Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bookclub: A Good American

This started out as a really interesting story. Frederick sweeps his girl, Jetta off her feet. They start a romantic relationship and flea to America to avoid family tensions after getting pregnant. I really enjoyed their story and how the author unfolded their acclimating to life in Missouri. 

Around a third of the way in to the story, Frederick goes off to war and dies. This took me by complete surprise because he seemed to be the "Good American" and how can you have two-thirds of a story left to read without the main character? Well, the narrator (Frederick's grandson) shares the story of how his life came to be and a little of his father and aunt's story. 

The book lacks a real climax or arc and is more of a narrative of connections and a few traumatic events. There are a few really random turns concerning high school boys and their music teacher (completely caught off guard by this as it really didn't seem important or fitting in with the story). There is also a strange religious experience that the local pastor experiences and is just bizarre. The ending took another random turn and seemed rushed. 

Regretfully, I wouldn't recommend reading this one. It was really odd to not like it. I really enjoyed the first third, but the rest of it wasn't that interesting. I finished it but didn't really think it was that well written. Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Coldest Christmas

A few days before we flew to Minnesota for Christmas, my mom told me to pack all the warm things. This was going to be a cold one . . . the coldest Christmas in 20 years. Part of me wants to remember that Christmas when I was 13, but most of them seem cold to me now! Mom was right. It was cold.

We arrived in Minneapolis on Friday, December 22 to see brown grass and very little snow. But walking through the parking garage and seeing your breath and feeling the air chill your cheeks in an instant was enough to remind me where I was. The rental car showed it was 20 degrees -- not bad!

Our first night was spent in Richfield visiting my 95 year old Great-Aunt, Sylvia. The last time we saw her, Stephen was 10 weeks old at my brother's wedding -- that was really the last time we saw most people in my family. I think she was a bit surprised to see how active and aggressive he was around all her lovely, fragile Christmas decorations! Thankfully he was unsuccessful in breaking the glass door of her display cabinet! Chris ordered take-out and picked up my Aunt Carol for dinner. It was lovely to see these women again. I have missed them.

The next morning, we packed up and drove to Fargo where I would spend an evening with my friend Katie. My brother and his wife Ellen met up with us too and we hung out all together at the hotel before Chris took the boys "up north." Katie and I hadn't seen each other in two years, when I was in Australia. Which meant she hadn't even met Stephen! He promptly showed off to her and Ellen by throwing an ornament at the coffee table and shattering it into millions of tiny pieces. William sat quietly and watched a basketball game on TV. (What great first impressions!)

After the goodbyes (and reassuring William that both Uncle John and I would see him the very next day), Katie and I settled in for our long awaited girls night. We braved the cold and walked to a nail salon not far away and had pedicures. Then we walked a little further to get dinner. The hot tub that awaited our return was a welcomed retreat from the cold air and crunching snow. Fargo had much more snow that Minneapolis. And I soon realized that the sound of crunching snow beneath my shoes would be constant for the remainder of my trip!

The next morning, after a relaxed morning of breakfast and a photo-op, we said our goodbyes once more. Our friendship has been filled with brief sightings, frequent goodbyes and long phone conversations in between. Getting to spend uninterrupted one-on-one time with this woman was an incredible gift and one of my highlights this year.

My brother John picked me up and took me back to his home. I hadn't seen the tri-plex he purchased nearly two years ago so I enjoyed getting the full tour. He and his wife are doing a lot to fix it up and I have no doubt that it will be beautiful when it's finished . . . I also have no doubt that they will, eventually finish! Having to drive two more hours home was not something I was looking forward to, but getting to spend that time with my brother and Ellen was really good for me. It was the only time during the whole week that it was just us!

And once we settled in at home with everyone there -- that's 5 kids ages 4, 4, 2, 2, and 18 months and 10 adults, we had a lot of fun! It was Christmas Eve and we had plans for a big dinner and gift opening that evening, but thankfully we broke it up a bit and had the kids all go to bed after dinner and the adults stayed up and opened gifts together! It wasn't chaotic or stressful and it wasn't midnight either! (One of my family's traditions in the past has been to wait until dad finishes all the work and chores before opening gifts which is often very late for his early-to-bed-oldest-daughter.) I enjoyed the evening and I got some pretty excellent gifts!

Christmas morning was a lot of fun with that many kids running around and begging to open presents! They loved seeing that Santa had indeed come "in the night" (actually it was after they woke up because Santa was too tired to do it the night before.) Grandma had purchased matching pajamas for the kids so they were super cute in all the photos. They really seem to like matching each other at this age too.

On the airplane a few days prior, I had William open a gift I had wrapped - it was a book for the airplane. He flipped through it and said, "I don't like this book very much," and handed it back to me. I had told him that was okay, but to remember that when you open gifts on Christmas day to look at the person who gave it to you and say "thank you." You don't have to tell them right then that you don't like it. He replied, "Well, I'll just say, thank you but I don't want this." I tried not to laugh. He is just so cheeky sometimes. As far as I know, he liked all his gifts and did a good job being grateful. Stephen enjoyed unwrapping presents too, although still a little uncertain of the whole thing.

Later that morning we loaded up three cars and drove to my Aunt Marions house. She had a full out herself with all her kids and grandkids but extended an invitation for us to come on Christmas day anyway. There were 15 of us and at least 15 of them! And she made it look effortless and lovely all at the same time. One of my favorite things about my Aunt Marion and spending Christmas at her house was her Christmas Trees. Yes, plural. She had a tree in nearly every room and they were sometimes themed and always gorgeous. This year was no exception. It was stunning.

Erin & Mary. So thankful for close cousins.

The rest of the week was spent playing with the nieces and nephews, staying up too late with my family playing games or just talking and eating a lot of great food (way too many desserts and sweets). I think William ended up going outside three or four times to play in the snow. It was below zero the whole week, but he didn't seem to mind. He made snow angles, and stopped around making tracks but his favorite thing was shoveling snow (without a purpose) with Uncle John. It was really powdery snow, so the snowball fight we had been planning didn't happen and our snow man didn't get made either.

Grandpa was home in the mornings and later at night, he got as many snuggles as the boys would allow. Grandma played board games with William and had him help in the kitchen a few times.

Would you believe that we didn't even try to coordinate our
clothes for our family photo? True story!

Stephen did really well with my mom's tree! I was so worried that he would try to tackle it like he did ours. He wasn't always gentle and a few ornaments were sacrificed but he was also in awe of all the lights and "toys" hanging up, it was quite magical to watch him explore it.

After a week in Plummer we packed up and drove to Superior, Wisconsin to spend two nights with my sister Molly and her family. I really appreciated getting to spend one-on-one time with her family too. I loved seeing her place and hearing about her day-to-day life and the kids loved playing with all of the toys. It also helped that she lived closer to the airport! Our drive to MSP wasn't nearly as long or rushed coming from her house.

It was a very magical Christmas with all my family together.  I do not take that for granted! I hope you all had a lovely holiday as well -- where ever your travels took you.

2017 In Review

I'm a little late posting my year in review blog post, but what else is new?! I feel like I had so many things to write about this year and just never had the energy or the time to do it. I would have thought quitting my job in January would have allowed for a little more time for my hobbies, right?! Maybe time management can be my goal for 2018 . . .

It was a goal for several years for us to be a one-income family, specifically a Chris-earning-income family and that finally happened this year. January 13 was my last day working for Jews for Jesus, making my run there just shy of 7 years. I'm so thankful for my years there and experiences and friendships gained, but I'm also so grateful for this time to be at home with my boys.  The timing seemed right to us so we made the jump but two weeks after my last paycheck, Chris also looked like he would be unemployed again. The company didn't exactly let him go, but they didn't have funding to pay his salary (or anyone else's) . . . ever again. We thought it would be another short term stint of not getting paid. It happens in the start-up world (it seemed to happen to Chris's employer more often). So we waited. After a few months Chris started looking for other work and in June he started his new job!

Chris works for Rhumbix which is a software company developing programs and apps for the construction industry. His new office is in SOMA (South of Market -- in the city) so he now has a 20 minute bike ride instead of a 45 minute truck drive commute! So, not only is he home a lot earlier, he is also getting some exercise! Not biking for three years was really starting to bother him and his health. He likes his new job a lot and is trying to see the positive side of being challenged more often.

In March we took a trip to Las Vegas to see my parents who were there for a Vet conference. My sister Molly and her kids also made the trek out there to see us. It was a great week with the family and getting to know my nephew and niece a bit more.

In April, I joined a bookclub. Reading a new book and getting together with a handful of women every month has been a really great self-investment this year. I love reading but have never really discussed books with a group before.  And I am really enjoying the new community! Other self-improvement projects have included going to the YMCA when we are healthy, and I am part of the MOPS leadership team that meets at my church . . . that's actually how I got into the bookclub (a mom from MOPS invited me!).

Stephen turned one in May and since then has grown and changed and become a true joy. Even his angry face makes me laugh. He's not a baby anymore and works hard to keep up with William all day long.

Our family had three trips to the ER this year. The first happened in April when I was rear-ended. The boys were just fine thankfully but I suffered a concussion that lasted over 8 weeks. Chris took off a couple of weeks from work to help me with the boys because I couldn't be out of bed for an hour at time and after that we stayed indoors and tried to rest as much as I could while the boys learned to play more independently. I had no idea a concussion could be so terrible and I now have more grace for anyone who suffers a head injury. Thankfully I haven't experienced any long-term effects other than feeling dizzy by airport and hotel carpet! The other driver's car insurance covered the expenses of the accident but because I'm a stay-at-home mom I missed out on any of the "loss-of-income" benefits others might receive. This made me fairly angry and I wanted to fight it but in the end didn't. I know what I'm worth.

The second ER visit was due to Chris's bike accident. I really wanted him to get checked out since he had wrecked the bike pretty bad and cracked his helmet. Thankfully, the helmet saved his head like it was made to do and he didn't have any injuries other than road-burn on his face and shoulder. His wound-care expert father helped him patch that up and he healed very quickly.

The final ER visit was for our precious toddler who fell down the flight of stairs in our apartment complex. He was trying to follow dad and walk like a man but his short legs just couldn't do it. We aren't sure how far he fell since neither of us saw it happen but he landed on his head at the bottom. Thank God he makes babies so resilient! Other than a bruise he checked out clear but we were terrified for 75 minutes that something was very wrong -- he was just not acting normal at all.

So you can imagine, with our 4 months of no income and three ER visits that our savings account is basically empty. We had a big goal of buying a house this year and I think if we had, these bills would have been a financial crisis. Its not hard to imagine how so many families have been in actual crisis when they hit medical problems or job loss. It's so stressful!

Our housing search has been a roller coaster again this year, but in the end we are still in our little apartment. I've gone from being very bitter and angry to content and peaceful at least a dozen times. Right now, I'm sitting in the peaceful seat. Maybe 2018 has something else in store for us . . . maybe not. It's hard to get my hopes up on this subject. I'm purging a lot and moving things around in hopes of making our 650 square feet work better for us.

William turned 4 in October. He has shown more interest in learning how to read in the past few weeks which has been really exciting. He is attending a preschool program through our Parks & Recreation city program which is two hours, three days a week. He seems to do really well there. He did get in trouble for laughing about the word "poop" but since then has learned where that language belongs . . . at home, with mom. (lucky me!)

We just returned from a week in Minnesota for Christmas. It has been a long time since I've stepped foot in snow. There wasn't a lot of snow yet, but it was so very cold. I think out of the 9 days we were there, only one was above zero. We had a great time staying in doors with the whole family. This may be one of my favorite things about this year.

It hasn't been an easy year at all, but it has been a good year. There has been a lot of opportunity for new relationships to form and old ones to grow deeper. For our hearts to learn contentment and to depend on Jesus for peace. I'm so proud of my husband for taking on a new career (software engineer). It's been a joy to be home with my boys and watch them grow and learn . . . and fight.

And now on to another year.