Intangible 34th Birthday Gifts

As these posts seem to get fewer and farther between, they get harder to write. The ideas are always rolling around in my head, but they don't usually make it to my typing fingers. Actually, I don't know when the last time I've used this laptop was...these days between Faith's activities, Gabby's plea for my undivided attention and Rob claiming that he needs clean pants to wear to work (diva!) I haven't had the time or energy to blog.

But I recently turned the ole 3-4, and there's nothing like a birthday to remind a writer to write before they forget. And here I am with some me time, so I thought I'd talk about what made this year's birthday so special.

Let me begin with my hatred of even numbers. I despise turning even numbers. It makes me feel two years older instead of one. So when this year's even birthday fell on a Monday, it wasn't exactly lining up to be a memorable one.

Still, my family just knows the way to my heart. Below are the birthday gifts I'll treasure long after the flowers are dead (OK, they already died - this post is more than a month after Sept. 19th).

From Rob: As mentioned in the previous sentence, Rob sent me flowers at work. I am not even a huge flower woman, but knowing that your special someone wants to surprise you gets me every time. He could send a loaf of bread and a stick of butter from Hy-Vees Online Aisles delivery service and I would still swoon. But, that's not what hit me right in the feels from him. One night before my birthday I arrived home with both girls only to be greeted by a yappy dog and no husband. In my haze to get out of my work clothes, I went directly to the bedroom and walked right past the giant new painting on the living room wall. Now, some might see the painting as the gift. While it's beautiful, and I love the way it fits with our colors and aesthetic, I was happier that he finally just went ahead and picked something out and hung it up rather than wait for me to make a decision by the time I'm 54 and hang it up a year after that. He took something off my to do list I've been wanting to do for so long and for that, I love the man I married even more.

From Faith: Now here's a girl who cannot sleep past 6 a.m. Most days she comes in our bedroom and I'll tell her to go back to bed, or if it's at least 6:30, she can watch a cartoon. One morning she came in around 5:45 and I told her she could go back to sleep on the couch. When I awoke 30 minutes later to take the dog for a walk, I came out to this picture. The flash ruined it, but essentially I walked out of my bedroom to see a small green light illuminating a 6-year-old girls face. "Faith, what are you doing?" I asked, and upon closer inspection, I noticed that she was reading her children's bible and had been for about 30 minutes. It immediately brought tears to my eyes and I felt like I actually had some cred at this parenting gig. Most of all, it was my chance to learn from her. Reading scripture in the morning is something I want to make a habit of doing. My anxiety tends to run high in the mornings, with everything from doubts about getting to work on time to making sure the girls have everything they need for the day and I think reading would help. My firstborn is setting the example for me!

From Gabby: This little lady has been attending performances at the Rose children's theatre in Omaha since she was an infant. Not alone (that would be weird) but when big sis went, lil sis got to come too. Faith always enjoys staying after the show for the Q &A session with the actors, and has frequently been called upon as she sits in the front row with her hand held high. Well, at the most recent show Gabby decided she wanted to ask a question for the first time. As protector of her feelings, self-worth and toddler dignity, this made me nervous. I envisioned her not getting called on and being devastated, forgetting her question or just completely freezing and not knowing what to do. Well, wouldn't you know it. She raised her hand high, and when the actor called on her, she called out her question. "How did the cow jump over the moon?" loud enough for everyone to hear. My heart absolutely SOARED. This kid is 3. Most of the kids who participate are double that. So my gift from her wasn't going to the show together, but just seeing her with the confidence to speak out in front of her older peers. It's just another one of the little things.

I also have to thank my parents for the thoughtful cards and meals and my sisters for a coffee cup that describes my personality a little too well. Happy 34th birthday to me!

16 Scholastic Children's Books We've Read in 2016

My name is Nicole, and I am a Scholastic-holic. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. The second step is ignoring the problem and continuing to order cheap paperbacks while living vicariously through your 3 and 6-year-olds. Of course my children benefit from this addiction, but now so can you, with this handy dandy list of 16 best/not-the-best children's books we've read this year. As the adults who are forced asked to read the same thing time and time again, it helps if we actually like the book. Here are the ones we like, love, and would like to love a little more.


This books kicks some serious big-bad-wolf-butt! It's all about female empowerment with a great iambic pentameter to accentuate the fierceness. LOVE!


This one caught me with tears in my eyes when I was least expecting it. It's all about adjusting to life with a sibling and while it may be initially painful for the older sib, the relationship will be unlike any other out there. Great for parents feeling guilty about spreading their love as their family expands. LOVE!


This book was our introduction into Todd Parr, and I cannot buy enough of his books. In a nutshell, they teach kids that looking different, feeling scared and showing you care are all OK, in fact, more than OK, it's encouraged. I've snapped all of these up and encourage you to do the same. LOVE!


Remember when I talked about reading books over and over and OVER again?! Yeah, that was this book for my oldest. She could not get enough of it when she was 3-4. It's about a cupcake with several eccentric relatives and a candle who has the same problem. They become friends and you won't see the ending coming. It also includes a recipe for cupcakes and frosting in the back that we've tried. The cupcakes were good, but the frosting was pure sugar aka the best part. LOVE!


There are so many phases in learning to read. I didn't realize how painfully slow of a process it was until our daughter worked on letter recognition, letter sounds, sight words and is now finally reading pretty darn good for a 6-year-old (not-so-humble-brag). These books can be compared with the ole Dick saw Jane. Jane ran away. Dick is sad. books of my youth. LOVE. (As if the photo with two box sets wasn't enough evidence.


This is a series that we fell in love with by checking out at our local library. While paperbacks just aren't the same as hardcovers, these books are just charming with their sweet art and heart-warming messages throughout. LOVE!


Hopefully you've read "On the Night You Were Born" by Nancy Tillman. Each time I page through it, I'm transported back to the night Faith was born (11:15 p.m.) and I became a mom for the first time. I thought Gabby should have her own Nancy Tillman book that spoke to how I feel about her, so I got this one. It's all about a mother/father's love and how it's with you no matter where you go. It alwaysleaves me feeling comforted that my own mama is with me everywhere I go. LOVE.


The Whatever After series has quickly become a fan favorite in our house despite the fact we are reading them backwards. The author put a spin on the princess fairy tales we all know and find extremely sexist :) While in chapter format with no pictures, our 3-year-old sits and listens to the stories while hopefully imagining them in her own head. LOVE! 


The story of a piece of peanut-buttered bread searching for a BFF almost goes on too long while you feel sorry for the poor shlup, but you-know-who arrives just in time. Impressive pictures of food in action with laugh-out-loud puns along the way. LOVE. (We bought the sequel "Milk Goes to School" and weren't really impressed.)


We were introduced to this series by my sweet little nephew. If I'm being honest, the original book is the best, but the others are good, too. Iambic pentameter shines here, too. LIKE.


I realize it's a tad late to be recommending "The Night Before (insert grade level here)" books. But maybe they're on sale and you can save it for next year. There are several of these types of books out there and I've found this author's versions to be the best. Plus, it makes for a fun "night before school" tradition. LIKE.


This is a series of books about different types of "busy people" and what their workdays look like. My youngest demanded I start calling her Dr. Mike for a good six months after we read this one about a veterinarian. Not the best dialogue, but kids won't notice. LIKE.


The colors of this book did not photograph well, but it's a fan favorite in our house. A quick read, all about the alphabet, both uppercase mom and dads and lowercase kids. And let's face it, the title is just fun to say. LIKE.


I thought this series (are you starting to gather my Scholastic problem is no joke?) would be good for little ears to hear. Instead, the little boy is just kind of a jerk, and there is dialogue with a story happening at the same time. I don't enjoy reading it because frankly, there are just too many words, ideas and concepts on one page. Sad to say, but it's the truth. DISLIKE.


We bought this book a few years ago when getting our toddler to brush her teeth was similar to pulling teeth. While it is very educational, our plan backfired. Instead of being horrified at the thought of her teeth falling out due to cavities, our lovely little one stopped brushing as well as she should have been with the hopes of them falling out being followed by a visit from the tooth fairy. Possibly better for an advanced audience! DISLIKE.


Let me just start by saying that I LOVED Amelia Bedelia growing up. I thought her mishaps were hilarious, but kids (at least my kids) just look confused as to why she does things so literally. For older kids, I think these would be a hit, but understanding sarcasm might help here. Since Amelia and I go way back I'll say love/hate.

That's it for our list of 16 books we LOVE, LIKE and would like to love a little more this year. What do you think? Have you read any of these? Do you have other recommendations to add to the list? Are you also slightly pissed at Sam Science for making your daughter think cavities will make the tooth fairy come faster? Me neither. Would love to read your reactions in the comments!

Gabby the 3-Year-Old Girl

23 Things About Gabby Grace, born on May 23, 2013. Just be glad it's not a list of 2013 things!

You still can't pronounce your Ss. So it's poon, parkly, Piderman. We find it so adorable that we've started referring to these things this way, too.

You are such a comedian. Your facial expressions and need to make a goofy face in every photo mean that you love to make others laugh.

For your birthday, all you wanted was a "jumping castle."When I asked you what else, you would get confused like I already told you! The only other thing you would say is "zebra." Pretty sure that's illegal.

Every night before bed, you ask us to "tell me a story." When we ask about what, you usually answer, the pee story (about the time you urinated on me after you were born), the playground story (about the time I ran away from home to the playground), etc. You just love to be told stories.

Every night after we put you to bed, you come out and say, "I need to tell you a question." While it's kind of hilarious, we know you're just stalling. Usually, you have to scramble to come up with something that's not even a question. Falling asleep does not come easy to you.

Your best friends at school are named Penelope and Maisie. And we can't forget Cha-lotte (who needs that R?) You also have an imaginary friend named Paca. Or maybe his/her name is Parker, but you just say it like you have a New Jersey accent.

You are such a little water bug. Someone who will remain nameless cried every time a water droplet touched her face, so the fact that you love a big ole bucket of water dumped right on top of your head in the bathtub is awesome. You rocked it at swimming lessons and love putting your face in and making crazy movement with your body.

You are having a busy summer of activities! Woo hoo for being potty trained, a requirement for a few of them. You went to nature camps, swimming lessons and vacation bible school.

Now that you're 3 you can't stop talking about turning 4. Oh no you don't. You have to wait a whole year for your birthday so don't be trying to speed up time.

You are such a smarty pants. You can recognize half your letters and count to 20 already. You pretend to read books and have a crazy vocabulary. Here you are on your last day of school!

You love spicy foods. And immediately regret it. But you still want to try the food the next time.

You're kind of a cheater. When we play I spy or 20 questions in the car, instead of waiting until somebody guesses what you're thinking of, you just wait until you hear something you like and then say, "Yeahhh!"

You are so laid back. Very rarely do you cry unless you get physically hurt. You have told me that I hurt your feelings when I told you to go back to bed.

You are never tired. Please tell me how you do it.

You love babies, real ones and pretend. You will make a great mama someday and before that, a great babysitter. I love it when we play role reversal and you take care of me while I lay down on the floor for a nap. I'm half modeling good behavior I hope you'll latch onto and half using it as a rest break.

You are becoming more of a daddy's girl this summer. Out of the blue, you'll say, "I like you, dad" which is kind of a big deal given your former Stage 5 clinger phase and he can even comfort you in the middle of the night now, something he is just thrilled about, right hun?

This goes without saying, but you are beautiful. Not just in your envious blonde hair and striking blue eyes, but in your happy personality that just makes me want to smooch you any and every time I hold you.

You are not a big fan of the spotlight. And for whatever reason, I completely love this about you.

You are so unique and I have to force myself to remember that all the time. Just because Faith did things one way, doesn't mean you will. Also, she became a big sister at your age and therefore started getting treated differently. I won't say we baby you, but we kind of baby you.

Sisterly love/dislike is at an all time high. The two of you make each other laugh like no one else can and enjoy potty humor more than any girls I know. The word "toot" is particularly funny for some reason. At the same time, the two of you get on each other's nerves like no one else can. She gets in your face and then you push her and basically, you're both at fault as she's invading your bubble, however violence is not the answer. But the fact that you always have each other makes me happy.

You are going to be in gymnastics this fall and I can't wait to watch. At Grammy and Papa's house, you take a running start, throw yourself into the couch and then see how high your feet fly up behind your head. It's quite impressive and may be the next Olympic sport.

Right now you're napping, but not without a fight and the offer to sleep in a sleeping bag or Faith's bed. Please, just give me one more year of restful afternoons!

You've probably gotten the point, but I just don't think I can say it enough: I love you, Gabby. I love spending time with you, talking to you, watching you, laughing with you. I love it all. And I speak for Dad and Faith, too. We all love you, my 3-year-old girl.

***And if after  all that, you still haven't had your fill of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed wonder (ahem, grandmas and grandpas), here's a 7-minute video sure to do the trick.

A Mother's Day Miracle

Ahh, Mother's Day. Is there anything better than being in the middle of a kid/grandma sandwich?When you are the meat/meat alternative and your children pamper you, and you, in turn, pamper your own bun of a mother. (Who thought of this analogy anyway?) Seriously, it's the best of both worlds. Especially when you all throw up a gang sign because it's just more fun than the traditional 3 symbol.

My day started off with me falling out of bed, quite literally, because I thought it would be a good idea to run 12.7 miles the day prior. At the time, it was fun spending 11 odd hours running 75 miles across Iowa with five of my now closest friends in a minivan. That sounds like an oxymoron for fun, but truly, we all wanted to sign up again when we finished. Granted that might have been due to the free, tasty beer at the end, but I digress. Anyway, on Sunday morning, my left IT band decided to call in sick. I envision it ringing up my brain saying, "Uh, yeah, I'm not gonna make it in today. I can barely move," and my brain thinking, "Yeah, right," before hanging up. But it's true. I could not bend my left knee at all. The muscles required to do that were completely spent from keeping my kneecap in place for nearly a half marathon.

Which is why it wasn't a great idea to tell my husband we should go to the zoo on Mother's Day. Because he is not an injury prone runner, he didn't see an issue with my running so far the day before when I suggested such a craptastic plan. Therefore, I followed my falling out of bed routine by walking around like a pirate with a wooden stump for a leg for the remainder of the day. You're welcome, zoo tourists. Even I was entertained watching myself take the stroller down a hill to see the elephants. Going back up, not so funny.

Non-functioning knee not pictured. Best unintentional photo bomb ever? Quite possibly.
Despite my physical setback, the mimosas and the macaws at the zoo were delightful. My new TOMS were exactly what I hoped for, but the thing that I didn't even know I wanted was the best present of all. You see, last year, my lovely eldest daughter, in her 4-year-old blatant honestly, made me a fill-in-the-blank card for Mother's Day. And it wasn't exactly a gift I recall fondly (it's since been burned and buried). You can read the entire saga if you like, but in a nutshell, basically, she proclaimed that her mommy's main "likes" included: watch TV. drink beer. In that order. See for yourself.

Now, I do like to do these things, and who doesn't, but I would like for them not to define me, especially to caretakers of my young children. So...that's what made this year's pink laminated place mat qualify as a priceless family heirloom that will be passed down for generations. See for yourself.

My name is: Nikol. (Close enough.)
She calls me: Nik. (Uh, sure. Or, Moooooooooooom.)
I am: 33 years old. (And aging backward!)
I have: Block/Black hair. (I will dye it black if you don't tell people I watch too much Netflix while consuming adult beverages.)
My job is: helping at school. (Awwwwwwwwww. I volunteer for an hour each week, and apparently someone has noticed.)
I like to: WAIT FOR IT ---- See her. And play with her. (YES. YES. YES. YES. YES!)
I am special because: She loves me.

I will take it. All the way to the bank. Where I will put this in a safety deposit box for years to come. Because you never know what she'll come up with next year...

A Happy Mother's Day indeed!

Our Unplanned Chicago Vacation

I had just finished packing all my long underwear along with 10 pairs of short underwear because you just never know, when it dawned on me I hadn't checked my phone in a while.

9 missed calls from my husband.

This can't be good, I thought, and it wasn't. Our flight to Denver had been cancelled. Not delayed, cancelled. It was Wednesday at 11 a.m. and the next flight out wasn't until Friday at 1:30 p.m. There goes our ski trip. The one we'd looked forward to for months, plotted and planned for and purchased lift tickets in advance. The one we'd spent a Friday night buying ski pants for. The one I had just finished packing for. Poof. Gone. Goodbye.

I hung up the phone and let out a primal scream. Rob, I later learned, may or may not have punched a concrete wall when he learned the flight was cancelled. (This just in: the wall won). In tears of frustration, I called my mom to vent. The thought of going to work the next day instead of the ski slope was disheartening. The thought of not going anywhere on vacation was downright depressing. My mom was disappointed too. She'd looked forward to this weekend with her granddaughters for a long time. No meddling parents to monitor anyone's sugar intake.

She suggested we go to Vegas, but I'm not really a Vegas kinda girl, plus we've already been there. That's when I remembered the Iowa State men's basketball team was playing in the Sweet 16 in Chicago. I called Rob. He was in, and we decided to make the 7 hour trek by car that night. After several phone calls, and reassurances that we would indeed get a full refund on the plane tickets, lift tickets and car and equipment rentals, our moods were greatly improved and we were off.

We headed east by car and stopped in Bettendorf, where my aunt lives, to spend the night. Aunt Sherry has a framed saying in her kitchen that says, "What do you think this is, a Holiday Inn?" But really her hospitality was better than any hotel. She had hot soup with homemade garlic bread ready for us when we pulled into the driveway, and let us drink her craft beer you can only buy in Wisconsin. Then she fed us ice cream for dessert. If that weren't enough, she then called her daughter who lives in Chicago, and Sarah guided us through booking a hotel in downtown Chicago through Hotwire. We ended up getting a room for two nights for $101 a night. I was so thrilled that everything was coming together I couldn't stop smiling, hence this picture in which I look like I was just released from an insane asylum.

After a good night's sleep, we awoke the next morning to Sherry cooking breakfast. (Take that Holiday Inn.) When my mom text a photo of the girls enjoying their bunny pancakes at her house, we text back a picture of us enjoying our bacon and eggs in the same pose at Sherry's house.

The drive to Chicago was rainy, but we just chatted the whole way sans radio just as we had the four hours to Bettendorf. I think Rob likes to make a game of how long can we make it before we run out of things to say. The answer is between 6 hours and Nicole-can't-stay-awake-any-more.

Our hotel -The Gwen - was ah-mazing. I wish I was getting paid to say it, but I'm not. Thank you, Hotwire. We did have to pay $45 a night to park, but knowing our car was safe and sound was worth it. After we dropped our bags off, we walked less than a block or two to the Eataly. Rob and I were both overwhelmed, so after wandering around for 15 minutes wondering how the place worked, we finally asked someone who informed us there were at least 5 restaurants within the place, each one with a different style. We opted for a meat and cheese bar and of course, wine, because vacation = Thursday afternoon wine consumption.

Our hotel was connected to Nordstrom's (Hotwire, you get me.) so we popped in there and I bought some new shoes and Rob was just grateful they weren't $500 Jimmy Choo heels. He was tired from driving, so he went back to the hotel while I did some more window shopping. I walked by a blowout salon and thought, what the heck!? I'd never had a blowout before so when they said it was only $35, I was in. For those who've never had one, or have never heard of it, a blowout is basically a haircut without the trim, except they spend a lot longer shampooing, conditioning and blowdrying and OHMYWORD, it is relaxing. I am not a massage person, but I loved having my hair blow dried and curled this way. Plus, it meant I didn't have to style it for our date night.

On the suggestion of Sherry's daughter Sarah, we bought tickets to a Second City show for Thursday night called #DateMe. I wasn't sure when I booked it, but we laughed through the entire show, especially when they had one man and one woman in the audience answer 5 things they couldn't live without and then based a sketch off of their responses. This was my kind of date night, highly recommend if you're in the Chicago area. Dinner at Dinotto's beforehand (a quick walk from the theatre) was delicious, especially the salad, and you know it's good when Mr. Lindquist is raving about vegetables.

The next morning we took our time getting ready (quite the luxury for us) and then walked to Cloudgate which was a mile or so from our hotel. It was cold and we are directionally challenged, but we made it and got in on the reflection selfie action. I think we both missed the girls a little bit, knowing that they would have loved seeing themselves in the Bean. Maybe this summer.

Anyway, we checked out Macy's and bought some Garret's popcorn before it was time for lunch. (I loved that it was time to eat or drink every couple hours!) On the recommendation or Sarah's daughter Alicia, (this family is all about hospitality) we ate at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel's The Game Room, which was vintage-y with gastro pub food. I proceeded to kick Rob's backside at shuffleboard and then we put on a performance of worst game of pool ever for everyone in attendance. Seriously, I got the giggles we were so incredibly bad. Taking mercy on the crowd, Rob finally hit the 8-ball in but he had scratched on the break, so technically, I think I won! Gotta love technicalities.

After a post lunch nap, we got ready for the Main Event, the Iowa State Sweet 16 game. We took an Uber to the United Center with Stanley, the worst Uber driver of all time. He bragged about his musical comedy show the entire way there, yelled in frustration that he was lost, and made us late, yet Rob humored him and took a selfie. If you see this man in an Uber, run far far away! He's probably fired by now.

At last, we met up with our friends, and fellow ISU alums, Jamie and Sarah. Jamie and Rob were college roommates and we had a great time pre-gaming with them despite the long lines at the bars. This is about where the good time ended because the Cyclones forgot to show up for the game.

Thankfully there was beer in the suite, and we were able to drown our sorrows somewhat while we waited for a comeback that never came. The seats were amazing though, and Cyclone Nation never gave up. This was what we came for and even though we left disappointed, we still had a great time getting to see friends and cheer on the Cardinal and Gold together! Thank you again to Jamie for scoring us some amazing seats!

A bad game and too many beers led us to UNO's pizzeria where the waitress informed me a deep dish pizza would take 45 minutes to make and they were closing in an hour. Challenge accepted. I struggled to stay away until the pizza came (9:30 p.m. bedtime here) but I made it and the pizza was worth the wait. Check that off the bucket list. The next morning we headed home, but not before stealing a baby ketchup from the continental breakfast before we left. They also had mini honey, so we were able to check souvenirs off our list. :) It's the simple things!

Til next time, Chicago. Thanks for the unplanned hospitality!

And just in case you were wondering if these little girls missed their mom and dad, I think the bunny cake and colored eggs answer your question... thanks to Grammy and Papa for being you!