iron ready to repair the blanket, Gigi simply said No problem, she understood perfectly, and handed Annie her silkie, who wiped her eyes with it, then trundled back to bed. The silk circles and adhesive backing were meticulously put in an envelope for me to take home so that I can repair the blanket at a later date. Gigi shook off her nausea once more to climb upstairs just in time to watch Downton Abbey with Grandpa Ray, making sure to get to bed early so that they could awaken at 5:30 a.m. on Martin Luther King day to say goodbye to us before we headed to the airport.

As I looked at the envelope containing the patches, the circles that Gigi had used sheer willpower to make, I was struck, almost physically, by the depth of love involved in their creation. We may not live near any of our extended family, but that hasn’t diminished our relationships with them; if anything, it makes the time we do spend with them all the more sweet. How incredibly lucky Annie and Ella are to have grandparents – from Gigi and Ray to GranMary and Grandpa Bill, Grama and Pops, and Papa and Grand Meg – who adore them so.

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It was a marvelous visit. Even if we did go from one winter wonderland to another.

Oh – and the girls gave Matt two thumbs up. The wedding can go ahead as planned.
Thank God, because otherwise, the black and white (“formal”) Rainbow Loom bracelets that Ella has made for the bride and groom to wear on their wedding day might just go to waste. And that would truly be a tragedy.

* Gigi’s story – of her aneurysm and her battle with MS – are shared with her permission and blessing. Although she may change her mind in the future…

Safety First!

If you haven’t been on an airplane in a while, it’s likely that you have not recently examined the safety instructions in the seat back in front of you. Conversely, if you’re a frequent flier, you may have been on a plane so often that you feel like you’ve got this, so haven’t picked up that safety brochure in forever. And if you’re like 95% of the rest of the travelers on the plane, you’re listening to something through your headphones or talking to your seat mate or rooting through your carry-on for some Altoids or perusing the Sky Mall catalogue when the flight attendant is speaking, so it’s probable that the safety card has not made its way into your hands.

WELL, YOU ARE MISSING OUT, people.
But I can fix that for you!

See, even though we fly a lot, and even though our kids can practically recite the safety procedures word-for-word, we still make them put away their iPads and books and actually look at the flight attendants when they’re speaking because, oh, I don’t know, it’s polite to look at someone when they’re talking to you (especially if they’ve asked for your attention). And because they’re giving you instructions about how to, like, save your life in case of an emergency. An emergency in the sky while you are not on the ground. And they’re not getting paid boatloads and other passengers treat them like crap just for doing their jobs and they don’t see their families for days at a time because they’re bringing Diet Cokes and miniature vodka bottles to the folks in row 24… So, anyway, we make the girls pay attention when the flight attendants give their spiel, or at least act like they’re paying attention.

But I digress.
BACK TO MY FIXING THIS FOR YOU.

Thankfully, even if you haven’t examined the safety brochure that’s nestled in the seat back in front of you (between the barf bag and Sky Mall and the in-flight magazine, plus whatever treasures were hidden there by the passengers before you), I have. And it is full of fascinating and critical information, let me tell you.

Better yet? Let me show you.

The airlines know that, unlike me, you’re not going to spend a whole lot of time poring over the emergency procedures – plus also, you might not be able to read very well or you might not speak English – so they’ve decided to make things easier for you by illustrating their instructions rather than writing them out. These illustrations can sometimes be a bit confusing, however, especially if you’re looking at them for the first time while in a descending spiral… so I’ve decided to help you out by providing some handy translations and explanations beforehand.

——————————

FLYING SAFETY RULES: SOME CLARIFICATIONS

THE RUNWAY IS NOT A CROSSWALK
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That’s why jet bridges were invented. Use your head, man.

BE SURE YOU’RE FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO FOLD YOURSELF IN HALF.
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Just reach behind your ankles and grab hold.

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That’s what she said.

IN ORDER TO REACH THINGS UNDERNEATH YOUR SEAT, HAVING GARGANTUAN MAN-ARMS IS ENCOURAGED.airplane safety rules18
Is that really her arm? Is that even a woman? Things are so confusing up in the air!

WITH YOUR GORILLA ARMS, YOU CAN PUT ON YOUR INFLATABLE LIFE VEST SUPER FAST.airplane safety rules19
Plane going down? Water landing ahead? Just pull out your orangutan limbs and follow the arrows! No instructions necessary!

ARE YOUR ARMS OF NORMAL LENGTH? NOT TO WORRY! IF THERE’S AN EMERGENCY, SIMPLY USE YOUR X-RAY VISION TO ASSESS THE SITUATION.
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Does it count as x-ray vision if you’re looking through something clear?

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I don’t know why there’s a colon after “OK”, but this is a fine view, let me tell you.

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She may have a totally androgynous hairstyle, but she can see RIGHT THROUGH this porthole.

ALTHOUGH X-RAY VISION IS PROMOTED, HOLDING THE SAFETY MANUAL IN A RIGIDLY UNCOMFORTABLE POSE IS NOT.
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He looks like he’s taking a dump. Even his face is contorted.
I guess that’s what he gets for fastening that seat belt so low and tight across his lap. 

FOR THE RECORD: NO BLUE MAN GROUP CAST MEMBERS ALLOWED.airplane safety rules26
Airlines can only be inclusive and accepting up to a point.

WHEN BREASTFEEDING, PLEASE BEND OVER SO THAT YOUR HEAD TOUCHES THE SEAT IN FRONT OF YOU.
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I’m not sure why this is a rule, because you might suffocate  your baby, but it appears to be true. Then again, this lady’s got a spare infant in the seat next to her, so maybe she’s doing something right. She’s also wearing very comfortable shoes. And a skirt from 1983. 

SPEAKING OF BABIES – WE LOVE THEM. WE WANT TO KEEP THEM SAFE, ESPECIALLY IN THE CASE OF A WATER “LANDING.”
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In the case of a water “landing” (why don’t we just call a crash a crash, hm? Unless your plane is piloted by Captain Sully, you’re not “landing” on the water), a bald specter will appear and hand you a mysterious yellow package. 

USE CAUTION WHEN OPENING THE OVERHEAD BINS, AND ALSO WHEN SHOVING A LIFE VEST OVER YOUR BABY’S HEAD.
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Once the vest is on, your baby may begin to kick his leg. See illustration 4.

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And violently flap his arms.
Not sure what he’s more upset about: the vest, the water “landing,” or his bizarre, widow’s peak hairstyle.

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You can soothe him by blowing gently in his ear. Your balding specter-ness will not bother him; he’s already pissed off.

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Your little Eddie Munster will just LOVE his floating light! LOOK HOW HAPPY HE IS!

IF YOUR CHILD IS SEVERED IN TWO…
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OMG, honey! She has no hair AND no legs!

… SIMPLY REATTACH THE BOTTOM AND PLACE YOUR BABY IN AN EXERSAUCER.
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Peace out, yo. 

WE ALSO LOVE MIDGETS   DWARVES   LITTLE PEOPLE. airplane safety rules22
Embracing diversity… or a really disproportionately drawn three year-old?
Either way, secure your mask before helping others!

SHOULD WE ENCOUNTER KNIGHTS OR PIRATES, THE EXIT DOOR MAY BE USED AS A SHIELD.
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She hasn’t been watching
Game of Thrones for nothing!

NO HIGH-HEELED SHOES, AND ABSOLUTELY NO GLASS SLIPPERS.
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The lady breastfeeding above could show this hussy a thing or two about shoes.

WE DO STILL KNOW HOW TO HAVE A GOOD TIME, HOWEVER. airplane safety rules2
If you can’t have a little fun after a crash landing, you’re taking things too seriously.

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MY TURN!!!
Also: NO SMOKING AFTER AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION.
Is this really necessary? Don’t get me wrong – I’m about as anti-smoking as you can get – but if your plane has just landed anywhere other than the runway, and you’ve had to launch yourself down an inflatable slide to safety, I’m pretty sure that someone lighting up is not going to be your highest priority. But, hey, I don’t draw these pamphlets… I just translate them.

BUT NOT TOO MUCH FUN.
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This rule really applies to life in general, not just airplane safety. For all of you still carrying a flip phone, a pager, a portable DVD player, or a hand-held television… NO. Just no. 

IN THE EVENT OF A WATER LANDING, WE WILL BE MET BY UFOs.
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Come on! It’ll be a blast!

AND ALSO ROSE FROM TITANIC.airplane safety rules20
It all worked out for her in the end, didn’t it? YOU’LL BE FINE.

——————–

So, there you have it. If you find yourself in an emergency on a plane, you’ll know what to do. You’re welcome.

But still, do give the flight attendants your attention the next time you’re on a plane, okay? Or at least look in their general direction. When they’re down to their last Sprite Zero and they give it to you, you’ll be glad you did.

Like the corners of my mind

You think they forget. The don’t talk about it often, so you think they’re not thinking about it.

But then suddenly you’re rising over the clouds, spread out below you like rolling fields, and your oldest says that way off in the distance she can see Grandpa Bill. His house is there – fluffy, big like a castle – and he’s just chillin’ with Maddy and mommy’s grandpa, Great. It’s neat up above the clouds, closer to where he is.

After hearing this story while waiting for dinner in the C concourse, your youngest becomes uncharacteristically quiet. In a moment, she is leaning in close, and you don’t even realize that her face is wet with tears until she pulls you close to whisper, “We’re just not complete without Grandpa Bill here.”

And you understand that they do remember, after all. It is woven into the fabric of themselves, worn and frayed but making up their DNA, these people and pets they have loved and lost. Most of the time, they do not even mention them… But when the memory bursts forth like a sunbeam, they cannot stay quiet.

We are on our way to Minnesota to visit Gigi and Grandpa Ray, Aunt Emi and soon-to-be-Uncle Matt. It promises to be a fantastic weekend; we are excited and very much looking forward to it.

And if the trip there brings us closer to Bill and Maddy and Great, then so much the better for us all.

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