Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's not me, it's you.

Dear Winter

This may be the hardest letter I ever have to write. [Actually it won't, but I want you to feel I have given the situation and my feelings an appropriate investment of emotion so that you understand I am serious about my decision.]

We have to break up.

Things started out so well - a few beautiful mornings with a delicious chill in the air, stars of frost decorating the kitchen window, the gorgeous outline of bare trees on the skyline as the sun set at five o'clock. I'll admit it, I was completely charmed.

I really thought I was in it for the long haul, right to the end.

Then of course there was that giddy holiday period, with emotions and sentimentality running high.  The gifts, the egg nog, the cozy fires.  Who wouldn't be in love?

As the hangover of the holidays faded and January dawned, I resolved to love you more.  I resolved to work harder, try and see the good, offer more understanding of your grey slushiness and steely skies.  I mean, we all have off days, right?

I will say, you have really worked hard in recent weeks.  This whole 'snow storm' look really works for you:  the magical dusting on all the pine trees, the silent stillness of a snowy night,  the sparkling brilliance of an untouched yard of white crystals. We both know how important looks are to me.  But already the stunning ensemble of white-on-white is starting to get grubby at the edges, and the grey sweatpant slush is creeping in all around.

Soon all the snow will melt, and we'll be left with the grim remnants piled in blackish mounds in the Target parking lot, reminding me of all that I have come to resent about you.

I am tired of your short days and long nights.  I am tired of your bitterly cold mornings that require two layers of clothing for each mile run.  I grow weary of your wan sunsets, of your refusal to let the sun shine with any warmth, of your insistence that "frozen mud is the new grass".

I am sick. to. death. of your germs.  Of the mounds of tissues all around my house, of the runny noses ear infections and tummy bugs that lay in wait on every door knob.  The bacteria that spread like wildfire through the house because we're all stuck inside.

I'm done.  I am so over you.  You, your slush, your darkness and your germs can pack your bags and head off to the Southern Hemisphere.  I don't want to see you even one more day.  And don't try to wow me with any of that blizzard stuff again.  It won't work, you and your twelve inches.  Bah.

Really.  It's not me, it's YOU.

Wishing you all the best,

Friday, January 28, 2011

Girls. Women. Growth.

I had an important conference call last night.  We coordinated schedules, we had a WebEx number for dialing in, we had a GoogleDocs spreadsheet everyone was looking at.

What's that, you say? Have I gone back to work?  Nah.  Just staring down my 20th high school reunion and had a virtual meet-up with some friends to try and get something organized.   [any Class of '91 readers out there? You know who you are, gimme a shout.]

So anyway, we're all there on the phone, taking time out of our individual crazy circus-act lives.  I'm listening to this group of women talk. As we're saying our goodbyes, our thanks guys, we'll catch up next weeks,  I am surprised by the catch in my voice.

Definitely not an attack of nostalgia.  Let's be clear:  I've already told y'all about how the last day of high school was the Official Beginning of my story. 

I sat for a few minutes, trying to figure out why a bit of database figuring and party planning would get me all verklempt.  Here's the thing:  this was a conversation with a group of amazing women.  Women who have done brave things, difficult things, incredibly smart things.

A get-together in recent years.  I'm 6 months pregnant. Maybe 5. Yikes, only 4? Anyway. Aren't the others fabulous?

When you are 16, you find friends to hang with who make you laugh.  Friends who are in your classes, whose parents enforce the same kind of curfews, who might run track or join cheerleading with you.  You don't really pick 'em according to what kind of adult they'll grow up to be.

But I'll tell you:  last night I realized that I enjoy these people more the longer I know them.  I am so profoundly grateful that I can call them friends. That somehow, the years, the careers, the kids and jobs and partners and houses haven't kept us apart: that instead, we keep finding ways to find each other.

It's almost enough to make me excited about re-living the days of Kid n' Play, Depeche Mode and Bel Biv Devoe.  Here's to reunion planning, even if you're not a party-planning kinda gal.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow Day 2011

If you live anywhere east of the Mississippi, you've heard about the snow blanketing us in the mid-Atlantic region. And those of you west of the Mississippi can't have missed all the chatter on Facebook/Twitter/smoke signals. (Huh, that's funny, I have the most distinct memory of typing that exact phrase last winter. Yep, that's because I did, right here.)

That post last winter was all about how the mom of the house doesn't ever quite get through the door, into the snow.  She stands in the doorframe, gearing kids up in snow clothes, handing out the camera, never actually stepping foot into the drifts.

This year is different.  The kids are eight, six and three.  (Three!!!) Big sister gets herself sorted out, and even helps Annika find mittens.  Lars does just fine, as long as I'm not picky about zipped jackets or matching gloves.  Annika... well.  She IS three, so getting dressed always involves some drama, but even more important is hanging with the big kids, so the motivation is there.

This morning, they were all out & in the snow before 7.30.  No lie. I shut the door, sighed, and went to fill my coffee cup.

Early morning snow man

But wait - if they're all out there, surely... I should be? 

Once upon a time I liked to play in the snow.  Once upon a time I would throw myself on a toboggan with abandon, scrape together a snow fort with my brothers, make giant batches of snow ice cream.  When was that? How long has it been?

I honestly can't remember the last time I played in the snow.  Sometime in the late 90s I borrowed a snazzy one-piece snowsuit from my mother in law in Norway (where snowclothes aren't optional.)  My brothers-in-law barely hid their snickers. (I'll see if I can find the snapshot. Maybe.)  But before then?  I am only remembering a ski trip in 7th grade.  To which I wore jeans and a Rossignol ski jacket.

Ok fine, you talked me into it.  Norway c1996, ski suit c1976.   aka Barbie Goes Nordic.

So that's it then.  Time to find a jacket that will seal around the cuffs, find boots that are more function than fashion, find waterproof mittens.  It's time to go out and play. Because I want to be the mom that plays.  I want to be the mom that shows my kids how to hurl themselves onto a toboggan.

Best quote from Modern Family tonight?  "You can't have two fun parents.  That's a carnival."  Bring on the freakshow and the clowns.  Carnival it is, and I'm buying the outfit.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hot Cocoa Party!

Holy windchill, Batman, it was freezing yesterday! So cold that any hot cocoa we spilled froze on the tablecloth.  So cold that the hot chocolate turned to lukewarm unless you pounded your drink in the first minute-and-a-half you had it. So cold that snowpants were *the* style statement of the day.

Yesterday was our big ol' Hot Cocoa Party, remember?

That's my girl!  

There were two amazing things that happened at the Hot Cocoa for Water stand.

First, with a simple table set up with marshmallows, whipped cream and a carafe of homemade hot chocolate just over $200 was raised for  The best news is that 100% of the money we send to them will directly fund water projects.  Can I get a woot?!

Second, it was the kids that made it happen. Friday night we had them designing flyers with a full set of smelly markers. Then during the event, our girls made it their mission to run up and down both sides of the street, going door to door to advertise the stand, even delivering cups of cocoa to those leery of the arctic air.

Little sisters can help too!  
My eldest (she of the big ideas and bigger heart) spent her morning at church spreading the word, carefully repeating the address of the cocoa stand, and sincerely but determinedly buttonholing church members to tell them about our fundraiser.

The boys at the party were seriously distracted by a Star Wars battle of some sort, but not so busy they couldn't stand on the stone wall and wave at passers-by with our handpainted sign.

It feels like a lifetime ago, when I wrote a piece for Classic Play about taking my kids to a Habitat for Humanity build. We were delivering snacks that day, and I wondered how I would continue to show my kids that they could effect change.

In the final paragraph, I wrote: A life of service is one in which we share what we have, in an effort to work towards connectedness with each other as human beings.  

This is it.  We are connected to each other through a basic life-sustaining need for water.  By gathering around a pot of cocoa and a plate of cookies today, with neighbors and friends, with our larger community, we connected.  We connected with each other in chatting, catching up, and laughing together, but we also connected with the world around us - through sharing what we have, we acknowledge those who cannot.  Here, we say.  I can share.

Paradise Hot Cocoa Peeps!  The lovely Jen, Editor-in-Chief of Classic Play is there in the middle, Mr & Mrs NilsenLife are over on your left, and Betsy Stein, editor of Maryland Family Magazine is in blue, hidden behind her 10 year old.

****all images courtesy of***

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hot Cocoa for Water

So I know I just resurfaced, after falling off the face of the blogosphere for six weeks. You may be here in search of some quality navel-gazing, or a funny photo of one of my little people. But hoo boy! do I have something way more exciting this time.

See, the thing is, I'm having a little shindig over here in Paradise (really. That's the name of my neighborhood. You knew that, right?) And yep, the whole world is invited.

The bright minds over at Classic Play have kicked off an incredible initiative for January. It's called Hot Cocoa for Water: raising money for, which works to provide access to safe drinking water.

You can read all about the whole initiative here. But you want to know the great news?? If you live anywhere near me and want to get in on the action, the only thing you have to do is come on over to Paradise and drink a cup of cocoa with us.

You heard me right: come on down to Paradise this Sunday, where you will find neighbors of all sorts gathering around the fire pit, cups of hot chocolate in hand, right on down to the peppermint stick swizzlers. The kids will be snarfing marshmallows, and maybe some of the adults will be adding a splash of our locally made irish cream to really ward off the chill. We'll be happy to chat with you about ways to get involved in the effort, equally happy to take a few coins in the fundraising coffee can, and happier still to top that cocoa with a swirl of whipped cream.

If for some reason you can't find our little corner of Catonsville on your own, message me and I'll give you some directions. Here's the important deets:

Day: Sunday, January 23
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Bring: Yourselves! And a spirit of neighborliness. And maybe a coin or two for those who might not have access to water this January.

If you can't make it to our block party, how about hosting your own? Classic Play's fab editor Jen Cooper has some excellent suggestions - here - on ways to contribute your own virtual Hot Cocoa: retailers and bloggers all over the world have joined in!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Had just my big girl with me the other night - the other two were on a big sleepover at Grandma's. We had a boring school-type meeting to attend, but she was thrilled to pieces to have her mom to herself for the evening.

We parked across the street from Chinese Food / Japanese Sushi Restaurant. Seriously: if it had another name I never saw it. Emerging from the meeting, her dad met us there and she was insistent that we should all go to dinner at Chinese Food/Japanese Sushi Restaurant.

Really sweetie? we said. Wouldn't you rather go to PF Chang's just a few blocks down? You know, one that you've been to before?

NO, she quietly insisted. I really really really want to try THIS ONE.

In an instant, I heard it all: two tired parents, asking wearily if they couldn't go somewhere we knew, somewhere 'safe', worth our hard-earned dollars. At the same time I heard an eight year old who hasn't had the adventure worn out of her - a little girl who is curious about absolutely everything, including new places to eat. Who has faith that things might just turn out perfectly, at any given moment. (Even if her hopes are repeatedly dashed by the prosaic existence that is suburban life.)

Under my breath, I said to my husband (who, in his day, has found more adventures for us than is even fit to print) - sweetie. when is the last time you had an adventure? This man, who loves us Nilsen ladies in a very big way, far more than he hates Chinese food, chuckled, and said - great. C'mon. Let's eat over there.

Chopsticks 101

So I started thinking about adventure. The willingness to look past the uncertainty, to go beyond the safe. I am way too prone to stay where things are safe. My husband has always been my adventurer, taking me out to the edges of 'usual' and saying but what if we went over there instead? So when I heard him resist, heard him wonder if we wouldn't like to just find a restaurant we knew about, I realized even the most curious of souls can be worn out by commutes, deadlines, plumbing, phone bills. By the life more ordinary.

Then, inevitably, my thoughts turned to writing. Always back to the writing. I thought about how creative effort is an adventure - taking you to places you never knew about, to places that make you feel uncomfortable, unsteady, but also these places are the truest parts of you that are so much a part of your being they are hard to see.

It's time for me to adventure again. It's time for me to ignore the street signs that tell me I shouldn't travel those roads, to curiously turn corners in confidence that it is the way forward, to actively find new places.

Part of the adventure is knowing I might not have the right gear, the right maps, or even a good sense of direction. This poor little un-designed blog is testament to that. We'll figure it out along the way, shall we?
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