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Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the year wrap-up - 2011 Edition

I am truly surprised that we are at the end of another year.  As the kids get older, the time seems to go by faster and faster. Each month comes and goes with a blink of an eye and before you know it, we are ready to ring in 2012.

TRAVEL IN 2011

Hershey, PA (with mom, sister and both kids) - February

Great Wolf Lodge (with Jeff and kids) - March

Las Vegas (with Jeff) - June

Orlando  (with kids) - July

Philadelphia  (with Jeff) - November

Orlando (on my own) - December

Philadelphia (with Jeff and kids) - December

So one of my resolutions during 2011, was to travel more with the kids as a family. I had wanted to do at least 3 trips with them. That didn't go as planned. But we really had a great time at Great Wolf Lodge and I am super glad we did that trip. I could see us going back there in a few years.  We also just came back from Philadelphia as a family and overall, was a great experience and lots of fun.

This year was a challenge for me.  I came to the realization that I can't have all these balls in the air and juggle everything.  Taking on training for a marathon was the thing that did me in.  It ended up consuming me, day and night.  While I only had to do 3 training runs each week, it was all I could think of and I became too consumed by it.  I don't have any regrets deciding to do it, but I realize now that it was a huge undertaking.  Running the marathon was everything I wanted the experience to be and I am very happy, content and fulfilled that I can check this off the list. 

Ian has continued to amaze me in school this year.  We are spending loads of time working on his reading and I think (hope) it is paying off.   We may have found the perfect activity for Ian; gymnastics.  It's great for his upper-body strength, building confidence and letting him progress at his own pace.  We may finally be saying good-bye to soccer.  We'll know for sure in the Spring when I ask him if he wants to continue.  Ian has shown amazing restraint and patience for his little sister.  He loves her greatly, despite how much she can annoy him. 

Sam is a force to be reckon with.  All I can say is, we try do as little as possible to piss her off.  Her vocabulary is crazy-impressive, as is her memory.  We've been impressed with Ian's intelligence for a long time, but Sam is showing signs of being even smarter at a younger age.  Jeff and I shudder to think, what if she turns out to be the smart one?   One of Sam's favorite activities is to get under Ian's skin and do whatever she can to illicit a reaction from him.  I found the key to dealing with all of Sam's excess energy is lots of structured activities.  She is currently enrolled in gymnastics, dance, and music classes throughout the week.  Throw in our new, indoor trampoline and we seem to be doing better than we were at the start of the year.  Sam absolutely loves her dance class and I could see her continuing this activity for many years to come.  She twirls around and around practicing her moves all week long.

Jeff is still enjoying his job and we are very happy he continues to be employed with a great company that values their employees.  The gag order on talking/writing about him is still in effect, so that is all I have to say about that or him.  The good news is that I still love him more than I thought ever possible to love someone you didn't give birth to.  No matter how much he drives me crazy, I am still coming back for more.


LOOKING FORWARD IN 2012

I hope to obtain better balance and not let the small, stupid things become more important than it should.  I'd like to set up a good schedule for working out and if I don't make it to the gym one day, know that it isn't the end of the world. 

When it comes to my weight, I really need to get refocused and start making healthy choices.  It's always going to be an uphill battle and I need to get serious about doing a better job.

Also, I am making a commitment to the kids to step away from the computer more (email, FB, blog) and spend more time with them - reading, playing games, and having fun.

I want to take each of the kids on their own to Orlando during the 2012-2013 school year, when they have 2 days off and we can make it a 4 day trip.  I think it would be very special and a nice opportunity for the Florida crew to have some one-on-one time with their grandkids. 

Also, Jeff's 40th is coming up in November.  I hope we can do something fun to celebrate.  I had a great time in Vegas, and it would be awesome to go some place he hasn't been and would like to go.

To all those reading, I hope you have a wonderful New Year and a 2012 filled with so many good times and laughter that your sides hurt from giggling so hard.  It's been a fantastic journey for this mom from the suburbs raising 2 kids with her partner-in-crime.  I eagerly await the adventures that are in store for us in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The making of a real estate tycoon

Here was the scene at our house on Thursday evening:

Ian and I are playing monopoly.  Ian has a big assortment of properties he has bought.  Me, not so much.  I have a bunch of railroads though, 3 to be exact.  I also have 2 of the purple properties and need Virginia Ave. to make a monopoly.  All my other turns were spent getting sent to jail (a freaky amount of times) or landing on the Chance spots (again, a freaky amount of times).  Meanwhile, Ian is cleaning up buying everything left and right.

Ian lands on one of my railroads.  He owes me $100.  He only has $26 in cash.

Me:  Ian, what are you going to do?  You need to come up with another $74 to pay me rent.  Do you want to mortgage some stuff to get more cash?

Ian:  No.  I'm not mortgaging anything.

Me:  Ok, I'll make you a deal.  How about I forgo the $100 you owe me, and give you an additional $200 in cash.  All I want in return is Virginia Ave. 

Ian:  I want $500 in cash.

Me:  Ha!  You are certainly not in a position to negotiate.  Virgina Ave. only cost you $160 to begin with.  This is a great deal.

Ian:  Ok, fine.  I'll take it.

As I am handing Ian the $200 in cash, he says, "Come to Papa." with a big smile on his face.

Before you know it, Ian has built HOTELS on every property possible on two entire sides of the monopoly board.  It is impossible to not land on something he owns.  He is giddy with joy every time you have to pay him $600 or more in rent.  It doesn't take long before you go bankrupt and Ian has won the game.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Festival of Lights

"Put on your yalmulka, here comes hanukkah
Its so much fun-akkah to celebrate hanukkah, "

-Adam Sandler, Hanukkah song. 

We are in the middle of Hanukkah!  What a magical time to be a kid.  Jeff and I decided to do something a little different and instead of getting the kids a present for each of the 8 nights, we chose to make a big part of their Hanukkah present from us a trip we will take.  Believe me, between gifts being given from 3 sets of grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins, Ian and Sam do not lack presents to open at Hanukkah.  

We would rather our money go for an experience than another toy the kids will stop playing with shortly after the month of December is over.  From Tuesday to Thursday, we will be hitting the road and visiting the Crayola Factory (Easton, PA), Please Touch Museum, Adventure Aquarium, and Franklin Institute, plus I want to squeeze in a trip to the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross' house for Ian. (all in Philadelphia, PA). 

Jeff and I still did get the kids a gift for each of them to open the first 4 nights.  The night before Hanukkah started, I wrapped all the gifts and made a small pile for Sam and Ian.  On Tuesday morning, the kids were super excited to see their gifts and were already trying to figure out what each one was.  I told them they could pick whichever one they wanted to open each night.  Ian looked at the stack of varying sized packages and turned around to ask me, "Which one do YOU think I would like the most?"  Wow!  How totally brilliant of Ian to get my insight on which one to go for.  Sam quickly jumped on that train and asked me the same thing.

I told Ian which one I knew without a doubt he would be the most pleased with.  He has been wanting the entire Star Wars movie collection on DVD.  They just came out with it in September and I quickly grabbed the boxed set at Costco.  I've been hiding it in my closet ever since.  After lighting the menorah, Ian opened the gift and was jumping up and down when he saw what it was.  Instantly the sealed plastic wrapping came off and one of the movies went into our DVD player to be played.  Only it wouldn't play.  I made a major mistake of gigantic proportions.  I bought the blu-ray boxed set.  Oh my.  I felt horrible.  I quickly got in my car and drove to Costco to try to make it right.  They were great about giving me a store credit and trying to find the DVD set.  They don't have it and after doing a thorough Internet search (Amazon, google, everything!), it doesn't exist.  This boxed set only was offered on blu-ray.  If I were to purchase the 2 DVD boxed sets that each offered 3 of the movies, the cost would be over $300.  So not worth it.  Yes, it would've been cheaper to get a blu-ray player, but we don't have plans to do that anytime soon.

I have to say Ian handled the disappointment well and of course, we let him open another gift.  The next night Ian opened Monopoly.  The age recommendation is 8+, but Ian is able to play this game like he is channeling his inner Donald Trump.  It is most impressive to see him in action.  I love that he independently can handle all his own money transactions and subtracts/adds and builds houses/hotels like he has been doing this his whole life.  You soon forget you are playing with a child who is only 6.  I used to love playing Monopoly when I was little and I am enjoying it all over again getting to play with my son.  Watch-out if you play with him, he is a shark when it comes to making deals.

Sam wakes up each day and the first thing she asks is, "Is it still Hanukkah today?"  It is too cute.  Then she'll ask when it is time for Christmas.  I keep telling her we don't celebrate Christmas and she keeps saying, "Oh, I forgot".  She is very much enjoying the gifts Jeff and I got her for the first 4 nights, but I can't wait to see the look on her face when she realizes what Grandma and Grandpa Toppall got her.  An aquarium for a fish.  We are getting her something she can take care of, keep in her room and have all to herself.  Stay tuned for what name she picks out for the fish.

Tomorrow is the Toppall family Hanukkah party.  Bring on the latkes!  Bring on the dreidal playing!  Bring on the extended family!  Bring on the gifts!  Each year my kids get older, they have more fun playing and interacting with their cousins.  It is wonderful.  Just like this holiday.  One of the best our religion has to offer.  3 cheers for Hanukkah!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Can you watch me now?!?!?



TUESDAY (late afternoon):


We all notice quite quickly that none of the 3 tvs currently on and each tuned to a different channel are no longer working.  We are getting a "Channel Unavailable" message on the screen and clearly, the FiOS signal is not coming through to the house.


TUESDAY (late afternoon, 2 minutes later):

Call Verizon and schedule a service call for 8:00pm the next night. 

8:00pm?  Really?  Really.  Hard to believe, but after questioning the service rep on the phone 3 times, she keeps confirming that yes, they do have an 8:00pm service time.  Since I will be out of the house the majority of the day running around like a chicken with her head cut-off, this was the first available time Jeff or I would be home.  It was perfect that they had this time available.


WEDNESDAY (morning at 8:30am):

Phone rings.  It is H. Greg, letting me know he will be coming to the house between 1:00pm-5:00pm to fix the FiOS. 

Me:  "1:00pm-5:00pm?!?!  What?  No, we have a service call scheduled for 8:00pm."

H.Greg:  "Sorry, we don't have service calls that late.  It's either 8:00-12:00pm, or 1:00-5:00pm".

Me: "OMG! I am not going to be home today.  That is why I needed an evening time."

H. Craig:  "Ok, I will see what I can do."


WEDNESDAY (morning at 9:00am - after being on hold for 30 minutes waiting for a live person):

I call Verizon to ask them what is going on. 

Them:  "Sorry, we don't do service calls in the evening."

Me:  "Yes, that is apparently what I just found out.  I am not going to be home from 1:00pm to 5:00pm today.  What is the latest time you can send someone to my house tonight?"

Them:  "We have an all-day appointment available - anytime between 8:00am to 5:00pm"

Me:  "I AM NOT GOING TO BE HOME!!! IF I WAS ABLE TO BE HOME FROM 8:00am TO 5:00pm, I COULD CERTAINLY BE HOME FROM 1:00pm to 5:00pm, DON'T YOU THINK!?!?"

Them:  "You don't need to yell.

Me:  "Yes, I do.  I asked you what the latest time is you can send someone and you said, all day.  So obviously you didn't hear me when I told you the first time I wasn't going to be home during the day."

Them:  "We can send someone on Saturday or Sunday -- all day."

Me:  "Christmas is Sunday.  Really?  On Christmas you can send someone?  I don't believe you."

Them:  "My computer is allowing me to make that appointment."

Me:  "I still don't believe you.  I'll take a Saturday appointment."

Them:  "Ok, between 8:00am to 5:00pm."

Me:  "O.M.G.  Bye."


WEDNESDAY (2 hours later):

I called Verizon again.  I am very frustrated that we will be without television until Saturday and want to see if I can get someone to the house earlier.

Me:  "I need my FiOS working much sooner than Saturday.  Is there anyway to get someone to come over in the evening today?"

Them:  "Please hold and I'll see what I can do."

10 minutes later --

Them:  "Yes, I've been assured that someone can be at your house for the very last appointment of the day on Saturday."

Me:  "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.  I want someone to the house today!  I don't want to wait until Saturday for my television to be fixed."

Them:  "M'am, there is a lot going on with the Eastern Seaboard.  There are many problems all over Virginia.  We don't have any appointments available now until Sunday.  Do you want to keep your Saturday appointment?"

Me:  "Yes, I'll keep it.  But I want the FIRST appointment in the morning.  The VERY FIRST APPOINTMENT"

Them:  "Ok."

Me:  "No, put me back on hold and tell them that I want the first appointment."

After 2 minutes on hold:

Them:  "Ok, I've been assured they will get to you as early as possible."

Me:  "Great.  Bye."


AND HERE'S THE REST OF THE STORY (with a tip of the hat to Paul Harvey):

Around 1:00pm, I received a call on my cell phone from H. Greg.  He apologized it took him a while to get back to me and that he was still trying to find someone to come to my house in the evening.  I was pleasantly surprised and delighted that Mr. Greg was still working on my behalf to have my FiOS looked at.  I couldn't believe he was still trying to help me.  He asked me to explain what the problem was with my tv.  Mr. Greg thought it was probably an outside thing.  He said he had a little bit of downtime in between jobs and would come to my house and see if he could fix it without me being home.  He then told me he would leave his card and if he hadn't fixed the problem, then I could call him to come back later in the day to access the inside of the house.

Within the next hour, Mr. Greg called back my cell phone and left a message letting me know he thought he found the problem and was able to fix it.  When I made it back home, I was jumping up and down with joy that the FiOS had been fixed and all our channels were working properly.  And I was ecstatic for not having to wait until Saturday to get my television back to working order.

It's a pretty wonderful thing how one person can totally change your opinion about a company.

Major kudos to Mr. Greg for providing amazing customer service and helping this tv-obsessed family in Burke get back to watching their favorite shows.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Moving on up!

Sam and I came home from preschool one afternoon and noticed something pretty fascinating as we were getting out of the car.  Samantha was the first one to see it and pointed way up high in the tree tops and told me to look up...way up. All the way at the top was a HUGE nest.  As we were both checking it out, it was then that I noticed the next part.  A squirrel was making its way up to the nest.  He had a big pile of leaves in his mouth and he was going to add to the nest.  We stood and watched the nest building for a good 15 to 20 minutes.  The squirrel would come back down the tree, go to the ground, use his paws to pick up the leaves and store them in his mouth.  When he couldn't hold any more leaves in his mouth, he would then begin his climb back up to the top of the tree.  We must've watched this squirrel go up and down about 15 times.  It was very impressive.  And, very fascinating.


This is the size tree I am talking about!
Look how high up the nest is. Wowee!

I pointed out this activity to our neighbor who was doing some work on another neighbor's house and was outside in their driveway.  He was just as fascinated as we were and soon, all 3 of us were watching this squirrel go up and down the tree, making many trips to expand the size of his nest.


Here's a close-up shot of the nest.

A couple days later, we walked outside to go to the car, and my neighbor was back outside doing more work.  He told me that the squirrel was still very busy making trips with leaves in his mouth. He said there is a family of about 4 baby squirrels living in the nest.

Every time Sam and I go outside now, the first thing we do is look up and see what is going on.  I wish there was some way we could get a 'bird's eye view' and check it out from a different angle.  Kudos to Sam for noticing this nest and pointing it out.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Never to be seen again!

Jeff recently pointed out something very cool to me regarding the kids.  This is the only time in their whole lives that Ian will ever be twice Sam's age.  Never again will he be exactly twice as old as Sam.  For the 358 days this year that Samantha turned 3 and just 7 days later, Ian turned 6, he became double her age.  How cool is that?

I think back to when Ian was Sam's age now.  At 3 years old, Ian seemed so much younger.  If I remember correctly, we were still trying to teach him to do so much.  Sam mastered getting dressed, learned how to button, drink from a cup, use big girl utensils so much earlier than Ian.  Her vocabulary seems more advanced and her ability to work electronics (mainly any kind of Apple product) is also happening at a much earlier age.  Sam is a much more adventurous eater and will try almost everything.  Back then, Ian pretty much subsided only on chicken nuggets, noodles, and bananas.

However, the one area Ian excelled in that could run circles around Sam is in potty training.  Ian got it in 6 days flat.  Sam is still trying to figure out the pooping, that is when she decides to go every once in a blue moon.

Sam, at age 3.
 At the very core, we have two very different kids. 

At age 3, Sam couldn't be more girly than if a real live princess lived with us and gave her lessons.  She is all about wearing skirts and dresses each day, getting her nails done (toes and fingers!) and designing different hair do's for me to do in her head.  She loves accessorizing each outfit with beads, bracelets, rings and dress-up heels. She loves to twirl around and practice her dance moves.  All of this came very natural to Sam as there is no role model she is trying to copy.  I am not a girly-girl and can't remember the last time I wore a skirt, dress or heels.  It is definitely her own doing!  Now that she has a set of lip glosses, she won't leave the house without putting on her "lipstick".





Ian, at age 3.
Ian, at age 3, was all about Thomas the Train and all Thomas' friends. Ian ate, slept and breathed his train table.  Jeff would design new tracks each night after Ian went to sleep and surprise him in the morning with a new, cool, design.  The Thomas DVDs, television show, Thomas flashlight, Thomas coloring books, and Thomas books all dominated our play area.  If it had something to do with Thomas, you can bet we had it.  Ian soon got into Monster trucks and could name all the championship trucks and who's who.  It was quite impressive that as soon as Ian learned to talk, his main source of conversation was who was riding which monster truck and what tricks they could do.  Ian was a hellion on his tricycle and made those plastic wheels turn so fast you'd think his legs were battery powered. 

Ian never cared about what he wore and was okay with me picking out his clothes each day.  Sam, however, if she hasn't actively voiced loudly what she is going to wear, then you might want to take her temperature, because she is not feeling well.

It's fascinating to see the big kids these little people are becoming.  I love watching their interests wane, slowly disappear and a new one come to light.  At age 3, they most definitely have their own personalities well-formed and know what they like and what they don't.

We are halfway through this uncommon year when Ian is double Sam's age.  The kids have already started counting down until their next birthday, which is at the end of May.  This is a trait they both have and planning far into the future must be genetic as it runs in the family.  Ian wants to do laser tag (but we think he is still too young for this) and may opt for rock climbing instead.  Sam has requested a princess cake, hello kitty cake, and a barbie cake.  She hasn't gotten specific about what kind of party she would like, just as long as 3 birthday cakes are represented. 

And before we know it, the magic with their ages this year will be over. :)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Yes, there is an app for that.

So I am very much enjoying the iphone 4s. I did something very cool with it in the car the other day and love, love, love all the technology.

During the month of December, you can pretty much guarantee I will have the radio on to 97.1 listening to the holiday music.  How can you not instantly be put in a good mood driving around listening to Christmas carols?  It's such a festive time of the year.  The only thing that would make it better is if there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground.

One of my most favorite Christmas songs is, "All I want for Christmas is you."  Ever since the movie, "Love Actually" came out in 2003, when I hear that song, I am transported back to the scene at the end of the movie when  Joanna sings the song and looks directly at the little boy playing the drums and makes his day.  One of my most favorite movies.

The kids and I were driving in the car and this song comes on the radio.  Only, it wasn't being sung by Maria Carey.  It was being done by a guy with a very sexy voice.  Who was that!?!?  Harry Connick, Jr?  Could be.  hmmmm.  So, I start the app, "SoundHound" and within 4 seconds, I have my answer.  It is Michael Buble.  Wow!  What a great remake.  Right below my answer on the phone's screen is a button to tap if I want to download it from iTunes.  Do I ever!   Within 1 minute, I have the entire song downloaded and the kids and I are already listening to it again in the car.  So incredibly cool that I was able to do that.

Now I wish there was an app for getting me to stop listening to it.  I can't seem to turn it off.  :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chicken Soup for the Soul

After my big breakdown about 2 month ago, my mom and Jeff each came up with the idea that I needed a break.  To get away without the kids and have some time to breathe, sleep, rest and not worry about the pooping, sleeping issues, temper-tantrums, and meltdowns of those around me.  Well you don't have to hit me on the head with anything heavier than a feather for me to jump on board and know this was a good idea and much needed at that.

I decided to book a long weekend in Orlando as soon as the marathon was over.  I figured if I went before, I'd still be stressed/anxious about the upcoming race and would be trying to fit in training runs while on vacation than taking the time to relax.  I left on Thursday night and came back early evening on Monday.  Those 4 days was perfect.  My sister (also known as my hero) booked us a 2 bedroom suite on the beach for the weekend.  I got to have lunch and spend time with my dad, stepmother, sister Meghan, and brother-in-law on Friday.  Come Friday night, my mom, sister Lori and I checked in for the next 48 hours at St. Petersburg and enjoyed 80 degree sunny weather, sitting in cabana on the beach, lounging, doing nothing.  It was wonderful.



Sunday night I had dinner with my best friend, Amanda and her family.  Amanda's 2nd child was born since I had been in town last and I finally got to meet the now 3.5 month old, Olivia.  What a cutie. 

On Monday, my mom decided to come back to NoVa area with me and surprise the kids with a visit.  It was awesome.  The look on Ian's face was priceless and the last thing he was expecting when coming to get me at the airport.  My mom was able to stay until Thursday afternoon.  I loved having my mom around.  I can't explain the relationship we have, but it goes beyond mother/daughter.  We are truly friends and there is no one I'd rather go shopping with, out to lunch with, run errands with or pal around with.

I feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle motherhood again.  I miss my family and its hard to have them live so far away.  But I have to say, it was a great destination and nice place to have to go.  Other than the cost of a plane ticket, it doesn't cost anything and the benefits of going are priceless.

I came up with an idea that I am hoping to implement next year. Other than our usual trips to Orlando as a family during the year, I would love to go 3 additional times.  Once by myself, once with just Ian, and again with just Sam.  Ian has a 2 day school holiday each quarter for teacher work days and we could easily make a 4 day excursion to Orlando.  And Sam's school is always closing for one Jewish holiday or another and could easily string 4 days together for that.  I think it would be pretty cool to visit the family separately with each child and do specific activities they would like.  Princesses, tea parties and shopping with Sam.  And for Ian, Legoland, Star Wars at Hollywood Studios, and Wii playing with his cool Uncle Ben (who by the way, designs video games for a living).  We could space these trips throughout the year and really have some special one-on-one time with each kid.   And if planned correctly, the other kid back at home would still have school and Jeff wouldn't have to miss that much work.  A win-win-win situation.  4 days was perfectly long enough to feel like you really got a break and do everything you want.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting my groove back

Lately I've just not been feeling liking writing.  I love updating the blog and keeping an online diary of what life is like at the Toppall house, but for some reason I am just not feeling inspired.  Usually I don't lack material.  But every idea or topic I come up with is feeling more like work on getting my thoughts written, rather than the usual flows-quicker-than-a-3-year-old-playing-with-water-in-the-sink momentum I typically get. 

Jeff noticed that my blog hadn't been updated lately and asked what gives.  I told him I just wasn't feeling it and he promptly sent me an email with some ideas on what to write about.  While this particular blog wasn't on his list, I felt it necessary to explain the lack of presence in the recent week and to let you know I am back.

For what its worth, I've been in a bit of funk lately.  There is some high school-type drama bullshit going on around me that is utterly ridiculous.  People need to grow up and act their age.  There is a community that I love being a part of that is starting to go quite sour.  For the record, I would like to say I am a straight shooter. If I like you, you'll know it.  If I don't like you, I'm not going to bother with you.  Ever.  I am so torn between standing up for a cause (which can be done in varying levels from having an all-out verbal war, to leaving the community on principal and starting over somewhere else) to keeping my mouth shut, my opinions to myself (something new for me!) and letting all this blow over.  Either way, it has become a train wreck to watch and I am all too caught up in seeing what will happen next.  Oy!  I try to take the high road, but its hard. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For the love of reading

Both Jeff and I love to read.  Very different books; him anything non-fiction, the bigger and more having to do with someone's life or a piece of history, the better.  And me, anything but non-fiction.  Generally I enjoy something a level or two above Danielle Steel, more along the lines of Jodi Picoult, Wally Lamb or Chris Bohjalian.  You probably can't get more different in book tastes than Jeff and I, but the foundation remains the same.  We love to read.  Always have, always will.

It would be fantastic if the kids loved to read too.  But that is something you can't force. It has to come from within.  The kids have tons of books and each night, we make it a point to read a book or two before bed to the kids.  Ian is slowly learning how to read by himself.  It hasn't come naturally, and I've personally logged many, many hours working with him on sounding out words and trying to get the hang of it.  I didn't realize how hard it is to teach someone something that comes so easy for you to do yourself to another person.  But, wow, the English language is tough!

I have a fellow mommy friend who has twin 1st graders.  She had recently put on her FB status something to the effect of the following:  "Highly recommend the book, 'The Strange Case of Origami Yoda' to all your kids who are Star Wars fans.  I've been reading it to the kids each night and we are enjoying it. Beware, there is is some questionable language (crap, idiot), but I just change those words when we get to them."




The next day I was volunteering at Ian's school. It happened to be during the book fair and I asked the librarian if they had this book. She said it had sold out and she could order it, but they did have the sequel to it, "Darth Paper Strikes Back".   The librarian did caution me that this book was a little above Ian's level and that maybe I should hold off on getting it.  Then she reconsidered and said that Ian was mature for his age and could handle it.  I ordered the one that was sold out and got the sequel.  I was very excited and couldn't wait for the book to come in.

The book finally arrived!  Ian and I had a plan to read a chapter or two each night after dinner.  Between the reading he HAD to do for school each week and the reading of the books Jeff does with him before bed each night, Ian and I managed to find a few minutes to spend reading another kind of book.  This was a big, meaty book!  We're talking a 160 pages!   This was brand new territory for Ian.  He hadn't yet experienced a book that couldn't be finished in one sitting or two. 

We kept to plan for the first week or so and managed to walk away from the book after our 15 or 20 minutes of reading.  Then something very familiar happened.  Ian and I really got into the book.  It was getting great and we couldn't put it down.  Before you knew it, Ian was requesting we read the book before the table got cleared and dishes were put in the dishwasher.  The last 50 pages were read all in one sitting.  Neither Ian or I could put the book down.  His enthusiasm on seeing how the story was going to end reminded me of how I am with a really good book.  I was just as into the book as he was and was tickled pink that we found this reading happiness together.  Yes, that's my boy!

I have to say this author, Tom Angleberger, rocks!  He managed to do something that I thought would've been near impossible.  He wrote a book that not only spoke to the 6 1/2 year old Stars Wars-obsessed boy I have given birth to, but also wrote a book that speaks to the chick flick reader in me. And I don't even care for Star Wars!  The ending was so good and made me fall in love with reading all over again.

Ian and I were very excited to start reading the follow-up book.  Score one for mommy on thinking ahead and getting this book already purchased. 

It appears that Ian's love for reading has started to see the light.  May have to get him a good bedside light for him to continue reading through night.  Just like I did when I was a little girl.  Because some times finishing a good book is much more important than sleep.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Heard and Observed XXXI

Sam:  Mommy, my drink spilled all over the couch
Me:  No problem Sam, I'll clean it up.
Sam:  I didn't do it.  My drink did it.

***********************************************************************

Riding in the car on the way back from school:

Sam:  When is Christmas?
Me:   It is at the end of December.
Sam:  Oh, I forgot.
Me:  But Sam, you know we don't celebrate Christmas.  We are Jewish. We celebrate Hanukkah.
Sam:  When is Hanukkah?
Me:  This year, it is around the same time as Christmas.
Sam:  Oh, I forgot.

***********************************************************************

Ian is telling me all about the kids in his class who are boyfriend and girlfriend.  I asked him, "Ian, what does it mean to be boyfriend/girlfriend?

Ian:  Well, you know, you annoy the person so much that the other person starts to annoy you back.

hahahahahaa.  Funny at how age 6, Ian totally gets it.

***************************************************************************

Sam sees my headband on the bed and says,

"Mommy, I am going to put on your headband."
Me: Ok, you can put it on.
Sam: Look, I am a running Mommy now.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Run, Robyn, Run! (Part 6)

As I am nearing the finish, I put it into top speed and gave it all I got it.  Darn it, I was going to run across that finish line!  I even managed to pass a woman as I got closer.  Take that, speed walker!





Just after crossing the finish line.  I call this my "Tiger Woods" pose.

I did it in 6 hrs, 17 minutes, 10 seconds.  I was #10,128 out of 10,270 runners who finished the full marathon.  I am sure I could've done it faster.  But I am proud of what I did and I am super happy that I met my two original goals -- not to be last and not to be swept.  No, I wasn't last!   There were 142 people behind me.  :) 

During this marathon, 2 people died and 10 others were taken to the hospital. So I am very pleased that I was able to finish.  And I managed to complete another goal I had.  If there was anything left in me, I was going to run up the Art Museum steps a la Rocky.  And by G-d, I did just that!




This weekend was everything I wanted the experience to be.  It was challenging, exhausting, exciting and rewarding.  I loved it all!  I have no desire to do another marathon, but its funny that I've already got a list in my head on everything I would differently. They say you run your first one to finish, and the next one for time.  I am only doing this once.  But I have to think that there are plenty of areas that I could easily improve on and make that finishing time so much better. 


Major kudos to my husband for sticking by me through the last 7 months, encouraging me along the way, and letting me have an entire weekend be all about me....other than when he had to stop and get a cheese steak.  :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Run, Robyn, Run! (Part 5)

It's funny, you set your alarm so that you don't oversleep, but you end up waking up every hour throughout the night in panic you have.  The alarm clock in the hotel room was set, a wake-up call was arranged through the hotel, and I still had one eyeball on the time watching the hours pass.

The nerves are in high gear at this point and my hands are literally shaking as I get dressed.  It is a very unsettling feeling and I am a basket case going back and forth between being ridiculously excited that we are finally doing this and ready to throw-up at the thought of what I am about to do. 

I had studied the course many, many times and knew that the first water stop would be at mile 2.2 and then pretty consistently every mile and a half after that.  I made a game-time decision to not use my Camelbak and run the marathon without carrying any kind of liquid on me.  I had my Spibelt and used it to carry everything I needed; cell phone, tissues, GU, and used the handy dandy cords to hold my bib.  This proved to be the best decision ever.  It actually felt great running without that extra weight on my back and the numerous water stops were plenty. 

My corral was blue, group #8.  This was the last of the bunch, which meant that it would be a good 28 minutes after the race officially started before Jen and I could cross the starting line.  The temps started to warm up (the high ended up being 64 degrees) and didn't need gloves, ear-warmer headband or even the extra layer of the jacket.  It was a beautiful day!

Jen and I minutes before starting. 
I posted on FB that I was more nervous now than when I
realized I was about to give birth to Ian and the epidural wasn't working. 

As I passed through the official starting point, I became overcome with emotion and was fighting the ugly cry from taking over my entire face.  It had been such a long journey getting to this point and it was finally here.  Seeing everyone on the sidelines cheering, holding up signs, making noise, made it all very real.  It took until about a full mile in before I buried deep these emotions and focused more on the race and wanting to get it done. 

The race is best told in two parts.  PART 1, which was the beginning to mile 13.  And PART 2, which was mile 14 to the end.

PART 1: The beginning to mile 13.

The first 9 miles really flew by.  I couldn't believe how quickly the race was going and before I knew it, almost 2 hours had been completed.  Around mile 9 is when the big, nasty hill happens and I was told in advance to expect it and know that EVERYONE walks it.  No problem, I could handle that!  But this hill was a toughie and even with walking it, my legs were now starting to feel the effects of what I was out there doing.

The crowd support was awesome!  I could actually feel my body moving faster and run lightly because of all the cheering, the music playing, and reading all the signs they were holding.  I absolutely loved it when complete strangers would read my name on my bib and say, "Go Robyn!"  "You got this Robyn!"   I mean, how can you even think of walking when passing all this?  I don't want to let the people down and disappoint.


Loved all the signs!
Had to stop and take a few pictures of some of my favorites.



There's the juggler!  He, among many, passed me.

Jen's cheering committee and mine divided and conquered.  I don't think this was intentional, but each group picked different areas to cheer us on as we ran by.  I thought this was the greatest thing ever and loved getting to see people I knew twice the amount of time rather than if they were all standing together.

Here's two pictures of me just before mile 6.




I am feeling GREAT!  At this point, I'm tracking a 5:25 marathon and couldn't be more pleased.  There are still tons of people around me, running with me and I feel like I am part of something really big.

Approximately half the people running are only doing the 1/2 marathon.  I know that soon I will be seeing them head to the right for their finish line and the full marathoners (that's me!) will veer to the left to keep going.  I didn't realize just how many people would be leaving the course. 

I got to see Jeff, Lori and Ben one last time around mile 13.5.  I knew that at this point, I won't see them again until I finish.  It was not logistically convenient to make it to any of the other cheer zones to see me.

PART 2:  Miles 14 to the end.

As I start the 2nd half, I know that the both the men and women top 10 have already finished the full marathon, gotten their medals and made their way to food and a shower.  Me, however, I am just getting my groove, that is with finding port-a-potties and pooping.  Yes, my tummy decided to either react from all the nerves or the full strength Gatorade (which I was not used to drinking) and I had to go 3 separate times during the race.  Yowzer!  It is what it is, but I will always wonder how much better my time would've been if I didn't need to stop so much.

As the hours passed, water stations were starting to break down.  They still handed out water/gatorade, but now it was only 1/2 table doing so, instead of 8 or 9 tables full.  In fact at one point, a guy was standing there with a jug in his hand offering to pour me a glass.  Yes, it is comical to look back on this now, but at the time, it was discouraging.  The real insult came when an officer let two cars cut in front of me on the course.  The cars were not a risk to my safety, but having to run behind their exhaust and fumes was like kicking a person when their down.  Come'on people...have some respect for those of us still out there.

As I was hitting mile 17, I could hear the "party" going on at mile 22.  WOWEE!!!  A big band was playing, there was dancing, cheering, lots of enthusiasm.  By the time I swung around to mile 22, no one was left.  The band left to go home, the people dancing left.  There wasn't anyone left cheering. 

When I had to go to the bathroom a 3rd time to poop (around mile 20), I actually left the course and found a Burrito restaurant and walked in and asked if their bathroom had toilet paper, because as I announced to everyone inside, "I could really use some right about now."   It was a nice, clean bathroom and well worth the extra time.

By mile 20, I had enough and was really ready for this to be over.  I had been out there for more than 4.5 hours and still had a way to go.  Unfortunately I wasn't getting any faster, only slower, much slower.

As the miles wore on, the crowd of participants got thinner around me.  There was starting to be huge stretches of space between me and the other runners.    One guy even asked me to stop and take his picture at the mile 25 marker. Ha!  What was I going to do, say no?  Sorry, buddy, but I really can't stop right now.  This extra 40 seconds might make all the difference in the world for my ending time.  I even waited to see if he liked the picture or wanted me to retake it.

Instead of texting every time I hit another 5 miles to let my group know where I was, I was now texting pretty much every mile from 20 to 26.  I couldn't wait for this marathon to be over.  I was going to blow through 6 hours and it wasn't going to pretty.  At this point, I just wanted to finish. 

Stay tuned...part 6:  The BIG finish!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Run, Robyn, Run! (Part 4)

We drove up to the Baltimore area on Saturday morning, dropped the kids off at my in-laws and then Jeff and I continued to Philadelphia.  Ever since I announced I wanted to do this marathon (7 months ago!), Jeff instantly went into action and figured out where he would get his Philly cheese steak fix.  It would either be at Pat's or Geno's.  Since Pat's is a Pepsi place and Geno's is not, the decision was a no-brainer.  Geno's it is.  I decided to do some of my own research and find a place I could get a gluten-free treat to reward myself with after the race.  I found this sweet little bakery called, "Sweet Freedom Bakery".  The whole entire place is baked this way --  Here is a label from their box.


Hard to believe, but without any of the above ingredients, the items I picked out were incredibly tasty.  I really don't think you'd be able to tell it was missing any of this stuff.  I picked out 2 different kinds of cupcakes, 2 types of cookies, 2 slices of banana nut bread, and a Cinnamon sugar crueler.  Yum-O!  And how nice to know that I had this waiting for me once I finished the 26.2.

So before we even got to the hotel, we drove by Geno's for a cheese steak and Sweet Freedom for my baked goods.  I have some pretty awesome pictures of Jeff enjoying his cheese steak (finished within 2 blocks of us pulling away), but I am under a gag order from including them.  Just know that he enjoyed it.  The look of satisfaction on his face is now his ID photo on my phone when he calls.  If nothing else, going to Philly was worth it for him for this cheese steak experience.

The rest of Saturday went like clock work.  We checked into the Embassy Suites on Benjamin Franklin Parkway-- closest hotel to the starting line.  I had no desire to walk any more than necessary come race day.   It would take about an hour to explain the story on how I got us reservations at this hotel.  A few months before registration to the race even opened, this hotel was already booked solid.  Let's just say I got very lucky and they found a room for me.  Great hotel!

Had a quick lunch with my sister, Ben (BIL) and some friends my sister hadn't seen in a long time.  The restaurant was called Singapore Chinese and was located near the convention center.  It was a completely vegetarian, Chinese, and kosher restaurant.  Throw in Gluten-free and you'd have a home-run.  The owner was very helpful on what I could and couldn't eat.  Got some pseudo-looking/tasting sweet & sour chicken.  Very yummy. 

Afterwards, we met up with Jen and got our race packet from the expo at the convention center.


I'm still freaking out on the inside. 
It is all too real that it is happening!

Dinner that night was at Maggiono's.  We had reservations for 5:30pm for the 9 of us. The place was PACKED!!!  Even the line to tell them we were there and had reservations was about 30 deep. You literally couldn't move in the lobby/bar of the restaurant.  Crazy!!!  The food was good and we had a nice time at dinner.


Jen's brother and sister-in-law came to cheer Jen on.
My sister had another friend join us that night at dinner.
I guess I should give some background info and say that Lori
used to live in Philly and still has some pretty good friends
in the area. 

Now it was time to go back to the hotel and get a good night of sleep. Tomorrow was the big day and the moment I had been waiting for, for a very long time. 

Stay tuned for part 5....race day!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Run, Robyn, Run! (Part 3)

HONEY, LET'S GET OUT THE BIG BAG:

Friday night, as I was packing, I justified bringing just about every single running gear-type thing I own.  I wasn't sure if the weather could take a turn for the cold and I'd want my longer capri running pants.  I didn't know if a long sleeve tech shirt would be better than a running windbreaker jacket and figured I should bring both. If it was raining, the water resistant windbreaker would be the way to go. Then I saw my heavier running jacket hanging in my closet and thought that could come in handy too while waiting at the start line. I had decided long in advance a back-up pair of running shorts might be necessary. And of course, I had my special short sleeve tech shirt I had ordered to wear on race day. Also, I knew that I'd need options on my head and packed both my ear-warmer headband if it was going to be cold and the sun visor in case it was warm and the sun was out in full force.  Throw in a pair of running gloves, two pairs of socks, and of course, my sneakers and I was all set.  This was just the stuff to wear.  I also had to bring my iPod, back-up iPod, Garmin, Camelbak, 6 packets of GU, body glide, Spibelt, SweatyBand to hold back my hair, Cliff bar, bananas and bottles of Powerade to round out all the gear needed.  As a precaution, I packed band-aids, neosporin and advil* too. Whoever said running was a low-maintenance sport has certainly not met me.  :)

But here's the thing, by packing so many items that performed various tasks depending on the weather conditions, it helped calm me.  I wasn't worried about having to second guess myself on if I choose the right things to bring.  I'd just bring it all!

The only good thing about the weather being a tad on the warmer side was that it helped make the decision easier on what to put on come the morning of the race.

THE ONE THING I KNEW I WANTED TO WEAR:

"You don't have go FAST, you just have to GO."

At one point during the marathon, I felt this couple coming up behind me
and moved to the left to get out of their way.  The woman said, "Your shirt
says WE should pass on the left."  I replied back, "Its been so long
since I've seen the back of my shirt, I forgot what it said."  :) 


FUNNY MOMENT ALERT:

*Turns out what I thought was Advil in my suitcase turned out to be Junior Strength Advil.  OMG!  I didn't find this out until 6:05am that morning when I went to go take two.  Yikes!  The label only went up to 70lbs.  I'd have to take more than 6 at a time and I am not even sure it would be as potent as the real thing.   Good thing I had Jen on speed dial and she was able to provide me some of the adult strength pills.


Stay tuned for part 4....getting there.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Run, Robyn, Run! (Part 2)

In light of it being Thanksgiving today, I want to reflect on all I am grateful for regarding this marathon. 

I seriously could not have done this without the love, support and encouragement from so many.  How lucky I am to be so rich in this area.  I hope I don't ever take it for granted and forget what a blessing it is to be surrounded by all of this.

I am so fortunate to have the BEST. FAMILY. EVER.  If I didn't have Jeff's unwavering love and support, I know it would've been a very uphill climb to get to the starting line.  He always had faith in me that I could do this.  Countless times over the past 7 months, he would look at me and say how proud of me he was. Without question he jumped in, took care of the kids, and gave me all the time I needed to get the training done. I am so thankful for the husband and best friend that he is.

As soon as my mom heard I was doing this, she made it a point to call me from her place of work every Saturday to check in on me after I ran.  She wasn't completely on board with what I was doing, but she was one of my biggest supporters.

I am fortunate to have family that wanted to be there.  Without hesitation, my sister Lori said her and Ben (BIL) would be there to cheer me on.  Ben designed these very cool and hilarious shirts for him, Lori and Jeff to wear the morning of the race.  It was an awesome surprise when they showed it to me right before I started running.



My in-laws graciously took the kids for the whole weekend.  We dropped them off on Saturday morning on our way to Philadelphia and picked them back up on the way home on Monday.  It was wonderful knowing they were in excellent care, having fun and one less thing for me to be stressed over.

Tons of other encouragement came from my dad, stepmother, my other sister Meghan, and my sister-in-law Elaine.  While it did little to calm my nerves, it was nice to hear the faith they had in me that I could do this.  Hearing my dad's enthusiasm in his voice when I would tell him I ran "X" amount of miles each weekend there was a particularly long training run was always very cool.

The friends that wished me well, decorated my car with signs before leaving, left me cards in my mailbox were amazing. I am thankful for every single one of the messages, texts, emails, phone calls, in-person hugs, high-fives and more that I received leading up to, during and after the marathon.  It really helped to motivate me to go one step further, one second faster.

I'd like to give a quick list of all the other things I am very grateful for:

-The hotel we stayed at was only a 1/2 mile from the start/finish line.

-The weather was beautiful.  When we woke up the next morning, it was raining.  This so could've easily been the case a few hours earlier on the 20th.

-I was feeling good.  Ridiculously nervous, but not sick with a fever, cold, sore throat, and my legs didn't have any aches or pains.  This is a bigger deal than you would imagine.  You can't live in a bubble waiting for race day.  I am around kids and germs all the time.  I always feel like I could be catching something and get sick. Actually now that the race is over, my throat is starting to hurt and I am blowing my nose.  hahahahahha.  See what I mean?  There was a ton of pressure to try to remain as healthy as possible and not get a twisted ankle or anything of the sort.  I am thankful that I was feeling as good as I ever could on the 20th.

-Maggiano's having gluten-free pasta.  It made it easy to carb-load at restaurant that I was familiar with and didn't worry about getting sick from eating non-gluten-free pasta by accident.

-I had some tummy issues and I am grateful there was always a bathroom close enough nearby. 

-My ipod and garmin worked perfectly.  I am thankful for that.

-I am most thankful that I found amazing socks that prevent blisters.

And last but not least, I am filled with gratitude that I was in overall good enough health to run and complete this.  Two men (only 21 and 40 years old in age) died during this exact marathon and 10 others were taken away to the hospital.  It makes you realize how fragile life is and I feel fortunate to have been able to accomplish my goal and get to the finish line in one piece and still standing.

I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and you too are surrounded by your own amazing friends and family.  I know I've got the best anyone could ask for.  And for that I am forever grateful.  Love makes the world go around.  :)

Stay tune for part 3....taking it all with me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Run, Robyn, Run!


So I did it!  I survived, more than survived and can't wait to share all the details about the weekend. I'd like to apologize in advance for all that I am about to write.  I have no idea how many blog entries this story will span or if it will even end up in a coherent, logical narrative.  But I am filled with so many emotions and feel the need to get it all written.  For years to come, I want to have the ability to look back and remember all the moments vividly that made up this amazing journey. As my friend put it, the marathon is the reward for all the training you did.  If you aren't interested in hearing about all of this, you might want to take the next several days off from visiting my blog.  ;)

Where do I begin?  The nerves started kicking in the week leading up to the big day.  As we got closer and closer to race day, I got more nervous. Not sleeping soundly was the first to go.  My funniest nightmare was that a freak blizzard was in the forecast and a good majority of the runners dropped out due to the bad weather.  However, not one to give up, I trudged ahead and ran it anyway during the blizzard.  It took me 2 days to finish.  Needless to say, I was checking the 10 day forecast, then the 5 day forecast, then the weekend forecast, and lastly the 36 hour forecast 7 or 8 times each day.  Not once did it ever show anything but a gorgeous day, with only a 20% of precipitation. 

As the week crept on, I'd get either instant nauseousness or diarrhea just by thinking about what was to come.  By Thursday, I was a mental mess and completely freaked out.  What did I get myself into?  Was this going to be a complete disaster?  Would I be wasting my family's time by supporting me in this craziness?  Who did I think I was that I could pull this off?  And then there was the Jen factor.  She got into this herself because I came up with this wacky notion to run a marathon.  Due to many factors outside her control, Jen's training had been anything less than stellar and I was worried that she was going to really regret doing this.  It was a lot of pressure and all these doubts filled my every waking (and non-waking) thoughts.  And last but not least, the biggest thing I had going against me, was that I wanted to know I gave it my all.  That I did the best I could do.  I didn't care how long it took me to finish, but I had to be proud of me.  Have no regrets. Leave nothing behind.  My two big goals was to 1. Not be swept by the bus.  And 2. Not be last.  If I could do that and not look for a reason, any excuse to not give it all I got, then it would be a big success.  And, yes, I accomplished that.  And may I say, I did it with a smile all the way up until the very end.


Stay tuned for part 2....being thankful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

If it's in the paper, it must be true!

Great article in the Washington Post on Thursday, November 10th.

Jeff and I have always been quite lax when it comes to the amount of time Ian and/or Sam is allowed to play video games.  We don't have a maximum set amount of hours they can't play wii, computer games or their iTouch each day.  As long as they don't seem to be getting too obsessed or refuse to turn it off to do other things we suggest, then its fine with us if they play to their hearts content while we are at home.

We both are of the feeling that this is a techy-world they are growing up in and want them to have the skills that will be very much integrated with their school, career and day-to-day life.  Personally, I love that they are growing up in an age where there was always touch technology available.

I came across a great article the other day.  Apparently gaming is not detrimental to a child's development and can in fact help them flourish when learning.

7 WAYS GAMES MAY SAVE OUR SCHOOLS by Jay Mathews.

I have never played video games. They cut into reading time. Today, I don’t even understand TV advertisements for games. Do you have to get inside an Xbox? What?

I am sensing this may become a handicap for an education writer. What game designers know about what excites and involves their users may be the key to a new age of online learning.

I say maybe because I have grown weary of technological breakthrough reports that promise more for classrooms than they deliver. Twenty-first century learning plans, when you examine them closely, often appear to be little more than curriculums from the previous century with more expensive equipment and better-written mission statements.

That’s what I thought until I bumped into Tom Vander Ark’s new book, “Getting Smart: How Digital Learning Is Changing the World,” particularly the chapter on motivation. He lists seven ways video games reward the brain, as revealed in a 2010 speech by editor and game theorist Tom Chatfield. Even I could see that it was also a list of seven things many great teachers use:

1. Continuous grading. Vander Ark notes that “most games give participants the ability to watch their progress slowly but surely creep along in infinitesimal increments . . . like a bar graph, or a figure in a race, but somehow how the gamer is doing overall is clearly displayed and communicated.”

2. Multiple long- and short-term aims that are clearly defined. There are multiple levels and multiple forms of success.

3. Rewarding effort. You get credit every time you do something.

4. Feedback. “Gamers can fail in millions of small ways, learn quickly what they need to change and then move on,” Vander Ark says .

5. Element of uncertainty. Experiences that surprise just enough can create high engagement. The gamer, like me reading a detective novel, wants to know what happens next and see if he identified the perp.

6. Finding windows of learning. Games give players some important elements they need to remember.

7. Confidence. Chatfield concluded that game reward systems make people braver, more willing to take risks and harder to discourage. I will have to take his word for it, but those are qualities good teachers impart to their students.

Motivation is the key to good schools. It is at the heart of our many arguments over education policy. Can the desire to learn be stimulated by tests that affect graduation, or lessons that fit the subject to the students’ personal experiences, or a yearning to please a caring teacher, or a team spirit that wants our class spelling average to beat that of the third grade across the hall?

For game designers, Vander Ark points out, motivation means sales. They can see quickly what works and what doesn’t.

I have seen good teachers do continuous grading by calling on everyone in class each day and starting each day off with a short quiz. They reward effort with a smile, a cheer from the class, a better grade or a chance to read a better book. They introduce uncertainty by asking a question that does not have an obvious answer and with a series of questions to the class (Socrates would have been an awesome game designer) to find the most likely answer.

Fairfax County’s Bernie Glaze, one of the best social studies teachers I ever saw, once explained to me the useful connection between games and learning. Two of her students were resisting her lesson on philosophers. They called them old white guys without a jump shot. She engaged the two by saying that all she wanted from them was some thoughtful analysis, just as they discussed each morning why their basketball heroes had won or lost the night before.

It will be hard to produce online lessons that make this happen in physics, calculus, Romantic poetry and civics. But smart people say there is a way to do it. That’s fine as long as they check the result with teachers.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"My boy is wicked smart"*

I was not an "A" student.  Far from it.  School was not easy and always a struggle to keep my head above water.  This could've been in large part to attending a very competitive private school from 7th to 12th grade.  It was expected you went to a good college upon graduation and a very large percentage (possibly 70%) of my classmates went on to become lawyers. The other 29% became doctors. And then there was me.  :)

I've never felt as smart in my whole my life as I did on Monday, November 7th at 10:00am.  I had Ian's parent-teacher conference and I found out just how amazing my son is doing.  I'd like to take full credit for his brilliance, but I can not.  I married a very smart man.  Probably the smartest guy I'll ever know.  I am sure some (ok, maybe all) of Ian's intelligence is coming from his father, but for those 15 minutes sitting with Ian's teacher, she didn't know this.  And I looked smart. Very smart. 

I am so proud of my son.  He is a superstar.  I hope his enthusiasm for learning continues.  I can't wait to see what the years ahead have in store for him.

*quote taken from the movie, "Goodwill Hunting"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Surprise!

Ian:  Mom, I'd like if you can start surprising me.

Me:  What kind of surprises are you looking for?

Ian:  Well, I'll give you an example of a disappointed surprise:  I say I want a cheese sandwich in my lunch and you give me a chicken & cheese wrap.  That's not the kind of surprise I want.

Me:  Ok, what would be a good kind of surprise?

Ian:  Oh, you know, a wii game would be a good surprise.

Me:  I'll see what I can do Ian.

Ian:  It's doesn't have to be every day, just like once a month.

Jeff:  Ian, how about we start the surprises at the beginning of December?

Ian:  Ok.

Mom-mom comes to visit from Monday, December 5th to Thursday, December 8th.  We are keeping it a surprise for the kids.  Yay!

While the kids were in school on Thursday, I was at AC Moore to load up on a few birthday presents for some upcoming parties Sam has been invited to.  I found this awesomely huge Princess coloring book that I knew Sam would go crazy for.  After picking Ian up from school, we walked into the house and the kids saw the coloring book.

Ian:  THAT is this kind of surprise I am looking for.

Me:  Ok, then I'll go get you a princess coloring book too. (hahahahaha)

Ian:  Noooooooooo.  That would be a disappointed surprise.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sam - take 2

Here's a quick update on Samantha -- All her blood work came back looking good.  There is no sign of Celiac disease (Thank G-d!) or any kind of nutrient deficiency.  So my thought that something could be not causing her to feel well from the inside is not the case.

Her sleep started getting better, but then we just had a rough patch for a few nights, so who knows?  Maybe she is just going to be one of those horrible sleepers her whole life.  I know that Jeff and I each have had many nights where we wake-up and can't go back to sleep.  Overall, I think we are spoiled by Ian and how amazing and deep of a sleeper he is and always has been.

Now for the good stuff - we are seeing a big improvement with the Occupational Therapy.  This has proven to be the way to go.  Sam does have some sensory issues (nothing major), but her behavior is not appropriate to whatever it is ticking her off.  She blows up way too quickly and goes from 1 to 60 in a second.  The therapist, Tasha, is doing some heavy, intense exercises with her and Sam is loving it.  We continue to work with her at home and do the same type stuff - just translatable to what we have in the house.  For example, take the cushions off the couch and let her jump off into the couch cushions.  Create an obstacle course for her to run through.  Lots of jumping up and down.  Major squishing under a stack of pillows.  Creating a mountain of pillows with a blanket over it and have her climb over it. Crawl through a tunnel. Repeat, repeat, repeat.  It lets her get her excess energy out and get that sensory stimulation she craves in a good, positive way.  That way when she starts to freak out over something small (like all of a sudden her shoe or clothes she is wearing is bothering her), she no longer blows up over it and gets herself in a temper tantrum frenzy. 

The best part of this is, Sam LOVES going to her OT appointments.  For her it is like one big play session.  And, Tasha has observed (quite accurately) that Sam has this need to be in control and all her moves are extremely calculated.  So Tasha is also working on addressing this.

Looking back, I was doing the exact wrong thing.  I wanted Sam to be calm and quiet when we were in the house. I thought that if we could keep it as peaceful as possible, Sam wouldn't get all crazy.  This is the exact opposite of what we should've been doing.

Based on Tasha's recommendation, we also created a space for Sam to have down time. It's a princess tent -  a quiet place for her to go where it is calm, cozy (think pillows, blankets).  Tasha said that Sam should start to seek this place out when she feels herself getting upset. 

We are scheduled to do 6 sessions of OT.  We've had 3 already and I am already seeing some progress.

I think we are definitely moving in the right direction.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The candy delimma

The little devil on one side of Sam's shoulder must've had some pretty harsh words for the little angel sitting on her other shoulder.

I had told Sam she could have 2 pieces of Halloween candy a day.  I didn't care if those pieces were both eaten by 9:00am, there would be no more candy for the rest of the day.  Sam would be very content to live on a diet of only candy, so I knew the 2 piece limit was going to be a tough one.  The first day following Halloween, Sam had her 2 pieces by 1:00pm.  About an hour later she asked me for another piece.  I said no, and she turned away sulking.  Just a few minutes later, I notice Sam had very quietly taken her HUGE bucket of Halloween candy to her room and closed the door.  Do I let her gorge herself until she gets so sick and doesn't want another piece ever again?  Or, do I go up to her room a few minutes later and catch her in the action? 

I decided to wait it out.  I knew that the only way she was going to be able to have a field day with all the candy is if she had her child-proof scissors to help her get into it.  After about 15 minutes, I went up to her room to investigate. I noticed the bucket was no where to be seen.  Sam went to great lengths to hide it.  She must've had a master plan and maybe the scissors heist was going to happen at another point in time.

The next day Ian is picking out his piece of candy he'd like to eat and Sam runs up to her room.  She comes back down with her big bucket and asks if she can have her 2 pieces of candy.  She eats her candy and leaves her bucket sitting next to Ian's.  At the end of day, Sam was an angel and did the right thing.  For now the little devil on Sam's other shoulder will have to make do with a little less candy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Utah Chicken

Jeff's birthday was on Wednesday.  We have plans for date night this Saturday and will go out to dinner and a movie.  But I wanted to cook him something special for dinner on his actual birthday and asked him what he'd like me to make.  "Utah Chicken", Jeff replied.  I smiled and said "Sure."

The "Utah Chicken" dish has a great back story.  For our 2nd date, I invited Jeff over for dinner.  He was turning 30 the next day and I thought it would be nice to have him over for a good, home cooked meal.  The only problem was, I couldn't cook.  So I went online and found some recipes of things that seemed tasty but easy to pull-off in the kitchen.  I invited my friend, Kathy over to do a test meal.  I needed to make sure I could actually cook dinner for the guy I was interested in getting to know better.  I wanted Kathy to be my guinea pig and let me know if the food was good enough to serve to a guy with boyfriend potential, to make sure she and I didn't get sick after eating it, and to give me an idea on how long it will take me to get the meal on the table with everything the right temperature and ready at the same time.

I did it all for the test drive with Kathy - the feta cheese popovers I made for appetizers, the chicken pasta dish, the side veggie and even went as far as making the chocolate cake for dessert.  It was a hit! I knew I could cook this meal with confidence and only be nervous about every other aspect of having a guy over at my place. I sent Kathy home with all the leftovers because just 2 days later, I was going to have the same food all over again in my kitchen. 

I don't make the dish often because it is a little time intensive.  It takes 1 hr, 30 minutes to prepare - with 1 hour of that cooking time.  There really is no way to speed up the process of this dish.  But Jeff loved it and subsequently married me, so I guess it was a great choice among the thousands of recipes I was contemplating.

Several months later, while we were dating, Jeff went to Utah for a business trip.  I knew I'd be picking him up from the airport and asked him if there was anything special I could make for dinner that night.  He will have eaten every meal for 5 days on the road and I knew a home cooked meal would taste really good when his plane landed.  He requested the chicken dish I made for him on our 2nd date.  I hadn't made it since that night and loved that he remembered it.  I happily said yes, bought all the ingredients and was ready to go for when he returned to town.  I picked him up at the airport and we drove back to my condo.  I went to the kitchen and started making dinner.  Close to 2 hours later we were finally ready to eat.  It was now approaching 11:00pm.  Jeff was completely dumbfounded and couldn't believe that we were eating so late.  It never occurred to me to make the dish ahead of time and just reheat it when we walked in the door.  And it never occurred to Jeff that I would be starting from scratch when we got back from the airport. 

We got a pretty good laugh about that and thus the name of Jeff's favorite chicken dish has always since been called, "Utah Chicken".


ANGEL CHICKEN PASTA

Ingredients

  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 (.7 ounce) package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed golden mushroom soup
  • 4 ounces cream cheese with chives
  • 1 pound angel hair pasta

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in the package of dressing mix. Blend in wine and golden mushroom soup. Mix in cream cheese, and stir until smooth. Heat through, but do not boil. Arrange chicken breasts in a single layer in a 9x13 inch baking dish. Pour sauce over.

Bake for 60 minutes in the preheated oven. Twenty minutes before the chicken is done, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain. Serve chicken and sauce over pasta.


***** My updated gluten-free version:  I use a gf mushroom soup that Wegman's sells.  I make 2 types of angel hair pasta - regular and gf. ***********

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Looked Hell directly in the eye

It takes a lot for me or the kids to get sick.  For the most part, we are a very healthy bunch (knock on wood) and only experience maybe one or two colds through out any given year.  I chalk this up to not keeping an extremely clean house and thus the germs help build up our immunity systems.  I am definitely not one of those moms who freaks out when I hear a kid we just played with is sick or getting over being sick.

But boy did Ian and I get knocked down big-time this past Sunday.  Fever?  Check.  Nausea?  Check.   Dizzy?  Check.  Can't move?  Check.  Throwing up?  Check. 

We were at a friend's house with a few other families on Friday night and received an email early the next morning from our host apologizing in advance for what might soon hit us.  5 out of 6 of their family members woke up in the middle of the night sick with this stomach bug.  I immediately replied back and wrote, "Don't worry about it.  I am sure we will be fine.  Besides, you can never be certain when you get sick who contaminated you or them."  These kind of emails come all the time after having play dates and finding out the kids your kids were playing with are now sick. 

All Saturday we were fine.  Ian did complain of a tummy ache Saturday night, but Jeff chalked it up to him having eaten dinner too quickly. As soon as the babysitter showed up, Ian was his cheerful self and was eager to play wii games for a few hours with Patrick.  Jeff and I went to a party and had a great time.  All was well.  By the time the sun rose on Sunday, it was a very different story in our house.  Within minutes Ian and I were part of the casualties this Burke stomach bug had taken as its latest victims.  The rumor was that this bug will last only 12 hours, but I guess I got lucky as I was still throwing up a good 15 hours after it started.  I hadn't eaten anything since Saturday night and obviously couldn't even hold down water.  Jeff said it's bad when you throw up the medication to help you no longer feel nauseas.  I don't throw up easily and never even did once with either pregnancy.  Actually I can't remember the last time I threw up.  But boy will I remember this day for a long, long time.  It was bad.  Very bad. 

You know how bad it was?  Even not having eating anything all day, anything close to resembling food or the thought of food on tv sent me racing to the bathroom.

Ian got off a little better.  He only threw up once in the morning.  But the rest of the time you would think we were matching lumps, close to comatose, unable to function. 

It wasn't until the next morning that Ian and I faced a new day and could hold our heads up again.  I kept Ian home from school so that he could take it easy and be ready for trick-or-treating that night.  That was the important goal - be healthy enough to go out on Halloween.  How sad to wait all year for this holiday and then have to miss it.

24 hours after Ian and I had it, Jeff got affected with a very minor case.  Compared to me and Ian, you can't even call what Jeff had as having the stomach bug.  He went to work a little late on Monday, but still managed to get to the office.

Sam, on the other hand, is one tough chick. She came out of this completely unscathed.  I have a feeling the Burke stomach bug took one look at her and ran the other way.