21 Awesome Events from 2016 … Number 13 will Amaze You!!

The Family Christmas Letter

Non-objectively speaking (my strength), this was not our planet’s best year.  You’ve probably already heard too much about disasters around the globe—violence and politics and refugees and famous people dying (though that seems to happen every year). And maybe it has you down going in to the Christmas season.  So, we invite you to Evie’s world, where only news directly related to the Campbell family matters.  Because in that world, 2016 was pretty fabulous.

  1. We moved! After 12 long years (or whole lives, for the smaller members of the family) we left DC for a new adventure in North Carolina. So far, it is great. There is no traffic (the locals think there is, but we’re still riding the high where a small flock of cars waiting patiently in a line is actually somehow relaxing). It is warm. There are SO MANY Target stores. Oh, and we live near family for the first time in years, including some amazing babysitting-aged cousins. #happysigh
  2. We went to Disneyworld. The girls’ faces of wonder at meeting real-life Ariel and Belle and Rapunzel made the trip.  James’s face of wonder at meeting Joy and Sadness from Inside Out was a close second.  And we loved having Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Rob as travel buddies.
  3. We went to the beach. Nothing beats relaxing by the ocean, kids playing all day with family, and sand in someone ELSE’s bathtub.
  4. Abigail got sporty. She did martial arts in Virginia, earning her low orange belt before we moved.  She’s also doing jazz and gymnastics this fall.  The true feat is that we almost always know where the respective uniforms are located.
  5. Evie, who likes to do all the things that Abigail can do, also got to do dance and gymnastics. She is spunky and fun and adds an element of leotard fashion that we might not have otherwise.
  6. I had a great time at my DC job through September. I got to be more creative this year than ever before and worked with awesome people. I miss it.
  7. Except that so far, I love being home in NC. I drive the kids around all the time and hang out with the dog and read and work out and fight the urge to make more cookies. It is pretty awesome and makes the whole family happier and more peaceful, which is a daily blessing.
  8. We have a fireplace at our new house. And a mailbox.  And a doorbell.  The girls are beside themselves with the novelty and joy of suburban life in a single-family home. Me too, once the doorbell fascination wore off.
  9. We also have a [redacted] in our new house, which Abigail and Evie turned into a secret play space. They tell visitors it is an [redacted] (giggle giggle) but it is really full of art, books, and tea sets (apparently with hidden candy; I find lots of wrappers).  [Details above have been redacted at Abigail’s request to maintain this important family secret.]
  10. Evie got a Princess Elena backpack—part of being a big girl in transitional img_20161017_141407596kindergarten class. She is learning to read and write letters, has weekly homework, and frequently surprises us at the dinner table with facts she’s learned that can prove other people wrong.
  11. Abigail is a founding member at a new school, which she loves (Go, explorers! Cutest mascot ever.) She seems to pick up a new extra-curricular activity each week. Currently it’s chess. She is better than me already, but this is a very low bar, since I got scolded for calling it the “horse.”
  12. Abigail—history’s most devoted reader—is developing excellent taste in literature. After years devouring anything she could get her hands on, she tackled classic series this year like Nancy Drew and Harry Potter.  Finally, I feel the closing of the Rainbow Magic Fairies  Not that I hate that wretched, formulaic series and cannot wait.
  13. James and the girls made their own root beer for Halloween. It cost $50 and I had to go to four stores to get all the stuff, but it was tasty and hopefully satiated James and Abigail’s desire to carry out semi-dangerous science experiments around the house for at least a while.img_20161031_173431647_burst000_cover_top
  14. Evie made things easy with her extremely clear (if arguably narrow and overly rigid) preferences. For example: every single day for lunch she has a peanut-butter-and-Nutella sandwich on bread with no crust. Once I didn’t have bread and sent it on a hot dog bun, and once we were out of Nutella and I substituted jelly, but I have since learned my lesson.
  15. I ran in several races this year. I just finished my first half marathon this weekend here in North Carolina.  Two amazing friends came from DC to help get me through it. I am still enjoying my post-run high (and the almost-as-important job of post-race eating).
  16. James had some great running, too. He joined me in several races and inspired me to run a bit faster and farther. Except when I was silently cursing him because he runs so much more effortlessly than I do, even when I am training for a half marathon and he has a chest cold. So unfair. Grumble grumble grumble.
  17. We had sooooo many cookies. Evie is a determined and sugar-tastic baker, and she kept us in ample supply of cookies, brownies, and cupcakes all year.  And James kept up the tradition of weekly biscuit-making (BEST. BISCUITS. EVER.)  He also added homemade soft pretzels to his repertoire. Friends are welcome to visit in NC to partake! We have a guest room. J
  18. James really enjoys his new job, working at an analytic sciences laboratory at NC State. He has lots of latitude to choose his own projects, loves being on a college campus, and gets to wear more casual, non-DC attire. Plus, he’s hundreds of miles away from the home office right now…
  19. James’s job came with a professional moving company that even boxed things up. Since I cannot convince James to get rid of his pile of old math books, this is the next best thing.
  20. Maisie has a backyard. It is amazing for fetch and chase and tug-of-war, her best skills.  The backyard did not come with someone to clean up dog poop, though. Alas. 2017?
  21. In the banner year for fake Internet news, the Bow Wow News was created by two intrepid reporters who value truth, humor, and the American way (and who also employed their mom-who-can-type). If you’re looking for news, original poems, and photos of dogs in costumes, you should subscribe.  I think it costs 50 cents.

We hope that despite any sadness or set-backs, you have had joys and triumphs this year.  May you feel our love and the love of the Christmas season, and carry them with you into the New Year.  You are always welcome in Evie’s world, where her birthday—and that of her birthday twin, baby Jesus—are coming soon to fill you with delight and love and peace and cupcakes.

Love of the season from our family to yours!

I am old.

Ella asked me the other day if she could listen to a certain song. She started to describe it; “it says ‘eye of the tiger’…”

“Eye of the Tiger! Eye of the Tiger! ok!” So I start playing “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky. I am so excited that she even knows of such an awesome, old classic song, and thrilled that she wants to me to play it.  Yeah! Probably she will love classic rock. She can put this on a team mix for sports. She is going to play soccer…

“No, no, mom, this isn’t it.”

“What? Yes, this is ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ Listen a minute longer.”

“The one I want is a girl singer. It is cool. I think it is Katy Perry.”

Oh. “Roar.” Totally different.

This sort of thing is happening to me more and more often. I don’t feel older year by year, but I don’t think of Katy Perry for “Eye of the Tiger.” And I recently questioned a diagnosis from a sick-appointment pediatrician who looked SO YOUNG I wasn’t sure she could possibly know what she was talking about for small children, because she would have spent most of her time with children as a peer rather than a sage physician.

Peyton Manning just won the Super Bowl (Broncos!!!!  Yes!  I have been waiting for so long for this moment.  How long?  Since the last SB victory…16 long years.  Wha?  Nevermind.) I am glad they won, because Peyton looked decrepit and now he can retire and rest up at home.  Because he’s, like, a few hundred days older than me, so he needs a lot of sleep.

My Olympic dream is officially over when I realized that (besides not having anything else close to Olympic caliber talent in any sport) I am too old for any event but biathlon or shuffleboard and I hate those sports. (MI loves biathlon, so our family comes out neutral, in case any of you are now incensed biathletes with rifles.)

I am sitting in the computer room right now as my two kids and the neighbor play. I am wearing headphones, but there is no music playing. Because I can’t focus on typing with music directly in my ear, but they’re just so loud. So these headphones–which are not fancy noise canceling ones–just sort of muffle everything in a pleasant way. Good practice for later in life.

Self love: Before and After

In TV shows about people and hairdos and houses, in social media posts about my friends and fitness inspirations, in magazines I read if I ever get time to read a magazine, I have always liked the ‘before and after’ shots.

I like to see how subtle use of bronzer warms up a face, how “eating clean and training mean” drops inches off a waist, and how people can make a house with kids look like a catalog display with storage buckets and some impractical curtains and tabletop decor. (I am still waiting to see the after-after, when the family with small kids moves back in to that stylish house. They never seem to show that…)

I must not be alone because there is no shortage of ‘before and after’ all around the web. Sometimes, I see them and feel inspired: I really could apply blush. I could. I just know I could. She says this whole face only takes 5 minutes and clearly it looks better. (In reality, I pretty much always choose spending the 5 minutes for blush application sleeping 15 extra minutes, then rushing madly about the house running late. Try it. I am sure you can do it.)

And, I have *always* tried to take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes they apply way too much makeup and hair … poof (for lack of a better word). I like the before/natural look much better. Sometimes the subject of the photo gets way too thin, which isn’t healthy AND apparently makes some people want to get terrible orange spray tans and wear impractical swimsuits with heels (never take it this far, ladies. Never this far.)

Sometimes the house looks great because they don’t have any *real* stuff in the house. It is pristine because it is fake. I saw a Trading Spaces once where a designer (Hildi. straw on the wall in trading spacesRemember her? She was crazy. There must have been something in the contract for that show that said ‘You have to continue to have your house redecorated even if you get Hildi.’ Because they had to have seen it coming.) GLUED HAY TO A WALL. ‘Shabby, country chic,’ or something like that. Clearly she has never been around an child (some lived in this house!), who would have had no trouble creating ‘shabby’ for free. That is probaby what got the family on the renovation show in the first place. Plus, I think I have specifically forbidden gluing “nature” to the walls on multiple occasions, so hay decor just seems hypocritical. And kids will almost certainly eat any organic decor. Fail.


So, ‘before and after’ photo lovers, it is time for me to pay back into the system with my own contribution. As much as I’ve looked, I’ve never submitted; but you can see that I appreciate realistic and uplifting ones, and I have really been working on mine:

Before: running selfie_May 2014 After:  lauren green wall and painting


Correctly labeled (I grant not a completely parallel comparison. I find I take fewer no-shirt pictures lately; more on that later).

If you’ll quickly pause to google, “before and after,” you’ll see that almost all of the images are labeled opposite of mine. But for me, the before is when I’d reached my “ideal” weight. I had 18% body fat. I worked out six times a week and ate clean and even applied blush. (The house was still a disaster; that is the focus of another episode. Probably in someone else’s series).

Guess what? Worst year of my life. I was so unhappy. My eating became unhealthy; I weighed myself 4 times a day, obsessing over the number. I chose working out over… well, most things. What I looked like was what I could control and I stopped trying to fix painful things that actually mattered and just focused on my physical appearance. I was the probably the best looking I’ve ever been, and I pretty much hated myself. I suffered physically and mentally, and it hurt my family. “Ideal.” The supposed “after” state I’d worked for… super sucked.

I hit bottom. Then I started making changes. I worked out less; I ate more; I came home and hung out with my family and ate dinner with them instead of dashing off to gym classes and making myself separate meals. I started paying attention to other things about my life again. (There are so many! That you can’t even weigh on a scale!) The expanded focus and self acceptance (slowly growing!)  allowed me to start to address the real issues in my life.

I left my “ideal” weight. I packed up the ‘never, ever thought I could wear this size’ wardrobe. Because I never ever want to wear it. I ate brownies and slept in on Saturday (you know, with kids, so until, like, 7:45). I snitched cookie dough and had movie dates with popcorn and sometimes skipped workouts to do nothing at all.

Apparently there is growing movement like this on the Internet. I love it. Check out others who have walked this path; apparently some call them “reverse progress” photos. I like to think of them as ‘self love’ photos. ‘Finding a better measuring stick’ photos. ‘Choosing your priorities’ photos.

Check out Body Image Movement from Taryn Brumfitt. It is awesome. And watch her trailer for the documentary Embrace, her journey from body loather to body lover.


I still care about how I look. I actually love working out and do so often. And sometimes–like this morning, even–have a freak-out that my body isn’t what I wish it was and feel a pang missing my old abs.

But I’ve learned that ‘before and after’ shots that go from fat to thin, messy to clean, soft to toned, are NOT showing a linear progression of happiness. Not a one size-fits all map of self improvement. Happiness is mental. Almost completely. You can’t show it in photos. And if you don’t have it, really, you won’t feel any better with toned arms and smokey eyes.

After: an arbitrarily chosen point on my infinite journey to being happy, loving myself and others, and being at peace.

life is about creating yourself

Where do you get rags?

This weekend I spent quite a bit of time putting my kitchen back together after we had some work done on the cabinets. As MI and I worked to restore order, we realized that not quite everything was going to fit back in (and some things had to go; I am looking at you, un-stackable, un-dishwasher/microwave safe, chipped mug from San Francisco). And so it was time for another kitchen purge.

I don’t know at what point I will stop fighting the crush of utensils and baking gadgets and instead start collecting mini spoons and never replacing my pans, like the women who’ve gone before me. I assume it will happen in due time. Until then, MI and I have to clean out our little kitchen every year to keep all of the plates and cups and tools from taking over. (Despite intense pressure, I have successfully argued to keep the Bundt pan for three consecutive years. If I ever made you a ‘just because’ Bundt cake, you now know that it was part of the strategy to justify the pan.)

One of the items we pared back this round were washcloths. For many years, we have struggled to find the ‘right’ dishcloths–one set was cheap and pilled quickly, one set was white and looked insta-dirty, the current set works well but is in shades of THE most boring brown and taupe colors. Clearly the perfect chance to convert them into cleaning rags and renew my quest for vibrant, high-quality, preferably self-cleaning washcloths.

washcloth--whitewashcloth--dirty whitewashcloth--brownishwashcloths--rainbow 2

But first I had to dispose of the old rags, you know, to make room for the new ones. With so many failed sets of washcloths, we have developed quite the collection of cleaning rags. The great circle of kitchen linens.

Suddenly, as I was throwing away old, formerly-white rags to make space for new brownish-green rags, I got weirdly nostalgic.

I remembered early, in the first weeks of our marriage when we were trying to set up our first apartment. We had NOTHING because we’d both lived either in college dorms or with family right up until we got married. So we had two suitcases of clothes and all of the generous gifts from our wedding attendees. That was it. The first night we didn’t even have sheets and we slept under navy blue bath towels on an air mattress in an unlit, frigid Connecticut apartment because it was January and we forgot to turn the heat on (good-bye college’s central heating system!). We were green at “adulthood” and “housekeeping” and there were many steep learning curves ahead.

One day in that first week, as we were cleaning the new apartment in hopes of filling it with things we would eventually buy, MI asked for a towel to wipe something down. I checked, but I knew that all we had were the fluffy, new navy blue towels from the registry, and I wasn’t about to have the thing I used after showering also be the thing we used to wipe down the top of the cabinets. (As you, savvy reader, now know, they sometimes even served as a comforter…). I told him he had to find a rag.

We looked around the barren room and then made eye contact; there weren’t rags. We didn’t have any old ripped, stained, dirty anything that fit the bill. MI finally asked, “where do you GET rags? ” I thought; then remembered that in my house growing up we used the old, ugly towels from my Grandma in the 80s and cloth diapers from when I was a baby. Hmm. No old lacey bathroom towels, no ratty clothes (we got rid of all of that when we moved in with two suitcases!), no diapers of any kind.  Hmmm…

Honestly, I don’t remember how we solved that problem (maybe the way I would today: don’t clean the top of the cabinets. Eww.)

But now, more than 10 years later, we have so many rags that I cycle through, throwing them away and replacing them with the new models. Just think: eventually, once I find those ideal vibrant, high-quality, self-cleaning washcloths, and we buy them forever more, we will have fun RAINBOW-COLORED RAGS.

washcloths--rainbow

It is kind of like being rich when you think about it; having lots of cleaning rags means we are established, we have lived, and we are thriving. Ironic, right?

That is pretty much like the whole marriage, really. After ten years, we totally have rags: things that tore or got dirty. Things that are no longer new, no longer pristine.

So  many rags, I have to sort them and get rid of the very old to make room for the new old. I’ve learned how to sort, and reorganize; share childcare responsibilities, tag team at toddler bedtime, and love in-laws; be kind when hungry and remember to use the parking brake; put away the milk after breakfast and call when I am late; to forgive and seek forgiveness every single day.

We didn’t used to have to do those things, and that time seems simpler and easier. And the “simpler and easier” from my memory sometimes gets confused with “happier”–but it isn’t, really. That is what I remembered as I sat in the kitchen with my washcloths. That early time of new marriage was when we didn’t know how to work. We didn’t have a true, established household. We didn’t have the tools we needed to make life beautiful.

Now, we do. As life gets more complicated and history grows longer and things get worn and sometimes broken, we get new rags. The practical, symbolic gift of experience.

I am grateful for them.

Even the brown ones.

Why Am I Always Tired?

I often find myself on the verge of falling asleep of late. Like, could-drift-off-at-any-time tired. I accidentally fell asleep while trying to perform child bedtime multiple times this week. I think I was asleep before the girls were; I cannot confirm what happened with them because I was asleep.

It seems notably bad when I am driving to work in the morning. I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this, not only for obvious safety reasons, but also because they seem to really be patrolling that corridor by the Pentagon lately. Plus, MI has heightened sensitivity about the new car’s paint since the time–now more than several days ago–that (probably) me (unknowingly) scraped the front on something (maybe) while he was out-of-town.

  • At first I thought it was my body’s passive aggressive protest against the unnecessary traffic buildup on Rt. 27–caused by selfish people forcing a late merge from the right lane that we all know has to exit.
  • Then I wondered if it was my subconscious’ way of trying to avoid going to work during a dry administrative patch that was, in itself, rather sleep inducing. Shouldn’t one fall asleep in the morning on her own terms?
  • I worried that maybe waking up really early to run a few times a week with my workout buddy was the elephant-culprit in the room (though people who run when it is cold and early and dark and COLD should never have bad things happen to them. That and cheese are the main reasons I do it.)
  • One day I realized that even though I was only just driving in to work to “start the day,” I had–in fact–been awake for four hours. I’d run (see above), dressed three people (D2 can do it herself…), made breakfasts and lunches (cutting the crusts off of at least six pieces of bread), done laundry (which now must be done every day?), washed dishes, and braided D2’s hair like Elsa (often requiring two attempts, since I struggle to get it “long enough,” owing in large part to D2’s short hair). That sounds like a rather full morning and well deserving of a nap.
  • I mostly stopped drinking tea. All winter I found it soothing and warming and peacefully ritualistic. And kind of grownup. And easy hedging in case it really does perform anti-green tea cupinflammatory/weight-loss/brain-cell-development miracles.* So I started drinking green tea. And it was so fun to be warm and grown-up and maybe developing my brain that I started drinking more. And more. Until my doctor suggested that 10 cups a day of green tea might be why I have to go to the bathroom so incredibly often, and I should cut back. I replaced it with dark chocolate, which has similar health benefits without the peeing side effect, but still feel a bit short on caffeine.
  • The morning commute is D2’s turn to pick the music and she likes a relatively small number
    princess_cadence_evil
    Evil Princess Cadence: my alter ego and assigned part in the song.

    of songs. Songs like Let it Go from Frozen and This Day from My Little Pony and Roll Up the Map from Jake and the Neverland Pirates. And we listen to them over and over. And they’re all completely awesome songs–she has great taste across the board–so I have to keep singing them really loud. The whole way. It can get *exhausting.*

  • The only time I have to myself or to talk to MI or to get anything done is after the children go to bed, so if I am not falling asleep at 8:15 while “reading,” I am up until midnight. You’re welcome, Instagram friends, for the sacrifices I make to heart the pictures of your kids and restaurant dinners. Plus, online shopping is more interesting after I take out my contacts.

With so many options of what might be making me sleepy, I need an aggressive, methodological approach. So tonight, with the whole evening to myself, I read all of the catalogs I received this week in the mail, looked at RunnersWorld while half-heartedly watching Ellen, checked out some old photos of acquaintances on Facebook, and then binge-watched several episodes of a new show on Netflix. Nothing has come to me yet, but I am going to keep trying to figure it out.

My working hypothesis is that I am always tired because Germany (<–click link for best TV commercial ever).

SONY DSC

Off to bed.  I’ll be back on the case tomorrow.  😉


*Check out an article on the 10 Proven Benefits of Green Tea. It is “proven” that it “may” help. It also “may” start managing all of your bills, scrubbing down the shower, and taking you out to pizza every other weekend. Results vary by individual.

Lent: An Exercise in Rationalization

I will not eat refined sugar until Easter.

I will not eat *dessert* until Easter.

I will not eat dessert unless its has clear nutritional value, like chocolate-covered almonds, which are full of antioxidants and protein.

I will not eat unhealthy dessert, except on Sundays. If you completely deprive yourself you are destined to fail, right?

I will not eat unhealthy dessert during the week; cookies are sometimes necessary in social situations or to boost my professional productivity and are, therefore, not dessert.

I will not eat refined sugar that comes wrapped in packaging. Homemade dessert is a different thing. And ice cream cartons are really more like a family-style serving bowl from which you fill up your own, personal bowl–not packaging.

Snow days with children and visiting family are obvious exceptions, since you can’t be a good parent/host without providing snacks. And you can’t be expected to be snowed in and not eat all those snacks, some of which inevitably are dessert.

MI gave up TV, which we mostly just watch together. So I haven’t watched TV either. Maybe I actually gave up TV until Easter.

I am not watching TV until Easter. Except children’s shows, because the kids didn’t give up TV and sometimes they get scared of cartoon villains or I need to audit to make sure their shows are wholesome and educational.

I am not watching TV for grownups. Sports are not TV, since you could in theory be watching it live if you happened to be there. And movies, which aren’t on TV if you use another device to play them.

Best Wishes for Lent: Grab some cookies and let’s watch basketball and My Little Pony!

I have a blog, or, the story of how I write to you not on Facebook

My husband (“Mr. Incredible” for the purposes of this new writing platform) gave me a blog for Christmas!  It was the best present for two reasons: 1) it was a complete surprise, which I think is almost impossible to do now-a-days for someone with whom you live, commute, and share an Amazon Prime account 2) It is something I have been thinking about and talking about but not actually doing because I didn’t quite know how and wasn’t quite sure. But now I don’t have to think about it or set it up. I have a blog. Boom.  Thanks, Mr. Incredible (hereafter “MI,” since I am tried of typing that all out already. Remember it is flattering.).

My old ideas for a hypothetical blog included this title–Parenthetical Asides–because such phrases are a notable characteristic of the way I write (as you’ll come to see) and my favorite way of infusing my (obviously witty and important) opinion into stories about life to open them up and make them richer and more funny.

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Happy. Serious. Good looking.

For years I have regaled family and friends with accounts of my children’s hilarity and my experiences as a mother/wife/sister/daughter/employee/aspiring athlete/home cook/consistently poor parker. I take joy in capturing life’s ridiculous, happy, and authentic moments with candor, photos, and the occasional poop story. My hope for this new blog is that its existence will inspire me to think creatively; that it will draw out more light and humor in my surroundings; and, that it will make us both happy.