Sunday, February 26, 2012


I've got everything that I need. Right in front of me.

(Except for an explanation why "Life's A Happy Song" was not nominated for an Oscar this year. And why are there only TWO song nominees? Stop messing with the rules, people!)

Anyboo. I do have everything I need. The girls and Randy are wonderful; we're all healthy; the calendar is full of promise and every day is a gift. But that doesn't mean a little sumpin-sumpin isn't appreciated for the lift it gives on an otherwise gray February day.

Like this, a Valentine's present from dear Randy. A Nest thermostat.

I love it. The Nest doesn't need to be programmed beyond the minimum and maximum temps we want when we are out of the house. After that, we just turn the dial that looks like a camera lens to fix the heat as we like. The Nest is supposed to learn our preferences and start making the adjustments for us. And to conserve energy by turning low when no one is around. Fingers crossed. I don't know how smart it actually is, but it does look pretty cool on the wall. Thanks, honey!

If, unlike me, you find the Nest less than romantic, check out this mug that Randy found, with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books that was made into one of favorite mini-series. Do you know that line?

And these Valentine flowers. Not for me - I got red roses - but a cup of posies for each of our daughters from my thoughtful husband. Makes my heart melt, the way he loves those little girls.

And this! From dear cousin Sally and her Erik, a mushroom-growing kit. I won't candy-coat it, when the little shrooms started bulging out of their growth medium after a few days of faithful misting, I was working overtime to fight the gag reflex. But as they blossomed into maturity, the oyster mushrooms fascinated my girls (cunning Sally's ulterior plan, maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh) and were delicious sauteed with peas! Yum!! Thanks, Sal and Erik!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Presidents' Day, Kid Style

One of the unexpected changes that comes into life after children, besides the new diet of heart-stopping beauty with the occasional dash of despair, is the attention you start paying to holidays. Christmas springs into technicolor, of course, but even the minor deities, say, the normally ignored Presidents' Day, becomes a day or two to actually celebrate.

We spent the four day holiday weekend in the city and now that the girls have turned a capable nine and a cooperative seven, family travel is getting better and better. I did forget some essentials (just my toothbrush and mascara and underwear and tweezers) but Walgreen's comes to the rescue and if Randy is not worried about me slowly losing my memory, well then we'll just focus on the current moment, how about that?

And a lot of fun moments were to be had, especially when we took bus rides which feel like adventures to my suburban girls. On Monday, we took a double 221 up Michigan Avenue (we sat right in the center between the two joined buses and squealed when the accordion walls squeezed as we turned corners) to the Chicago History Museum, where there was all sorts of Presidents' Day crafts and presentations and crowds. We learned that Chicago has more moveable bridges than any other city in the world ("Thirty-eight!" chimes in my sponge of a girl, Mia), that the most common double drawbridge type is formally called a trunnion bascule, which translates to "see-saw" from the French, and that kids pay much more attention to the lecturer when they get to move little model bridges on a low table of wooden waterways and shorelines.

We also learned about the life of presidential children from two dynamic historical reenactresses playing maids and nannies and secret service. They charmed the rapt buffs in the audience, made us giggle with stories of burping First Babies and made me gasp with the horrid factoid that President Obama receives thirty death threats a day.

"What? What?" whispered Mia. The show was coming to an end. As we filed out, I gave my Radiance and her little Rosebud of a sister a gentle translation beginning with, "Remember when we were talking about people who are mentally ill?"

Our sixteenth president and his wife were standing in the foyer, greeting visitors but I neglected to grab the teaching moment and make the connection between executive dangers and poor Mr. Lincoln -- the sight of him and Mary Todd was such a delight.

After lying in a child-size hot dog bun and sending Daddy a virtual postcard about our CHM adventures, we hopped on the Clark Street bus for points south. Got off at Daley Plaza where Mommy remembered something about a new sweet shop in the new Block 37 mall -- it was Magnolia Bakery!

Me, so proud: "Does Mommy deliver?"

Girls dutifully chime in, "Mommy delivers."

Cupcakes like a fluffy dream, Nora's pink frosting adorned with a tiny sugar daisy; Mia's purple has sprinkles. My never-shy little one strikes up a conversation with the icing workers behind the counter while Mia takes some of my red tea and adds sugar and ice to her liking.

We are pumped and ready to skate. Two blocks east to Millennium Park, skate rental, a short wait for the Zamboni and we were on the ice! Wait a minute - this stuff is slippery! And hard as a rock! Mia shuffled, Nora interrupted the young woman practicing her spins in the middle to request a lesson and I shook my booty to the piped-in golden oldies. "Hey Carrie Ann! What's your game now, can anybody play?"

A few rounds of the ice and one hard fall later, we were ready to call it a day. Dinner with Daddy and the end of a great day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Funny Valentines

Here's my funny family, on their way to the Daddy Daughter Dance in schmancy Kenilworth a while back. It was a Cinderella evening, from the last minute decision to go, to the questionable footwear. And we even had broken glass by the end of the night - Nora thought her favorite monkey snow globe would enjoy the party -- it's hidden in the pink sequin purse over her shoulder -- and you can guess where that went.

The school benefit was last weekend and the sweet babysitter canceled on us, again, to my irritation and Randy's great relief. (He is willing to make his daughters' dreams come true by squiring them to a crowded room of strangers; for parents-only functions, my hard working hubby would prefer to take a pass and pass the remote.) So I dressed up and went with some friends down the block and danced until I sweat and even ran up to the extra mike during the dad band's second set (Pop Rocks rocks!) and wailed backup on a Talking Heads via "Take Me to the River" and CSNY's "Love the One You're With."

(Did you know the lyrics are "There's a rose in a fisted glove"? I always thought it was something about a road, something something, love...)

Anyway! In the silent auction I won a gift basket that included the head massager that Nora is sporting in this pic. You'd be suprise how good those little prongs feel when you bounce them around on your scalp! And it makes a fetching space-princess crown, too, doesn't it, when paired with my scarf turned velvet cape?

There were more stories and more pictures, but my "Add Image" button has suddenly gone on the fritz. Happy Valentine's Day! Much love to you, dear readers, and warmest wishes for hugs, chocolate and sweetness. Mwah!

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Michigan Vacation with Kids: Sleeping Bear Dunes

August, 2011

Our last full day in southwest Michigan we took the girls on the classic Saugatuck Dune Ride, then drove to Holland for the afternoon. A flotilla of bikers accompanied us on the road bearing orange signs that told their origin state - lots of Iowans, whoo whoo! We would overtake them and let them catch up with us again at the New Holland Brew House and then a couple days later, again at the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

The girls and I had seen the tulips and Ye Olde Dutch stuff on other visits to Holland - today we were here for a production of The Borrowers at the local Christian college. If you, like me, loved as a kid this children's story about a family of tiny people who live under the floorboards and "borrow" from and perplex the "human beans" who live above, then you'll understand how excited I was to introduce little Arietty to my girls. The college kids gave it their best and with the help of little eight inch high puppet dolls when the Borrowers interact with big people and some big puppets flying around as dangerous wasps and friendly moths, my girls were charmed. You should have heard them scream with laughter when the little puppet mom and daughter attacked the evil housekeeper, Mrs. Driver, with a hat pin. A triumph for the little people!

We said goodbye with hugs and tears to Sal and Erik the next morning and took the coastal scenic route north. World's biggest weather vane! Then, after a couple of hours, we passed Crystal Lake!

Such sweet memories here of vacationing for a week with Sally and her parents at the Chimney Corners Resort when I was fourteen. Campfires on the beach! Lying on the sun-baked surface of the floating wooden raft, dripping, heart beating from the swim. Uncle Bob hooking a seagull rug in the cabin on a rainy day. Aunt Joan asking, "Where's Sally?" I didn't know, then we looked out the picture window toward the lake like we were looking at a movie screen and there she was, moving across our vision, rowing in the whitecaps before a coming storm, hauling herself almost upright with each pull of the oars. And on one of the last days, walking in the woods, holding hands with a boy from Detroit. Bill. Bill Weiderman. Feeling too sick with excitement to eat, even pancakes. Making out (for the first time!) with that boy in the dark on the beach the last night. Elton John's "Daniel" on the car radio as we drove away...

"Girls! Be quiet! Mom is remembering!" Randy yells at the rowdies in the back seat as we speed by.

On and on up the twisty roads to Glen Arbor, a sweet tourist town about three blocks wide, surrounded by pretty pines, on the edge of Sleeping Bear Bay. Dinner at Boondocks, not on the fun and crowded outdoor deck, since the girls were tired and rarely like the conventional, but inside the cozy cabin dining room. Fried walleye and cole slaw, yum. Raw carrots for the girls with their pasta.

We stayed at up the road at the Homestead, a huge hilly spread of condo buildings, cabins, homes, ski lift, three or so hotels, pools, and shops with woods all around. We have a condo that faces the water beyond a clear water creek and grassy dunes. A short walk over a wooden footbridge to the narrow beach.

The next morning we made the epic Dune Climb that I had promised the girls before we left home. "We'll climb a mountain made out of sand! And then you run down as fast as you can, but the sand is so soft, even if you fall, you won't get hurt!"

That's the way I remembered it from when I was a kid and that's the way it was. Like childbirth, the effort to make it to the top is not what you retain. Not the slog of steps, each slipping back half the distance you moved up, your breath already gone after a fraction of the climb. Nor that beautiful view at the top, even though to the west it's bluest Lake Michigan and more dunes and placid Glen Lake to the east. You catch your breath and snap a shot and if you're like me, yell, "Worth it!" But that's not what you remember most.

It's the running down that hill that we came for, answering the call of that great downward expanse, feeling the pull of the bowl of sand that calls you to tilt your body toward the slope until gravity catches you off-balance and you must run. Great loping strides down, down, down onto soft yielding sand, faster and faster. You're breathless with laughter and the thrill of moving in a way between flying and falling with style, as Buzz Lightyear would say. Down to the bottom, in what feels like moments, of the hill that felt like it took an hour to climb.

Scenic Drive turnoff. Looking north toward the twin islands, South Manitou and North Manitou.

We drove the twisty and steep Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, wondering how on earth Julie and Bobby bike it, stopped for pizza in Empire, then drove ten miles south on Route 22 to Riverside Canoe Outfitters. The girls had to be extracted from the crammed aisles of the log cabin gift shop, but we eventually got them down to the riverside and each in her own inner tube.

The water was cool on this warm and bright August day, the riverbed was sandy and the banks pretty with green woods and cabins and their tiny docks tucked among the trees. Randy was satisfied to float and try out his new mesh bag as a cooling system for the beers while Mia chased minnows and Nora kicked her way into the lead ("It's not a race, Nora!") I grew impatient with the pace so I stood up in the knee-deep water and waded instead, pulling my tube behind me. Cool in the shadows near the banks, warm in the center of the stream. After about an hour or so of splashing and floating, we hit the landing point, got out and carried our floaties (make that Randy and I doing the carrying) down a ten minute trail back to the outfitters. Next year we'll do the longer trip that takes us all the way to Lake Michigan where a van gives us a ride back to start.

Dinner was at The Cove, all the way up in Ye Olde Fishtown, a neighborhood of Leland, Michigan where tiny fishing shacks next to a trout stream have been reconditioned as gift and candy shops and restaurants. Very picturesque. The Ferris Wheel drying racks for the catch of the day were cool, as was the blocky boat design on a t-shirt Randy bought. We would see the actual ship that was the inspiration for the design on our last day at Sleeping Bear - it had not much more embellishment.

Another beautiful sunset over Sleeping Bear Bay.