Dear Daughters…

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Dear Daughters
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Dear Daughters,

I want to tell you about all the summers the two of you stripped down naked in the backyard and ran with arms wide open into the sun and through the freezing, glistening splash of the garden hose, your small, soft bodies reflecting the sky and the innocence of a moment that will inevitably get stripped away with the years.

I want to remind you of the time that no voice of reason could stop you from taking a running leap toward that puddle of mud that always pools up in front of our driveway after a spring thaw or a summer rain. Not that I ever really wanted to stop you. Because what’s a little mud in the beginning of the story of a life that could take you anywhere, send you right back where you landed or find you fighting every day to be brave, to do the right thing, to reconcile mistakes or to let go?

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You don’t know what any of this means yet. You are too fresh to this world. That’s why I’m writing to you. Because I want you to know there was a time that you felt safe enough, loved enough, free enough, happy enough and beautiful enough to strip down and squeal at the sky. And while you ran naked and free in our backyard, the world was standing up to yell “enough enough enough!”

That’s what happens when you have a voice, dear daughters. You can sing, you can coo and whisper. You can tell stories out loud to yourself in the dark of your room about unicorns with sparkling tails to help you fight the worry of the monsters in your closet. And you can comfort your friends with that voice. You can whine and complain. You can ask a thousand questions. A million. And you can answer them.

You can shush shush shush a baby, or a skittish pony, or your sister who won’t leave you alone. And you can yell. Yes, you can yell.

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But first. First. First, you need to listen.

Because yes, you have a voice. But you also have ears, dear daughters. And let me be clear here. You don’t get to use one without the other.

Dear daughters, you were born with blue eyes and blond hair and the dirt of this earth under your fingernails, the wind in your lungs, the grass bent under your feet and the stories of your blessings and your struggles, they will be forever in your mouth.

And make no mistake, your story is precious. But it is not more precious than your neighbor’s.

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And as much as you want to tell yours, so that you can be seen, so that you can be loved or understood or helpful or praised or protected or trusted, please remember, please always know, your neighbor wants the same.

Dear daughters, right now you are little and wiggly and hungry and wild and innocent, and no reasonable voice can stop you from jumping in those puddles. But I am your mother and it is my job to love you and teach you and today, even though you’re too young to understand it, I need to tell you, I have to tell you, that the best, most useful gift you can give to your neighbor, to the world, is an open heart.

Even when it’s heavy. Or broken. Or tired. Or angry. Or confused. Or hurt beyond repair…

And so, dear daughters, today I’m going to plant the garden. Some people will tell me it’s too late in the season, but I won’t believe them. Because I’ve always had hope, even in times I had to dig to the dark, damp, chilled places on this earth, I find it.

Because even if it’s too late for the pumpkins or the watermelon, I know I can grow a peapod. And won’t it taste sweet on a hot July day when you run out naked into the backyard, arms stretched out to the sun!

Dear daughters, I love you. Now go love others.

From the bottom of my heart,

Your Mom

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How to be grateful

Thank you all for the outpouring of support, well wishes, love and prayers as we take  the next step to get this cancer out of me. I talked to the thoractic surgeon at Mayo on Friday and it sounds like they will open me up at my sternum to get the best look at the remaining tumor. The goal is to remove all of it by cutting my tracheal tract and putting it back together.  They will have a big team of doctors there to make sure they can handle any surprises and will be able to tell right away if they were able to get it all. If they can’t, I will be given the time I need to heal up and then we will proceed with radiation. This type of tumor responds well to radiation (and not well to chemo). 

I feel confident in the plan, nervous, and ready to get it behind me. I’m expecting the surgery to be scheduled in June sometime, but we haven’t made those plans yet. 

We have received such an outpouring of love from people far and wide and we feel your prayers and thoughts lifting us up and we are so grateful. 

How to be grateful
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When my girls walk out the door to play outside, and the sun is shining, and the wind is calm, as they run toward the playground or up the road to the big rocks, they say, “It’s a beautiful day!” Or, “It’s a perfect day for a walk,” or “It’s a good day to ride our bikes.”

And there are plenty of things that I say and do that I don’t want my kids to repeat (because I am a mother, but I’m far from perfect,) but I beam when I hear them have this sort of gratitude for a sunny day.

Because they’re so young, it gives me a bit of hope that the declaration and recognition of the good and beautiful things that they see and feel might become a sort of instinct that will serve them well when life is less than fair, less than perfect or unexpected in the worst ways.

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Since the removal of the tumor that was blocking my tracheal tract this month, and the unexpected diagnosis that it is “cancerous,” I’ve been thinking about what has notoriously pushed me through the difficult times in the past. And I’ve been thinking about gratitude and how it serves me.

But first, I want to share that I’ve been having a hard time saying that I have cancer because I don’t feel like the amount of suffering I am going to endure here warrants that loaded and scary word. Because I’ve seen cancer take its difficult toll on the people I know and love and I’ve seen sickness ravage their bodies and take the light from their eyes.

I don’t know this for certain, but from what I understand, my life with this diagnosis will be short-lived. And because of that, something in me wants to save that word for the warriors who’ve had to fight harder. And the ones that we lost to it.

I realize now the “it could be worse” mantra is one I go to when I’m staring down a fear or suffering with grief or worry. I would say it during our infertility struggle and pregnancy losses, and I would say it when my dad was sick and dying in the hospital bed. He survived. We all survived it. It could be worse. We are the lucky ones.

To recognize others’ suffering beyond our own, I think, is a useful tool. But then, sometimes, so is walking to the top of a hill and crying out “Why?!” In my life, I’ve done both.

But for now all I can think is that I’m thankful to breathe better and thankful for a diagnosis and for good doctors and a supportive community and that it’s a beautiful day to watch my girls drink from the water hose and tear off their clothes to run naked in the sprinkler.

Thankful that, because the stars aligned just right to keep me safe, I can be here for that.

And I’m thankful that all through my childhood, the people who surrounded me pointed out their blessings as they saw them so that I could see them, too.

Even if it was as simple as melting snow on the hilltops, a ripe tomato from the garden, the back of a good horse, enough Juneberries to make a pie or just the sunshine on our shoulders on a perfect day to ride our bikes.

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The carpet sea of lava

The carpet sea of lava
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I wonder if they’ll remember this, when their dad was a jungle gym and they were so small and wild, hanging off his arms like monkey bars, standing on the tops of his bent legs and leaping off into a carpet sea of lava without fear.

In the movies, they would slow this part down, the part where I sat on the floor of our bedroom in my pajamas, watching my young family roughhouse and play.

In the movie, they would play a suggestive song and hone in on my children’s big, wide-open laughs, pieces of their blond hair loose from pigtails and floating in the sunbeam from the crack in the curtains, his strong hands tossing them safely while they squeal. And my smile, too. You would see it, grateful but apprehensive about the turn our story’s taken.

And anxious to get back to complaining about the constant state of stickiness on our countertops the way people do when things are going along just fine enough that you get to be genuinely annoyed by crumbs and laundry and the light fixture that flickers and muddy little boots tracking in on floors that never stay clean, instead of so damn grateful for it all.

But this isn’t a movie — we can’t slow any of it down. And my soundtrack is the voices in my head going down rabbit holes and back again, panicking and then reassuring myself the way I’ve done when faced with tough news about the delicate health of my family members. I know how to find faith there, to center myself. But I’m not sure how to be the one who needs prayers.

For six months, I’ve been having a hard time getting my breath. Was it a cold I couldn’t shake. Asthma? Stress? Was it the reason for the headaches I couldn’t tame with Advil or a nap?

Last week, I found out why. A tumor blocking 90% of my tracheal and bronchial tract. A slow-moving cancer that has likely been growing in my body and spreading to my airway for years, just waiting to make its presence known when it became life-threatening enough to send us rushing to Rochester, Minn., to meet with the experts at one of the best hospitals in the country.

And so that’s what we did. We wrung our hands and clenched our teeth and took deep breaths and called our family and met with the experts and got a plan. And then my husband and I, we sat for three days in a hotel room waiting for the next step, unable to go anywhere to distract ourselves in a world that is all but entirely shut down.

So he laid down and I laid on his chest and we pretended we were on vacation and it was raining. We ordered in food and watched terrible television and woke up early on Monday morning and headed to Mayo Clinic where I hugged him goodbye, the doctors removed the tumor from my airway and I woke up to deep breaths again. Feeling good. Feeling just fine. Headed home.

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That part is over. The next step is going to be rougher, a surgery that we’ll learn more about in a few days, one that will have me in the hospital and away from my sticky counters and muddy floors for a while.

In my life as a writer, lessons seem to find me where I stand. Yesterday, my little sister wondered out loud why we need to keep being reminded, in these dramatic ways, to be grateful.

Is there something more I need to learn here? I don’t know yet. Do these things happen for a reason? Maybe.

But maybe they just happen and it’s up to us to do with them what we will. And there have been some divine interventions that have taken me out of the path of disaster on this journey so far, so I’m just going to work on the brave part.

I know I can be brave.

And I know I can be angry as well as grateful. Terrified and hopeful. Panicked and at peace. In my life, I’ve been all of those things at once already. I’ve had some good practice. But until now, I didn’t know the fear of not being able to be there for my children.

There’s no other option than the option of being OK, so I’m going to be OK.

Yes, in the movies, they would slow this all down, so maybe I can, a little bit, to be like my children — impervious to the worries of the world, dangling from jungle gym arms, too wild and held by too much love to fear the carpet sea of lava.

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How to make a Rainbow Sprinkle Whipped Cream Pudding Oreo Unicorn Cake with your toddlers

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Baking with your kids in 10 easy steps
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How to make a Rainbow Sprinkle Whipped Cream Pudding Oreo Unicorn Cake
with your toddlers:

Step 1: Make sure the kids are sleeping and you’ve had ample time to pour a glass of wine, forget what it’s like when they are awake, browse Pinterest and become delusional enough to believe that you should attempt baking with two toddlers.

Step 2: Wake up the next morning to a rainy day and ask, “Girls, do you want to make a Rainbow Unicorn Cake today?” They will say yes, but then don’t get to until right before naptime so the kids are nice and cranky and you can spend all morning threatening to take the opportunity away from them if they don’t stop strangling each other.

Step 3: Start gathering the ingredients. This will take between 20 minutes and 50 hours because you will have to take one of them potty, get the other one a Band-Aid, deny them both another snack before giving in and getting them a snack, clean up a puddle of puppy pee and get them to wash their hands without flooding the bathroom.

Step 4: Get them ready to measure, mix and pour. Set each up with a separate job and then watch them argue over which one gets the spatula. Get them both spatulas like you should have in the first place. Watch as they enjoy stirring the whipped cream concoction and for half a second, allow yourself to think, “Maybe one of them will wind up on the Food Network.” Scratch that thought while picking up the one who fell off the stool again. Get another Band-Aid.

Step 5: Get out the food coloring like the mom-idiot you are. Offer to let them pick which color they want. Listen to them fight over pink. Convince one to chose purple and place a few drops in their bowls. Listen to the youngest cry because she wanted to do it herself. Give in and let her do it herself, but make sure you tell her “just a little bit” as if that means anything to anyone. Blink and realize she’s squeezed nearly the entire bottle out into her mix. Realize that by some magic act, your hand is now completely pink, but the 2-year-old came out unscathed.

Step 6: Let them crush the Oreos for the crust. Set them each up with a little plate and measuring cup for mashing. Grab your phone to snap a pic of this photoworthy moment of the youngest putting the third Oreo in her mouth and the oldest licking the frosting out of the middle of every cookie. Tell them they can only eat one cookie as if that means anything. Confiscate the cookie plates and do the crushing yourself.

Step 7: If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely about six hours into what the mom-blogger promised to be a quick and easy baking project. Yell to the kids, who have now abandoned you and disappeared into the recesses of the house where they are being suspiciously quiet, “Hey girls! It’s almost time for the sprinkles, come help me then we can eat it!” Read the rest of the recipe. Realize that you’ve just lied to them, because this cake needs to chill. For four hours. Cuss the blogger under your breath, but not quiet enough that your 4-year-old won’t hear when she appears in the kitchen wearing a face full of pink lipstick. Decide not to ask where her sister is.

Step 8: Wonder if it’s too early for wine.

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Step 9: Squish a pile of pudding underneath your foot on your way to the cupboards to get bowls because you’re the mom and you’ve decided to skip right to the eating phase. Serve them up a plop of a tie-dye concoction that resembles the blog photo only because you bought the same sprinkles. Watch as your offspring, for which you’ve sacrificed your body and your kitchen, take one bite and hate it. Stand alone in a pile of pudding eating both bowls yourself.

Step 10: Declare that you’re never doing that again.

*Tip from the baker: You can use this plan to accomplish many things, including: Take Your Toddlers on a Bike Ride; Make an Elaborate Craft Project; or, my favorite, Take Them All Fishing. In these cases, simply skip to Step 10.

Here’s a link to the actual recipe if you’re insane and want to try it. 

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Mine didn’t turn out remotely like this, in case you were wondering. I hope yours does.

5 things to know about working from home, with kids

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Let me set the scene: It’s the third day of social distancing. Both my husband and I are working from home.

We have 2-year-old and 4-year-old daughters who have demanded that we call them Anna and Elsa for the past three days. My name has been permanently changed to Olaf.

It’s lunchtime and we decided to spice it up by pretending we were all in a fancy restaurant. I was the hostess and my husband was the waiter, serving the girls up the most gourmet chicken nuggets money can buy and Cass-Clay whole milk aged to perfection in our best wine glasses. We get the children settled and teach them the proper way to hold the wine glass (pinky up, tea party style) because we are parents of the year.

Three minutes into our feast, my husband’s phone rings. He takes the call while I clink glasses with Anna and Elsa. But my husband isn’t well versed in “work-from-home” etiquette. He forgets to lock himself in the bathroom. Instead, he stays in his position directly across the table from 2-year-old Anna and discusses price and timeline with a customer while I try to convince the girls that it’s customary to whisper in fancy restaurants.

To which 2-year-old Anna responded, in her best outside voice, “MORE WINE PLEASE!”

Yes. Parents. Of. The. Year.

With schools and day cares closed these days, many of you are finding the reality of working from home with kids that I’ve been honing for the last four years.

And I would like to take this platform to offer you some survival tips, but honestly, I’ve got nothing. I mean, I started writing this column at 7 a.m. and I’m guessing it will be next month before I finish it up. And that’s why they invented day care.

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But for the foreseeable future, home is where the heart/office/school is. So while I have no advice, I do think it’s important to be transparent as we work together remotely in these tumultuous times. So, if you call me, please know that one or more of these things are happening:

  1. Exactly 30 seconds into our chat, my children, who were previously quietly zoned out in front of “Dora the Explorer” or playing dolls together sweetly, will suddenly, and urgently, need marshmallows. And while I employ the tactic of moving from room to room trying to get away from them and their demands, I will inevitably give in and throw the bag at them to gain a few minutes of quiet. Which I will get, because after they’ve indulged themselves in a few handfuls, they will have dumped the rest of them on the floor and engaged in an enthusiastic game they invented called “squash them all over the floor with our bare feet.” And I will allow it. Because I’m on the phone.
  2. One of them will suddenly have to poop. Really, really, really bad. This probably happens during 80% of my work calls. So if I’m on the phone with you, there’s a good chance I’m also in the bathroom wiping a butt. Sorry, but this is also why I only advocate for FaceTime meetings with my friends, because they love me regardless…
  3. Someone will fall off of something and wail a wail of agony so alarming that you will wonder if they lost a limb. I assure you they haven’t. But that’s precisely the reason I tell them a million times a day to stop standing on the couch/bed/chair/table. Don’t worry though, they won’t learn their lesson.
  4. Which brings me to, if you try calling and I don’t answer, it’s likely because: A: someone has the iPad and has hung up on you because it interrupted “Daniel Tiger”; B: I’m trying to get one of them to nap; C: I have no idea where my phone is; or D: We are outside and I’m in the third hour of pushing them on the swings.
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  5. Oh, and if by some miracle they are sleeping when you call and there’s a glimmer of hope that we might get through a conversation uninterrupted, don’t get too comfortable. They will wake up. And someone will have to poop.

Hang in there, moms and dads! We can get through this with patience, good humor and MORE WINE PLEASE!

Peace, love and marshmallows,

Olaf

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The Wonder of Parenting

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The Wonder of Parenting
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When I was pregnant with my daughters, one of my favorite things to do at night was sit with my husband and wonder out loud who the person growing inside of me might become.

A boy or a girl, you think?

I wonder if she’ll have hair. Dark eyes?

The wondering was something I expected while we were waiting for the children’s arrival, but I didn’t realize how much wondering would continue as we work to raise them, and how it would go on to become our favorite subject of conversation.

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I think “wonder” is the key word here, because it’s all quite miraculous and mysterious, the whole process of raising these little humans. And for as much as I thought that our influence and style of parenting would mold and direct them, I’m learning that in so many more ways, these children were born to this world with their spirits and interests and challenges more fully determined than I could have imagined.

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Like, no matter how many pairs of overalls I have presented to my oldest daughter in her life as the practical choice for the barnyard, that little person was not born for overalls. She was born to wear a long, flowing dress, and grow her hair to match and run outside to climb fences, dig in the dirt and pick up all the frogs, bugs and slimy things she can get her hands on.

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And while she’s at it, she’s asking. All. The. Questions.

Because Edie is a fresh soul, new to this world and marveled by its wonders. She draws and twirls and remembers the words to every song and every book and can’t get enough of the beautiful things.

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And then Rosie arrived with her raspy little voice and laid-back attitude and I swear she’s been here before. Try to help her? Don’t you dare.

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Before she could walk, she was dancing on her knees, not willing to wait. Wake her up in the morning and the first thing she asks for is coffee. Tell her she can’t have it and she’s straight up mad, frustrated that she has to wait to grow up because she’s already developed a taste for it. In her last life.

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The girl has a history that’s longer than her two years with us. I think she might have been in a rock band.

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And my husband and I, we find it all completely fascinating. So much so that we spend conversations in the car or over morning coffee or between serving up another helping of slush burgers and telling them both for the 3,000th time to keep their little butts in their seats, wondering what we can do to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be.

And I’m not talking about creating these award-winning, genius, grade-skipping, super-athletic or super-artistic children. What we’re really interested in is how to help them create a life for themselves that is long on passion and wonder.

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I want to see them continue to light up for something throughout their entire lives, to have a hobby that fills them up, a few things that define them that they can be proud of and a story that they confidently own, even the parts that they mess up. Because if we do it right, they’ll know that we’ll love them anyway.

And in all of our conversations and wonder in the beginning phases of our parenthood journey, my husband and I haven’t come up with a specific strategy, except that we think it just might be as simple as being present — taking them along with us as we do the things we love so that they know what that looks like. And clapping when they twirl and letting them get dirty, and when it matters and maybe more importantly, when it doesn’t matter, just letting them be.

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Because, indisputably, they know who they are. They just need us there to nurture it, convince them to eat their broccoli and teach them some manners for crying out loud.

My husband said it best when he said he’s not as interested in what he can teach his children as much as he’s interested in what they can show him. And to that I say, “Amen.”

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This New Year, let a toddler inspire you…

This new year, let a toddler inspire you
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Facing down the new year, like Rosie!

Isn’t it funny how time ticking on still astounds us, regardless of how we are aware that the spinning earth moves us on into a new hour, a new day, a new week and on and on until we’re standing in a life we almost all say, we could have never imagined…

Each new year, like many of us do, I make a small list of goals I’d like to accomplish. And although I’ve gained a good solid 5 pounds eating fudge and prime rib this holiday season, I don’t like to clutter this list with things like “eat less pasta and more carrots” because, for me, that’s a daily struggle.

No, I like the goals on this list to be a bit more tangible, like spend more time with my friends, or get my children’s book done for cryin’ out loud. Those were on my list last year, along with more dancing and the same amount of pizza. As you can imagine, with two little girls, I did really good with the dancing and pizza thing and, astonishingly, I made enough progress on that book that it looks like it might be a reality for this new year.

But I’ve been playing phone tag with my across-the-state friend for about six solid months, and it’s left me wondering why on earth that is the goal I couldn’t get to? I didn’t realize that “time for friends” thing would be so unrealistic. Oh man, how adults can complicate things?

I would like to blame it on that time thing, and how it piles on us ailments and responsibilities and big complicated feelings, but above all of that is how easily we can forget that time is a gift. And there’s nothing like the holidays, that space between Christmas and New Year’s Day spent with growing kids and aging parents, to remind you of a life that’s fleeting.

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Like my children will never again be 2 and 4 at Christmas. The reality struck me as I was dancing my way into the new year in my mother’s kitchen. She had the music on and her granddaughters were holding hands and twirling, sliding and stomping, skipping, clapping, giggling and shaking their tushies to the beat between the kitchen cabinets.

My 2-year-old, Rosie, is particularly into busting a move, and I found I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she waved her hands and wiggled, demanding us all to “watch this!” And that was classic Rosie, really, living the two years of her life with absolute abandon, with a life mission to do it herself, to make a mess and to get a laugh.

IMG_0690Over the past week, I had been pondering and discussing what I might put on my new year list — finish the new album, declutter our living spaces, start a compost bin, save more money — but everything I came up with felt like very adult tasks that should be on my list of everyday chores, satisfying and responsible maybe, but uninspired.

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Watching my young daughter in the kitchen that night, hair flying from her ponytail and into her face, feet bare, tongue out, letting her tiny body show the world what was inside her heart, I just really wished I could be her.

And that was it. Inspiration. I threw tangible to the weeds and wrote my list, not just for the new year, but for the new decade as I learn to embrace motherhood, friendships, aging and new phases.

I want to live life more like Rosie. And that looks like this:

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  1. If you want something done, do it yourself.

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  2. If you can’t get it done, holler for help.
  3. Wake up running, but embrace your naptime/bedtime.
  4. Worry less about what you look like and more about what you feel like.

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  5. And while you’re at it, remember: true fun is usually messy.

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  6. Ask for a taste of whatever they’re having.
  7. Push the limits, but know when to retreat to the tent in your room for a book and blankie break.
  8. Love. All. The. Animals.
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  9. When you do something good, make sure you know where they keep the treats.
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  10. Dance like you were made for it.

Happy New Year!

Christmas tree tumble puts things into perspective

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Christmas tree tumble puts things into perspective
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Merry Christmas.

I want to share with you all the holiday spirit that’s floating around this place. I’d really like to tell you that I’m writing this as I sip hot cocoa in my best holiday sweater while a Hallmark movie is playing on TV and the snow softly falls on the treetops outside.

I would have told you that, in my other life.

But this life looks less like “all is calm” and more like the giant cedar tree my family cut off of the ranch in the middle of the weekend’s blizzard toppling down in a huff of glitter and glass bulbs, timber style, just as I reached up and put on the finishing touches.

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That was after four days of putting one or two ornaments on at a time as I got distracted by a nose wipe, a potty break, supper, a phone call, a visitor, a job or a coloring emergency. Yeah, coloring emergencies are a thing.

But thank goodness we narrowly missed a real emergency as I hollered “WATCH OUT” at my girls from atop my ottoman perch, as one of the biggest Christmas trees we’ve ever had in this house tried it’s best to take out my scruffy little daughters.

They came out unscathed, but blinking and wide-eyed, an ornament dangling from the oldest’s hair.

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“Our TREE!” she exclaimed as I took assessment of the damage.

And I would have cried except no one was bleeding and, well, of course this happened. Because I just got done sending a text to my friend telling her “I’m going to get this Christmas tree decorated if it’s the last thing I do,” and the universe laughed and laughed.

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And so I did what any completely capable, calm, cool and collected woman, wife and mother would do — I called my husband, told him to bring power tools and went to the kitchen to bake cookies with the kids.

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Because a tree trimming disaster that I can’t even blame on the cat? Well, it’s a long way from my heart.

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In my other life, my younger life, before I had the experiences that have helped me sort the big things from the little things, I would have face-planted on my bed and declared it a holiday disaster.

But today? Well, today it was annoying at worst. Funny at best. Because I’m learning to give up the notion of perfect and give in to the eccentricities that are, frankly, embedded deep in my DNA.

Like, I will never be the woman who has scented holiday candles and matching Christmas towels in every bathroom of the house. But I will be the woman who is proud to show my husband that I put the Christmas lights up on the house, only to discover that I hung them with the plug on the opposite end of the outlet. I’m that woman.

Christmas cookies

And the holidays, well, they can get overwhelming or lonely or sad, even with all the sparkle and glitter and feel-good moments on TV. I know this. I get it. I’ve been there. If you’re missing a piece of you, or battling demons, or taking care of someone fighting for each breath, or fighting for a breath or a break of your own, you would give anything to be able to laugh at a Christmas tree tumble.

And maybe you would anyway, because you know what the end of the world might feel like, the worst day of your life, the hardest thing you can imagine. And it’s not a living room filled with broken bulbs from Target.

And while I doubt Martha Stewart would drill her Christmas tree to the wall, I think I could give her some tips on how to ignore a 2-year-old attempting to climb in the kitchen sink while I help the 4-year-old make the Christmas cookies of her dreams in the middle of a life I used to pray for while watching the snow fall on the bare branches outside, in a quiet and clean house, alone and hoping, in my other life.

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A new member of the cousin crew

Emma

My little sister gave birth to her second daughter on Nov. 22. They named her Emma Evangeline, Evangeline for our Gramma Edith’s middle names.

See, my grandma Edith had 11 brothers and sisters and at the time of her birth, each of her sisters got to pick out a name for her. And so she was Edith Evangeline Delores Linseth. Add the Veeder on the end of that when she got married and us grandkids had fun singing her name to the tune of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt… da da da da da da da…”

If I let my daughters name Emma, her name would be LaLa Sprinkle Pancake, so kids must have been more sophisticated back then…

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Rosie is obsessed

But anyway, Emma is fresh and squishy and looking like she’s always belonged here, all 9 pounds, 5 ounces of her. My daughters, husband and I had been waiting impatiently for her arrival, marking the date on the calendar, wondering if we’d have a cousin on one of their birthdays. But no, Emma has her own birthday, so that’s one thing she won’t have to share with her sister and cousins. For now anyway.

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Emma and her sister Ada

Welcome to the world, Emma Evangeline (center). Special to The Forum

Fast forward a year or so and I see some joint parties in her future, which, frankly, I would have loved to have with my cousins if they all lived closer. And so now officially my little sister and I are raising four little girls, aged 4, 2, 2 ½ and 0 in this wild and muddy place.

And depending on the moment, we are all doing just fine, but feel free to stop over anytime with a bottle of wine or a bottle of Advil. Or cookies would be good, too. Or chocolate…

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My little sister could probably use the chocolate about now. She and her family have been living in the 600-square-foot cabin on the ranch while they wait for their new house to be set over the hill from ours, right behind the barnyard where, coincidentally, a woman named Emma once lived and raised children of her own.

Emma was our great-aunt, married to our Grandpa Pete’s brother Lorraine. The two brothers farmed and ranched and raised children on this place in a different time. Ask their children and they will remember what living close to their cousins meant to them — a friend over the hill, small adventures, dirt bike ramps, mud pies and someone always there to witness, and maybe help harness, the near catastrophes they made for themselves.

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I wonder if those kids could have ever imagined another tiny Emma and spunky Edith living on those very same spots 50 years later?

Looking into Emma’s tiny face and running my fingers through her dark hair, I can’t help but flashback to the younger version of my little sister, Alex, loading up our mom’s pink hard-topped Samsonite suitcase and dragging it down the scoria road toward the mailbox after a disagreement with our mom. Alex was known for her hot-cheeked temper and knack for declaring a frustrating situation the “Wowst day of hew life!”

When our Grandma Edith drove down the road for a visit that afternoon and asked her what she was doing, my little sister replied “I’m wunning away from that witch!” She was running away to Gramma’s house, likely, but Gramma coming over for a visit sort of foiled her dramatic plans, and so she sat on the big rocks by the road and contemplated what she might do for supper before dragging that suitcase back home and making amends.

And so I guess what I’m saying here is:

1. I hope Emma turns out just like her mother.

2. I can’t wait for Emma (or Ada) to run away to my house. I will help them unpack their stuffed animals, give them Oreos and secretly call their mother to laugh about it.

Because judging by the beautiful and chaotic present, it’s apparent that we need one another. And we’re so incredibly lucky to be here together on this place.

Welcome to the world, Emma Evangeline Lala Sprinkle Pancake. We’re all here for you, girl. With chocolate.

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The Nutcracker experience…with a 4-year-old

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Last weekend, I took my 4-year-old daughter to the Moscow Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”

If I hadn’t been raised with grandparents who once took a 5-year-old me in a velvet dress and patent-leather Mary Janes to a performance of “Phantom of the Opera,” it might have never crossed my mind to drive my young daughter three hours to the big town to experience such a thing.

But I was. And I remember the feel of the big seat folding up and down underneath my small body, the melody of the music, magic of the stage lights and the weight of my eyelids as my grandpa’s arms carried me, sleepy, out into the night when the curtain fell.

Of course, Edie had never seen a ballet, but I told her she could wear the new sequin dress her great-grandparents sent her and I even put on a dress myself and lip gloss on us both to seal the deal and held out hope that the outfit wasn’t going to be her favorite part of the whole experience.

Let me tell you. I. Had. No. Idea.

Below is a rough transcript of about three of the 90 minutes of dialogue I had with my small daughter sitting in the seat next to me, whispering in my ear while snowflakes, sugarplum fairies, creepy looking mice, a nutcracker and countless ballet dancers leapt and twirled across a lit-up stage while the people around us tried to enjoy the show, despite the incessant narrative that was being asked of me.

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Ahem.

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Edie, coming up for air after the shock and wonder of the first dance.

Edie: “So is it really Christmas or are they pretending it’s Christmas?”

Me: “Well, it’s Christmas in the ballet, but technically, they’re just pretending it’s Christmas. It’s not Christmas today.”

Edie: “So is that a real nutcracker or is he just pretending to be a nutcracker? And is she a real doll? Or a person?”

Me: “They’re just pretending, but in the ballet, the magician is making them come to life.”

Edie: “Oh, look at those dresses. I want a dress like that when I grow up. I want a dress like that with no sleeves and sparkles and I want a prince. We’ll dance and get married. Are they married? Are these the same people in different outfits or different people? Where’s her blue dress? Why does she wear dress jammies? I have dress jammies. She has dress jammies like me.”

Me: “Shhh… whisper.”

Edie: “Do those boys have feet? I can’t see their feet. What kind of shoes are they wearing? Where’s the music coming from? Where are the speakers?”

Me: “There. Do you see them? No? They’re right there: Do you see those snowflakes? Gramma Beth performed this dance when she was young.”

Edie: “Gramma Beth? Gramma Beth was young? Are these dancers young? Do these dancers have grammas? Do they have mommies?”

Me: “Yes, they have mommies.”

Edie: “Where are their mommies? Where do their mommies live?”

Me: “Ugh, I guess in Russia.”

Edie: “Where’s Russia?”

Me: “Shhh, just watch. Look at those scary mice!”

Edie, looking away: “I don’t like those mice. Is this just pretend? What was that noise? What happened to the mouse?”

Me: “He fell down. The noise scared him. They took him to the hospital to be checked out. He’s OK.”

Edie: “Well, where is his mommy? Do the mice have mommies? I don’t see the doctors? Where’s the hospital? Does he have blood? Does he need a Band-Aid? Oh, look at that tutu! When I grow up, I want a tutu like that…”

And so on and so on until the lights went up, they all took a bow and Edie sat in her seat wondering if it was over.

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I didn’t have to ask her how she liked it, so I asked about her favorite part.

“All of it,” she exclaimed, and then I carried her up the stairs and out into the crisp night, her Cinderella jelly shoes dangling from her toes and my hope of an experience etched deep enough for her to remember some of it, if only the dresses with no sleeves and the seat that folded up beneath her.

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