Sunday, December 31, 2017

End of the Year Wrap-up: 2017 Edition

I find myself getting more nostalgic as the years go by.  Maybe its because I recently spent more than a few hours putting together a slide show for Ian's Bar Mitzvah and it gave me the opportunity to pour over thousands of photos.  It's really hard for me to remember the kids at 2 years, 5 years, 6 years of age, even sometimes just last year. I mean, I know I lived it and was here for every single second right next to their side, but it all quickly becomes a blur as one season melts into another. 

Each new stage we enter seems like the best one to be in.  The kids can now stay home on their own.  They can get themselves breakfast, pack lunch for school, put away their laundry and many more milestones.  Sometimes Jeff and I are around just to handle logistics and get them from one activity to the next.  One of the coolest things is to have conversations with them and hear their ideas and what they are thinking.  Seeing life through our kids' eyes is a beautiful thing.   

And so we find ourselves, whether we are ready or not, to say good-bye to 2017 and hello to 2018.  When I was a little girl, the year 2018 seemed so, so far away.  And now, it's just a few hours away.  Again, I'm getting nostalgic for a time when life seemed so much simpler and our children's issues were much easier to deal with.  (Caveat:  Samantha's pooping problems was never easy and caused much angst for years.) 

Travel this year:

February:  Ian spent a weekend at Capital Camps
April:  Kids with Jeff's parents for 2.5 days.
April:  Virginia Beach for 2 days
April:  Orlando for 4 days (Samantha and me)
May:  Ian in Orlando for 4 days
June:  Jeff in England and France for 9 days
June:  New York City for 3 days
July:  Kids go to Orlando for 12 days (Jeff is there for 4 days, Robyn is there for 7 days)
July:  Ocean City, NJ week at the beach
July - August:  Both kids at Camp Ramah for 27 days
August:  Jeff and Robyn in NYC for 2 days
November:  Week in Orlando for Thanksgiving
December: New York City for 2 days (me and the kids with Susanne, Anna and their 6 kids)
December:  Pennsylvania for 4 days (me and Samantha for 2 days, Ian the whole time)

Two things stand out looking at this list:  1.  I didn't take one trip by myself in all of 2017.  And, 2. There was no girl's weekend.  None, Zip, Zilch.   What's up with that???

With that said, I was so pleased that Jeff went to Europe.  He very rarely does anything for himself.  And this trip was for purely social reasons.  He had a great time and it was good for him to go. So if someone was able to get a girl's weekend in, I am glad it was him.  :)

I am also so incredibly delighted we managed 3 (yes 3!!) trips to NYC this year. It is truly a favorite city of mine and the kids; maybe even Jeff's too as he more than "tolerates" it and seems to enjoy himself.  Or, maybe he is just happy seeing me and the kids enjoy it so much.  Either way, each trip is very memorable and unique in its own way.   A true highlight this year was making "Hamilton" happen.  The love of theatre is a spark that is growing in both kids.  I couldn't be prouder.  Singing show tunes with the kids in the car always puts a smile on my face.  Getting to see the performance come alive on stage is priceless.  Ian and I saw "Chicago" and "In the Heights" this year. As a family we saw "Hamilton" and "Kinky Boots".  The kids and I saw "School of Rock".  Jeff and I saw "On Your Feet", "Avenue Q",  "The Great Comet"and "The Book of Mormon".  Lastly, I saw "Mean Girls" with friends.  All this year.  I'd say that's a pretty darn good year seeing musicals. 

And, the icing on the cake is making the week at the beach happen again this past Summer.  It is a truly wonderful memory we make with the kids and our extended family.  There is nothing like it.  It's good, old fashioned fun, where we slow down the clock and simply enjoy being at the ocean and all that it involves.  

Ian has finally found his groove at Middle School.  It was a bigger transition than any of us expected.  He has a great group of friends (all good kids..I've made certain) and I am not so worried about him as much anymore with regards to school.  Ian stays on top of his assignments and needs very little hand holding getting his homework done.  Additionally, he is studying incredibly hard for his Bar Mitzvah (it's in MAY!!), and I know he will do his father and I very proud.  I am delighted with how serious he takes his work.  Drama is his extracurricular activity of choice.  It's always so much fun seeing him on stage and having a blast acting.

Samantha is being very challenged in the 4th grade. Jeff and I spend most of time worrying for her and how hard school is, not to mention how much she hates doing homework.  We've got the school making accommodations (paper tests/ not computerized, strategic seating, having a text book at home, and tutoring 2x a week), but its a constant amount of energy expended making sure Samantha is understanding everything and nothing slips through the cracks.  The best news is that I don't have to convince the world that 6x7 is 56.  We can all continue knowing it is 42.  For a few days there I thought it would be easier to get the whole world on board with 6x7 = 56 than Samantha believing 6x7 =42.  Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, we are good.   Sam's extracurricular activity of choice is horseback riding.  She really loves it and I love watching her enjoy something that doesn't make any demands to learn, memorize or read something.  There is a very sweet side of Samantha that I absolutely love and adore. Each morning I wake-up and say a little prayer this sweet Samantha will be the one that wakes-up too.  My prediction about Samantha's future?:  She will run a big company and be very successful at it.  Her fierce personality will do her justice later in life.  In a bit of surprising news, the other day Samantha dropped in conversation something about her college dorm room.  Jeff and I looked at each other and all I could say was, "You know what I got out of that sentence?  That Samantha sees herself in college."  That was literally the first time ever Sam spoke of her future and have it include another 4 years getting a degree.  Obviously Jeff and I were both delighted.

Jeff had a great year at work and continues to enjoy his job.  He is always quick to help me when I've scheduled myself in 2 or 3 places at the same time.  I really appreciate that more than anything.  

Lucy has been with us for more than a year now!  It feels like she has always been in our family.  All of us (including Jeff) have their special thing with Lucy.   Lucy sleeps with Ian in his bed every night.  She comes into my bed at 5:00am most mornings to snuggle with me before I have to get up for my day.  She helps wake-up Sam each morning before school.  And she loves to lay next to Jeff at the end of the day and rest her head on his leg.  Lucy is incredibly sweet.  Other than being dog aggressive to dogs on leashes, she is perfect!

Last but not least, me.  Another year of being on the go.  Although I will say, I haven't scheduled us as much as I used to.  I did an awesome job continuing to exercise at 5:30am and love the group of women I get to work out with.  Another thing I am happy about was taking the time to schedule lunch with my girlfriends throughout the year.  I didn't let 'life' get in the way.  Spending time with my friends is like chicken soup for the soul.   I am still dealing with weight issues...I lose, I gain, I lose, I gain, I lose some more.  It is what it is and I am no longer trying to analyze it.   I am back on my losing streak...hello!  I have Bar Mitzvah pictures to be in in 132 days and I'll be damned if I have 2 chins doing it.

Also, this was the year that I binged watch many awesome shows.  Wow!  There is some really amazing original programs being created by Netflix and Amazon.  Most of it is much better than what's on regular tv.  Although, I will always have a place in my heart for "General Hospital" and "This Is Us".

Somehow I also found time to read.  Since April 1st, I've read 25 books.  I am most impressed with this number. 20 books since July!   I think its been years since I read this much in such a short amount of time.  Definitely before having kids.

The Year ahead in 2018:

I can't even think beyond Ian's Bar Mitzvah.  The very idea that he is going to be 13 and be a Bar Mitzvah is mind blowing to me.   I have very little else on the horizon and very much look forward to this one event more than anything else this coming year.

But if I had to take a moment and outline some other things I am looking forward to:  My sister Meghan is graduating college!!  This is huge and something we've been waiting for quite a long time.  She is actually graduating a week before Ian's Bar Mitzvah, so the month of May is very important for our family. 

We have both kids registered for a month of camp this Summer.  Yay!  I am not sure if our week at the beach will happen again this Summer.  Money is quite tight and I've had to make some compromises. It would take a lot for Jeff to be ok with us booking a house, but stranger things have happened in the past, so we will see.  I never count anything out until the very end.

A New Year's Resolution I have is to say "No".  No to shopping, no to eating out, no to being on Amazon, no to going on spontaneous trips, no to planning vacations or weekend getaways, no to multiple trips to Orlando (other than Meghan's graduation of course!).  Just no.  I feel like if I put it out there in the universe, it could actually happen or come as close as I'll ever get.

I'm also going to try hard to keep my mouth shut more.  Most of the time I feel like I talk way too much and half of it is probably not even necessary.  I hate walking away from a conversation feeling like a dork because of something I said. No more!  I'm going to stay quiet.  :)

And, last but not least, I am on a major clean-out of my email inbox.  I am saying buh-bye to a countless number of opted-in email newsletters/discounts/promotions/whatever from everyone under the sun (from The Washington Post to to to and many, many more).  I must instantly delete up to 90 spam emails a day without even looking at them.  No more.  I am opting out of EVERYTHING!

My New Year's Wish:

I always tell Ian as he heads out the door, "Make good choices."   I think this is wise for all of us.  Let's make good choices and be kind.  Kinder than necessary and make someone's day doing random acts of kindness.  It is truly a great feeling to know you've brightened their day.  You just never know what that person may be going through and the effect a kind gesture can have.  Happy New Year!  

Sunday, December 24, 2017


That time we were sitting in the 2nd tier of Radio City Music Hall, 5 minutes after the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular Show started and a full(!!) beer spilled all over Susanne's daughter from the tier above us.  The 3rd tier did not extend all the way over our seats below and the beer spilling down was a direct hit.  Next thing you know, the 11 of us are moved to the 2nd and 3rd row in the orchestra.  It was pretty crazy and surreal.

That time we did all the Christmas decorated window displays and ended up at the Rockefeller Center tree just as the sun had set and everything lit up.  As soon as we got there the light show (complete with music) began.  Even if we tried to time it for that to happen we wouldn't have been as successful as we were by randomly showing up.  Wow!  

That time we stood in front of the Bloomingdales window and they managed to take a picture of you while you are standing there and have your head float around the display. So cool!

That time we got the kids awake at 5:15am so we could be at our friend's house by 6:15am to begin our road trip to The Big Apple.  We kept the kids going until well past 10:00pm, complete with a 5 1/2  mile walk around the city checking out the store window displays.  I'm happy to report no child melted down from exhaustion!

That time each child asked us 10 times each what we were walking to (check out the store windows) and why over and over again during the 1.4 mile walk to officially start the tour at Bloomingdales.  They finally got the gist of it once we saw how amazing the windows displays looked and stopped asking.

That time we went inside the Bloomingdales to use their bathroom and upon exiting the store, we decide to take the kids to see Santa on the 7th floor.  Santa had no line and allowed us to take pictures for free.  I bet this Santa never had 8 Jewish kids all on his lap at once before. 

That time Susanne was following the car I was driving and for some unknown reason got in the other lane next to me and didn't realize we were exiting off the beltway.  In a move I still can't believe I witnessed, Susanne's car managed to cross 3 lanes of traffic (while probably doing about 65mph) and made the exit just in the nick of time.  It actually looked like her car was traveling sideways.  

That time we found out the hard way that the parking garage the hotel uses charges a full day's rate ($60) even if you are only 1.5 hours into the next day.  The cost to park quickly doubled from what we were expecting it to be.  They do not pro-rate.  

That time we took the kids to see the Broadway musical "School of Rock" and we all loved it. All of us!

That time we walked one block in the wrong direction leaving Bloomingdales and ended up at Dylan's Candy Bar.  I guess we just had to go inside and let the kids pick out some candy.  

That time we made a stop at Dunkin Donuts to use their bathroom and the kids asked if they could get a donut while we were there.  At 10:00am, Dunkin Donuts (somewhere in NJ) was completely out of donuts. How is that even possible??

That time 3 awesome moms and their kids came together for 2 days and went to NYC just 4 days before Christmas.  We accomplished everything we wanted to see and do.  We stuck together and made the most of every minute. 

That time we left with 8 kids and came back with the same 8 kids.

That rare time Samantha gave me a giant hug and said thank you for an amazing trip.  It takes a lot for her to show and express appreciation.  It's ok though, Ian more than makes up for it.  It was just nice to hear Sam say it too.

That time we took the kids to New York City at Christmas time for the first time and showed them how magical the city looks decorated for the holidays.

That time we were all fearless and victorious.

Bloomingdale's...Sam's head above, Ian's head below.


Rockefeller Center tree

Perfect timing for the light show with music

Right before the beer spilled on Susanne's daughter

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The best kind of crazy

Everyone needs a best friend in their life who comes along and is up for all the crazy adventures the two of you can dream up.  For me, one of those people is Susanne.  Between the two of us, there is not a voice of reason or a practical bone in our bodies when we put our heads together. In fact we have list running of all the kooky things we've done with our combined 5 kids that most parents would shake their head at.  It's a pretty funny list...One of my favorite stories is when we went to Williamsburg and got a recommendation for a fantastic restaurant for dinner called "Food for Thought".  We arrived at 5:30pm and was told there would be a 1.5 hour wait.  Despite being surrounded by all these chain restaurants with empty parking lots, we go for it and wait it out.  The icing on the cake was when the kids complained they were starving and starting to meltdown from a big day spent in historic Williamsburg. We gave them multiple bags of potato chips to hold them over.  A side note:  For those needing a restaurant in Williamsburg, I highly recommend "Food for Thought".  It's worth the wait!  Even with 5 hungry kids.

It wasn't too long ago that we started talking about Winter Break and what each of us had planned.  An idea to go to Busch Gardens for the day with the kids has turned into an overnight trip to New York City.  We quickly added a third amiga and invited Anna to join us with her 3 kids.  Yes, that's right.  3 moms and 8 kids all loose in New York City.   What could be more fun? 

I was fortunate enough to go to England and Portugal with Susanne and Anna. We did great traveling together for 10 days without any kind of break from each other.  Now lets add in 8 very active, very noisy, high energy kids and we'll see how it goes.  These kids are all great friends with each other as are the moms.  I believe we have the recipe for a getaway we might have to describe as "epic".  :)

We have such awesome plans!  Given that we are going 4 days before Christmas and expect it to be a busy time, not to mention we are a traveling group of 11, we have our visit pretty well planned out with reservations and tickets bought.

We are going to the Rockette's Christmas Spectacular Show!  We are seeing the broadway musical "School of Rock"!  We plan to go down 5th Avenue and see the store window displays!  Reservations for dinner have already been secured.  Seeing the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is on the list.

I love New York City!  Ian and Samantha have never been there during the holidays and it will be so much fun for them to see how NYC goes all out making Christmas magical.

Susanne and I took the kids to NYC at the end of June 2015.  It was high time we returned and took it up a notch in the city that never sleeps.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Having a dog in the 21st Century

The other morning it dawned on me that as our society becomes more technology advanced it has also had an effect on our pets.

It used to be that when I reached for my keys and it made that iconic noise of keys clanging together, Bailey would come running.  He knew I was headed somewhere and was hoping I would take him with me.  Now, with having an electronic front door lock and a keyless car (the keys stay buried at the bottom of my purse), the clanging of keys has no impact on Lucy.  None at all.  She doesn't associate the sound of keys with anything other than just a noise.

And when I used to open a can of dog food with the electric can opener, Bailey would come running knowing food was on the way.  Now, all the cans of dog food have a flip top that doesn't require any kind of can opener.  Lucy in no way associates the can opener with her eating.

There are gadgets available now that allow you to be in another location and remotely give your dog a treat.  Many kinds of cameras are available to let you spy on your pet while you are gone.  It's pretty cool.

I find it fascinating how even the times have changed for our pets too.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hanukkah 2017

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah.  Jeff and I have successfully navigated another holiday  not buying a single gift for either Ian or Sam.  Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of gifts for them to open.  All the grandparents and aunts/uncles are very generous and fulfill every wish for anything they want.  Even the kids realize they really don't need a new toy or game.  Ian and Sam always have requested practical things that are useful -- Sam got unicorn onesy pajamas and a bathrobe among other things, and Ian wanted a very expensive pillow we refused to spend the money on or a new case for his phone.

Jeff and I have moved away from wrapped presents and concentrate more on an experience. Time with the family doing something different than our usual day to day.  An adventure!

This year, the kids are getting two trips as part of their Hanukkah gift from us.  I am taking the kids to NYC for 2 days during Winter Break.  We are being joined by two of my most favorite people and their kids for a whirlwind couple of days doing all things Christmas related (Rockettes Christmas Spectacular Show, seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center, checking out the window displays on 5th Avenue and we have tickets to "School of Rock".)  There are 3 moms and 8 kids total  (all Jewish!) getting our Christmas fix NYC style and we can't wait!

The next part of their gift we have planned occurs during Spring Break.  We are hitting the road and making our way to Niagara Falls and Pittsburgh!  I have wanted to do Niagara Falls for years and Jeff has wanted to do Pittsburgh with the family for years.  We've combined the two and will be visiting at the end of March.  Exploring new cities and doing all the typical touristy things is where we excel.

I hope Ian and Samantha share our view about Hanukkah and enjoy our trips.  They're not extravagant (far from it!) and are pretty down-to-earth (think the Griswold's minus the dead grandmother on the roof), but they are fun.  And we are spending time together.  The best kind of present of all.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Much to be thankful for

For Thanksgiving this year we loaded up the car and headed south on I-95.  Team Toppall drove to Orlando to spend the week with my side of the family. We brought Lucy!  It was her first trip to Florida and meeting the rest of the family.  We stayed with my dad and Rita as they were the only relatives with open arms to welcome all 5 of us. 

I have the best news!  Lucy did not attack Kahlua!  Kahlua is Dad and Rita's 7 pound, 7 year old male Chihuahua mix, who I come to find out is also not neutered.  Yikes!  I wasn't sure how this would go given Lucy's history of not liking dogs on leashes.  We had the two dogs meet in the best way possible and made sure they were cool with each other before giving them free access to each other.  Other than Kahlua looking at Lucy like she is now his girlfriend and wanting to hump her every chance he got, they did fabulous together.  Believe me, I was holding my breath on how this would go down. I would've been devastated if something happened to Kahlua.

What a huge sigh of relief that Lucy is welcomed back and Dad & Rita still have their dog in one piece.  Lucy was actually the perfect house guest and very well behaved.  I was extremely proud of her.  She was also a rockstar being in the car for 13 hours each way.  

Lucy was very gentle with Kahlua and loved playing with him.  Here is a video of the two of them together.  

The whole week was just as fantastic.  We loved our time with the family.  We did indoor skydiving.  This was a favorite of Ian's from when he went to Orlando Memorial Day weekend. This visit Sam and I got to try it out too.  So much fun!   Thanksgiving dinner was at Lori's and very delicious.  We have much to be thankful for...most of all Lucy not eating Kahlua.  

I am particularly fond of this picture.  Lucy has the biggest smile on her face is totally posing for the camera.  
I am having a very good hair moment and it looks like I have long legs (which as we all know, I don't).
And having a beautiful baby in your arms always enhances the likeability of the photo. 
Actually, I've hit a homerun on two fronts, this picture features a dog and a baby.  

Another fave photo.  Look at Kahlua's face.
His eyes can't be any bigger watching Lucy come towards her.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Still in Crazy Man hell

Can you believe its been more than a month since I wrote last?  Wow, that hasn't happened EVER since I started writing more than 8 years ago.  Yeah, I'd miss a day or two here and there, but never more than a month.  Insane!

I have to chalk it up to still working for The Crazy Man.  HE HAS NOT MOVED YET!  Really.  I am not kidding.  He is paying a ridiculously high monthly fee at a senior community in Chevy Chase, MD and still living in his home in NoVa.  It is quite insane.  And I am going out of my mind.

Fortunately I told him at the beginning of September that I could only stay working for him until December 31st.  I gave him 4 months notice.  I was fully expecting him to abandon me before I could abandon him.  At the rate we are going, he is going to still be a Northern Virginia resident come New Year's 2019.

Each day we speak, I ask him "Have you booked the movers yet?"   And every time it is the same answer, "I am working on it.  I need the top two contenders to come back and give me another estimate because I keep taking more and more stuff over to Chevy Chase."  I have used pretty strong wording to tell him what a disaster this is and how he just needs to pick a mover and move!!   He can't keep paying for two residences.  And his house needs to be completely cleared out before the minor renovations happen (2 weeks worth) and before it can get listed on the market.  You do the math, that's another several thousand dollars of unnecessarily paying both the HIGH monthly fee and his mortgage.

I keep looking at my calendar and get a smile on my face when I see I only have 3 weeks left.  No matter what, I am D.O.N.E.   I know I've done the best by him and giving him 4 months notice is very generous.   The Crazy Man has these high expectations he will find someone else to take over the administrative stuff I do.  I do wish him well that he is successful.

In the meantime, for the next 3 weeks, my afternoons working for him are filled with writing letters with either compliments or complaints, sending emails, updating doctors with all the tests he takes and medications he is on, and calling long lost friends and ex-girlfriends.  Or, tracking down a more recent girlfriend (friend that is a girl, not an actual girlfriend.  His main chickadee is still in the picture, living in Bethesda.) for him to take to a dance.