Kiera, Matteo, Oliver and Soren

Kiera, Matteo, Oliver and Soren

Thursday, February 23, 2017

First Visits from the Tooth Fairy

Oliver has been wiggling one of his bottom teeth loose for what seemed like weeks. And despite the super advanced notice we had to tip off the Tooth Fairy, when his tooth finally came out, Chris and I were still caught by surprise.

I immediately texted friends with kids who've recently lost teeth to inquire about the going rate. I didn't think the quarter I received in my youth was going to cut it anymore. Was five dollars or even ten dollars appropriate I wanted to know? They reminded me that setting the expectation that high would get expensive for someone with four children who each have 20 teeth (well, except for Matteo with his 18...). I quickly did the math and realized that I could end up shelling out $400 - $800 for teeth. Instead they suggested something special like a silver dollar or a two-dollar bill, neither of which I had as Oliver's bedtime quickly approached. Thankfully one friend followed up her suggestion with admitting that she is usually unprepared and has resorted to digging through the change jar on her kitchen counter.

Chris actually had a couple silver dollars had gotten from the change machine at a light rail station and was able to slip two under Oliver's pillow that night. A parenting win for once. And Oliver woke up the next morning thrilled to discover the tooth fairy had left him "gold" and asked me what the going rate for gold was so he could figure out how many Legos he could buy. (Seriously, where does he learn this stuff?)
Oliver quickly lost his second tooth just a few days later and feeling a little more on top of my game, not only did he receive more "gold," but the Tooth Fairy even left him a note. My brother hand-wrote a letter thanking Oliver for another tooth for her collection and reminding him to keep up the good work brushing a flossing. I don't know how much impact my attempt will have at using fairies to promote positive reinforcement of oral hygiene, but Oliver loved getting the letter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Uncle Scott and Cousin Neale

Living far from family is a little easier in the modern world with cell phones, FaceTime and the internet, that is, until crisis hits. Nothing replaces being able to connect in person. My brother, Scott, and I were in desperate need of time to check in with each other in real life and not in cyberspace. Each with our own personal turmoil engulfing our lives, his visit with his son Neale in tow could not have come at a better time.
We know how to welcome people to Minnesota - wear your pajamas and hold a huge sign.
Our long weekend together was dominated by the needs of our five children and we took trips to the zoo and the playground, tromped around the woods and let the kids enjoy cousin time. Usually warm weather allowed us to spend much of the weekend outside, which is a rare treat for February in Minnesota.

Neale and Matteo

Matteo had the rare opportunity to revel in not being the youngest and he often took his change in role very seriously. If we asked him to hold Neale's hand, he didn't let go until we said so. Matteo is a rule-follower though and Neale's typical toddler behavior rankled his need for order, like the time Neale climbed onto the dining room table during dinner.

Neale had never slept in anything but a crib, which we no longer have, so I had the brilliant idea of suggesting he have a sleepover in Kiera and Matteo's room. We set up the spare crib mattress on the floor between their toddler beds, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Neale lasted until 4:30 a.m. when I found him marching down the stairs and yelling "Dada!" with fierce determination.
Our bear cubs at the Minnesota Zoo

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Go Home 2016, You're Drunk

Two thousand sixteen has been a tough year. A friend battled breast cancer, Prince died and, well, we all know what happened in November.  If 2016 wasn't already feeling like a year I don't want to repeat, it's also the year that Chris and I sadly decided that we're no longer happy being married to each other. It's the saddest decision either of us has ever had to make and one that was made with a lot of tears and soul-searching. I'm hopeful that 2017 will be a year of healing and discovery, renewed hope and re-imagined dreams.

As for 2016, a friend said it best with, "Go home 2016, you're drunk."

Sunday, December 11, 2016

10 Years

My brother posted a picture of mom on Facebook. I don't think I've seen a picture of her in years.  She died before I owned a digital camera or before it was common to post pictures online. All my pictures of her are back in New Jersey, or in frozen in my mind. And suddenly there was her picture, and for a split second, I forgot that she was gone.

Reading my brother's tribute to our mom on the 10th anniversary of her death, it surprised me how similarly her absence has affected us.
Ten years ago today, while sitting in a computer lab at Rowan University, I got a life-changing call from my sister: my mom had passed away the night before while visiting her cousin in Wisconsin. Though she struggled with health issues, which necessitated open-heart surgery two years prior, her passing was nevertheless completely unexpected.
I struggled terribly that winter. There was a lot of crying. There were a lot of twisted nightmares in which my mom visited me in various forms, in which I was aware of her death, in which I wasn't, one in which I couldn't stop screaming at her for leaving us, and one in which she died slowly right in front of my eyes. There was a lot of pain. Ugly. Unprecedented. Profound.

Ten years later, the pain is not gone, but is mostly subdued. It occasionally resurfaces, often at this time of year when the impending anniversary of her death and the increased darkness combine, or anytime I think of how she never got to meet my wonderful wife and son. I knew Stevie was the one when I realized how sad it made me that my mom would never get to meet her.

I think a common worry among the bereaved is that the memory of their loved one will become diluted with time, and ultimately erased entirely. If no one remembers the loved one, it will be as if he or she never existed at all. Keeping the memory alive stills that fear.

My mother was not perfect, but neither was I. I was a hyperactive child who knew how to push her buttons, and she had a short temper, and sometimes lashed out at me. But however we may have hurt each other was certainly unintentional, always with underpinnings of love at our core.

So much of who I am today can be traced to my mother. She was a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer for decades, and is one reason I have always loved to write.

She was an avid traveler, having been to all 50 states and many areas of Europe and Asia, and to this day, a travel scholarship exists in her name at Bowdoin College, my sister's alma mater. She always encouraged me to see as much of the world as I could. The picture of her here is from the time I won a cruise to Bermuda and invited my whole family, though only my mom could come. I'd like to think she would be proud of some of the trips I've taken since her passing, including driving across America, driving from England to Mongolia, and teaching English in South Korea for five weeks.
She was born and raised in Gettysburg and enjoyed American history, and is one reason I love stopping at museums everywhere I go now.

My mom even tried her hand at teaching, as an English teacher both here in America as well as in South Korea where my dad was stationed in the army.

She loved dogs, labs especially. She hand made quilts by the dozen, giving them to friends and family as presents. I never once slept with a store-bought blanket growing up. She rarely watched tv but read mystery novels on the living room couch by the truckload. She was not known for her culinary skills, but still made time each year for large batches of homemade apple sauce, strawberry jam, and vegetable soup. She indulged our family's obsession with all things German, though never learned to speak it herself.

Her name was Louise Ann Harbach, and I love her and miss her every day.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Before those gathered at my table for Thanksgiving dove into their meal, I thanked them all for being here and told them how much I love to be able to host a holiday meal. My introverted mother-in-law who does not like a crowd explained with a bit too much enthusiasm, "Oh good!"  Sounds like someone is a little too eager to bestow hosting duties on the next generation.

I really do love hosting Thanksgiving, or any holiday for that matter. I enjoy catching up with friends and family I don't see regularly and making more memories with those I do see more often. I take pride in planning the menu and decorating. And most of all, I'm thankful for the traditions I can create for my children.

Our Thanksgiving was "small" this year with only 12 people. That may sound big to some, but when my immediate family accounts for seven seats at the table, 12 isn't all that big. The advantage of having "only" 12 is that we all fit around my dining room table.

We tried something new this year by having dessert at my brother-in-law and sister-in-law's house two blocks away. We called it a progressive Thanksgiving dinner.  Part of our party went ahead to set out the dessert spread and let their Goldendoodle, Watson, get it out of his system to jump all over everyone and steal their shoes. (That only kind of worked.) The rest of us stayed behind to clean up, which meant there was nothing left to do when we came back home to put the kids to bed.
Grandma Nan, Kiera and me
Our au pair Nina's first Thanksgiving

I always have grand decorating ideas, but rarely pull them off. But this idea worked! A adorned a burlap runner with six feet of garland, clementines, little pumpkins and candles.
Yes, Legos and Minecraft made it on the list of things to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I'm With Her

Of the many reasons #imwithher it's for these two - born in China, naturalized American citizens, raised by white parents.

They deserve a president who values them as Chinese-Americans and believes they belong here. My daughter certainly doesn't deserve a president who objectifies women's bodies, or worse, normalizes sexual assault. Their seven-year-old brother, who has been paying more attention to this election than I ever gave him credit for, deserves to feel safe that the outcome of this election won't impact whether or not his brother and sister are "allowed" to stay here. I assured him that they are "allowed" here as much as anyone else in our family. I find it sad that he has heard those campaigning to lead this country propose kicking entire groups of people out or not letting others in. At seven years old, he believes that his non-white brother and sister or foreign teachers and au pair might have to leave. I can't imagine how he would feel if he were black or brown or Muslim or gay. #lovetrumpshate

On a lighter side, I've enjoyed all the fun us "nasty women" Hillary supporters have had with the "pantsuit nation" campaign. 

Two co-workers and friends of mine designed these kick**s t-shirts. Of my favorite t-shirts of all time, this one ranks up there with my "This is what a feminist looks like" t-shirt I got from the Bowdoin Women's Association in college and my "Every Child Counts" t-shirt from Love Without Boundaries.
We wore them to work on Friday and they were a huge hit. Folks are begging my my friends to order more for after the election.
I was a jittery mess yesterday in anticipation of the election, but while some of the nervousness remains, today I'm filled more with pride and hope. I was excited to go to the polls with my children and Nina.  Despite the long lines reported by those who voted early, there was no wait. Danielle was one of the election judges and we saw many friends and neighbors voting. Some of my friends wrote on Facebook about how they became emotional as they filled in the box next to Hillary's name, but I simply felt happiness. It felt like the most normal thing in the world to vote for a woman as the next president of the United States.
In a nod to Hillary and a movement that has been nicknamed the "pantsuit nation," women (and some men) wore their pantsuits to go vote. I had long given away my formal business attire, so I wore my "Nasty Women Vote" t-shirt. Some wondered if we'd be stopped at the polls since Minnesota law prohibits campaign materials, t-shirts, buttons and the like at polling stations. I figured my t-shirt and the pantsuits would be a loophole since they don't reference any candidate or party. 

Aside from the voting, the rest of the day was mundane as I had taken the day off work to take the kids to various doctors appointments. But that gave me plenty of time to follow all the inspirational stories on the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group. The stories I've been reading there are better than any political commentary on network TV.

As I sign out for the night to tune in to the election results, I leave you with this fun Pantsuit Power Flashmob video. Now let's go make history!

Monday, October 31, 2016


We started back in August talking about the kids wanted to be for Halloween. Oliver quickly settled on being a ninja and Soren Darth Vader. Kiera didn't have any ideas, so to promote girl power in a family of lots of brothers, I suggested we create a superhero persona for her. Matteo was adamant that he wanted to be a police officer, but Oliver's costume from last year was way too big. Grandma Nan, the family's costume seamstress, came up with an idea for an M&M costume and once Matteo saw the prototype, he was sold. "M" is his favorite letter after all.