How We Spent Winter 2016

Winter is my least favorite time of year even though it includes my birthday. Cold weather and gray skies get me feeling down and I find it harder to get motivated to leave the house. I do my best to enjoy the season, but once the holidays are over, I’m simply waiting for it to warm up. I enjoy being outside, but winters in northern Illinois make it difficult to enjoy nature.

The absolute best thing about the end of this year was getting pregnant with baby #2 and finding out we are having a boy!

Erin

Mom’s Groups

I joined another mom’s group this past fall and started going to more events this winter. I already belonged to one mom’s group, but the times that they met were not always convenient with my schedule. I like to work in the morning and take Norah to playdates around 11 am or after her nap at 2 – 3 pm. The new mom’s group has more options for later morning meetups and after school playdates. I plan on continuing to take Norah to events until she starts preschool in September. At that point, I’ll be bringing my son to the baby playgroups.

Reading

Since there’s not much else to do, I love spending time reading (especially by the fireplace) in the winter. This year I set my reading challenge to 53 books. I spent this winter reading the following books:

Nonfiction

  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace – 4 stars
  • Where am I Now? by Mara Wilson – 2 stars
  • How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell – 4 stars

Fiction

  • The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson – 4 stars
  • The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson – 3 stars
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman – 4 stars
  • Because I’m Watching by Christina Dodd – 3 stars
  • The Girl Before by Rena Olsen – 4 stars
  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – 3 stars

Handlettering

Mike gave me a book on handlettering, some fancy pens, and paper for Christmas. I’m working on teaching myself. It’s harder than it looks, but surprisingly relaxing. I do too many activities that involve active thinking and this is something that is more physical. I would label myself as more crafty than artistic, but I’m pretty good at eyeballing something and copying the design of it. When Mike and I were dating, I baked a cake and carved it into a Batman symbol!

I hope to create some collaborative artwork with Norah and possible Mike. He’s very talented and majored in art during his first two years of college. Unfortunately, he almost never uses his drawing skills. On the other hand, Norah loves using watercolors and I’d love to add an inspirational quote or word over her artwork and frame it! Perhaps it could be something I could sell.

Norah

Playing in the snow

Although it’s been bitter cold, we haven’t had too much snow this year. Norah was able to enjoy one day of playing outside and sledding in early December. I look forward to her getting bigger and being able to enjoy the giant sledding hill in our backyard. I have a feeling my house will be a sledding destination for her friends.

Holiday celebrations and traditions

Norah is still the only grandchild (for now!) for both sets of grandparents so she gets spoiled during the holidays.

This year she was able to understand the concept of Santa and was talking about him for weeks. She also had her first Toys R Us catalog experience. She carried that thing around for several months, pointing out toys that she wanted. Mike’s work had a breakfast with Santa where she revealed that she wanted a “Shopkins house.” We had a last minute scramble to find one. The holidays only get more enjoyable as Norah gets older. It is so wonderful to experience things through her eyes.

Mike’s been doing Elf on the Shelf since I was pregnant with Norah, mostly to amuse me. Norah loved the book, but did not care for the actual elf. If he was near any of her things, she would throw him across the room even though I kept telling her she wasn’t supposed to touch him. We ended up having him stay in neutral places like the top of the fridge or mantelpiece.

She also loved the Christmas lights and would say they are “boo-ti-ful”.

Going to the library

Norah participated in the summer and winter reading club at the library this year. They have clubs for both readers and pre-readers. The pre-readers activities involved parents reading to the kids and showing them different stations around the library.

Norah loves the library, just like her mama. I have so many wonderful memories of being in the library as a kid. We go to the library at least once a week. We also try to make it to programs every few weeks.

Norah knows several librarian’s names and has a favorite librarian that she frequently asks about. This winter, one librarian was especially kind to Norah and let her come behind the desk and check in some books and then reshelve them. I’m happy to have instilled a love of the library in my daughter.

We’re looking forward to Spring and Summer when we are able to get out of the house more often. We’ll be spending extra special time with Norah before her world is rocked by her brother arriving in July!

How we spent winter 2016

We’re Reading 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

We love reading! Every week we go to our library and pick out a new batch of books to add to Norah’s list of 1000 books before kindergarten.

The 1000 Books before Kindergarten program

The 1000 books before kindergarten program encourages parents to read 1000 books to their children before they start school. The program promotes pre-literacy and literacy initiatives as well as family bonding.

Though the goal of 1000 books may seem huge, it’s very doable!

Why you should participate in 1000 Books before Kindergarten

Reading to your child strengthens their language skills and builds their vocabulary. Did you know that by three years old, a child from a low-income family will have heard 30 million fewer words than a child from a professional family? In addition, one in three American children start kindergarten without the skills needed to learn to read. Two-thirds of children can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade.

Reading to your child is a great way to prepare them for future success. If your family doesn’t have the means to purchase books, that’s no problem. Search for your local library and become a member, it’s free!

Reading aloud to children promotes brain development and helps build important language, literacy and social skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading to your child daily from infancy.

In addition to the educational benefits, reading to your child helps build a nurturing relationship and develops their self-esteem.

How you can participate in 1000 Books before Kindergarten

To participate, you only need to make time to read to your child each day. The sooner you start, the better!

If you start at one year old, reading 4 books per week = 1,060 books by kindergarten

If you start at two years old, reading 1 book per day = 1,095 books by kindergarten

If you start at three years old, reading 2 books per day = 1,460 books by kindergarten

If you start at four years old, reading 3 books per day = 1,095 books by kindergarten

 

How to read 1000 books before kindergarten

 

Most children’s books take less than 10 minutes to read. Even if you start when your child is older, you’ll only need to spend about 30 minutes per day reading. That’s the length of one TV show! If you replace one episode of your child’s favorite show with three books, you’ll be supporting their development and your relationship.

Reading doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Taking your child to story hour at the library counts too!

Find out more about 1000 books before kindergarten

Each library decides whether to participate in the program. Find a participating library in your area. If your library is not currently participating, you can suggest the program to a librarian or the library director.

My local library supports this awesome program. They recognize children who complete 1000 books before kindergarten by adding their name to a poster on the wall and giving them a prize. They also provide a notebook to record books read.

If your library doesn’t participate, you can do this initiative on your own by recording the books read on paper or in a Google document. If your child reaches 1000 books, you could take them out for dinner or buy them something special to celebrate the achievement. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to read to your child on a daily basis to set them up for success.
1000 books before kindergarten

What We’re Into: Summer 2016

Summer 2016

The summer of 2016 was a mixed bag. In the spring I suffered a miscarriage and assumed I’d be pregnant again by summer’s end, but I’m not. My childhood friend, and maid of honor in my wedding, was killed in a boating accident in June. I struggled with my grief compounded by the fact that I hadn’t spoken with her in years. Her death opened my eyes to our time not being guaranteed. Since then, I’ve tried to be more present in my life, make amends with people from my past, and be more appreciative of what I have.

While there were some supremely negative events this summer, we also had a lot of joy. Norah turned two! We spent the summer taking her to swim lessons and play dates. This was our first summer in our new house and we thoroughly enjoyed our big backyard. We had lots of ice cream (Norah had her first cone!) and s’mores. We took a day trip to Madison, Wisconsin that included a visit to Henry Villas Zoo. We attended a few picnics, farmer’s markets, fairs and outdoor events in Rockford including a kid’s concert.

Family at Henry Villas Zoo
Our family at Henry Villas Zoo in Madison, WI. Taken with a selfie stick!

The summer is typically a slower time for business and I enjoy that, but I look forward to things ramping back up and working with new clients! If you know anyone who needs copywriting, content, or social media work done – let me know.

Here are some things we loved this summer:

Erin (32 years old)

Stranger Things

This show hit all the right notes for me. I love horror and coming of age stories and I have the biggest soft spot for nostalgia. Stranger Things perfectly encapsulated the 80s, had a great storyline, and was sweet and scary at the same time. I absolutely loved this series and cannot wait for season two. You can catch this series on Netflix.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

This was my favorite book of the summer. I love Joe Hill almost as much as I love his father, Stephen King. This was an epic pandemic story about a virus that causes people to burst into flames. If you want to see what else I read this summer, follow me on Goodreads.

Meditation

After all of the negative things that happened this summer, I wanted to refocus and get some inner peace. I read several self-help books including Mastering Your Mean Girl and The Charge that helped me get my head in the right place. Every self-help book I’ve ever read talks about the importance of a meditation routine. I finally started using Stop, Breathe, & Think app for near-daily meditation. I have noticed a calmer mind and less anxiety. It also helped with my grieving process.

Daily Journaling

I’ve taken to writing in a journal daily about how I’m feeling and what I’m grateful for. It’s been helping me process my feelings and start the day with a clear mind.

Norah (2 years old)

Bombpops

Easily one of Norah’s most requested items. After almost every dinner she asks for a bomb pop. The traditional red, white, and blue popsicles were a staple in my house growing up, but with four kids the box didn’t last for more than a few days. We don’t let her have one everyday, but she gets them for dessert fairly often. The struggle is convincing her to wait until after dinner instead of giving her one when she first requests it which is usually five minutes after waking up in the morning.

Playing outside

Norah loves to push her ride-on car up and down the driveway and run down the large hill we have in our backyard. She received two bikes for her birthday and has been practicing using the pedals. She doesn’t quite have it, but probably will by next year.

Gardening

This summer we did some bucket gardening and Norah loved it. Every day she helped water the plants and pick the ripe vegetables. In the process, she ate about 100 cherry tomatoes. We had good luck with romaine lettuce, green peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Our strawberries produced about 10 berries and then stopped growing and our cucumbers never became ripe and rotted on the vine. We’ll try bucket gardening again next year and think about dedicating a plot in the yard in the future.

Bucket garden
Norah in front of her bucket garden

Fall is my favorite time of year and I can’t wait for all of the good things coming our way including trips to Edward’s Apple Orchard, having our first bonfire in our firepit, and taking our daughter Trick or Treating for the second time. Until next season!

What We’re Into: February 2016

As a family, we have eclectic tastes and love trying new things. We’re always reading, (binge) watching shows and movies, and listening to podcasts and webinars. The amount of content we consume each month is staggering. Our daughter is also a voracious “reader” and as she enters toddlerhood, her interests are becoming more pronounced. She will tells you exactly what she wants and when she wants it – “String cheese now!”

At the end of each month, I’ll share a list of things that we were into over the past ~30 days.

Erin

This month it was all about food and audio experiences. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to music while working, driving, and doing errands around the house. Norah loves to dance and watching her spin in circles makes me happy. My birthday was this month and my husband and I had a great day going to the natural history museum and having my favorite food – sushi! I’ve always been a low-key person, but since I became a mother, I just want to spend quality time together making memories as a family.

Surf and Turf sushi
This may be the happiest mistake we’ve ever made. During a sushi run, my husband tried to order an entree of Surf and Turf for himself, but instead brought home the most delicious sushi roll I’ve ever had. The restaurant’s website says the roll is marinated steak and crab fried in tempura. There’s also some sort of delicious brown sauce on top. This roll dethroned our previous favorite, The Godzilla.

Music that sounds like it’s from another era
I have a few dozen Pandora stations that I cycle through, but right now, I’m really digging alternative music that sounds like it’s from a different era. Most of these recommendations came from my Young the Giant station. The first one is Fleet Foxes, who have a ‘70s sound. My favorite songs are He Doesn’t Know Why and Mykonos. I also like Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats; they have a funky mid ‘60s vibe. I’m loving S.O.B. and I Need Never Get Old. My last great find is Rocky Votolato who’s channeling ‘90s emo godfather, Elliott Smith, in his song White Daisy Passing.

Brain.fm
Sometimes I’m very task oriented and other times I can’t stay on one webpage for more than five minutes. When I need to focus on something, I use Brain.fm. The ambients sounds are created to improve concentration and focus. I liked it so much, I bought a full year membership. I use it for at least 30 minutes every single day and it continues to work wonders. If you’re interested in buying the service, here’s my referral link.

Michael

My husband, Michael writes a blog about solving problems, productivity and ideas. You can read more at Your Fool Laureate.

February is always a weird month for me. I can sense winter coming to an end, and we’re getting closer to one of my favorite times of the year—March Madness (more on that later). However, it’s still bone-chillingly cold here in the Midwest, and 9 times out of 10, there’s snow, so there’s still that winter malaise hanging around one’s shoulders like a long and heavy existential shawl. So more than ever during this time of year, I turn my attention to welcome diversions—those creature comforts that help resuscitate some of that warm feeling from spring and summer that I know is just on the horizon. I read, I listen to things, and I eat and drink.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This book was just recently published in January, 10 months after the death of its author. Dr. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon at Stanford, but was steeped in all the things I hold dear: philosophy, classics, religious studies, art, etc. This book is a memoir about his life as a thinker, a doctor, a husband, and a father, up until his death from stage IV cancer. It’s a really great read—filled with great musings on the bigger questions in life, but also warm accounts of lessons learned by being there as people died. While Kalanithi’s account of his own journey toward death is moving on its own, my usually stone cold heart was nearly melted by the epilogue, which his wife, Lucy, wrote after his death. The epilogue is an account of Paul’s death, and how Lucy experienced it. It is gripping, but told in such a way that you really feel what it must feel like to be in your final moments. It’s a fantastic book.

Blanton’s Bourbon
I have been into whiskey for a couple of years now, and I’ve tried to sample new bourbons, ryes, and scotches whenever I get the chance. Recently, I found myself far away from the home base—in exotic Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on business. After a long day of work, a few higher-ups from the customer I was visiting accompanied me to dinner. When I expressed my preference for ordering a bourbon with dinner, and that it just might be Blanton’s, one of them exclaimed that it was his absolute favorite. Apparently, there are seven different variations of the stopper for the Blanton’s bottle, which is a jockey riding a horse. Each variation represents the different stages of a race. The recommendation was a solid one. Blanton’s is a damn good bourbon, and may have usurped my favorite bourbon, Four Roses Single Barrel. I plan to pick up a bottle soon, but probably nearer to the warm part of spring. Bourbon (at least to me) is a warm weather drink, one to sip as the sun sets over the green (or greening) trees.

Back To Work Podcast
I have been listening to podcasts since waaay back in 2006, before they began booming. It’s really the only thing that I got in on before it blew up, so I’ll sing that song to anyone who will listen (lucky you, dear reader!) Since that time, I’ve cycled a lot of podcasts in and out of my regular rotation, with some being long-standing ones, and others being flashes in the pan. Back to Work has proven to be the podcast that once in my stack, never left—and for good reason. The hosts, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, have a great rapport. But what really makes the show is the sincerity and candor with which Merlin works through problems that nearly all of us face. While the show is nominally about productivity, it runs the gamut, touching on a wide variety of topics, and handles them all with a wonderful touch of humor. The podcast was good from the start, so if you are inclined to check it out, begin with episode 1, and enjoy a really good ramp-up to episode 7. Also very worth checking out is the three-part series on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, beginning with episode 95 – “She’s Five for a Living”

Norah (21 months old)

Daniel Tiger
Almost every morning, the first request Norah has is “milk,” the second is “Ugga Mugga”. We try to limit her TV consumption, but she watches 1-2 episodes on most weekdays. She loves the show, interacts with the characters, and tries to sing the songs. She has four Daniel Tiger stuffed characters that accompany her on most of her adventures. Some children’s shows can be annoying, but I find this one sweet and nostalgic, the characters are all descendents of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood puppets.

Potbelly’s
We got out to eat more than we should, but we’re working on adding a budget and meal plan into our repertoire. When we ask Norah where she wants to eat, she almost always says “Potbelly’s!” She loves the chicken and cheddar melt with avocado and the sugar cookies. She can be a bit of a picky eater, but she always finishes her half of the Big size.

Playdates
Prior to this month, Norah had only been on one play date, but this month she had three. As she nears two years old, she’s much more interested in being around other kids. This month we went to the natural history museum, the children’s museum and an indoor playground. Her favorite activity was splashing in the giant water table at the children’s museum. Her least favorite activity was getting stuck in a tube at the indoor playground. We’re looking into signing her up for gymnastics and swimming lessons in the summer. It’s so fun to watch her personality blossom.

IMG_8054