Our family is complete! We continue the story of growing our littlest members. . .

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Table for one

It seems I didn't post my column for a couple weeks. Published 11/2/16:

            The tornado hit St. Peter in the spring before my freshman year at Gustavus, and at the beginning of my sophomore year there we had a new cafeteria. It was kind of cutting edge at that time – a little like a food court with a big dining hall.
It’s a lovely place – two walls of windows and lots of space.
            Friends would compare lunch schedules to see who had breaks at the same time to eat, and often wait for each other at the entrance. If I was late or ate lunch at a different time, I would just go it alone.
I had one friend who wouldn’t even walk in the cafeteria without anyone else. We’ll call her Beth, as that is her name. Beth would not be caught dead alone in the college lunchroom. It was mortifying for her to be seen walking in by herself let alone eating at a table without company.
She was shocked when she found out I sometimes ate alone. This was before the days of people playing on their phones, when we just had to eat and look around, maybe reading the newspaper or something. And it didn’t bother me in the least.
I like being alone sometimes. In high school I used to go shopping by myself and friends thought I was such a weirdo. What if people saw me alone? Umm, then they would know I can drive myself to the mall. I thought it was awesome, and still do. I can look at whatever I want without feeling like other people are waiting for me or I’m dragging them around.
Fast forward a few years from my shopping and dining alone. It was the year the Timberwolves were really good, when Garnett, Sprewell, Sam Cassell, Freddie Hoiberg, Mark Madsen, etc., played.
I was a big fan and went to quite a few games; there was one coming up that I just had to see in person – the Spurs were coming to town (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, etc.), and it promised to be a nail-biter. I asked some friends to go, but they had plans. I asked my boyfriend (now husband) to join me, but he didn’t want to drive to the Cities on a Tuesday night and drive home to work again the next day. My parents, my brothers, nobody would/could come with me.
After work I decided I was not going to miss the game because nobody would go with me, so I drove to the Target Center, walked up to the ticket booth and asked for one lower level seat. I got a Grain Belt and a bucket of popcorn and settled in amongst a bunch of other excited fans.
It was the best game I’d ever been to – came down to the wire, and we won.
You went by yourself?! everyone asked me. Yep.
I was not going to miss that game. I had the means, the time, and so I went.
Fast forward many more years.
One of my favorite authors and storytellers, David Sedaris, was going to be doing a reading/show at the State Theater in Minneapolis last Friday. He is in town every October, but I’ve never gotten to go as it was usually on a weeknight as well as in the middle of harvest.
On a whim I looked up the tickets earlier this month after seeing he was coming back, and lo and behold, there were two front row seats available. Without giving it any thought, I bought them and hoped for rain so my default date could join me.
            As the day drew closer it was pretty clear I would not have a date, as he would be in the field. So I started asking people who I thought might enjoy Sedaris’  humor and a night out in Minneapolis. After six “no”s I contemplated selling my tickets. But then I thought, how many times does a person actually have front row seats to anything? I couldn’t give them up.
            So I didn’t. I came home from work, freshened up, and put on my favorite leopard high heels. I made a reservation for one at a restaurant adjacent to the theater. When I checked in, the hostess asked if I meant to reserve a table for two, and I had to say no, just me. She looked confused.
        I vowed to leave my phone in my purse, except to take a picture of my meal, including a delicious lemon martini and a mouth-watering ribeye. I just sat, sipped my drink, savored my food, and watched people. I was the only one alone.

        When I finished I walked next door and stood in line listening to two guys behind me saying they’ve had their tickets since February (and they were not in the front row. Suckers.). I bought a bottle of water and marched to the very front of the State Theater, my seat in chairs set up in front of the fixed seats, so close to the stage I could rest my feet on it (if I were that uncouth). And since I found no one to go with me, my purse and my water bottle had their own seat.

            It was one of the funniest shows I have ever seen, and one of the best dates I’ve ever had. Is that sad? I hope not. I hope people, especially my kids, know it’s perfectly acceptable to do things and be seen alone. It would be a shame to miss out on life because a person is afraid of being judged by strangers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


When we're home, we're superheroes.

  Parenting (and being parented) is nothing if not a constant learning experience. Some lessons and instructions are new and catch people off guard, while some are repeated every . . . single . . . day (e.g. “put your shoes by the door when you take them off, not on the couch”).
     Last week we were all learning a little.
     I left for work early on Friday morning for a dance practice and Grandpa Crouton came to help the hooligans get on the bus. It seems when I drove away in the dark that morning that all of the children’s backpacks were still in the car from the night before when we arrived home from piano lessons.
     That led poor Grandpa to deal with upset kindergarteners, wondering how they would make it to school and carry their show-and-tell items without backpacks. A trivial problem to some, but it shook their whole world and was a less than ideal start to the day.
     I had a couple of voicemails from Grandpa by the time I was done with practice, so drove the backpacks over to the elementary before the school day even began (crisis averted). We then had a talk about being old enough to take care of their own things, and being responsible for taking all of their stuff out of the car when they get home.
     After I delivered the backpacks, my youngest asked me to walk him to the office. He’d been selected to lead the student body, over the loudspeaker, in saying the Pledge of Allegiance (along with three other students).

So little and yet so big.

     On our way to the office we encountered Mrs. Carlson, their kindergarten teacher, visiting with some other staff in the hallway. I overheard her say “the triplets”, and since we have the only ones in the district at this time, figured that was about my kids.
     As I got closer one of the other teachers said, “oh, you have to show her.”
     Deep breath.
     “This morning your oldest gave me the best note I’ve gotten in 30 years,” she smiled.
     Man . . . what could Axel have written to her that won that accolade? This could go in a lot of different directions. Maybe he was just telling her how much he missed having her for a teacher, or letting her know that he still likes reading one of the stories she introduced to him.
     She handed me the note, which was written on the last three inches ripped off a crumpled sheet of copy paper:
     “Eero didn’t change his underware”

     I covered my mouth in shock and folded over in laughter. Everyone else laughed at me laughing. It was not as bad as I thought but a little unsettling – no secrets are safe here! And apparently there is a point in their lives when verbal over-sharing is not enough.
     Mrs. Carlson recalled later that Axel came casually flying an airplane up to her and said, “I have a note for you,” then flew away. She stuck the note in her pocket to read with the other notes when she got to her desk.
     I can just imagine her reading through these notes:
            “Little Billy will be going home with So-and-So on the bus.”
            “Suzy has a dentist appointment, I will pick her up at 10:20.”
            “Eero didn’t change his underware”
     She said she might frame it, and that it’s probably not the first or the last time that a kindergartener did not change underwear before coming to school. But it was the first time the older sibling had reported this to her in a note. It must have been important to big brother that she was aware.
     Lesson: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want school employees to find out, or at least don’t get caught.
     In other lessons news, we have started bringing all four boys to a brave piano teacher named Jonathan. So far it’s going very well and I have not had to bribe anyone into practicing. The downfall of the situation may be my hanging out at Whitney Music making a mental wish list of instruments I’d like to take home and learn to play. Currently my list contains about six guitars, a harp, and a banjolele (cross between a banjo and a ukulele).



Jesse said this aqua is our wedding color so
that might be a fun one to buy . . .
he's kind of an enabler.
Hello, banjolele. Or maybe a mandolin?
So many possibilities!

     I have one guitar that I barely find time to play, so more would not really make that situation better.

     God and new minimalist lifestyle, please keep me and my debit card in check during piano lessons. And help my oldest son with his note-writing filter. Amen.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Crazy makes things happen.

This is the column NOT published in this week's paper - my husband censored it out as he didn't want everyone to know we were crazy. Too late for that.

            “I’m going to have permanent hearing damage!” I shouted in my husband’s ear.
            “Okay!” He replied.
            It was even louder than I thought. Or he was okay with my impending hearing loss. Hard to say.
            We crossed off one of Jesse’s Bucket List items on Saturday: See AC/DC in concert. Their lead singer, Brian Johnson, has left the band after being told he will have permanent hearing loss if he continues to perform (ironic). Time to see this iconic rock band was running out.
            Fortunately, another icon, Axl Rose of the equally legendary band Guns N’ Roses, is filling in for him before they all call it quits. While I thought this was a huge bonus – kind of two-birds-with-one-stone – Jesse the Rock Purist found it a bit disappointing. “It was Axl Rose doing AC/DC on karaoke.”


      It could be looked at that way, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it justice.
            Though my ears physically hurt during most of the show, I was in awe. Not just the special effects, which enhanced the music just enough, but the music. In their 50s and 60s, these musicians proved that true artists don’t have to bow to convention, we’re only as old as we feel, and classics never die.
            It was a reversal of roles from our concert experience a couple weeks prior, when I sang along with Alabama and Jesse swayed back and forth. He won this time, so engrossed in every song and pumping his fist in the air like all the other hardcore rock fans in the Verizon Center. I bought some illuminated devil horns to blend in a little, which seemed to work.

            Yes, Verizon Center, and no, not the one in Mankato. We trekked to Washington, DC to take in this concert. Crazy? My mom didn’t use that word when I asked her to watch our kids, but I think she was thinking it.
            Sometimes a little crazy helps to meet goals.
            I told Jesse he should pick something fun to do since I got to work at the PGA, and this is what he chose. He didn’t have to invite me, but I’m glad he did.
            We talked about it for a while, as sometimes it’s hard to justify spending time and money on outrageous ideas. Could we really fly to DC just for a concert and fly home again all in one weekend? In 24 hours? Yep.
            We don’t have a lake cabin, or a boat, a camper, motorcycles, fancy cars, other fun things like that. We turned off our satellite dish. More experiences, less stuff  - it fit nicely into my new minimalist mindset.
            So we headed out for MSP Saturday morning with only what we could comfortably carry: phones, chargers, wallets, gum, sunglasses, regular glasses, and contact cases. I also brought some stretchy pants rolled up in the bottom of my purse, because after 28 hours awake I was going to need some stretchy pants.
            We rolled up to the airport in time to go through security, use the bathroom, and wait a couple minutes for our boarding zone to be called. No luggage, no hassle.
            DC is a great place to travel on a budget. The flight deal was good, but there are also so many activities free of charge. Without intention, we arrived at the National Mall in the midst of a cultural celebration complete with parade. It was a quite a spectacle, and at first glance one could not have been faulted for thinking it was an outdoor international showgirls’ convention:

We visited the Smithsonian’s American History museum, where they house Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Archie Bunker’s chair, and the actual enormous flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. I think it’s my favorite Smithsonian.

The right shoes have been important to
women for many years.

Before the concert we dined at the Gordon Biersch Brewery, a place we visit regularly in DC, which is fortunately just a block from the Verizon Center – excellent selection of house-made beers and pretty good food.

Somehow Jesse's pictures of beer always end up looking more like
pictures of my rack. "There's beer in that picture?" - anonymous friend.

Since we were able to find a flight that left at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, and the concert ended about 11:30 p.m, we opted not to get a hotel room and just spend the time wandering around the monuments. It’s so peaceful there at night, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather: it was a lovely 72 degrees overnight, and we walked about 15 miles from the time we landed to the time we boarded our plane home.


Did you know airport security is not open all night? I never thought about it, but it’s not. That being said, we could not return to the airport until about 4:00 a.m., when we finally flagged down a cab to take us there.
Things went downhill a little after that. The flight was delayed, and we sat in the last row so our seats didn’t recline (a nightmare when you’ve been awake for 24 hours). Since it was delayed we missed our connecting flight in New York and then had to wait at JFK for another one three hours later.
We were thrilled to score exit row seats with more legroom but saddened to find that they also did not recline. Jesse attempted to sleep against the wall and I sat perfectly straight up and down with my head occasionally bobbing and waking me like my kids in the backseat of the car.
            When the kids went to bed that night, so did we, having been awake for basically 38 hours.
You only live once. YOLO. I have a bracelet that says that, to which a teenage girl made a reference about me being too old to wear. That phrase was true and applicable before modern day hipsters turned it into a trendy acronym. So no, I am not too old. I’m still alive, and that’s the point. Live.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The end of fun/The start of school

Holy crap, two in a row. That counts as a streak, right? I sent these clowns off to kindergarten and third grade yesterday. There were a few tears from Eero, who is a big emotional teddy bear, but when they got off the bus they ran to me yelling "IT WAS THE BEST DAY OF SCHOOL EVER!" Which is meaningful even if it was their only day of school ever.

My column, published 9/7/16
The end of fun
            Overheard in the yard this past weekend during a family game of bat-and-ball: “Daddy, how ‘bout you put your beer down so you can catch the ball. That was terrible.” Can’t put much by these kids, even at age 5.
            I’m wondering if this is just us . . . seems like as the summer winds down we all of a sudden have an “oh crap!” feeling that time is running out on all kinds of summery activities. Then we spend the last week or so trying to pack them in and promising to do the ones we missed next summer. I’ve been saying for two years that “next summer we’ll go to the waterpark in Willmar”; I don’t know how much longer they’ll believe me.
            For some reason our kids think that once school starts, fun stops. This last weekend, on top of other regular activities like catching up on laundry and mowing the lawn, we had to play ball, go to the ice cream stand, take a bike ride, use the grill, roast marshmallows, have a family movie night, and take a cruise in one of the old cars.
            Don’t get me wrong- it’s all good stuff and we enjoyed ourselves, though the kids’ excessive begging for fun makes it a little less fun.
My children have lovely smiles but I swear when the camera comes up
they are Chandler Bing trying to take engagement photos. 
            Labor Day Monday we decided to take in the Sunburg Trolls car show in the ’48 Ford coupe. I think hanging around my husband this long has affected me more than I thought . . . walking around oogling classic automobiles is a very enjoyable way to spend a summer day.
            It’s also very mean to bring a bunch of kids who can’t help but touch everything they see to a “look but don’t touch” event. But a great lesson in restraint. They get that from me – I’ve been scolded more than once for getting too close to art in a museum. We’re a curious bunch, I guess.
            In spite of my new minimalist way of living I wouldn’t mind having a ’68 or 9 Corvette convertible, and a ’59 Impala. Apparently I’ve also become a lover of Chevrolets. Hmm.
            Since we were already halfway there I suggested we head up to Glenwood, grab a bite to eat, and wander through the car lot the kids and I checked out a few weeks ago while we waited for a train. There were lots of Corvettes and Camaros to drool over. And there still were, if a person has $72,000 for that kind of thing.
            Before our continued coveting of cars we lunched at the Lakeside Steak and Chophouse, voted by WCCO viewers as Minnesota’s Best Lakeside Dining, and for good reason – fantastic view of Minnewaska right at the water’s edge, delicious food, lovely accommodating staff. The lunch menu is quite condensed compared to the after-4 version, so it’s probably even better in the evening!
            We watched fish swim by the dock, threw rocks in the water, and just enjoyed the breeze. It’s a great place.
Our stop to throw rocks and watch fish in Lake Minnewaska - I think I will always love this picture.
            There is a beautiful new playground across the parking lot from the restaurant, so we let the kids burn off some steam before getting back in the cozy car to go home. Since we had the equipment to ourselves Jesse and I joined them on the climbing apparatus, and I was relieved to know I was still not afraid of heights and could move. The white hair I spotted a couple weeks ago has me nervous.
            At the risk of sounding sappy (apparently I made a lot of moms cry last week), I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the last day before school starts. Together, doing things little boys love, without crazy planning or spending a lot of money. Simple family time.
            They were a little whiny at the car show, and I reminded them that that attitude is what causes them to stay home from things like the State Fair, which Jesse and I visited alone on Thursday.
            Our kids have been to the big fair a few times, which is certainly fun, but it’s hard to beat adults-only wandering around the fairgrounds, having a Red Sangria beer from the Schells booth at 11:30 a.m., meandering through the International Bazaar without the worry of people breaking things (I left Jesse by the Summit-on-a-stick stand), and taking in the Alabama concert that night.

We were not too disappointed to find that the fair has been overrun with beers to sample. 
We tried a deep fried Milky Way (eh) and tater tot hot dish on a stick. 
The shape of it made me giggle because I have a dirty mind as I age, but also I had a large beer before that.

            That concert was a bucket list item of mine, and though my husband can school me on a lot of music trivia, I sang along to every song they played while he swayed back and forth. I win. Hearing Mountain Music live has got to be one of my all-time favorite concert moments.
            If you’re a fan, and you can find them performing somewhere, do go see them. They have to be just as good as they have ever been.
            Summer is over, but that doesn’t mean the fun ends. Next week the boys start piano lessons. That should give me some material.