Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Favorite Wall: Christmas 2014

 Hi Friends!

The sun is peeking out of the clouds today in Wisconsin, so I pushed my dining room table out into the hallway and snapped a few pictures of my favorite wall all decked-out for Christmas before it went away.  I've been meaning to blog about my wall for a few weeks, but it has been so gloomy around here lately.  For those of you who are new around here, John built this wall for me a few years ago, and I have been having a good time decorating it ever since!  This year's Christmas version is one of my favorites--each cubby is filled with so many good memories. Here's a look at a few of my favorites:
 I rescued these cuties from a the cabinet over my mom's washing machine when I was in town helping with my dad's doctor appointments earlier this year.  I remember these ladies from my childhood, and I'm not sure why they were hidden away.  I asked my mom if I could take them home and she said yes.  I am thrilled to have them displayed this year!
 I love that mod Santa Christmas tray.  I found it antiquing with my dad a couple of years ago.
How cute is this little Santa ornament?  It came in the box of homemade treasures from John's childhood.  I love the sequins and googly-eyes.  
The silver candle holder was a gift from John's sister.  I love the round little ball candles.  I think it looks perfect in that little cubbie.  The bottle brush trees are from a little boutique near my mom and dad's house.  I always find the best treasures there!  The print is from Monica's ETSY shop.  I love the clean design. And it really is the best time of the year, isn't it?  The large "3" sign was a Christmas gift from John a couple of years ago.  I love anything that reminds me of my kiddos.
The cross stitch picture was made by my mom over 20 years ago.  She said the little girl reminded her of me.  Of course it did-- I am always a good girl. : )   Here's a closeup:
The little book is my December Daily from 2011.  I do a December Daily every other year.  I love looking back at my books, but they are a lot of work.  Taking a year off in between helps me to forget how much work they are.  You can see last year's book up in the top row on the left-hand side in the first picture.   The jar of vintage ornaments was a treasure I found antiquing with my friend, Donie, down in Texas.  I love looking at all of the fabulous, chippy ornaments.  I wonder whose tree they once decorated?
 The tall cone tree is from Pier One a few years ago.  It's a mess of over-sized sequins--I love it!!  Jack made the hand print card in kindergarten.  I love it so much.
The little Jack-in-the-box ornament is another one from John's childhood.  It is one of my very favorite ornaments.
I love, love, love these two wooden Santas that my Papa carved for John and I.  They are two of my most prized treasures.
Hooray for sunshine and special treasures that remind me of special people.



Friday, December 12, 2014

Things I'm Not Asking for for Christmas


Hi Friends!

I am officially done with Christmas shopping.  Except for Jack.  I'm short on ideas and gifts for Jack. I keep asking him for a list, but he can't come up with anything he really wants.  That's weird, right?  I, on the other hand, have no problem at all coming up with lists of things I would like for Christmas.  Half the fun of Christmas is making a list, right?  (Well, maybe not half the fun.  But a little bit of the fun.)  This year John and I are being responsible adults about Christmas.  And by "responsible adults" I mean our dishwasher broke and we decided to give each other a new one for Christmas.  And while I'd like to be all sad about that, the truth is, I hate washing dishes, so when the dishwasher went down, I was ready to trade just about anything for a new one, including all of my Christmas gifts.  So this year there will be no gifts under the Christmas tree from John, but that didn't stop me from making a list. Here's what I'm not asking for for Christmas* this year.

1.  This print from Permanent Press Prints.  Or this one.  Or this one.  I seriously love them all.

2.  These boots.  In red.  Because you're never too old to splash in puddles.

3.  These glasses so I can read the fine print.

4.  This message board.  Because how fun would it be to leave goofy messages for John and the kids on this every morning?

As fun as that list is, it's no match for my sparkly-new dishwasher (except for the red Hunter's.  They are pretty much as cool as my dishwasher).

What is on your Christmas list this year?



*John:  these gifts would also work for Anniversary, Mother's Day, Birthday...just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What I Read: {Best Books of 2014}

Hi Friends!

I can't imagine my life without books. Given the choice, I'd pick a good book and my pj's every time. Books have changed my life in so many ways: they teach me about myself, and they teach me about other people.  Books make me think about things that I don't necessarily want to think about. Sometimes they show me that I am not the only one.  Some books leave me feeling completely wrung out and others haunt me for weeks.  The best books take me to places I wouldn't ever go to on my own and make me feel surprising things while I'm there.

I've been compiling a "Top Ten" post for a few years now.  You can look at my past lists here:  2013, 2012, 2011.   Every year I struggle to narrow down my list.  This year is no different:  2014 was a great year for reading.  As always, my "Top Ten" list is in no particular order.  They are all books I would highly recommend.  Each of these books is definitely worth reading.  The complete list of what I read in 2014 is at the bottom of the post.  

Top Ten Fifteen Books of 2014
My Notorious Life, Kate Manning.  I am still thinking about dynamic, feisty, brave Ms. Axie, the delightful, unique heroine of My Notorious Life.  Axie is definitely one of the best female characters I've run across in a good, long while.
The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters. Oh, I do love a book full of strong female characters.  The Paying Guests is full of twists and turns--it's about love and choices and getting away with the perfect crime.
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng.  This book still lives deep inside me. It's about families and expectations and the price of it all.  It's brilliant and sad.
One More Thing Stories and Other Stories, B.J. Novak.   Oh my gosh--there are a whole big bunch of odd and wonderful things going on inside B.J. Novak's brain.  I loved these stories.

This is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper. This novel captures family dysfunction at its very best. It's funny and real and a bit cringe-worthy at times.
Serena, Ron Rash.  Oh, my!  Serena is one bad, bad woman.  She still gives me the willies.
This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley Cash. Desperate times often call for uncommon courage.  The character of Easter has an abundance of courage.  Part mystery, part family saga, This Dark Road to Mercy definitely took me down a road I had not previously traveled.
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. This book lives up to the hype.  It's a big, beautiful story of survival and figuring out how to do the best you can where you are.  I'm always up for a good WWII story, and this one was fabulous.  All the pieces of the story seamlessly fit together, just like one of Marie-Laure's father's secret boxes. 
We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride.  Oh, boy.  This has so many damaged characters and so much big-hearted love. In the end, those who are called to rise do so.  This book is beautiful and haunting.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel.  I'm not sure I can do this novel justice in a few sentences. I will say it was more than a bit life-changing.  Pick it up.
The Auschwitz Escape, Joel C. Rosenberg.  It was almost impossible to put this book down. Its story is tragic and triumphant.
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd.  I'm still thinking of the relationship between Sarah and Handful.  What a story!
The Good Luck of Right Now, Matthew Quick. Oh, Bartholomew, you were one messed-up, tender-hearted main character.  I couldn't help but root for Bartholomew throughout the book.
Lucky Us, Amy Bloom.  Full disclosure: I LOVE the way Amy Bloom writes:  my writer crush on her is real and complete.  Combine that love with quirky characters and a fabulous story, and you have Lucky Us.  I grew to care (probably way too much) about each bizarre, wonderful character.  
The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob.  Here's a family that is completely different from my own, and yet, in many ways it is similar.  I loved this witty and optimistic story about family and loss and love.

The Complete List {2014}
Here is the complete list of what I read in 2014, including how I rated each book.  My rating system is out of 4, and I tend to have a hard time giving a book lower than two stars.  Please let me know if you end up reading any of my favorite books (or any of the books from my list).  I'd love to hear what you think!

1. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (3 1/2 stars)
2. The Rosie Project, Don Tillman (3 1/2 stars)
3. The Husband's Secret, Lianne Moriarty (3 stars)
4. The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes (3 stars)
5. This is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper (4 stars)
6. Serena, Ron Rash, (4 stars)
7. Odds Against Tomorrow, Nathaniel Rich (3 stars)
8. Istanbul Passage, Joseph Kanon (3 stars)
9. Longbourn, Jo Baker (3 stars)
10. Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala (3 1/2 stars)
11. Labor Day, Joyce Maynard (3 1/2 stars)
12. The Sugar Queen, Sarah Addison Allen (2 stars)
13. Monkey Mind, Daniel Smith (3 stars)
14. Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys (3 stars)
15. The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd (4 stars)
16. This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley Cash (4 stars)
17. The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman (3 1/2 stars)
18. The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan (2 1/2 stars)
19. I Don't Know Where You Know Me From, Judy Greer (2 1/2 stars)
20. Always Something There to Remind Me, Elizabeth Harbison (2 1/2 stars)
21. Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead (3 1/2 stars)
22. Family Pictures, Jane Green (2 1/2 stars)
23. Panic, Lauren Oliver (3 1/2 stars)
24. What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty (3 stars)
25. One More Thing:  Stories and Other Stories, BJ Novak (4 stars)
26. The Other Language, Francesca Marciano (3 stars)
27. The Rook, Daniel O'Malley (3 stars)
28. Frog Music, Emma Donaghue (4 stars)
29. The Good Luck of Right Now, Matthew Quick (4 stars)
30. The Year She Left Us, Kathryn Ma (3 1/2 stars)
31. And the Dark Sacred Night, Julia Glass (3 1/2 stars)
32. You are One of Them, Elliott Holt (3 stars)
33. Summer House with Swimming Pool, Herman Koch (3 1/2 stars)
34. The Hundred Year House, Rebecca Makkau (3 1/2 stars)
35. Lethal, Sandra Brown (3 stars)
36. Sleepwalkers Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob (4 stars)
37. I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, Courtney Maum (3 1/2 stars)
38. One Plus One, Jojo Moyes (3 stars)
39. Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson (3 1/2 stars)
40. Freud's Mistress, Karen Mack & Jennifer Kaufman (2 1/2 stars)
41. Secrets of the Lighthouse, Santa Montefiore (3 stars)
42. Fallen Skies, Philippa Gregory (2 stars)
43. Lucky Us, Amy Bloom (4 stars)
44. Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas (3 stars)
45. The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters (4 stars)
46. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng (4 stars)
47. My Notorious Life, Kate Manning (4 stars)
48. We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas (3 stars)
49. Station Eleven, Emily St. John (4 stars)
50. We are Called to Rise, Laura McBride (4 stars)
51. The Singer's Gun, Emily St. John Mandel (3 1/2 stars)
52. The Auschwitz Escape, Joel C. Rosenberg (4 stars)
53. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (4 stars)
54. I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron (3 1/2 stars)

Happy Reading!



Monday, December 8, 2014

Around Here

Hi Friends!

I never know how to start things off when I've been away for a few weeks, so I'm just going to go with a generic "Around Here" to get you all caught up.  I am planning on getting back to a regular posting schedule, so please keep stopping by!

Planning:  a big, 'ole Christmas party for all my current and former summer swim team members. The theme is "Home for the Holidays."  So many of my Pigeons are no longer in high school--they've moved on to college or real life (man that makes me feel old!).  I'm hoping they all come home for Christmas and that they stop by for some food and fun.

Shopping:  like a pro.  I end up doing a lot of shopping for my kiddos from other people.  It is one of my very favorite things to do:  spend other people's money on my kids?  Sign me up!!

Crafting:  I have a few big projects in the works right now.  Two of them are Christmas presents for some of my favorite people.  

Dreaming:  about a big project that's in the works for after the new year.  More details soon.  

Working on:  my annual Top Ten (or whatever number it ends up being) list of books from 2014.  I have read SO many good books this year.  It's going to be hard to narrow it down.

Writing:  letters about some of my favorite swimmers to send to prospective college coaches.

Obsessed with:  This recipe for Buffalo Chicken Chili.  I've made two batches in the last two weeks. Blue cheese crumbles for the win!

In Denial About:  Jack being taller than me.  He needs to cut that out.  Seriously.  

Thankful:  That so many of you stop by my blog each day, even when I take breaks from posting.

Have a wonderful day, friends!


Sunday, November 9, 2014

2014 Sectional Champions!

So over the weekend we were busy winning Sectionals.  
It was awesome.
You can read all about it over on the team blog that I write.
On to State!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Magical Monday in Madison

Lunch + laughing + shopping + strolling on State Street with Emily = a perfect, magical Monday

So blessed to be her mom.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Five for Friday!

Hi Friends,

This week ushered in the start of championship season for high school girl's swimming.  Monday was JV Conference (we were AWESOME!), and on Wednesday I had to say goodbye to half of the team. Endings are always hard for me.  Always.  I love each and every one of my swimmers, and I truly believe each swimmer contributes to the team in their own special way.  But, to borrow a phrase from my drama days, The Show Must Go On!  Tonight the Varsity Conference meet starts with diving.  We're down to 19 athletes for Varsity Conference.  That number will go down again as we get ready for Sectionals and State.  And then another season will be in the books--so hard to believe!  While I am busy at the pool this weekend, I'd thought you might like to check out a few fun links.  Have a great weekend, everybody!

1.  I am all excited to do Week in the Life with Ali Edwards.  She's doing it this week, but this week is wonky for me, so I'm going to document next week.  Maybe.  John leaves to go India next week, so next week will be wonky, too.  He's actually out of town pretty much straight until the 15th, so it looks like all of November will be wonky.  

2.  I often dream of travelling to exotic places, but my biggest wish is to go here for a weekend of colorful fun and all kinds of creating.  

4.  This is the best book I've read lately.  I loved Axie.  I'm still thinking about her weeks later.

5.  Every day I check out this blog and try to guess the names of the dogs.  I have never been right.  Never.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Things I Thought I'd Be Better at By Now

Hi Friends,

So today's my big birthday.  And by "big" I just mean "birthday", since as Christy pointed out to me, it's not a milestone year or anything (that's in 4 years, and she hinted that we might celebrate that one together in Aruba! {No pressure, Christy, but I'm already planning on it...}).  Anyway.  Back to this year's non-milestone birthday.  I was going to get all sentimental and reflect on all the blessings in my life (of which there are MANY), but as I sat at the DMV yesterday (hoping my new driver's license picture turns out cute, because as it turns out, that still matters, even when you're over 40...), I got to thinking that there are so many things I thought I'd be better at by the time I reached 46. Just for fun, I sat at the DMV and jotted down a list: 

1.  Folding fitted sheets.  I long to have gorgeous linen closets filled to the brim with perfectly stacked sheet sets, but try as I might (and believe me, I have tried), I can't get my fitted sheets to look good no mater what I do.  I can't even blame this one on my mom--she is AWESOME at folding fitted sheets, and she has demonstrated her technique to me many times.

2.  Parallel parking.  Can't do it.  Can't.  If you are meeting me anywhere downtown, please know I will be late because I will be busy circling the block until someone in the front or back of the line leaves their space.

3.  Make coffee.  This seems like something most grownups know how to do.  I am not a coffee drinker, but I entertain a lot.  I seriously get anxiety every time I have to brew a pot of coffee.  I can never remember the ratio of scoops to cups of water.  One time I was put in charge of making the coffee for Denise's wedding (her wedding!!!), and it was a disaster.  I'm pretty sure people are still riding the caffeine high from that night.

4. Read a map/know what "turn east" means when someone gives me directions.  Thank God for smart phones.  My phone helps me pretend like I know how to get places.

Making this list was actually kind of fun until I realized that it was a little pathetic that I'm an adult who can't do these things.  I mean, seriously, some of the things on my list seem like things I should have mastered years ago.  But then I got to wondering what people would make fun of me for if I actually learned to do these things.  In my family, teasing = love, and based on the amount of teasing I get for not knowing how to do these things, I am completely and thoroughly loved.  Which, of course, is the biggest blessing of all.



Friday, October 17, 2014


Dear Sam's Club,
I'm bummed that you no longer carry 6lb bags of Brach's Gummi Bears.  They are my signature always-give-to-my-swimmers candy.  I'm sort of worried they won't like the new kind.

Dear Neenah Public Library,
Thank you for only charging .10 per day for overdue fines.  Paying .70 to finish a really good book is the best deal in town.

Dear Fall,
You are my favorite.  Keep being awesome.

Dear Starbucks,
Thank you for making such a big deal about pumpkin every year.  I'm pretty sure the only thing pulling Maddie through production week is your pumpkin chai lattes and pumpkin scones.

Dear Eyeballs,
I am thankful for you, I am, but I am completely frustrated that after a lifetime of putting up with the fact that you're not very good at far distances, you are now giving up on the close things, too.  It just doesn't seem fair.



PS This post was 100% inspired by the lovely Christina over at The Olive Tree.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Sometimes things that are supposed to be magical turn out even better than you expected.
 Sometimes you find a vintage dress in exactly your size.
 And the perfect red shoes.
 Sometimes your hair turns out exactly as you imagined.
 And you find the perfect bow tie with just a hint of cranberry red.
 Sometimes the rain stops just in time for pictures.
 And you don't mind posing for a whole bunch of pictures.
 Sometimes you catch the sunset at just the right time.
 Magical nights happen.
 I hope when Maddie looks back on these pictures, she remembers her special night.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Other People's Kids

When I was pregnant with Maddie, I could literally freak myself out worrying about things.  I worried that I wouldn't be as good a mother of two as I was a mother of one.  I worried about juggling two of everything:  diaper changes, nap schedules, baths, bedtime routines.  Most of all, I worried that I could never love another child as much as I loved Emily.  For 17 months, Emily was it.  I funneled all my love into baby Emily.  I worried about how I could split that love into two.
I remember sharing my concerns with John's mom.  She was a mother of two, I knew she would know what I was talking about.  What she told me was this:  you don't have to divide your love, your heart expands to include all of those you love.
She was right, of course.  I had absolutely no problem loving Maddie as much as I loved Emily.  And then when we added Jack to the mix, my heart grew even more.
 When I started coaching, I found that my heart could grow to include loving other people's kids, too.
People often ask me my why I coach.  The hours are inconvenient, and the pay is one step above a volunteer job.
This is what I say every time:  I coach because I love my swimmers.
I coach because each year I get a new batch of other people's kids to teach, mentor, and love.
I coach because it reminds me of how big my heart is.
I am so thankful that other parents share their kids with me.
My life would not be the same without coaching.
Hands down, I have the best job in the world.