Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas and Stuff

I have been really bad about posting, and I'm afraid it's going to get even worse.

After being home with my girls for five years, I temporarily rejoined the workforce. I initially planned to work one or two days a week as a substitute teacher. While things started out according to plan, it wasn't long before I was working every day. I used to do all of my grocery shopping, cleaning, errand running and laundry during the day, and suddenly that is not possible. Plus I am really tired, which doesn't help things.

Nora is completely smitten with Elsa. Seriously-who can blame her?

After Christmas vacation, things are going to get even crazier. While I will no longer be subbing, I will have my hands full with other things. I will spend my mornings with Elsa and my afternoons at school. That's right-I am going back to school.

My parents got the girls digital cameras for Christmas, so now we have 2 gigs of photos like this.

I am working on a degree in communication science and disorders so that I can become a speech therapist. My first two semesters will be full time, and the remaining 3 semesters will be part time. And then I have a 2-year master's program to complete.

Kevin's parents got the girls beds for their American Girl dolls. These dolls have nicer furniture than we do. For real.

Starting in mid-January, I will be taking human communication disorders, physics, biology (plus a bio lab), and statistics. It's going to get hairy, but they are prerequisites for my fall sequences, so I have to just motor through. I hope I remember how to write a paper.

Dana practically fits into Felicity's bed.

I have been trying to spend as much time as possible relaxing because I know my time is going to become a premium very shortly. We've been playing lots of board games, lolling around in our pajamas, hanging out. I have been baking, knitting and sewing, trying to get it out of my system for a while.

Kevin and his grandma looked through the American Girl catalog on Christmas. They were amused by the selection and the prices. For example, camping chairs for dolls are more expensive than camping chairs for humans.

Anyhow, I probably won't be on here much until mid-May.

And then I might sleep until June.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Health Night at School

PTA organized a family health night at school in early October. It was a great event, with lots of fun activities and a spaghetti dinner.

Dana was one of the first kids to attempt the climbing wall, despite the cold drizzly weather. She climbed all the way to the top, then stopped to look down at everyone with a great big grin. And then she climbed back down, while the climbing guy said to the crowd, "Everyone watch Dana. She's climbing down exactly right." When she got to the bottom, he gave us a brochure for climbing camp and told us that Dana's a natural. Oh, good. That's what every mother wants to hear about her kindergartener.

Dana thought the yoga station was pretty cool, too.

It was a really fun night, and Dana still brags about her climbing skills.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bayfield Apples

About 100 years ago, back in September, we hopped in the car for an impromptu trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin to pick apples.

It was unseasonably warm, so we stopped at a lakeside playground for a while before heading to the apple orchard. It is the most awesomest playground ever, according to the girls.

Nora liked the climbing wall a lot. They both loved the tire swing and made us push them until we all got dizzy.

I don't know what this crazy contraption was supposed to be, but it was pretty fun, until Dana knocked her noggin.

After the girls ran off some energy, we climbed back in the car for the 5 minute drive to the orchard.

The dwarf apple trees were a huge hit with the kids. Dana was thrilled that she could reach fruit without help.

Nora was pretty psyched, too.

It took us about 15 minutes to pick an entire bushel.

I baked 2 apple pies, but we ate the majority of these straight up. I used the last of them the day before Thanksgiving to make 2 quarts of applesauce.

We are looking forward to making this an annual tradition. It was good family fun.

Monday, October 4, 2010


She's eight days late, but she is finally here!

Her name is Elsa Rayanne and she was 8 pounds and 22 inches long. Rayanne is a combination of my dad's middle name and Liz's mom's middle name. She has a ton of black hair and gorgeous blue eyes.

Dana thought it was adorable when Elsa couldn't stop licking her blanket. She also thinks her cry is really cute, and she knows just how to sway to soothe her new cousin.

Nora is a natural. She knows exactly how to hold her arm to support Elsa's head. She couldn't resist smooching that beautiful face.

Mama, Daddy and Elsa are all doing great.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dana's Got Skills

Nora, Dana and I were sitting on the couch one evening this week when Dana started giggling. We looked over at her and saw this:

And then we made a big fuss over her spoon hanging on nose trick, and we both tried it and failed. And that encouraged her and then she started to get sassy about her new skill.

"Watch me! I can walk with the spoon on my nose!"

"Look! I can do the splits with the spoon on my nose!"
Honey, the fact that you can do the splits at all is impressive.

"I can dance with the spoon on my nose!"


Our bellies ached from all of the laughing. Dana put on a great show.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working on a Window

Nora's top two front teeth have been wiggly for months. Seriously. The kids had their teeth cleaned in June and the dentist commented on her wiggly teeth at that appointment.

Tonight, at long last, she pulled one of them out.

I was in my bedroom putting laundry away and she was in the bathroom, and she came careening into my room, laughing maniacally, with blood all over her face. She thrust out her hand with that wee tooth pinched between two fingers and just laughed and laughed.

I can hardly stand to look at her, she is so adorable.

I am encouraging her to pull the other one out so she can have a nice window in her mouth before her permanent teeth come in and make her look all grown up. I'm kinda hoping both top front teeth will be gone for Christmas photos. By next year, she won't even believe in the Tooth Fairy anymore.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Day

School started the Thursday after Labor Day, with Dana entering kindergarten and Nora starting third grade.

Dana's a pretty independent kind of kid, so we weren't really surprised that she was 100% excited to climb on the bus and head off to school. No tears, not even from Mama. We lucked out in that kindergarteners and third graders have lunch and recess together. So Dana and Nora sat together on the first day and Nora showed Dana the ropes.

PTA has a Tears and Cheers event on the first day of school, just after the school day begins, so after we got the girls on the bus, I drove to school to help set up. And I snapped a few photos of the girls getting off of the bus (I was not the only one) and then I got this one of Dana waiting to go into her classroom. I don't know when my baby got big enough to zip her own coat, put on her own shoes and head out the door.

We're a few weeks in now, and they are both doing great. They both adore their teachers, and they are both happy to go to school in the morning. And I have been spending my days racing around tackling the world's most ridiculous to-do list. But it feels pretty great to be getting projects done.

The Great Minnesota Get Together

August is a big month around here. In our house alone, we have two birthdays and our wedding anniversary in the very same week. There are three more birthdays in the extended family in a ten day stretch, so things get a little nuts.

This year, to celebrate Nora turning 8, me turning 33 and Kevin and I being married 13 years, we hopped in the car and headed to the Minnesota State Fair.

I must be getting old because this sky ride freaked me out. It's just a chair lift, really, that takes you from one end of the fair to the other. But Dana is so small and the bar over our laps had a gigantic gap, and I was sure she was going to slip under it and land on the roof of a barn or in the box of a shiny new pickup truck. I kept my arm tightly around her for the whole ride. The photo above (see Nora and Kevin in the yellow seat?) was taken with one hand when the ride stopped for 5 minutes or so, with us hanging out in the blazing sun 200 feet above the fair.

Dana has a thing for butterflies, so when she saw the butterfly house, she HAD to go inside. It was pretty wild-butterflies were just flitting around landing on people. Dana was a little freaked out at first, but also intrigued. She was very interested in getting them to climb onto her fingers, but she was worried about them landing on her face or hair.

We got to the fair before 10am and by 4am we were ready to go. Except it took us another 2 1/2 hours to actually exit because we kept seeing more and more interesting exhibits. The sheep barn was particularly interesting. I wish I would have taken a photo, as the sheep had all been shorn and were wearing these robes over their entire bodies, including their heads, to keep them clean. They had little eye holes to see out of, and they looked like they were getting ready to go trick or treating. And then there was a really sweet little guy for kids to pet. The girls thought he was adorable and soft and they wanted to take him home.

Oh, you noticed Nora's green hair in the sheep photo? She was really excited to get a Fair Do. We waited in line for 15 minutes to pay and get an appointment. The appointment wasn't for 45 minutes, and so we waited. And waited. And waited some more, until it was finally her turn. And then she went into the salon and within 10 minutes she came out with two green and blue pompoms covered in glitter. Totally worth the wait.

Neither Kevin nor I had been to the State Fair since we were kids, and the girls had never been. We all loved it, and we can't wait for next year! We ate snow cones, caramel apples and cheese curds, but next year we need to try roasted corn and some deep fried craziness. It's shocking that we were there for almost 9 hours and we didn't see everything we wanted to. But we DID see the American Red Cross building after Dana skinned her knee pretty badly. They had air conditioning and plenty of ice cold water, plus they cleaned as much grit as they could out of Little D's knee before coating her in Neosporin, bandaging her up and sending us on our way.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I have no photo, but I wanted to tell you about the 5K I ran on July 31, the day my brother and his wife moved out of their house.

It did not go very well.

I am not a fast runner by any means, but I had been averaging just under 10-minute miles on my 3 mile runs. But on Wednesday, just a few days before my first race ever, I tweaked an old injury. I limped around for the next few days, skipping any running in an attempt to heal. On Friday night I did an hour of yoga and then soaked in a hot bath.

On Saturday morning, I picked my sister up and drove to the racecourse. My injury was tight, but it didn't actually hurt, so I was cautiously optimistic. The first mile went just fine, and I ran at my normal pace. But then my energy just dissipated and my injury started to hurt. Alyx, my sister, was so encouraging, and she kept giving me little pep talks. We walked a lot, at least 1/3 of the race, and my finish time was 43:19. My average pace was 13:59. Yikes!

I was really disappointed that a 5K kicked me that badly. I had been running 3 miles for weeks at that point, after all.

And then it became clear that I had a stomach bug.

I laid in bed all of Saturday and most of Sunday (the girls were with Grandma and Grandpa and Kevin was in Minneapolis with his buddies), clutching my stomach and trying to sleep. By the time my family returned on Sunday night, I was up and about again and had eaten a bowl of soup without suffering stabbing pains for hours afterward.

The lame thing is that, despite the fact that I had an injury and was coming down with the plague, I am still disappointed that I ran that badly.

Anyhow, the half marathon is screaming up on me and I am a little scared about what I've gotten myself into. On the one hand, I am glad that they allow 6 hours for the race, but on the other hand, if I am still out there at hour 6, someone please shoot me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

American Family Insurance: What a Scam!

I am up on a soapbox right now, and I will warn you that I am furious. I am also on a mission to tell the world that American Family Insurance is a complete scam. They are thrilled to take your premiums and even more thrilled to reject your claims, with 42 pages of exclusions and loopholes. Their website states this:

"With American Family Insurance, we make your insurance experience easy and convenient and ensure there are no unwelcome surprises -- especially in your time of need."

Unfortunately, the entire sentence is a lie. Allow me to share a story with you.

Once upon a time, a young man and a young woman fell in love. They married young, while they were both still in college, and began to build a life together. The young man worked as a mechanic while studying to be a mechanical engineer; the young woman worked as a waitress as she earned her teaching degree. Eventually, they both graduated and found jobs in their fields. After working for a few years, in September 2009 they were finally able to buy their first home, a small two-bedroom they had been renting. The first thing they did to their new home was to completely re-do their bathroom. They installed ceramic flooring and put tongue and groove pine on the walls. They put in a new shower, toilet, sink and vanity.

In January, they found out they were expecting their first child, and that their baby was due almost exactly one year after they closed on their house. Things were going well, and they were very happy.

Then one day in late July, the young woman was doing laundry and noticed some water on the floor. She didn't think much of it, assuming it had to do with the laundry, but she mentioned it to her husband anyway. He did a bit of investigating and found that the water was actually coming from the bathroom, which shared a wall with the laundry room. And, upon additional investigating, he found that the shower was somehow leaking. Now, you will remember that the bathroom was new. But, things had changed. With a baby on the way, they decided that they would pull the shower out and install a tub/shower combo. The leak would be fixed and the baby-washing problem would be solved.

On Saturday, the young man got out his tools and set to work removing the shower. And this is what he found:

If you look at the upper left-hand corner, you will see the wall the shower was on. You will notice it is completely covered in mold and rot. In fact, you can see mold and rot pretty much everywhere in the photo. The subflooring is quite horrific.

With his engineering background, he knew that where there is mold, there is more mold. And so he continued to remove wood, tile, flooring, walls, until he realized that the mold and rot extended for over one half
of the house. Let me repeat: over half of the house was completely covered in mold and rot. And his baby was due in 7 weeks.

And so he had his wife start packing. They packed up everything they owned and moved into his parents' house. With a baby due in 7 weeks.

Remember, the young man is an engineer with a background in mechanics. And so, he immediately found the cause of the leaking: a broken part in the shower head. He saved this part and took countless photographs. He was sickened that a defective part had destroyed his home. He called his American Family Insurance agent and was told that they do not cover mold. He knew this, as homeowners' policies stopped covering mold years ago, when claims started pouring in. He knew, however, that his policy DID cover damage caused by mechanical failure. And clearly this was caused by mechanical failure.

On Wednesday, yesterday, an insurance adjuster arrived to survey the situation. She told the young couple that they do not cover long-term seepage. They reminded the woman that the very first sign of trouble was a bit of water in the laundry room just over one week ago. She reiterated that they do not cover long-term seepage. The young man pointed out that most houses have linoleum flooring and sheet rock walls, both of which would have shown evidence of moisture much sooner than his ceramic and pine. She told him that his house was full of long-term seepage and they would not cover the damage.

The young man returned to his parents' house and called his agent. His agent said his hands were tied, as it was not his decision, but he gave the phone number for the adjuster's supervisor. The young man left a message with the supervisor, who called back a few hours later, listened to the story, including the part about the defective shower head, and told the young man his claim was denied because they do not cover long-term seepage. The young man, exasperated, asked, "Am I supposed to just tear down my walls every few weeks to make sure nothing's going on inside of them?" He reminded the supervisor that the very first sign of a problem was the water in the laundry room one week ago, and that they had no way of knowing that, for the past year, the defective shower head had been spewing water into his walls. He was again told that the claim was denied.

Folks, the young man is my little brother. Kevin has been at his house helping to completely gut it since early this morning. They filled one entire 20-yard dumpster and are working on filling a 30-yard dumpster now. They sawed a hole in the house big enough for a backhoe to fit in. A backhoe, people, has to go into the house. And my poor 33-weeks pregnant sister in law is a wreck. While she feels very lucky that they had somewhere to go, she is also heartbroken that she will be bringing her newborn to her in-laws' home rather than her own home. With less than one year of mortgage payments, they have virtually no equity in the house. They are scrambling to come up with money and are hoping that, with friends and family as their primary labor, they will be able to rebuild the entire house with only $30,000.

I may have mentioned something about this on Facebook. Kevin's cousin, in turn, commented that a close friend had just lost her home to a fire, and that America Family Insurance denied her claim, too, because the fire was caused by faulty wiring. She also commented that she would be canceling her own AmFam policy and would be very clear what her reasons were. And then my cousin said that her policy renewal had arrived in the mail that very day, and that she, too, would be switching insurers. And here is where my soapbox comes in: If you have American Family Insurance, please consider dropping them. They don't seem to cover anything anyway. I can't figure out why one would bother having homeowner's insurance if it doesn't even cover anything. If you do cancel with American Family, please consider telling them about my brother and my sister in law. And maybe about Kevin's cousin's friend.

This entire experience has been one unwelcome surprise after another. NOTHING about it has been easy. And I am making a huge effort to tell the world this story. Because not only do I want American Family Insurance to lose business over it, I also want all of you to look closely at your own homeowner's policy and your insurer's track record of payment to make sure that, should you lose your home to something like this, you will actually be covered. Nobody should have to go through this. Sam and Liz thought they were covered, but American Family Insurance had other plans.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


This may well be the most boring post I will ever write, but I am writing it anyway.

When we returned from New Hampshire, our water stopped working. We have had trouble with our well, on and off, since we went to London in January 2002. I could tell you a long, involved, boring story about my theory on what happened, but I will abstain. Anyhow, Kevin replaced a switch on our well troll and all was good. For a month.

One night in early July (maybe the 5th?), Nora went to brush her teeth. She turned the bathroom faucet on and nothing happened. And so Kevin replaced the pressure switch again, but there was still no water. And so he replaced another part, but there was still no water. And so he replaced the breaker switch, as a last resort, but there was still no water. Which only left one thing: the pump.

I called the well pump guy, who answered his phone at 7:30pm (I intended to leave a message), and said he would come over in the morning. Which he did. I have never been happier for immediate service in my life. Remember, we had already been without water for a couple of days in early June. I was not interested in more water-free time.

So Jim came over, along with his dog Inga. He drove his boom truck through our yard to get to the well, and then he pulled up all 180 feet of well pipe and, finally, the pump. Turns out our galvanized piping had corroded, and the resulting leak burned out the pump. He replaced the piping with some type of plastic piping and replaced the pump. He also adjusted the flow to slow it down. And you know what? THERE IS NO MORE SEDIMENT IN OUR WATER! After more than 8 years, our water is just regular old water. Apparently the flow was set too high and the well couldn't replenish fast enough.

The one and only problem (other than the $1,300 bill):

The boom truck is really heavy. We have maybe 4 of these awesome ruts in the yard.

If you live in Northern MN and need a well guy, email me. Jim is fantastic! He was nice to my kids, he called the next day and again a week later to make sure things were working smoothly, and he took the time to explain everything to me and Kevin so we understood what he was doing and why. We had 5 days of unusable water while we purged the well of any bacteria that may have entered with the new piping or pump, but now we have clear, clean water that doesn't make me look like the world's worst housekeeper. And we should be good for the next decade or two.


In June, right after school let out for the summer, we went camping. We rented a camper cabin at Wild River State Park and it was fantastic!

The girls were absolutely thrilled to sleep in bunk beds, and even more thrilled that there were TWO top bunks!

There was a beautiful trail leading down a very long stairway to the river. It was infested with more mosquitoes than we had ever seen in one place, but the view was worth it.

Some of us were disappointed that there was nowhere to swim. The current was pretty strong, but there were people boating and fishing.

Dana honed her marshmallow-roasting skills. She still likes to light them on fire and then blow them out rather than gently browning them. Something about being 5 and impatient I guess.

Campfire coffee is pretty awesome, too.

We're hoping to get out again before summer ends. We'll see. As you can probably guess from my lack of posting, we've been really busy.

I also have some really sad news. After ten days with our puppy, we could no longer ignore the fact that Kevin is allergic to dogs. He had never lived with one before, so he had no idea. His eyes were fire-engine red and swollen nearly shut by day 9. We had a very sad family meeting and, on day 10, my lovely sister agreed to take her. They had been looking for a small dog for Keenan, my nephew, for about 18 months, but never had any luck at the local shelter. She is doing great, is still the cutest little monster ever, and is now named Charlotte. And we still see her often.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Family Vacation

Our family flew out east over Memorial Day to spend a week with my good friend Jessica and her family. Jessy lives in New Hampshire, about an hour out of Boston.

While Nora had flown before, she was so young that she couldn't remember it. It was Dana's first flight. We were thrilled to learn that both girls are awesome travelers!

We arrived at Jessica's house on Wednesday evening. It was about 94 degrees, and the four kids started an impromptu water fight with Justin, Jessica's husband. It was probably Nora's favorite memory of our trip.

We got up early Thursday morning and took the Downeaster to Boston. A normal person would have taken plenty of photos of our day in the city, but I was too busy having fun. We visited the New England Aquarium, Feneuil Hall, Boston Common, etc. We even rode the subway, which was not as exciting as the children had envisioned. At the end of the day, we were all happy to hop back on the train for a lazy ride back to NH.

The next day, Nora told us her stomach hurt. We figured that, between the excitement, the early hours, the late nights, and the weird food, she was just out of sorts. Travel tummy, you know? And so we headed out for the ocean.

We went to York Beach in Maine so the girls could dip their toes in the Atlantic and play in the sand.

Oh, man! This one brings a tear to my eye.

And really, would it be a trip to Maine without a photo of a lighthouse? We found a geocache here, which was pretty sweet.

Nora was feeling pretty crummy by this point, so we went back to Jessica's house, where she promptly threw up. Then we took it really easy for a couple of days. We took a long drive along the coast, through New Hampshire and Mass. We ate a lot of noodle soup and popsicles. We wandered around Portsmouth.

On our last full day, we took the long way to Boston, stopping in Concord and Salem.

Here are Nora and Dana at the Salem Witch Trial Memorial, very near another geocache. Which is a funny story. Kevin thought he found the cache, as he pulled a blue plastic bag with some stuff in it out of a little nook in a rock wall. I was voicing skepticism over it being the cache, despite the trinkets inside, as there was no official geocaching info, when Dana walked over with a container and said, "Daddy, is THIS a geocache?" Which, of course, it was. Leave it to the five year-old to find the real one. She was so proud!

And here's the requisite airplane photo.

We ended our trip with a 4-hour visit to urgent care, where we learned that poor Nora had strep throat. According to the ER doc, vomiting is a common symptom of strep. Since nobody in our household had ever had it before, we had no idea. Luckily, after taking only two doses of the Penicillin, she was feeling significantly better.

Despite the illness, it was a pretty great trip. Nora was such a trooper! And I learned that I need to make a bigger effort with the camera. And maybe take more than 30 photos. Jeez.