Monday, December 29, 2008

Road Hard

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Christmas. In Kansas, we are outposted at least three hours from our nearest relative, and each season, we are the ones who hit the road. We switch off each year for each of our families-- so every other year we wake up in our own home on Christmas. This was that year, so we did get to wake up at home and then head to Hubs' family.

Unfortunately, because Christmas was on a Thursday, and we customarily go to the "other" family the weekend after Christmas, it meant a whirlwind tour, spanning nearly 1,000 miles in five days.

Can I just say that I am pooped?

Our kids did great, though, and dealt with the changes in routine and locale like champs (for the most part.) While each of the four of us had our moments of less-than-holiday-spirit, we stuck together and dealt with almost everything as a team.

But when I think about doing this next year, with another baby... I can't even fathom it.

I don't know how much longer we will be able to uproot our whole lives and drive to everyone else's Christmas. As much as I love my family, and he loves his, we also love our family, and it definitely gets placed last in the current configuration.

My kids were begging for Kansas by yesterday. Begging. They love their family, too, but they love their home. And nowhere is the spirit of holiday and love more present than in your own home, right?

I'm torn.

What do you do? How do you manuever that? No matter which route we go, we miss out on something... I don't know.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Enjoy all the gifts of the season. Especially the gifts of family.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting Around

Roundabouts are a relatively new phenomenon here in Minnesota, but they're popping up all over the place, not only in "the Cities" but in smaller towns and busy rural intersections.

The people in charge of planning the roundabouts claim that they're safer than stoplights or other traffic control devices because they eliminate many high-speed "t-bone" crashes, which are often serious.

They also claim that roundabouts are easy to use, and that drivers only have to know three rules in order to use a roundabout properly. (This was in an article accompanied by a 5-point primer for using roundabouts.) Both the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press have published articles about roundabouts.

Apparently the word isn't getting out, because there's a lot of backed up traffic at some roundabouts I've been through, with drivers unsure of how to get in or out of the roundabout safely. This is compounded if it happens to be a two-lane roundabout.

I've heard several tales of semi trucks carrying windmill parts or farmers towing implements who have arrived at a roundabout and are unable to proceed through it due to the length of the load.

Recently, my husband and I witnessed first-hand with incredulity a driver who turned left into a right-angled roundabout. Yes, there was a one-way sign, but snow was perhaps blocking the curbs that would have led him in the right direction. He ended up heading right into the oncoming roundabout traffic and had to drive up onto the high grassy circle to avoid a collision.

Are roundabouts really as simple as their designers claim them to be? What can be done to teach drivers how to safely and properly negotiate a roundabout? Are they a safety device that will last, or just the latest fad that will be reconstructed in a few years? Does this video affect your impressions?

What's your take on roundabouts?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Merry Christmas, through the years

Eight years ago...

Five years ago...

This year...

(Where did all of that hair come from?)

Have a Wonderful Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow Days

When you live in the Midwest, "snow days" are part of your winter vocabulary, along with snowblowers, snowmobiles, snow boots, and, well, just plain snow.

They're what kids and teachers look forward to, and what parents either love or hate. Part of the excitement falls in the uncertainty, waiting for that early-morning phone call that says to go back to sleep, or watching the school names on the ticker across the TV screen. Although technology now gives us website updates and e-mail warnings and text-message announcements, one of my favorite ways of getting the snow-day news is listening to WCCO radio to see how fast the morning show guys can list the hundreds of school delays and closings.

Depending on where you live, a snow day may be brought about by snow, ice, or even severe cold. (The severity of the cold is relative to your usual clime; it takes a lot more cold but a lot less snow to call off school in Minnesota than in Ohio, or so my sister tells me.)

As a kid, snow days were exciting. All the rural kids had a designated "storm home" in town in case the buses couldn't run. I remember being in kindergarten and having to go to my great-aunt's house with my cousins. The snow drifts were so big that the older ones lifted me over because my little legs couldn't make it through.

When were in high school, we learned that school would likely be dismissed early if we couldn't see the grain elevator from the history-room window. The elevator was three blocks away.

As a teacher, I loved those early-morning phone calls that allowed me to roll over and go back to sleep. The school where I taught in Iowa was well-prepared; they had separate schedules for 1-hour late start, 2-hour late start, 1:00 dismissal, and 2:00 dismissal so everyone knew where to go, and more importantly, when to eat lunch.

As a parent, I look at snow days a little differently. It's scary to have the kids outside in the extreme cold waiting for the bus, or knowing they're on a long route in the country when the weather and roads are questionable. I'd rather just have them home, safe and warm with me.

I've created a tradition of baking cookies on snow days, for something fun to do when suddenly having a together day at home, and also to ward off the cold and storms outside.

What's your take on snow days? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Do you do anything special to celebrate? Do you have any childhood snow day memories?

Monday, December 15, 2008

This year...

I am feeling like this really hits home. Enjoy :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Where Have All the Christmas Cards Gone?

I remember as a child helping my mom address her Christmas cards each year. I'd ask, "Who's this?" and learn about her friends from when she was a teacher in Wood Lake and Waukegan and San Diego, her college friends and her childhood chum. With a big extended family and far-flung friends, she usually sent more than 100 cards.

Then we'd wait with anticipation for cards to arrive in the mail. Most included handwritten notes or family newsletters, which in the days before computers required a typewriter and purple-ink mimeograph access. We especially loved the ones that included a family photo, and Mom would lovingly tape those to the end of her kitchen cupboard for display until the next year.

I've continued that tradition of sending cards. Now it's my own set of family and friends--girlfriends from grad school in Indiana, my circle of friends from UND (North Dakota, not Notre Dame!), teaching buddies from Iowa, aunts and uncles and cousins who live across the country.

Before kids, I would make homemade cards; after the kids were born I lacked the time for that creativity but suddenly had new people to write about in the family newsletter, and more interesting subjects to include in a picture than just hubby and me.

My list isn't as long as Mom's once was; this year I sent out 75 cards. I've tried to keep them personal; along with the newsletter, which I try very hard to be informational but not braggy, I write a short message or handwritten note on the cards, which I've chosen carefully to convey the message our family wants to send at Christmas. (The ones from Lang are some of my favorites.) I've even reverted from the mail-merged labels and hand-write the envelopes the way I used to for my mom, just because it makes it feel more personal to receive a hand-addressed piece of mail these days.

And, just like when I was a child, I look forward to the trips down the long driveway to the mailbox, even in the snow and cold of winter, to opening the mailbox and finding envelopes from people I haven't heard from in a year, usually 2 or 3 or more a day beginning the first of December.

Except that this year, through December 11, I've received only three cards. Three. One from my mom and dad, who I actually DO hear from more than once a year. One from a friend of my mom's who took me under her wing when I attended grad school in her neck of the woods. And one from an acquaintance who used it to announce his divorce. (And I suppose, if you're technical, we can count the two received from businesses we patronize, bringing the grand total to five.

I'm beginning to wonder if we're going to receive many cards this year. Are they a thing of the past? Is postage too expensive? Do people assume that since we've exchange e-mail addresses and "contact" information that we're actually keeping in contact?

I hope not. Instant communication on the computer has done away with many old ways of doing things, but I hope that the sending and receiving of Christmas cards continues to be a tradition, one that my children will someday carry on with their friends and family.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Do you send Christmas cards? Tell us about your Christmas card traditions, and whether you plan to carry them on in the future.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sounds heard around our house

Each year, I try to give relatives who live far away, and don't have the opportunity to see what my boys are like, to get glimpse of what our house sounds like day-to-day. Here are a few samples of the lines from the inside of our Christmas Card of 2008.
  • I'm not having dessert: I just saw dinner and I'm NOT eating it.
  • Mom, is this safe? (Probably not if you have to ask.)
  • My hair is turning blond. Yes, honey, it's from the sun. No, Mom, it's like this even in the shade.
  • Mom, if Santa brought this, why does it say "made in China?"

Merry Christmas to you all.

Just... FIX IT!

I'm one of the last dying breed-- I still watch Saturday Night Live. Any other confessors out there? Anyway, one of the newest recurring characters on the show is the economic advisor on the Weekend Update. The economic guru is played by Kenan Thompson. His stellar advice about the economy and what's ailing it?


It's just not going to be that funny until you go here for a second.

Okay... maybe it's not all that funny anyway, in retrospect.

But it always gives me the giggles.

Anywho. I digress. But there's a point here, I promise.

Last weekend, we did the tree with the kids. They could not have been more excited about it. They circled the box of ornaments like every ornament was a priceless treasure, hopping around and exclaiming about each one they pulled out of the box. "This was mine when I was a baby!" says my four year old. "And this one was mine when I was a baby!" says my two year old.

I think to myself, as I worry over the fragility of those ornaments, "you're still babies."

We hand them (the less breakable) ornaments, and they place them onto the tree.

The overall effect was, I think, pretty good. You know, the typical tree. Lots of preschool ornaments. A few nice ones. Some ornaments from when Hubs and I were kids.
Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the tree was a little... bottom heavy.

Clearly, there was an area of high ornament-to-tree ratio. The Kid Zone. Also known as: The Only Part of the Tree They Could Reach Without Assistance.

I'm somewhat anal about things being symmetrical and "right," (can I say anal here?) so I was resolved to even out the ornaments as soon as the kids went to bed. I didn't want to hurt their feelings, of course, but it was driving me crazy that there were so many ornaments in a two foot swath of the tree.

I wanted to "FIX IT!"

I watched the kids as they placed the last of their ornaments, also watching the clock for bedtime.

So I could "FIX IT!"

But as I really watched my son, I saw that he had a story about each ornament-- why each one was near another, who were friends, who had a back story. And at that moment I realized three things.
  1. My son has a phenomenal imagination.
  2. I was never going to be able to move these ornaments without him noticing.
  3. The tree didn't need to be "fixed." It was perfect the way it was.
So, I came to terms with our "cluster tree," and I haven't moved a thing. I haven't added more ornaments to balance out the bottom. I haven't touched it since we put it up.

That tree is a great reflection of what life with small kids is like. It's never what you imagined, or even what you thought you wanted. It's messy and disorganized, but it is also boundlessly joyful and exciting. There's anxiety about what will get broken, but you take the risk anyway because it's not about having the "perfect" tree, it's about the experience of doing this together, and reveling in one another.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In The Mood

One of the big redeeming qualities of life in the Midwest is that there is a fair chance to have a traditional “white” Christmas.

The red kettles appear shortly after Halloween and the stores follow suit with their holiday decorations popping up on shelves soon after that. If you listen, you’ll hear the people grumbling, “it’s not even Thanksgiving” as they scowl at the greenery and baubles. It is nearly impossible to get into the holiday mode until the turkey has lulled us all into a coma on Thanksgiving.

Even then sometimes you’ll hear people murmuring about it not feeling like Christmas until there is snow on the ground. We all want the white Christmas, and then we want the snow gone by New Year’s thankyouverymuch.

I have occasion to get into the holiday spirit sooner than most as I decorate a tree (or, this year, two trees) for a charity fundraiser. We pick our themes, adorn our trees and display them at the civic center during the week of Thanksgiving. The kids are always spellbound when they enter the transformed ballroom. Even in my most bah-humbug of years, the festival of trees lifts my spirit and reminds me of the real spirit of Christmas, snow or no snow.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Winter Has Arrived

This was the scene outside my house earlier this morning. Not too early, because when I checked at 6:15, we discovered that it was our first SNOW DAY of the year, so we all went back to bed. Well, almost all. My husband fired up the snow blower and cleared the driveway. I crawled back into the warm covers and quietly celebrated not having to wake everyone for the morning rush.

Of course, my boys had the entire week off of school last week, for Thanksgiving Break, so we've had a lot of togetherness. My parents and brother joined us from warmer climates, and I'm quite sure they're so happy to have left before the snowstorm hit. My boys, however, are beside themselves with excitement to have yet another day to themselves. The boots are on, the sleds are out, and I'll be making hot chocolate with marshmallows within the hour.

This is one of the things I like about living in the midwest: up in the northern parts, we almost always get a white Christmas. Skiing and sledding and sitting by the fire watching the snow come down are all a lovely part of our winter. And it has begun.

Welcome, winter. You're a beautiful friend, you just tend to overstay your welcome.