Friday, January 31, 2014

What I'm Looking Forward to in 2014

I'm not usually a pessimist, but I have been a bit of one so far this year. After having such a good year last year, I've been wary of this new year, and it turns out that it's been for good reason. It's gotten off to a shaky start and January has certainly been a rough month--I'm so glad today is the last day of it! 

 Let me complain for a minute. 2014 started off with our family getting stuck in Washington, D.C. without our luggage for two days, then the polar vortex descended and the super-freezing cold temperatures have returned again and again this month, cancelling school multiple times because it's been too cold and unsafe to go out. I've never experienced cold like we've had this month. Also, it's quarter-end for Peter's company and he's been working crazy hours--like until 2 or 3 in the morning, so the kids and I have really only seen him on weekends, and even then he's had to do work on Saturdays too. We've been cooped up inside a lot, which normally I don't mind in the winter, but by the end of January even I am starting to feel some cabin fever. The TV has been on a lot for the kids, and many evenings have become "Movie Night" instead of just our usual Friday Movie Night. I'm not anti-TV for kids and I think people tend to make too big of a deal about it, but even I feel bad sometimes when it's been on for hours. (But overall, I'm really grateful for it during the winter months!)

Then last week I got a nasty head cold that made life pretty miserable for two days (my throat was on fire and I was so agonizingly achy all over!), and then it started going away, but two days ago the congestion came back with a vengeance, so I've been coughing up a storm and am still not well enough to do things like exercise or eat a hearty meal. And let's not forget the killer migraine I got in D.C. that was so bad it made me throw up. After being so healthy and illness-free for almost all of last year, it's been especially difficult to be so sick just in one month! What the heck, 2014!? You stink!

Well, it felt good to complain and get that all out. Despite the rocky start to this year, there are definitely things I'm looking forward to in 2014. They include:

  • The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. I especially love figure-skating, which I've been a fan of since I was young. However (look out, pessimism returning!), I have a wary feeling about these Olympics, as do many others. I just have a feeling that they may not go that well and that there will be terrorism of some sort at least attempted. I hope I'm wrong but that's the premonition I have. 
  • A Spring Break trip to Kalahari in Wisconsin Dells, a super-fun indoor water park with an indoor amusement park and a wonderful spa. 
  • A trip to Massachusetts just for me this spring to furnish and decorate the basement of the Cape house once it's been remodeled and to get the house ready for summer.
  • Going back East for the summer and living in our own house on Cape Cod for the first time!
  • A Disney cruise to the western Caribbean the week after Christmas, featuring fireworks at sea on New Year's Eve and islands we've never been to. (However, we may postpone it (again); we haven't decided yet.)
  • I've dubbed 2014 "The Year of Non-Fiction" because I'm going to read lots of non-fiction books this year. I love fiction but I'm taking a break from it for awhile so that I can learn and benefit from all of the good information that is to be found in non-fiction books that too often go unread in my life. 
It's evident to me from my list that traveling makes me very happy. It's funny because I'm a homebody and a creature of habit, routines, and schedules, but I can put all of that aside when it comes to traveling and going places. Travel and books are probably at the top of my "passions" list in life. 

So anyway, I'm sure that 2014 will get better (knock on wood) than it's been so far. Perhaps I'm just getting the bad stuff out of the way early and the rest of the year will be relatively smooth sailing. How's that for some optimism? :-)

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Review of 2013

2013 was a good year for me. Remarkably good. So much so, that on New Year's Eve when I went to bed (early, before midnight--I was tired and I wasn't eager to say goodbye to 2013), for the first time in my life I had the sense that a year, an actual year, had been a friend to me, and that I would miss its companionship. Weird but true!

2013 was good for many reasons. After a nasty cold and killer canker sore at the beginning of January, I didn't get sick with anything for the rest of the year. Not even a cold. I didn't throw up once in 2013--one of my benchmarks for a successful year! So it was a very good year health-wise. I got a lot of things done and overall I was able to stay organized in a way that makes me happy and makes my life run better. I now think of 2013 as "The Year That I Conquered My To-Do List." I gave some long-standing issues in my life some much-needed attention, and now those issues are much improved. We had no big crises in 2013 and in fact enjoyed many blessings, both big and small. It was just a really good year. I miss it! It was my friend, after all.

This is a fun little list that I made up at the end of the year as I thought about why it had been such a good (and sometimes not-so-good) year. I'm amazed by how quickly it all went by! 


Best things
  • John turned 8 and was baptized by Peter, who I introduced to the gospel in the first place when we were in college. It was a special full-circle experience. I never posted any pictures of the baptism, so here are a few now. 

  • We went on our first cruise and it was a fantastic experience!
  • We bought a summer house on Cape Cod. That was the accomplishment of a major goal and something that we will enjoy for many years to come.

Worst things
  • A family that was our closest friends moved away. Their son was John's best friend, and our kids played really well together, and we got along really well with them. I don't make close friends easily, so their moving away was (and still is) difficult for me. I've shed some tears over that one.
  • Matthew Crawley being killed off on Downton Abbey. It scarred me!
Best TV Shows
  • The Paradise
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Downton Abbey (even though it turned out to be a bummer of a season) 
Best movies I saw
  • On the first day of the year, Peter and I went to see The Hobbit. Then on the last day of the year, we saw the second Hobbit movie, so we unintentionally started and ended the year with them! They were both good, but I liked the second one better.
  • Iron Man 3
  • Catching Fire
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • The Host
  • Gravity
  • Wuthering Heights (on PBS Masterpiece Classic)
  • Great Expectations (ditto)
Best books I read
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  • The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
  • The Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth
  • The Host by Stephenie Meyer
The worst book I read
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I hated it!

Most helpful book I read
Parenting With Love and Logic

Best discoveries
  • Mexico
  • The Piano Guys
  • Instagram (I finally joined it!)
  • Amazon Prime (I finally joined it too!)
  • This amazing deer forest at Southwick's Zoo, which is tucked back in the woods of Massachusetts near my mom's house. I hadn't been there in many years and was pleasantly surprised by how great this zoo was, especially the deer forest. I love deer and so it was really neat to be up close to them and touch their velvety-soft antlers! I plan on taking the kids there every summer from now on.
(We went to the zoo with one of my best friends from high-school, Jen, and her two kids.)

  • On Cape Cod: the Old Yarmouth Inn and Gray's Ferry
  • York Peppermint Ice Cream Patties
  • Deep-fried Milky Ways at the Iowa State Fair
  • Cover Girl Lip Perfection Gloss Balm
  • This cocoa pot and frother. They've brought my hot cocoa experience to a whole new level!

  • The fact that Bed Bath & Beyond will let you use expired coupons and as many coupons as you want in a single visit. How did I never know that?! (Incidentally, I got the above-mentioned cocoa set at BB&B, as long as many of the things for our Cape house. I love that store!)
  • Wonderful classical music apps for my iPad that make it easy to bring beautiful music into the house.
Rite of passage
  • Hosting Thanksgiving dinner
  • I realized that after over eight years of subscribing, I've outgrown Parents magazine. I won't be renewing when my subscription runs out this year. Kind of sad!

Most embarrassing moment
I was asked to teach the young women in my ward about organization and time management in August. I reluctantly said yes. I wish I hadn't. I was well-prepared, but once I was up in front of everyone and they were all silently staring at me I got really nervous and self-conscious and a rash developed on my neck and chest and the youngest (and probably most bored) young woman called me out on it. I wanted to die! I hate teaching in front of groups, especially when there are adults present, and I refuse to do it again for a long time. How I admire people who can teach easily and dynamically, or at least who can teach without a tell-tale rash appearing on their body. So I learned my lesson. From now on I'm only teaching kids with no adults allowed!

Skill I Developed the Most
(obviously not teaching!)

Biggest accomplishments
  • Buying a house on Cape Cod.
  • Conquering my to do list and achieving high levels of organizational nirvana. Seriously! 
  • Taking the kids to a movie by myself for the first time. We saw Monsters University and it was really fun.
Most unique thing
I got to meet some of the General Authorities at a luncheon that I was asked to help serve at for them in May. I met Elder Neil L. Andersen (an Apostle), Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy (who was super-nice; I really enjoyed chatting with him), and Elder Edward Dube of the Seventy. It was really neat!

Most painful experience
Gum surgery. And teaching the young women. :-)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

December's Delights

Our Elf on the Shelf (literally).

Trains and tracks and Sam.

John and books. Yay!

Peter philosophizing. Ha ha!

We went to the Cedar Rapids Nativity Celebration, which has become one of my favorite things to do each Christmas season. I love nativities, and they do such a good job with this event. 

Can you see my reflection in the ornament? It's concave angle makes my stomach look pretty concave too.

Sam loves our dogs, and they love him (especially at mealtimes).

The sun was shining on our Willow Tree nativity set so nicely one morning.

Sam and I enjoyed an afternoon at the mall before John got home from school.


He was shy and sweet with Santa. It was so cute.

 We went to the North Pole Express for the second year in a row. This was a must because Sam is still so into trains. It's based on The Polar Express, so you take a train ride to the North Pole where you get to meet Santa and do some fun activities. Sam loved it, but John is outgrowing it (as he kept reminding us!).

Sam and the train conductor.

Note the reindeer antlers on the train's headlight!

This picture is so funny! Check out Sam checking Santa out!


Happy Sam with his loot from the gift shop. This child is spoiled.
It was a fun and festive way to spend a December morning.

I made Christmas rice krispie treats. 
I re-discovered rice krispie treats in 2013. They are delicious and fun and easy to make!

 Painting ornaments.

Speaking of ornaments, meet my newest owl ornament. Definitely cu-hoot!

We drove by a totally decked-out house. I love it that people do things like this!

The kids and I were eating dinner at the mall's food court one evening when a flash mob surrounded us and started singing Christmas carols. It was really neat!

In keeping with annual tradition, Peter spent hours making two batches of his Finnish coffee bread to give out to co-workers, neighbors, and friends. Even though each loaf looks like a placenta, it's really delicious! 

I like this picture of the boys joking around. It's so nice when they get along and play well together. And it's happening more and more as Sam gets older.

 This was the night after Christmas in Chicago at our hotel. We were flying out to Boston the next morning. John loves playing on the luggage carts. That's our monkey boy! 

Our shoes lined up.

At O'Hare the next morning. The reason I included this picture in this post is because we were there that morning and then that night when we were at my mom's house in Massachusetts we happened to watch Home Alone 2 and this very "hallway" at the airport was in the movie, decorated just like this!

Driving out of was good to be home again! 
At least our flight from Chicago to Boston went well. A week later for the reverse trip it was a different story!

Do you notice what's funny in this picture? Besides my brother Ben? Ha ha, just kidding Ben. 
But really, do you notice what's funny? 

Well, this post is long enough so I will end it here. (More about our trip East in future posts.) 
December certainly was full of many wonderful delights. No wonder it's one of my favorite months of the year!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Possibly the Best Christmas Ever

Today it's freezing cold outside, so brutally frigid that school is cancelled and it literally feels like -25 degrees out. The warmth, brightness, and excitement of Christmas has been over for a month, and the relative bleakness of winter has most definitely set in. It's a little depressing to write about Christmas now but I want to do it because I love looking back on these posts and this is the main way that I record our family's experiences. So, even though my present self isn't terribly excited about it, this is for you, future self! I know you'll appreciate it.

Last month, we enjoyed possibly the nicest, most peaceful Christmas we've ever had as a family. We were very blessed to enjoy such a peaceful spirit in our home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. (Perhaps it was fortification for the travel nightmares adventures in our near future!)

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year. It's such a magical, special day. This one was probably the best I'd had in recent memory because it was simple, quiet, and peaceful. Peter went to work but he came home in the mid-afternoon. I let John and Sam each open a gift in the morning, which I've never done (our tradition has always been to open a gift on Christmas Eve evening), but I knew that it would keep them occupied and there were going to be a lot more presents the next day, so why not? I turned out to be right--their gifts did help keep them occupied, not to mention happy!

We tracked Santa's journey around the world throughout the day thanks to NORAD.

Boo Boo was cute in his festive court jester "necklace." It fits his fun-loving personality well. Yogi runs away at the sight of it (smart dog), but Boo Boo is always game.

The boys got along well and had fun together. The knowledge that Santa would be coming that night must have been very motivating for them.

We have a fancy dinner on Christmas Eve with prime rib (or some comparable cut of meat). 
It was ready right on time, and it was delicious!

This picture literally makes my mouth water. I really wish I had some of this to eat right now!

Cleanup after dinner was amazingly quick and we weren't running late like we normally are on Christmas Eve. After the kitchen was clean we read the account of Christ's birth from the scriptures and then we each opened a present. We threw a mixture of oats and glitter out front for the reindeer, Peter and John made a special treat for Santa, and the kids went to bed. I already had all the presents for the kids and Peter wrapped (Peter wasn't quite as lucky and still had much to do), so I got everything arranged and then watched It's a Wonderful Life, one of my favorite movies. I was amazed that everything had gone so well that day. Usually there's more fighting, things are running later than I'd like, I get impatient, and I'm really tired by the time the kids go to bed. Not this year! 

It was Brian's last night with us until November 2014. Bye Brian! Sorry for all the times I forgot to hide you in a new place. I'll try to do better next year!

 Santa brought this classic Christmas train set for train-loving Sam. It couldn't go around the tree, but it could go around the coffee table!

I posted this picture on Instagram.  

Christmas Day

Again, another peaceful, practically perfect day. This was the tree before we opened presents with the addition of the gifts Peter had added.

A beautifully wrapped gift for me.

John's favorites were everything Pokemon he got and the chin-up bar for his room.

Sam's favorite thing was a cool new Lego train set, and of course the Santa train and tracks set. He also liked this cute dollhouse. (What? Boys can play with dollhouses too!)

Being a tunnel for his train. I love this boy! 

The boys got a fun Angry Birds Pirate Ship Jenga game.

I cleaned up the post-present mess while Peter cooked a delicious breakfast. We have a nice Christmas Eve dinner and a nice Christmas morning breakfast, and then we take it easy and have leftovers and easy things for the rest of the day.

Sam enjoyed every bite of his special snowman Hershey bar that was in his stocking. It's funny how much he likes chocolate and how much John doesn't.   

Another reason this was a picture-perfect Christmas was that it unexpectedly snowed all afternoon into the evening. Those dreams of a white Christmas were indeed met. There was already snow on the ground and the falling snow made the day even more picturesque. 

I indulged in my favorite thing to do on Christmas. I read on the couch by the tree all afternoon and into the evening. I happened to read the perfect Christmas book too, A Nantucket Christmas by Nancy Thayer. The warm glow of the white Christmas lights, the gently falling snow outside, and being cuddled up under a blanket with a good book made the day a 10. 

A blissful scene...

In the evening, after the kids were in bed, I was still there. 

I actually ended up sleeping on the couch by the light of the tree that night! 
 This was the view from my position of repose. Have I mentioned how much I love reading (and sleeping) by the light of the Christmas tree? Because I really, really do.

A few random pictures from the day:

These were some of my gifts from Peter. An iPad Air, Ralph Lauren Romance perfume, a book I'd been wanting. Not pictured is a beautiful set of pajamas that Peter picked out on his own and surprised me with. They're comfortable, soft, and really nice-looking. He's got good taste!

You can't see it here but the glitter from the reindeer oats was sparkling, and the porch looked enchanted to me, which is why I took a picture of it. 

Snow falling behind the nativity sets. I love this picture.

The reason for all of this:

It really was a magical Christmas and things just went so well and felt so peaceful. Part of me wondered, and still wonders, "I hope it wasn't so good because it was our last one together." What if one of us dies unexpectedly before next Christmas? It's a thought too awful to dwell on, and I'm not that worried about it, but it helps me to not take our family, my life, and our blessings for granted. I can't wait for next Christmas! (As long as I'm not dead!)