The New Thirty (But Even Better)

So. I’m 40 now.

As I’ve said before, I like celebrating my birthday. While I know that some people would rather ignore that date on the calendar, I’m solidly in the IT’S MY BIRTHDAY SO EVERYBODY CELEBRATE camp.

There had, of course, been our trip to Mexico this summer. I also wanted to get away with Nick so that we could commemorate the occasion, just the two of us… And so, two weeks ago, we headed to Florida for one glorious day at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.

I’m basically still full, which doesn’t bode so well for Thanksgiving.
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Yep. I bought this ridiculous, ridiculously overpriced photo. It was worth it.

Given that I’d already gilded my lily not once but twice, I decided that I didn’t really want to do anything major on my actual birthday (this past Sunday). One of my BFFs, Sarah, and I are So You Think You Can Dance devotees; we always try to see the tour together. As luck would have it, the SYTYCD tour was coming to Buffalo on Friday night, meaning Sarah could fly up, we could catch the show, and then spend my birfday weekend in Rochester.

Ella, Annie, and I met Sarah and her son, J, at the airport, took in the show (awesome!), then drove back home — where Nick and the rest of Sarah’s family (her husband and son, Z) were waiting. We spent the next 36 hours hanging out, throwing a freakin’ awesome party for Ella (more on that later), laughing, opening the 40 presents Sarah had wrapped for me (omg), eating like foraging animals, and generally reveling in one another’s company.

After Sarah and Co. left on Sunday afternoon, the girls began begging me to open my other birthday gifts. While Nick and I sorted through everything (we’d had souvenirs and Christmas gifts sent back from Epcot, so there were a whole bunch of boxes), I noticed that there was nothing from my dad and stepmom, Meg.

This seemed really bizarre — my own dad hadn’t recognized my birthday, not even with a trinket? I tried to reason with myself that it didn’t matter – he and Meg had mailed a card and we’d FaceTimed that morning. I didn’t need things. It was just a birthday. No big deal.

HOLD THE PHONE THOUGH. ‘Cause it was a big deal. Not the presents, but the very idea that they’d essentially treated my FORTIETH(!!) BIRTHDAY like any other day was really starting to bum me out. Nick and I made our way back upstairs, boxes (but none from my very own father, thank you very much) in hand, and turned the corner to where the girls were waiting for us in the living room…

Except it wasn’t just the girls.
Seated between them on the couch were my dad and Meg.

They’d flown up from Long Island to surprise me.
Because 40? 40 is important.

I almost had a heart attack.

As I’ve watched my fellow 1975ers hit this milestone, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what turning forty means and why it mattered so much to me. I distinctly remember my parents turning 40. For years, my childhood home held a framed copy of the invitation announcing my dad’s big day: “Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s 40!” There were also the photographs of my mom attending “Over The Hill” birthday parties; she and her friends powdered their hair to look gray, donned old lady sweaters, and rented walkers and canes.

Forty was something. Forty was momentous.
And, to my twelve year-old brain, 40 was OLD.

Forty doesn’t seem even remotely old to me now. If anything, forty is young, maybe because it happened so freakin’ fast. In my mind’s eye, college – even high school – are just a blink away. The memories are so bright, the smells so strong, the sounds so clear, it amazes me that those days were (quite literally) more than half a lifetime ago.

I don’t miss those days, though; I rather prefer it here. Having more living beneath my feet gives me firmer ground to stand on. It’s not that I’ve left behind the person I was in my 20s and early 30s, but rather that I’ve brought her with me; together, we have worked damned hard to become who I am today.

I like me today.

At forty, the fragility and uncertainty of life are simultaneously disconcerting and empowering. I’ve had friends lose their parents, their spouses, and their children; I’ve had friends who, themselves, did not live to see 40. It’s no longer a given that tomorrow will come. But that doesn’t scare me. If anything, it’s a reminder of how important it is to make sure that the life I am living is the one I want.

By the same token, I’ve also seen people of a far more, ahem, advanced age make mind-boggling life changes. Attending college in their 80s. Riding a scooter at 94. Switching careers at 65. Getting married at 50. Finding love again after decades of thinking it was lost. Life is what we make of it; change is always possible; nothing is set in stone.

At forty, my convictions are so much stronger than before, but with one very important caveat: they can evolve at any time as soon as I gain more knowledge or see things from a new perspective. Learning is more critical to me than ever before; how else can I figure out where I stand and where I’m going if I don’t even know where I am?

At forty, I’ve finally figured out why I’m on this planet, what my mission is (not in the espionage way, although that would be really cool). The vague outline of the idea hit me out of the blue this summer and I’ve been honing in on it ever since.

I’m here to make connections.

Connections between facts and fictions. Connections between them and us, whoever that is. Connections between here and there. Connections between thoughts and actions.  Connections, most of all, between people. We are not in this alone, this whole life thing; we are meant to do it together.

It’s not easy – being honest, reaching out. It scares the heck out of me. But every time I do it – every single damn time – it feels amazing. It is the right thing to do. It’s why I’m here.

In honor of my birthday, I decided that I would do 40 random acts of kindness – one per day – leading up to Sunday. They ran the gamut, from paying for a stranger’s groceries to letting people merge ahead of me in traffic, putting “Safe Travels” notes on airplanes to donating to charities, placing flowers on windshields to leaving positive comments at the grocery store or the Y.
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There’s a pack of Extra gum beneath the little card…
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Attached to an airplane tray table…

40 for 40 dollar store
Left in the dollar store.

Sometimes, the RAOKs were entirely anonymous. Other times, they were anonymous but accompanied by a card (see above) identifying what was going on (while searching the internet for RAOK ideas, I came across several research articles detailing how people are more likely to spread kindness when they hear people talking about performing acts of kindness; connections, people!). And other times, I decided against using the little identification cards but looked people straight in the eye as I handed over a Starbucks gift certificate – because, every now and again, no matter how difficult or awkward it feels, that whole connecting thing is the most important and powerful part of all.

I loved the RAOKS so much, I’m kinda gonna keep doing them. Because is there ever too much kindness? No, there is not.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend shared this on Facebook:
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It got me thinking. A lot.
Is this where I want to be? If my life were the same, would I be happy? If not, then what?

I like my life now. Scratch that: I love my life now. It is a good, true, purposeful, fulfilling, enriching, invigorating, exciting, simple, joyful life. I am absurdly fortunate. For that – and for my loyal and hilarious and intelligent and good-hearted friends, for my family, for my health, for a job that challenges and strengthens me, for growing faith, for a neighborhood I’ve always dreamed of, for Nick and the girls (who make all of this, all of everything, worthwhile) – I am so tremendously grateful.

This is the life I’ve worked for. It hasn’t been easy getting here, but it’s exactly the life I want. Yeah, I’d like to lose five pounds. I still want to learn the cello. I plan to visit more of Europe and drink Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. And, by God, I need to get myself to bed earlier.

But, in ten years, if my life looked like it does today?
I’d be thrilled. And damned lucky.

I don’t know if this is what I thought forty would be, but I’m so very glad that it is.

I am 40. FORTY!!!! And it is good.
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The Big Four-Oh

If you’re a 39 year-old heterosexual American male considering how to ring in your 40th birthday, doing so aboard a Disney Cruise probably isn’t at the top of your list. But that’s exactly where Nick found himself after we booked our cruise and then realized that his big day fell smack dab in the middle of the trip.

Given that our choices were to embrace it or ignore it, we chose to go with the former – and by “embrace it” I mean that Nick worked on not being bummed that he would turn forty while trapped with surrounded by gazillions of screaming, hyped-up children and adults either taking advantage of the poolside bar by 10 a.m. or dressed in life-size princess and pirate costumes. Meanwhile, the girls and I worked on coming up with as many ways as possible to draw attention to Nick and let everyone within a five mile radius know that it was his birthday.

We’re sweet like that.
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Nick had refused to open any birthday-related paraphernalia prior to his actual birth date, citing bad luck (umm, okay?), so we knew we’d either have to wait until we returned to give him his “real” birthday presents or we’d have to bring them with us. Given that we were already lugging several suitcases, that we planned to purchase more than a few souvenirs and gifts for family and friends, and that our stateroom – while lovely – wasn’t exactly palatial, we decided to give him the bulk of his presents back home… but that just meant we could go overboard* with the “fun” (read: embarrassing) stuff on the cruise.

* see what I did there?

The preparations began weeks before our sail date. I thought it might be neat to surprise Nick with some snacks, beverages, etc., in our stateroom, but I didn’t want to haul all of that stuff with me. I’d read about an awesome company that crafts custom-made gift baskets for folks in the Port Canaveral area; it seemed perfect, but unfortunately, Disney no longer allows off-site companies to deliver directly to their ships. Long story short (you’re welcome), after several weeks of phone calls and emails between that company, our taxi company, and myself — all without Nick’s knowledge — the gift basket lady met us at the entrance to the cruise terminal parking lot, our driver slyly pulled over and took the “delivery” into the front seat, and the porters quietly loaded the basket in with all of our other luggage, to be hidden away until the next morning. THAT’S what I’m talking about!

Nick’s sister, Emi, and her husband, Matt, had also sent a surprise wine and cheese platter to our room – but because of the whole “bad luck” thing, I knew I’d need to keep the goods out of sight until the following day. It was easy enough for me to enter our stateroom before anyone else (Nick was busy waiting in the interminable line to get a ticket so that Annie could meet Anna and Elsa), and it was easy enough to stash the wine and wine glasses in a cupboard… But the cheese plate a) would not fit in our tiny fridge and b) was super fresh and would have been, um, poisonous inedible if I’d tucked it away in a drawer or something… So, after conferring with Annie and Ella, we all dug right into lovely cheese plate that had been given to us by Disney as a way of thanking us for being repeat cruisers. (This was slightly less far-fetched than it sounds because there actually was a thank-you-for-going-on-your-second-cruise tote bag from Disney awaiting us on the bed.) Nick was skeptical (“They do this for everyone? Fresh cheese? Isn’t that kind of expensive?”), but with no one to say any differently, he had no choice but to buy into it.

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Not a bad way to start the trip!

When Nick awoke the next morning (aka HIS BIRTHDAY), we presented him with our contraband gift basket, Emi and Matt’s bottle of wine, and the real story behind why “Disney” had given us a lovely cheese platter. The basket was a huge hit – Nick and the girls had Milano cookies right there at 7:30 a.m. – but we were just getting started.
disney51 Also inside: the beach toys Ella used during our “adventure” on Castaway Cay.

First, I presented Nick with… the shirts (found here; Etsy is a mystical place, you guys). There were four matching ones for Annie, Ella, GranMary, and me, but Nick had his own… special… version.
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In case you can’t see them, our shirts say “This Girl Loves The Disney Dream” and Nick’s says “This Guy Turns 40 Today!”. VERY CLASSY.
Also, I’m just noticing now that Annie’s blue ears look like… my boobs. Very, VERY classy.

After putting them on, we headed up to breakfast — but not before stopping to admire our stateroom door, which looked slightly different than it had when I’d snuck out the night before to decorate it. (The doors are metal, meaning you can stick magnets on them. Many cruisers go all out with door decorations; it’s like an informal competition or a strange, impromptu art show.) The custom magnet (found here) was awesome, but even more fun was the white board – because as the day went on, fellow passengers left Nick birthday messages.
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This is the “after” shot, taken upon returning to our room at bedtime…

As we arrived at breakfast, I pulled out our next birthday treat… our Mickey ears. Nick had known that I’d purchased ears while we were in Epcot — it had been his suggestion, actually, to get some embroidered so that GranMary could have her own, personalized pair — but he didn’t know that I’d snuck in a different order for his ears.
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GranMary… Emily… Annie… Ella… 40 and Awesome!

Our big plans for the day began shortly after breakfast: while researching things to do in Nassau, we had decided upon a “dolphin excursion,” something that’s been on Nick’s bucket list for as long as he could remember. We were excited, but didn’t really know what to expect; the thirty minute boat ride over to Blue Lagoon was beautiful, but the girls were growing restless and Nick and I shot one another This Had Better Be Worth It looks.
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Upon our arrival, we sat through a brief – and interesting – information session about dolphins, dolphin conservation, etc. Following the session, we were split into groups and sent out onto the docks to meet with our instructor/trainer and the dolphins. Our small group consisted of us and another family; they went first, allowing us to see just what we were getting into.

There was no doubt about it: this was going to be incredible.

When it was our turn, we could hardly wait to scramble down the ladder and onto the submerged platform where we’d hang out with the dolphins. The first group had warned us that the water was cold; still, we were unprepared for just how chilly it would be. There was no time to ease in, however, because “our” dolphin – Missy – was being instructed to pose for a photo with us… so we gathered our courage, bent our knees, held our breaths, and smiled.
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Notice how the girls’ shoulders are up to their ears because there was no way they were ready to get that wet yet…

Missy – short for Miss Merlin – was fifteen years old, a nursing mama, blind in one eye, and just the absolute coolest, most fascinating animal I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. The trainer working with her was sarcastic and bold and more than willing to embarrass us in order to get a laugh; we liked her immediately.

I don’t quite know how to describe the excursion. I could tell you what it entailed: we – each of us, one at a time – got to hug Missy, dance with her (holding onto her front flippers and bobbing around together), run our hands along her back and head and belly (dolphins are unbelievably soft – there is little to compare her to that would make any sense because it’s a wholly unique feeling), kiss her (which may sound weird but which was SO VERY COOL), feed her (Nick was cajoled into feeding her by dangling a dead fish from his teeth – for real, yo), and sing with her (“Happy Birthday,” of course). We watched as she leapt into the air, doused us with water (at the trainer’s mischievous instruction), disappeared for a moment or two to check on her baby (who was hanging out in a separate, protected area so Missy could visit), scooted backward along the top of the water using only her flukes, blew bubbles under the surface, and made myriad crazy and amusing (to us humans) noises.
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What I can’t put into words is the sheer joy, awe, and delight that coursed through all of us during the 15 minutes we spent with Missy. It was something that transcended happy and blissful and slid into a kind of euphoria – but contained, special, magic. We felt it; it was almost an out of body experience, except we were so incredibly present.

Near the end of our visit, the trainer told us to wait a moment – and, at her hidden command, the dolphin swam out of sight. The trainer explained to Nick that Missy would be bringing him something to commemorate his big day, and when she returned he had to take it – but if it was alive (!!), he’d need to put it back. A moment later, Missy resurfaced and swam to Nick holding something in her teeth. Stunned, Nick giddily took it from her; it was a rock (which, thank God, is not alive), collected from the bottom of the lagoon.

To put it another way, a dolphin specifically selected a gift for Nick and then gave it to him. NICK GOT A 40th BIRTHDAY PRESENT FROM A DOLPHIN.
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When we returned home, he ordered a plastic box from Amazon in which to store/display his gift. I am not even kidding.

There was lots of other stuff to do at Blue Lagoon – sea lion greeting, dolphin watching, a gorgeous Bahamian beach with inflatables on the water – but, agreeing that our experience with Missy couldn’t possibly be topped, we chose to simply head back to the ship.

It felt as though we didn’t touch the ground for hours. We ate lunch and got ice cream; the girls swam and rode the water slide; Ella got her hair braided all fancy-like; Nick and I relaxed and enjoyed the Drink of the Day. He was on such a high, he even proudly posed with the girls’ and my last gift of the day: a towel that my aunt had embroidered for him, loudly declaring his age. (The rest of his presents awaited him at home.)
disney94This is maybe the softest towel in existence. I’ve totally stolen it for myself even though I AM NOWHERE NEAR 40, ahem.

I’d been informed that, at dinner, our waitstaff would present Nick with some kind of birthday treat; since he doesn’t really like dessert (or any sweets, for that matter; I KNOW), I decided not to order him a cake (see also: fridge too small to store leftover cake). It turned out perfectly.

Disney is nothing if not enthusiastic, especially when it comes to celebrations, and birthdays are certainly something to be celebrated. As such, when I stopped by the front desk the night before, the concierge eagerly forked over “I’m Celebrating” buttons for GranMary, the girls, and me as well as an “It’s My Birthday!” button for Nick. Those drew us some attention, but it was really the shirt that turned people’s heads. Nick insisted on wearing it all day (until dinner), explaining that it was the only day he could get away with it. I’d chuckled when I found it online, giggled when it arrived in the mail, laughed out loud when he actually put it on… but seeing other guests and cast members take notice of it, do a double take, and then stop to say, “Happy Birthday, man!” all day long was pretty much the most amusing best thing ever.

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Speaking of cool things…

After dinner, GranMary presented Nick with his final gift: a clever and funny reworking of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” (complete with mouse ears and dancing grandchildren); it was a delightful capper on a pretty damned terrific day. When we got back to the room, we discovered that our attendant had folded our bath towels in the shape of a birthday cake.
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Do you think they keep the ribbon on hand, just in case?

If you’d asked Nick what he envisioned doing on the day he turned 40, I doubt that he’d have described the day that he wound up having. Still, he was a tremendously good sport about everything – and, by the end, even he had to admit that as far as birthdays go, it wasn’t really so bad… In fact, it was pretty freakin’ great. We were in the Bahamas. It was a perfect, sunny day. He got some dorky fun swag, including a present from a dolphin.

He even got to check an item off his bucket list.
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This photo makes me ridiculously happy.

At the very least, I hope there’s no doubt in his mind that he is pretty freakin’ adored by the rest of us. (Adored… and seen as fodder for embarrassment.)

But hey – you only turn 40 once. Might as well kick back with a Yellow Bird, soak in the sun, kiss a dolphin, and look out onto the incredible horizon stretching before you – in every possible way.
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Awesome, indeed.

 

 

 

 

Just foolin’ around…

April Fool’s Day is one of my favorite days of the year. This was not the case growing up, where my brother was known to pull pranks not just on the first of April, but all year long. (I cannot count the number of times I was serenaded with “birthday” songs and candle-lit treats at restaurants where the unsuspecting servers were roped into believing that it was actually my big day, and I had to feign polite surprise or risk looking like one of those people who is always pooh-poohing her birthday. Or the time when he was about twelve and convinced me he’d been arrested. Orrr the time we were riding a chairlift with another passenger – a teenage boy [who I’d taken it upon my teenage girl self to, if not impress, at least not repel ] – and Taylor wedged his snow-suited elbow underneath my snow-suited elbow and began making my arm jerk wildly up and down, as though I suffered some kind of frenetic tic. When – mortified – I attempted to laugh off this odd behavior to the teenage stranger and explain that my meddling brother was the culprit, Taylor leaned in sympathetically and told said stranger that I hadn’t taken my medication yet, but not to worry, I was really quite harmless. Fantastic.)

SO ANYWAY. Having been subjected to endless pranks and jokes at my expense, April Fool’s Day wasn’t really on my radar as something to be eagerly anticipated, but rather something to be feared.

Until I had kids.

Suddenly, as is written in the Parenting Manifesto, teasing and goofing around and finding new ways to pester my offspring became some of my favorite pastimes, with delightfully evil satisfaction being achieved with each giggling “Gotcha!” (Perhaps it’s in my genes, given that my mom’s father wore an impish smile for a great many of his activities, either having recently “gotten” someone or actively plotting to do someone in. I also still recall – with equal parts annoyance and amusement – when I was about eight years old and my own father bet me a quarter that I could not stop talking and just stay quiet while we ate dinner. This may not seem like such a huge deal, but people… Not. Talking. It was torture. About ten minutes into the bet, just as I was getting into my silent groove, the phone rang, and after my father answered it, he called me over, saying, “Em – it’s for you!” The moment I held the phone to my ear and hopefully uttered, “Hello?”, my dad pointed a triumphant finger at me and cackled, “AH HA! You lose!” [Unbeknownst to me, he had snuck out of the room and called a friend with one bizarre request: “Call back and just hang up, please.”] He eventually felt so bad about tricking me, he gave me an entire dollar. Who’s the winner now, dad?)

This is the reason one has children, is it not? To bug them? Well, that and always having an explanation as to why there are stains on your pants. “Omg, the girls spilled something on the chair; I didn’t even see it…”

There is the usual, everyday silliness, of course, as well as the purposeful tomfoolery, but when it dawned on me that the girls were old enough to be properly bamboozled on April Fool’s Day, all bets were off.

Pink milk on their cereal was met with astonishment…april fools pink milk
Annie, age two, totally rocking her Dora utensils, enormous bangs, and her Carol Brady mullet.

… and convincing Daddy to eat mysteriously blue eggs was cause for extreme fits of the giggles.
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No, really, they’re delicious!

The girls still talk about the year we ate lunch on the table instead of at the table.
april fools lunchIs Annie wearing pants? I honestly have no idea.

A fried egg or some hardened bakers chocolate? Only a bite will tell…
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Hint: I am all about dessert for breakfast.

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We have seen frozen breakfasts.
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But it looks normal, does it not?

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 I… can’t… eat… mine…. Well, would you look at THAT.

A year later – still damn funny.

The peanut-butter-and-jelly-rolls-turned-sushi were cute, but a pain in the neck to make.april fools4

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You’re saying this is supposed to be fish?

And the “baked potatoes” were messier but yummy.april fools day lunch
There’s just no un-messy way to roll potato-shaped ice cream in cocoa powder, am I right?

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Wait… we can really have ice cream with lunch? Fo’ realz?

Just a minute… Is there something in the toilet?
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Hi, there.

Speaking of “Hi, there”…
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They had their eyes on us.

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This year, I went for an old favorite…
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“Look, my milk is purple!”

… and some new tricks as well, courtesy of my buddy, Google.IMG_6832
They didn’t mind that the Reese’s were missing…

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… because oodles of chocolates replaced their peaches.

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“Mom! How’d you get the water to be blue?”
I’ll be keeping that information to myself, thanks.

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You know your kid’s a sound sleeper when you can paint “April Fool 🙂 “ on her nails and she doesn’t so much as move.

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She got a huge kick out of her manicure when I pointed it out this morning.
“I am a really amazing sleeper!”
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

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Turns out, no one really likes Jell-o… but it was wickedly fun to see their eyes light up with recognition when they understood that their “cranberry juice” wasn’t actually potable.

I hadn’t been sure about this one – where you paint clear nail polish over a bar of soap and then, supposedly, it won’t lather – even though Google had shown it to me at least a dozen times. But the girls’ soap was down to just a scrap anyway, so I decided to go for it. They needed to shower tonight, so I reminded them (rather forcefully) to make sure and really suds up to get extra clean… and then I waited with baited breath.
At last: victory.
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“Hey, Annie. There’s something weird about this soap.”
“What is it?”
“It’s… dry.”
“What do you mean it’s dry?”
“Here – try it!”
“Huh… Oh wow, it really is dry. That’s so strange.”
Perhaps you need another bar of soap?
“Oh, thanks Mom. That’d be great.”
“I wonder how it got that way…”
… Maaaybe someone decided to coat it with clear nail polish as an April Fool’s Day joke? Just an idea…
“Mo-om!!”
………………
“Wow. Mom really had a lot of tricks ready for us!”
“I know, right?”

At the end of the night (after climbing into their beds ever-so-gingerly, wondering if I’d short-sheeted them – I hadn’t; I mean, come on, that is so last year [literally, which is why I didn’t repeat it this time around] ), Ella proclaimed this “the best April Fool’s Day ever!”, which is a bit of a dubious distinction – like declaring a piece of fruit to be your favorite dessert – but I’ll take it.

Annie wandered into my bedroom shortly before tuck-in, asking me how I’d “learned about so many tricks and treats.” I told her that some of it was my own brilliance, but a lot came from online.

“Gosh. The internet is a crazy and wonderful place.”

Yes it is, sweetie. Yes it is.

 

 

Twenty-one and thirty-nine

Today marks the twenty-first consecutive year that I have celebrated Nick’s birthday with him.

That first year of college, our friends and I were determined to celebrate first thing… but we still needed to get to class. After a series of unusually large snowstorms, Connecticut was blanketed in white, so we loaded up bagels, OJ, and other accoutrements and went for a sledding breakfast at 7:30 in the morning.

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Happy 19th!
This may not look impressive, but given that we all lived on campus and didn’t have cars, we must’ve put forth considerable effort into procuring the supplies necessary to make this birthday breakfast happen.

I’m sure I did something absolutely fabulous for Nick’s 25th birthday when we were out in Colorado – going to the mountains, exploring Breckenridge – but it seems to have slipped both of our minds as of right now. For his 26th, I told him we could either go to the NHL All Star Game or get a dog… He chose the latter – and we wound up with a birthday present that lasted a dozen years.

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Sweet Mads shortly after coming home.

We were married shortly thereafter, and as with his 25th, I’m sure Nick and I celebrated raucously for his remaining 20-something birthdays… and then we had Eleanor.

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OMG the amazing hair.

To show I hadn’t lost my mojo, I surprised Nick and flew Bill in for his 30th. (He was probably so tired from having a two month-old, he couldn’t really enjoy the visit, but hey – it’s the thought, no?!)
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There was a story here involving some misplaced luggage on my behalf (who, me?), but I cannot recall it; would that Bill could remind me.

Nick’s early thirties’ birthdays were filled with the girls dressing in his favorite Wild gear… wildfordaddy
Damn cute fans.

And providing cookies with candles.
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Freakishly, Nick doesn’t really like cake. Or dessert. Or sweets.
I KNOW.

For his 35th, I decided to surprise him with “thirty-five hours of celebrating,” which involved getting his boss’s approval for him to miss work…
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Real men wear pink birthday crowns when their daughters surprise them at work.

… then having his friends meet us at a sports bar to watch Olympics hockey, getting a babysitter for the girls so we could go to to a hotel overnight, and checking out a local microbrewery.

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Cheers!

Next year, forty (holy shit, FORTY) will be epic. But this marks Nick’s final 30-something birthday, and our plans are… simpler. Yeah, we totally destroyed the sake challenge at the local Hibachi place on Saturday with the girls, but the rest of things have been decidedly low-key — coffee from a new Keurig machine, shows on a new Apple TV, homemade gifts from Ella and Annie, lunch at a new burger joint, and having my grandmother over for dinner.

But that’s okay (right, babe? Nick? Bueller?). After twenty years of celebrating, sometimes it’s good to just sit back a bit and enjoy life right in front of us. Plus also, we’re going on a Disney Cruise in four days (omg omg omg!), so it’s not like we don’t have some excitement on the horizon.

Besides… It’s not so much the birthdays that matter, but the stuff that happens in between – and our in betweens have been pretty damn fantastic. Happy Birthday to the man I adore, the one who’s made twenty-plus years the best imaginable. I can’t wait to celebrate twenty-one more with you, babe. xoxo

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Celebrating last year with his bearded hat and a Charleston hooker.
For real. 

 

Auld Lang Syne

There’s so much I could write tonight – stories of our trip (both fantastic and disastrous), of the girls’ escapades, of how (just yesterday!) we were standing in the middle of Times Square where the tens of thousands of revelers have gathered tonight, or thoughts on the passing of another year and the beginning of a new one…

But, right now, I just want to savor what’s right in front of me, while still remembering New Year’s Eves past.

In 2010, we celebrated December 31st with Grandpa Bill and GranMary. The girls made their own hats.

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We do so like to be thrifty.

We laughed and clowned around.grandpa bill laugh
Another tickle game? Must be so.

We watched videos of previous ball-droppings in order to ring in the New Year several hours early.
countdown musicBill’s face, as he delights in his granddaughters’ shenanigans – complete with homemade crown atop his bald head – makes this photo awesome.

There was much merriment, believe you me.

As we ring in 2014, we are, again, with some of the girls’ grandparents, this time my mom and stepdad, Grandma and Pops. And again, there has been merriment and celebration and goofiness and laughter and laps-sat-upon and hugs abounding and noise-making and just pure joy.

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All the coolest grandfathers wear pointy hats on New Year’s Eve.

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Excellently festive photo courtesy of Pops. 

It is sad and bittersweet, this passage of time, but it is also just plain sweet. With family (and friends) and noisemakers and hats and crowns and these two girls and more love and blessings and generosity than we can possibly count, how can it not be?

I don’t know what 2014 will bring, but with these folks by my side, it’s bound to be damn good. Crazy… loud… maddening… exhausting… chocolate-filled (one certainly hopes)… and really, really damn fine.

A Very Harry Christmas

Sometimes, things don’t go the way you’d planned or hoped. Maybe your expectations were too high, or the circumstances just don’t pan out, or something goes wrong.

Other times… It goes exactly the way you’d imagined.
Amazingly, our Christmas was one of those times.

My dad and stepmom – Papa and Grand Meg – joined us for the fourth year in a row, and although they were accosted by the girls the moment the came in the door (and barely made it home in one piece, having been thoroughly climbed on, jumped on, hugged, shouted at, danced with, and sat upon for the past three days), it was, as always, a marvelous way to spend the holiday.

We ate.
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Looking for some decorating tips?
Dog beds, unwrapped packages, and Swiffer WetJets are magnificent accessories.
Cute black Lab not included.

We got ready for Santa.
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What? Santa doesn’t get cookies, milk, and whiskey at your house? PITY.

The big guy came…
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Apparently, the whiskey went to his head…

And brought Annie and Ella just what they’d asked for.
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In our house, we eat a big ol’ Christmas breakfast before digging into the bulk of our gifts – but, to keep the Ella and Annie sane, we let them open a few presents in advance of the rest. For the third year in a row, the girls requested that the first gifts they open be the ones they’d picked out for each another.

They were a hit!
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Not to be outdone by a guy in a red suit who breaks and enters, Nick and I had a few gifts up our sleeves – including Harry Potter wands.

The girls were…
well, these speak for themselves.

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(These are the best pictures ever, are they not?)
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(Yep. Best ever. Definitely.)
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A couple of weeks ago, Nick had mentioned that he and his siblings had played a game called Trac Ball with their dad when they’d visit the North Shore of Minnesota. Lo and behold, Trac Ball still exists – and it so happens that it’s a blast.

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Not sure why I have no photos of Nick playing Trac Ball… but my dad took Ella on this morning.

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Grand Meg plays to win, yo!

I won’t bore you with the details… but the rest our Christmas was pretty damn fine.

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Don’t mind Annie’s nervous smile; we were in the middle of a lake effect snow squall and the flakes were really flying.

It wasn’t entirely sunshine and unicorns. Annie has a cold, Langston ate the entire wedge of brie right off the coffee table, we missed Bill an awful lot, and the lasagna I’d so carefully made ahead of time (so that we could just pop it in the oven on Christmas day and eat it 90 minutes later, no fussing or fretting necessary) might have not really cooked so well, leaving us with delicious sauce and lasagna noodles that were still crunchy. Oops. 

But it was still pretty fantastic.

Growing up, I’d assumed that the best part of Christmas was being a kid. Turns out I was wrong: the best part of Christmas is watching your kids experience it*. The wonder… the awe… the joy… the exhaustion… the seven extra bags of trash that had to be dragged to the curb…

This year was a really good one. Magical, really.
Hoping yours was the same.

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My BFF, Kiki, sent us these Harry Potter glasses with the instructions that they were for “the entire family, even the dogs, with the hopes of a PHOTO!” How could we not oblige?

Side note: not sure whey I look like Professor Trelawney.
Side note two: Jambi totally rocks the glasses Very studious.

* That is, when they’re not crying or hitting one another or ripping through the packages so fast, you’d think they were competing in an opening contest – five year-old Annie, I’m looking at you.

** Thanks, Grand Meg, for sharing some of your photos!

Throwback Thursday: from angel to witch and everything in between

Okay, I can’t resist. Halloween brings out my nostalgic side, and looking through old photos makes me all misty. Plus also I’m so hopped up on sugar, everything seems super shiny and amazing. So I’m sharing these.

Nine Halloweens and counting.

2005
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Angel Ella. Or, as I called her, Ange-ELLA. Get it? *cough.sorry*
GAH. THOSE CHEEKS.

2006
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Carving the pumpkin FROM THE BOTTOM.

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Pumpkin guts are nasty, no matter from where you scoop ’em.

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Tinkerbell. Or… TinkerbELLA???

2007
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Oh! Those teeth!

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Tiger girl.
Or perhaps… TigerELL… Never mind.

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She’s the same size as the pumpkin!
Well, the big pumpkin, anyway. Not the one in her hand. That’s just weird.

2008
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Fall fairies.
They’d worn the tutus in their aunt and uncle’s wedding a few weeks prior, so poof! Fall fairies it was.

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See? I love me some pumpkins.
And we always open up the garage for the neighborhood. With booze.

2009
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Photo shoot with a “cute cat” (who’s being a little suggestive with the pumpkins) and a witch, version 1.0.

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Looking slightly more disheveled – and giddy – on actual Halloween night.

2010
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The year that Ella eschewed ALL COSTUMES because they itched.
Thank God for skeleton pajamas and fun hair accessories.

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Minnie. STOP IT NOW WITH THE CUTENESS.

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‘Twas a bit colder on Halloween eve… Poor Minnie’s in a turtleneck…

2011
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Some singing girl from some famous movie, and Maleficent (aka Witch 2.0), from ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
First time ever, I sewed both girls’ costumes (not Ella’s hat, though).
Last time, too. I don’t sew. No, really.

2012
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Ado Annie (okay, she was a cowgirl, but I’m calling her Ado Annie) and a Winter Fairy.
With a broken foot.

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Unexpectedly needing a wheelchair on Halloween? TOTALLY GETS YOU BONUS CANDY.

Okay, they’re not “throwbacks,” but I’ll include these anyway…

2013
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The size of the garage display has grown.
So has the number of pumpkins we decorated and carved. More on that later.

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Presenting… the Ice Witch and a Candy Corn Fairy Princess.

And… As long as we’re talking throwbacks – here are some REAL throwbacks…

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Yep, me on the left and my forever BFF, Kiki, on the right.
Circa 1978. Gotta love the yarn “wig.”

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Circa 1982.
Yet again with the witch thing. Now I know where Ella gets it.
Not sure if my brother was officially the Lone Ranger, or just a cowboy, but we rocked the Unicef collection boxes.