Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thanks For A Great One 2019 (and Decade)

Picture from September 2010

2019 was busy. It brought friends closer, the minis more independent, new schedules, new adventures, new feelings, more problems, tears, frustrations, growing....all of those things you wish to have in life packed into one year. Going through blog posts, photos, Instagram, and Facebook to remember the year makes it so easy to remember all of the wonderful things 2019 brought. It's also easy to remember those tough times throughout the year: when I battled my first serious case of winter blues, learned the hard way not to overschedule myself or I crash. Hard. Failing on multiple occassions on projects and certain personal goals. However, in failing, I have learned to schedule breaks for myself and that it's okay to lower the bar I set for myself.

2019 was all about appreciating and spending time with the people I hold most special. It was about adventuring and pushing ourselves. It was a year spent thinking about our future and future goals. Not just immediate, year long goals, but five and ten year goals. That is something I haven't given much thought to in recent years because I've learned to live for the day (something raising and being around young kids has taught me). Don't focus on the past and don't put too much pressure on your future because it can all change in an instant. It was interesting to grow throughout the year and realize I needed these long term goals back in my life as I also tried to apply my "live for the day" belief. It was challenging, I don't completely have it down, but it's working for now.

I have a much harder time putting the decade into words. It was probably the most important decade of my life. I had two (of my three) kids, opened businesses, found and reconnected with my passions, found my voice and footing in this world, helped to open a Children's Museum, became an advocate for the importance of local communities, celebrated milestone birthdays and anniversaries, bought houses and cars, traveled, made my own dreams come true. As I was thinking back on everything that has happened in ten years, it boggled my mind. However, one song came on that I knew the lyrics to, but hadn't exactly paid attention to. Until today. This refrain sums up not only my year, but the last decade.

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did 
Yeah with every broken bone
I swear I lived

-- I Lived, One Republic

The past year was so FULL of highlights that I had issues choosing the highlights of each month. I went with moments I hope to never forget, moments that filled my soul, and made me happy. I'm spending my NYE full of gratitude that I've known moments like this not just this past year but in the last ten years.

1.) Sledding in the neighborhood. At the height of my winter blues (something I'm getting ahead of this year) we had several snow days. This caused me to be with my children, with no break, for nearly a month straight. It was rough. However, finding the good in the bad, it also meant we got to have some fun in the snow. We waited until after bedtime, when the neighborhood was quiet and full of freshly fallen snow to go sledding. Living in a residential, light traffic, and hilly neighborhood paid off. We loaded the minis onto sled and pulled them through the unplowed streets. We actually went sledding down the streets (one parent stood at the top and one stood at the bottom just in case a random car came by). It was truly a scene out of a movie.

2.) New Orleans for #35 AND my very first successful Gala. I planned an event. A fundraising event. An event that was a complete success and more. A few days later Hubs and I made a whirlwind trip to New Orleans for carnival season. To keep track of all of the carnival parades, I downloaded an app called Parade Tracker. It's still on my phone and occassionally random parades throughout the year pop up (like today's "Sugar Bowl parade is now rolling in the French Quarter")and bring smiles to my face.

3.) St. Patty's Day in Chicago. I've waited for this day since the oldest was born. The minis are finally old enough that we no longer worry about going into big cities with them. We introduced them to St. Patty's in Chicago in our favorite way: getting a riverview room at the Hyatt, donuts, and watching the river being dyed from the warmth of our comfy hotel room. I have many things I want to do once the minis are old enough and this was just the first one.

4.) We made Sunday Family Dinners an important part of life. We invited extended family to join, we made a point to end the weekend/start the week reconnecting with each other, and it was one of my favorite things from the year.
One of the many chilis we made this fall during our Chili Sunday's.

5.) We ran in a race. At my request, we did a family fun run at Living History Farms. The boys rocked it. A lot. It really got them interested in running, taking walks, exercising, and exploring more.

6.) One epic road trip. We saw so many epic things: Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, a coal mine, a black bear, dolphins, all of Washington DC, family, historic sites, friends. 18 days of on-the-go and we all came back just as happy as when we left.

7.) Another crazy summer at daycare, with Celebrations Around The World as our theme. Even after all these years, I still can't quite describe how it feels to have a hand in raising so many kiddos. I often say, yes I have three kids, but I usually have more. I look forward to my summers with not only my three, but kids that I had as babies who are now big kids. I love it, in all of it's insanity. My house was a nonstop party from June to August. Also, I can now tell you all about holi powder.

8.) The oldest mini began middle school. Middle school. That has presented so many challenges just in these short few months since school began. There's been hard talks, schedule changes, attitude shifts, attitude adjustments, so many freaking talks about attitude, but one big amazing thing has happened. Through our need of finding rides to and from school for our kids, we have an amazing tribe of parents and friends who help support each other and help take care of each other's kids. This alone has made middle school a much easier transition (for the middler schoolers at least). Also, those shoes he's wearing in this picture no longer fit him. Well over $1,000 has been spent in the last few months of new wardrobe and shoes. The growing is insane!

9.) Concerts. Several concerts. The minis stayed up well past bedtime to watch Andy Grammer perform at Pizza Fest, Pentatonix at the Iowa State Fair Grandstand (after making an announcement that we weren't going to the Fair at all this year, only to grab last minute tickets and head out for an entire day of fried foods and a night of music), and most recently a Christmas concert at the historic Surf Ballroom. The Christmas concert was the real highlight as we got the minis on the dance floor to swing dance.

10.) Exploring caves. I love our Iowa Day Trips. Our day exploring caves in Maquoketa was quite memorable.

11.) New Mexico. My first solo trip the kids and I enlisted my best friend from high school's help and companionship. It was a highlight road trip with so many adventures and experiences. I need more vacations like this one was.

12.) Experiences for Christmas. I have fond memories of driving around and looking at Christmas lights throughout my childhood. It was a highlight for our family. Our present for our parents was renting a passenger van and taking as many family members around to look at lights. Not only was this cherish by us and parents, but I have a feeling the minis will remember this for years to come.

Top 18 For The Last 18

My new favorite place to grab drinks with friends, cousins, family, or date night: Vino 209 in Valley Junction. The food is simple and excellent (the white truffle popcorn is unlike anything I've ever had).

Our 18 favorite things from the last 18 days. We've had plenty of new things come into our lives thanks to the holidays. We love nothing more than to pass on the things we love just in case anyone is looking for something too:

1.) We looked like an Old Navy ad at one of our family Christmases, but I really do love Old Navy's puffer vests. Especially because we can get them for the whole family (my husband is thrilled about this too....).

2.) Marriage Story on Netflix is a must watch. I'm told my multiple people You is also a must watch for me, so that's next up.

3.) Speaking of things to watch, I love spending my Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and CBS Sunday Morning followed by Face The Nation. Sure watching Face The Nation can cause some tension as I (sometimes) scream at the television, but overall I look forward to both of these every week....and I also feel incredibly old for admitting this.

4.) We're big Trader Joe's fans. Sure we like the usual frozen foods that everyone loves and those mini cheese crackers are the bomb, but my absolute favorite thing from TJ's are mini zucchinis and mozzarella. Cube the cheese, put it on top of the zucchinis, pepper on top, bake in the oven at 375 for 15 minutes (or 12 if you get too impatient like the oldest mini). I can eat these as a meal it's so good!

5.) Amazon Music has some great playlists, especially now that it's the end of the year and you can find Top 100 ____ Songs of the 2010's. There's a playlist for every genre. The day after Christmas I blared the Top 100 Country Songs of 2010's while I cleaned. As a result, the seven year old heard Red High Heels for the first time and has now added "fancy red high heels" to her wish list.

6.) Season passes to things are best Christmas presents! We have quite a few passes to places around Des Moines: Blank Park Zoo, Living History Farms, Adventureland. We also get quite a good use out of our annual National Park Pass.

7.) Valley Junction has suddenly become my new go-to area. We did quite a bit of our Christmas shopping at all of the local shops and have the thoroughly been enjoying all of the restaurants and bars in the Junction too. Our faves are Vino 209, Winchester Pub, G Migs, Billy Vees, and Cooper's. All solid choices if you're looking for a night out!

8.) We've had A LOT of car rentals this year thanks to some epic road trip adventures. Our favorites included the Ford Expedition (surprisingly great on gas), Toyota Rav 4 (the gas mileage is unbelievable), and the Chrysler Pacifica (also amazing gas mileage, comfort, and smooth drive). If you plan on renting a vehicle, you can call ahead and request these vehicles as we have done. Enterprise is our choice rental place.

9.) We've played a lot of board games this Christmas break. Our favorites have been Pig Pile, Rubik's Race, and Des Moines Opoly (all gifts for the minis).

10.) Hubs grabbed some of these mini Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys on Amazon. Then we spotted some at Target and added a mini Lite Brite.

11.) Starbucks Irish cream cold brew is my new weakness. I've loved it on these crazy warm (for Iowa) December days.

12.) We've got enough wintery trips coming up that I decided to buy some adult snowpants. I havne't worn them much because we don't have snow yet, but I liked the price, looks, and they weren't uncomfortable. I also tried them on and prompty spilled coffee on them, which just wiped right off of the pants. I'm fairly confident they'll be great.

13.) The hit daycare toy of the season is the Little People Frozen Castle and Toy Story 4 Figurines. I love that even the older kids got excited about the new toy additions.

14.) Hubs surprised me with a new Roku TV for our upstairs. I'm a big fan of our Roku and I really do love the TV (even though I insisted, and still insist, it wasn't needed).

15.) I'm gearing up for another Gala season and Rent The Runway comes to my rescue again with dress choices. I used them for my Gala dress last year and had a great experience. Hoping for the same this year, but at the very least, I'm extremely pleased with their selection and prices.

16.) Frontier Airlines has my back lately with decent prices for flights. It's largely known (here in the heart of Iowa) that the Des Moines Airport does not have cheap airline tickets. It can be an incredibly expensive airport to fly in and out of. However, I've scored some pretty decent tickets to fun places. I usually plan out our vacays well in advance, but my undetermined travel plans have made way for unexpected travels that I can't wait for.

17.) My heating pad comes with me everywhere nowadays. I'm old, I never had to use one once until I hit 35. But whatever. During the winter I like warming it up and holding it in my hands to keep me warm. That's not being old, that's just being weird. Anyways, I love this heating pad and highly recommend whether it's for backaches, muscle aches, neck pains, or just keeping your hands warm.

18.) Santa scored an unbelievable deal on the Friends Lego set and gave it to the middle mini for Christmas. It took a few days for the set to be complete (Santa gave the 1,000+ Lego set to the kid who can't sit still for more than ten minutes at a time) and it was so worth it! Worth the money, worth watching the middle build it, and worth seeing it done. It's really cool!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

3 Days of Christmas

The key to enjoying my Christmases with all of our family and friends is to spread them out AND have moments of rest. As usual, I took December 24, 25, and 26 off to celebrate Christmas and give myself a break. The minis and I had a  relaxing Christmas Eve Day at home before heading to my Aunt's house for my mom's side of the family Christmas. It was a night filled with middle school attitude (there were tears, threats, and smart ass comments before we got things turned around to have an excellent night), Mexican food, laughter, and fun.

Christmas Day we spent at home and welcomed family over. We were thrown for a loop when Christmas Day was 60 degrees. After visitors left, we went for an afternoon walk and adventure to the creek by our house. The minis have been playing there with friends and we had them show us what kind of trouble they get into. I completely failed to get pictures of grandparents and the minis together, but we had a great, relaxing visit with both sets of grandparents and treated everyone to french toast (made by Harrison) and meat, cheese, and crackers.

Since I had the 26th off, it was wonderful to just go to bed at the end of Christmas day. We didn't worry about cleaning up at all. It truly was a relaxing day spent with each other, fully enjoying each other's company, and having fun. The 26th however, was sleep in and then cleaning day. The house was such a mess, the floors were ridiculously dirty, and organization was needed to make room for the new toys. As relaxing as the day was, it was also a day of completing my To Do List (and then feeling like I was on top of the world because everything was done!).

We began Christmas Eve with music on and hot chocolate. The minis were sooooo beyond excited to open presents Christmas Eve that I had to have a list of fun things for them to do throughout the day or they would have been unbearable.

I made the minis take a rest halfway through the day. We watched Christmas Vacation--it was my first time all season and the minis third or fourth time of the month. We really enjoy this movie!

Then they kept busy "tracking Santa" while I got ready for our big night. They don't completely believe in Santa anymore (after an intense discussion, I discovered they knew "Mom and Dad get the presents, but a guy named Santa is around too"), but the thrill of tracking Santa hasn't faded. They mostly talked about all of the places they'd like to go as soon as Santa landed in a different country.

Elizabeth: "Um, mom, can you put your glasses on please? You're scaring me with your contacts in."

Before dinner they kept themselves busy with tracking Santa (from their phone) and stickers, they ate their dinner ridiculously fast, and then waited for everyone else to eat and mingle before presents.

Harrison took over handing out presents. This was the first Christmas in YEARS that I haven't handed out gifts at any of our Christmases. 

Opening presents addressed to the three of them. They got so many new games that we've had a blast with family game nights (and days) the past several days.

While Harrison handed out gifts, this presents confused him. He knew it was from us (because he picked out the bag for cousin Natalie's present), but he seemed to be genuinely confused by it. No one understood why and we prompted him to give it to Natalie. When Nat opened the present, she thanked my Aunt and I quickly told her it was from Harrison. She glanced at the bag and then read the tag "to H-y from Aunt Cindi" (H-y is a nickname for Harrison). I cracked up because it was clearly a re-used bag from last Christmas! I had never checked the mini's wrapping and gift bags because they seemed to have it under control. I guess next time I'll double check bags for tags!

Much past bedtime, the van was packed full of gifts and we looked at Christmas lights in the Waterbury neighborhood (each Christmas Eve they line the streets with luminaries and it is gorgeous and one of our favorite Christmas Eve traditions). The minis were so exhausted by the time we got home that they fell into bed. They didn't even both laying out cookies and wine...I mean, milk, for Santa. Santa still did her job and got everything set out. For the first time in, ever, we wrapped presents ahead of time. We didn't have our usual Elves (or Christmas Eve helpers), so we were prepared out of necessity!

Notice it is still dark out when we began the present opening Christmas day. I told the minis they had to wait until 7 a.m. to open gifts. It had been requested that everyone set their alarms for 4 a.m. I was not a fan of that request, but once I heard all three up and moving around, I gave the go-ahead to open (around 6:45). Also for the first time in years, we didn't do our usual Mimosa Bar. So my morning consisted of eggnog and coffee. Lots of coffee.

Another new thing (for the first time in years), we gave the minis gifts. Actual gifts and random toys they asked for. For the past several years we've gifted them vacations and epic road trips. However, all of our upcoming trips are (relatively) simple and we have everything we need for the trips. I'll admit to being a big sad and disappointed we don't have any huge, epic trips coming up, but it was still a nice Christmas. Plus, the minis have been so engrossed in playing with their new toys that our time at home has been easy and enjoyable.

The cat sat on the boogie board, the youngest flipped out because it was her boogie board so she grabbed it away, and then realized how big and awkward it was for her to hold.

The aftermath of Christmas morning. We got it picked up (or pushed to the sides of the room rather) before grandparents stopped by.

Elizabeth quickly discovered the joys of her Baby Alive, "ugh! I have to pee and my baby won't stop crying for her bottle!" I then watched her walk to the bathroom, pull her pants down as she balanced the bottle on her chin (in the baby's mouth), sit down and pee all while feeding the doll. I must say, I was impressed and rather proud. 

My dining room table is now a Lego building table.

Harrison asked for cooking and baking supplies for Christmas (new ones because he doesn't like mine apparently). He used some of his new bowls and spoons, along with his new cook book and chef's hat, to make us french toast for breakfast. 

They nicely took turns opening gifts from grandparents. I was excited to see a few gifts that can be held back and used this spring. I love gifts that can be used later on in the year.

Max quickly got the hang of his Hoverboard. He LOVES it!

The youngest put "a TV in my room" on her Christmas list. That's a hard no from this mom, but Santa did bring her a stand for her Kindle so, when it's approved by mom and dad, she can watch Netflix on her Kindle in her room....of course, she still brought it out to the living room to watch her show with everyone. So, not much different than watching it on the family TV. Kids are funny.

More Lego building before our much needed and appreciated walk. All of the rich food, meats, and cheeses caught up with me and I did not feel well by Christmas afternoon.

Elizabeth insisted on bringing her Baby Alive on the walk with us. Max (the oldest) wound up carrying the "diaper bag," which ironically carried all of Elizabeth's belongings and not the doll's.

After seeing first hand what the minis do at the creek, I can fully understand how they keep returning home soaking wet after falling in the water and with thorns and burs sticking out of their clothes. They enjoy trying to climb up the sides of the creek, which is lined with bushes that have burs on them and they walk across a fallen down tree. The mom in me tries not to freak out and think about everything that could happen, while the other part of me is happy my children get this kind of childhood. Where they can go with their friends and play for hours, taking snacks in a backpack, and exploring all while in view of neighbors (who I know won't let them get away with anything). 

Using branches and vines to climb up the sides.

I love these fearless kids. I hope that fearlessness never leaves them.

I loved our relaxing morning the day after Christmas. It was much needed recovery time for us all. Even though we didn't do much on Christmas Day, I still find the holiday exhausting and was a happy to have the day to ourselves. Hubs had to work, but that just meant the minis played with friends while I did housework uninterrupted. It was absolutely perfect.

We ended our three days of Christmas with family game night. We've had so much fun playing a new game every night before bed. I don't anticipate this becoming a routine once break is over, but it's definitley been a highlight for us all.