29 December 2008

The Year in Pictures (of The Bear)

Happy New Year! Here's to a productive and happy 2009!





An Oldie But a Goodie

Phat Pat hasn't made an appearance on Life's a Bear in awhile. Nate and I were reminiscing about a classic Patism over our long drive to Iowa last week. Enjoy!

In October, Nate, Benny, and my parents traveled to Omaha for a wedding. We stuck around in eastern Nebraska for the weekend to meet up with Nate's grandma, Lila. She doesn't get to see Benny much and we thought it would be a good opportunity to meet up. Lucky for us, my entire family decided to stick around too. My family can be slightly overwhelming - especially for a great-grandma.

Anyway, my dad was singing Benny's praises to Lila. He was telling her about how he knows where he takes his bath, how he knows where to get his milk, how he can life a dumbell over his head, how he can walk on water. In his story about Benny's ability to locate his bath and his milk, he detailed out Benny will sign "milk," run to the refrigerator, open the door, grab his milk, close the door, and gulp up his milk.

Wahhh? For those of you who are familiar with 15-month-old kids, you know that most of them CANNOT open a refrigerator. Benny is no exception. But my dad, in all his pride and his inability to tell a story without elaborating it, had to up the ante.

Nate and I looked at each other after my dad finished this story and just rolled our eyes. Another classic Phat Pat moment.

20 December 2008

Ch-ch-ch-changes


So, I sort of feel like a moron. I've been wondering how to post a photo in a blog post, thinking there was some sort of really high tech, confusing way to do it. Well, as it turns out, I can post photos via the tool bar. Doy! But while I was trying to figure all of this out, I also decided to change the layout. You know, shake things up a bit. It's nearly a new year. Why not? Benny and I leave for Nebraska tomorrow and then the whole Struckman/Brown family (including the Matt - yes, the same Matt of the "Brother-in-Law Experiment") will embark on an epic Christmas journey to the Quad Cities. OK, OK, perhaps it's not epic. But it will be longggg. If I don't post until after Christmas, have a very merry one!

P.S. Here's our family picture for the holidays - embedded in the post!!!

19 December 2008

Total Bummer, Dude

This just in: I didn't get the job. They didn't even call me to tell me. They emailed me. I'm bummed, for sure. But, to look on the bright side, this may be a sign that I need to concentrate on my dissertation. Truth be told, I wasn't looking forward to working and writing full time.

15 December 2008

'Mama'

Benny finally said it. And said it with authority. And he was referring to me. My heart grew five times its normal size last night.

He's also added a few other words to his vocabulary: "ball," "all done," and "clock." And now he's signing "book," "bread," "outside," and "hot." Oh, that Bear. What amazing little fella.

13 December 2008

Top 10 List

I've been day dreaming of all the things I'll do once I'm finished with my dissertation. I'm ready to throw this thing out. Here's how I'll spend my time when I turn this damn thing in...

10. Volunteer
9. Shop
8. Paint
7. Socialize (even go out on dates with my husband!)
6. Watch movies without feeling guilty
5. Help out more with home improvement projects
4. Plan more exciting, fun things for Benny
3. Take a yoga class
2. Have another baby
1. Read books for fun!!!

These are in no particular order. I'm excited for everything. Particularly with doing more fun stuff with Benny and reading books for fun!

Someday. Someday.

12 December 2008

The Double Standard

The scoop: I had a job interview on Wednesday! Hurray! I'm not getting my hopes up about getting this job because it's very likely that I won't. But, having an interview certainly made me think about many issues, most of them regarding Benny and my dissertation.

If I start working, we'll have to put Benny in daycare. I have VERY mixed emotions about this. But, just like everything related to Benny, we'll get through this by trial and error. I'm also a little concerned about my dissertation. I do have a decent amount written, but I don't like the thought of working full time while trying to finish a dissertation. That's how I wrote my thesis and it wasn't fun.

The issue that has bothered me the most, however, doesn't deal with the present. It's about the future. Of course, if we have another child, this child will probably be in daycare from an early age. With a house and two kids, I don't think I could take a year off to hang out with both of our babies. Because I'll probably work for a nonprofit, my maternity leave will probably be short and I'll probably have to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act. This act allows employees to take up to three months off without the threat of losing their job. Three months. That's not very long. The upside of the law is that it allows anyone to take the time off, including men. That means that Nate could take advantage of the law as well. Our second kid could, theoretically, stay at home for up to six months.

The problem: When I brought this scenerio up to Nate, he was insistent that he couldn't do it. What bothers me isn't that he probably won't be able to take it, but that he isn't even willing to try. I'm expected to (and I'm happy to) take the time off. In fact, I think it's a sad state of affairs that women AND men aren't allowed more time off to stay at home with their new babies. I realize that Nate is in an industry that doesn't really have to leave with maternity/paternity leave because it's considered a feminine issue. Engineering is male dominated. But the fact that Nate won't even entertain the possibility bothers me.

If more men made taking FMLA a priority, families wouldn't have to deal with this issue over and over and over again. It's not just Nate, it's our society in general. Men need to cherish the time they have with their new babies. I'm not saying that Nate didn't or won't, but it was certainly different for him.

I'm sure I'll struggle with this issue over the next year or so as we consider having another child. If you have any thoughts, please send them my way...

09 December 2008

First Time for Everything

I was wondering how long we could carry on our lives before Benny got sick. It happened this morning. He woke up with a low-grade fever early this morning and spent most of the day cuddling with me. We watched "Bee Movie" and "Shark Tale" - his first feature-length films. His first films over three minutes long. His first cartoons.

It's funny to watch Nate with Benny. Usually Nate likes to "roughhouse" with Benny when he gets home. He wrestles with him on the bed, the couch, the floor. They chase each other through the house; Benny is usually trailing Nate, squealing in delight. Not tonight. Nate snuggled with Benny on the couch and they finished "Bee Movie." Benny fell asleep about five minutes in. I asked Nate if he wanted to lay Benny down, but Nate refused to surrender our sick little Bear.

I'm a little conflicted. I certainly want Benny to get better and back to his old self. At the same time, I enjoy the endless cuddling. I love being able to sit down on the couch, with Benny on my lap, and watch a movie. I love that he won't fall asleep unless he's next to me in bed. It's nice to be needed and it's nice to have that contact. Then again, if this continued for more than three days, I would probably be begging Benny to get better already!

07 December 2008

How Did This Happen?

How is it already December 7? How? It was just Thanksgiving. It was just Halloween. It was just my birthday - in August.

We've been busy little bees at the Struckman-Brown casa. It's been a good month so far. I'm attempting to write, write, write with the help of a neighbor who watches Benny one morning a week. Nate's brother moved in last week. So far he hasn't been around much. He's a strange duck, that kid. I'm still not sure how this is all going to work out. I can say one thing: He's messy like his brother. Maybe worse. Is that possible?

Nate turns the big 3-0 tomorrow. To help him celebrate, I organized him a little surprise party last night. It was a good excuse to have people over to the new house. We had a grand time. Nate wasn't surprised (long story) but it was fun to plan anyway. It's another reminder of what fantastic friends and family we have.

Benny was so shot that he took a 3.5 hour nap today. That's almost unheard of for the Bear.

And here I am again, wishing that the weekend was one day longer. Wonder if that will every happen???

26 November 2008

Happy Turkey Day!

Thanksgiving is truly my favorite holiday. There's so little pressure on this holiday, what with it's position between Halloween and Christmas. There's no expectation to dress up or buy gifts. It's a nice day to relax, eat good food, and hang out with family.

So here are my tips for enjoying an extra special Thanksgiving (this comes after I spent 20 minutes in the grocery store snarling at people):

1. Buy groceries in advance - far in advance - and early in the morning or late at night. I have no patience for people who are completely clueless and stand in the middle of a grocery aisle while trying to figure out if they should buy red sweet potatoes or white sweet potatoes. Also, don't go to a snooty place like Whole Foods in Cherry Creek (my BIG mistake). For some reason, people who drive BMWs and Mercedes think they can stall out in the middle of the store while people are backed up behind them for miles. They also drive around the parking lot for a half an hour waiting for a spot to open up.

2. Don't go Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. I know this is a tradition in our capitalist society. But, trust me, you will save your sanity if you shop before Thanksgiving. Or shop online. Or donate everyone's gift money to charity.

3. Eat, drink, and be merry! Minus the potential shopping chaos, don't worry about preparing the perfect meal. Everyone will be so stuffed by the end, they won't remember what anything tasted like, much less looked like.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone!

17 November 2008

The 'Dadas' Have It

We've waited and waited and waited. Benny figured out the words for "light," "hot," "hat," "all done," "ick," and "uh oh" with relatively little coaching. He's even fairly well-spoken on words like "good" ("gu, gu, gu") and "meow" ("eow"), but getting him to say "mama" or "dada" has been a work in progress since he started babbling.

At six months, almost to the day, he began babbling by saying "dada" and Nate was pretty proud. "Mama" followed shortly thereafter, but the sounds never really meant anything. He wasn't calling us those names. Every night since then Nate quizzes Benny while he's taking his bath: "Benny, who is this?" (while pointing to himself). Benny has thrown out "dada" a few times, but nothing worth noting. But I think it's time to concede. The "dada" has it. Benny now refers to Nate as "Dada" when prompted. He doesn't do the same for "Mama." Tear.

Then again, Benny can locate several of my body parts and wants nothing to do with Nate. He points to mama's nose, knees, head... Speaking of body parts, that "Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" song is pretty effective. Benny can now identify nearly every body part in that song, save for his shoulders and his nose. He even puts a new spin on it: He will point to, pull at, and otherwise acknowledge his pee pee when asked. I don't know where that came from!

All jokes aside, it's nice to summarize Benny's developmental progress. He's right on track as far as I can tell. That makes a formerly worried "mama" very happy!

16 November 2008

The Brother-in-Law Experiment

The recession/financial crisis/economic meltdown has officially hit home. Sure, we've been cutting back on our spending for awhile, but that's mostly because we were planning to buy a house and because I'm not pulling in any cash. The gas-price crunch didn't even impact us that much. Benny and I rarely drive during the week as we can walk nearly everywhere we need to go (and I would prefer to use my feet over my wheels) and Nate only drives about five miles to work.

I realize that we are incredibly lucky. Nate's job is relatively secure. He works in wastewater and we all know that people will always produce "waste." I get to stay home with Benny and we still managed to buy a house in this financial mess.

Nate's brother wasn't so lucky. He was recently laid off from a medical supply company in Michigan. He's been looking for work in Michigan, but we all know that Michigan was one state that was hit particularly hard by the bad economy. Hell, it's been bad for a long time. Lesson learned: Don't base your state economy on one sector of the economy. Anyway, Nate's brother has been looking to move out West for awhile. Nate, being the good brother he is, suggested that his brother move in with us until he could get back on his feet.

That means that next week we'll have a boarder. It could be a win/win situation. While Matt, the brother, is looking for a job, he can watch Benny while I work to finish the dissertation. Plus, it will be nice to get a small amount of rent to help offset the mortgage payment. Plus we have the room now, so why not?

I know that Nate feels really good about the situation. He feels very responsible for Matt. I feel pretty good about the situation too, but I have a few reservations about the experiment. Ultimately I think it will be good. But throwing another body into the situation could introduce some interesting stories. As always, I'll keep you posted...

11 November 2008

Moving Day, Week, Month...

We are (almost) successfully moved out of our apartment and into the house. Having a basement totally rocks because we threw all of the boxes down there so the upstairs doesn’t look too bad. Granted, I’m still getting dressed in the closet and waiting for the windows in the bathroom to steam over before I get into the shower, but the settling phase has begun. (You see, we bought blinds, but we’re having issues putting them up. Thus, I’m hiding my naked body from our new neighbors.)

Here’s what happens when you buy a house, work full time (Nate), try to write a dissertation (me), AND have a 15-month-old little fella: the hours of the day melt into nothing. It’s taken me two full days to unpack the kitchen – and I’m not even finished yet (thanks to Maureen who helped this process along by coming over and lending a hand). Benny isn’t too keen on me focusing most of my attention on unpacking boxes. He’s OK for awhile and then I find him waste deep in a dusty cabinet I have yet to clean out. Oy vey!

Our goal is to feel “settled” by the beginning of the year. We’d like to paint the rest of the house, hang stuff on the walls, put the stuff in the basement away, install a new back door. That’s in addition to me finishing a draft of two chapters by the end of this month (that’s not going so well), Nate starting some consulting work he’s doing on the side, celebrating the holidays, and giving Benny plenty of attention. I’m starting to feel slightly overwhelmed.

The moving month (year?) has officially begun! Happy freaking holidays :)!

08 November 2008

Life, in Transition

Moving day has come. And gone. Sort of. Nate's dad and a family friend were in town yesterday to help us move. We've cleared our apartment out of big stuff; now just odds and ends remain (and I'm supposed to be packing, but I'm engaging in a little typing therapy instead).

We slept at our new house yesterday. I have many mixed emotions about owning a home. Obviously I'm really excited. But I'm also a feeling a little unorganized and daunted by all of the projects on our to-do list over the next decade or so. We spent a good chunk of change at Home Depot today to outfit our place with blinds, shower curtains, etc. As a lifelong renter, I have always taken stuff like that for granted. Now we actually have to pay for it.

So now we move and unpack and settle into a new life. A good life. A life that will, no doubt, be filled with many ups and and downs and DIY projects!!!

06 November 2008

Mommy Bear Has Calmed Down

Thanks, everyone, for your concern about Benny - and your thoughts about motherhood and worrying and anxiety. Watching Benny over the past week or so, I'm convinced that he's fine. I'm not sure what was up for a week or so when he was acting a little off, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it had something to do with the three molars he was breaking. Plus, I spoke with the lady who would have evaluated Benny and she agreed that he was too young to make any conclusions.

Benny and I are spending the week with my parents because my aunt and uncle are visiting from California. My aunt was a speech therapist before she retired last year. She said that Benny is making some really complicated noises for his age. Apparently a lot of kids focus on "easy" sounds that come from the front of the mouth (mama, dada, baba). Benny is already saying "goo goo goo" for good and he pluralizes words like "lights." So, it sounds like his speech is coming along fine. Plus he's been jabbering a lot and my aunt thinks he'll talk A LOT once he starts talking (he comes by that naturally, thanks Grandma Barb).

So, I'm sleeping and eating regularly again. And I've resumed watching Benny in wonder and not in worry. Man, this motherhood thing is pretty freaking tough!

04 November 2008

GOBAMA!

I'm above the moon! I can't believe that I'm alive for this. That my son will grow up seeing an amazing man as president. I'm watching McCain giving his concession speech right now. Wow.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Here's to America. Here's to hope. Here's to Obama!

30 October 2008

$23,830.43...

That's the amount of the down payment I'll bring to the closing today. I now have a check in my possession for that amount. It feels so surreal. Benny and I are meeting our realtor to walk through the house before the closing at noon. And then. And then the house is ours. Big day. Big HUGE day!

As far as The Bear goes, I'm chilling a little about the whole situation. I'm still a little worried about him, but I've decided to hold off on an evaluation until after the holidays. We don't really have a lot of time before then anyway. Plus, then he'll be nearly 18 months and he may grow out of some of these tendencies. A lotta smoke. No fire. Hopefully.

28 October 2008

Learning to Breathe... Again

I feel like I'm right back where I was about 12 months ago. All this business with Benny is stressing me out. I have that anxious feeling again. I'm having trouble sleeping. I'm trying to cope with the stress by breathing and taking a step back - stuff I learned to do when I was going through postpartum depression.

I've signed Benny up for an autism screening. There are portions of the day when I see completely normal behavior and other parts of the day that concern me. I go from being a happy mom to a worried mom on a dime. In many ways, I think most of this is in my head. It's something I need to deal with. Even if Benny is autistic, which is still very unlikely.

The whole situation makes me wonder if I should ever try to have another kid. I'm tearing myself up all over again with Benny. And he's not even DOING anything. He's actually a very mild-mannered, easy-going kid. He's made being a parent very, very easy.

Nate and I decided to wait until we're moved in to have the screening. It will give Benny more time to develop. Many of the things he's doing are completely normal for his age. If he continues to do them, we should be concerned. And, as it turns out, he's getting two molars right now, which explains some of his "off" behavior. I don't think he's feeling very well.

Enough blabbering. I'm trying very hard to be rational and realistic about this. It's hard. It's very hard.

27 October 2008

Life IS A Bear

Well, Benny and I just got back from the pediatrician. She thinks Benny is completely normal but is a little concerned about some of the symptoms he has for autism. She suggested we get him screened just for peace of mind.

In my heart I think he's a completely normal kid. He's hitting all of his milestones and then some. I love him and I love his giggle and his smile and his tired snuggle. In my mind, however, I still have some anxiety. It's more like in my stomach. So, I'm going to get him screened. I want to know that he's OK and stop worrying about it.

Thanks to all of you who responded about worrying about this stuff. It was helpful to hear other stories! I'll keep you all updated.

Only three more days until we take possession of the house! Yippee!

24 October 2008

Oh, Puh-lease!

I had an "Oh, Puh-lease!" day. It's like a "one-of-those-days" days, but even more ridiculous and stupid. Nate has been getting up early for work lately so I decided to stop sleeping in. If I'm in bed by 11, there's no reason I should be sleeping in until 7:30 or 8 when The Bear yells from his crib: "Mom, get your ass outta bed!" So, I've been starting my day Bear-free: getting up, making coffee, dressing myself, pulling my hair back, and browsing the web.

This morning I was checking out People.com (yes, I know, this is shocking and disappointing - to me as well). There was an article about Toni Braxton and her coming to terms with her autistic son. For all of those who know me well, you know that I obsess about all things Benny related - especially when it comes to his health. For no particular reason, I'm freaked out that he will be autistic. I don't know why. It's not as if autism is the absolute worst thing in the world. Many other parents and their children are dealing with far worse. So, I decide to check out the symptoms for autism. Because, why not?

As it turns out, Benny is in line with several of the symptoms. He focuses on one part of a toy (often a wheel), doesn't always respond to his name, resists cuddling, and the like. Never mind that these symptoms are more for OLDER toddlers who are starting to talk and the like. Not for mere 15-month-old tykes. Anyway, I work myself into a tizzy and decide that I should stay away from the internet for the day. I mention all of this to Nate and he calms me down a bit. After all, Benny is really young and he is affectionate (when he doesn't want to play) and has many moods - including lots of smiley and happy moods. Then I call my mom (a mother of five) and ask her if she's noticed anything out of the norm. I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm crazy now (and perhaps I am). Both Nate and my mom assured me that Benny is not autistic, but rather a normal toddler. He's inquisitive, and moody, and happy, and sometimes difficult. That doesn't mean he's autistic.

As a result of my "Oh, Puh-lease" day, I can't eat because my stomach is in knots. What is WRONG with me. Seriously? If any of you moms out there want to comment, feel free. Do you ever have moments like this?

In my defense, I did return to the internet to look up normal developments for toddlers and Benny matches up with all of them. He has a 3-5 word vocabulary, will follow simple commands, gives kisses, is into EVERYTHING, crawls up stairs, etc., etc., etc. I've decided to CHILL OUT and bring up my concerns to Benny's pediatrician on Monday when he's having his 15-month well-baby check up. Then I'll know he's OK and I'm completely nuts. I suppose it's better than the other way around.

18 October 2008

2567 Hudson Street

As promised, here are some pics of the house (finally, sorry Mom). It's a bit dated - as you shall soon see. Of course, the window treatments and light fixtures will be replaced. Well, maybe we'll keep those rad light fixtures. The kitchen and backyard also need some work. I'm sure I'll write about those projects in the future.

I present 2567 Hudson Street!

16 October 2008

One of Those Days and Other News

Ever had "one of those days"? Benny is having one - and then some. Right now. As I type. He's been a little off since we returned from Omaha on Monday. He kind of has a poopy problem. As in, he's pooping all of the time. It's not runny, he just has to poop a lot. And, for those of you who know, lots of poopy diapers lead to irritated skin. He's been walking around naked for most of the day, but even so his little butt is bright red. He doesn't want to be held and he doesn't want to not be held. He screams bloody murder when it's time to change his diaper (probably because it hurts like hell) and needs consoling after the fresh diaper is on.

Poor Bear.

Meanwhile, Mommy is trying not to go crazy. An unhappy whining Bear does not make a pleasant companion.

In other news... We officially close on the 2567 Hudson house on October 30. We are ready and excited. Ready as in: Sara won't have to schlep three bags of groceries AND Benny up the stairs; Nate won't have to haul four weeks of recycling to the recycling center; Nate and Sara won't have to ask Benny to be very quiet while he's banging toys on the floor; Sara will be able to unleash Benny in the backyard when he's having one of those days rather than putting him in his stroller and walking to the park. Excited as in: We can paint and arrange and decorate and love our house because we won't be leaving it for a very, very long time.

I think I just talked myself out of my funk. Now I need to work on Benny.

12 October 2008

The Reverend Has Spoken

Performed my first marriage as an ordained minister this weekend. I said "with the authority vested in me by the State of Nebraska..." It was awesome!

And, my beautiful friend, Caley, married a fantastic man, Brian. It was a lovely, lovely day. Congrats to the newlyweds! Pics and more stories coming soon...

05 October 2008

In Memory of Barb

Nate, Benny, and I woke up early this morning for the annual Race for the Cure. Nate's mom found out that she had breast cancer when he was in high school. She had it treated and went into remission. Then, a couple of weeks after we got married in 2004, she told us that the breast cancer was back - on her liver. Her doctors gave her a lot of hope. She had a lot of hope. Subsequently, we had a lot of hope.

Looking back, we probably should have been more concerned. But for those of you who knew Barb, you know that she didn't want anyone to be concerned. She was an amazing lady with an indomitable spirit.

We ran our first Race for the Cure in Austin in 2005. We saw people with signs that said "In Memory of ..." We never, not for a minute, thought we would have to wear those signs. Today we filled out three signs: "In Memory of Barb," "In Memory of Mom," and "In Memory of Grandma."

Nate warned me that he would probably get emotional. I didn't know how I would handle the event. As we started to run, I thought of Barb and was overcome by sadness. I miss her often, but it's gotten easier over the past two years. She wasn't my mom, but she was my family. I loved her very much and I hate that she never got to meet The Bear.

So for all of you you women out there, please, please, please stay vigilant about your health. You will never know how many people will miss you when you're gone.

03 October 2008

A House? A House!

The inspection went well. Really well. As long as our financing goes through (and it shouldn't be a problem), we'll be moving soon. Really soon. October 31 soon.

So, here's the story with 2567 Hudson Street: We saw it a few weeks ago and it peaked our interest. But it was overpriced ($300,000). So, we decided to wait on it. And wait on it we did. Until our real estate agent called and told us that the owners were dropping their price 50K. We just about died. Seriously? Seriously. (Just in case any red flags pop up by this story - and they should - I will clarify: The house is part of an estate, which means that the previous owner passed away and her family is selling it. They have nothing but cash to gain by the sale and they wanted to get rid of it.)

There are few major issues with the house (the kitchen needs a complete overhaul, the backyard does as well), but for the most part the house seems solid. New bathrooms, refinished wood floors, copper pipes, finished basement.

It feels good to feel good about a house!

01 October 2008

Fouth Time's a Charm

I have been hesitant to post anything about our home-buying adventures as of late. Obviously we've been unlucky in this realm of our lives. Well, our luck may have changed.

We found a fantastic place in Park Hill (where we want to live) and in a good school district (we can't afford houses in the Denver's great school districts, so we're settling for good). I won't divulge much more about the house until we know for sure that the deal is secure. We're under contract and we're having an inspection on Friday. If all goes well, we'll close on October 31. Yay Halloween!

This house makes us feel much better than the previous house. We aren't losing sleep due to anxiety. We aren't juggling all of our finances so we can afford it. We are legitimately excited about this house. And we'll be getting a mega deal - even better!

Keep your fingers crossed. If all goes well on Friday, I'll post pictures!

25 September 2008

Speaking of Marriage

Nate was going through some old photos the other day and ran across the new ones posted below (I can't figure out how to post photos within a post, so until I do, you'll have to scroll). We took these photos on our honeymoon. We spent our honeymoon in the Canadian Rockies, specifically in the mountains of the Banff and Jasper National Forests (by the way, that's where Benny's middle name comes from - our honeymoon - Benjamin Jasper Brown). The Jasper National Forest was the site of what was supposed to be a five-day, four-night hike. Neither of us had ever been out in the wild that long and we were excited to do it together.

Until we met up with the mosquitos. When we started our hike, we happened upon a nice couple who didn't speak English. We smiled and exchanged whatever pleasantries translated and then the guy started saying "BUG! BUG!" We smiled and waived and went on our merry way. Yes, there are bugs in the wild. Thank you very much man from somewhere else.

It wasn't until we arrived at our campsite (which is another adventure story for another day) that we realized why the foreign man had put so much emphasis on BUG! There were mosquitos everywhere. We wore long-sleeved everything, hats, etc. We couldn't keep our shoes off and had to wear mittens over our hands. We didn't spend much time outside of our tent because my face began to look like pepperoni pizza and then like one big red welt. We figured that the higher we climbed throughout the trip, the less we would have to deal with mosquitos.

Wrong. On our third night we stayed at a campsite that was even worse than the first night. We arrived at the site in the early afternoon, which meant that we had few options: 1) being that we hiked to pass time, and 2) being that we stayed in our tiny two-person tent until the morning. We decided to go with the latter (hey, we'd already been hiking for six hours with 30 pounds on our backs).

We woke up the next morning thinking that once we started on the trail our mosquito woes would be behind us for the day's hike. Wrong. Again. Hordes of mosquitos followed us up a pass. We were covered from head to toe in clothing, but the mosquitos swarmed around our faces. So, we hauled ass up the pass. We were in awful moods and just wanted to get out of the mess. Once we got to the top of the pass, the mosquitos disappeared and our moods lightened. We stopped for a break, removed the packs from our back, and decided to get naked. The pictures are a result of that break.

That day we were supposed to stay at our first campsite again. Once we got there we decided that we would rather hike all the way out than deal with mosquitos for another night. So, we ended up hiking 22 miles out - still with 30 pounds on our backs. What a honeymoon story, eh?

24 September 2008

I Now Pronounce You...

I'm practicing for my big day. My coming out as an ordained minister. That's right. In addition to the many other identities I have, I can now add ordained minister to the list - in fact I did add it to the list, so check it out.

My oldest and dearest friend asked me to perform her marriage ceremony. I was honored. I had heard that anyone performing these duties had to be an ordained minister or a justice of the peace. But, because I didn't REALLY want to become an ordained minister (I don't even believe in organized religion), I sought council with my brother-in-law, who just so happens to be an attorney. Nebraska law, according to his best knowledge, just required a witness for a marriage to be valid. Score. I could be a witness. I could definitely do that.

Fast forward to yesterday. I received an email from "Joseph" with the subject line "Wedding." I don't know anyone named Joseph. Creepy. Oh wait, it's my brother-in-law, Joe. Right. I'm a little slow. Turns out that he followed up on my question (what a good, free lawyer he is!) and a simple witness does not validate a marriage ceremony. Crap.

The ceremony is coming up in mid-October. I had to move fast. I mean, who knows how long it takes to become ordained??? So, I went online and being the frugal shopper that I am (yes, even for something as important as becoming an ordained minister), I searched for "ordained minister free." Up pops the Universal Ministry site. I fill out the requisite information and BAM I can now perform marriage and other functions. In some ways it feels kind of like a sham. I mean, I fill out a form and suddenly I have the "power vested in me."


Not only can I perform marriages, but baptisms, funerals, blessings, etc. as well. My soon-to-be-married friend and I joked that I could found the Church of Sara. And I just might. Anyone willing to send me a few bucks to join? I'm sure I could figure out some scam!

12 September 2008

I Was There...

Sometimes things happen in places where I've been before. Sometimes I'm struck at the gravity of the situation because I was there. I have been looking at photos of Hurricane Ike on the Texas coast and I am reminded of a weekend Nate and I spent in Houston with some friends of ours three years ago. We drove to Houston to watch an Astros baseball game and decided to spend Sunday afternoon at the beach in Galveston.

We had planned the trip long before the ravaging winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina. But, as fate would have it, we stayed at a hotel with Katrina evacuees. It was the weekend after the storm and it was surreal to see people hauling all of their worldly possessions into the hotel in black garbage bags. Here I was, in Houston for vacation and recreation. Here they were, in Houston because their homes were flooded or worse.

So, I hope the people of Galveston and Houston don't have the same experiences as those in New Orleans. I can't help thinking, I was at that restaurant on the beach. I walked past that Victorian home. Here are some photos, if you're so inclined. Have a good weekend.

10 September 2008

Something a Little Lighter

I realize that my posts have been relatively "heavy" lately (home ownership, politics, oil), so I thought I'd post something a little lighter. The majority of my days are spent at 1) the park, 2) rushing to get things done while Benny sleeps, 3) deciding what to feed Benny. We also spend a little time each day scouring YouTube for child-friendly clips. Granted, I also listen to NPR for most of the day and get incensed about the state of the world, but that's another story.

Here's one of our favorites. Kind of brings you back to the simpler, happier things in life. I mean, who doesn't want to sing about signs with Elmo and Chris Brown? The activity is actually quite a treat for me because I don't know who many of the artists are (yes, I'm that out of touch). In fact, today I learned about Feist. She's a fabulous artist from Canada. Check out her song about counting to four. It's incredible - and quite catchy! Turns out that she was in Denver this summer. Drat!

And, for some great, happy news: I was officially admitted into doctoral candidacy today. I've been a "candidate" since I presented my proposal. But today the Graduate College officially accepted my proposal. It's a big day. A big day indeed.

"See the signs, they're everywhere!..."

08 September 2008

If You Do One Thing Today...

Listen to this. Terry Gross (of Fresh Air on NPR) interviews Thomas Friedman about the U.S.'s dependence on oil. You may be thinking, "boring!" Don't. Listen. He will inform you. He will entertain you.

And, if you really want to make things interesting, start a drinking game. Every time he mentions, "Drill, Baby, Drill," take a shot!

Good stuff. Really good stuff!

And, yes. Once I go political, baby, I never go back.

Let's Get Political, Political

I wasn't going to do this. Get political. For those of you who know me well, you know that I have very strong political beliefs. However, because not everyone I know has those same beliefs, I was going to refrain from overtly political posts. I can't resist any more.

Seriously.

Who thought Sarah Palin was a good idea? OK, OK, the religious right thinks she's a good idea. Gun nuts think she's a good idea. Creationists think she's a good idea. Anyone see a theme here?

Frankly, I was insulted by John McCain's choice for his right hand running mate. I never would have voted for John McCain anyway. I disagree with him on many, many points. But, his obvious pandering to a slightly frightening portion of his base is shameful. Never mind his picking someone with virtually no experience. Sorry, Republicans, you can't make the case that Palin has experience. She doesn't. I can't believe anyone would say that proximity to Russia means that someone has foreign policy experience. It's like saying just because I live across the street from a poor family that I have experience with poverty.

I'll stop here because if I go on, I may vomit. And that's not a joke.

I want women to have the same options and chances as men do politically. However, this is not the route we need to take.

06 September 2008

Progress

The dissertation is in full swing now. I've been chipping away at it for the past few weeks and I'm happy to report that I will be sending drafts of FOUR chapters to my advisor by the end of the weekend. I must stress that these are certainly drafts, but they are better than nothing. To give you a bit of perspective, the entire dissertation will probably be a total of seven chapters, so I have a working draft of over half the dissertation so far. Not bad. Not bad at all.

But, before I celebrate, I should get to work!

02 September 2008

Happy Home-Buyer Blues

The inspection did not go well. The house had many more problems than we could have anticipated (bad electrical wiring, asbestos-covered duct work, piles of mouse droppings in places we hadn't checked). Nate and I are both relieved that we made the right choice. We are going to reconsider our finances and hit the house market hard next spring.

Bad, but good news. Sorry for all the DRAMA!

01 September 2008

Another Home-Buyer Blues Post

So, I have some bad news. Nate and I are 90 percent sure that we will not be purchasing the house at 1221 Bellaire. Nate went to see the house again on Thursday (yes, we are serial house stalkers) because his dad and brother were in town. He made a list of all the things on the house that need work. It was a LONG, slightly overwhelming list. The more we thought about it, the more we wondered if we would be moving into the house of our dreams or a money pit.

We are going through with the inspection tomorrow and we'll ask for things to be fixed. If the seller decides to fix some big ticket items (upstairs window, which, as it turns out, don't open, and the furnace), we may reconsider our decision. But, we'll probably let the house go :(.

I am very disappointed, but relieved as well. We were getting slightly ahead of ourselves. I don't have a job and won't have a job for at least four months. We would have drained our savings to put down a large enough down payment to make the mortgage payments manageable. The list could go on and on.

More news tomorrow... Probably not of the good variety.

30 August 2008

Polka Dots

Labor Day weekend = Family weekend. Benny and I drove to Brule for one of my cousin's wedding this weekend. Nate stayed in Denver to hang with his dad and his brother. We're returning tomorrow for a reunion, of sorts.

I hate to think about how old I'm getting when one of my little cousins gets married. It was a very nice wedding. The bride, my cousin, was absolutely gorgeous. I was looking forward to watching Benny dance his little butt off, but, alas, a lack of sleep drove us home a little earlier than expected. And now I'm drinking a beer, writing on my blog, and waiting for the rest of my family to get home. I LOVE it when my entire family together. It's paradise, with a bit of chaos thrown in. Or, it's chaos with a bit of paradise thrown in. My parents moved into a bigger house and it STILL isn't big enough to contain all of us.

Tomorrow, as I wrote, we'll drive back to Denver to hang with Nate's family. Since Nate's mom passed away a year and a half ago, family gatherings are a bit subdued, but still relatively chaotic. Now it's just the three Brown boys.

HOUSE UPDATE: What you're all waiting for, eh? We're waiting to make any definitive decisions until after the inspection report. The inspection is scheduled for September 2. We'll see. We'll see.

23 August 2008

House Update

After a week of stress, excitement, more stress, more excitement, I think Nate and I have mentally prepared ourselves to buy the 1221 Bellaire house. We met with our mortgage broker yesterday and took care of all the loan information. We are pre-approved for the loan and don't anticipate any problems.

Our nerves stemmed from a quick examination of the house. We knew we liked it right away, but our tour of the house was less than thorough. It was raining - hard - last week when we saw it so we couldn't really check out the exterior condition of the house or the yard. The renters were home and packing up the house when we stopped and the whole scene was rather chaotic. Our realtor got us back into the house today to really take a good look at it. And, I think I can speak for both Nate and myself when I say that we are very comfortable buying this house. Granted, it needs some TLC, but in the short term we should get away with cosmetic improvements. On tap for pre-move-in period are refinishing the wood floors and painting. Down the line we'll have to do much more significant work.

Check out the pictures! All signs point to a NEW HOUSE for the Brown-Struckman family!

21 August 2008

The Stealth Poop

I know, I know. I said a long time ago that I would stop writing poop stories. But, as Benny's innards mature, the poop stories keep evolving. And the stealth poop really is something to behold.

When Nate prepares Benny for bed he still gives him about 10 minutes of naked time before his bath. This way his butt and bits get dried out before a long night in a diaper. Sometimes the 10 minutes passes without incident, but more often than not, Benny will leave a trail of pee or poop (or both).

Earlier this week, Benny was traipsing around the apartment while bare ass naked. I was making pizza. Nate was drawing his bath. For the entire duration of the naked period, Benny kept squatting while walking. We've noticed that he squats when he poops now. This is a huge improvement over the red-faced grunt (although that stage was a constant source of entertainment). Anyway, I was keeping an eye on Benny, but turned away for second. And in that second I noticed that he had stopped toodling and squatting and was hovering over something. That something, as you guessed, was poop. Luckily he's interested only in looking at this point.

But, here's the question: How, in less can a second, can a toddler poop on the floor without his parents noticing that he's "pushing one out." That is the mystery of the stealth poop.

18 August 2008

Full Steam Ahead

A few more house developments:

We were approved for our loan, so we're full steam ahead on this home-buying process. Nate and I are both feeling better about stuff, but I'm still a little concerned about finances. As long as I'm working by February we should be OK, but...

I should stress that I am very excited about this house. I think it's going to be fabulous. We'll have a YARD, curbside recycling, compost pile. We can paint and make improvements and not worry what our landlord will say. Because we'll be the landlord!

Check out this link to the house. The pictures aren't great, but use your imagination!

17 August 2008

Under Contract...

Imagine this scene:

It's Sunday morning.

I couldn't sleep last night for various reasons: We are considering buying a house that we can afford, but barely, on one salary. I need to get a move on on my dissertation because it's not writing itself (unfortunately). Our decisions from here on out will have a profound impact on the future of Benny and any other children we have.

I had just run six miles with a friend of mine.

Benny is up, toodling around, smiling at my return.

...and we get a call. From our realtor. She says that the owner of the Bellaire house, the one we were cautiously excited about yesterday, has reacted positively to our offer.

Mixed emotions. First, I'm exhausted from a poor night of sleep AND running in the morning. Second, I start thinking about being house poor and it scares me pretty bad. What if I can't find a job in four months? What if, what if, what if.

Deep down I think this is fabulous news. Nate and I both fell in love with this house when we saw it. We can afford it and won't have to move any time soon. But, it's still scary.

So, in an hour, we're going to sign the counterproposal from the current owner. Then the house will be "under contract." Eek!

We may be buying a house after all.

16 August 2008

Cautiously Excited

We just saw an amazing house. An amazing house that we should not be able to afford. Granted, if we get a loan for this house, we we will barely able to afford it. But we are cautiously hopeful.

Today was not the ideal house-shopping day. It's cold and rainy. We should have been curled up on the couch watching Benny toodle around the apartment. I've been watching this house for awhile and had planned to see it about two weeks ago. It disappeared from the market, so I figured it was off for good. But, when I searched for houses yesterday it was back on. And we saw it. And it was fabulous.

It's a brick two-story home on a beautiful block with other beautiful brick homes. It has a basement and a second story - with a large bedroom complete with an exposed brick wall and a deck off the side OF THE BEDROOM! It also has a deck off the dining room that looks over a large backyard. It has an attached garage and wood floors and everything we're looking for. The kitchen isn't ideal, but certainly livable. The wood floors need to be refinished, but that can be a project for the future.

I hate to jinx this house, but it's amazing. We just put an offer in. Keep your fingers crossed and we will remain cautiously excited! Man oh man!

14 August 2008

Before I Forget

Sometimes I forget that part of the reason I started this blog is to help me remember things about Benny that I would probably otherwise forget. Since he's been quite active the past couple of days, I thought I should update some mundane - but important - memories.

We spend many mornings and afternoons at a little park a little less than a mile from our apartment. It's a fantastic park with lots of shade and a kiddie swing. Benny prefers to run around on the sidewalk but he has started exploring other areas of the park. A public building sits at the bottom of a hill. On particularly hot days, the air conditioner runs quite loudly. Benny, being the little bear that he is, felt very compelled to investigate. He took my hand and we walked slowly down the hill (he didn't quite know what to make of it). He loves the sound of the air conditioner. But, I digress. He has started running, an awkward little run that looks more like a shuffle but that is so incredibly adorable, and while running on the sidewalk, he fell and scraped his knee. His very first scraped knee. He cried for a bit, waited for me to pick him up, and then he was off again, on another miniature adventure.

After signing some basic sign language to him after about six months, I think he's finally catching on. We have a very limited vocabulary: eat, bath, light, more, all done, ball. Today I'm fairly certain that he signed "all done" when he was finished eating. It was a proud moment for me. And it encouraged me to continue signing.

As I wrote in an earlier post, he has taken to an old blanket as a security blanket. The blanket holds very special meaning to us because Nate's mom made it for him when he was a little boy. As my mom says, it's like Barb is giving Benny a hug every night. And I think she probably is. Recently, Benny has also taken to a special ball. His great aunt Barb made him the soft ball out of shirts that had belonged to Nate's Grandpa Roger and Grandma Mary. Benny looks for the ball when he's upset and wedges it in his neck so he can feel it on his cheek. It's very cute. And I suppose it's like his great grandparents are giving him a kiss.

And that's it for now. Hopefully I'll have more updates soon. Benny's getting so big and doing so many incredible things it's difficult to remember them all!

12 August 2008

More Phat Pat

It seems like ages since I've posted something from my dad. There have been plenty of Phat Pat quotes, but I'll stick to a theme this time: Benny. Since my parents watched Benny while I was partying my ass off in Chicago, my dad had plenty of time to develop some exaggerations about the Bear. These are actually pretty cute since my dad is completely smitten with Benny. Benny knows that Grandpa will let him do whatever he wants, so whenever Mommy says "no," Benny wants Grandpa to pick him up. There are two classic Phat Pat moments about Benny...

Brule is home to two restaurants. The first, Virg's Bar and Grill, has been a staple on the Brule out-and-about scene for years. Virgil Hughes opened the bar years ago. His son, Mel, took over the restaurant and was its main proprietor for as long as I can remember. (Unfortunately Mel passed away recently. My dad served as a palbearer, naturally.) Since my parents have moved into town, I've noticed that they eat lunch out quite often, mostly at Virg's since the Village Cafe is a step up from garbage food - but that's for another post. Anyway, Virg's is your standard small town greasy spoon. I can't imagine that anything Benny ate there had any nutritional value. But my dad swears that Benny LOVED the mashed potatoes and gravy. As my dad was telling this story, my mom was shaking her head that, no, Benny did not love the mashed potatoes and gravy. Here's what I assume happened at Virg's. My dad tried to feed Benny all sorts of stuff. Benny spat it out. And my mom fed him a proper lunch when they returned home.

The second Phat Pat quote really illustrates how proud my dad is of Benny, even though he may exaggerate Benny's abilities. When we picked Benny up after I returned from Chicago, my uncle hosted a bbq for my cousin who is getting married at the end of the month. So, we headed out to the country. Benny loved being on the farm because he could wander just about anywhere and we didn't have to chase after him for fear of cars. My dad followed Benny everywhere. When he brought him back to the group, he had an enormous rock in his hand - a rock most five year olds wouldn't be able to pick up. My dad carried the rock and Benny back and exclaimed, "Look at what Benny picked up WITH ONE HAND!" He had a beaming smile on his face and was convinced that Benny would be able to palm a basketball and dunk it within the next few years.

10 August 2008

Forever 21

For two days this week I lived like I was 21 again. I'm paying the price now, but it sure was fun!

I was in Chicago for a conference. The University of Texas gave me $400 to attend this conference. Being the cheap ass that I am, I bought a cheap plane ticket and decided to stay with a friend of mine who had just moved to Chicago. My goal: to make money on this conference. I avoided cabs (with the exception of Saturday morning, which I will get to), ate free food at the conference, binged on free alcohol at the conference, and generally enjoyed myself.

On Thursday night I hooked up with friends from UT and the University of Iowa. I hadn't seen some of these friends for years. They've gotten married, gotten jobs, had babies, and done all the things well-adjusted thirtysomethings are doing. The conference socials were a great place to meet up and take advantage of the free bars. In fact, one social had a cash bar, so I found myself leaving every hour or so to pick up a free drink at another social, only to return and scoff at people who were actually PAYING for drinks. Yes, I'm 31 and a mother. That identity suspended itself for about four hours on Thursday night. A wise friend once said that "I'll never be mature enough for an open bar." I think that sums up my night nicely.

So, to elaborate on my housing situation. My friend, Lou, had just moved into his apartment on the Sunday prior to the conference. On Tuesday he came home to a flooded basement. The flooded basement turned into a mold-infested dungeon by the time I arrived. It wouldn't have been so bad if the first floor of the apartment hadn't been wood. Lou also opened up his apartment to Bob and Tony, two other friends from Austin in town for the conference.

When we arrived on Thursday night at around 2 a.m., we whipped out our sleeping bags and hunkered down for a night filled with stale air and sore hip bones. All in all, it wasn't a bad three or four hours of sleep.

On Friday I met up with some colleagues and my advisor (who assured me that I was traveling down the right path with my dissertation). I presented my paper. Then the 21-year-old Sara reappeared when we hit the brewery for dinner. I can't even repeat what we talked about. It was filled with vulgarities even my 21-year-old sober self would be embarrassed about. But, it was great fun to be there.

We arrived at Lou's at 2 a.m. again and a fitful night of sleep awaited me. It was mostly my fault. I wasn't sure how I was going to get to the airport. I was trying really hard not to spend too much money, so I mapped out the bus and train schedule and left Lou's an hour earlier than expected (after about three or four hours of sleep, eek). Turns out that the bus route was under construction and had many delays (thanks coffee barista), so I broke down. Called a cab. And waited. And waited. And waited at the local coffee shop. No cab ever showed up, I started to get nervous about missing my flight. Luckily, just about the moment when the cab company was going to get some of my sass, an empty cab drove by and I hailed it with my rolled up sleeping bag. Finally, I was on my way to the airport. It felt fantastic to get on the plane and sleep and sleep and sleep and promise myself that I wouldn't party like that again - at least not until next year's conference (in Boston!).

03 August 2008

Brule Day Report

Since all of you have probably been waiting with bated breath for the report of Brule Day. I must say, it was rather uneventful. However, Benny was the belle (er, beau) of the ball (er, parade) in his little bumble bee costume. He was so freaking cute!!! I fashioned a small bee hive out of big bowls and some paper bags, complete with little bees and flowers. I made a little float out of Benny's new wagon with the hive and a sign that read "'Hive' a Great Brule Day!" Not surprisingly, Benny won first place in his age category. That might sound impressive, but he was the only kiddo IN his age category.

I carried Benny while my sister pulled the wagon and threw out candy. It was actually a pretty fun morning. The poor Bear was hot and tired by the end of the parade. I was sure he would pass out for hours. Nope, no this Bear. As soon as I pulled his bee outfit off in the A/C he threw up his hands and ran around the house naked for about 45 minutes before he passed out.

Benny and I camped out in the comforts of my parents' house for the rest of the day. It was 110 (and that's no Phat Pat quote) yesterday and fairly miserable outside. Benny did take a dip in the pool and passed out for a second nap.

Since it was my 31st birthday yesterday (obviously not a priority - I nearly forgot about it), we headed to the old school, which is closed now and serves as a "community center," for the Brule Day dance and beer garden. When I was in jr. high and high school the event was held at the fire hall, which was the perfect venue. I can remember large crowds with all sorts of Bruletonians mingling and dancing. Perhaps it was my youth, but it was a great time. Last night was a great time, but with a fairly disappointing turnout. I did get to catch up with two dear high school friends. They are as entertaining now as they were in high school. I also got to drink really strong screwdrivers until the firemen (who hosted the party) ran out of vodka. I walked home with my brother and sister and was in bed by 12:30 a.m. All in all, not a bad night, but certainly not as crazy as I expected for my birthday :).

Expect a follow up post about some stories of some classic Bruletonians and their shenanigans in the near future! Not to be missed!

01 August 2008

Brule Day!

I can't go into detail right now, but tomorrow is Brule Day! I haven't attended a Brule Day in ages. This year I'll have a little tyke to tag along. Brule Day is exactly what it sounds like, a day to celebrate the tiny town of Brule. Benny will play the part of a bee in the morning parade. If I get around to it, I'll definitely post photos. Mommy will play the part of the transporter of the bee. We'll see how that goes.

Nate is off on a camping adventure with two friends this weekend. He bought to flasks of hard alcohol, so I'm hoping they come back alive and with all of their limbs. Then I'm off to Chicago next week for a conference. What a busy end to the summer.

At any rate, I'm ready to party with all the loyal Brulites (or Bruletonians, or whatever) and the faithful Brule alums this weekend!

27 July 2008

Family Stories

With the threat of afternoon thunderstorms for the past week, I was afraid Benny's birthday party in the park may turn into a sweaty gathering in our apartment. Luckily, Benny picked a fantastic weekend to be born so that his afternoon first birthday party would be fun AND dry.

My parents drove into town yesterday afternoon (after staying the night in Sterling and then lunching in Fort Morgan - for anyone familiar with the three-hour drive from Brule to Denver, you'll understand why that is ridiculous). Nonetheless it was great to see them and they were ready for a party. My brother, Jeremy, flew in from Argentina on Wednesday and stayed through the weekend for Benny's party. Benny's great-great-aunt and uncle (my great-aunt and uncle) joined the party along with some of Nate's co-workers and Benny's friend, Emma, and her parents. Just about everyone we know in Denver.

We grilled at Montclair Park and chased Benny through the grass many times. Benny and Emma "interacted" with each other by standing next to each other and mostly examining each other. I love the way babies, er, toddlers play together. My mom baked - appropriately - a chocolate bear cake for the occasion and surrounded the cake with blueberries and strawberries. Benny didn't give a second thought to the cake - he just picked the blueberries off and munched on them. Not what I was expecting for his first foray in the world of sweets.

All in all, Benny had a great day (as did everyone else)!

25 July 2008

No More Baby Bear

It's official. A toddler is toodling around our place now in place of the baby we once knew. Although Benny has been walking for some time now, it's still hard to believe he's ONE and has entered the world of toddler-dom. Of course, he doesn't know that anything has changed, aside from all the attention he has received today.

Nate and I reminisced about the whole birthing process last night. I woke up with contractions at around 3 a.m., woke him up to make sure they were real at 3:30 a.m. ("Sara, you can't move while you're having contractions. It's the real thing.") Then we drove to the birthing center (two awkward contractions away) and waited for the Bear to arrive. I cried last night. I've experienced such a roller coaster of emotions in the past year. I suppose that's what being a parent is all about. But, trust me, these were definitely happy tears.

We have a small bbq planned for tomorrow afternoon. My parents, brother, great aunt and uncle and some friends will be there to celebrate all of Benny's accomplishments in the past year:

Holding his head up, eating out of a bottle, sleeping through the night (that's a BIG one), sitting up, eating solid foods from a spoon and then with his hands, crawling, cruising along the furniture and WALKING!

That's a lot of milestones! Stay tuned for more :)...

22 July 2008

Sheesh.

Well, clearly this expirement didn't go very far. Only three posts this month. I am a bad blogger. I suppose I have my reasons, which I will not divulge.

Suffice it to say that I had a fabulous time in southern California with my Pretty Girl friend earlier this month. We drank, played foosball, drank, went for a hike, drank, went shopping, drank, ate at Soup Plantation, drank, and then I boarded a plane. Fabulous times! Crazy what you can do when you can sleep in in the morning!

I haven't posted an update on my dissertation in ages. There's not a lot to update as of yet. I did finish a really horrible draft of my literature review, but after moving forward with my theoretical framework, I'm not even sure that the lit review makes sense. I'm reading a lot about the public/private spheres with some specific concentration on Hannah Arendt and her definitions of political life. For those of you who are familiar (which probably numbers somewhere around one since this stuff is so heady and pointless no one in their right mind would actually check it out) Arendt has been criticized for defining the public sphere as a man's sphere and the private sphere as somewhere where women hang out and do all the wifely and motherly things women are supposed to do. As you can imagine, faithful reader, feminists don't look too kindly on Ms. Arendt.

But, I digress. The damn dissertation is still looming over my head like a 10 pound bowling ball.

In other news, we still don't have a house. Bummer. We put another offer in on another house, but we got REJECTED big time. The owner didn't want anything less than her list price. Sorry, lady, no one is going to that house for that much. We're re-evaluating our wants and needs now and might consider a duplex in the neighborhood. I'll keep you posted, if possible, on our home-buying shenanigans.

Sheesh.

Oh, and most importantly, Benny turns one on Friday. ONE whole year. As Nate tells Benny, "That's a lot of months." And it is, but fabulous, challenging, amazing months at that.

11 July 2008

Living the SoCal Life

I'm hanging in Riverside, California, with my Pretty Girl friend this weekend. We spent last night playing foosball with her roommates and drinking mass quantities of beer. I have to admit, I'm fairly impressed with my drinking skills. Haven't done that in awhile. And, while I'm a bit hungover today, I'm feeling fairly fresh. The two coffees I've consumed may have helped.

We'll move on to LA tonight to hang with the other Sykora sister, Kathy. And, for those of you who know the Sykora sisters, there will be stories! I'll update at the end of the weekend.

So, while I'm living the SoCal life, where is The Bear, you ask. The Bear is having a "boys' weekend" with his papa. I'm sure they're having all sorts of fun and he doesn't even realize I'm gone. I'll be ready for a big hug and kiss when I get home. He doesn't really give hugs or kisses yet, but luckily he's still small enough to manhandle affectionately :).

Yay for vacation!

01 July 2008

Heat Spike

A new Phat Pat quote for your reading enjoyment...

Last week I was in Brule to write. I did some writing, but I mostly watched Benny hang out with my parents. I cannot describe how happy I am that Benny will know his grandparents so well. He already looks for them when we enter their house. He follows my dad around the house like a little puppy and often wants to "go" to my mom more often than he will "come" to me. Having a child certainly makes me appreciate my parents more.

But, I digress. When we were home last week, the temperature rose. It's summer. That's to be expected. One particular morning, however, my dad came home at around 2 in the afternoon and declared that there had been a "heat spike" that morning and that the temperature had increased from 65 degrees to 95 degrees in 10 minutes. My BS-o-meter went off instantly. But, I wanted to give my dad the benefit of the doubt. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

It was 95 degrees at 2 p.m. However, I had been walking in and out of the house all morning and never noticed a distinct shift in the temperature. Just to be sure I looked up "heat spike" on the internet. No such thing exists. Plus, my limited knowledge of weather patterns and such leads me to believe that such a drastic shift in such a short period of time would be caused by a change of weather patterns that would result in some type of storm.

Anyway, just another humorous nugget from Phat Pat. What a character!

27 June 2008

My Life, According to Google

Last night was a slow night. Nate went to a show. I was supposed to stay at home and get some stuff done. Rather, I started working on Benny's birthday present. I'm putting together a book about his Grandma Barb who passed away six months before he was born. It was tragic, but I digress.

I was having problems getting my photos uploaded to the site where I'm making the book. So, I decided to mess around on the internet instead. After watching all the new movie trailers (for anyone who wants to kill time, check out movies.yahoo.com or trailers.apple.com for endless hours of entertainment). Then I visited all the crappy celebrity sites to see what was going on in Hollywood. Then, in a fit of complete boredom coupled with narcissism, I googled myself. Yes, I googled myself. And if you've never done it before, you should. There is stuff up on the web about myself that I have completely forgotten about.

My life, according to Google, goes something like this:

  • In college I won a few awards for writing. Mostly, though, my newspaper articles appear in the entirety, much to my dismay. I wasn't the most talented writer back then.
  • My times for random road races I ran when I was much younger are posted. They make me feel slow. And old.
  • Weird work stuff is posted too. Like a grant I wrote when I worked in Des Moines for some Canadian foundation. The newsletter I edited when I was in grad school. The journalism institute where I taught high school journalism teachers how to teach journalism (what? how did I get that job?).
  • I am proud to say that some of my current work is up there too. I can actually google myself on Google scholar and get some hits.
It turns out that there are other "Sara Struckman"s out there as well. Like the one who planned cheap spring break trips or the one who hyphenated her name: Sara Struckman-Johnson.

Most surprisingly, however, was that my name turned up in someone else's blog. I was a little disconcerted when I found my name on the blog entitled the "Carlson Caravan." Turns out that this couple, who also graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, used to write in bogus letters to the editor. I vaguely remember this from my tenure as the opinion page editor. We never actually printed the letters, but we did respond to them. I have much more to say about this ordeal, but Benny is ready for bed and I don't think Nate is doing much to help him out. Regardless, check out this link: http://kristi-carlson.blogspot.com/2008/06/more-treasure-letters-rick-and-i-sent.html

You'll see my mug. Scary.

26 June 2008

Home Buyer Blues

This week we embarked on a new and really scary adventure: Buying our own home. OK, so we're not at the "buying" stage just yet, but we wish we were! This month was slated as a homework month. We had planned to check out some houses in different neighborhoods to get a better feeling about what's out there, what we can afford, etc.

And then we found it. 2680 Ash. Look it up. It's a cute little house, with a great yard, a spacious basement, and enough room for a small family like the Struckman-Brown family.

When we saw it, we figured that we'd have plenty of time to mull it over. After all, isn't the country in a recession? Haven't we all heard of the housing slump. Apparently, the people who toured 2680 Ash have not. We scheduled for another tour with our realtor and before we could even tour the house again the owners received TWO bids. TWO BIDS! This house was on the market for all of a week and a half.

So, we did what any unprepared buyer would do: we scrambled. We scrambled to decide just how much of a house payment we could afford. We scrambled to get a pre-approved loan for that amount. We scrambled to get the offer in on time. In the end, we were too late. All of the offers were fairly close to equal (according to our realtor), so the owners of the house decided to sell to the first bid. Oh, the injustice!

I'm convinced that if the owners had met us, they would have chosen us hands down. After all, we can be a fairly charming couple and we have the cutest bear in the world. But, that's not the way this game is played. Next time we find a perfect place we'll definitely bring out our A game. So watch out!

23 June 2008

Security Blanket

After over a month of sleeping with a special blanket, Benny has finally developed an attachment to one of Nate's old blankets. Benny usually falls asleep without a problem, but every now and then he hates to be in his crib. He'll scream for a few minutes and then settle into his pre-sleep chatter. It seems that now he enjoys the blanket. He's often wrapped in it by the morning or holding it in his hand or sleeping on it. It's nice to know that it comforts him - or so I think.

The whole security blanket got me wondering: Do I have a security blanket. Not in the literal sense of course, but something that comforts me in not-so-comfortable situations. Then I realized: It's Nate. We're looking for houses now. It's a big undertaking and a big commitment. We could move into a place that's not quite perfect, but I would be OK with it because I know that Nate and I could figure it out. He's great to have around in new places because he has a great sense of direction (even though he doesn't always pay attention).

I suppose people continue to acquire security objects throughout their lives. How else do we get through awkward uncomfortable situations? Except as we grow older, perhaps our security comes from friendships and relationships rather than objects. It's a nice, comforting thought.

21 June 2008

Where to Start?

After a brief hiatus from the blog, I'm not even sure where to start. As you know from the previous post, we took our first family vacation in early June. We had a fabulous time. And, Benny proved himself an expert traveller once again. He ended up sleeping for half of both flights and only cried a little as we descended. He's so fabulous.

And, to avoid freezing our asses off in Yosemite, we opted to spend a night at Lake Tahoe instead. Benny took his first swim in Lake Tahoe, which I'm excited to tell him about when he gets older. "Hey, Benny, you had the coolest first swim EVER!" He didn't want to leave the water - even though it was freezing! We had to drag him out after he swallowed a mouthful of water.

The most exciting (and not in a good way) even of the past two weeks, however, was a trip to the ER in the ambulance on Tuesday. I had warmed up my cup of coffee in the microwave, set it on the kitchen table, turned my back for a second. When I turned around, Benny had grabbed the handle and poured the hot coffee all over his face and chest. Needless to say, I freaked out, Benny freaked out (for good reason). I tried calling his pediatrician, but the office didn't return calls until after 10 a.m. and that was a longgg hour away. So, I may have overreacted. OK, I did overreact. I called 911 and said, Don't send an ambulance. I just need to know if a trip to the ER is necessary. When all was said and done we rode in the ambulance to the ER. Long story short, Benny is fine, which is all that matters. But I now know that when The Bear is hurt, Mama Bear emerges. I might have to work on that.

06 June 2008

Family Vaca

Tomorrow we will embark on our first family vacation. We're visiting my aunt and uncle in northern California and meeting some friends along the way. For the most part, I think it will be an exciting adventure. We did run into a snag however. We're staying at Yosemite National Park for two nights and it turns out that the "heated" cabin we reserved doesn't have heat in the summertime (even though it still gets down to 30 degrees at night). I'm hard core and all, but Benny, well, he's not a hard-core bear... yet. I must admit, I'm a little nervous about that part of the adventure.

I'd like to blog while we're on vaca because I'm sure stories will abound. Not sure if we'll have a computer or access to the Internet. That seems weird to say because NOT having access to the internet or a computer is so uncommon these days. But I digress. I'll try to post stories. If I don't, wish us luck!!!

03 June 2008

Phat Pat

I have to be honest, I've been at a loss about writing on this thing as of late. I'm done with the postpartum depression string of posts and there's only so much I can write about Benny (he's fabulous, he's complicated, he's amazing, he's difficult, he's the best thing I've done in my life). There's only so much bitching/updating I can do about my dissertation (although I am finished gathering data and I started writing my literature review today - HURRAH!). And just when I thought I had nothing else to write about, I spent three days with my parents and realized that my dad would be the perfect subject for not just one, but an ongoing string of posts.

Here's the thing about my dad: He's a stand up kind of guy. He loves to have fun and he loves for the people around him to have fun. He enjoys hanging out with his kids and making sure that we are having fun. He's an incredible storyteller and a very outgoing person. He doesn't know a stranger.

But here's the other thing about my dad: He tells tall tales. About everything! Some people can elaborate and pepper a story with a few extra not-so-true details and they're good storytellers. My dad tends to pepper everyday conversation with extra not-so-true-I-just-pulled-this-out-of-my-bum details. If you ever have a conversation with my dad, you can assume that about 50 percent of what he's telling you is complete fiction and about 50 percent might be true. So, I've decided to start posting some of the most outrageous quotes he tells me while I'm here. At some point I'll write an interesting character study on my dad. He's such an interesting guy with so many random idiosyncrasies. But for now, the quote of the week from Phat Pat (a name I'll explain in a future post).

THE BACKGROUND

Summer in western Nebraska brings with it thunderstorms that can either bless or curse a farmer. I've been very in tune with the weather since I was a little girl because I feared the thunderstorm as a little girl. Sure, thunderstorms bring much-needed rain to crops. But thunderstorms can also produce hail, a weather phenomenon that can strip crops and render them useless. Needless to say, my dad is also very in tune with the weather.

So, it's summertime in western Nebraska and Benny and I drove home for a few days to hang with my parents. The weatherman is predicting thunderstorms for the next several nights. My dad watches and listens to the weather incessantly throughout the day. He comes home from getting a haircut last night and says:

"There are 10 storm chasers in Ogallala."

And he shakes his head in disgust and disbelief at the weather. Of course, there are probably no storm chasers in Ogallala. In Phat Pat speak that means, "There could be a storm tonight and it might include a tornada, but that's not likely. I'll stress out about the weather until nothing comes of it and then never mention the storm chasers again."

28 May 2008

What Kind of Sick Joke...

I've had all the symptoms all month: voracious appetite, larger breasts (or so I thought), fatigue, late cycle. The only one that was missing was nausea and I probably could have feigned that symptom too. I was so convinced that I was pregnant that I began planning ahead so that if I was pregnant again I could be mentally prepared for it. Because I am not READY to be pregnant again. I've even been very fastidious about taking the pill, which is something I'm usually nonchalant about.

The little blue line on the little white stick, however, said I have nothing to worry about. If that little blue line on that little white stick had been a person, I would have kissed it so hard. It's not that I don't want to have another baby, but another baby now might push me over the edge. Talk about a close call.

Here are a few reasons why I'm not ready, not to mention the lack of sleep a newborn brings with it.

I was having a fantastic chat session with a friend of mine (and another mom) the other night. We were discussing, among other things, what I call the sick joke of motherhood. Here's what people tell you about being pregnant, giving birth, and having children:

1) Being pregnant is hard, but it's worth it in the end. You can eat whatever you want and people will look at you and say "awww, how nice" because you are procreating.

2) Giving birth is like a gift. It hurts, but in the end you'll have a cute little baby to love and snuggle.

3) Motherhood has it's challenges, but in the end, children are a blessing, cute, full of life, etc.

While all of these are true, they only represent half the truth. Yes, in the end everything is "worth it." But here are the not-so-nice aspects of going through the parenting process:

1) Being pregnant is the equivalent of climbing a mountain every day. The first trimester sucks because the fatigue is enough to kick you on your ass. Not to mention the morning sickness. And the "awww, how nice" thoughts give way to, that woman is enormous - how does she stand up without immediately falling over. Plus, no one likes to look at a bloated lady with an enormous stomach (particularly the pregnant woman herself.

2) Birthing is a magical, lovely process. Although, when the baby moves through the birth canal and through your va-hay-hay it burns. It burns BAD! The contractions aren't so pleasant either. Nor are the pains post-pregnancy of trying to pee, poop, or any other normal human function.

3) Motherhood is infinitely rewarding. Benny lights up my life everyday. But, see the previous post. Also, no one REALLY tells you how being pregnant RAVAGES your body. And when I say "ravage" I mean messes you up forever!

In the end, it is worth it. But I haven't gotten to the end yet and I could not handle another pregnancy right now.


A Different Kind of Bear

Benny has been putting a new meaning in his name, Bear, lately. By new meaning I mean he's being difficult. I'm not sure if it's because he's frustrated that he can't transport himself by walking exclusively (although he's getting much better) or if it's because he's getting some new teeth in. No matter, he has not been what I would call an easy baby this week. He's been pickier about what he eats (and by that, I mean he's been spitting a lot of his food out), he cries when he's not walking, then he cries when he does, he rubs his face like he's tired all day. I love the Bear but these past few days have worn me out!

In some more positive news, I'm nearly finished with the "data collection" phase of the dissertation process. I'm sure I'll run into a few snags during the analysis process, but I only have about one more year of time to scan and then I'm DONE! Speaking of, I left my different kind of Bear with papa for the evening and I"m supposed to be working. I best get to it!

27 May 2008

A Case of the Not-So-Crazies

So, here's the sixth and final post about my postpartum depression experience. I figured it's about time. I haven't had any problems with postpartum depression since mid-January. I stopped taking my medication in March. I stopped going to support group two weeks ago. In short, I've been "normal" for some time. Not that anything goes back to normal after having a child, but you know what I mean.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I attended support group meetings with other moms who have experienced postpartum depression. These meetings were more helpful than I ever could have imagined. By the time I started attending meetings in Denver, things were improving - not just with my mental state, but with life in general.

We moved out of the Wacky Shack without a penalty. We may have stretched the truth a little to get out of our lease. OK, so we outright lied, but we could not live there any more! I stressed about our move to Denver. It was a big deal - especially considering my mental state! I didn't know how Benny would ride in the car for five to six hours a day or how he would sleep in a hotel bed. He was amazing on all accounts. And, it helped to have my mom with me. We stayed with my great aunt and uncle while we looked for a place to live in Denver. They were life savers. They cooked for us, made us feel very welcome, and fell in love with Benny. I think they were disappointed that we found an apartment so quickly.

Four days after we moved into our new apartment Benny started sleeping through the night. He went from waking up three times a night to no times a night in less than a month. Perhaps giving him formula and his own room helped. Whatever it was, it was fabulous to have a full night's sleep again!

Denver is a great city. It's close to the mountains and close to my family. Everything went from overwhelming in Austin to completely manageable (and even enjoyable) in Denver.

So, by Christmas, things were returning to normal. We settled into our new apartment, we drove to Iowa for a pre-Christmas celebration, and we returned to Denver to start the new year with a fresh start. But, those support group meetings gave me something to do every week. And, the women there were so supportive (no surprise).

There you have it. My entire journey through some serious mental agony to the present. Although I'm terrified of going through this again when I have another baby, I now know what to look for. As another mom told me, I'm entering the battle with a full set of armor.

22 May 2008

A Small Step for Man

But a HUGE step for bear-kind! Benny took his first steps last night. He was hanging on to some keys and just walked and walked and walked. OK, maybe he didn't master walking in one night, but he did walk quite a bit. We have it on video. Check it out on my links. So far, he hasn't repeated the feat today, but we'll work on it.

Oh, my little bear is growing up!

21 May 2008

Stuff from All Over

DISSERTATION: DATA-GATHERING PHASE

Good news, faithful reader... The data-gathering phase of the dissertation process is nearing completion. I only have about two more years to scan in Time magazine and then I'll scan The Nation and National Review, which won't be nearly as time consuming because they are monthly, not weekly, publications. So far I have a stack of copies sitting on my kitchen table. At least that's something!

THE BEAR

My little bear is now standing by himself for minutes, not seconds, at a time. He takes little baby steps once in awhile. They are more like baby shuffles, but he's getting there. Last night Nate put Benny down at 7:30. He still wasn't asleep at 8:30, so I went in his room to check on him. I was greeted simultaneously by an enormous smile and the stench of a diaper full of poo. I can't say that Benny was excited to see me. He was probably just excited to see me because it meant that he wouldn't have to sit in his dirty diaper any more. It's gotta be rough being a 10 month old!

Once the diaper-changing duties were completed, I carried Benny to the living room to say goodnight to his papa. He smiled, and smiled, and smiled. So, we had him hang out with us. And he was a treat! He held on to my hand and walked circles around me for at least 10 minutes while screeching with pleasure. Then I put him in bed and he passed out less than five minutes in his crib.

BABY FOOD

Because I stopped breastfeeding so early and still feel guilty about it I'm trying to make sure that Benny only gets the best possible solid food. I make most everything he eats. And, after sampling stuff from the jar and the stuff I make, I have to admit, my stuff is far superior. It tastes fresh and yummy. Nate and I were discussing our favorite Benny meals. My all-time favorite is asparagus and carrots with a bit of whole grain cereal mixed in. It's so delightful that I save a spoonful for the end of the meal so I can taste it. Nate combined mango and avocado last night and raved about the meddling of flavors.

It's no wonder Benny is so chubby!!!