Eve of 39

Tomorrow is my birthday.

Birthdays seem like a time when people confront their own mortality. I’ve had entirely too many opportunities to do this in the last year. I’m currently a week into wearing a monitor that will hopefully help us figure out what’s happening with my heart and/or pacemaker. Current best theories involve some combination of hormones, breastfeeding, exercise, and/or just no longer being pregnant bringing my heart rate below the threshold they observed nearly a year ago. I feel a little like a cyborg. The baby finds it extremely interesting.

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On the eve of my birthday, I like to reflect and set goals for the next year, if I haven’t done so already. Next year I’ll be 40. I’ve made myself an ambitious, mostly fun list. I’m trying to be intentional. Mostly I’m tired.

I’m tired because the baby has me up throughout the night, and when I try to relax into sleep, I often get paced. I’m tired because there aren’t enough hours between 4:45/5, when I get home from work, and 6/6:30, when the kids go to sleep – not enough time for snuggles and play, for making and eating and cleaning up dinner, for putting the milk in the fridge before the baby wants to nurse, for taking off my boots before the big kid wants to play a game of his making, for addressing these needs before kissing my husband. I’m tired because the cat needs to go to the vet, and the bottles need to be washed. I’m tired because I don’t know what I’m doing, but I wake up too early each morning to keep doing it.

And then on my walk to work, an orange rose in the snow – tired, but beautiful:

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L at Three

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  1. I have to stop referring to him as “the toddler” since he clearly isn’t a toddler anymore. “The preschooler” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, especially since he’s not going to preschool. “The three year old” may just have to do.
  2. He loves dragons. And dinosaurs. And looking for Komodo dragons (“Komo drai”) in the forest. (Note that any arrangement of two or more trees constitutes a forest.) And peeking into holes in trees to look for a baby dragon’s nest. And reading books about dragons. And seeing dinosaurs and dragons at the zoo. And correcting us about dinosaur names. (There are soooooo many dinosaurs.)
  3. He is crazy good at jigsaw puzzles. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given his laser focus on his pattern blocks earlier in the year – he would literally spend the entire day precisely placing the blocks on the patterns or making patterns of his own – but at 3, he is doing puzzles that are supposed to be for kids aged 6+.
  4. He can consistently identify upper case letters and most lower case letters, though he gets turned around by the lowercase magnets for b/d, u/n, d/a, and h/n, all of which are pretty understandable. He likes to sing a version of the ABC song. He can also count to ten, thanks to a lot of practice with a homemade acorn game.
  5. He is absolutely spoiled with educational riches in our neighborhood and our city. They go to storytime at the Museum of Science and Industry (“robot museum”) and at the wonderful 57th Street Books (“bookstore”) every week. The staff at the Oriental Institute know him by name (and he knows about pharaohs, ankhs, and the lamassu). They regularly go to the Field (“dinosaur museum”) and the Shedd, and we like to make a weekend afternoon of a visit to the Nature Museum and North Pond, especially on Cold Blooded Weekends, when he can hold snakes and dragons on his lap thanks to the Chicago Herpetological Society.
  6. Our long national nightmare of broken sleep seems to finally have resolved itself, in part thanks to night weaning back in June. Naps remain a moving target – sometimes he naps, and sometimes he doesn’t, and sometimes that’s fine, and sometimes it’s terrible.
  7. His language and conversation skills have absolutely exploded. It’s wonderful and funny and also exhausting because now that he can actually communicate well, he never stops talking. When he notices us laughing at something he’s said, he will repeat it again (and again, and again) for even more laughs. He was absolutely delighted by us singing Happy Birthday to him, and has been singing it to himself at random moments for the last week.
  8. He has started to test boundaries and assert his will. Sometimes it’s funny:
    – I asked if he wanted to nurse before bed. He said “LISTEN! Numbers first.”
    – I was seasoning my food with soy sauce. He asked for “more sauce?” I pretended to season his food. He said “No! Lid off!” Busted!
    But a lot of times it isn’t:
    – He wants his independence while walking, but doesn’t always listen when approaching crosswalks. Or he will want to hold hands, but then go absolutely limp, making us stop multiple times in a block.
    – We took a little vacation for his birthday. He screamed and kicked in the car for an hour straight. We had multiple sidewalk conversations about how he needed to be quiet (or at least not screaming) and listen (because we were in a strange place) and not hurt people (no kicking, no hitting, no jerking on arms). And then he would do it all again, and then I would stop and talk to him again. “Do you remember what we talked about?” “Quiet, listen.” “What else?” “Don’t hurt Papa.” “OK, can we try again?” Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat until everyone is exhausted and in need of a pintje.
  9. He loves tofu and overnight oats and raisins and fruit and bread and tiny amounts of decaf coffee in a demitasse cup. He loves helping in the kitchen, and I’m learning to slow down and delegate tasks that are safe for small hands. We’ve done a little baking together recently – plum cake when plums appeared in our $1 bag from Open Produce, a banana cake for his birthday, topped with vegan dark chocolate ganache and rainbow sprinkles.
  10. He thrives in nature. He loves playgrounds, but he especially loves just playing outdoors – whether it’s walking his little wooden dog or collecting acorns for chipmunks (“make a little burrow” or foraging at the Garden of the Phoenix (“Japanese garden”, “See the waterfall?”). A summer full of outdoor play has made him healthy, adventurous, and strong.

So that’s three, or parts of it: delightful and exhausting, frustrating and hilarious. We’re constantly grateful and humbled by the work of parenting and the great gift of this little weirdo.

One.

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“When he looks back to the child, the eyes are open, staring up at him, unblinking, as dark as the hair on its head. The face is transformed; Ashoke has never seen a more perfect thing. He imagines himself as a dark, grainy, blurry presence. As a father to his son. Again he thinks of the night he was nearly killed, the memory of those hours that have forever marked him flickering and fading in his mind. Being rescued from that shattered train had been the first miracle of his life. But here, now, reposing in his arms, weighing next to nothing but changing everything, is the second.”The Namesake

Happy birthday, baby boy. Every day since then has been a gift

2013 in meme


Photo by Nicolas

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
Went to the Bahamas, Traverse City, and an electronic music festival; attempted to integrate cats; biked over 1,000 miles; knit cables; tried miracle berries.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I’m most proud that I’ve kept up with the year of no pants. I think next year’s list is less aspirational, though it has some big ones.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yep, but many fewer friends than in previous years.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
I lost one friend.

5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
The Bahamas with Karen, new parts of Michigan with Nicolas, and Portland with Annette. I also saw a lot more of Chicago, Seattle, Indianapolis, and St Louis.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
Certainty.

7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
My divorce was finalized on June 5.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Trusting my gut; quitting smoking (again); back-to-back PRs.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Judgment.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I was sick in January, February/March, August, and December. I had all manner of menstrual weirdness that seemed to resolve itself after tests in May. I’d like to think my insides were scared straight. A nagging hip thing started to flare badly in July, and was diagnosed in December as a hypermobile SI joint. I have done a terrible job at keeping up with my PT.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My Divvy membership, which made hacking my commute possible.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I’m really proud of a number of my friends for the awesome things they’ve made happen in the last year.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Same as last year.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Food and drink; running and biking (race registrations, gear, travel, Gu)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Sand cats and biking in Chicago.

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier

ii. thinner or fatter?
About the same, though my weight has shifted around a bit.

iii. richer or poorer?
Richer in lots of ways.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
More time at the beach. More naps. More reading.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Driving.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
With my family in Rockford

21. Did you fall in love in 2013?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

22. How many one-night stands?

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Game of Thrones

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Nope.

25. What was the best book you read?
Haruki Murakami: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Brad Kessler: Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese
Ryszard Kapuściński: Travels with Herodotus

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Another year of a lot of electronic music: Darkside, Moderat, Modeselektor, Four Tet, Trentemøller, Tensnake, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, and FM Attack.

And oh yeah: Nicolas Jaar, Nicolas Jaar, Nicolas Jaar, Nicolas Jaar.

27. What did you want and get?
Love.

28. What did you want and not get?
A sand cat.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
In the theater: The East; Blancanieves; Upstream Color.
At home: Samsara; Baraka; Bill Cunningham New York.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Drove to work very early, stopping to pick up an absurdly foofy free coffee in my vintage dress and with my hair in rollers. Gave a presentation to the entire library at 9am. Got new passport photos taken. Quick post-work run before dressing up for dinner with my best girls at Karyn’s on Green. One solo drink at Neo. More celebrations over the weekend, which was spent with my (new) guy. Not a bad way to turn 33.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More time – on the beach, in the water, on my bike, in the forest, with my loved ones, unplugged.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
No pants in public.

33. What kept you sane?
Running. My girls. Love.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I might have mentioned Nicolas Jaar.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
I spent a lot of time thinking about urban planning than any specific political issue.

36. Who did you miss?
There are a number of people that I expected to see all the time since moving to Chicago that I just haven’t.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
This year was more about solidifying friendships with people I met previously. I met online friends Heidi and Patrick for the first time IRL, and I made friends at work.

Best non-person: the sand cat, which we visited often, and my sponge:

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013:
I’ve lived by this quote from my friend Susie: “Lead with your fractured heart. It can be broken more, yes, but it has practice — like bones and other things, we mend and move on. Use it or, well, what’s the point of having it in the first place?”

See also: 2011, 2012

Ten on Tuesday: Headlines From the Year You Were Born

All news shamelessly sourced from Wikipedia.

  1. January 1: Changes to the Swedish Act of Succession make Princess Victoria of Sweden Crown Princess and therefore next in line to the throne, ahead of her younger brother.
  2. January 11: Nigel Short, 14, becomes the youngest chess player to be awarded the degree of International Master.
  3. March 22: The Georgia Guidestones are erected in Elbert County, Georgia.
  4. April 24-25: Operation Eagle Claw, a commando mission in Iran to rescue American embassy hostages, is aborted after mechanical problems ground the rescue helicopters. Eight United States troops are killed in a mid-air collision during the failed operation.
  5. May 18: Ian Curtis, singer/songwriter of acclaimed post punk band Joy Division, is found hanged.
  6. May 18: Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington, killing 57 and causing US$3 billion in damage.
  7. July 16: Former California Governor and actor Ronald Reagan is nominated for U.S. President, at the Republican National Convention in Detroit, Michigan. Influenced by the Religious Right, the convention also drops its long standing support for the Equal Rights Amendment, dismaying moderate Republicans.
  8. August 17: In Australia, baby Azaria Chamberlain disappears from a campsite at Ayers Rock (Uluru), reportedly taken by a dingo.
  9. November 21: A then-record number of viewers (for an entertainment program) tune into the U.S. TV soap opera Dallas to learn who shot lead character J.R. Ewing. The “Who shot J.R.?” event is an international obsession.
  10. December 8: John Lennon, an English musician and peace activist, is murdered in New York City.

Please note that there were no Wikipedia-worthy news items from my actual date of birth, which I share with Albert Pujols.

I Love My Sister!

Which isn’t to say that I don’t love my other family members, including those who have had birthdays in the last week, but every time we go home to Rockford, I come back wishing that I lived closer to my sister. We don’t have as much time to talk as we used to, but I love every minute I get to spend with her, and am so proud of the wife, mother, and all around great woman that she’s become.

Thanks, Jenn, for being awesome. You rock every bit as hard as you did in this photo from four years ago:

Rock Lock

Best Sugar Cookies Ever

We spent last weekend in Rockford, celebrating a very special boy’s very special first birthday. Jenn and Bill really outdid themselves with the treats, and I’ll be honest when I say that I was tempted to dig in with the same sort of abandon demonstrated by the birthday boy. It got messier from here, but I had to share the restrained cute:

In addition to Max’s chocolate-and-chocolate smash cake, Jenn and Bill made a two layer Mario cake – chocolate on the bottom, funfetti on the top – with homemade fondant, complete with Goombas, mushrooms, bricks, and pipes:

Mario Cake!

There were also homemade cupcakes, but what I really want to tell you about are the sugar cookies, decorated to look like Starmen:

Starmen!

and Yoshi eggs:

Yoshi Eggs!

Now, I’m usually not a sugar cookie kind of girl. When presented with your conventional cookie options, I usually go for monster cookies first, then molasses, oatmeal raisin, and last, but not least, chocolate chip. These sugar cookies, however, were just about the best sugars I’ve had. They were delicious right out of the oven – and stayed soft (but not chewy) for a few days after. I ate the last star Wednesday morning – nearly a week after they were baked – and the cookie was still soft.  That’s much better than your average store-bought cookie, which even with preservatives will be stale by the end of the day.

The weekend’s treats totally did in my diet and my sweet tooth – but I look forward to making these when both recover.  Jenn shared her recipe, which she got from her friend Robyn, and which I’m happy to share here. Jenn and Robyn note that gel food coloring will result in more vivid colors, and should be added after frosting reaches the desired consistency. Liquid food coloring, on the other hand, should be added to the frosting BEFORE other liquids, as it may affect the frosting’s consistency.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream (or sweet cream soured with 2-3 tablespoons vinegar)
6 cups sifted flour – more if necessary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 375, and line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat mats. Cream butter and sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. In a 2 cup measuring cup, dissolve the soda in the sour cream, mixture will froth and almost double in volume. Add to butter mixture and blend. Sift dry ingredients together and blend into the wet ingredients gradually. If necessary, gradually add more sifted flour until you can easily roll out the dough. Cut out cookies and bake 10-12 minutes on the prepared baking sheets. Yield will vary depending on the rolled-out thickness and size of your cookie cutters.

Buttercream Frosting
1/3 cups cold butter
1 pound powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring (optional)
1/4 cup whole milk or cream

Cream butter. Add powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and liquid food coloring if using. Add milk or cream, stirring constantly, until the frosting forms stiff peaks. Gel food coloring will produce more vivid colors; if using, add after the frosting reaches the desired consistency.  Spread on cooled sugar cookies – or enjoy on graham crackers or straight off the mixing spoon.

Happy birthday to my bestie!

He turned 31 today.

[this is good]

We spent almost the entire day together, which was pretty awesome, despite the fact that half of it was a result of me being totally sick for the last 5 days.  We had a nice lunch at Jolly Pumpkin, took a long nap, and just got back from drinks at Ashley’s – he also got in some wrenching while I worked-while-sick, then scored free fried ice cream with friends at Taco Tuesday while I taught my class.  I also think I excelled in the present-giving department this year: a long-desired Hario Buono kettle and a screen-printed moped polo.

Tomorrow I’m off for a long weekend in Illinois with my friends – but for now I’m just loving the fact that I’ve gotten so much good time with SB the last few days – and that I have the extraordinary good luck of being married to my best friend.

A Tale of Two Dinners

My birthday was this past weekend, and I am now 31.  As you may recall, last year’s birthday celebration involved a lot of free things and the construction of a croquembouche, the latter of which kicked off a year of baking adventures with new A2 friends.  While we did go for a few free things, the main plan for the day was a fancy dinner, the destination of which was unknown to me until Friday, when an errant emailer let it slip that we were going to Eve, and then would be meeting friends for drinks after.

It is at this point that I should fill you in on a few extenuating circumstances.  First, on Friday night we ate all the food and drank all the drinks – specifically wine and fondue at Shana’s, followed by a round of drinks at Eve, followed by another round at Alley Bar, followed by the sort of drunken falling over antics more befitting nearly-21 than nearly-31.  Needless to say, the idea of eating and drinking to excess made me a little queasy.  It’s been almost a week, and it still makes me a little queasy.

Second, Eve is closing – well, has closed at this point.  Sunday night was going to be their last night of service ever, which meant all manner of potential hitches: stuff missing from the menu, poor service because they were too busy, etc.  Both were the case when we were in for drinks on Friday.  Shane had made his reservation before they announced the closure, wanting to treat me to a nice dinner at one of A2’s fanciest restaurants.

With these things in mind, I asked Shane if he would mind terribly if we went elsewhere for dinner? Specifically possibly maybe Vinology, where we had a really excellent meal over the summer.  Except! Vinology wasn’t taking reservations because of Restaurant Week, and when we called at 6pm, there was a two hour wait for a table for two.  So we carried on with the original plan.

Except that we arrived late for our reservation (6pm, not 6:30).  And we were seated at a two top where we would’ve been more intimate dining companions with our neighbors than with each other.  Every time the door opened, Shane was treated to a gust of very cold air.  The server greeted us with the offer of a cocktail, but the warning that they’d had an open house that afternoon and sold off most of their bar.  They had one of thirty bottles available from the lower end of the wine list – the rest were sold out.  The bread came out without the wonderful butters promised by nearly every reviewer on Yelp, and at that point we decided to throw in the towel.

So we left, with me nearly in tears, feeling so guilty for being disappointed and wanting to go elsewhere when Shane had tried to make the evening so nice.  Shane asked what I thought we should do, and I asked if we could try Vinology?  He dropped me off, and I went in prepared to cry if it would get us a table.

Except that they’d had a cancellation, and so had a table for two available immediately!  I gushed to the host that he’d just made our evening, and we were tucked away in a cozy booth with gauze curtains separating us from our neighbors.  My stress and guilt melted away with Shane’s obvious enthusiasm for the menu: ample options for sharing and indulging in both wine and food, plus dessert on the house in honor of my birthday.  Over the course of the next two hours, we shared:

  • a sweet and savory salad of beets prepared with sherry vinegar and goat cheese
  • a plate of olives and assorted pickled vegetables, half of which I took home for later snacking
  • a half portion of the scallops – so one perfect buttery porcini-dusted scallop each, along with boursin whipped potatoes, mushroom ragout, french beans, and an  impossibly delicate vinaigrette
  • a half portion of grilled sirloin with a coffee-pepperberry rub, creamed swiss chard, and adequate sweet potato ravioli in a ginger soy butter sauce
  • a half portion of the same wonderful venison we enjoyed in june

We each enjoyed a wine flight with our meals, the result of which was a veritable wall of wine across our little table:

Wall of wine
For Shane, the Big Red, featuring a small pour each of Garnacha, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I had the Fruit Bomb: Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a Shiraz that ranks among the best wines I’ve ever tried. We finished the meal with “Captain Crunch” ice cream, which tastes even better than you could possibly imagine:

Captain Crunch Ice Cream

While our meal wasn’t prepared by a former Top Chef contestant (or her staff), I’m confident when I say that this was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed together.  Thank you, Vinology, for redeeming what could have been a very disappointing birthday evening, and thank you, Shane, for the treat, your company, and your patience and love.

Shredding, Week 2

This afternoon I knocked out day 10 of the 30 Day Shred.  Since we last talked about this, I’ve gotten into a four day rotation: three days of shredding, then a day off.  I’ve spent the off days groaning about my soreness and/or going on increasingly long runs, which is an unexpected and pretty fantastic side effect of this process.  For the last few months, my runs were consistently 2-3 miles, but very rarely more than that.  I’ve run outside in my new shoes four times, and three of those – including the two this week – were over four miles.  Easily over four miles.  Comfortably over four miles.  Easily and comfortably to the point that I would’ve gone further if I hadn’t had to finish my runs going uphill into the snow while running on the slushy streets in the growing dark.

Let’s just say that if I wasn’t before, I am now a 30DS convert.  I’ve increased my weights and doubled my pushups in the strength intervals.  I’m a lot less sore than I was a week ago.  I’ve felt great on my runs – minimal soreness and improved stamina, which makes a huge difference when running in these conditions.  I’ve also lost 2.4 pounds and 2.5 inches.  Some of that is almost certainly the receding holiday bloat and the normal shifts during my cycle, but still!  Inches don’t lie.  Neither does the slinky stretchy dress I wore to dinner last night.

I’ve been feeling pretty guilty (and hung over) for most of today because last night was full of all sorts of (delicious gooey melty boozey) excess, but apart from that, I’ve been feeling pretty damned fantastic.  I’m turning 31 tomorrow, and I’m in very nearly the best shape of my life.  I’ll drink to that, though not tonight. 🙂