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Frazzled But Loving It

The random and often rambling thoughts of a working Iowa mom with four busy kids. Sure, my life is chaotic! But I wouldn’t trade it for anything the world. (Except maybe an hour alone with a cup of coffee and a good book.)

Updated: 2017-02-04T13:49:47.281-06:00


Christmas in Seoul 2015 - Day 1 - Travel Day


Wednesday, June 8th

Today is our last day of vacation - we fly home tomorrow morning. I'm writing this on Wednesday night, after a full day of airplane and bus travel. It will be light on words, I suspect.

I was a total dumb butt last night. I knew our flight was at 9:40, so I got off the phone quickly with Dusty and the girls so we could go to sleep. But then I looked at the boarding pass and saw that the flight didn't leave until 11:05. Cool! We didn't have to leave so early! We flew out of London Gatwick airport, which was about an hour and 15 minutes away in a confusing walk/subway/commuter train combination. This gal is from Iowa, remember? We don't do complicated public transit routes. We drive past cornfields and pigs.

Anyway... (hmmm, maybe not so short on words, after all?) I figured I must have been confused about the start time, decided we could leave an hour later than planned and we went to bed. Got up, mapped out our route and trekked across London with our suitcases and backpacks. At one point I realized that our flight did in fact leave at 9:40, that the 11:05 boarding pass I was looking at was from the flight TO London. This is the danger of having a super complicated trip that contains six airplane rides. Yikes.

We couldn't do anything about it, though, so we just prayed that the trains weren't late. Turned out to be just fine - we were one of the last passengers to arrive at the gate, but there was a slight delay due to fog in London, so we made it. Whew!

We got into Dublin, dropped our stuff off at the hotel, and then took a bus into the city center. We walked around for a bit and took in the sights. Such a colorful city!


This morning I was up ridiculously early. It’s Christmas Eve now, and Brie has to work today. Tyler is coming over and we’ll do a bit of walking around to get acquainted with the area. We’re going to take it easy, maybe watch one of the LOTR movies (it’s a Reha Christmas break tradition to watch those) and do a bit of shopping. We’ll find a place to eat tonight and try to get to bed early and see if Santa knows his way to Korea.

Nati’s major concern this morning after we woke up so early: “Mom, do Koreans have ice cream?” 

A Realization: The Divergent Path


My head is throbbing, my nose is simultaneously stuffed up and running (How does that happen? If air can't get through, how can snot? It's a mystery.) and my cheeks are a mess of fiery red blotches. I just had a good, old-fashioned cry, and trust me - it wasn't pretty. I'm sitting here alone in a hotel room listening to the sounds of the happy people in the hallway who must have just returned from having cocktails. My breathing is starting to regulate itself to an even respiration pattern from the hitching gasps of my earlier sobs. I will be alright. I am not hurt. I am simply sad.I'm in Boston this week, performing a fascinating research study on people with disabilities. We're interviewing folks with visual and mobility disabilities to see if we can gain some insight into how we might make our digital tools and content more user friendly for folks who rely upon assistive technology. I always tell people I love my job, and it's true. It's important work that means something and I feel fortunate to work for a company who places such a high value on the importance of accessibility.Our last interview of the day was a man named Dave. I greeted him in the hallway to bring him into the room where we are conducting our interviews and when I saw him, I faltered momentarily because he looks like my dad. His beard was short and well-kept, not the long, scruffy one my father was so proud of, but the resemblance was there. His glasses were the same shape as my dad's, and because Dave had a significant visual impairment, he had some of the same mannerisms that my father had. Something about the tilt of his head, maybe.I tried to push the thoughts out of my mind, because I had to focus on this interview, take notes, participate in the discussion, and get to know Dave. I had to hold it together and remain professional. But as the discussion went on, there were so many things that Dave did that called my dad's face to mind. The way he smiled as he nodded a bit as he said something. The way he searched our faces as he responded to a question, clearly trying to pick up facial cues to see if he was 'on the right track' with his answer. And his laugh. It was Dad's laugh.These interviews are two hours long and we take a quick break about halfway through. During the break, I made a beeline to the bathroom stall, not looking my colleagues in the eye, hoping they wouldn't notice that something wasn't quite right with me. Thank goodness nobody asked me a question, because at that point I would not have been able to get words past the lump in my throat.  Behind the metal door of the bathroom stall, I gave myself a pep talk: "Pull yourself together, Monica. Focus. This is important work you're doing here, and Dave has a story to tell."Before we resumed the interview, I sent my brother a quick email, telling him about Dave's resemblance to our dad. Zak's response was quick, light, and exactly what I needed to read. He told me he'd gotten his monthly phone reminder to call dad today and had been thinking of him too; that he missed the 'old fart.' Reading Z's email somehow centered me. I was able to focus on the rest of the interview and learn what I needed to from Dave.I held it together until I got back to my hotel room. My colleague asked if I wanted to go to dinner and I politely declined. I needed tonight to just be alone with my thoughts. To catch up on some work, stare mindlessly at the TV, maybe, and look through pictures on my Dad's Facebook page. As I looked at some photos, I didn't see the resemblance to Dave quite as clearly as I did earlier. I think my mind was sorely missing Dad, and so internally I squinted a bit to bring my father into focus and I zeroed in on the similarities in mannerisms.But I was surprised at the realization that my life's path has now diverged onto the "after Dad died" route. It seems ridiculous that this awareness came a full two-and-a-half months after his death, but somehow this concept that I'm never going to share another experience with my father became a reality today.And [...]

Recipe for Stress-Relief: Scout Finch, Timshel, and some Bad Medicine


If I told you that these last several weeks have been stressful, it would be like me telling you that I sort of like coffee. Or that Sam Heughan (the guy who plays Jamie Fraser on Outlander) is mildly attractive. Understatements of the year.Life has exploded with frenetic activity, and I feel like if someone created a time lapse video of us these past weeks, it would look like the hectic busyness of an ant hill in full construction mode. School is ending for the year and that means concerts, activities, awards banquets. On Saturday, Brie graduated from the University of Iowa. I still can’t quite absorb the fact that my baby girl is a college graduate. She’s also engaged to be married. Here she is with her adorable fiancée.Just in case that’s not enough emotional kryptonite to bring me to my knees, Jake graduates from high school this coming weekend. There have been gifts to buy, parties to plan, invitations to create and mail, and poster boards to create and cry over. Speaking of which, take a look:Those are all of Jake’s birthdays. Talk about a trigger for a good, old-fashioned, sentimental ugly cry. When we get through Jake’s graduation, we will have about 5 weeks before Brie’s wedding. I’m mostly ostriching that event for now in order to get everything else done. About a week after the wedding, we leave on Jake’s graduation trip to Europe. But I won’t complain about trip planning, because that makes me sound like an asshole. Just a few weeks after we get home from our trip, Jake will move away to college.Stressful, yes. Just a bit. I kind of feel like a beach ball with a small hole in it. My emotions have been slowly seeping out of me gradually, and every once in a while, someone puts pressure on the beach ball and a bunch of them escape at once. That’s not a pretty sight. I’ve been coping the best way I know how, by being as organized as I can, prioritizing my tasks, eating well and exercising, and for some strange reason, going back to high school in my mind. I recently re-read To Kill a Mockingbird followed by East of Eden. Both books were favorites of mine in high school. I hadn’t read TKaM in 25 years or so, which made it like reading it for the first time. Except this time, I have a quarter of a century’s worth of additional life experience that made Scout’s story resonate with a vibration that nearly knocked me senseless. Harper Lee’s observations as told through the eyes of Scout about wrecked me. Case in point, this description of Mrs. Dubose:“She was horrible. Her face was the color of a dirty pillowcase, and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet, which inched like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin.”Her face was the color of a dirty pillowcase? Have you ever read anything more perfect than that?Sigh.And then I read East of Eden. I can’t adequately describe how this book makes me feel. It is my BBF (Best Book Forever) and I read it every 5 years or so. The novel is about the internal struggle of good vs. evil as you might expect from the title. There’s certainly a biblical Adam and Eve/Cain and Abel theme that runs through the book. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about trying to squash jealousy like a spider, and building an image of someone that blocks your view of who they truly are. It’s about struggling with uncertainty, and wrestling with the thoughts of fate vs. free will. But mostly it’s about choice. Timshel. Thank you, Steinbeck, for acquainting me with that word:“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—'Thou mayest'—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if "Thou mayest'—it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.”Reading these stories has been a welcome escape during this stressful time. It kind of feels like having lunch with my best friend. When lost in those pages, I am comforted, soothed, and my feet stay anchored to the ground. Which is important, because the al[...]

Superhero Birthday Party!


This little gal turns 3 on Wednesday. I know! I can't believe it either.It all started with underpants. Nati picked out a set of superhero underpants when she was potty training and they are her favorites. This year when I asked her what she wanted to be for Halloween, she said a "green superhero girl"!So, I made her a superhero costume. I didn't use a pattern, just sewed a cape and a silver skirt and bought a green superhero mask. I think I'm going to spray her hair green and put it up in pigtails for Halloween. Anyway, I decided that since she has an October birthday, we'd have a superhero birthday party as well. It was a big hit. I love this kind of stuff, decorating and putting a theme together channels my inner art class nerd. I didn't spend very much on this, unless you count time, and I really only started on this a week ago, working a few evenings here and there.My favorite part of this was SuperNati's logo.  I was just going to use a lightning bolt with the letter "n" but Vali suggested that we make it a silouette of a girl with pigtails instead. And so, here's how it turned out:I love it!The next thing I did was create a city skyline. I made it out of posterboard and post-it notes cut into smaller squares for the windows. I simply taped it to the wall. The SuperNati beacon light is just the logo printed on yellow paper with the beam added on.I then added some cut outs that said "pow" "biff" and "zap" along with some balloons. SuperNati approved:This completed the cupcake table's backdrop. Speaking of cupcakes, I just made some lemon and dulce le leche cakes and added bright frosting. I used cardstock to print the toppers on. (SuperNati logo, some speech bubles, and some "pow!" and sunbursts with the number 3.) To place the cupcakes at varying heights, I wrapped a couple of empty boxes in polka dot wrapping paper and set some of the cakes on the boxes.I made snacks for the party, but they were on another table. My mother-in-law brought an adorable cheese ball that looked like a pumpkin. The green things in the background are my kryptonite krispie treats. My mother-in-law also brought these cute little jack-o-lantern oranges. The kids loved them!Parties at our house are very informal. There's food and drinks and the adults hang out. Usually the men go outside and have cigars while the women chat in the kitchen or sun room. The weather was so perfect yesterday that we had a lot of time outside, which was awesome! Vali wanted to add some structure to the party, so we came up with some ideas of 'stations' for the kids. There were six toddlers at this party and a couple of older kids. First, though, we had to turn the kids into superheroes. So I made these capes out of fleece:Here's Vali with hers:I used iron-on transfers to put each kid's initials on the back of the cape. As you can tell, I wasn't terribly exacting about it all, but for something like $2 a cape, they were worth it. The kids loved them. Here they are in the sandbox, all superheroed out:and the view from the back is even better:I didn't expect the kids to keep them on all day, but they did. I think the lightweight fleece was perfect for it! Some more pics of superheroes at play:Isn't my niece just beautiful?And here's Super Simon!Here's a fun pic of Super Riley and Super Gracie posing with SuperNati!So, back to the stations. We set up tables with play-doh, some superhero coloring pages, and little pumpkins that the kids could decorate. They loved them:That about sums it up. It was a beautiful day and we were surrounded by family and our awesome neighbors. After everyone went home, Nati said it was her "best birthday party ever!" Ha. High praise from a soon-to-be three-year-old! This sweet smile says it all:[...]

Predictable. Boring?


When did I become so predictable? So suburban mom cliche?I have a facebook friend who posts these fascinating, somewhat bizarre articles and links on facebook. I always read his posts because they are quirky, off the beaten path, and always interesting. His posts make me ashamed of my one-dimensional Facebook presence. I post about my kids. Cute things they said, photos of them doing adorable things, frustrations about how exhausting they are sometimes, and so on. I am clearly not ashamed of my kids or of my posting about them. It's my lack of imagination when it comes to interacting on social media that gets to me. I am so predictable. So boring.  Why does this bother me? I don't really care if other people think I'm boring. I am at a stage in my life where I am comfortable with who I am. I think. Wait. Am I?I used to be interesting. Once, just because I felt like it, I stayed up all night long working on a pen and ink drawing made up of thousands of tiny swirls formed into the shape of a girl walking in a field of poppies. There was a small footbridge that crossed a nearby stream, and the water had "sail on silver girl" and other Simon and Garfunkle song lyrics floating in it that you could only see if you looked at it for a long time.When I went to college, I decided I wanted to be a physics major. I loved physics but was terrible at it. My high school physics teacher was the nicest man ever and I swear he gave me a decent grade in Physics II just so my feelings wouldn't be hurt. When I got to college and had to take advanced math and actual physics classes, I enjoyed them. (I still like to search for science lectures on iTunes U and YouTube from time to time. Balancing simple algebra equations relaxes me when I'm stressed.) But I didn't understand advanced concepts. I would look around at everyone in the lab or lecture hall and see their faces make that "AHA!" expression while the light bulb above my head remained dim. I needed help from tutors who must have thought I had the IQ of a celery stalk. Physics and the math that went with it sucked out my brain power like a Dyson and left me feeling completely drained. So I switched my major to communications. And that worked out pretty well for me, actually. I never really felt like I was reaching for a concept that was just beyond my reach.Seriously, though. A physics major? Now that's interesting! It's bad ass. Even if I failed miserably at that goal, I went for it and tried it.And now? I work at a bank. Seriously! That's, like, the cliche job that authors use in a novel when they want to depict a boring character. How many kids do you know who want to be a banker when they grow up? I am good at what I do professionally which is essentially to make sure that my department's websites, email campaigns, and other "digital channels" follow internal and regulatory guidelines. A large part of that means that I explain web accessibility concepts to people. Making sure a  banking website can be navigated by customers with disabilities isn't really the sexiest job. Actually, being in a compliance role among creative marketing types is a bit like being the nerdy kid in school who tells someone they can't chew gum in class and then rats them out to the teacher. But what I do has a purpose. It's important work and there's a technical component to it that feeds my geeky brain. I really enjoy what I do at work every day.And yet... I don't really think much about it once my work day ends and my mom day begins.  I quickly fall into my routine of making dinner, taxi driving kids everywhere, baking cupcakes, cleaning up messes, and reading twelve Pete the Cat stories before bedtime. I stay up later than I should getting lost in my own book before falling asleep, exhausted. I should do more writing (writing is interesting!) but I can't find the inspiration or motivation most nights after working a full day and doing mom stuff in the evenings.I don't for a [...]

Holiday Recap 2013 (alternate title: I'm terrible at blogging lately)


I have been meaning to write a blog post for months. Like I was going to write one about our Thanksgiving celebration that turned into Barforama 2013. And then I was going to write about Christmas, and New Year's. But now it's January 8th (my nephew's birthday! Happy birthday, Iz!) and I haven't written anything, so I suppose I'll roll them all into one giant post.ThanksgivingWe hosted Thanksgiving at our house this year. Dusty likes to have it at our house when the Packers play on Thanksgiving so that he doesn't have to worry about missing any of the game. They got killed by the Lions this year, so meh, but we enjoyed having the family over.My mom and Bryan live in DC and they drove back just to be here for dinner. What a long drive! But we were so happy to have them there.Dinner was good - the usual no-frills kinds of events that we enjoy with the family. There was lots of food - my sisters-in-law brought dishes to add to what I'd made, and we all ate like kings. The kids played with each other and we had a nice time. I love this one of my mom with some of the grandkids: src="" height="333" width="500" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen>So thanksgiving was great! Until..Barforama 2013Until everyone got sick the next couple of days. A stomach bug spread like wildfire and out of the 22 or so people who ate dinner at our place, only 5 ended up not getting sick.Oops. I swear it wasn't my cooking. It seems to have been a quick bug for all, but I felt especially bad for Mom and Bryan who were driving home to DC when it hit them. ***Thanksgiving was late this year, and it really threw me off. I didn't get as many decorations up as I had wanted to, and of course I didn't get to all of the crafts and fun homemade gift ideas that I wanted to, but I did get some done. Like this cute yardstick star. Super easy to make - cheap too!Holiday ProgramsWith the holiday season came school programs. Jake and Vali both had great music programs. Jake sang this duet to the song "Hallelujah" with a friend during his concert. width="560" height="315" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>And Vali enjoyed her concert as well, even though it might not look like it:Vali also had her first ever dance program. She started taking dance in October, and they did a very short holiday dance routine for the parents after class. It was great. She seems to be picking up dance quite well!Holiday BakingLast year I got together with my local sisters-in-law for some holiday baking. We did it again this year and had a great time. One of these years I'm going to kidnap my SIL who lives in San Francisco and bring her back here so she can join us too.Christmas, Christmas, Christmas!Our first Christmas gathering was held the weekend of December 14th in Lincoln with Dusty's dad and step-mom. Here are some fun pictures from that gathering:This is one of the Reha boys hanging out with their dad and Uncle Mark: src="" height="333" width="500" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen>My father-in-law is scratching his head at their conversation: src="" height="333" width="500" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen>There are always tons of kids running around (mine usually have faces full of chocolate!) src="" height="333" width="500" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen> src="" height="333" [...]

You'd think I would have learned this by now...


Learning to adapt to the different personalities of my children is often a struggle for me. I'm just me, and it's natural, when certain situations arise (like when shit isn't getting done that needs to get done!) to react the same way with each child. In my case, I fire off orders like a drill sergeant and expect them to be followed. Surprisingly (sarcasm) this strategy doesn't always go over so well. It may have worked on one child, but it can backfire on another. On Tuesday night, Jake had a chorus concert. He performed a duet with a friend to the song "Remembering Sunday" by All Time Low. I wish I could describe how it felt to watch him up there. He walked to the front of the auditorium stage with his friend, stood there and belted out this song. Jake's done performances before, he sings sometimes at church, and has performed the Star Spangled Banner with friends before high school events. I've seen the boy sing, and have always enjoyed it. He sings in the shower, and as he does the dishes. The kid has a nice voice. But on Tuesday he was clear, focused, and natural as he sang. He sounded so great, but what struck me was how poised he was up there. No longer the awkward, self-conscious boy, he's truly growing into a young man.It gave me one of those mom heart attacks. The "I'm so proud, but damnit, why does he have to grow up so fast?" moments.As I watched this nearly six foot tall kid singing on the stage, I kept having flashbacks to the time he sang "You're a Grand Old Flag" at his preschool graduation. The whole class sang it, but at home he would practice it over and over again in an off-key angelic voice. My little blonde guy singing "You're a grand old flag, you're a high-flying flag and forever in peace may you wave." brought a lump to my throat. Seeing the sixteen-year-old version of him up on stage made me swell with pride (although I had very little to do with his musical success) and that throat lump was there again too.One of Brie's friends was at the concert and he texted her to tell her that he thought Jake sounded great. She screen-grabbed the text and sent it to her brother, showing him what was being said of his performance. His friends and classmates gave him compliments. I could tell he felt proud of his performance, proud of the practice time and work that went into it.Tonight I had to pull the mean-mom costume out and tell him he couldn't go hang out with a friend after school because he needs to work on a few classes to get his grades up. The act of telling him he couldn't go wasn't where I messed up. It was my delivery. I rattled off all of the things that need to be worked on and my frustration was obvious. We keep going over these things, but I'm not seeing the improvement he's capable of. It took some time, and a frustrated exchange between us for me to realize that firing demands at him is not the way to encourage him. It was having the opposite effect, and he was shutting down in front of me, crumpling like a paper in an invisible fist. I didn't notice this until I could see the desperation in his face, so I stopped hammering him and asked him what was wrong. The thoughts came pouring out of him. It turns out that he feels incredibly stressed out after this week. His success at the concert Tuesday night was a double-edged sword. Nice for the positive feedback, but a stressful event nonetheless. This blew me away, because he looked so completely composed and relaxed up there - it didn't occur to me that it would have stressed him out. In the school play, he is understudy to the lead who has been having some throat issues, and he's having to step up to play that lead role at rehearsals (as well as continue to perfect his own role). He's got a fairly tough academic schedule, and to top it all off, he's in driver's ed this month, where they meet for up to three hours a few nights a week. My attempts to get him to understand what neede[...]