Thursday, December 31, 2009


This past year was truly great. It wasn't great because of any major life-changing events, it was great because of the lack thereof. As I look back on the past decade, as so many people are doing this time of year, I realize that some huge life change happened to me almost every single year during the 2000s. In 2000 I was a college senior in Southern California, and 10 years later I'm a wife, mother, and homeowner living all the way across the country. And I've had two different careers, three if you count stay-at-home-motherhood.

So, like most people my age, I have experienced a lot of changes in the past decade. But none of those changes happened in 2009. It was just a nice, calm, stable year. And I'm a girl who loves stability almost to the point of boredom, so 2009 was my year.

I also feel that in 2009 ... Well, I can't think of any nicer way to say it than that 2009 was the year I got my shit together. I felt like I was floundering ever since Nathan was born, both in terms of actual, legitimate depression and the more run-of-the-mill "my life is over" syndrome that comes after having your first child. But this past year, I feel like we got into a better groove. A lot of it was getting to be a stay-at-home mom, which I had a brief lead-in to in 2008 but got to do for the entirety of 2009. I can't believe staying home has been such a good fit for me, because I would never have predicted that. But it has just been great for my marriage, my parenting, and my overall mental/physical health.

Speaking of which, I am proud to say that I went to the gym more times in 2009 than in any other year of my life. That count may even include middle school, when "gym" was a required class. Anyway, I finally discovered that I need exercise to manage my depression, and then after joining Weight Watchers mid-year I needed exercise even more. And speaking of Weight Watchers, I managed to stay on it for almost the entire second half of 2009. That is my longest WW run ever, and I'm still going. (Of course, I could argue that I'm only going to be on it for so long because I let myself become a huge fat-ass this time around, but I'm staying positive for this post.)

I credit my gym success partially to the fact that they have a daycare, which means it provides a nice indoor change of scenery for Nathan and a break for me. Between my gym classes and Nathan's activities, our days and weeks had a really nice rhythm to them. Nathan did several sessions of toddler music class at the park district, plus library story hour, a monthly nature class, and swimming lessons. In addition to my gym activities, I took a cooking class on pizza, attended a one-day floral arrangement lesson, did aquacize in the summer, and briefly attempted ice skating lessons.

Some fun places our family attended in 2009 were: The Museum of Science and Industry, Brookfield Zoo, Bourbonnais Exploration Station, Frankfort Children's Museum, Kohl Children's Museum, Art Institute, Millennium Park, Lake Katherine, the Midwest Gaming Classic in Wisconsin, the Morton Arboretum, Shedd Aquarium, the Children's Museum of Oak Lawn, family reunion in Ohio, Key Lime Cove Waterpark Hotel, Rainforest Cafe, Lamb's Farm, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Hawaii, Day Out with Thomas, Cubs game, County Line Orchard, Bengston's Pumpkin Fest, Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier, and various California-based activities.

Plus we were regulars at the park, the mall, the JCC, the pool, and the splash pad.

I will end with a 2009 personal "best of."

Best book: Well first, let me say I read more books in 2009 than I have in any other year in recent memory. In February I read the Twilight saga, and while that was just a massive addiction, it was also almost troubling how those books took over my life. But I do credit Twilight for reminding me that it's okay to blow off the rest of my life for reading sometimes. Another series of books I liked was the Hunger Games series. But my absolute favorite book I read in 2009 was The Help.

Best new TV show: Community, because Joel McHale is hot.

Best movie: This one was hard for me. I couldn't even remember what movies I saw, so I looked back on my Netflix history. And when I looked at it, I couldn't pick a favorite. Not because I liked so many, but because I was sort of lukewarm on so many. But here are some movies on that list that I liked: He's Just Not That Into You, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, The Secret Life of Bees, Sunshine Cleaning, and Julie & Julia. I also want to give a shout-out to Ponyo, which was Nathan's first movie in the theater and was super cute, plus also starred my girl crush Tina Fey as one of the voices.

Best moment: Falling asleep the first night in Hawaii, a $15 mai tai coursing through my bloodstream, listening to the waves crash with my sleeping child curled up next to me.

Best accomplishment: Going to the gym every single day in March.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Trip, Part 2

Blogger tells me that I last posted on Dec. 23, so here's what happened after that ...

On the 24th we went to Cost Plus (a.k.a. World Market) so Bill could buy his contribution to the "stocking bags" we do with my mom's family. Each individual person (not each family) is supposed to contribute a stocking stuffer. I do the same thing every year: a bag containing an Illinois lottery ticket, a Target gift card ($5, and this year I used the new Target "gift coins"), some candies, and some other random item (this year it was hand sanitizer). In total, I spent about $8.50 per bag, which became a significant expense after 13 bags. Anyway, at Cost Plus World Market, Bill purchased jars of chocolate spread from Holland for his contribution, which cost $4 each. So, our family was in for about $12.50 per bag, which becomes a significant detail later, I promise.

After that we went to In-N-Out Burger, for Nathan's first visit there. Then we went to Costco, where I got a free cookbook with recipes made from stuff you get at Costco. So that was cool.

Sometime later it was Christmas Eve, and we had the traditional tamales with Bill's family. Oh, the cheese tamales my mother-in-law got ... oh, I think back on them with such love. They had sour cream or some kind of creamy sauce inside them. Anyway, following dinner we did the name draw gift exchange. As I have previously mentioned, this was our first year doing name draw with that family. Although I was previously in favor of it, I'm not sure it totally worked out. It felt sad not to be buying for Bill's parents and siblings. I feel like in an effort to curtail gift-giving to more distant relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins' various significant others), we gave up giving to our actual close relatives. I think maybe if I were in charge, we would just ban gift-giving to all but immediate family next year. A solution was proposed to instead have everybody go on an outing together (a.k.a. "the experience gift") next year, but I think people will complain that they are spending way more money on the outing than they would on some random gifts from T.J. Maxx.

Anyway, we slept over at Bill's parents' Christmas Eve, and in the morning we did stockings and kids' gifts and ate breakfast. Bill's parents did an excellent job giving Nathan gifts that were easy to carry back.

Then we drove to my mom's house around noon Christmas day, where I got to work making brownies for my traditional brownie sundae dessert, and I folded the napkins like I always do. (This year's fold: the slightly boring silverware pocket fold.) Then I got Nathan down for a 3-hour nap, which was my best Christmas gift of all! And during the nap I sat around drinking champagne and eating appetizers with my relatives. Then we ate Christmas dinner and got to the opening of the stocking bags. Remember before when I mentioned that my family spent $12.50 on each bag? Well, some people interpreted a $50 Target gift card for each person as a stocking stuffer. So we felt all kinds of guilt.

Nathan cleaned up, getting all kinds of instruments (like, seriously, both an acoustic guitar and an electric one), vehicles, and play-dough things. Then we ate the brownie sundaes and we all crashed.

December 26 is my grandparents' anniversary. They have been married 67 years. Isn't that awesome? So we always go out to breakfast with the whole family to celebrate the anniversary. And that was the most interesting thing that happened Dec. 26.

On the 27th we went to the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace, which was having a giant model train display for the holidays. As my mom said, they had something for everyone. Bill enjoyed all the Nixon stuff, Nathan enjoyed the trains (featuring a Thomas section), I enjoyed the rose gardens, and my mom enjoyed the tour of Nixon's childhood home. I don't know what my stepdad liked best, because he pretty much likes everything. Then we had dinner with Bill's parents because they live near there.

Then we went to my mom's, and Bill and I got into a big argument concerning how to get all the gifts back home to Chicago. In the end, we agreed to borrow a big duffel bag from my parents and check it, so we had a total of 4 huge suitcases for the 3 of us.

The next day was the flight home, which I have to say went extremely well considering how much stuff we had. And Bill and I agreed not to argue. Plus they have a Pinkberry yogurt in the airport now, so I enjoyed a plain tart yogurt with strawberries and mochi topping (which, yes, cost a whopping $6, so it's good that it was a one-shot deal). Anyway, Nathan slept on the plane and we got all our luggage at baggage claim, then somehow got it all to the parking lot and drove home. Total time spent on ground and air transport that day: 11 hours (9 if you don't consider the two hours lost to the time change).

So now I'm home and faced with the overwhelming number of tasks that pile up when you return from a trip. I am one of those people who wants to get everything done, right away, and I just have to tell myself that things will get back to normal slowly. Each belonging that I unpack and put away is one less belonging in the suitcases.

And tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I really have no idea why New Year's Eve is even a holiday. Like, why can't we just wake up New Year's Day and have it be a new year? Why must we feel the need to do something meaningful to count down to the new year? Now, let me say that I have never been the type who wants to go out an attend some wild drunken gathering for New Year's. But I still feel this pressure to have some kind of special gathering, even though we are still recovering from all the special gatherings of Christmas. And I feel sad because none of my friends are available to come over for dinner this year for New Year's. Then it occurs to me that I am really lame for not realizing that the most important people in my life are always available to have dinner with me. So our family is going to get take-out and watch TV, or maybe play board games (though it's hard when you only have 3 players and one of them is a toddler).

Tomorrow I will do a standard year-in-review sort of post, so tune back in.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On such a winter's day

I'm sitting here in the high desert of California, looking out on the early morning sun as it peaks over snow-tinged hills.

Yes, there is snow in parts of California. Anyway, I'm up at my in-laws' new desert house, which is Leg 2 of my holiday travels. And what a long, strange journey it has already been.

Bill wanted to stay home and grade some of his finals before coming out to California (side note: he did not accomplish this goal), so Nathan and I headed out by ourselves last Thursday. As flights with Nathan go, this one went really, really well. We had the window and middle seats, and the woman sitting in the aisle seat was a little old lady who colored with Nathan for an hour and a half. Unfortunately the man in front of us was kind of a jerkwad. See, Nathan likes to climb down and sit down where your feet go. I let him as long at the seat belt sign is off, because I figure he's so tucked in down there he can't possibly go flying anywhere. So as he got up to reposition himself back in the seat, he jostled the seat in front of us, which the seat's occupant interpreted as kicking. He turned around and said, "Why don't you put him in the middle seat, because there's nobody sitting in front of it, and he can kick all he wants." He had a nasty tone he was unsuccessfully trying to hide. But whatever, because being in the middle seat put Nathan next to the old lady who enjoyed coloring, and she said he was very well-behaved.

My dad and stepmom picked us up at the airport. We went to Chipotle for dinner. I decided my vacation from Weight Watchers would begin then, and I got the chicken burrito. The one that comes in the tortilla, not the burrito bowl. Anyway, then when we got home, my dad had a flier entitled "Ten Foods You Should Never Eat," and guess what was on there? That's right, the Chipotle chicken burrito.

Ahh, but that was just the beginning of the poor eating choices.

Friday was Dad's House Christmas, because everybody else had plans on the actual Christmas with other branches of the family. (Side note, I have decided that Dad's House Christmas would be a good name for a band.) We all went to an Italian restaurant, which is a key staple of Dad's House Christmas, though the actual restaurant varies from year to year (or sometimes it's take-out). The restaurant was good and bad. Good because I had some kind of white pizza, and then we got this salted caramel budina (pudding) for dessert. I occasionally refer to the foodgasm, and this pudding was definitely foodgasmic. The bad thing about the restaurant is that restaurants are where things usually come to a head regarding my dad and stepmom's unrealistic expectations for Nathan's behavior. If he isn't sitting with his hands folded on the table, they say his behavior is inappropriate for a restaurant, and yell at him using the voice they use to yell at their dogs. In my opinion, if he is quiet and not bothering anybody else in the restaurant, and not performing any kind of eggregious breach of etiquette (e.g. standing on the table), that is successful restaurant behavior for a two-year-old. But the parents view things differently, and I was getting all kinds of insulted about how they viewed my parenting, and ... yay, fun lunch. But there was that pudding.

Repeating the mantra They mean well over and over in my head, I was able to rally and get into a better mood for the gift-opening back at my parents' house. Let me note here that Nathan is at a stage that makes gift-opening both adorable and totally obnoxious. To him, the pleasure is in the opening, and he will just incessantly tear open any box he sees. Then when all his gifts are opened, he gets upset that there is nothing else to open, despite the dazzling array of new toys that were underneath all that wrapping paper. Based on the behavior of my niece and nephews, I predict that this phase will last for approximately 10 more years.

Anyway, Nathan got some cool toys, his favorite being an airplane with a toy power drill to take it apart, and my favorite being his kid's digital camera. And guess what Bill and I got?! An Amazon Kindle! You know what you can do with an Amazon Kindle? You can have any book you want in an instant, for $10! I'm a little bit worried that this will severely diminish my library career, but we'll still patronize the library for children's books and cookbooks.

This is a picture taken with Nathan's new camera. As you can see, it's not going to win anybody any photo contests, but what do you want for a toddler's camera?

After all the festivities, my brother and sister-in-law went home and my dad and stepmom went over to their neighbors' for a party. This is when all the trouble started. My stepmom came home and passed out on the floor. This basically led to a train of events that went as follows: stepmom in hospital for tests --> brother, SIL, Nathan, and I had to go be the family reps at my stepmom's family party Saturday night -->blah, blah, blah family drama about how dad/stepmom sometimes keep us in the dark about serious medical situations -->stepmom stays in hospital all day Sunday but Dad takes Nathan and me to the beach/pier and out for a crepe breakfast -->stepmom gets out of hospital Monday in time for them to drive me to my in-laws' for Leg 2 of the trip (diagnosis: she shouldn't drink).

And while on the pier, we saw Santa. We got a free photo with him, but it may not have been worth it because Santa promised he would bring Nathan a toy that I had not purchased for him. At that point it was December 20, so I went and ordered that gift online, to be sent with $17 express shipping. I guess maybe I didn't have to do that. He could have just gone without the gift. But he had been asking for this particular gift for awhile, and I had just hoped it would be a birthday gift for him instead because it's a little bit large to haul back to Illinois. But then Santa promised he would bring it (this particular Santa having apparently flunked out of Santa 101, wherein you learn that you just promise a child that you will try to bring him a specific gift). So, bottom line, Nathan will be receiving the Cars Dinoco helicopter from Santa at my mom's house Christmas morning.

Here's our picture with Santa:

So, now I'm up in the desert with my in-laws. Bill flew in yesterday, which is nice because now I'm not on solo Nathan duty. Also there isn't much to do in the desert, so all you do is sit around, watch movies, surf the Internet, eat, and drink. It is awesome. I have eaten approximately 10,000 cookies since arriving.

We still have Christmas Eve and Christmas morning here, then we're heading into Leg 3 at my mom's house from Christmas day through the 28th. So, more updates to come ...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

15-Minute Update

(15 minutes is how long I have to type this, not how long it will take to read it!)

So, I have taken a blogging break since that whole NaBloPoMo thing, which means I haven't written since Monday. Which means there are all kinds of mundane life events for me to update you on!

Hmm ... Well, Monday was our once-a-month nature class at the forest preserve. The day's topic was: Squirrels. At one point the teacher took out a squirrel pelt for the kids to pet ... complete with teeth. Which reminded me of the time at our old house, when I saw a half bone/half skin dead squirrel that had impaled itself on a tree branch. It also had those creepy fangs. Anyway, the only significant development that happened after that was that we got home after the class and before I got Nathan to wash his disgusting squirrel hands, he stuck his hand in my bag of Good 'N Plenty. So, that was the end of that candy for me. Apparently having somebody infect your candy with dead squirrel germs is a very effective dieting strategy.

Tuesday I had plans to go swimming and then do yoga, but I flaked on the swimming. And I beat myself up something horrible over it, which is so dumb because I shouldn't set unattainable goals and then feel bad when I inevitably fail to achieve them. Oh well, at least I had the self-esteem-boosting yoga to make me feel better. ("Tell yourself you did a great job today, because you did, taking time for yourself.") Oh yoga, it kicks the crap out of you in such a pleasant, nurturing environment.

Wednesday I was in a very down-on-myself mood. The day started with one of my least favorite places, Nathan's pediatrician's, where we had gone to get his going-on-six-weeks face rash checked out. It's not that I don't like the doctor. I just don't like sitting in the waiting room trying to entertain a two-year-old for an hour, just for a 5-minute visit with the doctor. Following that, we went to the library, which has gotten a really cool new dollhouse. And then we went to the bakery, where I drowned my sorrows in two pieces of cake, because, hey, they come free with your lunch. Next my friend Sarah wanted to go to this pottery-painting place so her son could make some Christmas gifts, except we had already exhausted the pottery-painting angle last year. But I went along because I figured she might need help with her toddler and newborn. Nathan painted a random knick-knack snowman. Nathan + paint = HOLY CRAP. I could not handle it. And for some reason I talked myself into thinking Sarah was mad at me, then went home and felt bad about myself for the rest of the day. And things did not improve with my evening gym class with the instructor who talks into her microphone in a high-pitched voice for THE ENTIRE 60-MINUTE CLASS.

Thursday things improved. I picked up Noah (Sarah's 3-year-old) and took both boys to this new bouncy place in the mall. This, by the way, is the mall I don't really like because all the stores suck, but it's becoming quite the little miniature amusement park for toddlers. The playground there is good, and they have those cars that you put quarters in, plus the new bouncy place, and right now there's a big animatronic Santa display. And the best thing happened there: I cured Noah of his bouncy castle-phobia. Sarah said she was indebted to me, and I decided she probably wasn't mad at me after all. And then Thursday night I flaked on the gym and stayed home and overate dry Cheerios and Good 'N Plenty (the replacement pack I bought at Target when I was there Wednesday to get Nathan's rash medicine), which is the lamest way to indulge ever.

Friday I again flaked on the gym, but took Nathan to the JCC and ran around there for awhile. (Random note: Although I am not Jewish, I have recently discovered that the JCC has a wonderful indoor play area.) Then Nathan refused to take a nap, for like the third time this week, and I think he might be giving up his nap and sleep in general. And then last night was the local Christmas tree-lighting/Santa visit/general merriment, so I decided to unclench and get in the holiday spirit.

And now it's Saturday, and I went to the gym for the first time in three days, and did my two Saturday classes, and the best thing happened! The instructor who normally makes it her mission in life to pick on me actually said, "Perfect form, Shannon!" But then she added, "See, all that correcting paid off." Umm, no, actually I perfected my squatting form through the more constructive criticism of other instructors. But whatever. And tonight we're going to holiday thing at the zoo, and my 15 minutes are up.