Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Filling the Advent Calendar: A Metaphor For Managing a Busy Life

3 years ago, I bought an adorable Advent Calendar from Pottery Barn. 

Paul opening the first drawer in 2020.

It was a way to add some more excitement to the season of Advent. Each drawer is filled with 3 m&ms, and then every 1-3 days there is a slip of paper in the drawer that says "pick a present." The presents are a Christmas-themed book. 

December 1st came very fast this year. Last weekend was filled to the brim with activities, and last week was a very busy week with several evening commitments. I got home for book club at 9:30 on Wednesday. As a reminder, I usually turn my lights off at 9:30. So getting home at 9:30 is like getting home as 11pm for a more normal person who doesn't keep the hours of a senior citizen. 

The thought of filling the whole Advent calendar was so unappealing. So what did I do? I just filled the drawer for day 1. I did not need to fill the whole calendar because those drawers won't be opened for some time. The next day was busy, too, so I filled day 2 on the night of day 1. Luckily, I had wrapped all the presents 2 weekends ago so the biggest tasks was already done.  

It made me think - how often are we putting pressure on ourselves to do the equivalent of filling an Advent Calendar in one fell swoop, when we can just tackle a day at a time? I think many of us do this quite often. Or we think about alll the tasks that need to be done over a span of a month - like the busy winter holiday season - but much of the tasks don't need to be done at the same time or on one day.

This is the mindset I'm taking as we enter the busy holiday season. December is kind of nutty for us. I travel Tues-Thur of this week, have book club Friday, and then we drive the boys to my parents lake home on Saturday. We'll spend the night there, come back on Sunday, and fly to Mexico on Monday morning. We get back from Mexico on Friday, go to the lake on Saturday, have an early Christmas with my parents, and come back on Sunday. I have surgery on Tuesday, December 20th, and then we'll celebrate Christmas days later. 

That's a lot of coming and going and disruption to schedules. But I'm living life one week at a time, just as I filled the Advent calendar a day at a time - until I had time to fill more drawers on a quiet Friday afternoon. I'm not reading/absorbing the pre-op instructions for my surgery on the 20th. That can wait until Monday, December 19th. I'm not thinking too much about what I'll serve for our small family gathering on Christmas Day or what I'll buy for the dice game we play on Christmas. I'm trusting that my future self will figure it out - my present self doesn't need to worry about it now. 

What do you think? Do you have a tendency to let the cumulation of multiple tasks/commitments in the future get to you when it's not today's problem to solve? I am very much a planner, so this can happen for me but I'm learning to not look so far into the future! 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Weekend Recap + Will's Bday Bash

We had another jam-packed weekend of fun! Things really won't slow down anytime soon, but I'm focusing on the fact that our time is filled with things we want to do - that's key for me during this busy season! 

I'll start off by flashing back to Thursday. I mentioned that we ordered a Nugget fort-building couch for our kids for Christmas. It arrived early with the instructions to open it immediately! It's compressed for shipping but needs to be opened within days of arrival.

It came in a smaller box than we anticipated and looked like this all wrapped up.

We don't have any storage space in our house that the kids don't have access to, so we decided to give them an early Christmas present. It's not ideal but oh well. They love it so far! 

Serious static electricity was experienced!

Hopefully the nugget will help on weekends when we are cooped up due to the cold! 

On Friday, Paul and I went to the light show at the Arboretum. The forecast looked good, but the weather suddenly changed right as we were leaving - it started to snow and the wind really picked up. 

Paul's expression sums up how we felt for much of the walk. It was really cold and blustery!

But since we are hearty Minnesotans, we made the most of it. Paul enjoyed it but when I asked if he wanted to do this again next year he said he'd like to come back in the summer. Ha. 

Saturday was Will's 2nd birthday! My parents came over in the morning as they were in town for my nephew's football championship game on Friday night (they won! I would have gone if we didn't have tickets to the light show). Paul helped me make Will's cookie cake that morning. Then the boys had gymnastics and I dropped Paul off at a friend's birthday party. I know the family well enough to just drop him off. I had a lot to do at home to prep for the party so couldn't stay. He had a great time!

I spent the afternoon prepping for the party. I assembled the enchiladas so I'd just have to pop them into the oven and set our table. 

Our guests came over around 4pm. Will was happy that chips were on the menu. 

Phil's mom, aunt, and cousins all came over to celebrate Will's birthday. This branch of Phil's family has taken us under their wing which is so nice. This branch of the family is the sister-in-law of Phil's dad (his dad passed away 9 years ago) and her 3 sons and their partners. These cousins are all much older than Phil as he is the youngest cousin. Their kids are all in college or beyond so young kids are a novelty to them. So they really enjoy being around our boys. We will celebrate with them on Christmas Eve as we do each year. 

We had chips, salsa, and guac to start. Then chicken enchiladas and Spanish rice for dinner. For dessert, we had a cookie cake since Will loves cookies. 

The Great British Bake-Off is not going to come calling anytime soon. Ha. But it tasted good which is all that matters. 

Will got lots of presents which were a hit with both boys. The favorite gift was probably a microphone that connects through bluetooth! 

Sunday was more low key. Thank goodness! I went for a run with my neighbor in the morning and then we hung around the house all morning. I thought Will might have been ready to play our favorite kids game, My First Orchard. It was very evident he's not quite ready. Maybe in 6 months he'll be ready to play it. The box says 2+. Phil thought it was funny that I took that literally; like something magical might happen when he turned 2 that would make him ready for this game. But you don't know until you try! 

It was a beautiful, mild winter day so after quiet time, we went sledding at the hill that is 1.5 blocks from our house. Both boys enjoyed it! We need to get another saucer sled as taking turns was hard at times. After sledding the boys played in the front yard for a bit. 

And that was a wrap on our full, festive weekend! It's another busy week for us... I travel to Chicago tomorrow-Thursday for work, have book club on Friday where we pick our reads for 2023, and then we head to my parents' lake home with the boys on Saturday where they'll stay while we are in Mexico. We fly to Mexico a week from today! Yippee! I'll be back tomorrow with a post about the perspective I've taken to manage holiday stress! 

How was your weekend? 

Friday, December 2, 2022

5 Things Friday

 Hey hey! It's Friday! Here are 5 things on my mind today. 

1. We got a ton of snow on Tuesday - over 8"!! It was really pretty - like living inside a snow globe. We got home from work/daycare pick-up after 5 so it was already getting dark but  we let the kids play in the snow because we knew it was going to be much colder the next day. Paul was super into it. It was too deep for Will to really enjoy but he loved riding in the sled! Their enthusiasm for the snow was contagious for me - less so for Phil who had to dig our car out after it got stuck and did all the snow blowing/most of the shoveling. We live on a pretty steep hill and have a corner lot so it's a lot of work to clear snow. I did shovel our front side walks so contributed somewhat! And I managed the kids which is no easy feat! 

He was watching Phil use the snow blower in this photo. He was delighted by

2. I do look forward to a time when both kids can put all of their snow gear on by themselves, though. Paul is at that stage - I just have to zip up his jacket. Getting Will in snow gear is like dressing a cat. I mean, just getting out the door on a regular morning can be challenging. One morning this week, he would only let Paul put his boots on. #toddlerlife My mom talks about a stage of toddlerhood where I would only let my older sister feed me. Apparently I was very stubborn. Perhaps Will's strong feelings are payback/karma. 

3. You know how I said that my NYC trip last month was my last work trip of the year? Nope. Turns out I have to go to Chicago next week for a couple of days. I'll get to see coworkers from 3 different cities so it will be a productive trip but it's adding to that "I'm really busy" feeling that comes at this time of year. My next trip is LA in January. The flight out there is long so it will probably be a 3-night trip to make it worth my while. We'll see how sustainable this "traveling once/month" goal is! 

4. Tonight Paul and I are going to the light show at the local arboretum. He's been talking about this for months! Last year it was so bitterly cold the night we went but tonight it's going to be pretty mild by Minnesota standards - it should be around 20-30F. 

Inside an apple with the apple of my eye in December 2021.

5. Will turns 2 tomorrow! Some days, it doesn't feel like he's been our lives for 2 years. But in other ways, it's been a long 2 years... Time is funny when you have young kids. We are having a low key celebration with some of Phil's family. I'll make chicken enchiladas, Spanish-style rice, and chips/salsa/guac. I use a rotisserie chicken to make the enchiladas which makes it extra easy. For dessert, we will have a GF cookie cake since Will loves cookies! So that is 2 weekends in a row of hosting people. Younger Lisa would have been so stressed. Almost 42yo Lisa approaches hosting so differently. I think about what I focus on when I am guest at others' houses. I am not looking at the cleanliness of their homes. I am focusing on enjoying time with people. Our house will not be spotless and that is ok. We just make sure the bathroom is clean. I used to stress about food and wanting everything perfect. Now I know to not try any new recipes and to just focus on things that are a lay-up for me. Like Mexican food. And chips/salsa/guac. Everyone loves these foods, in general! 

Here are some flash back photos of Will!

Will's first birthday - we had banana cake with cream cheese frosting

Mama & Baby Will the day he was born
So tiny! Another first day pic!

Paul and baby brother when they met for the first time!

What's on your mind today? Does hosting stress you out?

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

What We Read in November

Well after several months full of stellar books, I was due for a month that was a bit "meh." And that was this month. I've read some good books, but lots of 3 star reads which is the rating I give books that were meh to just ok. 

Best books:

Let's start with the good news! These 3 were the best books of the month. Think Again is a non-fiction book by Adam Grant. It's a book about questioning previously held beliefs and leaving yourself open to changing your mind. I was drawn to read this book after hearing the author interviewed on Steven Levitt's podcast, People I (Mostly) Admire. Grant sounds like an amazing professor! Wrong Place Wrong Time is a thriller/suspense book with a sci-fi'ish element. At the start of the book, a woman witnesses her son stabbing someone to death. The next day, she wakes up and it's the day before - and then she keeps moving back in time. In her author's note, she says it's the story of a crime told backwards - you see all the things that led up to the crime occurring. Lastly, The Measure was another really great book. The world wakes up one day and everyone aged 22 and older has a box delivered to their door with a string inside. The length of the string tells them how long they will live. This would make an excellent book club book! 

Meh books:

Now for the not so great read. The Maid was promising and I enjoyed much of the book, but there were some things that happened in the final 1/3 that felt unrealistic, and I didn't love the epilogue. I'll Show Myself Out is a collection of essays about motherhood. Some of the essays were really funny but omg this book is dripping with privilege. She acknowledges her privilege, but still. For example: they came home from the hospital to a full time nanny and a night nurse. So I struggled to relate to the challenges she experienced given all the help they had... So I felt less sympathy towards and comradery with the author. Acts of Violet is an example of a book with magical realism that didn't work for me. The main character is a magician that goes missing, and it just didn't work for me. The Crane Wife is another collection of essays that was critically acclaimed but was a very uneven read for me. I liked some essays but some were just ok and I was glad to be done with the book.

Abandoned Books:

I abandoned 3 books this month - I've abandoned 7 YTD, so 3 in a one month is a lot and speaks to the "meh" mood of my reading! First, I gave up on the short story collection, "You Have a Friend in 10A" by Maggie Shipstead. I want to like short story collections but unless they are linked stories, the genre doesn't seem to work for me. I abandoned this after reading 2 stories. Next I abandoned "Our Wives Under the Sea" at around the 20% mark. It's only around 220 pages, I think, but it was feeling like a slog so I gave up. Lastly, I abandoned the memoir, "Once a Poet" by Ada Calhoun. I've seen this book on several "best of 2022 lists" so take my abandonment with a grain of salt. I abandoned around 10%. It's a memoir about her father who was a student of the poet Frank O'Hara. But I have no clue who Frank O'Hara is and couldn't be bothered to care, and I think her father was kind of a jerk, which luckily is a parental dynamic I have not experienced so I didn't feel like I needed to read about it.

Paul's Reads:

Here are some recent library books that were read multiple times!

First up, the latest Mo Willems book! These books are so delightful. I will continue to read anything Willems writes, even when my kids outgrow picture books. The pigeon is just hilarious. 

This was a random book I pulled off the shelf at the library. It's about a cow that just can't figure out how to dress for the seasons. The story is told in a rhyming cadence and Paul thought it was so funny!

Lastly, we have read nearly all of the "Bruce" books by Ryan T. Higgins. This was probably the best of the batch, but you can't go wrong with any of them. Bruce is a grumpy bear. One morning he goes fishing and his brother, Kevin, shows up. Kevin is soooo much fun - too much fun actually. The funniest part of this book is when one of the mice that lives with Bruce says Kevin is Bruce's doppelganger. Another mouse says, "he's Bruce's dingle pooper?" Potty humor lands very well with Paul. He laughed so much on that page! 

Did you read anything you loved this month?

Monday, November 28, 2022

Our Long Thanksgiving Weekend

Happy Monday. We are all very happy to be back at work and school today. We had a very busy Thanksgiving weekend but it was full of really fun things. But we were all very weary by Sunday night! Here's a photo-heavy recap of our weekend! 

Phil and I both had to work on Wednesday. Luckily it was a quiet day for me so I did the bulk of the childcare. Paul is easy because we let him have his iPad on days like that. He only has access to PBS kids games/videos and ABC Mouse so we feel fine about the excess screen time he occasionally gets. Will is the challenging one to manage, of course. He's in a tough stage of having VERY big feelings and an inability to tell us what he wants. Which = lots of screaming/tantrums. Being a toddler is HARD. Being a toddler parent is HARD. 

He insists on sitting on our laps for most breakfasts. This morning, he wanted a car. Which car? I don't know, which is why he has about 10 different toys next to him. 

"Helping" mommy work. 

The weather was really beautiful over the holiday weekend so many walks were taken with Will. 

Thursday started off with a 10k around the lake in our neighborhood. I ran it with my neighbor and we took it VERY easy. I've basically been sick for most of the last 6 weeks and she's had a busy schedule so we took walk breaks when we needed to. Neither of us cared about our time - we just wanted to start the day with some fitness! 

I got home got, showered, and got our food contributions together (a brussel sprout salad, veggie tray and dip) and we headed to my brother's in the west metro. We had a great day together. The boys enjoyed playing with their cousins and my mom got to hold Will quite a bit. He hasn't always let her hold him so she was thrilled to get so much time with him - especially since the boys will spend a week there in December! 

We ate at 1pm, which is when Will typically is sleeping. We thought we could put him down after dinner. Nope - he refused. But then fell asleep on my mom around 4 and woke up in THE WORST MOOD. He screamed for the whole 30 minute ride home and then for 45+ minutes when we got home - basically until he calmed down enough to go to bed. I share to keep it real around here. The holiday was wonderful, but holidays with young kids can be HARD. I remind myself it's only going to get easier as the kids get older!

Snuggles with nana, the baby whisperer

On Friday, I took Will for a long walk in the morning. You can see how excited he was for the walk at the start. But he perked up when we saw tons of ducks on the lake. 

That afternoon, my Chicago niece and nephew came over. I had planned to take them to a really cool local children's book store. I checked their website that morning to see what their mask policy was - and found out the store was closed on Friday! Doh! So we pivoted and went to Barnes and Noble instead. We got some treats at Starbucks and I bought a book for each kid. Will stayed home since he was napping at this time. After that, we headed back home and had pizza for dinner. 

On Saturday, we went to my MIL's after naptime. We took a picture for her Christmas card and ordered them for her. The boys had a great time playing with all her toys! 

And that brings us to Sunday. I hosted my college friends and their kids for our annual cookie decorating party. It was our first one since 2019! 

Paul helped me make the GF cookies in the morning and everyone came over around 4. My boys enjoyed participating and got lots of attention from the big kids. 

Will really enjoyed the sprinkles. I gave him a spoon so he could put some sprinkles on his cookie, but he took a big spoonful - and ate them! 

I served chicken wild rice soup to the adults and the kids had frozen pizza. 

And that was a wrap! We have a busy week ahead of us as I have book club Wednesday night, I have a wine work event on Thursday, Paul and I go to a light show at the local arboretum on Friday, and then it's Will's birthday on Saturday... So we just need to get used to being busier than usual for the next couple of weeks!

How was your weekend?

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A Day Off + Weekend Highlight

This is an extra short week for me. I ended up taking yesterday off because I had 2 doctor appointments - a mammogram in the morning and a pre-op physical in the afternoon as it turns out I have some uterine polyps that need to be removed so I am having that procedure on December 20th! Merry Christmas to me! I met my out of pocket maximum earlier this year - not to be confused with a deductible! I meet my deductible in Jan or Feb every year because of my crazy expensive RA meds. So I wanted to get the procedure done now so I wouldn't have to pay anything out of pocket. I had planned to bring lunch to a friend who had a baby, but they are fighting a virus so I stayed away as we have enough stuff going around our house! 

It was nice to have a day off, though. After I dropped the kids at daycare, I headed out for a 4 mile run which was my first run in about a week. I ended up getting some sort of stomach virus on Thursday that left me feeling not-so-great and not well enough to run over the weekend. I never threw up but was really nauseated Thursday/Friday and had no appetite for much of the weekend. I am still not quite back to my normal appetite! But I was glad I felt well enough to run on Monday as I have a 10k on Thanksgiving!

There were hundreds of ducks on the water! This is just one small section of ducks.

After my first appointment of the day, I worked on my puzzle in front of the tree with the fire place on. It was so cozy and delightful! A keen observer might notice that we have 2 P stockings (for Paul and Phil), 1 L (for me), and 1 T. Why the T? Well, William actually primarily goes by "Taco." That's what Paul named him when I was pregnant and the nickname stuck. I sometimes call him Will or William, but everyone else calls him Taco except a few people at daycare and he calls himself Taco. That said, I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a matching W stocking for the last 2 years. I thought surely at the start of this Christmas season I'd find one. But nope! They are nowhere to be found - not online, not in any local stores. So I decided to just get the T stocking. It's hard to imagine him going by something other than Taco at this point and if we do shift to calling him Will someday, the stocking will mark the time of our life when we called him Taco and can be an inside family joke. 

I finished the puzzle around lunchtime. And oddly - instead of having a missing piece, there was an extra piece! Isn't that weird? 

I spent the afternoon reading, took a nap, went to my pre-op physical, started dinner (white chicken chili) and picked the boys up from daycare. I need to take more random days off! 

Now, flashing back to the weekend. There were some highlights but overall it was a little bit meh? I had no appetite/felt off and it was so so so cold. Like feels like temps of 1F which is very cold for November. We were cooped up inside a lot. We really need to figure out a plan for what to do with our kids on cold winter weekends. Being inside as much as we were this past weekend is NOT good! 

But the highlights! Friday night, Paul and I decorated the tree after Will went to bed. He handled all the kid-friendly ornaments and then put hooks on the ornaments I hung. He is at such a wonderful age for things like this! Admittedly the toddler stage is NOT my favorite, but I LOVE age 4!

We also hung their little felt Christmas tree up. Paul had fun showing Will how to take the ornaments off and put them back on. 

The other highlight was seeing The Grinch at the Children's Theater on Sunday afternoon. It was amazing and exceeded my expectations. I would go again in a heart beat. It was the perfect length - 2 hours including the intermission. Paul thought it was wonderful! 

And now Thanksgiving week is upon us. The kids' school is closed Wed-Fri. Phil and I both work tomorrow, so we'll tag team to take care of the kids. I expect the day will be very quiet. Then Thanksgiving is at my brother's, we host my niece and nephew on Friday afternoon, we go to my MIL's on Saturday since we won't see her on Thanksgiving, and then I host cookie decorating on Sunday. It's kind of a lot, but it's fun stuff so I am focusing on that to keep any potential stress at bay!