Monday, March 28, 2016

A Little About Jake

I recently needed to take some pictures of Jake for his confirmation invitations. It's been awhile since I've asked this kid to purposefully pose in front of a camera. I ambushed him as soon as he walked in the door from school. I barely gave him time to remove his coat before I was pushing him out the back door and promising this would take less than five minutes.

Jake is a lovely young man...but a natural model he is not. If you ask him to smile for a picture you generally get a widening of the mouth, but it is definitely a forced effort. And every picture shows it. My goal was to get something that looked slightly more relaxed. At first he sat down in typical "Jake picture" fashion...which includes a plastered smile and ramrod straight back. By simply asking him to lean forward, suddenly he was so much more relaxed and I was able to get a couple shots that weren't all statuesque!

At 14, Jake has definitely shot up in height some and people say he's really starting to sound like Mike - especially on the phone. His love of cars has not waned and he's still our walking encyclopedia for any pricing or style information we need. He definitely has our next Lamborghini picked out! (HA!)

He still really loves to play percussion in the band and this year was in the Jazz and Chamber Winds ensembles. According to Maddie he listens to "weird" music....That comment intrigued me so I had him play some of the what he was listening to thinking I may need to pull the parent card if it was some crazy death tune stuff.

No worries. He listens to what is basically orchestral music...but more the style you would hear in movies. It's actually pretty interesting to listen to. Lately - since he knows he has to practice anyway, he's taken to picking out his pieces which consist of arrangements of movie/t.v. themes that some prodigy from YouTube writes and plays. They are fairly difficult pieces. I'd really like him to try other style pieces, but this isn't a battle I think is necessary at this point; he's playing and he's playing challenging pieces that he likes.

He's getting to be pretty proficient in the kitchen and one week made 4 of our 6 at-home dinners. Not just Mac and Cheese...full fledged recipes. We met with his "Teen Chef" teacher and she informed us that after this class the kids should be pretty confident to walk in to a kitchen and read a simple recipe. At that same moment, Jake was at home making our evening meal which consisted of grilled hamburgers. He has also learned how to carve a swan out of an apple...these are life skills, people!!

He's an okay kid. We'll keep him.

Monday, March 7, 2016

First Taxes

Back in February Maddie and Mike sat down to do her first taxes together. I sit on the sideline in tax season and have since I first started earning an income. I'm only too happy to hand that over to someone else.

In fact, during one of Mike's momentary absences from the room she asked me, "Mom...can you help me here?" I replied, "I doubt it."

But when Mike returned - I did enjoy listening in on the conversations:

They did everything with some free software/app thing and the first thing I heard from Maddie was:

"Oh! What a cute app this is!"
(Never before have I heard anything related to taxes described as "cute".)

Then there was this conversation:

Maddie: Why are they asking what I invested in - I don't want to tell them that.
Mike: You don't have a choice....they already know.
Maddie: Then why are they asking. They are wasting my time.

After five full minutes of working on taxes she was flustered:

Maddie: This is taking forever!
Kerry: Dad has been working on ours for two weeks.
Maddie: [with a sheepish look] Oh...sorry.

Toward the end:

Maddie: $9! I get $9 back and I haven't even done state yet!

After the state taxes were finished it was a moment of thrill for Mike because she will be making money off the state. She paid $4.75 and since the government rounds things to the nearest dollar, she will be getting back $5. This was a small moment of triumph in "sticking it to the man", I believe.

When all was said and done she was getting money back and was thrilled. 15 minutes later she found out her filing was rejected. She had entered the wrong social security number at work and has since had to redo a lot of paperwork, which she felt pretty bad about. Maybe she should buy the person handling all that a cup of coffee with her refund.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Pretty Planners

For our family calendar we use an online app that I really like called Cozi. But, I am a list maker. I have lists that I start each week and day off with. I love physically crossing something off my list when it is accomplished.

While I love our digital app - it just doesn't do much for me in terms of making lists and crossing them off. It has the ability - I just don't like it. Maddie and I were discussing our own versions of planners at the end of last year. We both realized we physically like writing things down and lists bring each of us much happiness. We shared a Pinterest board for ideas on different planner layouts we had seen and finally designed some for ourselves.

Mine is the one on the left - Maddie's is on the right. While both are very similar we made a couple changes in format because of our different lifestyles and responsibilities. The perk of designing your own!!

I wanted a page devoted to special dates of birthdays and anniversaries throughout the year that I can quickly reference. Maddie didn't feel she needed that yet, but wanted to get in the habit of making some monthly goals. I write everything in my calendar in pencil because things change so easily for me. Thank goodness, because after taking these pics I realized I'd left out a few people. (So if you think you are one of has been corrected!)

We each made little month separations to make finding dates easier. I decorated mine with a picture for each month that was representational. These things should be pretty and fun to look at too!

Each of our calendars has a monthly overview for a quick peak at big events and a monthly calendar of exercise dates to be "X'ed" out. 

We both also have weekly chore pages, though they are set up a little different. I like to keep separate lists for both work and home. I'm also trying to stay a little more on top of keeping the house clean by picking 1-2 small chores per day. I thought planning them out ahead of time would help me from standing around wondering which chore needed priority. I also keep any special notes for the week and any shopping items that pop up so that when I go, I have a handy place to check for those things I may have forgotten.

(Actually we really use our digital calendar app for this because everyone has access to it. When someone says, "Mom can you pick up...." I reply, "Put it in Cozi." If it's not in there, I'm probably not going to get it. However, sometimes my phone isn't handy and this is an easy thing to grab rather than one more scrap of paper lying around that I'll have to find before leaving on errands.)

For Maddie's chore page it's much simpler. I think this was an experimental page for her to see if she liked an overall view of her to-do's for the week. I'm not sure how much she actually uses hers.

The daily page is the layout where our biggest differences occur. I like a calendar that lists out time slots due to the nature of my different job schedules. But, I have several appointments to do during the week and the time also helps me keep better track of my day in terms of where my "open" times are for chores and other things. I make a meal plan at the beginning of every week for our dinners and there is a little spot for me to write those out. I can easily see what needs to be prepped before we need them rather than at the time we need them. Again - this saves me finding yet another slip of paper lying around.

This year I wanted to do a better job of accountability to myself for exercise and water drinking. I don't really like water, but I realize it's better for a person than most other choices, so there is a spot to start keeping track of how much I drink per day. I also included a small box to note exactly what I did for exercise so I know when I maybe need to shake things up a bit.

My different jobs have been fairly time consuming the last several months and I wasn't doing a very good job of taking some time each day to just do something that I find relaxing without feeling super guilty. So - I added a box for accountability to write down what I'm doing each day to allow myself some down time. Admittedly, I'm still really bad at it, but I'm better than I was.

The "to-do" and "notes" on each page might seem redundant, but it actually works for me. I can look at the main page of "to-do's" each week and decide what I can handle based on my schedule for each day. I add last minute "to-do's" to each day and move them as needed.

Maddie's preference was to have a shorter "schedule" box and a bigger "to-do" box. Her schedule is mostly school, with a number of different timed jobs added but none that she felt required a listing of times. She geared hers more toward school life so she also wanted some space to write down any tests or projects that were due or any big things that required some pre-planning. I think her goal this year was to be more conscious of healthy decisions which also included water and exercise.

These are our weekend pages. Neither of us needed much in the way of calendars since these days aren't as packed as our weekdays. 

Plus - they are pretty, right? We wanted bright and cheery calendars so we used some digital papers that I purchased from Harper Finch Designs.  Trust me - picking out these digital designs and fonts took almost as much time as designing the page layouts! The charts were all designed in Word using tables and then copied to Photoshop for design layout, then copied to PowerPoint where we could print everything back to back and save on paper. It took a bit of time for the first one, but our second went really fast. We also remembered to save the files so next year (should we repeat this) it will be even faster.

So - after a little over a month, how are they working? I love mine. I use it constantly throughout the day. I don't always take it with me if I leave the house on errands, but it's constantly on my desk or at my side anywhere else I am in the house. I almost look for things to write in it at night. That's a lie...I really do try to think of extra things to write because I just love being able to cross things off the next day.

Maddie used it for awhile. But, I just talked to her about it last week and she said she had dropped off using it as much. Though - she admitted it would probably be much more beneficial if she actually took it with her to school. So - maybe she'll start back up with that habit again.

But - I'm fully on the "Planner Addict" train and don't plan on getting off!!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ski Season Begins for Us

Both kids joined the ski club this year. They missed the first trip because we were attending the musical downtown that I previously wrote about. The second trip was canceled due to cold weather. So on the 29th when they had a day off from school, Mike took the day off too and we headed to Spirit Mountain in Duluth for a day on the slopes.

We were up early. It is about a 2.5 - 3 hour drive depending on weather or traffic. Jake caught a picture of the sky that started off our day.

We arrived just as Spirit Mountain opened. We had a quick bite at McDonald's and hit the slopes. It was an extremely full day of skiing, but the weather was great! It was definitely not too cold and we were able to go for long periods of time before feeling like we had to take a break to warm up.

The views are always pretty looking over Lake Superior! One of the best parts though was that hardly anyone was skiing. Shakopee had a day off from school for end of semester. Most other schools had the following Monday off. There were hardly any lines to wait through and just gave us more time skiing!

We were there all day. At about 6pm it started to snow in little pellets, but that quickly turned to rain. Freezing rain. It wasn't that cold, but as soon as it hit our jackets or goggles it turned to ice. After two runs of battling this with or without wearing goggles (both situations were miserable) we decided to call it a day and head home.

The drive home took a little longer due to inclement weather conditions. Thankfully my dad had come over a couple times during the day to let Sadie out and fed her so when we got home at 11pm we were all out like lights!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Night on the Town

As part of my birthday present from October, Mike and the kids got us tickets to the musical, "The Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder". I absolutely LOVE to go to musicals so this is such a treat when it comes around!!!

A few weeks back was our family date night. Mike made us reservations at "Seven" in downtown Minneapolis. He's a big fan of their food and I think is always looking for a reason to head there.

The kids tried the California rolls and, as Maddie said, "I'm really open to anything tonight." Except steak...we are convinced this girl will turn vegetarian as soon as she leaves this house. But - they both liked the "sushi" a lot and Jake LOVED it. There is hope for their taste buds!

When we were seated at our table I was THRILLED to find out we were immediately next to the giant fireplace they had. Maddie and I got place of honor only feet away and were so warm and toasty all through dinner.

Too bad you can't actually see the fireplace. But trust me - it was giant and warm!

I love these nights in that we all get dressed up. Jake sported his new tie Grandma made for Christmas.

If you get a chance to see this musical, we all highly recommend it. We were laughing constantly and the cast was great.

It was a late night after, but we pushed the envelope and stayed downtown for one final treat - cheesecake at The Capital Grille. We actually got two pieces and the kids wolfed down theirs after the initial bit. Mike and I savored every bite!

So while these pictures aren't the greatest it was such a fun night spent doing something together we all enjoy. I'm trying to figure out how to work in the rest of the productions I think we should see this year!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Banff - Final Stop

Last stop on the tour de National Park is Banff Nationaly Park in Canada. A-maz-ing. It was breathtaking. I'd never even heard of this, because I live under a rock. Everyone we told our destination to would listen to the our list of stops and then say, "Oh! Banff....that amazing. One of the most beautiful places I've been..." They weren't kidding.

Driving from Glacier National to Banff took most of one day. We stopped a couple places on the drive north to just pull over. Mostly we started to notice the difference in color of the little rivers that ran along the side of the freeway.

Everything was just so much of a more interesting blue color. And mountains with snow caps. The continual comment through the drive was how everything was so beautiful it almost looked fake.

Our first day was, unfortunately, a bit overcast which turned to fog, which turned to the threat of rain with some drizzle. We only had a couple days though so we still headed out to see all we could.

First up was Lake Louise. A friend from church had suggested we go kayaking here because it was so breathtaking and a really neat way to see the lake. So that was the plan. When we got to the lake, this was our view:

As you can see, all the kayaks were put away. It was raining and extremely foggy. Eerie looking, but still absolutely beautiful. The water isn't color corrected by was truly this color.

In all honesty, I don't remember how we spent the exact layout of the days - other than that Lake Louise was first on the list. So - I'm just going to show you pictures of what we did, and you can put them in whatever order you would like.

We took a ride on a gondola to the top of a mountain. There was some weather to contend with, but we managed to get on the ride up in between bouts of rain and have a fairly clear view from the top.

Jake is not in love with heights. He was closed in on Mike when he realized he was seated right next to the door.

It was chilly at the top but held some amazing views all around.

We also made a few stops along the way which included a dried up lake area (though we didn't know it at the time) and roamed around as we loved to do.

Banff is a super cute little town that was just fun to walk around. We ate at some great little restaurants and enjoyed walking in and out of the shops...even the kids didn't mind terribly to just be walking around here. Jake loved Banff. He wanted to move to Banff. Unfortunately, no one thought to take pictures of the actual little town. Womp. Womp.

The second day we decided to head out on the Icefields Parkway. This connects Banff with Jasper. This is a tremendously long drive and there is no way we could have done this in one day so we decided to head as far as we could with the goal being the icefields near the middle.

Our first stop was nothing like the online stuff told us it would be...the mountains were going to be mirroring in the lake, etc, etc. It was pretty, but we were here about five minutes and decided we'd rather be driving to the next stop.

Having been led astray by the description of the place above, we were a little skeptical to stop at the next big stop: Peyto Lake. It was about a 10-minute hike up this paved trail to the top for a view of an amazing lake.

Again - these photos haven't been touched for color. So beautiful it looked fake!!

As we headed down the path, it started to snow and continued off and on for quite awhile.

We stopped at more random places as we drove along and had fun climbing on rocks, skipping rocks, or just absorbing the sights.

Our drive to the icefields was made more difficult with a little bit of a snowstorm.

We had planned to take a tour of the icefields when we got there. On this entire trip we thought we'd be white water rafting or taking a helicopter ride in Glacier, then we thought we'd canoe at Lake Louise - NONE of which panned out due to either extremely cold temps or bad weather. We figured it was just our luck that there was a snowstorm when we wanted to see a glacier.

However - just as we got to the place to catch the glacier tours, the skies became crystal clear. We got our tickets right away and hopped on the next tour taking off for the glacier.

That big white area in the valley is the Athabasca Glacier.

We rode one of these out there -

During the tour we heard the history of the area and of this particular glacier, as well as the other smaller ones around it. It drove us onto the glacier and we were given a chance to walk around and take pictures and be all touristy.

This glacier is as thick as the Eiffel Tower is tall!

They encouraged everyone to taste the snow or water from the glacier. It definitely had an interesting taste - not one I liked. I thought it would be the most fresh tasting water ever, but it wasn't.

Please notice Maddie's glacier attire. To her defense, we didn't really plan ahead on where we were stopping when we left and we had no idea the weather was going to change and turn to snow so she was not really dressed for the weather we did have. But she was a trooper about it!

How many people can claim they made a snowman on a glacier?!?

When we got back to the visitor center they informed us that there had been a very bad accident on the only road back to Banff and it was going to be a 5-8 hour delay before they opened the road back up. We wasted as much time as we could reading all the little history things they had before we decided we'd just head back and take our chances. We ended up on the road - in a line with all the cars turned off - for 3 hours. Luckily I had my Nook and occupied my time. Mike and Maddie took off walking to see if they could find the beginning (they never did). Jake might have napped or played on his phone. It was a late night back.

One more nice night around the town of Banff and we headed home. We hadn't made hotel reservations for the ride back because we didn't know how far we could drive before wanting to stop. And really? We just wanted to all be home. It was an awesome trip, but we were ready to be in our own beds and rooms. So, we decided we would drive straight through since we had three drivers.

Along the way, Jake commented that not having a hotel reservation wasn't a bad thing because it would be kind of fun to just sleep in the car. Wish granted. The weather got crazy in terms of rain. It poured and we were in an area of construction which resulted in water rushing off the uneven pavement. We couldn't drive more than 30mph in complete dark. We pulled over to a restroom where there were signs posted basically telling visitors to beware of the bison. We all fell asleep in our crowded little corners of the car at 3am and at 7am to find bison all around the grass of the restroom. 

Jake woke up from his small rest and declared, "We never have to do that again."

We made it home safe and sound. It was an amazing trip and we really did have a spectacular time taking in so many sights that I never thought we'd get a chance to see together. In 12 days we covered 4,036 miles in two countries - and we still like each other!