Monday, December 31, 2012

End of the year wrap-up - 2012 Edition

DUDE!!  2012 flew by!  While it seems like there were days that felt they would never end and plenty of nights where Sam being awake from 2:00am to 5:00am for no apparent reason felt like an eternity, overall the year moved quicker than speed of light to me.  We were busier than a one-armed paper hanger. 

Yes, its time again to wrap up the year and move forward to 2013.  Doesn't the number "2013" seem like such a big number? 

Without further ado, here is my yearly wrap-up.


March - Girl's weekend for Jen's birthday in Chesapeake Beach*

May - Overnight in D.C. for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer*

June -10 days in Orlando (taking care of my mom)*; Jeff took the kids overnight to Dutch Wonderland

June -Overnight in Arlington, VA for my birthday  (surprise from Jeff)

July - Great Wolf Lodge with the whole family

July - Kids at Jeff's parents for 3 days

July - A week in Topsail, NC at the beach (me and the kids)

August - 10 days in Orlando with me and the kids; 1 1/2 weeks the kids in Orlando without me.

October - North Myrtle Beach, SC with the whole family

November - Girl's weekend in Berkeley Springs, WV*

December - Overnight in Philadelphia/Warrington, PA

*Represents trips taken solo.

It's been quite a year!  By far, the biggest thing that has happened to our Toppall team this year is that Sam is pooping on her own and regularly.  I can't possibly explain appropriately enough how much of a toll the "encompresis" was taking on me and the rest of the family.  My heart goes out to anyone who has a child suffering from it.  It got really bad, and I wasn't sure we'd ever be out of the woods, but for the last 4 months, Sam has consistently gone every day (sometimes even 2 or 3 times).  And, It's without the aid of Ex-lax!  I no longer think we need to request an IEP for Kindergarten next year and have to explain her situation to the school.  Additionally, we've stopped carrying a back-up change of clothes and 10 extra pairs of underwear/pull-ups wherever we go.  Another milestone I was sure we wouldn't see anytime soon.

Sam has shown us her love for helping out in the kitchen, whether it is making dinner, loading/unloading the dishwasher or getting her own snacks.   She enjoys baking and getting her an Easy Bake Oven proved to be a most awesome Hanukkah gift.  It is wonderfully exciting to see Sam writing her name and other words legibly. 

Ian is doing great and we've discovered that gymnastics is definitely his thing.  He not only loves doing it, but is starting to do some really cool things during his practices.  And fortunately in this past year, his reading ability is where it needs to be.  I can listen to Ian read for hours.  I love hearing from parents, teachers, and his gymnastics gym coach what a great kid he is.  It makes me feel like I am doing something right, but I can only take partial credit.  Ian is polite, charming, and hard to resist. His enthusiasm, quick wit and friendly manner is getting him many, many fans.

Jeff continues to make me laugh over a whole host of things unfortunately I can't share or write about.  We've made it another year together and I am still madly love with him.  He is my best friend.

As for me, I've become a huge disappointment to myself.  When November 20th came around and marked the 1 year anniversary of running the Philadelphia Marathon, I became depressed over what I've let happen over this past year.  My time at the gym became almost non-existent (to the point my membership, unbeknownst to me, was cancelled ALL SUMMER and I didn't even know it until October!) and my weight is back to the scary numbers I vowed I'd never see again.  I just can't seem to get it together.  I try to present a healthy image (eating well, working out, etc) to the kids.  I shudder to think what they will grow up thinking is normal watching my weight balloon up and down repeatedly.  Ugh.  I'm either obsessing over it or I am not.  There doesn't seem to be a middle ground.  At age 41, I am still trying to get it together. I am back at the bottom of the mountain facing a very big mental challenge to get back to the top or even start the climb.  This is real.  This is me.  I just want to wake up and be a size 6. Unfortunately that is not going to happen without a lot of hard work.  Frankly my mind is not there yet.  I am coming to terms that anxiety, the feeling of being perpetually overwhelmed, and running around like a chicken with its head cut off is getting the better of me.


The biggest thing I am looking forward to this coming year?  It's our last year for paying for preschool.   We only have 5 months of payments left.  This is HUGE!  While I don't think it will instantly make us millionaires, it will help us greatly in saving money and possibly think about a new car.  You know, like in the next 3 years maybe it could actually happen.

In the Fall of 2013, I am going to have two kids at the same school, for the same amount of time.  And, the best part is, the school is located only a 1/4 mile from the house.  I can't even begin to imagine how amazing this will be, to not have to coordinate drop-offs, pick-ups and do the Monday shuffle with a minute to spare.

The other really great thing I am looking forward to are my three trips to Orlando; one with just Ian, one trip with just Sam, and one trip on my own.  Ian and I will be there at the end of January. I'm going down by myself over President's day weekend. And, I'll go with Sam at the end of March.  I was able to identify a time when one child had off from school, while the other child still had to go.  Each trip will be four days in length.  We will do things that are of interest to only them and give my family the opportunity to have some great one-on-one time with each Ian or Sam.  As my parents get older, I want to see them more frequently and have my kids spend as much time as possible.  I hope these trips will be special for them and we can continue them each year.

In 2013, I'd like our life to be more simple, but honestly I don't see how that can happen.  Maybe it needs to occur in baby steps.  I am actively working on saying "No" as much as possible when being asked to take on more than I can handle.  This is helping with not adding stress and chaos to an already busy day.  The one thing that does make life easier is that as Sam gets older, she and Ian can be signed up for similar camps and programs.  Plus, her being potty-trained is allowing her be accepted at places she wasn't previously. 

One thing I can do to make my life a little simpler is to go through an electronics withdrawal every Saturday.  For one year, I will not long onto Facebook or check email on Saturdays.  I will answer texts, but not initiate a text message.  I am very curious to see how I do with this one.  I like to keep things interesting and 24 hours of downtime might be a welcome change or it might make me realize just how out-of-control-connected I've become.

Another resolution I am going to make is to not watch "Beverly Hills 90210" (the original series) reruns for the entire year.  I have to agree with Jeff on this one and bypass the channel if I see the show is on.  Did you know the show will have been OFF the air for 13 years?  Yes, its time to say good-bye to Brenda, Dylan, Brandon, Kelly, David, Steve, Donna and Andrea.  Oh, and I can't forget Valerie, who gave the show a breath of fresh air when she came on and moved into Brenda's bedroom.

I'd love to write a resolution about getting back in shape, making healthy eating choices, and overall feeling better about myself, but I hate the idea of succeeding and then failing all over again.  Its much easier to stay a failure, right?  Yeah, I know, I am probably depressing you too with this.  Don't worry, my plan in 2013 is to figure this out and mentally come to terms with what needs to change so that I am not back in this position all over again in the future.  Until then, pass the fries to me, please.

My last resolution is it would be nice if we did a trip to the beach over the summer and went with a few other families.  I think it would be so much fun for the kids.  I feel like if I write this down, then maybe, just maybe there is a half a chance of it happening. 


Happy 2013 to all my family and friends.  Thanks for another year of reading what I write in this blog. And for those who seem to be following me and I haven't had the chance to meet you, an even bigger thank you for reading the words of someone you don't even know.  That's pretty cool!

I hope this coming year is one filled with many magical adventures, gaggles of laughter, and incredible moments when you feel so blessed to be alive and smiling.  We are all so fortunate to have each other.  I love you! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012


The first of many lines.
A Living Social deal came across my inbox in November.  The offer was for tickets for ICE! at the Gaylord in National Harbor.  I forwarded the email special to Jeff and asked if he thought this would be good for us to do on Christmas day.  He agreed and I bought the tickets.  Our entry was for 1:00pm on December 25, 2012.

B I G  M I S T A K E !!!!!!

I am pretty sure this was the first time in our 8 years as a family that we were all on the same page.  Saying we were miserable is an understatement.

We arrived and parked at the garage nearest the ICE! exhibit.  As soon as we walked out of the garage we quickly spotted this HUGE line of people waiting to get in.  We didn't realize it, but ICE! on Christmas day didn't open until 1:00pm.  We also didn't realize it would be this popular.  Surely families would be at home enjoying their new toys and spending time together, and not taking up space at ICE!, right?  Nope!  That was not the case.

We get our place in line (at 12:45pm) and we are still in good spirits.  We make small talk with the people behind us.  Before we know it, the line starts moving.  It isn't until we turn the corner that we notice there are two lines going inside.  Chatter among the people in line begins on what each line means.  Some people say the lines are equal and other people are saying that one line is for the 1:00pm group and the other line is for the 1:30pm group.

This is where the confusion and chaos begin.  Once we make it inside, we are given wrong information by the attendants.  We wait in the line for those who have tickets and slowly make our way to the top of the line.  Only to find out we needed to stand in the much, much longer line to get to the box office to turn in our printouts and get different tickets.

At this point, there is wall to wall people in every which direction and no one in my family (me included!) is happy about standing in another line again (this one 4 times as long!).  By the time we make our way to the box office window, we've stripped the kids of a few of their layers so they wouldn't overheat.  We are dressed and ready for 9 degree weather!  However, where we are standing, plus the sheer number of people around us is making us quite warm. We are now getting grumpier and grumpier.   The box office lady tells us that our tickets she is handing us will be for the 3:00pm entrance.  I am not sure who yelled first, me or Jeff.  3:00pm was not going to fly!  It was now 1:49pm and we had been in multiple lines for an hour only to find out we weren't officially getting in until 3:00pm.   Not to mention the tickets I purchased were for 1:00pm.

After a heated discussion, the lady stationed next to the one helping us, said to give us the 3:00pm and to just go in now.  I said, as long as that works, we are fine with it.

At this point, we have to get back at the end of the line (the one we originally stood in) to hand in the tickets.  Jeff gets right behind this woman who keeps telling him she has a family of 10 coming in front of him.   Ugh.   Jeff is not getting it and the woman keeps saying it two more times.  Jeff is still standing there and not making way for this woman's 9 other family members.

I've had it and we are all frustrated.  I tell Jeff, Ian and Sam to follow me and I get out of the area we are standing in and walk to the front of the line.  I proceed to tell the woman collecting tickets, "I don't care who you have to talk to, but we demand to be let in right now.  We've already stood in this line once and we are not standing in it again."  Without hesitation, the woman lets us in.

Momentarily we get excited about being in.  We start to re-layer the kids (hats, gloves, sweaters, jackets) and make our way through another set of roped mazes.  We find ourselves in a holding room with at least a hundred other people, if not more.  This time we are made to listen to an employee tell jokes and introduce a film on how ICE! is made.  No one in my Toppall family is amused.  We keep all our layers on so we are ready to go the minute they let us in.

Finally, the film has come to an end and we are let inside the exhibit.  Not so fast, we now have to stand in another line of roped mazes to get to the parka area.  Even though we've come plenty prepared for the 9 degree temps, you have to take a coat with you.  This line moves at an excruciatingly slow pace.  Again, we delayer the kids so they don't overheat.

It has been over 1.5 hours of lines for something we thought we'd be able to walk right in on.   Ian is wearing a shirt, a wool sweater, his winter jacket, and the heavy-duty parka they hand you.  Sam refuses to put on their heavy-duty parka and we carry it for her.  As we are entering through the main exhibit doors (FINALLY!!!!), Ian is in tears crying and Sam is all shades of upset at still being there.   We find out Ian is crying because he is so hot.  I quickly take off his parka and hold on to it.  Both kids are miserable and frankly, so are Jeff and I after everything we'd been through to get to this point.  We.  Are.  Done.   We could've been walking into a room filled with unlimited, free candy all you could eat and I don't think this would've been worth the wait.

We all come to the same conclusion.  Let's get out of here.  We power walk through the ICE! exhibit to get to the exit.  Waiting in lines to get in = over 1.5 hours.  Walking through it as fast as we can to get out = less than 5 minutes.

Through some of those 5 minutes, Jeff is trying to point out to the kids some of the cool displays as we are flying by them.  No one cared.  No one wanted to stop for a closer look.  I have to say, I felt the same way as the kids.   The lack of signage, lack of organization on where to go, the wrong instructions on which line to get into, the overcrowding all for the same timed entry was hard to overcome. 

Once we finally made it back outside, Sam let out a big scream, "I DIDN'T LIKE THIS IDEA AT ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"   We all laughed and I told Sam, get it out.  Scream all you want.  Scream for all 4 of us. 

Sam upset with our ICE! experience. She is screaming and throwing Pinky around in protest.

Ian doing his best to give me his "upset" look for the camera. And, no, he is not cold. He is finally cooling down.

 I am not sure if we had walked right in, didn't encounter any lines, and it wasn't crowded if this would have made our experience better, but we will never find out.

We promised the kids we would never do that again.  Never.  Ever.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ice Skating

We tossed around a few ideas on what we wanted to do on Saturday.  We had the whole day free!  Ice skating won with the most votes.  Believe it or not, it was Jeff's idea to do this activity.

Jeff doesn't ice skate!   Sam's never been ice skating!  And Ian didn't want to ice skate!  Sounds like a winner to me, right?   I was in shock when Jeff suggested we go ice skating OUTDOORS at the Reston Town Center.  Um, hello!  It's in the 40's and very, very windy.  What about being outside was going to be a good idea for us to be ice skating?  I quickly rerouted us to the Fairfax Ice Arena, off of Pickett Street, which is fortunately indoors.

We all got ice skates on and made our way to the ice.  I was going to be the most steady on my feet, so I took on helping Sam.  Ian was in charge of helping Jeff.  Ian's big advice for Jeff was "Stay close to the wall and hang on."  Good advice if you ask me, considering that Ian was not going to be able to hold Jeff up on his own. 

Sam and I get on the ice first.  Right away, she starts slipping and freaks out. All I can make out in her high-pitched voice is "I don't like this at all".  Ian is quick to suggest that she gets off the ice and calls it a day.  I bend down to Sam's height and tell her I will not ever let go of her hand.  I also tell her she can put her other hand on the wall and hold on.  That seems to make her happy (well, as much as Sam can be when doing something terrifying and exciting all at the same time) and we are off to go around the rink.  When I take a look behind us, I see that Jeff and Ian have barely moved from the open entrance to the rink.  They are technically on the ice, but they are not skating.  I am not sure exactly what is going on there, but I know that Ian doesn't want to be there to begin with and Jeff is not a fan of ice skating.  They make a lovely, motivated couple. 

By the time we make it all the way around, Sam is loving ice skating and is starting to build up some confidence.  She still refuses to let go of my hand and the wall, but she has a smile on her face and is very happy to be doing this.  Meanwhile, Jeff and Ian have had enough and can't wait to tell us that they are done.  They are taking off their skates and turning them in. I'd say score one for Fairfax Ice Arena on this cost-to-skate return on their investment.

Sam and I continue to make our way around the rink, again and again.  She is doing really well, but every time she slips or falls, she is quick to scream at me, "LOOK AT WHAT YOU MADE ME DO!!!"   If I could've left her there on the ice, I would've.  I did nothing but offer her help and hold her hand.  The best was when she would get her balance back and start stomping her feet and screaming at me.  She was having a temper tantrum on ice. Actually, that would be a great musical "Temper Tantrum on Ice" coming soon to a theatre near you. Tonya Harding can play Sam.  :)

It was fabulous and there was no place I'd rather be  (said very sarcastically).  I kept offering Sam to take a little break to sit down for a minute or two.  She would then scream back, "NO, LET'S KEEP SKATING!!!!"

First moments on the ice.  Not entirely sure what to think.

She likes it!

Ohhh, she is so not happy!

We finally leave the side of the wall!

But then Sam slips and proceeds to yell at me and stomp her feet.

After skating continuously for a little more than an hour, we called it a day and turned in our skates.  I think I can wait more than a little while before trying this family outing again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A gift that makes you chuckle.

So The Man gave me a Christmas gift.  He handed me an 8x12 envelope as I was getting ready to leave on Friday.  The note on the outside of the envelope said, "Do Not Open Until Christmas"  and "OPEN THIS LAST!!!".   Plus, there was a "Happy N.Y."  which I took to mean Happy New Year.  I guess he forgot that I don't celebrate Christmas.  When I reminded him, he said, "Oh yeah, just open it later than."   I told him I'd wait until Christmas; as I am not opposed to getting a Christmas present.

However, curiosity got the better of me and with my Toppall team as the audience, I opened the envelope on Saturday morning.  This is what was in it.

Money, money, money!! 

As a family we counted it together.  So. Much.  Fun.  How could it not be fun counting money, not knowing exactly how much there was going to be?

$100.  All in ones.  How very him of him.  That's The Man.  And that's his very quirky sense of humor.  I was touched by his generous gesture and his ability to do this all on his own!  In just one week, I will have been working for The Man for a full year.  He never fails to amuse me.  And, he never fails to drive me crazy.

I wish everyone who celebrates a very magical and merry Christmas.  Have a great holiday and enjoy being with your family or friends if that's what the day has in store for you.  Or, enjoy the quiet time and take a nice, long nap if you are celebrating solo.  Or, if you can get the best of both worlds, say hi to the family and friends and then leave the room to take nap.  Might be a bit rude to fall asleep right in front of them.  Better leave something to mystery on where you disappeared to.  :)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Letting go" is NOT in my vocabulary

I've come to the realization that I can't let go.  I have certain expectations of how I like things to be, and when it doesn't go my way, I am pouting on the inside like a 2 year old.  I am not sure how to move beyond this, but it is wreaking havoc on my ability to be happy, the ability to be content with the way life can get all screwy, and generally the ability to go with the flow.

I find it best to not have any preconceived notions about anything. I try not to have a visual in my head of an experience that we are about to embark on, so I don't get disappointed.  This can be as simple as running into the grocery store to pick up a needed item for dinner to something big like seeing a live performance.  The problem is, I am a very optimistic person.  I look for the best in every situation and have high hopes that we will all have a grand time and the day will flow smoothly.   You can imagine that when reality slaps me in the face, I am probably disappointed and kicking & screaming on the inside more than the average person.

Ian has the kind of personality that he wants to please his father and me.  If he sees either of us getting the least bit critical or disappointed with his actions, Ian will quickly get in line and do his best to conform.  I know this isn't completely normal or healthy for him to be like, but G-d love him that he makes my life so much easier.

Sam, however, could care less about pleasing Jeff and me.  She has it set in her head how an event or situation will go down, and there is no changing that.  If she doesn't want to get in the car to head home after preschool, then she won't.  Plain and simple, she does what she wants to do.  No amount of reasoning or demanding a certain compliance from her is going to change her intent.  While I do my best to "manage" the moment and get on with our day as quickly as possible, it is usually near impossible.  By the time we (Sam and I) are back on the move, I am ridiculously mentally exhausted and feel like laying down on the ground in the fetal position or hiding under a rock.  Not possible for this mom who is needed and required to show up at about 10 different spots throughout the day.

I recently finished reading a book (fiction) about these two women; one was a writer and the other was a mom to a severely autistic child, who unfortunately died from a seizure.  The woman who was a writer was channeling the voice of the child who passed away.  She was writing the book in his voice -- considering he was non-verbal his whole life, finding out what he was thinking was a huge blessing for the mom.   The book was a bit slow-going and not something that I even recommend friends read, but was interesting to me.

Somehow, reading from the viewpoint of the autistic boy gave me greater understanding to Samantha.  Please don't get me wrong, in no way do I think Sam suffers from autism or anywhere on the spectrum. But, much of the rigidity in her actions and the ability to be flexible when she has it in her head to be anything but, rang all too true when getting a glimpse inside this boy's head in the book.

Fortunately, at some point Sam does stop the tantrum/meltdown; not as soon as I'd like, but eventually she does give up.  And, fortunately, Sam's outbursts are getting a little farther spaced apart.  And, an even bigger fortunately, she only acts like this for me and Jeff.  But, when the temper tantrums do come, its a doozy.

So, here I am at a crossroads.  I realize Sam is going to be like Sam.  There is no changing it any time soon and I just need to accept this is the way she is.   But, now I realize I have a very hard time letting go.  I need to be more flexible and not hold so strongly to my sky-is-blue-all-is-right-with-the-world vision I have most times.  In the end, I only get depressed and disappointed when it doesn't turn out. 

Case in point:  We were in Philadelphia two weekends ago.  We were able to complete the rest of the checklist of items I wanted the kids to see (Betsy Ross' House, Liberty Bell, and National Constitution Center).   At our last stop, I thought it would be nice to get a group picture of the whole family together.  Sam was stuck drawing on some little piece of paper she was carrying around and refused to look up to get the photo taken.  It really got to me.  I only needed her to look up for 5 seconds!  No amount of pleading was getting her to comply.  Meanwhile the rest of the family is getting very antsy and is losing patience.  Not to mention the nice worker taking the photo was more than ready to go back to his post.  I couldn't let this moment go!  I really wanted her to look up for the photo.  She refused.  It bothered me (and still does) so much more than it should have.  I know this.  Why can't I let it go!?!?!?

I am positively convinced we all would be looking up and smiling for the camera if Sam wasn't fixated on her drawing and I wasn't in the process of making a big deal out of it.

Here is our 2nd shot with me still trying to convince Sam to look up.

This is just one of many examples. I am already feeling very overwhelmed by the day to day, and this self-imposed added absurdity needs to stop.  We are not perfect.  We will never be. So what if she isn't looking at the camera, right?  This is who we are.  Why can't I go be okay with that!?!?!

This is my rant for the day.  More like beating myself up then having anything to do with Sam.  The incidence with Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT was a major wake-up call for me.  I am trying very hard to let the trivial things roll off my back, not need everything to be perfect and enjoy the moment more.  I know there are 26 families right now that would be absolutely fine with less than perfect. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Coming to a mailbox near you.

Our holiday card mailing list originally got its start as the invite list to our wedding.  It was an easy way to begin getting the addresses needed to send out our annual holiday card.  Jeff and I call it our "Master Address List" on the computer.  As we hear of friends or family that have moved throughout the year, we do our best to keep it updated.  And as we make new friends, we add their name/address to the list to have in the future.

Each year, I order 100 holiday cards and usually have a few left over as extras.  This year, however, the 100 I ordered didn't go nearly as far as I thought it would.  I guess our "Master address list" is in desperate need of cleaning out.  Jeff was helping me stick the labels on the envelopes and we kept asking each other who all these random people were.  I thought for sure they were friends of his and he was thinking the same thing about me.  Turns out, we had about 4 people's names/addresses we had no clue who they were.  And, the funny thing is, these people have been getting a holiday card from us for the past 8 years. 

We ended the evening in side-splitting laughter thinking about these people's reactions when they opened up a card from us (for almost a full decade) and they too, were wondering who we were.  I also put in a second order for more holiday cards.  Clearly 100 wasn't enough.  Even when we took off the relatives that are suffering from alzhemeirs, we still fell about 5 short. 

But, at least I'm getting better.  This year's holiday card is an appropriate size.  For some reason, I didn't fully see the dimensions of last years card when I ordered them and it turned out to be the size of a business card.  You know those cutesy kind that school age kids hand out in class for Valentine's day?  Yep, that was about the size of it.  I wasn't sure they were even going to pass postal standards because the address and stamp took up most of the envelope.  Hahahahaha.

Maybe next year, I'll have all my ducks in row and will have enough cards in the right size, to mail to everyone THAT WE KNOW!  That will surely be a Christmas miracle.  :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Homework :(

I hate homework.  There, I said it.  I don't let Ian and Sam use the word "hate", but I personally will in describing my disdain for the work given to kids to do at home.  I didn't enjoy homework when I was growing up and I certainly don't enjoy watching Ian have to do it.  

Ian spends more than enough time at school each day.  I don't understand why homework has to come home with him.  When you factor in religious school on Tuesdays (4:30pm to 6:15pm) and gymnastics on Mondays and Wednesdays (4:00pm to 6:00pm) fitting in homework becomes a burden.  We are not casually sitting around in the evenings wondering what we should do to fill our time.   By the time Ian gets home on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week, eats dinner, helps clear the table, and takes a shower, it barely gives him any downtime with Jeff before he has to be in bed at 8:15pm, let alone have time do his required nightly reading and other school work.

Ian is in 2nd grade -- does he really need 4 different things to do each school night (Reading, Math, word study for their spelling words, and a response question or drawing based on their reading)?  I am so over it.  To be honest, I was never in to it.  For anyone worried about me "projecting" my feelings onto Ian, don't worry, I put on an excellent game face.  As far as he's concerned, he thinks I think homework is the most important thing in the world.

Ian and I have mapped out a strategy.  Other than the 15 minutes of reading each night and the pre-test for his spelling words on Thursday evening, we try to get the rest of it all done while Sam is at her swim lesson on Monday afternoons.  So far, so good.  But I know this is not how the teacher intended for the home work to help reinforce what they are learning at school.

I'm not saying that I could ever, EVER home school my kids, but there is some appeal to the idea that home work wouldn't exist if I was their teacher.  Yes, I know, its a very scary thought that I could be Ian's sole teacher.  We will quickly abolish that idea and get on the home work bandwagon.

Monday, December 17, 2012

It was a Hanukkah bust!

I am happy Hanukkah is over.  I can wait a full year to see this holiday come again at our house. 

I've come to a few conclusions -

1. My kids honestly don't need a single thing.  They don't lack toys.  They don't lack electronics.  My kids are truly blessed with all they have. Having to come up with ideas for more gifts is a ridiculous challenge. 

2. My kids are unappreciative.   They don't know how to show gratitude.  I think you could even say they are spoiled.

3. Waiting until dinner is over, table is cleared, Menorah is lit to then open gifts is not a good strategy for Samantha.  It's been too long of a day for her and by 7:30pm (her usual bedtime) she is done.  Unfortunately, by the time the 7th night came, it was well beyond insulting how she handled opening gifts.

Basically, I gave all the really cool ideas for gifts to the grandparents and aunts/uncles to get the kids.  My dad, stepmother and sister Meghan bought us the new Wii U (THANK YOU!!!), Aunt Elaine and Uncle Howard got Ian the Ryan Zimmerman jersey he wanted and the Stompeez Sam desperately wanted.  All the relatives hit a major home run and the kids loved what they got.

But when it came to their mom and dad (ME!!!) getting them Hanukkah gifts, it was a complete bust.  Each evening, Sam would open her present and then promptly throw it at me, while screaming, "I DON'T WANT THIS!!!!!".  At which point, Jeff would pick her up and wisk her away to bed.  Ugh.  After a good night of sleep, she'd wake up the next morning and start playing/using what it was we got her, but leading up to this newfound joy for her gift was a complete nightmare.

Meanwhile, Ian had a more controlled reaction to his dislike for his gifts.  The night he opened his present to find this really cool book titled, "Best Moments In Sports History", he simply looked at me and said, "Mom, I'm not really into all sports -- just Baseball.  If this book said, "Best moments in Baseball history" it would be so much better.  Um, ok.  A big talk about being more appreciative and having an open mind soon followed that comment.

The next night Ian opened up a short sleeve/long sleeve Redskins shirt combo.  It can be worn three different ways (layered, long sleeve only, short sleeve only).  Ian opened it up and said, "Mom, I really didn't want clothes this year for Hanukkah."  Um, ok.  My response?  "Boy, are you going to be disappointed then when you open up the present with pajamas in it."  Ha! 

The icing on the cake came when Ian finally picked the package that had the remote control helicopter in it.  This was the one and only thing he had been asking us for months.  He got so excited when he saw it in the box and quickly opened it.  We soon found out that the model I picked was very high maintenance and required downloading a special app on the iPad, charging 2 different parts of the helicopter using the computer and figuring out the rest of the incomplete instructions on how to work it.  Ian's happiness quickly turned into disappointment.  Meanwhile Sam is throwing her outfit she got for the Bitty Baby at me and screaming, "I DIDN'T WANT THIS!!!!!".   Before I can answer Sam, Ian chimes in, "WELL AT LEAST YOURS WORKS!!!".   Lovely, right?

By the end of Hanukkah, we were down to the Washington Nationals Kepah for Ian and the matching American Girl doll/big girl outfits.  When I told my friend Jen how Hanukkah was going and what we had left as presents, she burst out laughing (and rightfully so!) on what Ian's reaction would be when he opened up the kepah.  Believe it or not, this turned out to be Ian's most favorite gift from us.  Go figure, right?

In any case, I am done.  So happy this holiday is over.  I'd much rather not spend a dime on gifts and put all the money towards a family experience/trip of some kind.  We plan to do Great Wolf Lodge again and kept some of the money we'd put towards the kids gifts to spend staying at the Water park.  Maybe next year, all of it goes towards that.  Or, you know, 8 nights of underwear.  :)

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I had a different post scheduled to publish today.  But right now, it seems awfully trivial and incredibly unimportant.  So I am writing something on the fly in the hopes it helps me a little come to terms with how horrific our world can be at times.

As a mom of two young kids, I can't even begin to imagine what these parents in Newtown, CT are going through.  20 kids, between the ages of 5 to 10 years old, gone.  It's beyond comprehension how someone can be so evil and take the lives of innocent children.  A senseless act of violence. 

You send your kids to school and think, they'll be safe there.  It's a place for them to learn and grow and socialize.  A place for them to be happy.  School shouldn't be a place you drop your kids off at and hope that you will see them again at the end of the day.  It shouldn't be a place that kids have to practice what it means to be in lockdown mode.  Or, a place where teachers are keeping one ear out in the hallway listening for gunshots. 

What has become of our world that mass shootings are starting to become all too frequent?  That some maniac is allowed to go into a mall, movie theatre, college, elementary school and take innocent lives?  It makes me want to stay in my house, with my two kids and husband and never, ever leave.  Is there really something out there that is more important than risking the lives of your children, yourself or your loved ones to do, see, or buy?  I don't think so.

It is breaking my heart that 28 families today in Newtown, CT lives are upside down.  A piece of them has died and will never come back.  My heart goes out for them.  I am having a hard time enjoying my simple day, going through the regular routine, knowing that theirs is anything but the ordinary day they thought they'd have.

It's just not right.  As a society we have to do something.  I know that gun control is the hot topic, but I feel like it isn't enough.  This lunatic got the guns from his mother.   Guns are still out there, and can be obtained illegally.  So what do we do? 

Last night, Sam was having a major meltdown leaving our friend's house.  Ian was invited to stay over for a sleepover as we were walking out the door.  Without hesitation, I said Ian could spend the night.  Sam screamed, at the top of her lungs, the entire way home.  Jeff said, when we get home, I'll put Sam down.  I said, please don't get upset with her.  I went into Sam's room, and just crawled in bed with her.  This is something I've never done before.  She instantly got quiet and looked at me and said, "How long are you going to stay here?".  I said, I didn't know.  After about 15 minutes, Sam was almost asleep.  I got into my own bed and started missing Ian something fierce.  Maybe I shouldn't have let him sleepover.  I just wanted him home, in his own bed.  Where I could check on my kids, every hour through the night and know that for one more day they are with me, where they should be.

It can be a cruel, cruel world out there.  Yesterday we were reminded just how cruel it can be.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hanukkah party time!

With Hanukkah upon us, it was time once again for the Family Hanukkah party.  This year (as with every alternating year), the party was at my mother-in-law's sister's house (Miriam) in Warrington, PA. 

I've resigned myself to being the family photographer and was ready with a fully charged battery in my camera to take pictures.  Unfortunately, due to a few unforeseen factors and some family members not feeling 100%, the big group family picture did not occur.  I didn't realize how disappointed I was over this until the party started winding down and people headed home.  I know this photo NEVER turns out as great as I would like it, but it still happens each year.   And let me tell you, this family Hanukkah party has been going on for decades.  That's a lot of group photos being taken over the years and a really cool visual of how the family is growing.   Given that I am one of the newer members to enter this family (9 years young in attendance), I didn't push the issue and simply said, "Next year for sure we will make the picture happen."

The gift exchange at the family Hanukkah party has evolved over the years.  It's gone from gifts being bought by everyone and given to everyone,  to names getting picked with each kid getting 2 presents from other relatives, and finally, the most recent evolution, putting the money you'd spend on gifts and donate to a worthy charity.  This current season the two matriarchs (Marcia - my MIL and Miriam) decided to do something different.  They took care of everything and surprised us with a White Elephant Gift Exchange.  We all gathered together and listened to Aunt Miriam explain the rules.  She would start at the person closest to her (SAM!) and hand a gift covered in a white bag to the person.  The next person after them, has the opportunity to steal the first person's gift if they so wish.  It continues this way until everyone has been given a gift and can decide to "steal" one they like better. 

The unique twist to this White Elephant gift exchange was that all the gifts were food items!  Only we didn't know that until the gifts started getting opened.  The food items were all a little over-the-top and quirky.  Not the typical things you'd buy yourself.  For example, a bulk size container of peanut butter filled pretzels.  Or, a gigantic container of cheese balls.  It was an eclectic mix of stuff you'd find at Costco or Trader Joes.

As Sam was the first to go, no one knew what to expect.  Sam opened her bag and discovered she was given 6 ginormous Hershey chocolate bars. You would think Sam was just given the keys to the city (or more appropriately for her world, keys to a Toys R Us.).  WOWEE!  The expression on her face was priceless.  Her eyes got as big as saucers and her smile went from ear to ear.  I am pretty certain there is not another item given to her that would've have this same effect.  It was like she had died and gone to chocolate Heaven.

Now, here's the thing, the person slated to go next, the one sitting next to Sam had the chance to steal this item.  Fortunately for Sam, this person was Jeff.  And he knew better than to touch the bars of gold firmly grasped in her hands.  Word quickly spread that if anyone in the room attempted to "steal" Sam's chocolate, they weren't going to succeed.  I made the comment that even if everyone ganged up as a group to go after the Hershey bars, I'd still place my money on Sam keeping the chocolate. :)

Sam's most excellent present.      

The White Elephant Gift Exchange gave the Hanukkah party a spark to it that it hadn't had before.  It brought everyone in to one room and we all were really interested to see what each person was going to open up and get. After each unwrapping, there would be a whole new round of laughter.  The only time someone exercised their right to "steal" was when they got the cheese balls.  Those poor cheese balls must've passed through about 6 different people's hands.  It was very funny to see who ended up with the cheese balls.

Ian was the first one to get the cheese balls. 

Joe was the lucky guy to take the cheese balls home.

I loved livening things up like this.  What fun!  I feel bad for those who weren't feeling their best, but the party this year rocked!  The latkes were yummy (and I appreciate the effort to make them gluten-free), both kids played dreidel with their cousins, and I got a chance to catch up with my wonderful family I don't see frequently enough.  The White Elephant Gift Exchange was the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's Hanukkah!

We are now in the process of celebrating that great holiday known as Hanukkah.  Really, is there any holiday more fun for Jewish kids?  Other than Purim, I think not!   But Hanukkah is a the big winner because you get presents...lots and lots of presents.  (Purim comes in a distant second because of this fact alone).

Ian came home last Monday letting me know that he was going to bring in a Menorah to class the next day.  We knew he was the only Jewish kid in his class, but I didn't realize that none of the kids had ever seen a Menorah or knew what Hanukkah was.  I asked Ian if he'd like some help explaining to the kids what the menorah is all about.  He said yes, and I emailed his teacher to find out how much information would be welcomed.

Next thing I knew, I was given 30 minutes to present "Hanukkah" to Ian's 2nd grade class this past Friday.  Oh my!  Talk about getting myself into something so much bigger than I wanted.  All week, Ian and I worked on what information we would share with his class.  I brought in little bags of gelt (chocolate coins) for each child to have (of course I made sure to get a few that were certified "nut free" for the inevitable nut allergy kids), got enough dreidels for each child and printed out the directions on how to the play the game.

Finding a book to read to the class proved a little more challenging.  There are a ton of books about Hanukkah out there, but none that really made me love it enough to want to read it to the class.  I found a couple to borrow from Sam's preschool.  Ian, unbeknownst to me, also was on the search for the perfect Hanukkah book and used his library time at school to find a book or two to use. 

Together, we had a presentation ready to go. Ian and I did a practice review on Thursday evening.  When it was over, Ian looked at me and said, "Mom, that was 8 minutes."   Uh-oh!  I figured that if we had time to fill, we could just break into games of dreidel. 

Come Friday, Sam and I walked into Ian's class.  After a brief intro on what Hanukkah means (Festival of Lights), why the holiday came to be (the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days instead of one) and how the holiday can move based on the lunar calendar, Ian took over.  And boy, did he!  He showed the examples (4 of them!) of menorahs we brought in.  He held up a driedel, explained all the letters and what they stood for and then slid right into reading the book.  Yep, that's right.  Ian read the book to the whole class and his teacher. After each page, he'd point out to everyone what the picture meant and show the various Jewish things the story was featuring. 

 Ian took command of the presentation and did a fantastic job.  I was so incredibly proud of him.  If Ian ever grows up and becomes the head of something very important, I can honestly say, I knew it was possible because of this afternoon in Ian's 2nd grade class. 

And, the whole time, my little Samantha stood right next to Ian's side.  Every time Ian said the word, "Shamash", Sam said, "that's the helper candle."   It was very cute and she loved getting to be a part of it.  After Ian was done speaking, I handed out the directions on how to play driedel, Sam handed out the gelt and Ian handed out the driedels.  It was pretty awesome. We (mostly Ian) filled the whole 30 minutes.

Ian says next year, we'll explain Rosh Hashanah to his class.  Um, yeah, I don't think so.  :) 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Heard and Observed #37

Sam has declared that she is no longer our "little" girl.  She is now our Medium girl.


I absolutely love the song by Train, "50 ways to say good-bye" and listen to it over and over again in the car.  It's all about a girl who dumps a guy.  He refuses to tell his friends that she left him and instead comes up with a lot of fun ways that she has died to explain her absence. For example, '...caught in a mudslide, eaten by a lion, ...fried getting sun tan, met a shark underwater, fell in a cement mixer full of quicksand..."

In the middle of the song, is this great verse:

"My pride still feels the sting
You were my everything
Someday I'll find a love likes yours
She'll think I'm Superman
Not Super Minivan
How could you leave on Yom Kippur?"

Whenever Sam hears this song playing, she'll ask me "Why did she leave him on Yom Kippur?"  It is very funny.


Sam helped out big-time cleaning out the shed and we told her she earned three dollars.  Jeff gave her dollar bills and Sam looked down and asked where the "3" was?  She wanted to make sure she got her $3 dollars.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Best. Day. Ever. !

Most weekdays I feel like a chicken with their head cut-off.  I am the "Time to make the donuts" man in the commercial.  I have to periodically look at my calendar hanging in the kitchen through out the day, to make sure I am where I need to be -- either picking up one of the kids, drop-off at a various after-school activity or any combination of things that need to happen on that specific day.

I am sure I spend more time in my car driving around than I do enjoying being at any given place.  That's just the way it goes and I am used to it.  I knew this school year would be a tough one.

Wednesday, November 20th stood out as an exceptional day.  Hands down this was the best day ever since the beginning of school.  It is hard to believe that it started off with a dentist appointment for each of the kids.

8:20am - Sam's dentist appointment

8:30am - Ian's dentist appointment

9:00am - Got Ian to school on time!  (Totally not expecting this to occur, as Ian's appointment was scheduled for 9:00am. They were able to get him in early!).

9:20am - Got Sam to school

9:45am to 11:30am - Worked for The Man

12:00pm - Early dismissal for Sam with the Thanksgiving holiday.

12:10pm - Went to lunch (at Einstein's Bagel) with Susanne/Ainsley, Anna/Ruby and Sam.

1:15pm - Arrived at Ruby's house to find out that Susanne was going to take the girls back to her house for an impromptu playdate.

1:40pm - Received a text from my friend Kelly asking if we'd like to meet at Sweet Frog (FroYo) after school.  Seriously? Could this day get any better!?!?! 

1:45pm - Pick Ian up from school (another early dismissal for the Thanksgiving holiday). 

2:00pm - Me and Ian met Kelly and her girls for frozen yogurt.

3:00pm - Took Ian to get a haircut.

4:15pm - Arrived at Sam's dance class -- met Sam there. :)

4:30pm to 5:00pm - Sam had dance class with her best buds.

6:00pm to 7:30pm - Went to Ledo's Pizza with Susanne and her kids, and Anna and her kids.  8 kids total, 3 moms....We are fearless like that.  Did I mention that Ledo's Pizza now has Gluten Free Pizza?  And it is super yummy!!

7:45pm - Arrive at Home.  Jeff puts the kids down.

Could this day have flowed any better?  I don't think so.  When I start to feel like I am getting overwhelmed needing to be in 3 places at once, I am going to think about this wonderful day and smile.

Sam was actually happy to be at the dentist!

Normally, it takes 3 technicians to hold Sam down while the dentist works as quickly as possible.  None of that was needed for this visit!  It was a beautiful thing how cooperative and happy Sam was during the whole visit.  Tears of joy were brought to my eyes.  Started the day off on a wonderful note.

Ian was a gem too!  We weren't the 'challenging' patients today!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Shout out time!

I'd like to dedicate this space to Ellen  She is my 2nd cousin, once removed (?) or something like that.  However the relation, she is family.

Ellen surprised me one day, not too long ago and sent a little treat in the mail.  Actually, this is the 2nd time Ellen surprised me by sending me an unexpected package.  The first was when she received an extra copy of Elizabeth Hasselbeck's Gluten Free cookbook and thought of me.  I know Ellen more from her Facebook posts than anything else and was tickled pink that she went to the trouble to mail me the cookbook.  It was a very sweet gesture.

But that's not all and this latest surprise in the mail from Ellen has been a real treat -- both for me and for Ian.  Ellen had read on my blog about putting notes in Ian's lunch and encouraged me to never stop.  She wrote and said that even though her kids are teenagers, she is still writing notes and leaving it for them to find.  In the envelope sent to me were a package of printed lunch box notes.  And not just mushy "I love you notes" (like the kind I was writing and embarrassing Ian with), but really, really cool ones. There were 25 of these notes in various colors.

On one side of the card is a sweet note: "Thanks for being honest", "Your smile brightens my day", "I love your creativity", "Your thoughts and opinions matter to me.", "Treat people the way you want to be treated", etc.

Then, on the other side of the card is a fun trivia fact:  "Did you know?  It is believed that a snail can sleep for up to 3 years."  "Did you know?  Just like finger prints, each person has a unique tongue print."  "Did you know?  That girls blink nearly twice as often as boys."  "Did you know?  To escape the grip of a crocodile's jaws, push your thumb into its eyeballs.", etc.

Without letting Ian know I had a new supply of lunch box notes, I put one in his lunch.  I picked this one.  "My favorite job is taking care of you."  And on the other side, "Did you know?  Wrigley Field did not have lights until 1988."

After school, Ian ran into the house and asked, "IS THAT TRUE!?!?!  You know about Wrigley Field?" 

Me:  Oh, Ian.... you saw the note I put in your lunch?

Ian:  Yes, I LOVED IT!  You can do that again.  Like every day.  That was cool.

A big hug and kiss to Ellen.  Your kindness is very much appreciated.  I know that you've been spending many, many hours volunteering to help the people affected by Hurricane Sandy get back on their feet.  The state of New Jersey is very lucky to have you on their side.

It was incredibly sweet of you to think of me and send these notes our way.  Ian and I thank you very much!  I am a big believer in karma and I know something amazing is going to happen for all the good you do and continue to do.  You rock!