Saturday, December 14, 2013

A tale of two santa's

While there was mention of Santa last Christmas Betsy was a bit young to really get it.  This year, we've mentioned Santa coming but haven't given a ton of details - I prefer that she develop her own understanding of the myth.  Despite this, our substantial collection of holiday books left over from my teaching days, activities like the CTA Holiday Train,  a trip to the Nutcracker and wrapping gifts for less fortunate kiddos have all perpetuated a high level of December excitement.  Betsy has told me on more than one occasion that she really, really likes Santa.  Honestly, so do I...

We had a lucky surprise last week while out on a "Christmas Adventure."  Our neighborhood holiday walk was taking place and I thought it'd be a good chance to take a little stroll up to the candy shop for some hot chocolate.  The website said that Santa would ride by on a pedicab and would later be at the art center for kids to meet him.  I thought perhaps we'd get a glimpse of him riding by out the window.  If not, no worries - we had plans to meet the big guy at a party over the weekend.

As we sat sipping our hot chocolate the pedicab pulled in front of the candy store.  Santa got out and was greeting people on the sidewalk.  Betsy spotted him through the window.  She watched him, tapped the glass in an attempt to get his attention, waved to him, then simply sat enjoying her treat while gazing at him lovingly.

 A few minutes later, it got even better.  Santa came into the candy store and approached Betsy.  He asked to sit with us and began chatting with Betsy.  She was a bit starstruck and he took the opportunity to tell several (corny, over her head) jokes.  Betsy clearly enjoyed the encounter.  Santa was very "jolly", yet seemed to be watching her to assure that he kept a distance and a tone that was agreeable.  He took time to sit with us long enough that she could recover from her initial surprise and process what was happening.  In short, he was respectful and looked to her guide to the interaction.  I was thrilled.  Treating children with respect is something I feel very passionate about, and try to model in my family and in my professional life despite it's rarity in our culture.  Santa... quite frankly... nailed it. 

The encounter had a big impact on Betsy.  Her excitement about Santa grew more and more as we talked and played about it over the next few days.  I lost count of how many times she told me - out of the blue - about meeting Santa and how, "that was very exciting!"  She also re-enacted it several times with her dolls.  It was such a positive experience and bringing her so much joy!  When we headed to our holiday party this weekend I knew she'd be excited to learn that the big guy would be there again.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that this was NOT the real Santa.  First of all, his beard was fake.  We had to stand in line to talk to him.  When it was our turn Betsy asked to be held.  I picked her up and approached Santa, who asked her to give him a high-5 then stood up to talk to her.  So far, so good.  He asked what she wanted for Christmas, she whispered in my ear and I told him (a blanket and pillow for Bonnie and a blanket and pillow for herself).

He then asked her to sit in his lap.
She clung a bit tighter to me as I asked her if she wanted to.  She said "no thank you," so I started to walk away.  He blocked our exit saying, "here let me just hold you" and took her from me.  He then sat down and put her on his lap.  As she protested, he asked, "what if mommy is right here?" and gestured for me to stand behind her.  I did and put my hand on her.  She seemed nervous but not panicked. I was attempting to read the situation and wanted to be prepared to pick her up, but was also cognizant of not wanting to startle her or scare the other kids who were nearby.  All of a sudden, I felt a hand on my leg.  Santa was pushing me away from them.  What?!  I stepped around his arm, asked Betsy if she was done, and picked her up.  He again stood, blocking our exit, and took her hand.  As I held her, he touched each of her 5 fingers and said, "Don't be naughty.  Quit giving your parents sass.  Clean your room.  Brush your teeth.  Clean up your toys."

I was stupefied.  This Santa clearly did not have any respect for Betsy or for me.  Additionally, he seemed convinced that she was inherently "naughty" and that his role was to scare her into compliance - a role that Santa certainly does not hold at our house.   

Faces removed because I can't stand to look at this fake.  Notice his left arm pushing me away. 

I'm still a bit in shock at this in encounter.  And it makes me appreciate the real Santa we met at the candy shop even more.  Have you seen Santa lately?  What was your experience? 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Betsy says...

Betsy has been cracking us up lately.  She is talking so much and has SO much character.  Here are a few favorite quotes from the last week: 

(while looking through my wallet)
B: "Oops, there's money in here.  I put it in my piggy bank."
Me: ... 

Me, to Tony: I wonder how old Betsy will be when she gets her own smart phone?
B: "Maybe 10.  Or 2!" 

(after I sneeze)
B: "Achoo Mama"
Me: Do you mean Bless you?
B: "Yes, Achoo Mama"

While closing bathroom door almost all of the way and peering at me through the remaining opening.

B: Mama, I give to you privacy! 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

We're Debt Free!

We're debt free!! 

This day has been a long time coming.  4 years ago, when Tony & I got engaged, we sat down and looked at our combined finances.  We had a lot of things - 2 houses, 2 cars, 2 retirement accounts, lots of nice toys, photo albums full of vacation pictures, multiple degrees, etc - but, as it turned out, we didn't own any of them.  Our net worth was in the red.

We knew right away we needed to do something.  My sister recommended The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.  We read it, it made sense, and we decided to follow the plan.  The plan was simple - it outlined "baby steps" that helped us stop spending and start paying off debt. 

At first, it seemed like we'd never be out of debt, then we started making some progress and I thought we'd be done in about 2, max 3, years.  Here we are 4 years later and finally across the finish line.  When we paid that last debt, Tony was super excited and ready to celebrate (We ordered pizza for dinner.  Not just a few slices... the whole pie!).  

Although I was also excited (and was totally on board with the pizza) my immediate reaction was frustration.  I looked at our income over the past 4 years, and at the grand total of debt paid off and wondered what the hell took us so long.  I spent the evening after we sent that final check reviewing excel spreadsheets of our budgets from the past four years looking for the problem.  Seriously, what a buzz kill. 

Now, we're a week debt free and my perspective is starting to change.  When I look back on the past 4 years, I see a lot of life happening.  All of it was paid for with cash.  We paid for our wedding and Betsy’s birth with cash.  We managed to make the transition from two full-time incomes to one and some part time work. And much more…it's been a whirlwind!

Dave Ramsey talks a lot about being “gazelle intense.”  He describes running from debt collectors as quickly as a gazelle runs from a lion.  The phrase is a reminder to go hard and fast with the debt snowball – throw every penny you can at debt to get it over with!  Over the past 4 years Tony and I have used the phrase a lot.  It’s a quick way to remind each other why we’re saying “no” to a dinner out, or a new outfit, or a trip to California for a football game. 

When we began our journey we were decidedly “gazelle intense”.  We were spending less than $300 a month on groceries.  We ate out… never.  We walked everywhere because gas - and even public transportation - was too expensive.

Over the past few years we’ve become a bit less “intense” on paper.  As it turns out, the groceries you can get for $300/month aren’t actually very healthy; they certainly didn’t satisfy me as a pregnant and nursing mother and I don’t want to feed them to my growing child.  We still rarely eat out, but a lunch date or a cup of coffee while Betsy hangs with her grandmother isn’t unheard of.  And, while we still walk a lot, our car is a convenience I’ve come to appreciate when I need to go several miles with an infant or toddler in the dead of winter (in the summer, we bike!).

When I looked back on this loss of intensity, I initially saw failure. But, there’s a flip side that I’m just beginning to accept.  During the past four years we managed to pay off well over $100,000 in debt… while living life to the fullest!  Had we completed the task with the level of intensity we had as a childless couple, and then started our family, those years of “gazelle intensity” might have seemed like a break from reality, one long push to meet a goal, “livin’ on love” as newlyweds.  It’s possible - no, likely - that we would have followed our debt-free celebration with a return to “real life”.  Instead, we’ve figured out how to balance the budget while still achieving our goals as a family.  More importantly, we’ve seen the benefit to our family of living with less.

Four years ago, I looked forward to the day when we would be debt free because I wanted to stop budgeting and return to “normal”.  Now, I look back on the past 4 years and I’m so thankful that my version of “normal” has changed.  For those of you who were waiting for this day so I could join you at the mall, bars and restaurants again… sorry, it’s not happening.  Tony and I have discovered the peace that comes from not spending, and I don’t think this debt free announcement is going to change that much.  It took me four years and a week to realize it, but we’ve truly changed our family tree. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I got a text message with this picture while I was teaching this morning.  

Seriously, what could be better than exploring shadows on a beautiful sunny day?!  

Oh wait, there is something:  Knowing that your daughter is being cared for by someone who knows the importance of taking this photo.  Thanks for the documentation, Karen!           

Monday, June 24, 2013


For much of my 20's, I participated in some sort of race almost monthly from March through November.  5 and 10K's, some 1/2 marathons, a full marathon at 25 (and again at 30) and usually a duathlon and triathlon each summer.  Although I still enjoy running (and biking and swimming), the past 4 years have been slow on the racing front.  Budgeting, wedding and honeymoon, being pregnant and being a new mom all competed with my racing on my personal agenda.

I have no desire to return to the pace of my young & single days, but I've been beginning to work towards getting back into race shape and testing my limits again.  It's been fun!  Betsy cheers me on as we run or bike to nearly any destination and I've been swimming two mornings a week, which is welcome alone time. 

Yesterday, I competed in my first triathlon since 2009.  I was nervous and it was challenging but I had a great time and was so proud of the example I was setting for Betsy.  She, Tony and I got up at 4am and headed to Wisconsin with our good friend Karen.  As we were driving up, Betsy asked, "Betsy run with Mama and Karen soon?  Wear new shoes?"  Very proud moment for me, she has clearly been bitten by the racing bug already! 

She was very interested in the swim and watched closely as everyone donned wetsuits and swim caps.  Tony brought the bike with baby seat so she could "participate" in the bike (and watch athletes on the course).  Unfortunately, the 4am wake up was too much and she slept through most of the race.  I, luckily, managed to stay awake and actually just beat my time from 2009.  I finished in 1:48:31, nothing close to a PR but I'll take it.

Pre race

pre race

Pre race

Black caps in the water - that's me with the 858 on my arm

Pink caps in the water - Karen is leading the pack

Karen still in the lead

Out of the water

Hi Betsy & Tony!!

During the bike & run portions of the race.... hence, no pictures

post race

post race

post nap

Sunday, June 16, 2013

what a week!

I usually try to stick to 1 or 2 non-routine activities per week.  Betsy & I just have better days when we stick to a routine and have a few days of rest between adventures.  This week... not so much... 

Tuesday, we had a several hour visit from the Chicago Fire Department... at bedtime.  (Check your carbon monoxide detector - they need replacing every 5 years.)

On Wednesday, Tony & I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary and the 5th anniversary of the day we met.  We spent a lovely morning at the coffee shop where we first met, but brought Betsy along this time.     

On Friday afternoon, we attended super zoo picnic at Lincoln Park Zoo.  Free carousel and train rides - how could I say no?! 

Saturday we celebrated Father's Day with family in the burbs and way too many sweets.

Today, Sunday, we celebrated "Dada Day" with an amazing brunch at North Pond and time outdoors enjoying the beautiful weather. 

Betsy & I are so lucky to have Tony in our lives.  I especially appreciate him on a crazy week like this when he remains cool, calm and collected through all of the excitement.

Happy Father's Day, Tony!  We love you!!