Under the tree: Something to read

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I need to up my godmother game. It’s harder to make special time for my niece now that I have two small people of my own to drag to kid activities and who demand my attention. But as Caroline grows and grows before my eyes (she’s a first grader now!), I’m realizing just how fleeting childhood is. Plus, isn’t the best part of being an aunt free rein to focus on the fun stuff?

What to do together?… As if reading my mind, my friends at Ephemera just announced they are hosting a lovely book signing and pajama party at their shop the morning of Saturday, Dec. 10 for kids aged 2-7.

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Our friend Katie Leporte produced and wrote an incredible children’s book, Pearl and the Whale. The morning features a book reading with Katie, craft and breakfast treats.

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Adults don’t need to purchase a ticket to tag along – but it’s limited to 15 kids. Event info here.

I vividly remember attending book events as a little girl, and treasure those autographed editions. I still want to write a book when I grow up.

I can’t wait to bring Caroline and make a special memory together! I’ll be wearing my flannel cupcake pajamas to the Ephemera book signing, for sure. And I’m so excited to see the whole book in print.

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Katie “illustrated” the book using  a needle-felting technique and photography. My jaw dropped when she teased behind-the-scenes photos (shot by our mutual friend, Bethany Kohoutek).

I’m also going to pick up an extra first-edition copy for Eileen’s “Something to Read” Christmas present this year.

Read more about Katie’s process on her blog. If you’re not local, you can also snag copies of the book through the site!

Other ideas for winter aunt/niece outings in Des Moines: 

  • Fancy breakfast at Strudl Haus
  • Board game in the “tropics” of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
  • Ice Skating at Brenton Plaza
  • Visit Salisbury House decorated for the holidays
  • Tea at Gong Fu

I suppose those would all be good date ideas, too!

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The Parting Glass: R.E.K.

It’s no secret that my grandpa was one of the most important people in my life, and laying him to rest today was emotional. I had the honor of writing his biography for the funeral program, and giving the short eulogy during Mass. The ceremony was beautiful and, just as the bagpipes began to play after the recession, it started to rain and thunder. The sun came out again as we all surrounded his grave and the honor guard played Taps. He had 94 and a half great years and died last week knowing the Cubs won the World Series, surrounded by family. We sent him off with a graveside toast of whiskey, naturally. We played “The Parting Glass,” had a good cry and poured one out.
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Robert Emmett Kelley was born May 3, 1922, and raised in a two-flat on Chicago’s West Side by Eileen and Daniel. Bob grew up with his brother, Fran, during a time when if you had enough, you were rich and you fed those who didn’t on your door stoop. The “waste not, want not” ethos of the Great Depression inspired a lifetime of frugality and generosity. He was the kind of guy who gave the shirt off his back and never let a rebate opportunity go unfulfilled.

Bob’s first job, as a youngster earning 10 cents for helping the milkman fulfill his route, provided him with a lifetime of stories about the milk horse Boots and a work ethic that would see him through 40 years in the education field. Bob was revered as a counselor at Kennedy High School and beloved by his staff at the Board of Education, not just for the Irish coffee he was known to serve on St. Patrick’s Day.

Known as “Abbey” among his friends at St. Mel’s high school and by his baseball teammates on the Redwings, Bob had a good-natured charisma and gift of gab that drew people to him – and earned him flight upgrades on occasion. The most notable of his admirers was Kathleen “Kay” Foley, whom he married in March of 1946.

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They met at the Chicago Teacher’s College and like many in their generation, were kept apart by the Second World War. From 1942-46, Bob served as Recognition officer in the United States Navy. He fought in the Pacific theater, notably in the Battle of Okinawa. More than once, his quick wit and good instincts served him well there and throughout his life.

Bob and Kay built a life together in Westchester, Illinois, where they joined Divine Infant Parish. They brought up their five children: Bob, Carol Ann, Kathy, Mary Lee and Dan, in a too-small house where – as the kids tell it – a single steak fed seven. As a young family, they spent summer vacations at the lake in Northern Wisconsin and loved to visit and play Bridge with friends.

The Kelleys moved to LaGrange, where Bob would love to read on the porch, while simultaneously watching the Cubs game and listening to classical music. Soon, that house filled with ten grandchildren and eventually five great-grandchildren who would sit at his lap to hear stories, enjoy a meal and maybe a game of Scrabble or Boggle. All can trace their love of language back to years of hearing Sloppy Joes referred to as “Untidy Josephs” and trying to maximize the triple word score.

But those are just the biographical details of a man who was rare even among “The Greatest Generation.” To feel the warmth of his love – in the form of a newspaper clipping and a $2 bill to let you know he was thinking about you, or a home cooked dinner with cookies for the road – leaves us with so many warm and happy memories.

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I still can’t believe he’s gone. But in a lot of ways, he never will be. Listen to his StoryCorps, watch us make Irish Soda Bread and his family-famous Beef Stew.

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Stow’n’go, baby

We held out as a station wagon family for awhile after we had a second kid… and then the VW Passat bit the dust. Joe had been advocating for a van for awhile, but I resisted because it felt like the ultimate “our children now rule our lives” purchase — and they are super expensive. Then we rented a van to take one of our frequent trips to Chicago and I was sold.

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After a few weeks of searching, we found a reasonably priced used Town & Country with a DVD player and Stow’n’Go seating (the kind that folds all the way down to make a flat bed in the back for hauling things or going to the drive-in).

I road-tripped up to Minneapolis with the kids last weekend and – van-driving mom that I am, totally had enough room to pick this free kids kitchen off the curb:

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We were in Minnesota because Joe and my cousin were at the same conference, and we tacked on a few days to hang out with them and see some other friends and family there. We stayed for Halloween and picked up some pointers from the Minneapolis trick-or-treating scene:

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  1. Street party potluck. The neighborhood blocked off a street to car traffic and people brought things like Maple Bacon Crack to share.
  2. Walking taco bar. This genius Halloween treat means you don’t have to miss dinner while strolling through the neighborhood.
  3. Spiked cider and hot chocolate. Best served at front yard bonfires!

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How cute are my trick-or treaters? Emmett was Super Why from the PBS show, and Eileen was a unicorn from the thrift store. My mom made Emmett’s costume – a cold weather sweatsuit version and a long underwear version he got to wear to the school party.

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P.S. I am freaking out right now about the election results and blogging is the only way I can feel like there is a shred of normalcy in this world. 

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Writing and Reading

I’m not going to lie, the past couple of days around here were pretty miserable. Joe was out of town for work and Thursday night I was up every hour from 2:30 a.m. on with a vomiting child or screaming baby. By the end of Friday, I was covered in the barf of three different people and my back ached from slipping down our steep staircase while holding Eileen.

Let’s just say, we were all asleep by 8:30 p.m. Friday night and this morning I was awakened feeling not quite refreshed, but alive enough to survive two hours without coffee (our machine broke last week) before hauling my kids into the van so I could get a latte and giant cinnamon roll. Things improved greatly from there.

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I was even gifted a moment today when Eileen was napping and Emmett was playing quietly that I stopped going for the world record of laundry done in a 12-hr period and gave myself 20 solid minutes to read. Because reading>housework, every single time. I’m reading Homegoing by Ya Gyasi right now, and the voice in this book is wonderful.

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It’s our book club book, and I got a late start because it took me awhile after our last meeting to get through The Argonauts (which is an important book, I can sense, but not a casual read. It’s very much a text that might be assigned in a feminist methodology/gender studies course). I’m reading it with extra pleasure because I’m simultaneously listening to lectures/working on assignments for the University of Iowa “How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women” MOOC. And that shit is hard! I haven’t written fiction since my creative writing course in college and although I can sense I’m not totally horrible at it, the writing is not effortless.

We were supposed to focus on voice and identity and write a short story or scene (suggested length 1-2,000 words, which I did not achieve) in which the main character is a female child. The instructors encouraged us to “think about how you can invent identity and voice without falling back on stereotype, on assumed knowledge, on predictability. Consider who you want your character to be, and how you want her to show your readers who she is, and how much you want her to consciously know about who she is. Consider how the people around her might speak to her or describe her; consider what she might understand or not understand about how they relate to her and how they relate to the world.”

If you want to read my piece (super rough, like typed at 2:30 a.m.) it’s after the jump. Posting it here because I don’t know what happens to our work once the class is over, and in case anyone wants to provide constructive feedback. It feels very YA and one of my workshoppers said the voice feels more like a teenage voice than child, which I kind of agree with. WIP!

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Eileen: One

Eileen is one.

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My daughter: A climber, interested in anything just out of reach – exploring boundaries.

Her ears find a rhythm and her tiny body moves, hair swirl bobbing to the beat.

She won’t smile just because you ask her to, but those belly laughs are real when they’re earned.

She has an appetite for life — and cheese sticks. Both fists filled with anything delicious.

Her forehead pressed firmly against yours, a silent gesture of solidarity. I am yours and you are mine.
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I really can’t believe this was happening just one year ago.
Truly, it’s been magical.

***

We celebrated Eileen’s first birthday with a family day at The Playground in Ankeny, this spot tucked into a strip mall across from Waterfront restaurant that has an indoor climbing jungle gym and a bunch of bounce houses. Eileen climbed all the way to the top of the treehouse and loved the little disco room, but it’s probably best for kids 3-6. (There was a family there on their way driving from Colorado to northern Michigan – what a genius move for that mom to plan on giving her kiddos a leg stretch at a fun place like that!) They also serve Bosco sticks — a cheese-filled breadstick served with marinara dipping sauce that I ate copious amounts of freshman year of college.

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What I’m into: October 2016

I feel like I’m living in some alternate universe where each minute goes by in the Earth equivalent of 27 seconds. Poof! Days are turning into weeks. I’ve had a running list for this post in my head for weeks, but never seem to find a window to put cursor to page. Alas, I will not lament my full life – or the fact that my baby will turn one this week!

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An October “What I’m Into” could probably just be left at October weekends — trips to Howell’s pumpkin patch and Center Grove Orchard, where fall is on steroids.

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We went to Howell’s with my mom, and then Center Grove with my childhood bestie Regina and her family who made the trek from Chicago for the weekend. Had to baptize her daughter to Iowa life with a dip in the corn pool!

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I hadn’t been there in about seven years and it’s totally ginormous. Instagram tells me half of Des Moines was there this weekend. We even ran into Joe’s sister and fam there randomly.

Saturday night, Regina and I picked corn out of our butts got glammed up to attend the Art Noir X party, where we got our portrait drawn. This is what 25 years of friendship (since first grade) looks like:

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We also took the crew to Fresh Mediterranean Express, a new Waukee restaurant that I tasted at a conference and loved in person. It’s in way-out suburbiawhere I rarely trek, but I dug the outdoor seating + counter service (clutch when dining with kiddos) + veggie-friendly & flavorful menu. The drive-through would be dangerous if I lived anywhere nearby.

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Sunday morning, we did a walk around the Sculpture Park and Malo brunch because churros + chocolate fountain & kids eat free.

I’m into this Root Pretty “Sunniest Blushing Bronze” powder makeup guru Ivy Boyd recommended for me when I realized my zillion-year old Clinique product is out of production. Double bonus – the products are natural and safe and based in Waverly, Iowa. OK – triple bonus that the product was also half of what it would have cost at a makeup counter. sunniest3_largeI’m a geeky lifelong learner type, so I am super pumped about the new fiction course being offered (free, online!) by the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Called How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women, it opens this week. Learn more.

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I also finally made it back to a YNPN discussion group and am in love with Purdue’s Strategic Doing model. I feel like I’ve been spinning wheels on community projects and hope to implement some of the ideas/get trained in this.

I’m looking forward to taking the day off for Eileen’s birthday (I think we’re going to go as a family to some sort of kiddo gymnastic place) and then participating in the Best Buddies Chef Challenge on Thursday night!

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My writing elsewhere: “ia” magazine 2017

It’s always an honor to contribute to “ia” magazine, the statewide sister publication of “DSM.” Like last year, I was assigned an outdoor adventure piece. This time, I got to explore Whiterock Conservancy, which is just a little more than an hour from Des Moines in Coon Rapids, Iowa.

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I went out twice to report — once solo to get the background on the place and once to overnight with our little family in the Hollyhock Cottage, a converted chicken coop made comfortable with a queen bed, bunks and a kitchen and bathroom, just behind the Garst family farmhouse (now a B&B). Our visit was in the spring and looking back Eileen was so tiny!

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We had a blast and I really want to go back with Joe’s whole family. Read the full story “Where the Wild Things Are” online:

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Extra special fun: We got to host the unveiling of the magazine at DMU last week! Double the excitement for this writer/community relations manager.

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