Thanks, boom chicka pop.

You are the most addictively delicious snack food that I can pretend is sorta healthy in the whole world. I love everything about you. I love your big purple bag. I love how you taste sweet and salty. I guess that’s pretty much all. You are just bagged popcorn, after all.

Thanks for making this afternoon delicious.  And for being Evie’s snack so that I didn’t have to make Nutella bread (again). Also, thanks for being on sale at Costco. $2 off. I am going to put that towards something special in your honor. In the mean time, tell James how I only bought one bag of you (instead of 3, like I originally planned. SAVING MONEY!) and make me sounds as awesome as I have you.

 

Thank you, Nordstrom Cafe

Hi Nordstrom Cafe,

I know you probably don’t hear this very often, but you helped me save money. At least, kinda (the way I often claim to be “saving money”, right James?), and you introduced me to a new beverage that I LOVE. So thanks for kicking the New Year off right.

It all started because I had a gift card with $2.65 left to your parent store. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked, but there are literally NO THINGS for $2.65 in Nordstrom, and I was not about to leave money on the table.

So I wandered down to you, looking for something warm to help me face the brisk 52 degree North Carolinian winter and comforting after spending far too much on jeans when there is so much suffering in the world.

The “London Fog.” I had no idea what it was, but I decided to try it. Mmmm, smooth and lavender-y. Frothy and sweet.  Finished off my gift card and only required pocket change to complete the balance.  Exactly what I wanted, which–like–never happens on jeans shopping day.

The experience was so positive I am wearing the jeans and tried to make a London Fog myself today. I googled recipes and bought the right tea and even whisked the milk. Not the same.

I need a new gift card, and then I will be back.

Thank you, Alex from PetSmart. You’re a hero.

Thank you, Alex from PetSmart,

You clipped my dog Maisie’s nails this morning, and it was absolutely the highlight of my day (my days are sometimes lame, it is true, but this is meaningful because it is the first day of kids back in school after Christmas break!!). I wanted to make sure you knew what a good job you did, since it probably seemed like a disaster as it was happening. That was actually the best it’s ever gone. I had started to think it couldn’t be accomplished at all. Alex the Hero!

I suspect you thought it was all ridiculous: how it took nearly 15 minutes and you had to soothe her and restrain her and hold her onto the table while holding her paw while also using the file, while she cried and tried to jump. All the while I simultaneously cooed at her what a good girl she was (I realize that seemed like a total lie; I appreciate your not saying anything) and showed her the treat she would earn–one per paw at your clever suggestion–and promised to buy her a nice bone when it was all finished. You treated us both with dignity and patience when, frankly, we deserved neither.

I wish I could say that Maisie learned her lesson after your patient attention, but I doubt it. In addition to the reward bone, I also bought her a discounted Christmas stuffed animal that is almost as big as she is. I meant it to reinforce the rewards that await those who get their nails clipped. But she is proudly carrying it around the house with a decided air of victory over the dremel and I fear she is making plans for future resistance.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the $3 tip. We’re coming to you again next time.  Happy New Year!

Thanks, specialty flours

Dear Bread and Cake Flours,

Thanks so much for coming to stay for the last two weeks at our house. I have to admit, I was skeptical when James added you to the shopping list at the start of the holiday season. I thought, ‘we have 25 pounds of all purpose flour. ALL PURPOSE flour.  Why do we need any other kind?’

I was wrong.  The cookies and the cookies and the cookies were amazing snickerdoodles-with-santa-hatand light and fluffy.  Santa ate SO MANY while he made the trampoline. The scones were dry, but I think they’re supposed to be dry, so great job. I deeply loved the homemade sandwich bread and our Christmas tradition cinnamon rolls,cinnamon-rolls and the pumpkin bread.

Oh, and the pie crust! pieLiterally every single day of break you were bringing some new deliciousness into our home. And everything was just *that much better* than it would have been with all-purpose flour.

Furthermore, thanks for your gift to me going forward: I had not yet identified a clear resolution for 2017. Up until your early December arrival, I think I had been eating pretty well (except, the occasional (daily) piece(s) of candy/candies).  But now I have an obvious New Year’s resolution to eat fewer delicious carbs. (Or not.  That actually sounds terrible.)

Anyways, thanks.  You are special, specialty flours, and you made our holiday extra festive.  Come visit again soon!

Thanks, Santa

Dear Santa,

Thanks for coming last week. I especially loved how you worked all through the night to set up that amazing trampoline. That must have been hard and cold and I hope your hand feels better. Neither of us could have guessed that in the seven days since your amazing efforts, it would have either rained, had strong winds, or the whole world–especially the

sycamore-balls
Try jumping on these. Just try.

trampoline bed–would be covered in spikey sycamore balls every single day.  So no one has really jumped on that awesome gift yet.  But don’t worry.  I bet the kids will be out there ALL the TIME.  Me too.  I am going to pretty much become a gymnast again.  So it was worth it and your ideas are great.

That all said, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that next year you have to up your sneakiness level.  Abigail–my oldest, I am sure you know her; squeaked by, just barely onto the nice list–is very rational and very observant.  She notices Amazon boxes and American Girl boxes and handwriting similarities and we-have-that-in-the-house-from-Target wrapping paper. So you were a bit, shall we say, cavalier this year.  We both hoped you’d be able to get away with it in second grade.  Nope.

Also, mind manufacturing labels.  Abigail noticed that her doll was “Made in China” but you live, and so presumably work, in the North Pole.  Noting this discrepancy, combined with the other things I mentioned, Abigail posited a hypothesis that you are really “parents.” Evie set her straight, as she often does, with a theory about how you travel around collecting toys in advance made all around the world, then re-travel around distributing them, but we’ve got a skeptic.  So, just, heads up.

Sorry this letter isn’t as full of gratitude as I intended.  Thanks for all the new socks, the llama pajamas, the candy that looked like it might have been taken last month from the leftover Halloween bucket, and all the magic.

348 shopping days and counting,

Lauren

Thank you, 2016: A new year’s project on positivity

I have heard it said by super important people, like Peter Segal and Buzzfeed and John Oliver, that 2016 was the worst year ever.  From a macro perspective, I can see it, even if lots of good things happened for me. (see Christmas letter post for details.)

To get this new year started off right (read: better, please so much better) I am going to do a project on gratitude.  I am not sure how it will shape up exactly, but I do know that positivity really can’t ever hurt anything (that is what overly positive people think. I am staying on theme). So, I am going to kick it off with a series of blog posts to people, places, and things that have made me happy and my life better.

If you have ideas or want to write gratitude posts of your own, please leave suggestions in the comments below. (I flatter myself that after not writing for mostly a year, people will still read this thing.  At least my mom will.  And she has great ideas.  Maybe I will write about that… Love you, mom!)

Happy New Year!

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!

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.

Accidental Decapitation and Other Profound Toddler Insights

It was nearly time to leave. Five more minutes, and I was trying to sneak in a few more dishes, clear a few breakfast plates, and speed blow dry my hair for work. Five minutes.

I asked D2 to put on her shoes. I asked her to pick up the toys on the living room floor. I asked her to finish her breakfast. I asked her to brush her hair.

She could not. She was unavailable because the only thing she could do was find Christmas ornament Princess Anna, so that it could accompany small, plastic Queen Elsa, who needed someone similarly sized with whom to play.

I knew where Anna was. I’d seen her in a toy bin earlier that week. We needed to GO. I spent two of the five minutes explaining why we did not have time because WE ONLY HAD FIVE MINUTES, then finally caved when I realized she cared more about finding Anna than I did about my plans at work. I found Anna. Just because toddlers are small and have different values doesn’t mean they are ridiculous, right?

Wrong. They are ridiculous.


I started to go upstairs for the speed hair styling–nope. Called back down to remove a tag that was stuck to Princess Anna, obviously making her impossible to play with. Maybe even impossible to touch, given the freak-out crying that was going on. [Why are we playing with a Christmas ornament in April? Why did it still have the tag on it? Why does Disney even make clay Christmas ornaments in characters that are only going to appeal to small children? What diabolical person first invented glitter?!  I do not know.] But nothing could go on until there was no tag.

As I removed the tag, I took the chance to remind D2 about how this was *not* a plastic Anna.

Magiclip dolls are the perfect solution to toddler dexterity. Sadly, this is not their story.
Magiclip dolls are the perfect solution to toddler dexterity. Sadly, this is not their story.

This was no magiclip. This was BREAKABLE ANNA, and she COULD NOT drop it because it would break. She had to be sooooooo careful. (I knew this was true. Because Anna used to be one of a set; may Christmas ornament Elsa rest in peace.]

As I handed Anna over, tag-free, I asked

“Can you please be so careful? And make sure not to drop her?”

” I will be sooooooooo sooooooo careful.  I will not–” [drops Anna.] “Oh! It is ok, she is okay!  She did not break.”

“Ok. She did not break, but you dropped her right on the rug. If you drop her on the hard floor, she will break.”

Whatever. We both knew. I knew it was Anna’s last day. Anna knew it was her last day. Nothing could stop fate.

What D2 knew, though, was something else entirely: her mom was over-dramatic and clearly dropping the figurine was NBD. Parents.

Moments–seriously MOMENTS later–D2 quietly approached me in the bathroom where I was blow drying my hair any way, even though we were late. Clenched in her right hand, Anna’s body,decapitated anna coated lightly in glitter. In her left, Anna’s severed head, still primed with a white string to hang from the Christmas tree. Decapitated within 2 minutes.

As D2 told me that she was sooooooooo sorry (which is the same as being sooooooo careful, I’ve found, in terms of shaping children’s future behavior), I thought about how children were so hard sometimes because no matter how many times you said something or how seemingly simple the task–‘hold this one small thing that you wanted in your closed hand until we get to the car’–it never worked.  And there was breaking and crying and lateness.

I left decapitated Anna on the bathroom counter–Toddlers, ye be warned!–and we left for school with only plastic Elsa, sad and alone once more.


Throughout the day, though, I realized that as rough as parenting toddlers can be, I am pretty flake-y myself. My follow-through, pretty toddler-like, in fact. The work project that I hadn’t sent out specifics for on which other people were waiting. The appointments I needed to call and set up, the chores I needed to do, the errands I needed to run, the more chores I needed to do. The puppy I decided I wanted yesterday, only to realize that . . we can’t have a puppy, so I had to back out and disappoint people, including myself. Today, even, the hour I should have spent prepping dinner and straightening the living room that I instead spent watching Disney Toy Collector and sneaking chocolate chips out of the pantry. Flakey.


I guess the world is too big and the tasks too many, and we are only really able to focus on the handful of certain things that really matter. And the trick is figuring out what those are and doing them well, rather than scrambling to hold all of them.

When I picked D2 up from school, she was running through the playground with a pack of friends. When she saw me, she ran straight over and, with a huge hug, presented me with “the longest piece of grass ever!” She had found it herself almost an hour ago and had been clutching it for me the whole time so that it wouldn’t get lost.

I added the precious grass to my nature jar, which is full of sticks and pine cones, grass and dry flowers that my girls have given more over the years. There was once a period spanning almost two-months when toddler-aged Ella saved me a handful of grass every day (similarly clutched for hours) so that I could share the best part of her day.

We don’t have a whole Christmas ornament Anna anymore. And I did a pretty mediocre job cleaning and planning my work project. But I have the longest blade of grass ever in my nature jar, which seems like evidence of us holding on to the right things.

My beloved nature jar, with its new blade of grass.
My beloved nature jar, with its new blade of grass.

Thank you?

Yesterday, I was in a multi-person, adult meeting–in the middle of speaking!–when my daughter entered the room, interrupting the conversation to hand me her half-eaten apple. She was done. Here, momma. I took it, as I do, and said “thank you” as she walked away. Said it automatically, without really thinking.

Thank you? Thank you for being willing to have someone else throw this apple away for you. Thank you for not screaming about being finished. Or hiding the core in the depths of our friends’ couch. Or throwing it at someone. Or trying to flush it down the toilet.

Thank you for eating fruit. Thank you for walking away, instead of insisting that I eat the rest of this apple, right now while you watch. Thank you for not vomiting. (Always, thank you for not vomiting.) Thank you that this interruption was quite short. And that you were fully clothed and had recently blown your nose, on account of the guests. Thanks for only eating half so that there was somewhere obvious to hold.

Thank you, my thoughtful little friend. Thank you for all that this interaction was not, but so easily could have been. I will throw away your apple. In the trash can you passed on the way over.

Gratitude in parenting–such a low bar.