Farewell 2016! Don’t let our annual retrospective hit you on the way out.

It’s the return of the All & Sundry survey! I’m not sure if it’s still a going concern over there, but we’re going to do it again here regardless. (Here are 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2015 editions.)

Marsha T. Cat and I like to kick off a new year with a good snuggle.

What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
I didn’t realize it until I started going through my photo files for this post, but 2016 was a year of quite a few firsts for us. I managed to get tickets to a secret Louis CK show, which is something I definitely have not done before. We sent both kids to a week at camp; I was a nervous wreck, but they had a great time. The kids and I rode the Seven Dwarves Mine Train for the first time. The kids entered some stuff into our local fair and brought home some prizes. Pete and I did our first voter-registration drive. And most importantly, we celebrated our first Cubs World Series win.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I resolved to make more homemade pizzas last year. That seems like an easy one to keep, and yet I did not manage it. This year I’m going to try to treat myself with more kindness and mercy, and I’m going to try to go out with Rockford more often.

Marsha T. Cat wasn’t very hospitable to our canine pal who visited in February.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

I have a couple of new baby cousins!

Did anyone close to you die?
Let’s not talk about death this year.

I have no idea what was going on with Marsha T. Cat and her list in March.

What countries did you visit?
I did not leave the United States yet again this year.

What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
I’m copying and pasting from last year’s: Willpower in the face of delicious, unhealthy foods and the motivation to work out regularly.

Judging by Marsha T. Cat’s double-blanket napping, we must’ve had some chilly weather in April.

What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
November 8 wasn’t my favorite.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Man, I don’t know.

Marsha T. Cat is a big fan of sitting on people’s backs, but the only photographic evidence I have of it for 2016 is this picture from May.

What was your biggest failure?
OK, so I had tickets for “Hamilton” in my cart, and then I didn’t buy them because they were so expensive and we’d have to fly up to New York and stay in a hotel and… and… and…

And I’ve regretted not buying them ever since.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing terrible, thankfully.

Marsha T. Cat practiced her Blue Steel in June.

What was the best thing you bought?
We bought a new-to-us car. That was pretty great.

Where did most of your money go?
To the mortgage, as usual.

July was, naturally, when Marsha T. Cat met the Pokemon.

What did you get really excited about?
The Cubs.

What song will always remind you of 2016?
“Go Cubs Go.”

Marsha T. Cat was Poppy’s model for her entry in the Photography contest at the fair.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish we’d taken a few more hikes as a family.

What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying about my pants size.

Marsha T. Cat is always curious about the kids’ activities when we start school. This September was no exception.

How did you spend Christmas?
We spent Christmas with my dad, his girlfriend and the Perry Mason family.

What was your favorite TV program?
We started watching “Speechless” as a family this year. It’s our first appointment television as a family, so it’ll always be a little special.

Marsha T. Cat gets cozy in October. Noticing a trend?

What were your favorite books of the year?
I’m going to post my Books of 2016 post tomorrow, so be sure to return for that riveting programming. My favorite book of the year was “West with the Night” by Beryl Markham.

What was your favorite music from this year?

“Hamilton Mixtape” and Tribe Called Quest’s “We Got it from Here, Thank You 4 Your Service.”

Marsha T. Cat and I also enjoy celebrating my birthday in November with some cuddle time.

What were your favorite films of the year?
I didn’t like “Rogue One” as much as “The Force Awakens,” but I did like it quite a bit.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 38 this year, and we went to see “Doctor Strange.”

This December, poor Marsha T. Cat was briefly stalked by a Wampa.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Getting those “Hamilton” tickets.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
I actually have a personal fashion concept this year. I’m trying to be more comfortable with myself, which has lead me to a Jim James Meets Mrs. Roper aesthetic. It’s slightly less wacky than it sounds, although it probably wouldn’t be if I weren’t relying on Dia to send me the appropriate attire. It’s a clothing subscription service for plus-size ladies, and I’ve been very happy with it. Here’s my Dia link if you want to check it out. I’ll get a $20 credit if you sign up.

Happy New Year!

The children take a virtual trip to Pearl Harbor

We crushed this can last week using the power of science. Because Pete was studying air pressure.
We crushed this can last week using the power of science. Because Pete was studying air pressure.
We’re getting tantalizingly close to our Christmas break, so of course now is the time I’ve decided to crack down on the rampant morning electronic distractions. Pete has been diving directly into Metroid on the WiiU when he wakes up in the morning, and Poppy has developed a mild obsession with some Australian dude who opens packs of Pokemon cards on YouTube, and both of those things have been making it difficult for the kids to get started on their schoolwork in the mornings. So on Monday night I gathered up the WiiU controller and the iPad, and I changed the password on the computer.

I went to bed expecting a mutiny on Tuesday morning, but so far as I can tell neither of them even noticed the stuff was gone. (Although they certainly will now, because Poppy reads all of my posts. Hi Poppy!) They’ve been more pleasant about getting their schoolwork done, and they’ve been getting along with one another unusually well. I think we’re going to stick with the electronics-free morning routine.

At Pete’s request, we started reading “The Hobbit” for our family read-aloud this week. He’s listened to it 1,000 times as an audiobook, but I don’t think Poppy has ever listened to the whole thing. The opening pages have piqued her interest. Here are some other highlights of our week:


Poppy had finished 75 percent of her schoolwork by 11am, and Pete spent most of his day working with his Odyssey of the Mind team. It was a weirdly hands-off day for me.


This was our first electronics-free morning, and I was shocked that the kids didn’t even ask where the iPad or Wii controller were. I was far less shocked that our morning went much more smoothly than mornings past. The kids got most of their work done before 10am, when we headed out to a meeting. Pete met with his spelling tutor and Poppy had a piano lesson after that, and then the afternoon was full of tae kwon do, followed by writing homework and science reading.


Poppy spent the majority of the morning at her Wednesday classes, while Pete and I went to chess class and got out allergy shots. Once we got home, we took a short break before the kids settled in to watch a virtual field trip about Pearl Harbor that was produced by WYES in New Orleans. It was a very informative program, and the online polls they included kept the kids engaged.

Watching the WYES Pearl Harbor virtual field trip.
Watching the WYES Pearl Harbor virtual field trip.

The kids went back to building a cat village in the basement after the virtual field trip, and after that they both tackled their math lessons.


Thursday was our only “normal” day this week, which I guess means that staying home and doing schoolwork is no longer our normal.


Poppy is doing the first part of her tae kwon do testing this evening, so we’re going to take it pretty easy today. So far, the day has been dedicated to cleaning. Specifically, the kids are helping one another clean their rooms while I sit in the floor and read “The Hobbit” to them. I’m getting the good end of this deal.

In future-schooling news, I’m signed up to teach a geography class to a group of middle-schoolers in the spring. I’m looking for some exciting materials for that, so please let me know if you have some wonderful ideas or sources!

Want to peek into some other homeschoolers’ lives? Check out the weekly roundup at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers!

Hitting the floor with Sharks. Sometimes literally.

Disclaimer: SharkNinja sent Nichole products to review here at Butterscotch Sundae. No money changed hands, and all opinions are Nichole’s own.

Our most recent vacuum purchase was on Black Friday about five years ago, when Amazon offered a crazy vacuum discount on the very same day that the vacuum that came with our house finally died. The New Vacuum lasted a couple of years before it started getting a little fussy. It would pick up a thing here and a thing there, so long as we dumped it if it was more than half full and we cleaned the brush off regularly. It gradually did less and less as we babied it more and more, and just as I was about to start searching Amazon for another amazing deal, I got an email from a Shark representative I’d met at the Type-A Conference. “Would you be interested in writing about the Shark Rocket and the Shark Genius?” she asked. Thus continuing my weird but welcome tradition of the vacuum stars aligning right when I need it.

The Shark Rocket shows Nichole that her house is grubby.

The New Vacuum and I had vacuumed the bedroom literally two days before the Shark Rocket arrived on my doorstep, and it still picked up at least half a Marsha T. Cat’s worth of dust. I took this as both a repudiation of my homemaking acumen and a recommendation of the Rocket’s worthiness. I was surprised at how powerful the pull was when I switched the Rocket on. Between the vacuum’s pull against the carpet and trying to navigate the swiveling head, it felt like walking a rather insistent chihuahua. Which has not been my experience with previous vacuum cleaners. It didn’t take long to adjust my expectations, so I wasn’t terribly taken aback once I bumped it up to second gear, which felt like walking a rather insistent and very muscular chihuahua.

We recently pulled the carpet up in the living room and dining room, but we have some area rugs out there. So the Rocket and I wandered that way. I kind of enjoy the zen of sweeping, so I’ll probably keep sweeping the hardwoods with my trusty broom. But I was astounded to realize that I didn’t need to change outlets to reach the hall, living room and dining room. Granted, our house isn’t very large. But the cord on the Rocket is ginormous — 30 feet long! — and will cut down on outlet-switching even if you live in the Biltmore Estate.

The accessories include a little motorized brush that’s meant to pick up pet hair and dander from furniture and a gizmo that lets you easily clean underneath furniture and appliances. I used the brush to vacuum the couch, and I used the under-appliance wand to vacuum under the couch. And now the general couch region is probably the cleanest area of the couch, which is definitely a first for general couch regions in my house.

I don’t love that the Rocket can’t stand up on its own — it’s top-heavy because of the engine placement — but that’s pretty much all I don’t like about it. Other than the fact that it showed me how much dirt I’ve been leaving in the carpets, of course.

The Shark Genius puts Rockford on the floor.

The marketing materials for the Shark Genius say it’s the company’s “smartest steam mop ever.” I’ve proven to be terrible with the latest in mopping technology, so I was a little wary of that. I bought a fancy mop with a self-wringing mechanism awhile back, and the whole thing falls apart literally every time I’ve tried to use it. I don’t know if I’m twisting when I’m supposed to pull or pulling when I’m supposed to twist or what, but if you’ve ever seen an infomercial, you have a pretty good idea of what it looks like when I try to mop.

It isn’t pretty.

So I approached the Shark Genius with very cautious optimism. It came with two washable “dirt grip” pads, and one of them was already attached to the machine so I didn’t have to worry about infomercial-failing that part of the equation. I used the included pitcher to fill the basin with water, and the Genius and I headed off to the bathroom.

Someone very helpfully tracked a good bit of mud into the bathroom a few days ago, and I decided to leave it there because I knew the Shark Genius was on the way. (Let’s all agree to believe that I wasn’t just willfully ignoring it, OK?) So the floor was pretty filthy. The head of the steam mop is too big to get around the toilet, but it did a great job on the parts of the floor I could reach.

Grimy as the bathroom floor was, it wasn’t bad enough to require the Shark Genius’s “Steam Blaster” feature. So I took the mop out to the kitchen. The linoleum in our kitchen is decades and decades old. The pattern is a floral-leafy design, and it’s sort of stamped on and has lots of little divots and ridges that make it tough to clean. I was hopeful that the Steam Blaster would be able to get into those little dirt-magnet areas and blast the grime out.

You activate the Steam Blaster by flipping the mop’s head over and angling the handle downward a little, and a blast of steam charges forth, just as advertised. It looks about as cool as a mop is allowed to look, like a miniature, land-bound, domestic version of a space shuttle about to achieve liftoff. And it works really well. Maybe even a little too well. I think it may have steamed away 50 years of grime, which led to a kitchen floor that was now too slick for Rockford to casually lean against the counter whilst wearing socks without crashing to the floor.

That’s right. I cleaned the kitchen floor, and as a result Rockford fell down.

The cleaning pad was, as you might guess, pretty grubby by the time I’d finished. I followed the instructions, pushed the appropriate buttons, and prepared myself for an epic battle. But instead of the mop imploding or flinging the dirty cloth across the floor, it unfolded like a beautiful, disgusting gift.

I wish the Shark Genius was a little easier to drain the water from it once you’re done mopping, but that’s a pretty minor complaint. It’s really easy to use, and it does its job very well. Maybe even too well, if you ask slippery socked amongst us.