An Exploration of Parenting by the Vowel

Of Mice and Men and Mother Nature August 20, 2020

It was early June 2020, in the year of Covid. The kids and parents of our household were restless after two and half months in quarantine, so we could only imagine what might be the new norm by August. We entertained potential vacation options and nixed what Covid might make impossible or an experience to never write home about.

Houseboat Home


Tucked away on my husband’s bucket list and completely unawares to me was a vision of a houseboat meandering its way through a series of lakes along the Minnesota Canadian border in a land mysterious to me: Voyageurs National Park. The adventure surfaced to the top of our family list as a socially distanced and safe travel option.


I’m not too keen on camping, but I do love me a national park visit. After agreeing on a houseboat rental and minimum stay of three nights we booked it through Voyagaire Lodge & Houseboats. The teens seemed indifferent, displaying mixed messages of happiness to be getting out of the house and the city, to puzzlement over what exactly we’d do that could possibly be exciting with the same four people we’d never been closer to in our lives.


And without WiFi, Netflix or Snapchat? How is this a vacation? Let’s just say the expectations were low for some and bucket-list high for others, while some remained neutral and a bit apprehensive. The night before we left a massive portion of a tree in our front yard splintered right off during a late-night storm and crashed into the street. It narrowly missed our puppy caregiver’s vehicle. Ah, Mother Nature!


The next morning, we left the clean-up in Grandma’s charge. I prayed Mother Nature would go easy on us over the next three days, which she did indeed with sunshine, a few light sprinkles, low winds and 75-degree temps. In hindsight, I shudder to think of a stormy situation in that vast isolation (despite having 24/7 access to Voyagaire Base and a hospitality service).


Voyageurs was an easy 4.5 hours from Minneapolis and we miraculously made it out by 7:45A on a Saturday, every inch of the Subaru Crosstrek jam packed with supplies for four days/three nights. There would be drinking water and a stocked kitchen on the boat. We brought a large cooler, a large container of food and beverages, beach towels, sheets, a first aid kit and items that really implied roughing it like a hatchet and saw. I sure hoped Chad had done thorough research as I really left this vacation plan in his hands.

Houseboat Ladder


Day 1:

We arrived at Voyagaire Houseboats on Crane Lake near the entrance of Voyageurs about 12:30P. The overview of boat operations was quick – for buoys remember red, right, return (red buoys should be on your right on your return), a series of steps to start the generator, notes about hot tub water sloshing about and spilling over onto the deck, and general boat happenings that are no cause for panic (for an upcoming part of the story, noting here that there was no mention of gang planks and mice).


We were officially houseboating by 1:15P! …plus towing a mandatory fishing boat on an extended arm to prevent interference with the motor – a surprise to Chad and added level of anxiousness for me, recognizing that I’d be the docker of the boat after he landed the small boat and surveyed the landing site.


On the boat there were large maps with distinctive markings for houseboats and tent camping. We purchased a Voyageurs National Park Permit for Houseboats prior to the trip and had the printed copy with us. Reserving sites was not allowed and it was recommended to be to your spot for the night by 4:00P each day. And since the max cruising speed was six miles per hour, we definitely didn’t want it to get too late before securing a spot.


The Halina (Greek for calm and sun ray) was our ship. It seemed massive to me with full controls on the main level and the option to switch over to steering and speed from the top deck. I was laughed away when I asked about rearview mirrors. As it turns out, shipmates stationed at the back or top were relied upon for real-time info.


The top deck had a raised platform atop the loft that my son, Calvin, chose for his quarters. My daughter, Ava, and I spent a majority of the afternoon sunning there. By 3:00 we were actively on the lookout for an overnight spot. The amazing thing about these lakes are the deep inlets that c-shape around you and give a sense of protection from the elements and isolation from everything. Nearing 4:00 we found an open houseboat site, facing west on Namakan Lake. It made for a spectacular sunset and a chilly early morning in the shadow of rocky elevations and tall pines.


Following the plan, Chad took the small boat in and got out onto the shore to direct me in landing it on the wide soft sand beach. While pulling in straight was a breeze, we quickly realized the importance of securing the ropes from each side of the back of the boat at a 45-degree angle. With even a slight wind of 10mph, the boat got away from us and ended up near parallel to the shore. In the event of a storm, it would have been important to get this right. For day one, we were happy to be settled and hear the forecast of a non-windy, storm-free night.


Our cove had a tiny island a short way out. We slid the two kayaks we rented from Voyagaire into the water and the kids were off for a ride (with lifejackets on!) to the island. They hopped off their kayaks, pulled them onto the rocks and explored the island. I watched like a hawk, anxiety creeping in despite trying to keep it at bay.

Campfire Smores


Upon their return, we grilled the night’s meal on the back of the boat, right under the slick boat slide. We ate at the table inside the houseboat then moved it outdoors to start a campfire and make s’mores. It was great to have campfire pits of rock already teed up for us. We just needed to find wood. Chad and Calvin managed the fire while I assembled a mini s’more kit (thanks for the collapsable roasting sticks, Aunt Rose!).


Stuffed after perfecting the art of s’more making, we put on our suits and headed to the top deck to hot tub. It was a perfect 104 that didn’t vary more than two degrees through the full three days on the boat. Chemical-free, the water and heat (and view!) was a real treat, especially as temps dipped to 47 over night.


Then, perhaps the most profound sight of the trip – a sky full of stars packed so brightly and tightly together you truly felt wonderment and joy*. If that isn’t a gift to give your kids, I don’t know what is.
* To further describe this, read the section on Stargazing (pg 215) in the book Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee to lend words to the human experience of feeling like a small spec in a vast universe, an awareness of the fragility of life on our planet.


Day 2: 12:01A

After a full day of adventuring we were ready for rest, but the nocturnal among us were just ramping up for a night of antics. Eek yes, mice. They terrify me. More so than the rest of the family, apparently. On heightened alert, body tensed, I didn’t sleep a solid wink. At the gift of daybreak, stars still lingering, I must have slumbered in exhaustion.


Day 2: 8:00A

We radioed in to Voyagaire Base to report our plans for the day and hear a friendly voice. And also to…. I don’t know… demand the mice be instantly removed or else! I was ready to be very candid about the inexcusability of the mouse guests. The radioed helpers dismissed any responsibility they might have, just now giving us the casual heads up about the visitors walking up the plank and ropes and that we should pull in the plank at night to prevent this piracy. After all, we are in their backyard. I did spend many hours devising the ultimate mouse trap for houseboats. I was not unkind.


With a morning kayak and hot tub to reset my attitude, all was possible again. Next up was de-lodging from the shoreline from our parallel angle. Ah-ha! This is a handy use for the small boat. With some heaving from shipmates at the front, a second mate reversing the houseboat and the Captain holding the small boat at full throttle, Halina successfully disembarked for day two on the water.

Houseboat Landing


Heading west on Namakan Lake, then north by Strawberry Island and through Voyageurs Narrows, we arrived at Kettle Falls (about six hours from the start of the chain of lakes). We arrived at a houseboat mooring site with a dock signed “Gov. Boats Only,” a reminder we were on the U.S. Canadian border. In a call to Voyagaire Base, it seemed as though we were in a place we could anchor and take the small boat to a place I envisioned as heavenly – a lakeside resort and restaurant, civilization, with a Dirty Dancing vibe. It just wasn’t very clear how to do so. In hindsight, I should have taken over to press our concierge for details. We turned around to head back without the Dirty Dancing resort experience of a lifetime. It was just a bay away. Oh well. This is all part of vacations, kids.


We began our search for a houseboat site for night two. Past Mica Island, I hopped into the driver’s seat for a while to give Chad a break. The dots on our maps in the houseboat didn’t seem entirely up-to-date and we all know how men rely on maps. I placed a call to Voyagaire Base after several marked houseboat sites turned out be already filled. They suggested Randolph Bay. They would know. They are the owners of the 30-some houseboat rentals that were all on the lakes that day.


Randolph Bay was an amazing east-facing site. We rinsed and repeated the dinner grilling, s’moring, tubbing and stargazing. We were already pros. I weaseled my way into the loft space, which seemed untouchable and out of earshot from pirate mice kitchen adventures. We took precautions earlier in the eve, pulling up the plank and placing all of our food in a large tub for lockdown. I slept very solid after some meditation and stargazing.


Day 3:

What a difference from the day before. Our east-facing site had us awakening to sunrise and warmth. A longer kayak jaunt with Calvin, a swim in Namakan’s clear, cool waters and a hot tub with a shot of coffee to start the day! I was finally in full mental vacation mode. It takes me about two days to get there. I whipped up scrambled eggs with cheese on toast with ham for the carnivores as we cruised along to the day’s adventures – cliff jumping and hiking.

Cliff Jumping, Namakan Narrows


Late morning, we arrived at the designated cliff jumping spot on the Namakan Narrows. The kids went first, followed by Chad. They plunged right in, most everyone but Chad followed Ava’s advice to point your toes for a smooth entry. He cannonballed and ker-splooshed with a sound that echoed for miles around. In mere moments, the current was dragging Halina along and I truly botched a smooth, safe pick up for him. Ah—stress! The kids’ pick up by Chad was no problem. All three seemed exhilarated by their venture.


At high noon, we navigated south through Sand Point Lake and switched back southwest to Grassy Bay. The bay held a few surprises – the Grassy Bay Cliffs and a short hike to Little Trout Lake without a soul – fish or man – to be detected. We found a spot around 2:00P to spend the night and easily took the small boat out and about to explore. Our delivery of firewood arrived – tonight, the last night – we’d have the most roaring fire ever. There were still stories to be told.

Grassy Bay Cliffs


It was a very relaxing day – reading, playing cards, grilling out, campfire, etc. We braved the boat slide and after cold plunges, the hot tub was there to counterbalance. The fire truly roared. The s’mores were perfection. The stars reflected onto the lake with water like glass so clear we could see the Big Dipper as we looked upon the lake from the boat deck. Not a soul around. A howling owl or coyote. The call of the loon. The loneliness. The vastness.


Oh, how Mother Nature delivers an experience like no other and creates amazing tales to tell. On day four we returned to our urban environment, vowing to carry a slice of that awe into every day and the reminder that we can look to nature to feel inspired, grounded and connected to ourselves, others and the universe. Namaste, Mother Nature.


Stateside Over Poolside April 20, 2019

The kids’ passports had just arrived for what might have been a sunshiny, bikini-clad week in Jamaica, but we opted out. There were still so many areas of our country yet untapped by us that were perfect for exploration. And with two teens (Ava 15 and Calvin 13) who sometimes need a little coaxing in conversation and daily adventure to rise them from slumber, staying active stateside was beginning to look more appealing than lounging poolside.


Our planning for spring break 2019 began in earnest about five weeks out from March 29, the first day of the break. We had toyed with the Southwest before, considering distances, sights to see, weather and accommodations. We gave it a strong look for a five-day MEA vacation over the past few years. It lost out to Riviera Maya, Mexico, for spring break 2017. Now, in 2019, the Southwest stars aligned.


After a refresh on the loop we intended to travel, we landed on a seven-night trip that broke down into a 4-2-1 schedule (four nights in Sedona, two nights in Zion National Park and one night in Las Vegas). We purchased MSP flights into Las Vegas, not Phoenix as many would suppose given our first destination was Sedona (two hours north of Phoenix). We reserved our lodging for Sedona at Casa Dacotah in West Sedona, then the Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale, UT. We left one night in Vegas up for grabs for a few more weeks before booking the family-friendly Delano.


Day 1:
It’s a five-hour drive from Las Vegas to Sedona, where we’re staying for the first four nights of our trip. After traveling all day and it’s only noon, we are happy to get out and stretch in the sunshine at Hoover Dam. We marvel at the man-made wonder for 25-minutes before we swirl down the layers of the parking ramp and get back on the road.


Hours later we roll into Sedona after bypassing Peach Springs on Route 66, climbing I-40 W to Flagstaff, and winding down Oak Creek Canyon Road with a midway stop at the Butterfly Garden Inn. Us wintered Minnesota souls mimic the red rock and absorb the sunshine as we wander through Uptown Sedona to Casa Dacotah, a one-story home in West Sedona were we’ll have the pleasure of staying for four nights.



Day 2:
The next morning, refreshed in our desert oasis, the grown-ups kick back with a couple pour-overs of Pete’s Coffee. Soon Cathedral Rock, one of the area’s most challenging hikes, is calling two of the family’s most ambitious hikers. The others are persuaded. It’s a climb indeed – one that innocently starts on two feet, then moves quickly into all-fours terrain when we hit the narrow crevice that requires articulate placement of hands and feet. When we finally arrive at the vista, I have to kibosh the kids’ pull to venture out onto the path with no railing and a sheer to death drop off for the photo opp that our fearless co-hikers are taking.


Day 3:
Pete’s pour-overs once again start our day before heading out around 8:15a.m. We retrace half of our day one route west of Flagstaff on historic Route 66, then venture a new direction – north to the Grand Canyon. Around 11:00a.m. we get our first breathtaking vista of the canyon on the South Rim by the first bus stop to Hermit’s Rest. We take the bus up along the canyon for a few stops, then continue on foot. The experience is awe-inspiring!


On the way home, we stop in historic downtown Flagstaff to catch the end of a Final Four game at a bar. It is decidedly a fun walkabout – to a bookstore, shops and the place where Fillmore, the blue hippy van from Cars, has a home. Five-ish we are back at the Casa with appetites for various cuisine. Sushi loses out over Italian and we dine at Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen, where I immensely enjoy a kale salad, an enormous ginger beer and a slice of sausage and mushroom pizza. Others seem way less pleased.


Day 4 (April 1):
Rise and shine family! …or maybe just the girls. Ava books a noon manicure and pedicure for us and we are off to the shops at Tlaquepaque! We buy chocolate and candy, listen at length to a shopkeeper’s story about Sedona’s acceptance or non-acceptance of people. It’s a very spiritual place. I silently wonder if She would accept me. Well, the bakeries and coffee shops sure do. A visit to Sedona Cake Couture yields a matcha green tea latte, a sea salt caramel latte and a $9 luxurious red velvet cupcake.



Next up is Predator Ziplines at 3:00 in Camp Verde. It’s Jurassic in approach, placing my safety radar on high alert. We gear up with four other families and Calvin is the first to zip off, followed by Ava, me, Dad and the rest of our crew. We pause at the tower stations and check out the active tigers, lions, grizzlies and more in the wildlife park that we’re zipping over. Silly humans. As if it wouldn’t be tragic enough to fall to our deaths, our loved ones would witness our mauling by wild animal. April Fool’s!


Day 5:
En route to the Desert Pearl Inn by 10:50a.m., we’re reminded of the time change from PST to MST. We lose an hour. Around 5:00p.m. MST, we roll through the east entrance of Zion, which is so scenic. We stop in our tracks, compelled to explore the red waves of rolling rock that felt unlike the planet earth – could’ve been Mars. In the Acadia and back on earth, we travel to Springdale, the closest town with lodging near the entrance of Zion. So cute and quaint – we’re going to love it here for a few days.


Day 6:
Rise and shine in Zion! I head for a hot tub then a solo trip up to Deep Creek Coffee for a chocolate muffin before a family breakfast at Meme’s Café. We’re fueled for our novice hike, Emerald Pools, and what’s to come: Angel’s Landing. Angel’s is a serious hike. With switchbacks, lack of railings, a mix of concrete and rocky trails that are generously wide in most places, the hike can instill a dangerous confidence as hikers get swept away in views and photo opps.


When we near the major landing where most families stop, we’ve conquered steep switchbacks and wandered through flat areas next to water – a welcome break. We take a moment at the vista, noting the brave and crazy souls taking on the single file, post and chain link trail to the summit, another 500 feet. I am intensely relieved I don’t need to persuade the group not to push forward. Everyone saw the sign that seven have died since 2004 on this hike. It’s no joke.



After an afternoon siesta and with a short timeframe in Zion, we venture out on another shorter hike with promised vistas of 2,000ft elevation. We drive up through Mount Carmel Tunnel around 6:15p.m. This hike is the perfect balance of elevation, length and varying terrain. We move from steps to bridges to alcoves to the vista point with plenty of rocks to climb and views to take in. We take some family pictures and enjoy the most expansive view to the West as the sun is starting to work its way down.


Day 7:
After a good night’s sleep and a two-hour drive to Las Vegas, our first stop is to snap a family photo at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. The Delano Hotel is pretty sweet! We change into suits and pack our things for the day to head to the pool area, which is actually at Mandalay Bay. It’s a beach. Easily Ava’s favorite day, we sun, swim, read, Sudoku and enjoy some snacks and drinks.


Stateside_Springbreak_004Around 6:00p.m. we are ready to take on the strip. We take a short tram from The Luxor to the next stop and walk through endless entertainment, shops (the Hersey Shop), casinos, restaurants and lights. We’re headed for sushi at The Cosmopolitan. With no reservations, Zuma – a sushi-focused shi-shi restaurant, takes us to table tucked into an elevated space that’s swanky and set for sushi. We order mocktails that Ava and I love, spicy tuna rolls and negiri. It’s an amazing meal and a way to end the vacation on a high note.



Day 8:
To this morning we say, boo… we don’t want to go. Not just yet. We encounter another family from Minnesota on spring break in the elevator. Many families are maximizing their stay until Sunday. At the airport I tell myself we’ll be happy to arrive home and have a few days before re-entry. I spend the flight recapping the highlights of our vacation and the paths we chose, the decisions we made and the experiences that would be etched into our family history for a lifetime. I am happy we stayed stateside (and squeezed in one afternoon poolside).


Back in Minneapolis, we arrive with planeloads of Final Four fans, whose anticipation of arriving in Minnesota looked much different than ours. At a cold and drizzly 56, I am already longing for the sun and warmth of the Southwest. Our Uber drops us off at home and we’re greeted by the sunny disposition of my parents and our tail-wagging Goldendoodle, Copper, whose excitement implies we’ve been gone way too long.


Fed Up with Sugar May 4, 2017

Filed under: Eats — edamomie @ 10:47 am

A few very important revelations occurred over the past ten days as part of the 10-Day Fed Up Challenge: 1. I’m slightly addicted to sugar 2. I need glasses.

The 10-Day Challenge to omit sugar from the diet for ten days with somewhat limited time to dedicate to the task of figuring out what is sugar-free, was a challenge indeed. I went into it with sheer will and determination, founded on frustration with how pervasive sugar is in our everyday lives. Starbuck’s April 19-23 #UnicornFrappucino craze was the tipping point for me (see my April 21 post here: Pink Unicorns and Purple Rain).


Sunday, April 23 – Prep Day:

I’ve never been a fan of weighing in on a scale while trying to get healthy. I’ve always occasionally weighed in at the gym, but my studio for the past nine months doesn’t have one. After an all-inclusive vacation, I didn’t need a scale to tell me I was out of line. But I did want to assess the impact of sugar reduction on weight so I bought a scale for the first time in my life. I saw my Pastor at Bed, Bath and Beyond so I figured getting off sugar was a sign from God.

I also added Pinterest back to my already overloaded phone with little storage. I created a sugar-free folder with recipes. I didn’t go to crazy — just four options. I headed to the store in search of low to no sugar options for me and low or lower sugar options for the kids’ breakfast over the ten days. This required some label reading, which is when I noticed my failing eye sight and got a bit frustrated with conversions I had to make (later in the week I would find out that #BigSugar continues to keep sugar as a percentage of calories for an item off the label — it’s not even there!)

Monday, April 24 – Day One:

Fruit and nuts. Until I could get my bearings on better choices, that’s what I stuck to for the first eight hours — banana, apple, almonds. Couldn’t really do my typical Noosa yoghurt… I did by plain Greek yogurt, but wasn’t in the mood for it. Mid-afternoon diced apples and tossed them in the crockpot to make steel-cut oats. It happened to be the day of my daughter’s confirm, so ate something light then for the 9:00p.m. dinner I opted for almond-encrusted walleye. Too bad the pizza at BurchSteak was so irresistible – might of had a slice… but I did refrain from dessert, which was no easy task.

Tuesday, April 25 – Day Two:

Edamomie_GCControlMissing my morning square of Ghiradelli with my coffee. Steel-cut oats instead — the mix from the day before had this odd gelatin consistency to it. The apples only slightly saved it. My 11YO, Calvin, chocked it down after adding several teaspoons of sugar. Baby steps. Walked by several coffee shops and just didn’t enter — the usual grande caramel macchiato did not fit the sugar-free lifestyle. In the late afternoon, I reached for my GC Control Select, which is designed to curb sugar cravings. I mixed a scoopful of the chocolate mix (pea-protein based) with my coffee. It kept me sane.

Wednesday, April 26 – Day Three::

Ventured into a coffee shop. I had to for a meeting. I just avoided ordering. What’s the point? Need to make more time to research options. I decide that it’s time to make the Spaghetti Squash Yakisoba dish, so I bake the squash and get the veggie prep rolling, then step back into my home office to work. I leave it all out for my husband and son to finish while Ava and I head out the door for her religion class. I set Calvin to task making pseudo pasta noodles out of the squash with a fork. (The next day, I would find all of the unprepped veggie semblance  tossed into one big plastic bag in the downstairs freezer — seriously!!!)


For the evening, I headed out to meet up with high school friends at one of our homes. Ummm… cheese is good, right? Also had chicken kabobs and a little arugula/ quinoa salad – delicious! And when my friend pulled out chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven, I literally melted. She offered to send a few home with me and I accepted. They are still in the freezer…

Thursday, April 27 – Day Four:

The kids are making me work the better breakfast angle so I scramble up some fluffy eggs for Ava before school. She is satisfied and might ask for those again. Before I head to meetings I quickly whip up the squash recipe (see day three), so it is ready later.

I notice that I’ve been reading a lot of labels as I pull things out of the cupboards at home and still not finding reassuring sugar content levels on labels. With 8 teaspoons (or a bit lower) and the sugar as  no more than 5% of our daily intake World Health Guideline (updated from 25% to 10% to 5% in 2014, after Fed Up documentary and more forced the issue), I’m really pondering natural (as the sugar found in fruits) and “added sugar” like fructose and the like that we in the last year have learned to avoid like the plague. I decided to stick to almonds and cantaloupe today. In the afternoon I mix up a GC Control coffee drink in the afternoon to power through high school registration with my daughter and host a wellness event. When I get home, I notice I’m not famished. I do immensely enjoy that soba dish and make the kids sit down and keep me company during my 8:15 dinner.

Friday, April 28 – Day Five:

I was enjoying my morning black coffee when Ava snapped me back to the breakfast I suggest as reward for the week – pancakes. The kids welcomed the change and early luxury weekend breakfast. I gave them the option of a small amount of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon, but they opted for syrup. Baby steps, but at least they finished off the last of the syrup, so my plan was not to replenish it (which I quickly did out of habit while doing the weekly shopping two days later….) Old habits! Reminder here: just keep the bad stuff out of the house.

After a very busy week, Ava heads to a friend for a sleepover and the husband is out, so my son reluctantly agrees to watch Fed Up with me. I am super jazzed because I’ve had to push if off all week and watching that the day prior to starting this challenge was sort of a key point. I think he agrees because he’s impressed with what I’ve been doing and might be starting to question his own sugar addiction (see the first failed attempt at a sugar intervention here). Fed Up, The Movie, is a historical look at health, food and fitness trends correlated with disease and the obesity epidemic. We take it all in — the stories and documentary-style tracking of several early teens on their journey to kick sugar. It’s all so frustrating and sad.

Saturday, April 29- Day Six:

Edamomie_ThatsItCouldn’t check out (nor really see well enough to read labels) at Starbucks when my place in line quickly came up. I grabbed an almond biscotti, That’s It fruit bar in apple and mango and ordered a tall Toasted Coconut Cold Hot Brew (I am confused how this is possible). I am sure it is not sugar free (later I find it online and realize it’s 8g), but it’s Saturday and I’ve been so good all week and it is 10:05a with only trace amounts of caffeine in my system. After reading the biscotti and That’s It labels, I couldn’t, in good faith, eat those. I tried to give them to my 12YO daughter, Ava, and she responded, Thanks, Mom, but I’m allergic to both apples and nuts. Good God, how can this be true? I am in denial.

We arrive home after her dance practice around noon and I pull out the Roasted Cauliflower Buffalo Bites and a side of chicken breasts sauteed in buffalo sauce I made the day prior. It’s a quick prep and satisfying meal — plus caters to a veggie my daughter can eat — cauliflower. The dip is white wine vinegar and worcestershire with sour cream and a wedge of blue cheese crumbled into the mix. Feeling quite good, really, on day six.

Edamomie_AuntAnniesI noticed the Auntie Annie’s Pretzel app prompting me to use my free National Pretzel Day coupon before it expired on Sunday. I looked for nutrition info on the app, but it’s not there. I did find it on the website — 10g of sugar in one original pretzel. Ignorance would have been bliss. The kids and I headed to the MOA to redeem — I am a sucker for any national day.

Sunday, April 30 – Day Seven:

I decided to hop on the scale for the first time since I’ve started the challenge. I’m down four pounds. Believe me I let the family know it. We headed off to church, said a few prayers about kicking the sugar addiction and figuring out a way to help those who fall victim to sugar the most — lower income families, kids with pizza and junk food still available in their schools and teens (specifically teen boys, who are the highest offenders).

We shopped for groceries for the week and tried to make better choices. Frankly, it was frustrating. I didn’t even buy marinara sauce. I added Greek yogurt and ingredients for another round of Mediterranean quinoa salad with arugula (which the family ate and seemed to like). We bought more fruit, veggies and threw in almonds and almond milk as well.

Monday, May 1 – Day Eight:

It snowed today. It would have been so comforting to curl up with a fancy coffee and a pastry today, but I held firm. The cravings didn’t seem as intense. I kept busy with work, a chiropractor visit and yoga. My friend, Carie, who intro’d me to the Sugar Summit, and I exchanged articles, texts and Facebook messages all week. She too was doing some label reading, started with better breakfasts and shopping fully organic, which she noted was about $45 more for the week’s worth of groceries.

Tuesday, May 2 – Day Nine:

Nearing the end. And while I didn’t go totally sugar-free and went overboard in a few instances, the diet I followed was dramatic enough to notice a difference for me. For today’s coffeeshop work session at Caribou I opted for a small cappuccino with almond milk (6g of sugar). I really enjoyed it and did not feel deprived — progress!

Wednesday, May 3 – Day Ten:

Today I noticed a calmness. I wasn’t panicked about what foods or beverages I would find or plan for that I could actually eat. I would make it through this day without a #SugarRush. One significant set back was waking up in the middle of the night a bit antsy, which is unusual for me. I worked for 1.5 hours, then went back to bed. I knew that I’d only get an hour of slumber, which can be counterproductive not to sleep a full 1.5hour cycle. My half-cup of coffee brought me nicely into my day, despite sleepiness. When this happens, a workout is the only thing that can reset me.

I whisked my daughter out the door to drop her off at school – it was my fault she was running 10 minutes behind and missed the bus. I had a chiropractic appointment then rolled into 9:30 yoga. It was intense, serene and blissful. Reset! I met up with a friend/ business partner for lunch at the new Barnes and Noble Galleria and indulged in the Avocado Toast (sounds simple, but truly heavenly). And since it was a beautiful spring day, Ava and I took Copper to the dog park when she got home from school. Being outside in the fresh air was a definite must to fight off afternoon lull. I opted for a 5:30 dinner (Mediterranean salad again!) and went with a 7:00 GCControl, which helped me power through the tasks involved with prepping for travel the next day.

TEN Days At-a-Glance:

I am SO happy I did the challenge. I didn’t get it perfect – that’s for sure. I did lose 6.5 pounds in 10 days, which is remarkable for me. I’ve always worked out 3-4 times a week and like to believe that offsets my sugar-indulgent diet. It does not. I’ve been able to lose 2-3 pounds in a month, but nothing as drastic as this. EVER. Clearly sugar is a factor and now I’ve learned some great info, can more readily discern labels on products and make better choices, especially when it comes to fancy coffee drinks, which for me was at the heart of the challenge and had the most impact.

I plan to enjoy a square of chocolate today. Overall, I’m going to stay committed to some of the changes I implemented over the challenge. I am very concerned about the state of sugar intake in America and the increasing obesity rates, diseases and allergies. There is so much to be done! I’m hoping I can influence my family to make better choices as well. Wish us luck on the continuing journey of life-long health and wellness!

— I would love to hear if you’ve taken the challenge and how it went and if not, I’d encourage you to look into it!


Pink Unicorns and Purple Rain April 21, 2017

Filed under: Eats,Independence — edamomie @ 2:56 pm

However it appears – in plain sight in the form of a Pink Unicorn, or hidden in marinara sauces or salad dressings – sugar is masquerading behind its feel-good mask.

But make no mistake, it is an addiction. Sugar is the new tobacco. We’re still fighting tobacco use and seeing a resurgence in labeling and awareness ads thanks to the introduction of vaping and the e-cigarette, but we can look to it as a model of how to handle our sugar education and intake. Is sugar addiction along the same lines as drug and alcohol abuse? Some argue no, but when this was all coming into public light in 2014, the Huff Post article quoted Dr. Lustig, the California doctor and creator of Sugar: The Bitter Truth, (2009 YouTube video with 7M views) as saying: “Every substance of abuse -– cocaine, heroin, you name it -– has required social or personal intervention,” says Lustig. “For sugar we have nothing, and my prediction is that we will need both.”

Social Intervention

PinkUnicorn_01Anti-tobacco campaigns could be repurposed – just swap out sugar. In fact, when I followed a link to Starbuck’s limited time availability Unicorn Frap, up popped a Stop the Start MN anti-tobacco campaign promo video sighting the dangers of tobacco companies’ appeal to teens through social media. Enter in the #PinkUnicorn.

Can you imagine the government cracking down on retailers and baristas and mandating that a portion of their profits fund anti-sugar campaigns? What might that look like? “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that sugar is harmful in significant amounts –- not necessarily because it’s high in calories but rather because it triggers a toxic chain of reactions in the body that produce harmful fats, hormones and other metabolic by-products. Sugar is a direct cause of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases, as well as obesity.”

Like any warning label, it’s one small (but significant) step in the entire picture. More education, better alternatives, consumer preferences spoken with their dollar, and social responsibility coming from a balance of government, business and consumer initiatives and actions is needed. A quick search revealed groups like the World Anti-Sugar Campaign, movements like Fed Up (2014 documentary on sugar complete with a 10-day challenge) and significant activity around this topic over the past two years.

Recently a friend of mine, Carie LaRock Allen (both of us moms of tweens and teens), invited me to join The Sweet Freedom Summit (Apr 10-17, 2017) to hear targeted talks from experts in their fields on the subject of sugar.

Personal Intervention

PinkUnicorn_02I tried to carve out as much time as a could to listen to these interviews. One that jumped out was a talk entitled Break Up With Sugar by Sara Vance, nutritionist and author. It resonated because she talked about it as a family affair and specifically addressed how our body develops a sugar addiction in childhood, which is intensified as kids grow into their teens. Teen boys are the highest offenders (Calvin, my 12YO, will soon fall into this category). They consume drinks full of sugar tipping their average daily sugar intake to 28.3 teaspoons (National Health and Nutrition Survey) when the daily recommended amount is 8 teaspoons. (See: Are Our Kids Eating Toxic Amounts of Sugar?)

I sat down with Calvin a few evenings ago to watch Vance’s video. He humored me, but afterward he lashed out — I’m active, What do you mean give up soda and sugary cereals? What am I supposed to eat?
Sugar intake has been a sore subject in our household for at least the past three years. It used to be that I could control it more, but with tween independence and a little spending cash, trips to Kowalski’s for soda and candy, etc I’m convinced I need to work harder and be more thoughtful in my approach with him. This kid loves sugar. I once found a bowl of cake mix, just dry cake mix with a spoon, tucked away in his room. I could site many other slightly appalling incidents, but the point is they need to make their own decisions and choose better.

I have a 14YO daughter too. Fancy coffee drinks, like the Pink Unicorn, are the enemy there. Maybe Starbucks and other barista bars could help us out with portion control and modifications to the norm? In my experience it’s hit or miss with the term “light whip,” but they mostly get my “half syrup” request correct (can we make that the norm?) Don’t even get me started on Shamrock Shakes.

I have a sweet tooth myself. I know it starts with parents as role models so I am going to take the 10 Day Challenge. This will mean giving up food and beverages like my beloved white chocolate mochas and my morning square of Ghiradelli. But not before I test out a Pink Unicorn…

PinkUnicorn_03I went in skeptically and came out pleasantly surprised, which is actually no surprise given my tastebuds. They went into sensory overload experiencing sweet and fruity to tangy and tart with a hint of sour in the powder. I ordered a “tall” 39 grams of sugar (or nearly 8 teaspoons, the max daily allowance) and strolled the block from Starbucks to First Avenue to see if Prince’s anniversary flowers were flooding the sidewalk. Not yet. It’s not even raining. I finished about half of my drink and give it a rest. Verdict: I am hopeful Starbucks keeps their five-day only whimsical drink just a passing fantasy. I’m already addicted.

For now, I’m doing the challenge and starting the family on alternate breakfast options. Say goodbye to breakfast out of a sugary box, especially if it comes with unicorns, leprechauns or Wonder Woman. Who’s with me? What’s working/ not working for you and your teens?

— #RIPPrince, In Minnesota, the unicorns should be purple.


Halloween Happy Hour October 30, 2016


Halloween Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

Halloween crept up on us this year. Last year we were scheming and sewing a month in advance (Queen of Hearts for a Day). This year’s Halloween prep was more spontaneous. It came together in one evening – Thursday the 27th – for a Halloween after school happy hour of sorts we planned to host Friday the 28th.

Calvin, my 11 year-old son, out of football and basketball for two weeks due to an injury, clearly sought another outlet for all of his excess energy. He channeled it into last-minute party planning inspired by Yummly, a place to search, archive and share sourced recipes from a whole host of top recipe sites like Delicious Table and Six Sisters’ Stuff.

After perusing Yummly for a half-hour, he saved 12 recipes into a folder we created in the Yummly app we titled Halloween ’16. I talked him down to seven recipes (after all, we hadn’t even invited anyone to the party that was to happen right after school on Friday). He made a spreadsheet and I quickly went through the ingredient list for each recipe. With our shopping list set, we were off to Target by 6:30p.m.

In addition to the ingredients, we picked up some treat bags and table decor and started our party project by 7:45p.m. The recipes that made the final cut included:
Halloween Chex Mix (Jam Hands)
Halloween Chocolate Pumpkin Cake (Aberdeen’s Kitchen)
Crescent Mummy Dogs (Pillsbury)
Halloween Graveyard Pudding Cups (Six Sisters’ Stuff)
Spider Oreos (La Jolla Mom)
Halloween Oreo Stuffed Brownies (Boston Girl Bakes) (the only one we didn’t make)
Haunted Halloween Witches Brew Party Punch (Delicious Table)


Mummy Dog Madness


Calvin would have stayed up into the wee hours if I hadn’t set a firm stop time of 10:00p.m. (in reality it was more like 10:30). He started with the Spider Oreos — pulling the Golden Oreo Double Stuffed cookies apart, placing the pretzel stick legs on the open-faced bottom of the cookie, adding some additional melted frosting (cream cheese) or what I like to call “baking glue,” securing the top and adding the mini M&M eyes.

Then we tackled the cake. Wow, 21 ingredients and way more elaborate than I anticipated. No going back now — this would be the main attraction. We mixed so much that my average mixer was fully maxed with enough batter to fill three 8″ rounds (a mixer the next size up is going on my Christmas list). While the cakes baked, we moved on to the Halloween Chex Mix, a thankfully simple recipe. Cal melted white chocolate chips in the microwave, measured 5 ingredients, mixed them up and placed on a cookie sheet to harden.

By this time it was already 10:15p.m. Cal signed off for bed, but not before reviewing the baking plan with me first: So you’ll finish the pudding cups and mummy dogs tonight? I confirmed that was the plan.

I was on my own. With a clean mixer ready for round two, I mixed the Halloween cake frosting including orange juice and sifted powdered sugar (of which I had exactly 4 cups, just as the recipe called for). This went into the fridge for the early morning frosting step after cakes had sufficiently cooled.


Halloween Treat-Eating Experts


Moving onto to the pudding cups, I mixed the chocolate instant pudding (dry mix and 2 c milk) and let it set while I took on the challenge of crushing orange frosting filled Oreo Double Stuffs. They do not crush well. I came back to the pudding mixture that set within 6 minutes and folded in the Cool Whip. The pudding mix then went into the clear small cups and the Oreo mix, painstakingly recrushed, comprised the next layer (regular Oreo crushing, much easier). The R. I. P. tombstone detailing and pumpkin candy adds would have to wait for the next day.

The cakes came out of the oven at 11:17p.m. and clean up began. I ended with a clearing of our dining room table and setting of the $3 Target orange and black striped tablecloth, spider web plates and napkins by midnight.

The next morning, Calvin and I were up a bit earlier than the ushe, frosting the cake. After softening the frosting made the night before in the microwave, I added the cakes layer by layer, spread the frosting and returned it to the fridge to set. We brought out serving platters and set up the treats we could — Spider Oreos and Halloween Chex Mix. He was then off to school and I off to work.

Of the handful of friends we invited Thursday late eve, three were able to attend. They were planning to come home on the bus so before Calvin left for school, he set some high standards for what I was to achieve during the day. I cautioned that I most likely wouldn’t be home, nor have the time. As it turned out, I arrived home 30 seconds before they did. We rolled with it.


Party Punch in Blood Red


The boys grabbed one of the snacks and disappeared for awhile. I finished the chocolate ganache frosting for the cake and set in all of the goodies, then it went back into the fridge to set. I then tackled the R.I.P. tombstones while Calvin popped in to make the Haunted Halloween Witches Brew Party Punch (3 ingredients — easy!). Next up, the mummy dogs. My 13 year-old, Ava, stepped in to help with the wraps and into the oven they went.

By 5:00p.m. Calvin’s last friend had arrived, so they all came to the table in a quick flash to sample all but the cake — that would come later. I headed out around 5:30 for an event and left my husband in charge. They were really quite an easy bunch. When I arrived home at 8:30p.m., all but one boy had left and remnants of cake enjoyed were scattered about the table. I cleaned up and enjoyed a piece of cake and a tall glass of milk, gathering energy to think about Halloween Phase II: costumes!

After all of the guests had left, Calvin and I recapped the eats. He thanked me many times during the process and after for taking the time and making the effort. It was fun to reconnect with him in the kitchen (see also #KidsintheKitchen – a hashtag to follow some of our ventures, on Instagram via @jengilhoi). We get into a rhythm and I appreciate and welcome his creativity as another collaborator to make baking and party planning fun. I’m seeing chef in his future…. A mom can dream.

— Here’s to more Halloween fun in years to come. Happy Halloween everyone!


A Fuller Fair Experience August 27, 2016

Filed under: Eats — edamomie @ 12:07 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

O: Outings

Our family of four fair-goers took on the MN State Fair yesterday in six hours. Now that our kids are 11 and 13, we’ve been in that six-hour duration sweet spot for the fair for the past four years (see 2012’s adventure: A Fairly Expensive Fun Factory). When they were little, visits lasted two hours — like why did we even go? I do notice, however, families with little ones and strollers who are in it for the long haul. Impressive. They must be out-of-towners. I am totally curious to see how those families do a 14-hour+ long day.



Monster Cotton Candy

This year’s six hour adventure — and it’s not like I time it at all — evolved much differently than even last year. The first factor was our #Valleyfair season tickets. After five visits to the Shakopee fair, we hardly needed to be in the Midway for rides. Instead, the kids selected one ride — The SkyFlyer swings — and waited in line and rode their ride while my husband and I ventured off seeking ends at RC’s BBQ (formerly Famous Dave’s). When we returned to our meeting spot, we were ready to enjoy the Midway for sport.


After texting a friend who claimed to have discovered the trick to the milk jug toss, dad applied the tips and took home this huge puppy, Pinky, for our 13YO, Ava, on his first try. It must not happen that often because the other dudes around the booth and the carnies stopped mid-toss in awe (Thanks, Dar!). And now we had this huge puppy to juggle through the crowds for the rest of day… another family tradition (it was minion Robert last year).


After the non-extended ride factor, the second biggest thing working in my favor this year for a fuller fair experience was the food-sharing factor. In years prior, the kids always wanted their own food and drinks. Now, we each do a top three list and merge our favorites and make sidebar stops if the items are on one of our lists. We all walk away happier with no tummy aches of the type that eating an entire monster bag of cotton candy will cause.


MPR Booth and #FreshFrenchFries


We arrived and settled into fair mode in traditional fashion with a trip to #FreshFrenchFries consumed next door at the #MPR booth. From there, fair food in totality equated to Red Baron Pizza, Monster cotton candy, Mouse Trap cheese curds, French Onion Monkey Bread, RC BBQ ends, Sweet Martha’s Cookies, Deep Fried Olives, pear soda, Cafe Caribe turkey drumstick, corndogs and lemonade. Not saying that everyone consumed everything, but it was close.


We walked five miles total, but if I had to calculate, we came nowhere near working off the fair caloric consumption. After our first loop through the food building, Midway and the Grandstand area, we hopped on the northbound sky tram that stretched over a half-mile. Great mid-fair break from the action and an ideal place to scope out the crowds and the opposing southbound tram travelers taking selfies. I’d venture to guess the 12-day fair has a record number of dropped mobiles.


Paul and Paula Bunyan


In the much less congested north fairgrounds we took in the Lumberjack and Lumberjill competitions at Stihl and the boys tested their skill at Bonanza rifle-shooting range. I was patient. I knew that this year might be my chance to get in the EcoExperience building and the Fine Arts building. It happened.


We spent time in EcoExperience checking out all of the latest developments from Citizen Environmentalists who can help track the flight of the Monarch butterfly to Paul Bunyan modeling a red hat and blue jeans made of donated red t-shirts and denim to advocate recycling. We wrote on a super smart Samsung refrigerator touch screen that turns expiration date issues into opportunities (here, make a recipe with all these items that are about to expire!) and took away some styling tips on a capsule wardrobe created by Arc’s Value Village in a #PaulaBunyan feminine denim theme.


Pinky the Puppy; Plans for Recycling


At this point, about five hours into fair fun, attention spans were waning a bit. The Fine Arts Building had a tucked away restroom that made for an easy stop and a way to intro the boys to the building. I gave a stern warning that I would spend some uninterrupted, nag-free time here before we moved on. I did. We saw the annual MN State Fair commemorative art and talented local artists. One repurposed bear, made of a slew of stuffed animals stripped to their basics, gave me an idea for our recent Pinky the puppy win. I heart functional art.


We left the building and rounded the curve by the International Bizarre. After some brief contemplation about the lengthy Midtown Global Market line for the fish of strawberry compote (Carpe Diem ice cream) by The Rabbit Hole, we decided against it. After all it was National Dog Day and our dog, @Copperdoodleroo, had been home alone for an extended time.


On one last thrill-seeking adventure, my 11YO son took a $4 scare tour on his own. We headed out with nary of viewing of an animal. A bit disappointing from my perspective, but in the past we’ve dealt with allergic reactions as a part of those visits so we chose to bypass this year. Oh well… maybe for next year’s #MNStateFairBucketList.


— Cheers to the Great MN Get-together and enjoying it with your families! 






I’m Just A Girl in the World August 8, 2016

Filed under: Outings — edamomie @ 11:29 am
Tags: , ,

O: Outings

Gwen_Stefani_Ava_JenNothing like your first concert experience. Mine was the Rolling Stones. For my daughter, Ava, I wanted the same mind-blowingness and Gwen Stefani delivered. I’m feeling Hella Good about it. In fact, when I cracked open my laptop at my co-working space this morning and Gwen belted out Misery right where she left off on my YouTube stream yesterday, I didn’t scramble to mute it.

It’s okay that Ava’s next concert-going experience will be different and maybe even better. She only knew about one-third of Gwen’s songs because I only just got in on tickets a few days prior to the concert. We listened to her new stuff off of #ThisIsWhatTheTruthFeelsLike, but how could there possibly be enough time over three busy days to impart all of the Stefani magic upon her? And I realize, it could be more fun with friends than your mom with an artist you’re currently all gaga over.

Gwen_Stefani_Scar8That aside, it was more about getting to experience that excitement for the first time with her. We did our hair and make-up (applied some false eyelashes in the Target parking lot en route) and chose our attire carefully — denim and black — always a wise choice. Other words of wisdom included you must wear a tank for a quick new concert t wardrobe swap (pictured here, I’m wearing her shirt as a scarf :); you must wear flats because despite having assigned seats, you will be on your feet the entire time (which I did not heed due to my must wear camo wedges); and go big on make-up, casual on clothes so you look like you don’t care too much.

We arrived at 6:20 to the Xcel to survey the hazy scene and hear opening act, Eve (@therealeve). Always loved that Gwen back to No Doubt days had a ska/ hip-hop vibe to her music and it makes so much sense that artistry continues to inform and weave through her versatile vibe. From Eve’s portion I say holla to the flag corp girls! I leaned over to share with Ava that our militant flag corp routines from junior highschool looked nothing like that and could have used a booty-shaking infusion. Response: eye-rolling.

Gwen_Stefani_TIn anticipation of Gwen, we snapped some photos, surveyed the scene which include a mom and her five-year-old in front of us. We did that t-shirt swap I had hinted about earlier in the day after she got over disbelief that I allowed a $40 t-shirt purchase without batting an eye. Later I explained how amazingly cool it felt to come back to my small town Jackson, MN, after a Tuesday night seeing The Stones in the cities. I was unapologetically exhausted (from 3:00a.m. arrival home), but my t-shirt with Jagger’s tongue spoke volumes of coolness for me. Ava’s Gwen t of choice — the one with photo booth shots and a list of 26 cities on her tour — could bring the same transcendence to her.

We were ready. In the first of four outfits, Gwen opted for tartan, black boots and yodeling with Wind It Up, a ska meets Sound of Music loveliness, lilt and lyrical genius. Wardrobe change two featured a bodysuit with ornate details that might possibly have included a necklace of ostrich features and denim low-rise jeans with lots of zippers. I know we’re Cool. Then she went army green militant in jeans with a glittery brilliant green top in contrast. Whatcha Waiting For?  She ended with short black shorts, a black and white half scarf/half skirt and white feathered top. She closed on more serene notes with This Is What The Truth Feels Like and Sweet Escape. 

Gwen_Stefani_Swiss2Amidst all of that fashion, style and lyrical variety, Blake Shelton came out for Go Ahead and Break My Heart. And because the audience knows this love story intimately, everyone seemed to get swept up in this number. Even Ava turned to me, like really? could it be? when Gwen hinted that “my favorite person in the whole world is here.” Admittedly, my heart did a few backflips, but I would never say that Blake (and Eve) were the stars of the show as the Strib review noted. C’mon, Jon! We want her to come hollaback : ) (check out PiPress review too, which is more favorable)

Yes, on one more Strib review follow-up note, the Stefani experience is larger than her music because she is so much larger than that. As a mom of three who I feel like I grew up with (we’re only two years apart), a fashionista (L.A.M.B. and Harajuku Lovers), her wide open love life and all its drama, and her story about making this album for her, I feel like all of those things only make her stronger, more relevant.

And one final note, the two times I’ve seen Gwen in concert (Nov 2002 and Aug 2016), I was sober. The first time, I was three months pregnant with Ava and this time, completely by choice to enjoy the eve with my daughter. In 2002, I recall being awed by the number of push-ups Gwen did on stage; in 2016, I’m awed by how amazing she looks and sounds and that she’s even better. She seems truly happy just being a girl in the world.

— Cheers, Gwen and come back to Minnesota next time ’round!






The Evolution of the Birthday July 17, 2016

Filed under: Independence — edamomie @ 8:59 am
Tags: , ,

My son, Calvin, turned 11 late June and here it is, July 17, nearly a month after his birthday and I’m just getting around to reflecting upon it. I’m usually more of the moment, but his birthday celebrations have been going on for just that long. Really. Not my fault.

Birthday Presence

Birthday Presence


This year, an on-the-ball mom and friend of mine got her invites out early and marked the day before Calvin’s birthday for her son’s birthday party. Summer gets busy with kids at camp and weekends at the cabin. It was totally fine by Cal and me (she was thoughtful enough to consult with us and even sent Cal home with a special birthday cupcake!). He was jazzed to be at a sleepover at his friends even though it bumped out his birthday party with friends about three weeks.

Per the ushe, we were last-minute gift shopping for the family celebration on his actual birthday, a Sunday. This used to stress me out, now that’s the only way we roll. And truthfully a full 12 hours in advance left plenty of time for thoughtful selection, but in the case of the Stephen Curry shoes unavailable in his size that needed to be shipped, not so much (they would arrive 2 days after his birthday).

Golf with the Gilhois

Golf with the Gilhois


Calvin’s older sister, Ava, and I took on the arduous task of shopping — I jest, we fully don’t mind it. We took the afternoon the day before to scout out the afore mentioned shoes, golf shorts and fancy belt from Under Armor, PlayStation4 NBA 2K and a Nerf gun of the bizillionth variety. Check to it all. Some of it even got gift wrapped. There was even a heartfelt card from his sometimes pain-of-a-sister (who deep down loves him unconditionally and vice versa). It was a nice, low-key, little family party on the day of his birthday plus he got in 18 holes of golf, despite the heat and humidity.


When the boys rolled in around 8:00p.m. after golf, Calvin seemed pretty beat. Selfishly, I was not. I had spent the afternoon in the air-conditioning. I had not planned, hosted and corralled wild-spirited 11-year-old boys for a birthday party. I was relaxed, reflective and feeling so much love for this sweet boy, who is wise beyond his years.

Skyzone Prep Bench

Skyzone Prep Bench


The friend birthday outing would come later — just a few friends that fit in my car and a visit to Skyzone for the afternoon, followed by pizza, movies and candy I don’t even want to know about (and I didn’t — I was at the Guthrie enjoying South Pacific!). And because it was a #lateover (a phenomenon I discovered around the time of Ava’s 12th birthday), my husband dropped all of the boys off at their homes around 10:00p.m. Brilliance as far as I’m concerned!


Did I make his birthday special enough? What about Ava’s 13th birthday we celebrated super low-key early June, was that special enough? I couldn’t help but ask. I reminded myself that they’re calling the shots now. They don’t need princess parties or packed pinatas to enjoy their special days. Was it just my crazed mother mind that made it so for previous birthdays? And why did I go to so much work and fret planning birthday parties of the past? I like to think it’s just the evolution of a birthday and chalk it up to that. No looking back now — we’ve hit the tween and teen years. We’ve evolved.
— Happy 11th Birthday, oh my wise Calvin!


More Sweet Than Bitter: 13 June 10, 2016

Filed under: Independence — edamomie @ 6:45 am
Tags: , , , ,

I: Independence

My little girl is 13. And it came without any of the drama or flurry of past birthdays filled with balloons, cake and slumber-less nights. She wanted to spend her birthday with family. We were honored.



Happy Hour at Benihana

We made an entire weekend out of it. It was all about Ava. With an early June birthday, the transition to new digits has always come along with the transition of the school year. This year she said goodbye to seventh grade without looking back, welcoming the independence rumored to be given to eighth graders as head of the school.


It was time to transition. From the stories being reported at dinner time over the last three weeks, it became clear that a restlessness that tried both teachers and students patience was heightening. I think that was a factor as we talked a month in advance about her birthday about plans for that day. She was totally fine with a low-key celebration.


It went like this. After school last Friday, the day before her actual birthday, her brother came home with a Good Manners certificate from fourth grade for Benihana just as we were contemplating how Ava wanted to spend her evening. That solved the first pressing question of where to go for dinner. The usual roadblock of my husband ixnaying the Mall of America wasn’t even a factor — he took the only Apple Genius Bar appointment in town for an immediate fix for his iphone.



Gray and PINK is trending…

We arrived at Benihana with no reservations and a 20 minute estimated wait. Perfect time to run to Sephora to let Ava hand-select part of her birthday present from her mom; while Chad and Calvin ran off to find their birthday gift for her. We opted for bar seating versus the fancy chef prep tables (next time and WITH a reservation!) and were pleasantly surprised. It was happy hour. A few banana berry smoothies and passion fruit drinks later, we were happy with our dining experience and the price, which included $15 off for Cal’s Good Manners certificate (#HaleToday).


We popped into Lids after dinner to pick up Ava’s birthday present from the boys. An embroidered AGJ on a gray pinstriped baseball hat. A hit. Then it was off to see Jungle Book and with Ava just under 13 by a hair, got her last kid-priced movie ticket at $6. Sad to see that era come to an end. Now she can legitimately see PG-13 movies, another milestone.


Must Enter 13 Caffeinated!


The next day was an open book. We paid a visit to the mall. No surprises there! She used some of her birthday money at PINK and Abercrombie and Francesca’s. This girl was glowing with new gray sweats, jean shorts and an adorable wide-brimmed hat for the summer. I wanted to bottle that up.


The afternoon was spent at home. I believe the term is chillaxin’. Her dad brought home a gift from H&M for her — tossed it to me, knowing I am the queen of recycled gift bags, tissue paper and bows. I quickly critiqued it, another gray sweatshirt, sweatshorts? I bit my tongue — I so want to see her in color. You know what, she loved her gift. Go figure.


We enjoyed take-out from from Quangs on Nicollet- pho and spring rolls; followed by french silk pie. Later that eve, we caught up on Once, the ABC series that duals characters in fairytale and Storybrooke real worlds. I feel like we’ve been watching this an eternity… I mean, it’s wickedly good, but will it ever, ever end?


The Style of 13: Gray, PINK and Lots of Sunshine!


Sunday, I had a project. Ava was perfectly content on her own. Not really sure what she did while I tackled my business finances. Oh wait, we did a quick facial mask together late morning. When our paths crossed in the house again, it was mid-afternoon and we rallied the family for a trip to Nokomis. I took our dog, Copper, for a run around while Chad and kids lounged on the beach. Lazy afternoon.


We ended it on that note. With nary a call or outreach to her friends. They will be there this summer for pool, beach and movie outings over long summer days. For now, I just want to revel in the bittersweet passing of tween to teen. Beautifully executed, Ava. We love you!




Journal of an Average Adolescent April 30, 2016

Filed under: The Unknown — edamomie @ 11:58 am
Tags: , ,

U: The Unknown

Although each teenagers’ journey through adolescence differs widely, one thing is for sure: finding your place in this world…. well, it’s challenging. Just ask Greg Heffley, a teen comic icon brought to life in the Children’s Theatre Company production of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: it sucks.


Step + Repeat; Eye Roll

I lost count on eye-rolling reactions to sharp and subtle jabs, mean-spirited exclusions, brutal popularity rankings and labels that even the audience wanted to assign to each character. It brought me right back to my middle school days in a heartbeat. It was a tough playground. Scenes and the story surrounding the “cheese touch” were dramatically executed and harkened back to game playing as a passive aggressive way to show your true feelings toward someone.

Greg stumbled around in his exploration, dealing with seemingly insurmountable issues like a doting mom, an sports-aspirational dad, a little brother who embarrassingly called him Bubby, a terrorizing older sibling, Rodrick, and a swooning friend, Rowley, who Greg vastly under-appreciated in true teen style. The audience cringed and commiserated along with Greg every step of the way as his miserable little existence played out.

Yet, it was so sweet. Sitting on either side of me, taking in the show, were my kids. Calvin, my 10 year-old, who I could nearly slip right into Greg’s shoes in a few years and Ava, my 12 year-old, who could witness her current 7th grade situation and the realness of it.

We all loved the performance, but for different reasons. I appreciated that Greg possessed the innocence of his age as well as the fluid emotions and struggle to not only do the right thing, but define it for himself through a series of hard-knocks. Ava connected with trying not to subscribe to mainstream beliefs, but finding that values and judgements are next to impossible to escape in middle school life and its close quarters (which begs the question, should we be teaching more empathy in our schools?). Calvin, owner of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, thought it was sheer comedic fun.


Stack of Wimpy Books

Sharing our reviews over a slice of pizza after the performance, we talked about the experience of the story from book to movie (see our 2011 review of Rodrick Rules) to musical. We unanimously agreed that the ever-changing set design, comedic craftiness — the backdrop a sheet of loose-leaf paper, the furniture, doors and props white with black piping and Greg and Rowley’s comedy strip creation process on paper played out onto a screen — were spot on. The exact comic strip, right down to the first one that echoes Greg’s onstage commentary about his mom buying the shamefully labeled “Diary,” when it really was just a journal, felt very true to the written series.

Highlights of storylines and performances included Rodrick’s masterfully delivered death threats, Rowley’s crush on teenage music icon, Joshie, the highly coveted “Mom Bucks” (monopoly money) and the reputation-ruining “Cheese Touch.” The characters creatively jumped off the Wimpy kid pages in posture, Greg with a hollowed out slouch stature and Rodrick with all of the slanky starkness of a teen in a darkened state.

The concept of Diary of a Wimpy Kid seems to hold the message that adolescence and all its challenges are normal — there are no exceptions nor can one get around it. You just have to go through it. So embrace it and pencil in a date to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Musical now through June 12. Your tweens and teens might roll their eyes, but this is one moment where you just say trust me. Well done, CTC and congratulations on 50 years!




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