Monday, December 31, 2012

Sisters Christmas Extravaganza

Greeting from the Mall of America.....poor Jonathan!
Action shot - Margaret wishing Barnes & Noble cashier "Mele Kalikimaka"
Yes, my last post was a recap of our Thanksgiving celebration, however, during the past 5 years or so we have begun to kick off our Christmas preparations immediately following Thanksgiving.  Our good friends, Jon and Shirley (aka "Texas Grandma") were actually witness to this, as we began unearthing all of our Christmas decorations while they were still in town, visiting us for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Bloody Mary lunch at Twin Cities Grill, Mall of America
Another Bloody Mary lunch - at Jake's City Grill, Eagan MN
Lunch with cousin Judy - at Dock Cafe, Stillwater MN
With our house made festive for the season, we welcomed another set of visitors to Minnesota.  Since 2007, the beginning of December has been reserved for some special sister time.  My sisters arrived only 9 days after Jon and Shirley left from their Thanksgiving visit.  In those 9 days we had a Christmas decorating blitz, Jonathan battled a stomach bug and David left for China (temporarily leaving me a "single" mom).  Needless to say, I was more than ready for my sisters to arrive.  The usual sister antics ensued - Christmas shopping, silly girl talk, Bloody Mary lunches, spiked eggnog evenings....which led to dancing to Gangnam style in my family room. We also had a wonderful afternoon with our cousin, Judy, who lives about a half-hour away from me.  After a nice lunch we continued our afternoon shopping in the very pretty gift shops and boutiques in downtown Stillwater, MN.

"The Fun Sisters" - shopping (with photographer, cousin Judy) in Stillwater MN
One thing I must say is that after this second consecutive year here in Minnesota (in prior years we went to my sister's house, outside of Baltimore), the Mall of America will never be the same.  Once silly story to attest to this revolves around a Christmas greeting. Prior to my sisters' arrival, my sister Margaret called me on the telephone.  When I answered the phone, Margaret said to me, "Mele Kalikimaka" (you know the Christmas song that explains that this is the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas).  During that phone conversation, Margaret suggested that when we are shopping, instead of saying, "Happy holidays" or "Merry Christmas" to the check out cashier, we should instead say, "Mele Kalikimaka".  Of course, after our first stop inside the Mall of America, I reminded Margaret of this conversation.  We had already checked out at the mall's Barnes and Noble, however, I dared Margaret to go back and say that.  Margaret stood in line again, waited for her cashier, looked him in the eye and said, "Mele Kalikimaka" and then walked away, leaving the cashier looking mighty confused.  Adolescent??...yep, but that is the kind of silliness that we sisters do.  We revert to our childhood.....but have a good time doing so.

David came home from China while my sisters were here. All of us out to dinner at DeGidios, St. Paul MN
Marysia and Margaret were scheduled to leave Minnesota on Sunday, December 9th however we got hit with a nice little snow storm that cancelled flights.  I know that they were looking forward to getting back to their own families, however I was happy that I was able to have any extra day with my sisters.  For a 6 night visit, it definitely wen wayyyy too quickly and it is sad to think that I may not see either of my sisters again until July.  Thankfully I have a huge slew of pictures and video of our time together.  Here are a few to share.....

Photo shoot - Take # 324??

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Awesome sister time!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Madeline and "Texas Grandma" making hand turkeys
Our blessings are endless. Amazing friends are one of our most precious blessings and so sharing our first major holiday in our new Minnesota home with close friends helped to make this Thanksgiving extra special.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Jon and David met when they worked together in Niagara Falls, NY - almost 20 years ago.  The two of them hit it off while commiserating over their fairly horrible boss.  Two single guys in their 20's grow their friendships doing "guy things".  And this is what they did - went out for beers, played on a floor hockey league, drank beer, played on a softball league, ordered pizza, drank beer, watched sports and when there was nothing else to do, they probably drank more beer.  Since David was fairly new to WNY at that time, Jon's mom, Shirley, sort of took on the role of David's "Buffalo Mom".  A couple years later, David and I started dating and I soon became part of this circle. 

David and Jon working on Christmas lights
Why is it so damn cold in Minnesota??  Ummm....maybe packing New Orleans attire (shorts) wasn't wise. (You can't tell but it was snowing when this picture was taken)
Jon and his brother, Joe, used to be roommates in an upper flat apartment in North Buffalo - upstairs from their grandma.  Joe got married that spring and in May of 1995, David moved into that apartment, making David & Jon roommates.  That summer was awesome.  A bunch of twenty-somethings (me included) hanging out.....ahhh, how carefree we were.  Jon ended up moving to New Orleans in August of 1995 and that is when I moved in with David.  Although Jon was in Louisiana, "Grandma" (or as she would like to refer to herself as, "a 1912 model") owned the house and lived downstairs from us.  We were always welcome visitors at Shirley's house (who then lived just south of Buffalo) and Shirley was always included in David & my festivities - wedding, graduation parties, baby shower, etc.. Since we have become parents, Shirley has treated our children like her own grandchildren.

The beginnings of gołąbki (cabbage rolls)....made by request
Yes, my post is a rambling of sorts.  Why am I writing about all of this when you might expect me to merely give the sequence of events during the Thanksgiving holiday?  In a nutshell - in such a short period of time David and I became part of Jon's family.  Although Jon moved out of town early in our friendship, the relationship has continued to grow.  David, Jon and I have more than one story to tell about our times together - trivia nights, baseball trips, French Quarter, Jamaica......the list goes on. Yet, the importance of this is that, I did not spend the Thanksgiving holiday with *just* friends.  I spent it with friends that are as close as family.  And as much as David and I love our own families, we all know that actual family is not a choice.  Friends like these are developed, I guess by choice - or as I like to think, by blessing.  They come, if you are lucky, once in a lifetime.

No pity....I managed to chase two kids, go to the Mall of America and make gołąbki. :-P
Working on getting the Christmas tree decorated with Madeline & Jonathan
Shirley's & Jon's visit was so completely relaxing. I am not sure that they would agree, however, as the  kids kept them on their toes.  Jonathan was his usual self - getting into everything, while Madeline kept Shirley on "craft duty". And me?...I kept Jon busy by having him help David with a few things around the house - moving furniture to make room for our Christmas tree, assembling a tree, putting up Christmas lights (which their efforts were pretty much wasted because the fuse keeps blowing on them and only one of the sets stays lit), and doing "man duty" at Best Buy for the hunt for a new TV.  Shirley and I had a nice time chatting, doing a little bit of shopping and just hanging out.  Although we put Jon to work, he also had some down time too.  We stayed up wayyyyy too late one night and had, you can say...overindulged (that'll happen when staying up until 5:30 am - whose bright idea was that??).  Over the course of their visit, we had lots of good laughs, watched a movie (okay, *they* did - I snored on the couch) and started to decorate for Christmas. We pretty much enjoyed a "family" gathering together- a little bit of everything, and plenty of nice memories were made.

Most importantly, my family and I were able to share Thanksgiving with wonderful friends, for which we are thankful.  We are blessed, and thankful for this extension of our own family and can't imagine not having them as part of our life.
Jonathan taking the ornaments back OFF of the tree.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy 7th Birthday, Madeline!

Madeline celebrating her birthday at school
Madeline posing with her *first* balloon - before it popped
Arriving in our room
Wow! Where is the time going????   On one hand it seems as though Madeline's toddler years were a lifetime ago, yet on the other hand it feels as though she has grown from baby to girl in the blink of an eye.  We went back and forth for a while as to how we should celebrate Madeline's birthday.  We gave Madeline a choice between a party with some of her classmates or an overnight at the Water Park of America. Madeline opted for the Water Park (which I was secretly crossing my fingers that she would choose).

Ready for the pool. We took the same posed picture last year.
LAST year's picture
Although Madeline's birthday is the 4th (comforting to me that her birthday is the same as my mom's.), her celebration began on Friday the 2nd.  Unlike her school last year, Madeline's current school celebrates the students' birthdays.  Some rules apply in this (understandably) due to food allergies.  Any birthday treats had to be pre-wrapped (store bought) or non-food items.  Madeline and I went to Party City and picked out some appropriate goodies for little goodie bags that she could bring in for her class.  Madeline picked out plastic drawing stencils, Happy Birthday pencils and some candy.  Madeline was excited about being able to bring in treats for her classmates.  Madeline's teacher delighted me by emailing me a picture that she took of Madeline during her class celebration - what a fun surprise for me!

A view from our room's balcony. The moose is Madeline's class mascot that Madeline had to care for all week.
On Saturday the 3rd, we packed up for an overnight getaway.  Before our departure, Madeline and I took our dog, Sobaka, to the kennel.  Afterward, Madeline and I headed to Party City to purchase her birthday balloon.  The "birthday balloon" is a little annual tradition of ours.  Madeline is able to pick out either one of the gigundous Mylar balloons or two smaller Mylar balloons.  After careful deliberation, Madeline chose and was thrilled with a huge Mylar Disney Princess balloon.  We returned home to load up the van with the port-a-crib and our overnight bags.  We were only about 1.5 miles from our house, on the way to the hotel, when Madeline's special balloon popped.  NOT a good way to start the birthday getaway, and so we detoured for another trip to Party City.  The poor girl was so upset but she didn't even want the same balloon as a replacement. Madeline didn't even want to go back in the store because she thought she was going to get in trouble by the sales clerk because her balloon popped. I had her tell me what kind of balloon she wanted and she opted for two smaller Mylar balloons this time - a Rapunzel and a Hello Kitty balloon.  Disaster averted and we were finally, officially on our way.

Hotel breakfast (ugh! I look awful!)
Madeline, Jonathan and Mama - MOA carousel
Madeline is an old pro when it comes to the water park.  Our hotel room overlooked the park.  Certainly Madeline was thrilled to be there but I was surprised that Jonathan seemed to remember where we were and he was running around the hotel room, waving his arms and hands in the air.  It was so fun to see both kids so excited.  Once we got settled and in our suits we went straight to the water park. 

Birthday dinner - notice new birthday balloons??
I didn't realize until I was writing this blog that I spelled birthday wrong!!
Happy birthday, Madeline!
Water slides, wave pool, lazy river, we did it all.  With just a quick break for a pizza dinner, we made the most of our evening.  By the time David was leaving the park to take Jonathan to the room for bed, I was freezing.  Madeline and I usually take a quick dip in the hot tub to warm up when we are done swimming.  I had suggested the hot tub and was pleased to find some warmth, however, Madeline was not ready to call it a night.  She wanted to head back in the pool.  After a dip in the hot tub, there was no way that I could bring myself to getting back in the pool, which was unusually cool.  I told Madeline that she could play in the water as I watched but she was having no part of not having one on one Mama time.  I decided that the only way I would easily get Madeline out of the pool (and save me from having to go back in) would be the promise of a different fun activity.  I ended up introducing her to the world of video arcades.  We went to the hotel's game room. Whoa....I created a monster!  Yet, Madeline and I had a lot of fun together.  If her video car driving skills are any indication of her future driving ability, we are all in big trouble.  We rode cars, motorcycles, shot gigantic tarantulas on a safari, whacked some moles and played skee ball.  If Madeline won even one coupon from her game you would think that she won the lottery.  After cashing in her coupons at the end of the night Madeline was amazed that she could have fun at the arcade AND win prizes.  She picked out two tattoos, a ring, two suction cup jumpy things, a pad of paper and a bracelet.  When Madeline and I got back to the hotel room she was so excited to show David all her winnings....but, with all the water park activities she was also *very* ready for bed.

For the morning, I had packed some muffins and bananas.  After a quick bite to eat in our room, we were back in the water park, splashing the morning away....thankfully the water was much warmer the next day!  Also, the morning was a LOT less crowded than the night before and I actually had enough guts to try the surf machine.  I wear a tankini bathing suit so I was nervous about loosing my bottom piece (a woman right before me did!) but I managed.  Although I opted for body surfing, instead of actually standing on the board, I was actually proud to have had the guts to do this.  I can now check that off my list and never do it again.  By lunch time we were checked out of our room and had a morning of splashing and play under our belt, yet since we were across the street from the Mall of America, we decided to grab our lunch in the food court and let the kids ride a few rides.  For part of the time, David ended up taking Jonathan to the mall's aquarium while Madeline and I got crazy on rides.  For my friends that have been here to visit, I actually got on the Ninja Turtle ride.  But....even more impressive, I rode the Avatar Air Bender ride!!!!! (check this  I have yet been able to talk anyone else into riding this with me and so since David was with us and able to watch both kids I was determined to ride.  I have never screamed so much on a ride before....I actually went from screaming bloody murder to laughing hysterically at myself for screaming so loud.  CRAZY ride but I would totally do it again!

After the afternoon of fun at the mall, we headed home for the remainder of Madeline's birthday.  I told Madeline that she got to choose what I would make for her birthday dinner.  Madeline had requested shrimp pasta.  I whipped some up for Madeline and me and opted for chicken pasta for David and Jonathan.  After dinner, we sang "Happy Birthday" and enjoyed Madeline's birthday cake.  Madeline requested a birthday cake with a rainbow on it.  I was so proud of my creation.....that is, until I was looking at the photos to prepare this blog post (a full week after her birthday!).  It was not until then that I noticed that I spelled birthday wrong on the cake.  I spelled it "bithday".  What the heck!! I want a re-do!

Opening gifts
After cake, Madeline opened her presents.  She was so blessed.  It was so thoughtful of so many friends and relatives to send her something special in the mail.  Madeline was thrilled with each and every gift.  The funniest story, however, is that her Aunt Margaret used a "chicken dinner" box to package Madeline's gift in the mail.  When we broke through the outer postal packaging Madeline asked, "What is it"?  David and I told her chicken.  We had her believe for a minute that Aunt Margaret sent her chicken for her birthday.  We even had her pose for a picture with the chicken gift.  The only thing Madeline said was, "cool" as she set aside the box.  When she was finally told that isn't what was inside the box, Madeline was definitely much more pleased with the cute outfit inside - she actually wore it to school the next day.

Thanks, Aunt Margaret, for the "chicken"!
All in all, I believe Madeline's birthday celebration was a success.  Not only did we end up with a super happy birthday girl, but the four of us were able to enjoy an awesome one-on-one family time weekend together.  David and I (and I suspect the kids too), at the end of the weekend, felt so refreshed and relaxed, almost as if we went on vacation.  A *much* better outcome (and probably the same price) as if we had a kids party out.  I would totally recommend this celebration route to anyone and would repeat this in the future.  Now, if only I could do something about how quickly these kids are growing up!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy Halloween 2012

Madeline as Rapunzel
Jonathan as a pilot
Wow! I can't believe that this was already our 2nd Halloween here in Minnesota! Yet, since this was our first Halloween at our new house it was, in a way, a new experience once again.  Madeline has been looking forward to Halloween for weeks and has asked for a daily countdown for just as long.  Although this was not Jonathan's first Halloween either, it was his first Halloween that he could participate to any real degree.

Madeline doing the serious Trick-Or-Treating as Jonathan enjoys the scenery.
For weeks Madeline would beg to look at the costume section every time we stepped foot into Target.  Every time we walked in the store she would tell me what she wanted to dress up as and by the time we left the store, Madeline's costume choice would change to something else.  I think Madeline had about 40 costume "must haves" during the month of October.  When it came time to make a decision, Madeline opted to dress as Rapunzel.  Jonathan, however, had no real say in the matter so it was just a matter of Mama and Papa choosing a costume.  Since Jonathan loves pointing out all the airplanes in the sky, we decided on the airplane pilot costume.  We figured this costume would also get some use after Halloween with some pretend play - Jonathan loves "flying" around the house.

Jonathan was enjoying the wagon in between stops.
Trick-or-treating with class mascot, Mariah the Moose
Although both kids had a mini "dress rehearsal" in their costumes when we visited Grandma and Grandpa, I tried to perfect things a little more for Halloween night.  This meant "glamming up" Rapunzel with some make-up and a curling iron.  I also bought Jonathan a "leather" (or shall I say, pleather) jacket and pilot cap to finish off his costume (gotta love "Savers" second hand store....and, bonus is I hit the store on 20% off day too!)

Is that the Addams Family???...nah, just Mama-Dirtyfoot's family
Madeline and one of her schoolmates
We also had a "tag along" to our family's trick-or-treating.  Madeline is responsible for her class' "Mariah the Moose".  We have Mariah for the week.  Mariah gets to share in the adventures of our family and we get to journal her experiences before heading back to class next week.  We decided to dress-up Mariah as Tinkerbell and have the moose go trick-or-treating with us too.

Now what is this thing you call chocolate??
(Eyes bugging out) Whoa! You've been holding out on me!!
The evening was crisp, but not too cold.  Although a jacket would've been ideal, Madeline did not want to cover up her costume.  Although we threw a coat in the wagon "just in case", it was never touched.  We made Madeline take it slow to the first house so that Jonathan could go with her.  After that, as a seasoned veteran, Madeline took off running.  After a house, we would plop Jonathan in the wagon and by the time we put him in the wagon, pulled him down the street and got him back out of the wagon, Jonathan was doing every other house - 1 house to every two of Madeline's.  I was pleased to hear the thank yous coming from Madeline.  Meanwhile, Jonathan was initially more interested in the sticks on the sidewalk or throwing the plastic pumpkin bucket from his hand but eventually it seemed as though he was starting to get the hang of things.  After about an hour out, Jonathan hit his limit and so David took him home while Madeline and I continued on.

As a kid, as a teacher and as a all roles, weekday Halloweens sucked. I think Madeline could've continued on with the trick or treating but knowing my daughter, I had to keep her bedtime on a school night somewhat reasonable.  She and I continued on for a little bit after Jonathan went home.  That is when we happened to meet up with one of Madeline's schoolmates.  In both girls a second wind hit them.  It was almost like seeing a light switch turn on, and the two of them ran from house to house.

Mmmmmm.....Decisions, decisions!
Finally we turned the corner, back onto our street again, and it was time to wrap up our trick-or-treating.  However, Halloween night is not complete until you raid your trick-or-treating bucket when you get home.  I allowed Jonathan his first taste of chocolate.  Let's just say that he really, really, *really* liked it!  As for Madeline, it is a good thing that I lost count of what she ate that night.  Unlike when I was a child, (It was up to me to ration my Halloween candy as I saw fit....needless to say, the candy didn't last long at all) post-Halloween, Madeline is back to one piece of candy after dinner.  Sigggghhhhh.....that, however is not helping me as that candy calls my name - taunting me - while Madeline is at school.  Oh wait, haven't you heard???? November 1st is National "Eat Your Kids' Halloween Candy While They Are At School" Day.  I guess I am just being festive and celebrating this "holiday", right?????

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Pre-game view from our seats
Me and some random Vikings fan
Since when is THIS football arena food? Yum!
What? No shots of Tequila in the arena?!
And the theme of making Minnesota home continues.  And the strategy? Making friends, exploring the region, continuing old traditions in our new city and basically moving on.  Hmmmm..... "moving on".  For the longest time I had struggled with that concept.  Somewhere deep down inside of me I had an inkling of a notion that "moving on" would somehow move me further away from a lifetime's worth of friends back in Buffalo.  Somehow "moving on" would make them feel as though they are not as special to me.  Somehow "moving on", coupled with our geographical distance would contribute to us loosing our connection with each other.  I have finally realized that true friends make efforts to keep in touch and true friends pick up where they left off even if months pass between moments shared.  As I slowly get better at letting go and moving on, I slowly find more and more that I enjoy about the Twin Cities.

Whoa, Mr Viking man! Let me run my fingers thru your beard!
I love them so much!
Pumpkin #1
Pumpkin #2
On Thursday night, David and I went to the Vikings game.  We were able to score 4 tickets.  We invited our new "Minnesota friends" Kim & Ken to join us.  (Kim was actually our realtor and helped us find our house here in MN.)  I must say, it felt great to get out and socialize!!  The seats at the game were pretty awesome seats.  It was a pretty cold night so I was glad that the stadium has a dome.  Our tickets for the evening also came with tickets for admission to the Gridiron Club. to explain the Gridiron Club???  Well, for WNYers, compare it to a much smaller scale version of First Niagara Arena's Harbor Club.  It is "smaller scale" because fewer people can get in at any given game.  The tickets to the Gridiron Club also include all you can eat & drink.  When I heard that, I had just assumed "stadium food". Noooo.....there was everything from sushi to carving stations to bananas foster and more.  There was also an open bar and retro video games (Ms PacMan, Galaga, Donkey Kong, etc) that you could play for free.  Way Cool!! 

Our purchases
Pumpkin guts!!
Since David had to leave on Sunday for business travel and so we had to make the most of our Saturday and cram in a family "weekend" into one day.  Since the clock is ticking away to Halloween time, we needed to do the pumpkin carving thing.  We took a little ride into Stillwater, MN to a small pumpkin patch, Axdahl's.  After passing through (several times) the *small* haystack maze which was pitch black and landed us in the barn's silo we had to examine and touch what seemed like every single pumpkin on the farm.  After such a decision process, I am not sure how we ended up with one of our two pumpkins having a small spot that was starting to rot out. Oh well....good thing Halloween isn't that far away.

Pumpkin carver in training
Jonathan added his Nuk to the seeds for good measure
Mama and Jonathan working hard
Madeline was beyond excited about carving the pumpkins.  She was so excited that she wanted to do the physical knife carving by herself.  Ummmmm.....No!  Yet, both she and Jonathan had fun getting messy by taking the guts out from the pumpkins.  Our pumpkins are not the most ornate but when you are up against dinner time with two little kids you tend to hurry along the process!  Pumpkins purchased - check! Pumpkins carved - check! Pumpkin seeds roasted - check! Dinner served - check! Kids to bed....woo hoo, check!  We survived.  Unfortunately, David was off first thing in the morning for a business trip.

Our finished products - Boo!
Entrance to Minnesota Zoo
The kids were having a riot in the leaves!
Happy Fall, y'all!
David has some spurts of business travel which always makes "mom duty" more difficult.  It is what is it is and it comes with the territory that is David's job.  However, I greatly dislike the occasions that David's travel requires him being gone over any part of the weekend.  Weekends are our family's special time and so weekend travel pretty much just stinks!  I decided to find something fun to do with the kids on Sunday to fill the void of David not being with us.  The Minnesota Zoo is located about 25 miles away from us.  We purchased a family membership to the Zoo back in May.  I decided that this was a perfect occasion to once again put that membership to good use. I don't know that I ever went to a zoo off-season before but I must say that I really enjoyed it.  The last time I went to the zoo it was well over 90 degrees with high humidity.  Sunday's visit was much more comfortable and much less crowded.  We also seemed to hit a lot of the animals at the right time as we were able to see them feed the penguins, fruit bats and komodo dragon.

My goal Sunday was to tire the kids out so that I could get them to bed at a decent time.  Between the zoo and outdoor play in the leaves when we arrived at home I would say mission accomplished!