Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Rewind

Are your New Year's Resolutions set? This year I'm setting some healthy resolutions for the whole family that are pretty simple. Move often. Eat (more) veggies. Drink water (and wine, for the adults). I think it's doable and I'm excited for a healthy New Year.

To wrap up 2013, I thought I'd include some links to some of my favorite posts from the past year. Hard to believe this is where we were with the new house at this time last year. What a difference a year makes!

I wrote this post last year on Charlie's birthday. Is he really going to be 5 this year? Our annual trip to California was very memorable for the wrong reasons. We thought we'd never get home!

We endured a few sick days in the winter months, like this one when Iz played on the floor while I taught class...

Spring finally arrived, bringing Easter and Charlie's first soccer game

Iz was baptized on her second birthday, on St. Patrick's Day...

By May, our house looked nothing like the old version, yet it was far from finished. And no matter what I did, I just couldn't seem to make time stand still.  

As our move date approached, I realized just how much we packed into our year of living downtown. We made a quick trip to Washington D.C. for a wedding, celebrated my 40th birthday, and celebrated the 4th of July (and Roxie's birthday) in our new home.


I spent a lot of time this past year pondering work/life balance and whether there is any way to juggle career and family and keep my sanity. I don't have all the answers, but between t-ball games and learning to swim, our life found a comfortable rhythm in our new home. 

We've just about survived the terrible twos, and I had fun writing about my childhood home and my very talented grandmother. And the kitchen at Modern on Meadow has become my favorite place to be with family. 

Our new cousin Max was all the rage when he arrived in September and he continues to impress as only a super adorable baby can.

When I wasn't traveling down memory lane, I made sure we soaked up everything fall had to offer this year (baking and crafts!) and these were my favorite Halloween costumes yet! 

I faced and finished a new challenge at work, and Ryan made partner at his law firm.

Many friends wrote (here and on Facebook) and reassured me this change is not as bad as I imagine. And the amazing responses I got from this post remind me why words and shared stories can be so important in our lives. Thank you for your words of encouragement and inspiration. 

I end this year feeling incredibly thankful and full of hope and resolve to be a better parent and a better person in the coming year. In December, we had a big birthday bash and then proceeded to limp into the end of the year. But the forced slow down helped me relax and ease out of 2013. I feel rested and ready for new challenges.  

Our biggest accomplishment in 2013 was surviving a year of being displaced and settling into our new home. It was a tough challenge and we learned a lot about ourselves as a family in the process. What we missed most during our year in an apartment was not having family and friends over to share weekend dinners, holidays and birthdays. I look forward to many, many occasions when our home will be full of people we love. 

I can't slow down time and I can't make time stand still. But I can be present in the moment and make every day count. 2013 was a jam-packed year. I did my best to make it all count. 

Whether you are a regular reader or just a sometime visitor, thanks for sharing the past year with me and I wish you all the best in 2014!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A merry, sniffly Christmas

Someone in our household has been sick almost the entire month of December. We limped into Christmas with colds that knocked each of us on our backs for days, and then lingered for well over a week. It's been 10 days since my cold hit full force and I'm still draining and stuffy. Poor Charlie held out the longest and was the last to get this monster cold. He was sick two days before Christmas and we had to cancel our Christmas Eve plans with family to keep him home. He rallied for Christmas morning, but he was still only about 60% that day - you can see it in his eyes.

Nevertheless, we had a very nice Christmas Day with family - and I think the kids got all they wanted from Santa.

Lovely, I forgot to put the vacuum away for pictures...

Unlike Charlie who changed his mind daily about what he wanted from Santa, Izzy only had one request - a guitar. I found this little yellow ukelele and she was happy as could be. She plays for us and sings - it really is the sweetest thing. I see guitar lessons in her future.

Despite the great holiday, I'm ready to say goodbye to December. I'm hoping for a very healthy 2014 for all of us.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Family Court

This basketball goal and court have existed in my parents' backyard since 1957. My grandfather poured the concrete court, experimenting with a slightly different concrete mix on each section and keeping a detailed record of his efforts (which is framed and hanging in my parents' basement). Three generations of Geigers, our friends, and neighborhood kids have banked, bricked, swished, and dunked baskets on this industrial-strength metal rim - until today. Today this rim came down to make room for a major home remodel - good change, but nonetheless sad to observe.

I spent countless hours practicing on this court - shooting morning and night with the benefit of a bright external light that did nothing to endear our neighbors. I've heard stories about my Aunt Susan battling my Dad and his friends on this court - they never wanted to let the girl play. Growing up we had epic games with my three cousins on 4th of July and Labor Day holidays. These 4-on-4 matches (6 cousins plus my Dad and my Aunt) usually ended with some blood drawn and tears shed.

The grandchildren - the third generation to use this court - also practiced their shots against their older and younger cousins. If I compare the use of the court across the three generations, I would say that girls gained full acceptance on the court, and the games became considerably more friendly - though still just as competitive.

Times and places change, but memories are forever. I understand the goal was saved and may make a return appearance at some point in the future. I vote for that.

There's no place like home (#tbt)

For a little throw back Thursday (#tbt) today, I'm revisiting this post from last year. I am currently at the same meeting in Chicago where the events described in this post transpired. Being here brings it all back and makes me think about all the same issues. I still have the same feelings of not measuring up as a scientist or as a mother, and not giving either my work or home life the focus they deserve. There was the same chaos before this trip (a sick kid, a sick dad, frantically calling sitters to patch up care for the kids during the day, and don't get me started on Christmas being NEXT WEEK!)

I don't have any answers that make me feel better about these issues one year later. But here's hoping this trip is not as eventful.

There's no place like 

I want to be home. I'm finishing up 8 days of work travel in the last 14 days, and all I want to do is be home with my babies - make pumpkin bread, carve pumpkins, catch falling leaves, and snuggle.

I spent 11 hours today reviewing grants in a hotel conference room in Chicago. A room full of brilliant scientists, judging the work of other brilliant scientists. I'm not sure how I got here. I'm not sure I can ever get another grant funded. We made decisions today about which research projects are worth millions of dollars of government money - my money, and your money - and I'm not sure how I'm qualified to make those decisions. The whole process makes me feel small and not very smart.

I spent the whole day trying to keep my emotions in check, to not think about Charlie and how he just wants his mommy. It was torture, really. His first broken bone, and I wasn't there to dry the tears, to hold him and hug the pain away.

I think this is really what wears working moms down. It isn't the big roadblocks or the bias we encounter, it is the little things that add up and make us feel like we're not there for our kids when we should be. The little things that make us feel inadequate as a parent. You can't explain to your 3 yr-old why Mommy isn't there when he breaks his arm. He just doesn't understand. He will be ok in the grand scheme of things, but I might not. And that's what hits home.

I tried to make the most of this trip, staying out and talking way past midnight with the other scientists. I know  it doesn't sound like work, but to this introvert, it is. After 11 hours of reviewing grants and worrying about Charlie, all I wanted to do was retreat to my room and be alone. But I went to dinner, and I made conversation and I was social. I went to the bar after dinner and kept making conversation. I was part of the last group to close down the bar - because this is where the real connections are made, this is where the friendships are formed that lead to favors and life-long loyalty in a very competitive field. I thought of it as work and I forced myself to engage when I really wanted to retreat and hide. If I had to be here, away from my family, then I was going to make it count.

I'm not sure I am doing what it takes to succeed in science, and I'm not sure I am doing what my family needs to be happy and whole. How will I know? Who decides and who tells me what's working? There isn't an expert panel ready to pass on their judgment of my parenting. I almost wish there was. An expert panel can give you specific suggestions and recommendations for changes to ensure future success. The critique can feel harsh, but it ultimately leads to success. Where is my parenting review panel?

Ryan has done double duty in the past couple weeks while I've been traveling. We've had pink eye, a broken arm, many sleepless nights - it's so complicated. Ryan has to give a lot to make my career work. I know it would be so much easier for him if I managed the kids all the time and he could focus on work. That is a luxury many of his peers enjoy and I worry that his career suffers because of mine. For my career to work, he has to give and the grandparents have to be on speed dial at all times. It takes a village. Some days I feel like its worth it. Other days, I'm not sure. Some days I just want to be there when it matters. I want to be there when my kids need me. At the end of the day, that's all that matters and that's how I'll be judged.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Izzy the folk singer

Could music be in her future? She loves to sing and check out how she holds her guitar (ukulele) - like a pro. It was too noisy to hear her singing in this video, but she still captured her cousin's attention. This little crooner is getting her own ukulele for Christmas!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lucky Friday the 13th!

Lucky because his birthday is on the 13th, and so is mine. Lucky because he is mine. Lucky because he is their Dad. Just plain lucky.

Happy birthday to the best friend, husband and Dad we are lucky enough to know and love. 40 looks good!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No Wall Street Mother

I don't want to be a Wall Street Mother. WSMs make a lot of money, keep crazy hours, traverse the globe, and give up a lot of time with their families. I have no desire to earn that much money or reach the top of the ladder if it means I miss out on back-to-school night, class trips and occasional play dates. Some might say I'm not ambitious. I think I just want to be happy.

The problem with this article about Wall Street Mothers is that it is just more of the same - sacrificing all to get to the top - except this time they are highlighting women at the top instead of men. The women succeeding on Wall Street are the ones that have husbands that stay home full time. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Managing an intense career would be a hell of a lot easier if you were free to focus on work and not experience the constant pull from home and family - whether you are a man or a woman. Success requires immense hard work and dedication, of course. But does it have to come with complete sacrifice of any and all life balance?

Update: some interesting responses to this article...

I'm happy to see that there are increasing numbers of women with husbands supporting their careers full time, especially in a male-dominated profession like finance. But I wish there were more examples of the middle ground - happy families with two successful, working parents.

I bet Wall Street Mothers Parents never do this.

Both my husband's and my own career would benefit from having a spouse at home to manage daily family life. The possibility of that becoming a reality is slim to none for both of us. While there are many aspects of our domestic life I would gladly hand over to someone else (grocery shopping, housekeeping, laundry!), there are many I would not want to hand over (birthday party planning, sending holiday cards, cooking - though I'd give up the dish washing in a second).

If I had enough money, I guess I could pay someone to do all the things I don't care to do and this would free up time for my career. In lieu of said money, paying more attention to my priorities and letting go of the things that suck up time and don't really matter in the big picture is another strategy.

Lists are forming in my head. Priorities are coming into focus...stay tuned!

In the meantime, what daily tasks would you gladly turn over to someone else if you could? Which ones would you keep?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Catch me if you can

Ryan's surprise 40th birthday party. Check.
Tree up & decorated. Check.
Star family gifts delivered to the church. Check.
December birthdays with my side of the family celebrated. Check.

If I had even a quarter of Charlie's energy, I wouldn't need a weekend to recover from our weekend.

This is such a perfect picture to depict our moments at home, no matter what we're doing. Charlie never stops moving. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Girl

Guess who has basically potty-trained herself? This girl. I put it off as long as I could. Her teachers kept telling me she was ready. Finally, I bought some of the cutest little Hello Kitty undies one weekend, and that was all it took. She hasn't had an accident yet. Way to go Iz!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving thanks and being present

Is your table set for the big day? Thankfully, I am not responsible for that big job in our family yet. Maybe that is why I can look forward to this holiday without the work of hosting or shopping for gifts. I think if Ryan and I ever host we'd be tempted to try a vegetarian Thanksgiving. Given the low enthusiasm that would generate in both our families, I think we're safely off the rotation list for awhile.

I've already accomplished my pre-holiday fast thanks to an unexpected bout with the flu. I am very thankful that I am the only one in the household that came down with it. Ryan handled home and kids with great skill and let me truly rest. The kids were pretty sweet and gave me many hugs and kisses (on the top of my head/knee/ankle/shoulder, so as not to get sick). Of course, Izzy the great cuddler, couldn't really stay away. She came home from school yesterday and sat at the far end of the couch, near my feet. She kept scooting closer and closer, finally ending up nestled under my arm and wrapped around my legs. She slept in bed with me while Ryan slept on the couch. I am so thankful for two year-old snuggles.

I have been thinking about this post for the past week. I am guilty of doing many of the things in this list of "How to miss a childhood." My excuse for carrying my phone around all the time is to take pictures at impromptu moments when my children are doing something funny, cute, amazing. And I do take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. I enjoy looking at them, posting them to Instagram and on this blog. But am I missing the moments that defined those pictures? I wonder.

My phone is a distraction. If it is nearby, I look at it. I check emails, instagram, twitter, whatever. Short blips of news and events, images of other people's lives. It leaves my mind fragmented and unfocused. With my phone in my hand, I am not as effective in whatever I'm doing at the moment - working, parenting, cooking, listening. I'm putting it down.

From now on, my phone stays in my work bag or on the charger when I get home in the evenings. If I want to check emails at home, I will have to make the effort to turn on my laptop (it won't happen nearly as often). If I want to take pictures, I will use my 'real' camera. I will browse Facebook (really losing my interest with all the ads and promos lately) and Instagram on occasion, but you won't see me there as often. Instead, I'll be taking pictures in my mind, living in the present, and giving thanks daily.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In the kitchen @ Modern on Meadow

While living in the loft last year, one of the hardest adjustments for us was the tiny, apartment-sized kitchen. There was zero counter space, an electric stove top and a crummy oven that never cooked things evenly. For two people that love to cook, it was a major downer. During the entire remodel, dreaming about our new kitchen kept me going.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Feeling thankful

Thank you for the many, many positive comments to my previous post. Some of you replied here on the blog, on facebook and in personal messages to me. It was cathartic to write about my experience in church last Sunday. I've been emotional all week - feeling amazed and incredulous, a little sad, but mostly relieved and happy. I am filled with hope that we are moving towards a better day when all people are accepted, loved and even treasured for their uniqueness and individuality.

To add to my emotional week, Charlie and I visited his new school on Wednesday. The school hosts Preschool Fun Days throughout the year for incoming kindergartners. He will be a Corinth Dragon next year.

We visited the art room on this tour and the kids listened to a story and drew some pictures with markers. Charlie was a little shy, a little nervous, typical behavior for him in a new setting. But over all he did pretty well. I think I did pretty well, too - only welled up once.

When we arrived, the teacher told the kids to write their names on name tags. Yikes. Guess we need to progress past the "CH" and learn to spell our name. Some of the children could write their names, some couldn't. We have 9 months to work on it and I know we'll get there.

I was on the KU campus last week for an advisory board meeting and the fall colors were beautiful. Visits to the Lawrence campus for work are always a treat for me. I may work for the university, but the medical center just doesn't have the charm and feel of the Lawrence campus. Is there any place more beautiful than Jayhawk Boulevard in the Fall?

And we took the kids to their first KU basketball game last weekend - they were in the PHOG! Charlie could barely not contain his excitement and woke up at 2 in the morning the night before to ask me when we were going to the basketball game. 

Thanks to their older cousins, Charlie and Izzy made it until 8 minutes left in the second half. They had plenty of room to squirm in their seats (which were on the aisle) and that made all the difference. Things went pretty well until we got home at 11pm with tired, cranky kids that we had to wake up, undress, dress in pajamas, and get back to sleep. We might try this again in about 10 years.

Happy Weekend!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hope for a better tomorrow

My Uncle Adam was a kind and gentle person. He had a soft voice and an easy smile. He was a talented musician and could play any instrument he picked up - to hear him play the piano was truly magical. When I was a kid and visited my grandparents in California, he lived nearby and always reserved a day to spend with me. He took me to Disney Land, taught me how to sail in Mission Bay, and gave me my first ride on a motorcycle. He was bigger than life - a man I loved and admired.

My parents told me my Uncle was gay when I was 10 years old. I was surprised at first, but it didn’t change my feelings for him or my relationship with him. He came out after he graduated college, and it wasn’t easy news for his conservative Kansas family to hear at the time. But his Dad and brothers, sister and mother all loved him for the person he was. Family mattered more than any differences in lifestyle ever could. I was fortunate to know Adam's partner, Ben. They had a pair of Labradors at a time when gay couples could only dream of having their own children. 

When I was a senior in high school, my Uncle Adam died of complications due to HIV/AIDS. It was 1991. Had he survived a few more years, he might have lived a long and healthy life. Instead his life was cut short at the age of 40.

I remember sitting in my small town Presbyterian church as a teenager, hearing our minister say that homosexuality is a sin and there is no place in heaven for people like my Uncle. I remember looking to my parents and the church for answers. I remember asking my parents how we could believe in a religion that would throw aside someone we knew to be loving and spiritual.  Hearing those words of hate and exclusion at a time when I was struggling with my Uncle’s death had a deep impact on me and my relationship with the church.

I sought answers in college in religion classes and studies of Eastern civilization. I thought maybe other religions would bring me the message my own church failed to deliver. I never left the church completely in my 20s and 30s, but I kept it at arm’s length. I accepted the church for what it could offer me and my family, but I also observed and felt its limitations - the shortcomings I could not look past.

All these years I’ve had to live with the idea that my church and the Presbyterian faith would never accept my Uncle and people like him. Until now.  

I joined my current church shortly before Ryan and I were married and I've come to look forward to the weekly services. The sermons are profound and eloquent even on the most ordinary of Sundays. This past Sunday the sermon was titled "Homosexuality: It Is Not Only a Fight That Needs to End, It Has Been the Wrong Fight All Along." Ryan especially wanted to hear this sermon and since he grew up in this church, he knew what to expect (this church has always been progressive about homosexuality, I now know). I had no idea what would be said. I had no idea the sermon would have such a profound impact on me, that it would bring me to tears.

I cannot begin to tell you how amazed and undone I felt following Sunday's sermon. To hear a minister from this traditional church (in Kansas) say that the argument over homosexuality in the church needs to end, that gays and lesbians can not only belong but lead in our church, and ought to have a place in all churches, all religions; to hear him say that the church's mission should be to lift people up – particularly those cast out by society and most in need – and not to judge and turn our backs; to hear those words of love and acceptance so long after we buried my Uncle brought a rush of relief and a wave of emotion I didn't expect.

I am now 40, the age my Uncle was when he died. The words I heard Sunday give me hope for the world my own children might know when they turn 40. The words give me hope.

All these years I knew deep in my heart that my Uncle could only be in heaven. The God I believe in would never turn his back on someone with his heart, his gentle soul. But to hear a Presbyterian minister - one I deeply respect and admire - confirm what I've always believed to be true, is a gift I will never forget.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Thanks for all the kind comments and encouragement to my post a few weeks back. It makes a huge difference to me to know I'm not alone in my struggles with career/parenting.

I think we're in a post-Halloween slump this week in the Maniger household. I had a headache all day Monday from my sugar detox, finally feeling right again. The kids have thankfully forgotten about their Halloween candy, so no need to employ the Switch Witch - a brilliant idea. I will remember that trick in the future.

I think I've figured out what is getting me down lately. Change is coming in our lives in the form of Kindergarten. It is looming large and making me a bit crazy. You might think it's a long way off to be worrying about this, but really it isn't. I'm taking Charlie to his new school in a couple weeks for a tour with other parents and kids. I need to decide on half-day or full day kindergarten (do I really have a choice?) and what arrangements we will make for before/after school.

We're in a groove with our daily routine right now. We've had the same daycare for four plus years, our drop-off and pick-up routines are consistent and familiar. That's all about to change.

The kids will be in two locations next year, adding time and complexity to our morning and evening routines. And even if Charlie goes to full day kindergarten, he will be done by 3:00. 3:00!

Of course there is before/after care and that is what most working parents rely on. I looked up some information on the school website the other day and it made me cry.

Seems crazy, I know. Both kids have been in daycare since they were a few months old. This is nothing new. Except, it is.

School lets out at 3:00 and most of the kids will go home. They will file out onto the sidewalk and their parents will pull through the car line and pick them up, complete with smiles and hugs. It is the end of the school day. Time to go home.

The kids in after care will get shuttled to a new classroom for homework, to the gym for some games. They will make friends, play, have fun.

But it isn't like daycare where almost all of the kids stay until 5:00. Charlie will know the difference. He will wonder why he doesn't get picked up like the other kids. Because both of your parents work, I will tell him. Mom and Dad have careers and we've worked hard to earn our degrees and we provide you with a very nice life as a result. It's all good, kid.

Except it isn't. He won't care about all that, our careers are not his concern, his responsibility. He will simply want to be picked up like the other kids. End of story.

It has me in a funk. A post-Halloween, sugar detox, hazy, gray day-kinda funk.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

My Super Heroes, Batman and WonderGirl. 

I've been holding back the kids' costumes for weeks now, trying to ensure they won't tire of them (and destroy them) before the big day. On Sunday I gave in and let them see their costumes for the first time. We had a Halloween party to go to that evening and I figured they'd waited long enough.

Batman quickly got in character. Serious and intense.

For some reason WonderGirl was really interested in sweeping the sidewalk. Perhaps it was the swap of her red boots for pink slippers, she thought she was Cinderella.

Still in character, Batman and CrazyWonderGirl.

Showing me their magic cuffs and gloves...

I have to say I feel a little like WonderMom, getting their costume pieces collected and assembled a good week in advance.I even found Batarangs for Charlie! Time to trick and treat...