Thursday, December 30, 2010

End of the year wrap-up - 2010 edition

It's been quite a year for my Toppall team and me.  Other than dealing with a massive weight gain (21 pounds) and saying good-bye to my first baby (Bailey), I have to say 2010 was pretty spectacular. 

I didn't expect to travel nearly as much as I did:

*January- Mexico for a friend's wedding,
*June - Orlando for my sister's graduation
*June - Martha's Vineyard for my cousin's wedding
*October - Girl's weekend at Chesapeake Beach
October - Lancaster for a family trip
November - FL for Thanksgiving, a week at the beach and 3 nights in Mexico with Jeff

I feel so fortunate to have been able to get away as much as I did.  * Represents trips taken solo. I definitely hit the husband lottery in Jeff's willingness to let me go, while he stayed behind and took care of the kids.  We discovered in October, traveling with the family was fun again. And in November, we hit a new milestone of being able to fly as a family again.

We lost a family member this year, our beloved Bailey.  There is still a pretty big hole in all our hearts over the loss of our four-legged friend.  I still think about him daily and Sam walks around saying, "New dog, daddy.  New dog, please".  Between me and you, I think by this time next year, I'll be blogging about the newest family member adjusting to our crazy family.

Ian has proven to be a math genius.  While away in November, there was one morning we both woke up early and I used that time to teach him how to multiply.  He got it.  Literally in minutes.  He is simply amazing and doesn't even use paper.  You can see him doing all the math in his head before he comes out with the correct answer.

Sam is in full swing of being 2 and is a girl through and through.  Between the need to change her clothes multiple times in a day, the persistence to do everything herself "My got it", and her overall fiestiness, it can only mean one thing, she is a force to be reckon with.  G-d help us all.

Jeff had a great year at work and we rejoiced when his security clearance came through.  This is something he had dreamt of getting for some time now, but needed a job/company that found it necessary.  I am still under gag order to write about him.  I love him dearly and will respect his wishes that I keep my mouth shut.

I, myself, came up with a New Year's Resolution experiment in 2010 and picked a small change I wanted to make each month.

*January - Give up soda
February - No snacking after 7:00pm
*March - Slow down on the activities, don't double-book and say yes to everything
*April - Take better care of my cuticles
May - "Bite my tongue", no picking on Jeff
June - No FB or email checking in the car
July - Same as June, but with hopes of actually succeeding
August - Work on diet, track everything I eat
*September - No longer be electronically connected all hours of the night
October - No credit use, use cash to pay for everything
*November - Take more video of the kids
*December - A random act of kindness each day

* Represents changes that are still occurring.  Yes, that's right -- it has been one entire year since I had soda.  Wow.  It feels good to know that I was able to give this up and stick with it.  Also, I am sleeping much better not reaching over in the middle of the night and checking email/FB on the iTouch.  I like this change and will continue to do that.  Lastly, as for the June/July change, I am much more conscience of when when I go to lift my blackberry and see what is going on with email/FB, and generally I do put it down unless I am in a parking lot with the car in park.  So that is good. 

As for the random act of kindness, I really got into the spirit of it and felt great. I will continue to do my best to help the world be a kinder, better place.  And in my response to March's change, I went in the complete opposite direction and got a bigger calendar.  I realized it was the small squares that was getting to me.  Now I have the biggest calendar I could find and it helps to have everything neatly written in each square.  I feel less overwhelmed by our schedule and can make it a point to say, "No, that day won't work for us. We already have stuff going on."

As I look towards 2011, I have some ideas/resolutions I'd like to embrace;

1. Travel as a family more.  Take long weekend trips (at least 3 times over the course of the year) and really enjoy spending time with the kids, exploring and seeing new things.

2. Continue focusing on my health and well-being.  In 2010, I really put myself at the top of my to-do list and made working-out and running a big priority in my life.  Each morning I made it to the gym, hit the trail for a run or competed in a race, I was better mentally prepared to handle the day and whatever that involved.  I got picked in the lottery system for this year's Cherry Blossom 10 Miler on April 3rd.  I am excited about training for this and hope that when the day of the race comes, I can do the 10 miles without passing out.  I've learned hydration is key!

3. Do something pretty spectacular this coming year as I turn 40.  I am not sure what that is yet, but I want to go beyond my comfort level and tackle something so unheard of for me....maybe it is fitness related (a marathon?), or eat at a restaurant by myself (totally freaked out at the thought of this), or embark on a volunteer opportunity for the needy/homeless/women in crisis.  I don't know what.  I am still thinking about this.  But I don't want this whole year to go by and not do something to commemorate my big 40th birthday milestone.  This will be like a birthday present to myself.

4. Oh, and I want to stick with Weight Watchers.  The revamped program is great.  I am back with new enthusiasm and I expect great things.  Each month (on the anniversary I joined - the 7th of December), I will update my weight loss results.  This is it people!  Every pound I say buh-bye to will be the last time I see it on my scale or theirs.

I wish all those who read my blog a very happy new year.  May 2011 bring you good health, much happiness and lots of love.  I hope you smile more than you frown, laugh more than you cry and see all the good there is out there.   "And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Winter break survival guide on going crazy

We are in the midst of Winter break for the kids. 4 weekdays down, 7 more weekdays to go.  I've been keeping count based on Sam's schedule.  Ian for the most part is wonderful to be around.  However, don't get me wrong, Ian can still be incredibly volatile from time to time and it is not pretty when the nastiness rears its ugly head.

I realize that during a good week, I only have Sam in preschool 2 days a week.  Most weeks it seems like Sam only has school one day a week, due to the endless Jewish holidays and other schedules the preschool follows.  Just before Winter break, Sam gave up her nap and that was my cue I could leave her at the school one additional hour for lunch bunch. So technically, in the best of situations, Sam and I have a break from each other for 4 hours, 2 times a week.  You would think with so little time apart from each other normally, her having a Winter break 11 weekdays long wouldn't be so bad. Oh, to be so wrong.

I absolutely love my daughter and wouldn't trade her in for anything, but if they had a boarding school option for 2 year olds, I think I'd have to consider it as an option.   Sam is incredibly headstrong and needs everything to be done her way.  And if things aren't going her way, the whining kicks in full force.  It's this combo that is doing me in.  At one point on Friday I hit my breaking point and decided that when school was back in session, Sam was getting signed up for all 4 days they offered her age group.  Sam's teachers absolutely love her and can not grasp any of this when I ask them who wants to take her home with them that day.  :)

Throw in the fact that Sam has decided she doesn't need to nap anymore.  Believe me, she still does! It wouldn't be so bad if she made up for the lack of nap by sleeping longer at night, but no. Sam is living la vida loca and starts the day out cranky and just gets crankier as the hours wear on.  The other day she woke up at 4:20am and stayed awake the whole day.  We were able to put her down for the night at 6:30pm, however, after 3 hours, she was back up and ready to party until 1:00am.  Sam has been regularly waking-up well before 6:00am each day and the madness begins all over again.  Wash, rinse, repeat, it is a vicious cycle and a pattern we can't seem to break.

Sam's new thing is to do a multi-tasking combo of scream/throw something when she is making her point.  "NO, I DON'T WANT MILK IN AN ORANGE CUP EITHER" while throwing a full (heavy) cup of milk at the floor.  Or, "I WANT APPLE JACKS IN THE PINK BOWL EITHER" while throwing a bowl full of cereal at the floor.  Of course, the lesson has been learned from well before this, and both items make very little mess.  The cup of milk is in a closed container (straw cup) and the cereal is dry with no milk.  Yesterday we were at the bowling alley for lunch and to play a few games.  I asked Sam, "would you like chicken tenders or a hot dog?"  She picked a hot dog.  The hot dog came and she refused to eat it.  The hot dog (in full) got thrown on the floor.  "NO, I DON'T WANT A HOT DOG EITHER." The 5 second rule doesn't apply to bowling alleys.  Eww!  Sam's lunch consisted of french fries and popcorn.  Lovely.  This goes on all day long.

I'm not really going to increase Sam's preschool frequency.  I feel like that would be quitting and I don't quit. It's much more fun to dream about the possibility of it.  I  know that eventually Sam will outgrow this stage.  Heck, I may become a stronger person for having survived.  You know the saying, "What doesn't kill you, makes your stronger."

Plus, when Sam is in a good mood and happy, she is the sweetest, most caring, and loving little girl to be around.  Dealing with the typical two year old attitude is bearable for the few times I get to see her other side.

And so the countdown continues, just 7 more weekdays and life can resume back to normal.  Until then, it's best to stay out of our way.  Because if Sam is not a happy camper, then I am not either.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Like a hamster on a wheel not going anywhere

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  What about fool me 8 times!!?!?!?!  Because that is how many accidents it took before I realized Sam is just not ready to be potty trained. 

I have a tendency to block out/soften the bad memories over time.  I no longer remember how hard the transition was for Ian to go from a crib to a toddler bed.  However, every time Sam gets out of her big girl bed and comes out of her room (when she should be sleeping), I think to myself, Ian never did this.  Good thing I've got my trusty, never-forgets-a-thing of a husband to remind me, that yes, Ian was the same exact way. 

And knowing after how horrific my first attempt at potty training Sam was on December 22nd, I will lose all memory of this event too.

Everyone says that girls are easier to train and can do so at a younger age.  Sam was showing all signs of being ready and would frequently tell us to change her diaper when it was wet or that she had a "stinky butt" when she pooped.  And to top it off, we have two good toddler friends, born very close in age to Sam who are already potty trained and have some major success - enough to keep going and not look back.

Not to mention, Sam being off from school for Winter break is the perfect time to be at home for several days and concentrate on the new skill we'd be working on.    And the icing on the cake was the idea of going into 2011 and never buying diapers again. 

Sam and I had picked out 28 pairs of big girl panties at Target the week before the big day.  She was extremely excited about having Princess, Minnie, Hello Kitty, and Dora themed panties to wear.  I have no problems washing the underwear if she only peed in it, but anything more substantial and I am throwing them away.  I figured 28 pairs could last us a few weeks before needing to replenish. 

First thing the morning of the 22nd, I eagerly told Sam she will only be wearing big girl underwear from now on.  Right away she replied back, "I am not potty training either."  This is her new thing; to put the word 'either' at the end of every sentence.  Like she is telling me something else she isn't going to do too.  I already knew I was in trouble as Sam is very headstrong.  But I wasn't going to be deterred and still continued on with the plan.

It took Sam 15 minutes to figure out which pair of panties she wanted to wear.  Then it took her another 10 minutes to figure out which pair of pants to put on.  Originally she wanted a skirt, but I wasn't going to deal with tights during the first few days.  That was a small battle, but I won!  Score one for mommy.  However, the rest of the day was score one for Sammy.

I kept tally on FB.  This was the only small joy I had through out the day.  Letting my FB friends and family know the torture I was going through as I was living it. 

One of my biggest obstacles was Sam not wanting to get on the toilet.  Normally she can't pass by a bathroom without wanting to go in.  So I was very surprised when she wouldn't even want to try.  I had to bribe her with an m&m for even just sitting there.  We so weren't off to a good start. 

The first accident didn't occur until 2 1/2 hours after she woke-up.  I was paranoid and tried to get her to go to the bathroom every 30 minutes.  Then during one of the next 30 minute stretches, she peed in her underwear.  She was not happy and cried, "I'm weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet".   I thought for sure this feeling would translate to her wanting to figure out the potty thing quickly.  After this, accidents started flowing pretty frequently.

At 9:40am
First accident has occurred. We both survived. Toilet = 0, Accidents = 1, m&ms = 3 (for trying).

At 9:55am
Accidents = 2, Toilet = 0, m&ms =3 (for trying)

At 12:17pm
Accidents = 4 (2 within 5 minutes of each other), Toilet = 0, m&ms = 5 (for trying)

At 12:41pm
Accidents = 5, Toilet = 0, m&ms = 5 (for trying)

At 1:30pm
Accidents = 6, Toilet = 0, m&ms = 5

At 1:52pm
Accidents = 7, Toilet = 0, m&ms = 5.

My new strategy:  Keep Sam "hanging out" on the toilet for the last 25 minutes. As soon as she came off the last two times, she peed in her underwear within 2 minutes. It's like she was holding it until she gets off.

At 2:40pm
Accidents = 8, Toilet = 0. Me = done.

I had so many people write in wonderful suggestions -- it's so much easier to give advice when its not you, isn't it?  :)  I did try to keep Sam commando the whole time.  Unfortunately, not only did she not want to go naked, she also needed to wear pants in addition to the panties.  The only saving grace was, by pair #4, she no longer cared which pair of underwear or pants I put on her. 

A few friends did suggest that Sam could very well not be ready yet.  I can now say I wholeheartedly agree.  SAM IS DEFINITELY NOT READY YET!!!!!!!   My one friend Amanda called and said I should try again in a few weeks.  Ha!  Are you kidding me?  Maybe, and this is a big maybe, I'll try again in the year 2013.  Why in the world would I put myself through this again?  Sam is currently in a great preschool where you don't have to be potty trained.  She can go all the way through to kindergarten before I am forced to relive this nightmare.

Once I finally surrendered and put Sam back in a diaper (with absolutely no argument from her), she said, "Sammy tired."  Given that she had given up her nap and hadn't had one all week, I could tell this ordeal really wore her out (and me!).  She went upstairs, crawled into bed and promptly went to sleep. 

Meanwhile, my golden boy Ian, was downstairs and once he saw me sans Sam, he said, "That was a disaster."  Yeah Ian, no joke.  Thanks for stating the obvious.  :) 

Once we both had a moment to regain our composure and breathe a sigh of relief that potty training was on hold (indefinitely!), Ian looked at me at 2:40pm and asked, "Did I have lunch today?"  Um, no Ian.  I totally forgot to fix you lunch.  OMG!  Poor thing was completely neglected for almost the entire day, other than when he was in school.  First in line for Worst Mother of The Year Award over here. 

So, if my memory ever softens on just how bad Wednesday, December 22nd was and I decide to give this a go again, please slap on the side of the head with this blog.  I am fine if I am still buying her diapers when we drop her off at college.

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Tis the season to be good

My December New Year's Resolution experiment was to do a random act of kindness every day.  I am still in the midst of completing this challenge and officially have 1 more week to go, but I want to report on my progress. 

I discovered something unexpected in this month's challenge.  Looking to do good, make other people's lives a little easier and generally be helpful made me a much happier person.  It put me in a great mood all day long!  And, I was much less to anger, get frustrated or experience road rage.

There is this gas station that I love to go to.  Hands down, they have the best price; I'm talking like a good .16 cents less a gallon then gas stations that are even a 1/2 mile down the road.  However, this gas station is not my secret alone and everyone goes there to get gas.  No matter what time of the day, the pumps are packed and there is usually a line 3 or 4 cars deep waiting to get gas.  Unfortunately, there is no correct way the cars should be pointing.  You can approach the pump in either direction and the next thing you know, you've got cars coming at you from all over.  It is a nightmare.  This past month, I had stopped to fill up my car 3 times and was ready to do battle and secure my spot.  I was determined to not give in.  Then I remembered my challenge for the month, took a deep breath, and didn't go anywhere fast.  Knowing I wasn't going to get upset by the gas station scene somehow made it all the more bearable.  Then I threw in my 'holiday spirit' and actually allowed cars to get in front of me that were otherwise stuck.  This is pretty much unheard of for me.  :)

Other things I did that changed my mood around was helping "a little old lady" as she referred to herself, find a table cloth to match the place mats she picked out.  She wasn't sure what would go best with her Christmas plaid and the next thing you know, I am helping her shop.  I found one I thought would be perfect, pulled it out of the package, put it on the floor and took her place mats to sit on top.  We both agreed, it looked great.  Then I found  the size she needed and folded the table cloth back into the package and put the original back on the shelf.  Considering this was happening at the mall, the last Saturday before Christmas, it was pretty chaotic.  But after helping her, I then proceeded to let a different lady behind me in line at the register go before me because she only had one item and a toddler with her.  I know how that goes having to shop with your children, and I wanted her to have the opportunity to get out of the store as soon as possible.  My good mood was contagious and I had this need to change everyone's day for the better.

And the icing on the cake of doing random acts of kindness was getting matched with 2 families for the holidays.  One needed help with food, and the other needed help with gifts.  It was an amazing feeling going out and getting their needs taken care of.  My Toppall team and I have more than we'll ever need and to be able to help those less fortunate is really what this is all about.

There were so many other things I did throughout the month.  Whether or not they were even noticed or appreciated is inconsequential.  It made me feel better doing something good.  I'd get this little pep in my step, a smile on my face and my day was humming along. 

I am not sure if this is karma, but I found many instances of people doing acts of kindness back at me.  From the manager at Let's Dish who called to say she'll dish all my meals for me for free (after not having been there for an entire year!), to my friend Stefanie who took Ian for the morning while I had a doctors appointment.  Not only did she pick him up from my house, but also fed him lunch too, as I hadn't given that any thought to when it would occur before he had to go to kindergarten. Then there was my neighbor across the street who helped me unpack my car from my trip to Costco, Wegmans and the mall.   I felt like every day I was projecting this giving energy and it was coming right back at me like a boomerang. 

I feel like I am normally a kind person, but I definitely took it up a notch this past month.  It is the most wonderful time of the year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gray is the new black

It's no surprise that black is my favorite color.  It is the most flattering to wear, does a great job of hiding any unsightly bulges, goes with everything and is very slimming.  What other color in the rainbow can claim all of those qualities?  Not many, if any.

In my effort to not wear all black, all the time, I now have a new addiction. It's gray.  I am not sure why its taken me this long to develop a problem, but lo & behold, I am in Trouble (with a capital "T").  I keep running into stores to get the kids stuff, or Jeff clothes he needs replaced and the next you thing you know, I am magnetically pulled towards all the gray clothing on the women's racks.  It's crazy, but I have somehow justified the need for each new gray sweater/top I now own.

I don't know if any of my friends or family have noticed my gray obsession.  Do they realize I am actually wearing different clothing each time they see me, or do they think I only wear the same gray top over and over again? 

There are some differences in the clothing - one sweater has short sleeves, one is more like a robe/coat-type sweater, one is a tunic to wear with leggings (well, actually 2 are tunics to wear with leggings), then I have a traditional sweater I'd wear with jeans.  There is also a short sleeve/lightweight top, a very long turtleneck sweater that only has a button on top, and oh yeah, a sweater with a built-in scarf that has some silvery-strands running through it.  And everything is gray!  Oh my!  This is crazy, right?

I am going with the theory that admitting it is half the problem.  In my defense, I didn't purchase all of the above this year alone.  It has been a work in progress over the past year or two.  It's only been this past week when I get dressed each morning, that I realize how bad my problem has gotten.

I love the color gray!  It's close to black, but it isn't.  It has so many of the fabulous qualities the color black has, but its like an updated version of the color.  I find you can't go wrong-- even wearing it 7 days a week.  And because I wear the same color each day of the week, Jeff hopefully doesn't realize just how extensive my gray wardrobe has become.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Heard and Observed XVII

When I pick Sam up from preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have lunch in the car ready for her to eat.  This way, when we walk through our front door, I can put her down for a nap immediately.  On this one particular occasion, I had a turkey sandwich for her.  She quietly ate it and was still working on it by the time we got home.

Me:  "Sam, finish your sandwich and then you'll go down for a nap."
Sam:  "Yummy.  Daddy fix this?"
Me:  "No, I made it."
Sam:  "Oh."


It was about 5:00pm one afternoon and I was in the kitchen making dinner. Sam was at the dining room table coloring a picture.  Ian comes up to the kitchen and starts to throw a fit about something or other.  Maybe it was that he was hungry and needed dinner NOW.  I told him dinner wouldn't be ready for another 30 minutes and could have a healthy snack (gogurt or cheese stick) in the meantime.  His temper tantrum escalated even more and then he stomped off and went back downstairs.  Sam looks at me and says, "Ian tired."   I said, "Yep, that's right.  Ian is tired."  Hearing this exchange of words, Ian comes back upstairs and yells at Sam and me, "I AM NOT TIRED.  I AM NOT!!!!!".  And then he promptly goes back downstairs.  Sam looks at me and says the following:  "Ian tired.  Ian pajamas.  Ian need nap."


Sam was at the doctor a few days ago and needed a booster shot.  She watched the needle go in her thigh and didn't flinch, cry or scream.  She is one tough chick.  After the shot was over she said, "Sam done now.  Let's go." 


The day of the first snowfall we had in our area, Ian's afternoon kindergarten got cancelled.  He was on the computer, playing some games at and I was watching the show, "The Talk".  Sam was napping.  Anyway, on the show, they featured this one family going through some tough challenges and was about to lavish the mom with all these gifts and things her family could use.  The clip showed the family had 3 boys (ages 10 and younger) all dealing with Autism.  I looked over at Ian on the computer and saw how full of life he is, how vocal he is, how wonderfully sweet he is, how fortunate we are and totally lost it.  I broke down and started crying.  I went over to Ian, grabbed him in a big hug and didn't let go.  I said, "oh Ian, I love you so much.  I love you so, so, much."  And of course, the tears are flowing.  Ian looked at me and said, "I get it.  You like me."


I made a veggie lasagna one night for dinner.  At the exact moment that Ian and Sam each had their first bite, they came out with this:

Sam:  "It's delicious."
Ian:  "I don't like this."


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Out of control!

Upon our return to town, I was feeling very overwhelmed.  The world was still moving and I was playing catch-up big-time from being gone for 12 days, plus another 2 days away again just 48 hours later.  It didn't help any that coming back from FL, I had a double eye-infection and a raging sore throat that needed to have medical attention.  Each appointment with the doctors resulted in two more prescriptions getting filled and made my to-do list even longer. I seriously felt like I was drowning and all the while, my eating was getting more and more out of control.

Oprah and I have so much in common.  Who knew?   Her constant battle with weight is a very public one and mine is confined to the East coast, but still it is a never ending source of stress and frustration.  I've had enough and decided that I am going back to Weight Watchers.  I feel sick to my stomach that I've lost all the momentum I had going prior to my sister's wedding in October '09.  Back then I was super excited that I only had 14 pounds to go to get to my goal weight.  Now I am looking at 35.
I've had enough and I am doing something about it once and for all, or in this case again.  Weight Watchers recently revamped their program and my motivation is at an all-time high.  I can do this!  I am going to do this!!  The only solace I have is that each time I go back to Weight Watchers, the number of pounds I need to lose is less than the previous time on the program.  So while I am doing a horrible job of keeping all the weight off, I am still managing to never get back to as big as I once was.

I have two fellow preschool moms going through the journey with me. Originally we were going to do Tuesdays as our weigh-in/meeting day, but moved it to Thursday when it was a better day for one of the moms.   I still joined on the original Tuesday and got started right away (that's how motivated I am!), but now officially go on Thursdays.  There is strength in numbers and it is wonderful having support.  One of the women I am doing this with is currently doing chemo (after having had a mastectomy for breast cancer).  I get so much inspiration from her.  With everything she is dealing with, she is also adding following WW to her daily routine.  It sort of puts it all in perspective for me.

It's funny, because once I signed up and started to religiously track, count points, and control what I was eating, I felt so much better.  No longer did my to-do list seem so overwhelming.  No longer did I feel like I was drowning try to get it all done.  And this sense of accomplishment made me attack the rest of the list with vigor.

It also helped that Sam was sick for 3 days and forced us to stay indoors.  I was able to get the bathrooms cleaned, floor vacuumed, address, stamp & put our holiday cards in the mail, do laundry, and catch-up on my blog writing.  Oh yeah, and sometime during my trip I lost my credit card and had it replaced.  So I had to call 8 or 9 companies that have the card number on file for automatic billing each month.  Found a new pediatric dentist for the kids to go to, got their records sent from their old dentist (as of 1/1/11, they will no longer take our dental insurance), called Verizon and got a 3 month free promotion on HBO just in time for "Big Love" to start and negotiated a better rate on our Washington Post subscription. And I updated the kids' photobooks to be current.  Oy! It was a very busy 3 days.  But mission accomplished and I am caught up.  Tired and in need of another vacation, but caught-up!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bring on the latkes!

We had two full days back in town before we hit the road again and left for a weekend trip to Pennsylvania.  Every alternating year my husband's family Hanukkah party is at my Mother-in-law's house in the Baltimore area, and every other year, it is held at her sister's house in PA.  We went up on Saturday, spent a nice evening with my in-laws, SIL and nephew, and then attended the Hanukkah party with the whole family on Sunday at Aunt Miriam's house. 

It was a great day and I love getting to spend time with Jeff's relatives.  One of Jeff's cousins is pregnant and by this time next year, the family picture will be including one more.  No longer will Samantha be the youngest in attendance.  I think it is really wonderful to have a long standing tradition like this one and see the big group picture taken every year get bigger and bigger.

Aunt Miriam was worried that her staircase is not going to be able to bear the weight of all of us on it for the picture.  So far, we did okay and made it another year. But it is a valid concern.  Somehow, I've become the official photographer of the group picture and set it up on a tripod, on self-timer.  I didn't realize this job title was going to be permanent until it occurred to me that I've taken the picture every year since Uncle Joe (Aunt Miriam's husband) passed away.

I wish there was a better way to organize the group and configure us in a way that you can clearly see all of our faces and no one gets lost in the shuffle.  This is a huge group to try to manage and at the end of the day, it is a small battle just getting everyone in front of the camera.

I think next year I am going to have a plan and map out places for us all to stand; possibly 5 rows of 6, in varying heights.  Put it down on paper and give everyone a copy. Then when it is time to take the picture, everyone can instantly go to their suggested spot and be ready to say cheese.  It will be a much tighter, neater configuration.

The big family picture taken each year at the Hanukkah party is about to get an overhaul.  I hope the family is ready for it.  And if not, then someone else can happily take over as the photographer.  I pride myself in the pictures I take.  I refuse to send out blurry ones and go crazy cropping and zooming all my photos before sending out my monthly batch. 

I look forward to this challenge and can't wait for next year's Hanukkah party to give it a little of Robyn's picture taking pizazz.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A big shoe no-no

I tried so hard to be hip and fashionable.  Jeff's company holiday party was the Friday night after we returned home from FL.  The invite called for cocktail attire and since I had nothing to wear, I went shopping online and found myself some very pretty dresses.  Of course, I needed The Girl's help in deciding which dress was The One or not. I got lucky and was able to show 3 of The Girls the dress choices, all in the same evening, a few weeks before the party.  The Girls were pretty unanimous in their enthusiasm for this one particular black, satin dress and even suggested some cool looking shoes I should wear with it.  I loved their suggestion and spent my final days in town looking for the red patent leather heels they spoke of. 

Ha!  Have you tried to go shoe shopping for red patent leather heels lately?  Let me tell you, they are out there and there are plenty to chose from.  However, they are all 4 inches or higher in heel height.  I couldn't find a smaller heel height anywhere and believe me I looked!  I ended up going with a pair that seemed to meet all my needs - they were the right style, the right size and not such a bad price.  I tried them on quickly (I had Sam with me) and decided to go for it.

The night of the party came and I was excited by my outfit.  I felt totally put together.  Upon walking in the room of where the party was located, I saw lots of women wearing a black dress and red heels.  Too cool! I've never been one to have this much "of the moment" style going on.  Heck, it could've been the style for a few years now and I am just catching on.  Either way, I felt stylish!  Jeff commented that he has never seen me at this height before.  Ha!  I've never seen me at this height either.

There was one small glitch.  Or in my opinion, a major problem.  I couldn't walk.  Literally, I couldn't take a step and look normal doing it.  My feet were so ridiculously uncomfortable that I was in big trouble!  I was hoping at some point my foot would just go numb and then I could resume normal activities.  But no, this was such not the case.  I started looking at other women's feet and had shoe envy for those wearing comfortable looking flats.  Why, oh why did I do this to myself?  What in the world was I thinking that I could pull this off?

Jeff could tell something was up and asked why it looked like I didn't know how to walk anymore.  Then he asked if I even tried them on in the store, why would I get them if they hurt so much?  Hello?  Have you ever tried going shoe shopping with a 2 year old?  You find shoes in your size, you try them on as quickly as possible and you get them.  I thought for sure after 30 minutes or so, they would be broken in and feel more comfortable.

I don't know how women wear heels so high.  I am making a pledge right now that I will never go down this path again.  It is so not worth the pain.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Travelling with the Toppall's: Wrap-up

I feel like I've only focused on the few bad things that occurred (me with no bed and Sam getting everyone sick), I guess that is because the great times were so plentiful and it is even hard to summarize how wonderful our trip was.

On Monday, 11/22, my sister Lori, her husband Ben, Jeff and I went kayaking in the morning.  It was a really cool adventure and getting to kayak right near a dolphin coming up out of the water was awesome and a visual that will be with me for a long time.  Meanwhile, Dad & Rita took Ian & Sam to the zoo and they had a spectacular time. 

All of our dinners were prepared by Ben.  Lori and Ben came up with a fabulous kid-friendly, gluten-free-friendly menu for the whole week.  Ben is an amazing cook and I can totally see why my sister is in love with him.  We love Ben!  In addition, Ben took on making our Thanksgiving dinner and I loved every bite.  He completely outdid himself.  Lori and Ben pretty much moved their whole kitchen into one of the condos and went to town making a gourmet Thanksgiving meal worthy for Royalty.  Yum-O!

We had visitors too during our time in FL.  My friend Amanda (I've known since I was 5), has a little girl named Samantha too (3 months younger than my Sam) and we were able to see her on two different occasions.  This was a treat that I don't usually get.

My mom and Jim made the drive to Cocoa Beach on two occasions (Tuesday and again for Thanksgiving) and it was wonderful getting to spend time with them.

On Friday, after checking out of the resort, we met up with good friends of ours from Gaithersburg, MD.  They had just flown in and were taking a Disney cruise the next day.  We spent a few hours at Downtown Disney and the kids had a fun time hanging out at T-Rex Cafe for lunch.

Getting to celebrate Hanukkah with my family is something that rarely occurs.  Since Hanukkah came so early this year, we were able to do a family celebration the night before the holiday officially started.  It is definitely more fun opening presents in front of everyone rather than hearing about it over the phone.


Ian and Nana dancing to the music waiting for lunch.
 *No matter how much time it has been since my dad and stepmom has seen the kids in person, they can pick up like no time has been lost.  It was really wonderful to see Ian and Sam instantly latch on to their Nana and Papa.  Of course, this makes me want to live closer to them year-round.  I can only imagine how close they'd be if we saw them regularly.

*It is never too early in the day to start drinking fruity alcoholic drinks when you are staying at an all-inclusive and not responsible for watching kids.

*We stayed at nice hotel in Cancun. I was really impressed with the housekeeping staff each morning combing the beach and removing any seaweed that washed upon the sand overnight.

*Sam never seemed to fully grasp my sister's name (Aunt Lori) and resorted to calling her either "Mom" or "Uncle Ben".  When Sam stayed with my sister and Ben for the weekend, and she was calling Lori "Mom", Sam then referred to me as "Real Mom".

*A wii and cable tv is not necessary to entertain the kids and show them a good time.  When the kids stayed with my mom and Jim for a few days, they didn't even miss it.  Good old fashioned parenting was in prime action.

My final thoughts -- it was a wonderful trip and I thank my Dad and Rita very much for bringing us all together.  I love my family and treasure all the time I get to spend with them, even if it is from the sofa bed.  :)  And you know Ian had a good time when we are boarding the plane to come home and he said to me, "Can we do this again next year?"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Travelling with the Toppall's continues

While I rated our trip a 9 (on a scale from 1 to 10), I think the Florida crew would rate it a 9 too.  I am deducting the 1 point for the effect Sam had on the family.  She is now known as "Typhoid Sam".  At some point during the trip, Sam developed a cold/cough and one by one, took out a huge portion of the  family.  It wasn't until we were all back together for one last night (a pre-Hanukkah party at my Dad's house), that everyone saw they weren't the only one not feeling well. 

Meanwhile, Sam managed to get sick, get over the cold and be healthy again by the time we flew home.  In her wake, the number of sore throats, colds and coughs grew exponentially.  Ah, good times.  This will be a visit no one will soon forget.

Jeff and I timed this perfectly.  Just as Sam was getting sick, we took off for Mexico. We had planned to take advantage of the opportunity being in FL and left the kids in the excellent care of my family.   Jeff and I spent 3 nights at an all-inclusive resort.  It was wonderful. And if it is possible to do less-than-nothing, than that was us excelling at it.  Getting 10 hours of sleep a night and laying on the beach/pool during the day was a recipe for a very well-relaxed, much needed break.  

Stay tuned for Travelling with the Toppall's: Wrap-up.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Travelling with the Toppall Team

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give our 12 days away a solid 9.  I will go into reasons below why it never made it to a 10.  Overall, I am really proud of how well Ian and Sam behaved.  They slept in 4 different places over the course of 11 nights and had 3 different sets of relatives look after them for extended amounts of time.  They were rockstars and really went with the flow. 

One of my biggest fears was flying with Sam again after our previous horrific experiences we had with her up in the air.  Maturing to the ripe old age of 2.5 years old did wonders for her and us.  She embraced the sticker books and the iTouch.  The 2 hour flight flew by (pun intended!) and Jeff & I were even able to read our books.  Who knew that flying with kids could be enjoyable again?  The one hiccup we had was our descent on the arriving flight.  The last 5 minutes really played havoc with her ears and we couldn't calm her down enough to understand she needed to drink something, suck her lollipop or chew something.  We figured out a new strategy for the flight home, but the Gods were smiling on us and she slept the whole flight home, including the landing. 

So why did the trip not score a 10?

If I had the choice to pick any family, I'd still pick mine. I am not talking about my husband or the kids, I am referring to the family I grew up with.  The ones that are stuck with you no matter what.  I love my family so much.  I love how they make me laugh, how they drive me crazy, how they've got my back in any situation, and how much fun we have when we are together. 

The first part of our trip was spent at a Resort in Cocoa Beach.  Usually for my dad's annual family trip, it is a long weekend; Thursday to Sunday type of thing.  However, this year we spent one full week together.  We were fortunate to have (2) two bedroom oceanfront condos next door to each other.  Each condo slept 8 people.  There were 9 of us total (Dad, Rita, Lori, Ben, Meghan, and my Toppall team).  You would think that with these numbers the odds were in my favor to have a proper bed.  Ha!  This was not the case.  In fact, I didn't even get a bedroom.  I am the oldest of the three girls, the only one to have produced grandchildren so far and I got the sofa bed in the living room.  Lovely.  Of course, I was seen as the bad guy because I was insistent that my kids really need to be split up.  They can not sleep in the same room together.  Sam is way to light of a sleeper and only Jeff could be in the same room as her.  Ian got to share a room with Meghan (that is when she didn't have her friend spend the night) and therefore, I was left out in the cold...or the equivalent, the sofa bed.  Something just doesn't seem right about this.  But, as I mentioned earlier, I love my family dearly and this was a small price to pay to be around everyone.  Each night I would go to sleep thinking about all the configurations on how the sleeping arrangements should've been set-up differently.  And each morning, I was still waking up on the sofa bed.  :) 

HOWEVER, I've made it known loud and clear, that a bedroom will be available for me next year. Sure, the family was laughing at me thinking it was all one big joke, but just wait when until it is one of them on the sofa bed.

Stay tuned for more of "Travelling with the Toppall Team"

Monday, December 6, 2010

December's New Year's Resolution Experiment

So I seem to have gotten ahead of myself and one of my earlier written blog entries posted automatically on 12/4.  I wrote this before we left for vacation and timed it to post on Saturday after getting back to town.  I was sure I would've already blogged about the vacation by now and since we were going away again for the weekend (Jeff's family Hanukkah party in Pennsylvania), I was counting on it picking up the slack for me being out of town.  Ah, best laid plans.

Anyway, without further ado, let's get the show back on the road.  It is December 6th and I haven't even told you what I plan to do to finish the year with my New Year's Resolution Experiment.

Recap of November:  To take more video of the kids.  Mission completed!  November was full of video moments, many very worthy of capturing.  We had Ian's last soccer game of the season, my family coming together for the first time in 13 months and spending a week together at the beach, and Sam's big leap into a big-girl bed (No more crib!!).  It was the perfect month to focus on getting more video.  Next up is Jeff editing it all and burning DVDs for us to have.

Now announcing my final month in the 12 months of New Year's Resolution Experiments..... I am in the midst of doing at least one random act of kindness a day.  This idea stemmed from something that happened on our trip.  It was Thanksgiving day and a gorgeous color of sunny at the resort we were all staying at.  It was a our last full day together and I had big plans to spend it on the beach.  The resort had a guy whose job it was to set up beach chairs and umbrellas for the guests.  He was there all day long and pretty isolated from any food/drink/conveniences of home.  Everybody in the family started the morning on the beach with me and one by one, they all had enough and wanted inside.  I think the kids were pretty much beach and pooled out by now.  Before I knew it, 30 minutes had gone by and it was just me and my dad. We continued hanging out until it was time to go in for lunch.  I had plans to return to my spot after lunch and upon walking by the guy, I said, "I'll be back in a little while."  He said, "Going in for lunch?"  and I said yes.  I told him I would bring him back something.  Of course, all through lunch, my ENTIRE family made fun of me for saying I'd bring this guy lunch.  There were jokes of flirting with him, asking him out, wanting him, etc.  And yes, Jeff was an active part of this ribbing too.  I made a sandwich, my sister Lori put it in a bag with an apple and some chips.  I went back to the beach and gave it to him. 

I had a delightful 4 hours by myself on the beach until it was time to go back inside for a very yummy Thanksgiving dinner, made my sister's husband Ben.  Upon my departure from the beach one last time, the guy (whose name was Ryan) said to me, "Thanks for bringing me lunch.  I appreciated it very much." 

I felt great! It was worth being made fun of by my family.  And decided what could be better than to end the year doing a random act of kindness each and every day in December.  I generally try to be a kind person, (like letting the guy behind me in the grocery line go in front of me if he only has a handful of items), but I will try to take it up a notch this month.

Stay tuned for the Toppall Traveling Adventures. I am breaking up the trip into a few parts as to not completely overwhelm you (or me!) with too much info.  Hopefully you'll be entertained or just a little bit interested to get my view on it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The playdate dilemma

For the past 5 years, I've gotten very comfortable knowing all the moms and kids we hang out with.  They are a great bunch and I have no problems or concerns dropping either Ian or Sam off at their house and coming back a few hours later to pick them up. 

With Ian in kindergarten, we've entered new territory that doesn't seem to come with a rule book.  Playdates with Ian's new classmates.  Clearly, the mom arranging the playdate isn't asking me (and my 2 year old companion) to stay, but she also doesn't know me and I don't know her.  It's a fine line on what is the right, safe thing to do.  So far, I've made sure that I am the one to drop Ian off at the friend's house and can take a quick peek at the house and the mom.  But is this enough?  Do I need to take this a few steps further and find out if guns are kept in the house?  Should I be taking a tour of the house and make certain that it doesn't look too weird or that inappropriate items (cigarettes, drugs, adult magazines, etc) are within Ian and his friend's reach?  Should I be asking this mom how closely she'll be supervising my child and will actually be in the house?  And don't get me started on older kids being around Ian and his friend and getting them do unsavory things (especially if a parent is not readily close by).

I never thought I would be one of those over-protective mothers, but I want to make sure Ian is safe.  Heck, who am I kidding?  I am definitely one of those over-protective mothers.  It's a scary world out there and my baby is only 5 years old.  I want to keep him sweet, innocent and drug/alcohol free for as long as possible.

But how far do I go?  And at what point do I come off as a complete freak?  The playdate we had when Ian's friend came over, I invited the mom to come in and stay.  I could tell she had no plans to, as her car was still turned on when she walked her little boy to our door.  So, when it was time to reciprocate and Ian was invited over to their house, I wasn't sure what to do.  We ended up getting to the little boy's house before he managed to come off the bus.  I told Ian we would go find his mom and help meet the bus.  I got very lucky and discovered a good mommy friend also waiting for her son to come off the bus.  It just so happens that my friend lives across the street from Ian's new kindergarten friend.  We chatted briefly and in a roundabout way, I got a reference on this family, where Ian was having a playdate.

In a perfect world, I'll have all of Ian's friends over to the house first and can start siezing up the mom.  Then when it comes time for Ian to go their house, magically, they'll also have a 2 year old and will invite us all in for one big playdate.  This will happen a couple times and then I will feel completely comfortable dropping Ian off for future playdates.

Since this is a long shot of ever happening, I have to rely on my mommy instincts and hope that Ian has some sense and good judgement.  Look, I know I am a bit neurotic.  First I was worried that Ian wouldn't make friends and now that he seems to be Mr. Popular, I've moved on to a new concern, wanting to know these new friends.  It's like being between a rock and a hard place.

My little boy is growing up and I am not sure I am ready to let go.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Survived. And then some.

We're back!  It has been a whirlwind of activity since the plane landed yesterday afternoon and I am feeling incredibly overwhelmed.  I want to give a recap of our trip (it was great!), some observations I made along the way, and to fill you in on my December New Years Resolution Experiment.  However, I am going to need a few more days to get my bearings before I can dive back in to writing this blog every other day.

My to-do list is a mile long and I am tackling the most important stuff first.  Unfortunately in needing to prioritize, Mommy Meltdowns will be on vacation through the rest of the week.

To those who celebrate, Happy Hanukkah!  I hope the candles on the menorah shine bright and the latkes never run out.