The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s has never exactly been what I’d call “relaxing.” Not only are a bunch of holidays thrown in there with all of their trappings, but also Ella and Annie’s birthdays (see again: I’m terrible with The Math).

Still, the month of December is, for us, the perfect bookend to the year – because the girls and I so love the traditions that that come with it. Cookie decorating, RACKing, Advent crafts, Santa meet-n-greets, watching movies, driving to see the lights, and the bazillion other things that make up our Christmas season aren’t chores we dread but the framework within which our month is built.
This Santa remembers everything and is absolute magic, I tell you.

Most years, although the weeks go by at a breakneck pace, the mere presence of these traditions ensures order and stability. On Tuesday*, the decoration bins shall come out. By noon on the 8th*, the homemade wrapping paper shall be complete. Sixteen hours before the winter solstice*, we make our holiday donations.
*exaggerations. Mostly.

It’s a little like our own, special holiday “Camelot” – where the rain can never fall till after sundown and the moonlight appears by 9 p.m. – except without the grandiose costumes or singing.

Actually, we wear some crazy things in December and always have music playing, so scratch that.

I’ve liked it that way, having the checkpoints and guideposts to provide much-needed scaffolding in an otherwise chaotic month. This year, with Thanksgiving occurring so early (and, thus, nearly an extra week between it and Christmas), I’d assumed that I would be well on top of things and actually be able to let go, float away, and appreciate our traditions, rather than breathlessly going through the motions.

Instead of providing a jump-start to the fervor, though, those extra days seemed to slow everything down. Why start prepping the Advent calendar when there’s still so much time? Who needs wrapping paper if we’ll ship direct from Amazon? Do we really have to choose the birthday cake theme when there are still 10 days to go? It felt like wading, not floating, but that was okay.

Then, as December unfolded and I barely managed to squeak in the Advent calendars and dust off the Elf on the Shelf, a dear friend suffered a terrible tragedy. While the community rallied together to support her and her children, I left wading behind and began to tread to keep my head above water. I missed deadlines for mailing packages without forking over the mortgage-payment-esque rush shipping fee. Ingredients that I’d planned to procure for holiday treat-making were forgotten. One afternoon, I literally drove right by the location for Ella’s swim practice until I heard her concerned voice from the back of the car, “Uh… Mom? Isn’t practice at the Y?”

Why, yes it is. Let me show you how to pull a U-Turn.

By then, I was no longer even treading. Instead, it felt like I was underwater, everything a rushing blur, popping my head up only long enough to take in a breath and get my bearings before dipping back beneath.

I began prioritizing the things with hard deadlines; everything else waited. New games? Saved for later. RACKs for our postal workers? Another time. Gingerbread houses? Christmas cookies? Setting out the Christmas village? Not today.

And I hated it. It wasn’t struggling to get things done that bothered me as much as the disappointment over what was falling by the wayside. It wasn’t necessary to send out holiday cards on time but I wanted to, damn it, and each day they were put off added more stress to what was already overwhelming.

By mid-month, I had to face reality: the scaffolding wasn’t there this time around and it wouldn’t be, period. Barring some kind of true Christmas miracle, there was simply no way I could “catch up” and put the guideposts back in place. Instead, I had to just be where we were, taking every day as it came rather than following a plan. What would happen would happen.

So we put things off. We waited. Our annual holiday movies stayed in their DVD cases. The Christmas village remained boxed. The cookies were baked but not iced. Rush, blur, beneath the surface.

I learned that being underwater has its advantages, though. See, when you’re working so hard just to keep from sinking, there is little time for anything beyond what’s necessary in the moment. This meant relinquishing control and asking for help (*gasp*), which were major ego-busters but turned out to be soul-savers. For the first time in 23 years, I asked Nick to take charge of finishing up shopping for our extended family. I asked for help with cleaning and said screw it about everything else. The girls decided on the design for our cards.
They did turn out pretty cute…

Spending so much time beneath the surface made the moments when I did pop my head up to breathe all the sweeter. Since I was no longer relying on guideposts and was, instead, trying to get my bearings, I really noticed what was happening around me – and when I paused in those moments, it was ridiculously delicious. Somehow, Annie and I made reading our daily holiday books a priority; it became my nightly salvation. When the girls and I finally – less than a week before The Big Day – put up the Christmas village, everything else melted away for that hour.

And so it went – remaining just barely underwater as the holiday crush sped by, reveling in the brief moments when I’d pop my head above the surface long enough to be sure of my surroundings – until three days before Christmas, when the girls’ school break began and my dad and stepmom arrived. Every instant until December 22nd had been spent assuring that What Needed To Be Done Was Done… meaning, amazingly, that – sweet fancy Moses – nothing essential remained. No bills to pay. No presents to buy. No groceries to stockpile. Instead, on December 22nd, I realized there were two entire, empty days between then and Christmas to focus on everything we’d ignored for three weeks: movies, cookies, gingerbread houses, games…

Basically, everything that I’d wanted to be doing all along.

I cleared the surface, stopped treading, and let go of the overwrought water metaphor I’d been indulging all month. Let the traditions begin! We made tray after tray of cookies. We played enough games to buy stock in Milton Bradley. We watched all of our favorite movies and went to see new ones in the theater. When the girls didn’t complete their gingerbread houses right away, I finished them myself on New Year’s Eve – because I love me some gingerbread houses, by gosh.

Sequence was our new favorite game this year; highly recommend.

This relaxing revelry did not occur only on December 23rd and 24th, but for the remainder of 2018 and a good ten days into January, as absurdly cold weather caused school closures and we were blanked with snow. We wore pajamas. We ignored bedtimes. Heck, even now, as February dawns, there is still a stack of games six deep on the living room ottoman.

Basically, Christmas lasted for a month and I loved every minute of it.

I had assumed that we needed our “usual” structure to create the scaffolding that enables us to honor our holiday traditions. Turns out, the traditions create the scaffolding, timetable be damned, however rickety and below code it may be.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is now that I know that Nick is pretty swell at selecting gifts for our siblings and that watching Home Alone on Christmas day is actually more fun than fitting it in beforehand, I will work at enlisting help and ditching the timetable a bit. LET THIS BE A LESSON TO US ALL. Maybe the structure isn’t so important as just doing what’s important.

But the holiday cards still need to be ordered earlier. Some things just need to happen on schedule, y’all.

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.
4.1. tricking daddy   april fools2
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…
april fools day snack
Hint: I am all about dessert for breakfast.

4.1 april fools day

We have seen frozen breakfasts.
april fools1a
But it looks normal, does it not?

april fools3april fools2
 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

april fools6
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?

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

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

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


This year, I went for an old favorite…
“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…

… because oodles of chocolates replaced their peaches.

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

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.

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.

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.
“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…
“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.



No celebrating? No problem.

Nick and I stopped “doing” Valentine’s Day years ago. Actually, I’m not sure that we ever “did” it (although I do give him Valentine’s Day-themed boxers every year; I’m romantic like that) because Nick has always maintained that it’s a silly holiday drummed up to make money and “you should show someone you love them all the other days of the year, not just Valentine’s Day.”

Okay. I get his point. I mean, I was all girl-silent angry over it for a few years (“No, really, it’s FINE… Yes, I’m sure… Wait, you didn’t get me anything? WTF?”) but I’ve gotten over it. Really. For one thing, it’s been twenty years (OMG), so I’m either holding the world’s most fabulous grudge, or I’ve moved beyond. Also, once we had children, I had other ways to channel my Valentine’s Day energies.

(And, to be fair, Nick really does do a pretty good job of holding up to his end of the bargain. The girls get little tokens from every business trip he takes, and flowers will magically show up at the door if I’m having a bad day. He routinely buys stuff for us “just because” [occasionally to my chagrin – *cough* $40 Swatch watches five days after Christmas *cough*] and takes each of the girls out regularly for special Daddy-daughter dates. Our own dates are pretty good, too. So, he really does walk the walk.)

It’s not Valentine’s Day itself that is such a big deal; it’s any excuse to celebrate. I am all about taking anything and turning it into something more than just ordinary, not for any greater purpose (and certainly not to achieve some sort of goal or be Super Mom; if you’ve seen the coating of dust on all of the furniture, the Karo syrup that spilled in the cupboard at least two months ago but I was too lazy to clean so now it’s hardened into a half-inch layer of shellac, the boots my daughter wore to school this week that were DUCT TAPED together, or the rug in our living room that is literally threadbare, you know that I’m not Super at all that much). No, I simply do it because it’s fun. FUN!!

First day of school? Par-tay! Last day of school? Fiesta! St. Patrick’s Day? Let’s do a leprechaun-themed treasure hunt! Mardi Gras? Time to make beignets! April Fool’s Day? Better watch your step. Cinco de Mayo? Bring on the Mexican food! If I could think of a way to make Arbor Day more fun, you can damn well believe I would.

Life is just too freakin’ short not to find moments to celebrate, to break up the everyday activities, to be silly and make something special.

So I’m not at all upset that Nick and I don’t “do” Valentine’s Day… because I get to do these instead:

The hearts are hung up after the girls have gone to sleep on the 13th, so it’s all VALENTINE’S WORLD when they wake up.

Nick gets tired of bumping into these pretty much the moment that I hang them, but I think they’re fun. I don’t mind not getting chocolates so long as I can hang shit from the door frames – fair compromise, no?

Lunch. With hearts. And lots of red food.

No, the photo isn’t discolored; the pancakes are pink.
And I made them last night and then nuked them this morning. I don’t have that kind of time before work, people. 

But I do have time for this, because it took maaaaybe three minutes. 
Such is life when you spent two years addicted to hair blogs.

What I did not have to do this year were the girls’ valentines. (Grammar tidbit of the day: it only has an apostrophe when it’s Valentine’s Day, as in the day belonging to St. Valentine. And it’s only capitalized when it’s a proper noun; the cards the kids bring home from school in droves are simply valentines. Just learned that last night myself; you’re welcome.) For the past several years, Ella and Annie have elected to send their classmates photo cards, meaning that I take photos of them, design the cards in Photoshop, print ’em out, and get ’em ready for the girls to sign.

annie valentine card1
A mini Snickers was taped to her hands…

ella valentine card1
 She gave these along with Pop Rocks…

vday card a1_1 vday card back a
Yup. Taped a Hershey’s Kiss to her hand.

vday card back e vday card e1b
Ella wrote her classmate’s names on the hearts.
Never mind that she looks naked.

vday card front avday card front e2
Looks like I’ve had a thing for those decorative hearts fonts for a loooong time…

vday card front
I had to literally throw them into the center of the heart in order not to trample it, but whatever. It was done in the name of the art, man.

But this year? They wanted to do it ALL. And so, despite practically having to tie my hands down to keep from interfering, I let them… from Photoshopping their cards to cutting them out to attaching (and, in Ella’s case, making) the various accoutrements to stuffing them in their classmates’ bags.
Are they just how I’d have designed them? Nope.

They’re better.

annie's valentine 2014
Her Photoshopped card…

annie's valentine
The final product that made its way into her friends’ valentine bags.

ella's valentine2 2014
That’s still only some of the Rainbow Loom stuff she has lying around…

ella's valentine2 ella's valentine
 The actual finished cards, front and back.

Tonight, we’ll have a dinner that we *love* (get it? SO CLEVER) and either watch the Olympics or Despicable Me 2 (the only real gift I’m giving to the girls) and even though it won’t be romantic, it will be filled with fun and joy and love.

And chocolate. We have chocolate cupcakes. Don’t worry.

Flashback Friday: I can’t resist including this photo taken for Annie’s first Valentine’s Day, where I didn’t realize until after I’d uploaded it that Ella’s pigtail makes it look like Annie’s wearing a bodacious wig.

vday hair

p.s. You can bet your butt I’m putting this on my Pinterest page. I can’t begin to come up with any of these ideas on my own, so if this helps anyone else not to have to reinvent the wheel, let’s do it. I’m a giver.

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.

new years hat girl
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.




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

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.
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.

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

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

And brought Annie and Ella just what they’d asked for.



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!



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.


(These are the best pictures ever, are they not?)
(Yep. Best ever. Definitely.)


christmas joy

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.

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

Grand Meg plays to win, yo!

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

christmas38 christmas37
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.

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!

Pumpkins, Cider, Frangelico, and Candy

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a thing for pumpkins. Not necessarily pumpkin-flavored stuff – although I do love me a good Pumpkin Spice Latte… and Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter is fabulicious… as is their whipped pumpkin cream cheese… and the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies we made earlier in the week were delish… Okay, so I just like pumpkins. Round, squat, tall, skinny, tiny, red, white, golden, gourd-shaped, oval, with stem or without… Pumpkins are basically the squash of multiculturalism and world peace.

Plus, they’re awfully festive.

In the past, we’ve made do with simply carving pumpkins (ALWAYS FROM THE BOTTOM, people. THE BOTTOM!!), but somehow this year the girls were looking over my shoulder while I was browsing Pinterest and several decorated pumpkins caught their eye… And suddenly, we found ourselves at Michael’s at 5 p.m. on a Sunday filling our cart with acrylic paint, Mod Podge, oodles of fake pumpkins in all shapes and sizes, glittery spray paint, and even my mortal enemy, superfine glitter.

Over the course of the next ten days, we took some much-needed down time and decorated pumpkins till our fingers were practically glued together. The dining room still looks like a craft store exploded in there, and we will be finding bits of glitter dust in every one of our belongings until Valentine’s Day, but it was worth it.

Although Nick may disagree. Sorry, honey.

They first decorated pumpkins with glowing puffy paint. It was a good thing they chose the particular pumpkins they did, because only a few days later, they’d rotted through and left a layer of pumpkin-y mold on the table. Yay! I love pumpkins!
This one says “Annie”, although it’s a bit hard to read…

Annie’s is on the left; Ella’s says “BOO”, but again, hard to read with the lights on.

Unfortunately, with the lights OFF, I could’t quite get the photos to come out. Ah, well. Trust me. They were cool.

They painted and glued and glittered their hearts out.

The artist, very serious about her work.

Annie’s I-Spy pumpkin

What’s a painter’s palette without a hole for the thumb?

I may hate it, but superfine glitter makes for mighty cute punkins.

This was one of my favorites; you may notice it missing in later photos, because I gave it to my grandma. I’m a giver – what can I say.

I think I’ve mentioned this, oh, 438 times or so before, but we absolutely love our neighborhood. Kids everywhere (actually playing outside! In all weather! Without parents around! Riding bikes! Making forts! Sledding! BEING KIDS!!), wonderfully generous and kind neighbors, loads of families. It’s just a great place to be.

We really, reeeeally lucked out, though, because we knew nothing about Rochester when we moved here six years ago – in fact, I’d never even seen our house before we moved into it. Nick had seen it, and he emailed video, but still… I’d never set foot in it. Turns out we moved to the best place, ever, but man… Lucky.

Our first year here, although we’d liked everyone we met, we hadn’t exactly gone around door to door and said, “Hi! We’re new here! Want to be friends?” As Halloween approached, we decided that one way to meet people would be to offer up more than just candy. If we, for example, provided donuts and cider, perhaps people would have a reason to chat for a minute, and we’d actually come to know our neighbors. Plus we’d be known as that cool house that gives out free food.

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 12.37.06 PM
007… the beginning…

As the years have gone by, the basics have remained these same – the garage is open for candy, food, drinks, and fun – but we’ve changed and added things here and there. We’ve learned that if you don’t order Munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts ahead of time, all they’ll have left at noon on Halloween are the cinnamon ones, and then the neighborhood kids will avoid your house, not flock to it. We now have both hot and cold cider, coffee, and a few years back Nick began offering *ahem* adult additions to the coffee and cider, too. Some years, we’ve brought the fire pit around on especially chilly evenings.

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 12.39.00 PM
Mickey and Hello Kitty enjoy getting warm.

This year, inspired in part by my Pinterest searches, and also looking for a way to distract myself and stay busy (my therapist says this is called “grieving” – who knew?), I decided to spice things up a bit. Instead of just exposing everyone to the junkiness of the garage, I hung sheets and curtains to enclose the space and hide our crap. I strung lights (to create the mood, you know), and, because the two tables we’d been using in the past had grown crowded, I added a third one.
halloween garage9

I saw this (again, Pinterest – holla!) and thought it would be awfully fun, but even though Ella is a Harry Potter fanatic, she thought it was a bit too dramatic. Instead, the girls opted for this, specifically with the question mark, “Because that makes it funny, mom.” Thank God no one asked for a trick.
halloween garage8
I’ve had the awesome light-up marquee for years, dating back to my earliest days as a music teacher. I don’t pull it out too often these days, but it always makes an appearance on Halloween.

In years past, the only decorations have been our carved pumpkins, but since we’d spent so much darn time decorating our gazillions of pumpkins, I thought it would be festive to haul ’em out and put ’em on display.

I have no idea when we started handing out things like tattoos and stickers – maybe one year when we had extras leftover from Ghosting? – but the girls were adamant that we still do so this year. I found some cheapo glow bracelets on Amazon, which turned out to be a surprise hit – even the pre-teens were asking me to help put them on their wrists. Go figure.

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The black pumpkin? Chalkboard paint. How fun is that?!

Ready for their close-up…

I-Spy makes his debut…

The candy table held still more of our creations, from Ella’s meticulously decorated flowering vine pumpkin to Annie’s purple and green creation.
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I was determined to make the glittery stack of pumpkins in the back. The BOO letters came un-glued as I was setting them outside, but they still looked fun. Plus, those pumpkins are fake, so I can add them to the stash of other Halloween decorations I’ve hoarded lovingly collected over the years.

The real draw: food and drink, yo. This year, I’d found a yummy homemade hot chocolate recipe and decided to add it to the mix – turns out, even on a warmer night, hot chocolate is super popular. Especially when you add Frangelico to it. Just saying.

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All set to go…

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Still more pumpkins! The eyeball one was a nice touch.

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You can just barely make out my very favorite pumpkin we decorated – the glittery,
drippy paint one at the back.

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The girls decided that they wanted to add food labels – and used their mini pumpkins to do so.

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Quite clever of them, no?

Pretty much every other year, Nick has manned the garage and I’ve been the one to take the girls house to house. I’ve never minded; I enjoy chatting with the other parents we find along the way, and I love seeing their delight as they bound off from door to door, amazed that people are just giving away candy. GIVING. AWAY. CANDY.

Last year, I probably lost weight while pushing Ella over the river and through the hordes of neighborhood kids. The sacrifices we parents make. SACRIFICES, I SAY.

This year, however, Nick requested that we switch roles. At first, I was hesitant, but he seemed genuinely eager to share the actual treating experience with the girls, so I agreed. And then I posted the following to Facebook:


First year ever that Nick – at his request – is taking the girls around while I man our candy / donuts / cider / hot chocolate / coffee / glow bracelets. Was originally a bit bummed to miss the girls’ excitement – but it’s sprinkling… The garage is warm and dry… Four trick-or-treaters have asked, “Is this Halloween heaven??”… And I’m looking through Christmas catalogs while stealing candy and drinking hot chocolate spiked with Frangelico. Seems to be a fair trade after all!!

Frangelico aside, the best part of the night was watching the faces of the kiddos – and their parents – as they approached the tables. More than four trick-or-treaters really did ask if they were in heaven (come back tonight when it’s time to shower and you’ll see just how hellish this house can be), and at least a dozen adults took photos with their phones to “show their friends” what was set up. Weird to think that our garage may be appearing on other people’s Facebook and Twitter pages, but at least it’s not because we were caught streaking or anything. Yet.

The worst part of the night was the fact that I was sitting right on top of our candy (okay, not literally, because that would be really, really gross), which meant that I felt free to reach out and take a piece whenever the mood struck. And it struck often. I’d never had an Almond Joy before, and it turns out I think they’re delightful… but they’re less delightful when you’ve consumed three of them alongside at least two dozen other pieces of candy.

No, I’m not kidding (although I wish I were). At least two dozen. I’ve been pretty careful with what I’ve been eating since the week of agony our juice fast, and apparently I decided to blow that out of the water last night. Which is not only kind of stupid, but really, really painful. Literally.

Oh, well. Halloween only comes once a year, right? Plus, surely I burned off some of the Almond Joys by carting all of the pumpkins back into the house.

Next year, no matter who mans the garage and who takes the girls out, it’ll be a good time. I’ll just sit a little farther away from the candy bowl. Like maybe in Ohio.

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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.

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

Carving the pumpkin FROM THE BOTTOM.

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

Tinkerbell. Or… TinkerbELLA???

Oh! Those teeth!

Tiger girl.
Or perhaps… TigerELL… Never mind.

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

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

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

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.

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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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10.31 ready to trick or treat
‘Twas a bit colder on Halloween eve… Poor Minnie’s in a turtleneck…

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

Throwback Thursday: Eight Fourths

For the past eight summers, we have celebrated the Fourth of July at the lake.

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Ella, 7 monthsphoof and ella 4th
And her great-grandmother, Phoofsy, 80-something but always game for having fun.

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1.5 years

Annie, 7 months; Ella, 2.5 years4th cake
Our annual celebratory cake.

matching outfits
3.5 and 1.5 years

7.4 picnic girls
2.5 and 4.5

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3.5 and 5.5, and a lot of orange soda

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6.5 and 4.5

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and last year, 7.5 and 5.5,
on a day so blisteringly hot, they were already melting by the time this was taken.

Today marks the first time in over 30 years that our annual neighborhood picnic won’t occur… but I’m sure we’ll find ways to celebrate, nevertheless. And at least we’ll have the entire cake to ourselves – which, in a way, totally exemplifies the American dream.

Happy Independence Day, America!
(And happy birthday to some of my bestest friends in the world.)
You’re looking mighty spiffy for 237.

The Family That Bunks Together…

We are spending the week at my family’s lake house on Canandaigua, as we do every Fourth of July. It’s one of the only times each year that my extended family gets together en masse, and we four always look forward to it … except maybe for the sharing of one bedroom (including a bunk bed, with Nick and me on the bottom – you know you’re jealous).

“Pssst! Mommy!”


“Mommy! Daddy!”



I am, now.

“I’m trying to be quiet, but I don’t know what to do.”

You could raise the shade a little.


I’m trying to whisper. Because other people are sleeping.


You could raise the shade a little so that you have enough light to read.

“Oh, good! That means I can put on some pants!”

Do I even want to know why you don’t have…

“What the heck is happening in here?”

“She does this every morning, Daddy.”

This is why we don’t all sleep in one room at home.

You’d think, inventing games like this each day, that they’d go to bed exhausted and sleep in niiiice and late. 


Into the Wild Blue Yonder

I love a parade.
My husband does not.

Hence, on Memorial Day, in the interest of marital harmony, instead of attending our small town’s local parade and snapping pictures of adorably red-white-and-blue-clad children waving tiny American flags as they watch Boy and Girl Scouts and marching bands and Elk’s Lodge members and collections of veterans merrily stroll by — possibly tossing candy or maybe beads (wait, wrong parade) — we pledged to spend the day “as a family” and, at some point, talk with our daughters about Memorial Day and what it means.

And if I wanted candy, I had to rummage through the candy bowl in the dessert cupboard.
(Beaded plastic necklaces, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen around here.)


Today’s other highlights included eating lunch outside on a delightful, cloudless, 70-degree afternoon, riding bikes, listening to the girls’ gleeful shouts as they ran about barefoot with the neighbors, making virgin and leaded strawberry margaritas, eating hamburgers and corn on the cob (see: Memorial Day), sitting by a roaring fire in the fire pit and crossing our fingers that the 4-foot flames wouldn’t melt the telephone/electric wires above, and watching our adorably red-white-and-blue-clad girls practice cartwheels and handstands.

We also did take a moment to actually discuss Memorial Day, as well as who in our own family has served in the Armed Forces: their great-grandfathers, their daddy’s cousin, their Grandpa Ray. When Ella and Annie peppered us with questions about Grandpa Ray’s military days, we set up a Skype chat to ask him personally.

ImageAnd so, glorious weather and delicious burgers and bike riding and chocolate aside, the best part of our day, hands down, was Skyping with Grandpa Ray, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, and hearing about his Air Force career and service. We’re so grateful to him, to those who served but never made it home, and to all those who have served, and continue to serve, our country. Thank you so very much.

Yes, that’s a virgin margarita in the photo. Skyping makes them thirsty.