viva las vegas

Also titled: What I learned About Myself in Vegas. And What I learned About Vegas in Vegas.

Subtitled: Don’t Eat at Sketchy Buffets

>>First: I am a diva.

While I grew up with a family that tent camped and pop-up camped our way around the country, I found that my heart is really in the penthouse, luxury suites or other similarly outfitted high-end hotel rooms.

I had an inkling about my diva ways on a few previous trips with Frank.

***Trip One: The Econo-Lodge somewhere between Chicago and Atlanta.

Scene: Hotel room had been freshened up with a coat of paint. This same coat of paint was applied without consideration to everything in the room: door frames, moldings, walls, vanities and ceiling, making the experience of being in the room akin to being a stick figure drawn on a piece of paper.  The bedspread was from circa 1974 and, likely, that was also the last time it was washed.  I pointed to something on the floor that looked like a blood stain and decided that I didn’t want to ask “Is that a blood stain?” out loud.  Sometimes, you just don’t want to know the answer.

Experience: Horrific.  Even though Frank had stayed at some pretty nast-tay hotel rooms in his time with a regional airline, this one was pretty epic.  He dreamt the entire night of bugs coming out of his eyes, ears and mouth.  Yes, this one got to him.  Needless to say, we did not inquire about a continental breakfast as we ran out of the hotel bright and early in the morning.

Famous Last Words: “Babe, can you believe I got this room for only $35 a night?”  Yes, sweetheart, I can.

 

***Trip Two: A Hotel with a Guitar Shaped Pool in Nashville.

Scene: Similar to the Econo-Lodge, the mosaic of stains on the carpet and the very dated bedspread were not the welcome you would hope for anywhere. Especially disconcerting were the eight missing ceiling tiles over the shower, revealing the hotel’s plumbing and the sound of our neighbor brushing his teeth.  It’s like having someone else in your room… without having someone else in your room.

Experience: Thank goodness we only stayed there for one night.  I was barely able to zip my suitcase as I ran for the door in the morning.

Famous Last Words: “But babe, it has a guitar-shaped pool!”

It’s important to have those two hotel experiences as a backdrop for this trip.  My sweet, thrifty Bohemian husband loves himself a good deal.  So when he said he was booking a hotel for the trip to Las Vegas, I carefully asked, “So, uh, you didn’t get any… deals for the room, did you?”

Knowing the hotel experiences he’s put me through in the past, Frank enthusiastically said, “NO! No deals.”  I knew then that this would be a good trip.

When we walked into the hotel room at Vdara in City Center, I was not disappointed. A suite, this room had a full kitchen, a family room, a bedroom and a very large bathroom.  Frank, the connoisseur of mid-range hotel rooms was dually impressed and quite pleased with himself.

AH, Vdara!

AH, Vdara!

This refrigerator is bigger than our refrigerator at home!!

This refrigerator is bigger than our refrigerator at home!!

The view of the Bellagio Fountains at night from our room.

The view of the Bellagio Fountains at night from our room.

Daytime view of the fountains and the strip.

Daytime view of the fountains and the strip.

In addition to a gorgeous room, we had a gorgeous view of the Bellagio fountains, the new Ferris Wheel and the strip.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better!

>>Second: When Vegas is Good, it is SO GOOD.

Upon arriving at the hotel, marveling at its splendor and checking out the free cable, Frank announced that we had reservations at swanky Sage in the Aria Hotel.  I had read a few reviews of the restaurant online before we traveled and heard good things.  I was excited!

The ambiance of the restaurant is lovely. Intimate and private, we were seated at a table tucked in the corner of the restaurant.  And the lighting was great: my skin looked awesome. Boom.

The waiter took our drink order – a mocktail for me and the real deal for Frank – and hurried off to leave us with our menus. After much discussion and deliberation, we decided on creamy chestnut soup for starters.  Frank had the Braised Veal Cheeks and I ordered the Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin.  Because you know – bacon makes everything better. (full fall menu for Sage)

After we ordered, the most magical thing happened: a wonderful young man arrived at our table with a tray of bread.

“Tonight I have for you a bacon roll and a French baguette,” he said, showing us the still-warm bread in his tray. “May I suggest that you take one of each?” Yes, yes you can suggest that. And yes, I will take both pleaseandthankyou.

The warm rolls were served with whipped butter and sea salt. The bacon roll was the perfect ratio of buttery, fluffy bread and savory, salty bacon.  I should’ve asked for two of each.  I am pregnant, you know.

After eating the bacon roll, I was concerned that I couldn’t love the baguette nearly as much. But much like you always love your second child as much as your first, I couldn’t imagine my life without the baguette. The French would’ve been proud.

Then there was the spoon.

Our waiter brought out two soup bowls and nestled inside was a spoon containing the perfect bite of … something. I will never know fully what it was that I ate at that moment – except that the flavor explosions went on forever. Fresh, vibrant, colorful – it was as though I had never truly eaten before. There was also a unicorn in the restaurant and it was also magnificent.

After the spoon came the bowl of creamy chestnut soup. Featuring some sort of pork happiness, currants and mushrooms and topped with the most lusciously creamy soup, every bite was an adventure in and of itself.

I think Frank was also at this same dinner with me.  I can’t be too sure at this point.

Our main course came out with not as much fanfare as it deserved. Beautifully presented, the portions were very un-American. But the flavor? The flavor and texture was big and bold and very, very American. That bacon wrapped pork loin was likely the most delicious piece of meat I have ever eaten. Ever. Amen.

Frank claims that his veal cheeks were the most delicious and tender pieces of meat he’s ever enjoyed, but at this point in the dinner I’m still not sure he was there. I only had eyes for the pork.

When the waiter came back and inquired about whether we wanted dessert, we sheepishly said no. There was simply no way we possibly left room for dessert and we felt we would do the dessert a grave injustice if we attempted to eat more.

While we were waiting for the check, the waiter brought out two warm shot glasses with a hot white chocolate and peppermint drink. If you could drink happiness, that’s what it tasted like.

We left the restaurant content and sad. Content because of a fantastic meal. Sad because we knew that we were unlikely to find another meal in Vegas that would match Sage’s greatness that night. We just didn’t know how right we were.

>>Third: Not all Buffets are Created Equal

When Frank and I were first dating, we took in our fair share of buffets.  We enjoyed the Stadium Club buffet at the United Center, the Easter buffet at the McDonald’s Lodge, a birthday buffet for Frank’s mom at the Drake in Oak Brook.  These are all pretty classy buffets.

I sensed that my dear husband was not acquainted with anything other than the occasional Chinese Buffet and the lovely, fancy buffets that he enjoyed growing up.

Several times while we were dating, Frank mentioned wanting to go to Old Country Buffet (OCB).  I couldn’t understand – I had been to several similar buffets growing up and never really enjoyed them for anything more than their soft serve ice cream with sprinkles.  I’m a simple girl, really.

After hearing him talk about the magic that must be the OCB several times, I gave in and we went to an OCB.  Frank’s excitement was palpable as we walked up to the door – and I watched that excitement drain from his being as we checked into the restaurant and surveyed its offerings.

Fruit flies, overcooked chicken, fake mashed potatoes, limp looking vegetables… the scene was food devastation. Frank filled up a plate, refusing to acknowledge the food horrors in front of him.

He sat at the table and tenuously began eating the food on his plate.  He ate the nearly entire plate of lukewarm, tragic food – a noble skill that probably later saved him from giving me honest feedback on quite a few dishes I served to him during our courtship and early marriage (not to worry, I pretty much stopped cooking…). Then, he gave the buffet a sidelong glance, shook his head in the general direction of the food massacre, and said, “You know, this really isn’t as good as I hoped it would be.”

That sad disappointment still lingers on Frank’s face when we pass an OCB to this day. You can practically hear the strains of “What Might Have Been” faintly playing in the background as we cruise by.  “We can’t go back again… there’s no use giving in… and there’s no way to know, what might have been.” Godspeed, OCB. Godspeed.

I wasn’t thinking about OCB when we booked tickets to see Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s Casino.  Vegas buffets are legendary – I didn’t think you could go wrong.

Oh… But you can go wrong. So wrong.

Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas more closely resembles several football fields of bad man cave poker tables gone wrong than a Las Vegas Casino.  The casino feels like swimming through stale beer and a haze of old cigar smoke.  It feels like time marched on and trampled the casino underfoot.

As we approached the buffet entrance, I was haunted by this nagging voice in my head that said, “EMILY! It’s the OCB! Don’t do it!”

I ignored that voice. The buffet was free. It was included with our show tickets.

“Free is good!” I reasoned with the voice. “FREE IS GOOD!”

As we presented our tickets to the cashier, I cheerfully inquired, “So what is your favorite thing at the buffet?” Her response, while also cheery, should’ve served as a warning, “Oh, I say just start with the dessert sweetie!”

I should’ve heeded her warning.

As we waited to be let into the buffet, the greeter handed Frank and I oversized utensils.  I realized they were going to take pictures of us with these utensils. It had the ominous feeling of a “before” photo in the making. I held the fork, he held the spoon.  For the first picture, we smiled.  For the second picture, the greeter encouraged us to pretend to hit each other with our utensils.

If that isn’t foreshadowing, I don’t know what is.

We walked the buffet, trying to figure out what looked delicious and determine our strategy for best navigating this buffet. I quickly found that nothing looked good.  After a few sad perusals, I was happy to see some Mexican food at one end, so I went over to sample that.  I figured, how can you mess up Mexican food?

You can.

After lifting the lids off of several pots, I decided to just have three corn tortillas, some cheese and a small smattering of a meat product.  I added mashed potatoes and some over-dried turkey to my plate and called that dinner.

As always, Frank returned from the buffet with a full plate. I nibbled the tortillas, dumping the questionable meat on the plate. I ate the mashed potatoes.  I couldn’t bring myself to approach the turkey.

I decided to take the cashier’s advice and hit up the dessert area, hoping for better results.  I had a small cupcake and cookie.

Meanwhile, Frank cleared most of his plate. “I mean, it’s not great,” he said, pushing his mostly empty plate away.

The punchline to this joke of a buffet?  Frank slept soundly while I sat on the floor of the bathroom in our hotel room puking. Frank 1. Emily -2.

>>Fourth: In Vegas Old is Old.

In sweet, quaint midwestern towns, old becomes quaint.  Grandmas in sweater sets and polyester pants are cute, even when they are stealing cookies at the buffet.  Grandpas wearing plaid pants and faded sport coats are sweet, even when they make strange remarks and wink at you.  I expected in Vegas that the older parts of the strip would be quaint in much the same way.  I hoped that it would feel like the ghosts of Sinatra or Bob Hope or other famous old dudes might still be hanging around, throwing dice at the Craps tables.  Alas, that was not the case.

In Vegas, Grandmas don cocktail dresses and Naturalizers and it’s not a good scene.

We went to the old school Tropicana Hotel to see the Laugh Factory. The first thing to know about casinos in Vegas is that they allow smoking.  The second thing to know is that the newer casinos have much more effective air filtration systems. The older hotels smell and feel like the inside of an old bowling shoe: smokey, musty with a faint hint of Lysol.

If the ghosts of Sinatra or Hope or anyone else were hanging around in old Vegas casinos, I was not about to find out. I am a diva, after all, and I preferred the shiny new Vdara/Aria/Mandarin to the old strip.

>>Fifth: Sometimes Smaller is Better

Before the debacle at Harrah’s, Frank and I went on a mission to find a place to have delicious cocktails and appetizers prior to dinner.  Frank was pretty insistent on getting over to the Mandarin Oriental.

And this is why:

The view of the strip from the Mandarin Oriental.

The view of the strip from the Mandarin Oriental.

We enjoyed this front-row view to the twinkly lights of Vegas from a plush couch while sipping our drinks (tea for me, a cocktail for Frank) and noshing on calamari.  It was truly a highlight for both of us.

***

I didn’t love Vegas before we left on our trip.  I’m not a Vegas girl.  When presented with an opportunity to go on a trip, I suggested Vegas because I knew they had wonderful restaurants, a few good shows and I was hopeful we would find a hotel with a decent bed. With twins and work and being pregnant, sleep is a precious commodity!

I still don’t love Vegas after our trip.  But I did love spending time with Frank, eating great food, seeing entertaining shows, and wandering through overpriced designer stores and marveling at $5,000 red high heeled shoes. At that price range, the stores are more like museums displaying fine art than actual retail establishments, as far as I am concerned.

I spoke to a few local Vegasians. I asked them what they liked about their town. Universally, they loved the food and entertainment. Our cab driver from Sweden raved about the seafood at the buffets. But they all cautioned about gambling in a way that suggested that they knew people personally who had fallen into the gambling black hole, never to return again.

When I asked if they had ever been to Chicago, most of them had not.  “It’s cold there.”

Oh, how you’re missing out.

“Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs.”
– Tom Wolfe

It’s good to be home.

three

We are pleased to announce that we are expecting our third baby in May 2014!

Having children is certainly an… adventure… for us and for a long time, we weren’t sure if we’d have any children, let alone fulfill our hopes for a larger family.  We can scarcely believe that we’ve been so blessed with the twins and to find out that we are expecting a third is beyond amazing.

Since my husband is Frank the Fifth, we’ve been asked plenty of times whether we are hoping for a boy next.  We’ve talked about our hopes and desires for the next baby, and as cliche as it sounds, we would just be beyond grateful for a healthy baby.

We figure a girl is great because we have all the clothing, toys and so on that a girl could ever need.  And also – we know how girls work.  The dolls, the moods, the sensitivity, the giggles – and we love everything about having twin girls – so one more girl would be delightful!

We figure a boy is great because, well, we don’t have a boy and boys seem like fun! Wrestling on the family room floor, trucks (which the girls love, too) and other dude stuff seems like a good time for everyone.  Plus, it helps Frank have someone he can relate to on a manly-man level.  You know, passing the torch and what-not.

So far, I’ve had six ultrasounds, thanks to a pesky bleed and other factors, and the baby is growing right on target and is a super swimmer – jumping and kicking all over the place. This one reminds me of Carrigan. Carrigan was always jetting around her amniotic sack, giving her sister a run for her money.

We haven’t decided officially if we want to know the gender ahead of time.  There are few great surprises in life – the gender of your children being one of them.

Final

 

 

updates with parenthood

I loved the 1989 movie Parenthood. I would categorize it as a movie that I loved when it came out (I was nine) and love even more now that I’m a parent – especially since I get the jokes (which, side note, OMG – why was I allowed to watch this movie when I was 9??). In the theme of the movie, here are updates on the recent happenings in the K Family… in no particular order.

On family…

Justin(3 year old son): Who’s that?

Gil (Dad): It’s my kid brother, Larry, your uncle. Don’t give him any money.

Justin: I won’t.

My youngest sister Sarah turned 21 on September 27.  I remember when she was born calculating how old I would be when she hit important milestones in her life. I figured out that I would be 32 when she was 21.  I remember thinking two things, first: “WOW… I’ll be old!” and second: “I won’t be relevant any more! How could I be 32 and cool?”

Oh, dear, sweet, young Emily.  You are as relevant and as cool at 32 as you were at 21. That’s not saying much, but it’s OK. Have a cocktail, toast your sister and color your roots.  I mean seriously, is that fairy dust or sparkly grays?

 

On marriage…

[Gil has been complaining about his complicated life; Grandma wanders into the room]

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.

Gil: Oh?

Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!

Gil: What a great story. (sarcasm)

Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

… A few moments later…

Karen: I happen to LIKE the roller coaster, okay? As far as I’m concerned, your grandmother is brilliant.

Gil: Yeah if she’s so brilliant why is she sitting in our NEIGHBOR’S CAR?

We live on a roller coaster.  Frank is home, Frank is gone.  Some of the hills and loops are familiar – kids to sitter, kids to doctor, kids home, go to work, leave lunch on the counter at home.  Some of the twists are new – new projects, opportunities, moving homes, and so on.

I love our roller coaster.  I love that there is an element of juggling involved in our lives and I love when everything goes smoothly.

Our roller coaster makes me appreciate quiet Saturday nights like this one, where I can spend some time writing.

I used to think I was a merry-go-round kinda girl at my core. Until there was Frank; Frank makes the ride worth it and taught me how to love the roller coaster.  After ten years of marriage on September 19, I’d pick the roller coaster every time. T M, A.

 

On parenting… 

Frank (Dad): You know, when you were two years old, we thought you had polio. Did you know that?

Gil (Son): Yeah, Mom said… something about it a couple of years ago.

Frank: Yeah, well, for a week we didn’t know. I hated you for that.

[Gil looks surprised and hurt]

Frank: I did. I hated having to care, having to go through the pain, the hurt, the suffering. It’s not for me.

One of the hardest parts of parenting is not what you have to do for your children – it’s learning to accept what you can’t do for your children. We do our best to set a good framework, provide rules and boundaries – but every now and then something crops up and they are the only ones who can handle it.

We are rapidly hitting these moments – potty training, going to play school (Pre-pre-school, essentially), and generally redirecting them when they are misbehaving.  Parenting is an art and a science and a test in parental patience, will-power and self-discipline.

But it is so worth it.  The girls make jokes now – with each other and with us.  The play together so nicely much of the time and I am surprised by the few times they need a parent to step in and break up a disagreement.

Ellie is a gentle soul with alpha baby tendencies.  She does not like stern reprimands and apologizes almost to the point of fault.  She will certainly stand up to her sister and has mastered the screeching scream as a method to scare Carrigan away from a beloved stuffed animal or toy. I wasn’t feeling well the other day and Ellie was persistent in her questioning, “Mom, are you OK? Do you need medicine? Do you need to see the doc-tor?” She asked these questions with her curly red head cocked to one side and her eyebrows raised in serious concern.

Carrie is hilarious and gregarious.  We were getting ice cream – her favorite treat – and she walked into the ice cream store like she owned it.  She said hello to everyone, investigated the toppings and ice cream selections, requesting sprinkles like an old pro. And that’s the way she is – she walks into a room and says, “Hello friends! How’s it going?” with a big, confident smile on her face.  She has started striking poses with one hand on her hip – which is incredibly funny! She has a sensitive side that is tough to navigate; she will throw up a wall if she wants to ignore your request and is genuinely sorry when she’s done wrong.

 

on life…

Frank: Gil, you have a good memory. Uh, was it yours or Helen’s or Susan’s wedding I got drunk at?

Gil: It was all three, Dad. Congratulations.

Frank: Well, which one did I punch the band leader?

Gil: That was mine. We have photos. I’m having them blown up for the commitment hearings.

And in conclusion…

I am constantly re-learning the meaning of family.  It’s a lesson that evolves and morphs and changes, but the result is always the same for me: family is both the people I was born stuck with and the people I choose to be stuck with. Family is always worth the time and the fight and the energy.

an open letter to other twin-to-be parents

Congratulations!

And, yes. Twins are hard.

I want to be all like, “what? twins? hard? for you, perhaps…”

But that’s not true.

Twins. Are. Hard.

Know it, love it, live it… and then get your peace with it and eat some chocolate and then get a little more peace with it and eat some ice cream… rinse and repeat as needed.

Twins are also awesome and for so many more reasons than dressing them alike (or in coordinating outfits) at Christmas.

Which is, of course, still awesome.

Obviously, what makes twins twins is that they are born at the same time (unless you’re these people, in which case, I got nothing). The beauty of first-born twins is this: they are equally adored and equally ignored.

My friends having their second babies lament that their first will feel put off and that their second will never feel the benefit of sole attention.

Guess what? Twins have no clue. From day one, they always had a buddy.  To make up for the shared spotlight, twins are given a lot of public adoration and attention at the mall.  I’ve gone out with one baby and was virtually ignored.  I go out with two? “OMG! Twins! I have friends that are twins! Do you know all of the other twins in the world? Are yours natural? Identical? SQUEE! Twins!”

Parenting twins also has a ton of built-in grace. Raising two babies simultaneously means that you realize at warp-speed that you are not nearly as awesome or as awful of a parent as you may have initially thought.

For example: Ellie is a lovely, delightful child who HAS TO have her mommy Now. And Now. AND NOW.  Forget you if you get in her way.  For like, 23 seconds I considered that her neediness was a DIRECT result of MY parenting. I thought, “I HAVE FAILED! BAHHH!!” I look over at her sister Carrie who walks into a room, hugs everyone and hollers, “HEY FRIENDS! HOW’S IT GOING?” And for another two seconds, while watching sweet Carrie charm her way into Grandpa K’s lap for a cookie, I think, “Man, I’m an awesome mom. I mean, really.  Look at that kid. I rock!”  …Reality settles in. Neither situation has as much to do with me as it does have to do with the girls’ individual and unique and lovely personalities.

This realization also allows me to go to play dates and trips the park and not go into a tailspin because Joey is climbing higher and Suzie is saying more words and on and on and on. Raising twins is a daily reminder of the uniqueness of each child.

Twins keep it real.

When you have two infants flipping you the bird because breakfast is late AGAIN because you just need two more seconds of sleep FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD, you kind of say, “forget the daily pictures of the kids in every outfit – I need a shower!” (and a drink and chocolate and ice cream and rinse and repeat as needed…).  You cut out the extra stuff – like organizing your diaper bag so that the bibs coordinate with the changing pad and your wallet – and you just make sure you have both babies when you walk out the door.

And your keys.

And your wallet.

And diapers.

And everything else.

While well-dressed, matching babies are totes adorbs and say, “I got this business LOCKED down” – it’s not the most important thing. Unless you make your living parading around your well-dressed, matching babies… in which case, I stand corrected.

Parenting twins means you figure out your most important things early on. The battles worth fighting.  The wars worth winning.

For us? Daily showers. Mascara for me, matching socks for Frank.  Snuggles with the girls. Walks to the grocery store. Trips to the park. Games of hide and seek. Bubbles on the lawn.

Were there nights where I walked the first floor of our house in endless circles with a baby in each arm singing “Fifty Nifty” and swearing whenever I messed up the order of the States? Yes.  Were there days where Frank and I bartered with impossible promises for an extra hour of sleep? Maybe.

But just as quickly as we were awash in the insanity of twin newborns with acid reflux, it was over. And nothing makes you more aware of your own humanity and mortality than watching your child grow up.  Singleton babies or multiples – you will blink and this time will be gone.

So yes. Twins are hard. But if you are fortunate enough to parent twins (or triplets or quads…or you know, a bunch), the blessings are multiplied as well.

Good luck and Godspeed.

 

wednesdays

It is Wednesday night in the suburbs of Chicago.  Specifically, it is 7:45 p.m. on a Wednesday night – the time when the somewhat late Chicago commuters are briskly walking to their cars in a twilight parking lot.  Late, but not too late to kiss the kids good night.

But I am not a part of that fray.  Maybe in a different life.

But not this one.

In this one, I am lying on the floor of my twin daughters’ room.  Sprawled, almost like a bad crime scene.  I am dressed like a mullet – half loungewear on the bottom and half work attire on the top.

It is dark.  It is dark because the heels of my hands are pressed on my eyes, rubbing methodically.  I hear two sets of feet running down the hall.  One set stops at the door and one set stops next to my head.  I slowly remove my hands. I see a bottom.

A clothed bottom.

Which, as a parent of toddler twins, a clothed bottom is about all you can ask for when presented with a derriere in your face.

This particular derriere belongs to Ellie.  She is in position to do a summersault.  She turns her head to look over her shoulder to make sure I’m paying attention.

I flip her and land her on my legs.  She hops off.

“Again!” she pronounces.

Carrie has returned from her adventures in the hallway.  She is holding Super Pickle: a plush pickle that used to belong to Frank when he was young, but who has now come into favor with Carrie as her new stuffed best friend.

“Pickle, Mama! Super Pickle!”  She makes Super Pickle fly.

Ellie is at the door now, about to embark on an adventure.  She turns to me before she departs and I hear her say, “I want some socks Mama!”

I furrow my brow.

“Socks are in your closet, Ellie.”

She furrows her brow.

“I want some SOCKS Mama.”

I lay my head down on the floor again and replay the words over and over in my head.

“Socks?”

“SOCKS!”

Carrie understands, though.  She goes to the door to leave as well.

“I want some socks, too, Mama!” says Carrie.

“Socks?”

“SOCKS! I want some socks.”

“Socks?” I ask again.

Carrie repeats herself at least a half dozen times.  She is so emphatic about the words, she is drooling, but somehow looking at me like I am crazy the crazy one.

And then I realize what she wants.

Snacks.

Never, ever have my children pleaded fervently for footwear.

I should’ve known.

We are down the stairs and snacking within seconds and my children are relieved.  They were probably wondering if they had a remedial mama and subsequently wondering what they will tell the other kids on the playground.  I can imagine the scene at the top of the slide:  The girls huddled with two of their best slide-riding buddies, whispering, “We asked for snacks and she kept saying socks. Do you think the Park District has a program for her?”

I want to explain to them that I can’t read lips and even a southern accent is difficult for me to understand. Nothing else major is wrong with me, I want to explain to them.  Well, nothing too major.

But, there are some surprises better left for when they are older.

So they have some puréed fruit and I sweep the floor and we all three consider entirely different lines of thought.

Ellie counts to ten.  Then says her ABC’s. And then congratulates herself on her tremendous accomplishments.  I tell her how smart she is, but it is just icing on the cake.  Girlfriend is independent.

Carrie investigates the shapes she can make squeezing the fruit on the table until I stop her.  She may be boisterous and tough seeming on the outside, she has a big, sensitive heart.  After I take away her fruit and firmly (but nicely) admonish her for dumping it out, I hug her and squeeze her.

Back up the stairs we go.  Snuggles. A round of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” More snuggles.

It’s hard to believe they were ever tiny.  It’s hard to believe that Carrie’s weight actually dipped a little below 5 lbs in the NICU before she came home.

I remember living through the moments with them, listening to them breathe while they slept on my chest, and I thought, “I will never forget how tiny they were.”

And while I know they were tiny, I can’t remember it.  I can’t imagine it.

If you’ve seen the twins lately, they are little girls.  They rode their first carnival rides.  Ate their first carnival food, even.  #ParentsOfTheYear #OnlyOrganicCarnivalFood #BAHAHAHA

My parents and their parents and their parents all warned me.  “You will age.  It goes so fast.”

And I remember just not comprehending it when I was younger. I knew I’d age, but for some reason I thought time would always be ahead of me. But now, there are 32 1/2 years of time behind me.

My peers are noticing this reality, too. Many have especially commented on the kids’ music today. And the clothes. And the catch-phrases. Sometimes they don’t hear themselves saying the words.  Sometimes they do.  And then they repeat themselves – just to hear it again. The words are eerily familiar and yet, the words are not their own.  The words are those of our grandparents and great grandparents saying, “I told you…”

I tend to believe that the ones who have gone before us would also tell us a whole lot of other things about life. How precious it is.  How fragile it is. How you can’t ever really know the first two things until you’ve lived it for a while.

I look at the little girls tucked into their beds. I know how it happened that they are not little babies any more – how they grew up.  I know that it happened over a series of Wednesday nights, much like this one.

Wednesday nights here are like driving through downstate Illinois. Fields and fields of corn, as far as the eye can see. Fields that seem to stretch on, all the way to forever, until you pull off the highway at your destination and you realize you’ve traveled 300 miles without ever noticing it.

We are a long way from where we were.  I’m glad we have a long way yet to go.

words

Words give shape to this life, to feelings, to experiences.

I remember going through the end of a relationship, and just deciding that it was just a “thing” that happened and one minute it existed and the next it was gone. So, I didn’t put many words around that grief.  I didn’t give it shape – meaning – purpose – I just sort of let it ooze and leak and evaporate away. I shrugged it off.

In stark contrast, when Frank and I started dating, we could not use enough WORDS. We wrote each other letters and emails and text messages.  I saved those text messages as long as I could until I changed cellphone providers one too many times and the texts were gone.

Every moment of our relationship was (and still is) painted in words. Love, hope, happiness, expectation, dreams – all carefully spoken and written and envisioned.

Even the messy moments have words.  Well, sometimes they have raised eyebrows, crossed arms and wrinkled noses.  It’s quite the picture – and you know what they say about pictures…

Still, with all of these words, there are still memories that feel like vapor – moving through me with all of the emotion and feeling of the moments they represent – and then vanishing when I try to inspect them.

This weekend. Church. Familiar words of a song, ripped from the same Bible verses as another song. A light, happy mood coupled with the weight of the week hanging in the background triggered a memory and a moment from fifteen years ago.

… for I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God…

Driving – the ultimate teenage freedom – in an old, blue jeep. It didn’t matter what the car looked like, as long as there was gas and a working radio.

Wherever. Movies, parks, festivals. Whatever. A nagging sense that these moments were fleeting. A quickly squashed thought: we won’t be young forever.

Friends. Singing. Warm air through the windows. A mid-summer sun sifting through the clouds on the western horizon.

If time was money, we were millionaires without a wallet.

And just like the many mornings I wake up to tell Frank of my dreams, the words don’t come fast enough and the end results are just vague meanderings without any of the important elements of the story.

Idyllic suburban setting. Typical teenage experience. Yawn.

But… it was so much more.  It was my life.

Like water through my fingers, those days are gone and I find myself wishing the words would come faster so that I could wrap myself around them, but instead I am sucking ether.

So. Frustrating.

And so here I am tonight. My children are escape artists with no interest in sleeping. Specifically, Carrie is amused by her own agility at leaping out of her crib, pleased with herself that she no longer bangs her face on the crib railing during the descent.

On the third time I’ve gone up the stairs, turned left and looked to their room, I find myself stifling a laugh.

Carrie has quickly shut the door, but is hanging on to the handle for dear life.  From outside of the room, the lever door handle is angled peculiarly in the down position. She must know that this is the third time and this time I will not rock her in the chair and call her my angel and smell her straight light brown/dark blond hair.  She must know that this time, I must.not.laugh because I must be MOM. A force of gentle justice at bedtime. The woman who knows better.

But for a few seconds, looking at that door handle, I am two years old. I am her peer. I know the adrenaline running through her as she waits for me to find her on the other side of the door – out of her bed – again. I know this because that was me once.

It takes a hiccup of time- for me to swallow the giggle and remind myself that to cave is to create a child who will.never.sleep. I open the door, swoop her into my arms and place her firmly into her crib.  She knows. I know. We cannot make eye contact or we will break the fourth wall.  If we do, we will be forced to acknowledge that I am a child, a teenager, an irresponsible college student, who somehow is a mother. Someone has to be in charge, here. It’s me.

When I finally leave her room, letting the door softly click behind me, I think – will I remember this?

Are mountains made of these quickly forgotten moments?

If only…

produce

I have issues with produce.  I wish I didn’t have these issues.  I have friends who love produce – who cannot get enough of berries and apples and veggies!

But I… I have issues. Confession time:

 

Produce freaks me the freak out. Selecting even the most basic fruit in the store makes me break out in hives because I live in constant fear of Getting It Wrong.  Bananas. Seems easy enough.  But I hesitate because do I want all yellow bananas?  What if I don’t eat them fast enough and then they get mushy and get TOO banana-ey? What if I don’t have time to make banana bread with the mushy banana and then, bam, I’ve lost that banana?  Or, what if I buy them too green and have to wait a few days and then when they are JUST turning yellow, open it up and find out that it’s still just a bit too firm on the inside? I mean, I’ll eat it anyway, but I won’t like it as much.

And peeps, that’s just me and bananas.  Strawberries.  They all look great in the carton, but on far too many occasions  I’ve removed the top berry to find a hairy, moldy, nast-tastic strawberry lurking in the center.  And then I start wondering, “Well, has that strawberry contaminated the other strawberries?  Are they all secretly going moldy and then, you know, what if I don’t wash the strawberries well enough??”

Tomatoes seem to be easier for me, so we eat a lot of those.  Raspberries are the same issue as strawberries, plus, they really need a lot more rinsing and inspecting. Pineapples are responsible for the pesky frown lines in my forehead.  As are melons.  Grapes used to be easy, but then I’ve had a few icky batches and now I furrow my brow in their general direction, too.

Do NOT get me started on lettuce. First of all, I know the bagged lettuces are bad.  I’ve read the articles about the lettuce bacteria found in the prepared salad bags that will eat your face off in the middle of the night. But that, to me, is less scary than getting a thingie of Romaine lettuce.  There’s like, dirt up in the romaine lettuce.  You have to really clean those suckers.  And even then, I find myself picking through my salad wondering if I got it all…

NOT FUN.

Once I get through the screening process and the washing process and the prep process, I find myself LEERY of the final product. Uncertain of whether I’ve made the right decision and having bitten into a few too many items of produce that just didn’t taste right, I am slow to chomp down.

I’m more likely to be OK with produce at a restaurant – far more confident in someone else’s ability to select, clean, prepare and serve produce than my own. Tell me all you want about kitchens in restaurants – and I’m still more likely to enjoy their produce than my own. It’s sad.

In an effort to do better with produce, I’ve started purchasing most of my produce through Peapod.  They do a nice job of picking out produce and I’ve had far fewer misses with their selections than with mine.  Even still…

You know what I’ve never wondered about?  Chocolate. Maybe I should just focus on my strengths. Do what you know, you know?

twins turning two

DSC_0639 Twins 2 DSC_0315 DSC_0076Today the twinsters are two.

TWO.

Like every parent that has come before me and those that are surely following after me, I am in awe at my ability to keep the children alive. And, not only alive, but like, PROGRESSING. Whoa.

I mean, seriously, if you had seen what had happened to the cactus my in-laws gave me before they were my in-laws, you would’ve doubted my parenting skills.

I guess that’s my way of saying that I probably don’t deserve the credit for this amazing feat. You see, most days I rely heavily on the expanded Team K to get through the week. From the fabulous Miss Cathy to the remarkable Grandmas Sandy and Gigi, and a wide range of family and friends that love our girls to pieces.

And of course, none of this would be possible at all without Frank, a Dad extraordinaire who transitions from road warrior to cuddly papa bear in no time flat. Not only does he love playing with his girls and delights in everything they do, but he also pulls his weight when it comes to laundry, dishes, dinners and the like.

We are blessed!

And here we are, two years after the birth of the twins.

Throughout the day, I found myself glancing at the clock and remembering back to what I was doing at that time two years ago.

Waiting for Frank to arrive.

Realizing we were minutes away from meeting our babies.

Hearing their cries for the first time.

Holding them in the delivery room.

Listening to the lullaby playing over the intercom as they wheeled me to the twins’ isolettes in the NICU.

Snuggling Ellie and Carrie for the first times.

Marveling at their tiny perfection.

I understood when parents talked about time flying, but I didn’t understand. Now, looking at our girls, I am amazed at how surreal it all is. The moments on the day of their birth seem to be as real and immediate as they were when I first experienced them. And yet…

Miss Elliana is a little love. Fiesty and emotional, she can be compassionate and demanding all at once. She wants snuggles and independence simultaneously. She knows all of her colors, makes a valiant effort at counting and her ABCs. She puts together sentences and has definitive ideas about how she would like her day to go. The challenges of being two wash across her face in waves throughout the day – wanting and craving independence, but still needing snuggles and lots of boundaries. She has a sweet sense of humor, giggling at little jokes that she makes up with her sister. She loves to sit at her little desk and color. She loves books, especially Goodnight Gorilla, The Going to Bed Book, On the Night You Were Born and Gossie & Gertie.

Miss Carrigan is a dynamo. Like her sister, she struggles with the two year old dilemma of wanting to communicate but being limited in her ability to do so. Carrie is most likely to sit with you and snuggle or read or pet your face. But, she is a bundle of energy waiting to be released. Fearless at the park or in social situations, she seems to have controlled any fear she has about new things and dives in head first. She loves her dolls and her binkies and her shows on TV. Carrie has a soft, kind heart, even when she’s battling the intense urge to be an alpha baby. When Ellie cries, Carrie asks, “What’s wrong with Ellie, Mama?” She loves to be tossed in the air, loves to do summersaults, and dances like everyone is watching.

They don’t always play together, but they always seem to be aware of one another. In the mornings, if one wakes before the other, they are usually eager to see each other. Carrie usually wakes up first and cuddles with me in the morning. When she hears Ellie stirring in the next room, her little head will pop up, “Sister? Sister?!” and Ellie will respond in kind.

When Ellie is misbehaving, all I have to do is say, sternly, “Elliana!” and she will stop abruptly. Ellie loves verbal affection and doting and takes any firm redirection very personally. Conversely, Carrie will blatantly ignore us. Her favorite act of civil disobedience is putting her foot up on the table at dinner. She has earned more than a few trips to time out, but always seems to understand the error of her ways and seems to be genuinely reformed… for the time being.

All in all, even with the challenges of turning two, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s hard to admit that the girls are no longer babies. Heavens, they haven’t been babies for over a year. But when it seems like yesterday I was holding them in the NICU, it is a particularly jarring sensation to see little girls in the place of my tiny babies.

Happy birthday to my little ladies, Elliana and Carrigan. You are loved.

This much, always.

a requiem for diet coke

Subtitled: A Eulogy of a Love Affair

Like all classic love affairs, it began innocently enough.

A glance across the room in high school.  A night at the movies in college.

By the time I graduated from college, I didn’t really notice that Diet Coke had left a toothbrush at my place, started taking over a shelf in the medicine cabinet and began adding itself to my grocery shopping list. By the time I was working full time my insatiable need for Diet Coke had taken hold, seemingly without warning.

A can at breakfast. A fountain drink at lunch. A mid-afternoon pick-me-up. The discovery of Diet Dr. Pepper.

It didn’t hurt that the first office I worked at had a veritable pipeline of Diet Coke in the form of company-supplied-and-maintained soda fountains.

Assessing future employers based on access to diet caffeinated cola products became practically my top priority in my job hunt.  I was only stymied by the fact that most companies don’t include “access to coke” in job descriptions.

Fear not.

Directors who knew me knew that my productivity, when bolstered by diet caffeinated cola, was that of five semi-hungover employees.  Directors who loved me understood that Diet Dr. Pepper was my hands down favorite diet caffeinated cola.

See, I spent much time analyzing and rating my preferred diet caffeinated colas, resulting in Diet Dr. Pepper winning every time, followed by Diet Coke from McDonalds (has to be – nothing compares), followed by Diet Pepsi in a 20 ounce bottle or 12 ounce can followed by Diet Coke in a can.

I wrote a poem about Diet Coke.

At my first job.

My first grown-up job.

I did that.

And? My director thought it was a lovely poem and hung it on her wall.

It’s a disease, people.

Of course, as my love affair with diet caffeinated colas heated up, the buzz about the suspect ingredients also started building.  Around the time we started to try to have children, the diet caffeinated cola love affair was peaking, but it was nearly impossible to ignore the mounting evidence that some of the ingredients were not good for me.

I almost felt shame every time I heard the pop and the “pssshhh” of the can opening.

Almost.

Most doctors seem to agree that women trying to get pregnant and those who were already pregnant should cut the caffeine.

So, I quit.

It was easy to quit. Too easy.

I heard myself say these words, “See? I don’t need Diet Coke. I can quit at any time.”

You may have heard those same words on A&E’s Intervention or you know, any show about drug addiction.

I was “clean” for my entire pregnancy with the twins.

While in the NICU, Carrie had an apnea incident (basically she forgot to breath) and I heard one of the nurses mention that babies who have chronic apnea incidents are sometimes put on caffeine. And I thought, “what if I drink some Diet Coke, pump and give it to her via breast milk  Maybe that will help!” Mom to the rescue!

So I called my old flame Diet Coke.  I wondered what it would be like after all that time.  Would there be the heat and the passion that I remembered?

Oh, that first blissful sip.  It was so good. So bubbly. So cold.  So fresh and delicious.

Ahhh.

But the innocence was gone.  I knew better.  I knew the scandalous ingredients.  I knew too much.

I tried to keep my torrid affair out of the public eye.  I knew there were others who would judge.  Others who knew that I knew that they knew that I knew that Diet Coke has some pretty nasty crap in it.

When I went back to work, I started a bad habit of going to McDonald’s for oatmeal in the morning – and oh – a Diet Coke.  Only $1 for 32 ounces. I mean, why not?  The small, medium and large are all priced the same.

It would be tragic to pay the same as a large, but only get a small.

And then I discovered that the twins loved Oatmeal.  As a mom on the run, Oatmeal became the perfect breakfast food on the go.

And some Diet Coke… in a giant tub… with a straw.

After some time, I noticed that I was needing some more diet caffeinated cola around lunch. Plus, sandwiches always taste better with diet caffeinated cola.  We have a vending machine that sells Diet Dr. Pepper.  In 20 ounce bottles.

If you’re doing the math with me, you’re probably noticing that on most days I was drinking 50+ ounces of diet caffeinated deliciousness – often well before noon.

So this New Year, I decided to give it up.

Go cold turkey.

I challenged the part of me that said, too casually, “I can give it up at any time.”

And so I did.  I discovered tea and coffee.  A more “mellow buzz” if you will.

I sip. I try to drink water.

Today, I found myself thinking about lunch.  I usually think about lunch about 2.4 seconds after I finish breakfast.  So, there I was, thinking about lunch… and how delicious a large Diet Coke from McDonald’s would be.

I didn’t cave.

And just like that, I realized that I was over Diet Coke. We had our moment in the sun, but our season together was over.

One month, twelve days, 20 hours, 41 minutes.

Fair thee well, diet caffeinated cola products.  Fair thee well.

:: and scene::

three things: me in high school

OK, so I’m totally on a writing frenzy, so I’m going with it.

A few days ago my girlfriend from high school sent me a note that I wrote with her when we were seniors.  It was a list of things that I hoped I’d do with my life and the characteristics of the man I’d hoped I’d marry.

The thing is, and totally unrelated to the content of my letter, receiving that note was TOTALLY awkward.  Like looking at a vivid reflection of myself from High School.  It was…

Such. An. Awkward. Time!

I know there are lots of people out there who are “amen”ing me.  “Yes, Em, totes.  High school was SO awkward.”

And I appreciate that.  I really do.  But here are three reasons why my high school experience was more awkward than yours.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Right here. Bam.

Thing 1: Naturalizers

I wear a size 12 shoe.  When  I was in high school, it was horrific trying to find a cute pair of size 12 shoes that looked like something that a high school student would wear.  Remember, I was in high school in the era of the movie Clueless. Flannel grunge was on the way out and cute little Mary Jane shoes and strappy sandals were in.

Cue me: a giant girl wearing beige suede naturalizer lace up shoes. For real. This happened.

And I was GRATEFUL for those shoes. Compared to what was available to me, these shoes were downright smokin’ hot. Nevermind that a 90 year old grandma sashayed out of the store with the same.exact.pair.

Mad props to my mom because that woman HATES shopping – passionately – and she felt so bad about my shoe situation that she tracked down a small boutique shoe store that specialized in weird shoe sizes and bought me whatever she could find.  When the internets came around, but before shopping online was hip, she would track down bizarre shoe catalogs in hopes of finding a new resource for shoes. That is how sad and tragic my shoe situation was. And awkward.

Very, very awkward.

Thing 2: They Called Me Grace…

… to be ironic.

You guys, and I cannot make this up, I chipped my tooth taking my cello out of its case.

Yes, you read that right.  It happened.  I had emergency dental work due to an ORCHESTRA injury.

Who does that?

Me.

I broke my foot taking a lead-off from a base during one of the first softball games of the season.

I also got my tongue stuck in my braces.  Who does that? Me. No one else. Just me.

Hot, awkward mess.

Thing 3: From the Ankles Up

My shoe situation definitely deserved its own horrific category. But, man a live, if you saw what was coming at you down the band hall from the ankles up, you would’ve been very concerned.

First, you would’ve likely noticed the color of my socks.

“Why is that?” you may ask. “Did you have especially cool socks?”

No.  There was just a three inch gap between my sweet naturalizer kicks and the hem of my jeans.

And oh, my jeans. MY JEANS!  My sister and I spent more than one occasion hugging and crying in Kohls due to a lack of long jeans.

When your choice is between four inches of ankle showing and three inches of ankle showing, you sort of don’t notice the elastic waistband at the top, holding the whole hot mess together.

Ya know what I mean?

Yes, I am trying to tell you that I wore elastic waistband jeans for like, three or four years. It wasn’t pretty.

 

So when I say that I had a vivid picture of the me in high school, writing the me today a letter about my hopes and dreams, I cannot help but cringe at the whole… ensemble.

It’s no wonder I feel a kinship with the ermahgerd meme.  It hits just a little to close to home.

Ermagherd! Yer gers! Nertereezers! (translation: OMG! You guys! Naturalizers!)

 

My high school picture. Almost.