Birthday shenanigans.

Occasionally the planets align and the fabulous birthday idea that germinated inside your brain for your somewhat persnickety, turning-twelve-years-old-and-it’s-a-big-deal daughter, is just as fabulous when executed in real life.

(Please tell me, Gentle Reader, that I am not the only one who suffers from having amazing ideas that simply do not translate into reality well.  It would be comforting to know that there’s a group of us who dream bigger than we can actually deliver.)

Being twelve years old is a challenging age.  Things that were loved and anticipated in earlier years are deemed too babyish now by the birthday girl.  And yet, Trinity’s not quite old enough to fully embrace the typical teenage ways of dealing with birthdays.  Twelve seems to be one of those bridge years that straddles childhood and adolescence, while being neither.

The birthday idea centered around taking a small trip.  The beauty of living in Indiana (I mean besides the obvious fact that Indiana is great) is that it’s called the Crossroads of America for a reason: there are several big cities with amazing places to visit all within easy traveling distance.

For weeks we debated the pros and cons of various nearby cities: Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville.  They all offered a myriad of fun activities and places to visit.  However, when I told my daughter, my book loving, readaholic daughter about my favorite bookstore in the entire world, the trip rather planned itself.

For my daughter’s twelve year old birthday we went to Columbus, Ohio and visited the lovely neighborhood of German Village with some of our extended family that lives nearby.

German Village is an amazing and unique neighborhood.  Established in the early and mid 1800’s, this place has been beautifully maintained and cared for, becoming one of the premier historically restored districts in the nation.

Cobblestone streets and sidewalks line the area, while narrow brick houses, eclectic shops, and art galleries mingle together, side by side.

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But the best part (at least for us) is the incredible Book Loft.

This independent bookstore has thirty-two rooms all devoted to books, as well as a gorgeous courtyard filled with tables of discounted books.  When you walk into the store, a friendly employee hands you a map of the place.  I don’t know about you, but a bookstore so large that it requires a map is my idea of heaven.

For her birthday, Trinity received book money not only from us, but also from her grandmother and aunts.  We spent the better part of the early afternoon exploring the children and teenage sections of the store while Trinity plotted and schemed to get the most literary bang for her bucks.

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We left carrying bags (and bags) of books because everyone needed a little something to commemorate visiting such an amazing place.  And the look of pure delight on Trinity’s face as she struggled to carry all of her new novels was lovely to behold.

Afterward our shopping extravaganza, the rain had (finally) stopped and we played at a nearby park in the neighborhood before having dinner at an Italian restaurant.

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As we sat around the table, stuffed to the gills with delicious food and talking about our day’s adventures, my nephew, after consuming what may have been his seventh breadstick, summed up what everybody was thinking when he announced, “This has been the best day!”

And that is when the server brought out a chocolate cake and everybody sang Happy Birthday to my amazing, twelve year old daughter.

May this year be her best year yet.

Posted in outings and trips, The Big Girl | 8 Comments

Maternal pondering on a Monday morning.

Right now the children are scavenging hungrily in the kitchen, trying to find something to eat for breakfast.  The pancakes and granola are gone, as is the emergency box of Cheerios that was set aside for such catastrophes, and I forgot to make the overnight waffle batter yesterday so the entire house is waffle-less.

Oh, calamity.

Fortunately, there is yogurt, fruit, bread, and eggs so the kids have something from which to cobble together a somewhat balanced, yet slightly off kilter nutritionally morning meal.

Most exciting of all my offspring are foraging somewhat independently for their own breakfast.  One daughter made a fruity yogurt concoction, another scrambled eggs in the microwave, while my son cut his own lopsided pieces of bread for toasting.

Meanwhile, I was here at the computer, offering guidance from the sidelines.

That seems to be my new role these days: the cheerleader from the sidelines, the advisor from the shadows, the nervous Nellie in the corner trying to let her children make their own decisions.

It’s exciting and scary, this new phase of parenting I’m in.  All three of my kids are becoming increasingly self-reliant.  I am no longer needed for many of the things that I had done for my children in the past.  Which is good and exciting and freeing, but also sad and lonely and nerve-wracking all at the same time.

Last week my son didn’t ask me for help the entire week with his pre-algebra.  The explanations and examples in the book were enough for him to understand the concepts and do the work on his own.  Part of his success comes from the foundation I have given him in the past but a large portion of it comes from the fact that decimals are his mathematical jam- he gets them in a way I don’t quite understand.

That pretty much sums up what I do now as a Mom:  I watch these individuals I love so completely take the things I have taught them in the past and blaze new trails with it.

As a Mom, I’m constantly worrying if I gave them enough to work with while nervously watching them navigate their way into the new territories of adolescence.  I struggle to swoop in only when they truly need me and not when I want to feel needed.

It’s so, so much harder than I thought it would:  not the parenting of these older kids, but the struggle to not parent them when they don’t need it.  It feels similar to giving birth.  The pushing wasn’t my hard part, it was not pushing until the appropriate time.

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No gratuitous pushing.  That’s my new motto.

I wonder if that comes on a t-shirt?

 

 

Posted in parenting | 6 Comments

Skipping February.

My family and I spent the good part of last week in Florida. (The bad part of last week we huddled together for warmth here in Indianapolis.)

I’m a firm believer in taking Spring Breaks in February, despite the fact that it isn’t spring, nor is spring even imminent. It’s just because February, despite being the shortest month of the year, flat-out sucks. The poet, T. S. Elliot, wrote that April was the cruelest month but I don’t agree. February is with its biting wind and bitter cold. By the second month of the year the novelty of winter has completely worn off. All the things that delighted us in October and November now only depress us. Christmas is long gone, warm weather is a distant memory, and everyone has forgotten what it feels like to have sun on your face.

So there is nothing better when the February blues hit than to pile into a minivan packed to the gills with snacks, books, and children and head south.
To get to our destination in Florida, my family and I drove for sixteen hours- stopping only to get gas and use grimy gas station bathrooms. But the unhygienic peeing conditions and the long cramped car ride were completely worth it when we arrived to warm temperatures and the salty smell of the sea in the air.

I’ve said it before and I will repeat it again and again: there’s something magical about sitting on a beach with your toes buried in the sand. I’m not sure what it is about hunting for seashells or hearing the waves crash on the beach or watching pelicans dive for fish but these things heal tiny cracks in my soul that I didn’t even know were there. While staring out at the seemingly endless ocean, library book lying forgotten on my lap, my priorities all seem to realign and it’s as if I’m able to rediscover my place in the universe.

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Our trip to Florida was a quick one this year, we were gone for less than a week. But sometimes a few days is all you need to feel like you’re skipping February.

I hope, Gentle Reader, that the February blues haven’t been too bad for you this year. And, I hope that there is something as healing as a warm, sandy beach in your life.

Posted in outings and trips | 4 Comments

Got mint?

The other day I was trying out a new recipe for a cucumber and avocado salad.  The dressing used lime and mint, so I pulled out the chopped mint from the freezer that our neighbor had given us last summer.

My oldest daughter, Trinity, wandered into the kitchen and watched me pour the dressing over the salad.  “Oh, mint!” she exclaimed excitedly.  “Did you know that the ancient Greeks believed that mint was created when the goddess Persephone stepped on a woodland nymph and crushed her?”

After sharing this appetizing piece of information with me, my daughter then waltzed out of the kitchen on her merry way.

I, on the other hand, was left emotionally scarred.  As will you be the next time you smell mint and think ‘crushed woodland nymph.’

You’re welcome.

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Posted in The Big Girl | 2 Comments

Redefining success.

When I was twelve my father tried to teach me to dive in the swimming pool next door to my aunt’s house.  We spent hours at it, all afternoon, while he tried to keep his patience and I made no effort, whatsoever, in keeping my cool.

There was no victory to be had that day.  There was no success. By the time dinner came my eyes were swollen from the sun and chlorine, my skin was a decidedly pink color and stung from the countless bellyflops I made, and I was still unable to dive.

I never tried to learn again.

Last night, I watched my seven year voluntarily spend all of her free time at the high school swimming pool diving off the blocks.

Looking strangely professional, despite her small size and stature, in goggles and a swim cap, she’d bend down while gripping the edge of the blocks with her hands.  Head down, she ignored the other kids in the pool while she waited for the signal. When it came she exploded into action, slicing into the water straight as an arrow (except for that one knee that refused to straighten.)

To me, it was nothing short of miraculous to watch her succeed where I had failed so epically (in my own mind at least) many years before.

My children have grown beyond me now, in many things, which feels so very right.  I am no giant, but I want to boost my kids onto a higher place than where I stand.  So I help them balance on my shoulders,using all of my experience as a foundation to anchor them so they can reach higher stars than I did.

I still cannot dive, but damn it, my kids can.  And they do.

That, perhaps, is the best victory of all.

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Posted in parenting, Whoops. Got Lazy. | 2 Comments

The winter of our (upper respiratory) discontent.

Oh Gentle Reader, January has not been kind to us here at Bunkersdown.  Not kind at all.  A week after everybody had somewhat recuperated from the nasty flu that’s been hitting Indianapolis hard, we caught another virus that has laid waste to our upper respiratory tract.  Wheezing, sneezing, and coughing (so, so much coughing) are the soundtrack to my life right now.

As a result of all this sickness, my house has taken on decidedly unpleasant and unclean sheen.  Dirty dishes fill my sink, dust covers my shelves, and the floor- well the best word to describe the floor is groady.  (Sometimes, when you’re trying to describe incredible filth, only late 80’s slang will do.)

However, everything will get cleaned up.  Eventually.  Light years from now.

But enough with that, here are the few things that have helped the kids and I manage while everybody is under the weather.

1.  The Great British Baking Show.  I discovered this gem one night as I struggled to breathe through my nose and it is officially my new favorite show on television.  The kids also love it and have become The Great British Baking Show missionaries, preaching evangelical messages of its gloriousness far and wide.  It is an utterly delightful show filled with amateur British bakers who perform a myriad of cooking challenges under a tent in the English countryside while lambs and ducks frolic on the side.  (Seriously, lambs frolicking, joyfully.)

Additionally, every single person on this show is immensely pleasant and extremely nice while speaking in the most delicious accents.  Everyone says things like, “Rubbish!  Me sponge has gone flat.”  Or, “The flavors in this crumb are crack on, good job you.”  My blood pressure instantly lowers and my wheezing decreases the minute this show comes on.

Best of all, if you check out your local PBS website, you should be able to watch previous episodes whenever you want.  (Which is practically everyday at our house.)

2.  Frozen lemonade slushies.  Nothing feels better on a sore throat than a cold, delicious lemonade slushy.  My husband closely follows this recipe (although sans the alcohol option, sadly) and he makes them for us often.

3.  Kick Your Cold Kale salad.  (Recipe here.) This thing is packed with vitamins, ginger, garlic, antioxidants, and all things healthy.  Despite that, it still tastes delicious.  I managed to make a big batch of it the other day and after two helpings, I felt completely justified to eat the last of my Cherry Cordial Hershey Kisses.

4.  The Mother ‘Hood Official video.

I love this video so, so much.  In the beginning I laugh at the complete ridiculousness (and yet slightly familiar) stereotypes fighting over who’s a better mother/parent.  But, by the end, I’m willing to admit I tear up quite a bit.  (Of course, that could simply be the excess phlegm coming into play, but I doubt it.)

5.  My thirteen year old son.  Despite the deplorable level of cleanliness going on at our house with multiple people contaminating all surfaces with germs, he has managed not to get sick and he has become a regular Florence Nightingale.  Never has my water bottle been filled so often nor have my mac and cheese cravings been met so promptly.

I’m not sure if it’s having my every whim catered to or if it’s the knowledge that my son is becoming a truly remarkable person that makes me feel best.  The other evening Will instructed me quite sincerely, “Listen, if you need something in the middle of the night, do not hesitate to come get me.”  (Which is exactly what I tell him when he is sick.)  It’s moments like this that make me think, “This guy’s going to turn out okay.  I haven’t messed him up too much.”

So there you have it, Gentle Reader:  a brief explanation as to my absence on the blogosphere and a list of the things that are helping me survive until bluer skies (and less congested chests) arrive.

How has January been treating you?

Posted in rantings and ravings | 4 Comments

My favorite books in 2014.

Last year I had a goal to read 125 books.  In 2013, I barely made my goal of reading 120 books, so I knew I was going to have to step up my game.  Let me just say that it didn’t help matters at all when Netflicks decided to come out with some of my favorite HGTV shows plus all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls.  (Dirty pool, Netflicks, dirty pool.)

Still, with a little dedication (and a lot of lost sleep), I achieved my goal.  Out of 125 books there were a few stinkers, but when I look back on the year I read some great things.  Here is a list of my favorites.

The Fault in our Stars (John Green- Young Adult fiction)  I know, it’s so cliche to love this book, but it’s a cliche for a reason- the novel is amazing.  I love the straightforward romance between Hazel and Gus, the unflinching honesty about death and sickness, and the brief moments of hilarity that make surviving this novel with your emotional faculties intact a possibility.

A Little Something Different (Sandy Hall- Young Adult Fiction/contemporary)  This novel is fun, lots of romantic angsty fun.  The premise is different from what I’ve read before:  it’s a college campus love story, but told from the point of view of the spectators watching the romance unfurl.  (My favorite scenes were told from the point of view of a squirrel.  Hilarious.)  The writing isn’t perfect but I thought the originality of the plot and the freshness of the characters carried this book through.

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman- Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction)  I read this book out loud to my older children this year and we all loved it.  The writing is bleak but beautiful, with moments of compassion and clarity and brilliance.  In a way, this is a dark Harry Potter-type story, without all the cute and adorable extras.  The first few chapters can meander a bit, but persevere; the author saved the best parts for last.

Greenglass House (Kate Milford- Middle Grade fiction)  This is the perfect mystery to read during a snowstorm, cuddled up in a fleece blanket with a cup of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.  Everything about it is cozy, exciting, magical, and fun.  Additionally, despite this being a kids’ book, I didn’t anticipate the ending at all.  I was completely taken by surprise, which was lovely.

The Buddha in the Attic (Julie Otsuka- Adult historical fiction)  The three words that describe this book best are lyrical, haunting, and moving.  Some readers had a difficult time with the constant use of the first person plural point of view in this novel, but for me, I found it to be exactly right.  The distance provided by the author through the point of view made it possible for me to enjoy the beauty of this book without being suffocated by the horrific circumstances that these Japanese immigrant women survived.  Ms. Otsuka tells a brutal story, but she tells it so gorgeously that I couldn’t put this book down.  I read it in a single sitting.

Big Little Lies (Liane Moriarty- Adult Contemporary) Liane Moriarty is one of my new favorite authors.  She creates characters that feel real, characters that I recognize in the people around me.  In this novel, Moriarty writes about many modern day issues, but the one that stood out to me was the whole Mummy War debate.  The book begins with a murder during a parent meeting at school.  As a reader it is up to you to discover who was killed and why.  Overall, I thought the plot’s organization was brilliant, expertly laid out with each shift in point of view and with every flashback.  All said and done, this was my most favorite book in 2014.

Three Wishes (Liane Moriarty- Adult Contemporary)  (Yes, I realize it’s another book by Liane Moriarty.  Deal with it.  Or better yet, read it.)  This book tells the story of three sisters, triplets, living in Australia who think they know everything about each other.  However, as the novel progresses, the reader realizes that despite being best friends, despite being triplets, these sisters might not know each other at all.  Again, I love the way the author organizes the book.  Each section has  a little snippet of observation made by random strangers about these girls which just adds a another layer to the plot.

Written in Red (Anne Bishop- Urban Fantasy)  If you love all things fanged and furry, you just might love Written in Red as much as I did.  It has a freshness to it that makes it stand out of the supernatural fiction crowd.  My original review is here.

Elizabeth is Missing (Emma Healey- Contemporary/historic fiction)  I have a deep fascination with unreliable authors (I think it comes from a high school infatuation with William Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury) and Maud, an aging grandmother losing her memory, is a most unreliable narrator.  Convinced her best friend is missing, Maud attempts to discover what has happened.  Remembering less and less of the present, older memories of her sister who disappeared in the 1940’s fill Maud’s mind as she struggles to find answers.  This is a beautiful and tragic story of a woman who is losing her memories and her mind, bit by bit.

An Inquiry into Love and Death (Simone St. James- Historical fiction/mystery/ghost story)  I loved this book so very much even though it scared the pants right off of me.  Read my original review here.  Caution- this is not the best book to read late at night when your spouse is gone.  Learn from my mistake.

Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver- YA fiction)  This is a powerful book that you either love or hate, and man, did I love it.  How do I describe the plot?  Pretty much it’s Mean Girls crossed with Groundhog’s Day:  a rude, popular girl is forced to relive her last day on earth over and over as she tries to get it right.  For me, the characters were brilliant, full of depth and nuance.  Ms. Oliver writes a book about friendships and choices, and how our friends and choices effect everyone around us.  I found it completely moving.

The Invisible Boy (Trudy Ludwig- Children’s picture book)  It is not often that a picture book makes my favorites list, but this is no ordinary picture book.  This book gave me the shivers when I read it and proves that each one of us can make a difference in the life of another in simple ways.  Without being preachy or overly moral, a great lesson subtly unfolds as the reader turns each page.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Claire North- Adult Supernatural thriller)  This was one of the most intense books I read last year.  Despite its larger size, I gobbled it up in just a day or two.  Find my review here.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Carol Rifka Brunt- Young Adult fiction/Adult fiction)  This is one of my favorite coming of age stories.  You can find my review of this book here.

Attachments (Rainbow Rowell- Adult Contemporary) This was almost, quite nearly my favorite book of 2014.  It’s a fabulous story of underdogs, true love, and fate finally triumphing.  Additionally it involves email, Y2K, and a myriad of late 90’s pop culture references.  Just to throw in a little added incentive (although why you’d need any after I mention late 90’s pop culture references is beyond me) this book has perhaps the world’s most fabulous leading man in a love story.  Lincoln is perfect and lovely.

Edenbrooke (Julianne Donaldson)  I love this book, I make no apology.  It is a silly romp of a romance, but goodness gracious it is a brilliant silly romp of a romance.  My original review is here.

Hopefully, Gentle Reader, something on this list catches your eye.  What were some of your favorite reads from last year?  Any reading goals for the new year?  Tell me in the comments.

Posted in books | 5 Comments