Saturday, July 14, 2018

Summer 2018

Summer is in full swing!  We kicked off the start of our break with a wonderful visit from Max.  Max is my cousin's son who is 6 weeks younger than Ian.  The boys are like two peas in a pod and it's always a pleasure when we get to spend time him and his family. Max is a huge Phillies fan and Ian loves the Nationals.  It was serendipitous that the Nationals was having a home game against the Phillies during one of the nights Max was with us.   Other than rain the first 20 minutes or so, the evening was gorgeous -- no humidity and high 60s.  Yay for us!

The kids just came back from 2 1/2 weeks in Orlando, hanging with my side of the family.  Their visits are always special and they love spending time with their relatives.  This year we tried something new and Ian and Sam flew back by themselves. Success!  Southwest doesn't require the unaccompanied fee for kids ages 13 and older.  :)

And in just 2 weeks, we drive up to Palmer, MA for the kids to go Camp Ramah.  Ian and Samantha will be there from July 25 to August 19.  Ian and Samantha have been looking forward to returning for another summer and they are thrilled that all their favorite friends have been assigned to the same bunks.

Let's do the math -- out of 9 weeks of Summer, the kids will be away for a little more than 6 weeks.  It is nice to have a break and being able to take it easy, especially after all the running around we do during the school year, but I do miss the kids.  The house is so quiet when they are not here.

Since I am no longer working for the Crazy Man and the preschool is closed for the Summer, I have lots of time during the day to fill.  Jeff and I cleaned out our utility room and I binged watched all 6 seasons of "The Americans".  What a great show!

I came up with the idea to repaint several rooms in our house.  After being in our house for 14 years, we've never repainted and it was beyond time to freshen up the place a bit.  Jeff and I aren't quite on the same page with what I want to do, so now I'm not repainting.

So far I haven't run out of things to do.  I spent a few days creating the photo album from Ian's Bar Mitzvah.  And I finished the yearly photo books I do for each of the kids. I cleaned out my email inbox (13,000 emails received, 22,000 emails sent -- all gone!). I keep seeing a closet, drawer, cabinet or area in the house to organize and declutter.  I think I've hit every single one of them by now.  I hate clutter!   I've met some friends for lunch, taken Lucy to the vet and other errands, including presenting a letter to Congressman Connolly's office with other moms letting him know its wrong separating kids from their parents.  Oh, and I took a trip to the National Zoo to see Moke, the 9 week old baby gorilla.  What a cutie!

I know I should be embracing the peace and quiet when the kids aren't here, but I really do enjoy being with them, especially when we can do stuff and have fun. It's nice to have some time taking a break, but I don't think I achieved a good balance this Summer.  6 weeks within a 2 month period being apart from Ian and Samantha is a little too long.   Please remind me I wrote that when we are back to living la vida loca in the Fall.  :)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Birthday freebies!

It pays to get older!   It has been a delightful surprise to receive so much free stuff from all the loyalty programs I've registered with over the past years.  Over the past 6 weeks, the offers have been flying in.  And since these are all places we frequent anyway, getting something for nothing makes it all the sweeter.

Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant group (Wildfire):  $15 credit

Chick-fil-a: a free item

Pei Wei: free entrée

Red Robin: free burger

Silver Diner:  free entrée and dessert

Cava: $9 credit

Uncle Julio's: $25 credit

Noodles & Co:  free rice krispy treat

Fox Restaurant Concepts: free dessert

Maggiano's:  $10 off when you spend $30

Starbucks: 1 free food or drink item

Kohl's: $10 credit

Soft Surroundings: $20 off when you spend $75

Regal Cinemas: free popcorn

Wow, right?  How fun to be the birthday girl!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

47 Candles

10 days ago was my 47th birthday.  It was a great day with Jeff and we enjoyed a delightful evening spent at Oyamel for dinner, followed with a walk around the Wharf in D.C.  The city has done a great job revitalizing the area and the new Wharf is beautiful.

Look at this amazing sunset!  

Something has gotten into Jeff and he decided to start cooking for me*.  The night before my birthday he made from scratch Gluten Free Brioche Bread so he could make me French toast the next morning for breakfast.  It was delicious!  And then the day after my birthday Jeff went to great effort to make me my most favorite dish, from scratch, Gluten Free Gnocchi.  He paired it with brussel sprouts as a side. Wowee!!!   Both dishes were amazing.  I think Jeff surprised even himself on how well everything turned out.

Jeff made this bread and turned it into French toast!!

Jeff made this gnocchi with pesto sauce!!
But wait, there's more!

A a few days later and Jeff decided he wasn't done yet in the kitchen.   Check out this super cute text exchange we had (hopefully he doesn't get upset with me for sharing this):

   How wonderful!  And yummy! The vegetarian risotto was amazing.  And Jeff made a cheesecake too (peanut butter cheesecake with a chocolate chip cookie crust); all gluten free!  I am guessing all those cooking shows on the Food network is paying off.  And I am more than happy to be his food tester.

If this cheesecake was an item on a menu, it would be a best seller!

*There has been no mention of the kids enjoying Jeff's gourmet dishes, because they were in Florida at the time.  Jeff has said he will make the gnocchi again for the kids to have.  Apparently that has been his easiest dish to master.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Samantha and the violin

Samantha attempted to learn to play the violin this past year in 4th grade.  Even though she said she'd practice daily, we never saw her pick up the violin even once during the school year.  When asking her why she wasn't practicing, she said because she thought it would be more fun.  Ugh.

So it would come as no surprise to anyone that by the time Sam's strings concert was performing at the end of the year, we weren't expecting a masterpiece.   And it didn't disappoint in the least.  In fact I think the music teacher knew the 4th graders needed help and combined all 3 grades that play strings into one performance.

Samantha gave us the heads-up that she and her friend were being seated all the way in the back row.  The many rows were all at the same level and there were a lot of them.  So seeing Sam perform was going to be difficult at best.   The girls didn't follow instructions very well and when they saw two open seats up in front, they helped themselves to a very highly visible placement.

When the music teacher saw where Sam and her friend picked to sit, they quickly got moved back to their original seats.  But not before I was able to get some great pictures of them.

And this is where she got moved back to.
Due to the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade coming together to play at the Strings concert, the auditorium was packed.  Standing room only and everyone was packed in there like sardines.  I had to go early to drop Sam off and my plan was to save seats for Jeff, Ian and me.  Even 40 minutes before the performance start time, every single seat was taken.  And many more people were walking in behind me looking for seats too.  I finally found one seat and was able to find a seat for Jeff a few rows back. Ian took one look at the packed room and decided to walk back home.

Here's the funny part to this story:

When the concert was over and Sam asked where Ian was, we told her when he saw how crowded the room was, he walked back home.  Sam was less than pleased that Ian missed her big concert.  She said she had to sit through 3 years worth of Ian's concerts and plays and it wasn't fair that he missed hers.  Samantha came up with a plan to even the score.  She was going to play for Ian when she got home and make him listen to her.  And this is where we finally hear Sam play and realize just how bad she is.  Remember, we never got to hear her practice so this was all new to Jeff and I too.

Yep, that's bad!  However, this wasn't even one of the songs that Sam performed in the concert.  I requested Samantha to play the music she played earlier in the evening at school.  Sam's reply?  "I can't.  I lost the folder with that music a long time ago."  Ha!

And with that, we packaged up the violin and got it ready to return.  Samantha's musical career has officially ended.

Friday, July 6, 2018

My night with Barry!

There are few musicians who can put on a concert and I would know every song they perform.  Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand, and P!nk come to mind, along with Barry Manilow.  My mom is a big Barry fan and I grew up listening to his music.  After all, he writes the songs the whole world sings.  ;)

Barry Manilow came to town several weeks ago and I had the amazing opportunity to see him perform from Row A.  That's the first row!!  OMG!  And even though Barry is 75 years old, he can still belt out the notes and put on a fantastic show.  It was a great concert!  And having these amazing seats made it a crazy-awesome evening!

Barry did this really neat thing where he had video projected of him playing "Mandy" from the 1970's and then he joined in and did a duet with his younger self singing and playing the piano.

Scroll down for some video from the concert.  :)

"I write the songs" :

"Copacabana" :

"I made it through the rain" :

 What a nice way to spend a Friday night!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Cutting the cord

I recently looked closely at our Verizon bill and discovered among the many fees we are paying for Internet, TV and our home phone, was more than $60 a month to rent those cable boxes that hook up to every TV.  This only covered the set-top boxes, not the actual tv channels or anything else.  23 years of paying that each month!  Stop the madness!  Our Verizon bill is ridiculously high and for the longest time I've wanted to do something about it.

I got inspired to start researching our options when one evening, Jeff said to me, with the kids away for so much of the summer, let's see if we can bring our FIOS tv channel package to the lowest one they offer and save a little money.  I replied back with, let's get rid of them altogether.  There has to be a more reasonable solution.  We have friends who have said goodbye to FIOS and cable many years ago.  But, they don't care about having live tv and is satisfied with streaming shows as they are posted.  The only way this was going to work for us is if we could still watch TV live as it aired.  We needed to have the same channels we had with FIOS.  It needed to be a mostly seamless process if we were going to give FIOS the boot.  We are family that LOVES our TV.

As for getting rid of our landline, I needed to find a company that would port our home number. This would only be successful if we kept the same phone number.  We briefly thought about getting rid of the landline altogether and only use our cell phones, but too many people have our home # and we still use it quite a bit.

I am happy to report that I was victorious with everything.  We've officially gotten rid of Verizon providing our services for our home phone and tv.  We still have them as our internet provider but only because I haven't found a better alternative.

Our landline is being provided thru Vonage, it's a VOIP (voice over internet protocol).  We still have the same phone number and all of the features that we had before (voicemail, caller ID, call forwarding).

I found a few different companies that offer live TV streaming through a Roku.  Our first attempt was with DirectvNow.  It had every channel we wanted.  However great the price was and the live tv channel offerings, it wasn't reliable and it didn't work more than it did work.  It was frustrating and Jeff was ready to stop this little experiment I was undertaking and keep paying the big bucks to Verizon for FIOS.  We took to calling it "DirectvNever" when speaking about how the transition was going.

Fortunately there are no contracts and it's a month to month arrangement.  I went back to the drawing board (in this case google) and found a different company.  YouTubeTV had all the local channels we wanted and the sports channels Jeff loves, but it was lacking the food and entertainment channels we needed.  So another quick search gave me the idea to try Philo.  Between the two streaming companies, we had every channel we needed.  And even better, these two Internet companies work!   The streaming is flawless and we can do everything we did with Verizon, including recording our shows and watching them later.

We've quickly adapted to our new set-up and the money we will be saving each month is pretty spectacular.  I love technology and love it even more when it works.

Monday, July 2, 2018

A year of growth

I am way behind on writing my blog.  No excuses or reasons why I haven't been writing, it just hasn't been happening.  I guess its good that I don't feel obligated or burdened to keep it going.  It is what it is.

However, I do love that this has become a diary of sorts for me. I enjoy documenting the small and big things that happen in our lives.  Because its all of these moments that make up our years.  I have experienced that as the years fly by (time really does go fast), most of the day-to-day becomes a blur.  When you leave one stage and enter another, your whole world becomes that stage at that very moment.  It's so easy to forget what came before.  My family and I love being able to look back and remember the craziness, the happiness, and how far we've come from the more challenging times.

In an attempt to catch up on the last several weeks, here goes:

Ian's Bar Mitzvah project had a phenomenal ending.  He wanted to participate in a walk and raise money for JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) in honor of his grandmother (my mother) who has Type 1 diabetes.  We formed a team and walked on June 3rd in Washington DC.  Through many generous donations, Ian raised $1,700 dollars!  One of the cooler things to have happened was when we somehow won a contest we didn't know we had even entered for raising the most money during a particular week.  The winner and the rest of their team gets to hold the American Flag during the National Anthem at the kick-off ceremony.  How cool is that?     

As you can see from the photos, it was raining, even pouring at times and we got soaked.  We didn't turn down our opportunity to hold the flag.  It was such a cool thing and really made our whole experience.

For 11 months prior to Ian's Bar Mitzvah, he participated in weekly tutoring sessions to prepare for the big day.  At 6 weeks out, Ian's sessions with his tutor became 2x a week. It's a lot of work.  The woman who was assigned to be Ian's tutor was wonderful with him. I took a picture of the two of them together on the first session Ian had and the last one, 11 months later.  Look at how much Ian grew in the year!

June 2017
May 2018

And that is my final thoughts having to do with Ian's Bar Mitzvah.   ;)   Stay tuned for more updates on many other things in the coming weeks.