Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of the year wrap-up: 2013 Edition

Another 365 days have come and gone. I blink and there goes another year. 

It's time now for the 2013 wrap-up.

Travel in 2013:

January - Orlando with Ian

February - Orlando*

March - Orlando with Sam

April - Great Wolf Lodge with the whole family

June - A week at the beach in Emerald Isle, NC (me and the kids)

July - Kids at Jeff's parents for 3 days.

July - Cherry Hill, NJ to see relatives with the whole family

July - Girls weekend to Solomon's Island*

July - Kids in Orlando for 11 days, I was there for 5 of the days.

July - Annapolis (Robyn and Jeff)

August - Philadelphia (me and the kids)

September - Orlando for Lori's baby shower*

September - Hershey, PA with the whole family

October - Girl's weekend to Berkeley Springs, WVA*

November - Orlando with Sam

November - Kids at Jeff's parents for the night

December - Orlando with the whole family

*Represents trips taken solo

As I write this, I am feeling hopeful and inspired.  We've been making some progress with Sam's explosive behavior.  I am not sure if its because she is in play therapy once a week or if she is just getting older. Don't get me wrong though, she can still be very demanding and whiny.  The whining is the kind of noise that is akin to nails scratching down a blackboard or a cat being tortured.  She is doing great in school and willingly goes each morning. Whew! Believe me, I know this could've been a major battle if she decided she didn't want to be there. However, she lets everyone know school is not her most favorite place to be.  The only thing she likes about her time there is when its time to go home.  I still wait for that little light bulb that will go off over head when she realizes a trip to the school nurse will get her an early dismissal.   There are so many instances when the sweet and loving Sam comes shining through.  When she sees you get hurt and starts kissing your boo-boo.  Or, when she wants to help in the kitchen cooking dinner, raking leaves outside, or snuggle with you on the couch.  Those are the moments that you savor and wish would never end.  It's just so hard the other times when she is incredibly tempermental and not getting her way.

Samantha has this quirky, colorful, fun-loving sense-of-style.  She will put these outfit combinations together that in a million years I would never think of.  Somehow it works on her.  Think Punky Brewster with this killer instinct to layer items.  I've long given up telling her no that doesn't match.   Sam knows what she wants to wear every day.  She'll ask me what the temperature is going to be and then she goes to work.  It mostly drives me crazy, but I do my best to pick my battles.  I am ready to pull my hair out when she throws a fit yelling "There is NOTHING I want to wear in my closet."  And when I suggest 2 or 3 outfits that she refuses to consider, it only gets more frustrating for the both of us.  Sometimes out of the blue Sam will say she only wants to wear something 'basic'.  HUH??  Who knew Sam even knew the word 'basic'?  Apparently the word basic means sweat pants.  Um, yeah!  Sam would never have been ok with sweat pants before.  I swear she makes this stuff up to push my buttons.  And usually within the hour she is ready to completely change her look once or twice right before we have to leave.

Ian continues to be my rockstar.  It's hard to not compare the kids' dispositions.  Ian is so easy-going and eager to please.  We've gotten into a good groove this year with homework for him. It is so nice that Ian mostly does it all on his own.  Jeff and I will check it, but Ian doesn't need the hand holding that used to occur in 2nd grade.  He enjoys all his creative writing assignments and does a most excellent job of incorporating humor and a unique twist in his stories.  They are so entertaining to read. 

This year Ian has started to do more things around the house.  Beyond giving the bathrooms a light cleaning each Saturday, he nows makes his lunch for school, and gets all his own snacks.  He is a huge help with his sister and usually is at her beck and call.  Ian loves getting to stay home by himself when he doesn't want to come to his sister's activities or run errands with me.  It is a wonderful option to let him have this independence.  He feels so grown-up getting to be at home and to be honest, I move faster with only one child.

I was very fortunate this year to travel to Orlando as much as I had.  I actually didn't realize that I made it down there 7 times in 12 months until I wrote it in the list above.  Yowzer!  I am pretty sure I've never gone that many times in one year since I moved up here over 20 years ago.  I am so happy I was able to.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  I miss the family when I am not there and want to spend as much time with them as possible.  I had made it a goal from the year before that I wanted to take 3 trips down to FL during the school year; one by myself for a long weekend, and one long weekend with each of the kids on their own.  I was able to pull this off and it worked out splendidly.  The relatives loved having the one-on-one time and each of the kids did stuff they would love to do without worrying about their sibling enjoying it as well.  Astranaut training was the highlight of Ian's weekend and getting made up like a princess at Disney was Samantha's. 

In 2013 I proved to myself I am not human when it comes to scheduling.  My 4 jobs (preschool, The Crazy Man, and billing for two separate clients) are fitting in nicely with my Mommy life and being there for the kids.  So many family and friends have said I was ridiculous for taking all this on, but I have to admit it has worked out nicely.

I had such dispair over my weight last year at this time.  It was depressing thinking about my situation.  In May I managed to start getting control back and rejoined Weight Watchers.  I think this is like my 10th time back.  I am happy to say I've steadily lost 30 pounds before I hit a plateau. I've become a bit discouraged and gained a little back, but I am very determined to keep moving in the right direction.  This is always going to be a HUGE struggle.  So. Not. Fun.  Even when was I losing and getting great weigh-in numbers, I'd freak out a little on the inside waiting for it to not be a "good week".  In the morning I wake-up and wonder, has the weight I lost found me again?  I can't rest easy either way.  I have been enjoying my closet and getting to wear some of the smaller sizes that hadn't seen the light of day in sometime.  That is always nice when I can change up my wardrobe and not have to go shopping to do it.  :)

One of the nicer things that has happened in 2013 is my ability to get back to the gym.  I've consistently gone each weekday morning and get back home before Jeff leaves the house at 7:00am.  I am thrilled I've been keeping this schedule up for the better part of the year.  Yay me!  And another acheivement I am proud of is my ability to 'let go'.  Jeff has taken on grocery shopping each week.  It is one less thing for me to do.  I make out the grocery list for our week and Jeff does a wonderful job getting everything.  Sometimes I have to look at the groceries getting unloaded with one eye closed, but Jeff has learned quite a bit over the year about checking expiration dates and the correct quantities on items we will realistically consume.

Jeff, without writing too much about him and pisssing him off, is an incredible husband and father.  He works very hard to take care of us and make sure we are happy.  This past year Jeff was put on a client that is based in Pennsylvania.  It requires him to travel periodically for work and be gone anywhere from 1 to 3 nights some weeks.  The kids and I do great when Jeff is away, but we do love having him home with us.  Due to a costly repair not making sense to do on his Nissan Sentra, Jeff finally got a new car during 2013. I am so excited for him.  It was bound to happen eventually and the timing was just near perfect.  We made our last preschool payment in May.  The new car was obtained at the end of May and payments began at the begining of July. 

Looking forward to 2014:

Every now and then I have a moment when I feel like I'm doing an ok job with this mothering thing.  In 2013, I had more than a few.  For that I am grateful.  I hope this continues into 2014.  I was able to let some things go and will do my best to live in the moment.  For example, I used to try very hard to publish something in this blog every other day, like clockwork.  I've managed to drop that self-imposed pressure and be okay with only writing when I truly feel I have the time do so. 

My big thing in 2014 is I am not going to rush.  This must be Jeff's biggest pet peeve about me.  He will see me do everything but get ready, or but start dinner, or but help the kids and then when I do get to it, I rush, rush, rush to catch-up those 10 minutes I should've started that task sooner.  Jeff doesn't know this, but it does drive me crazy to feel like I have no time do the one thing I need to do. So if possible I am going to not get as distracted and slow down. Take time to breathe and put more time and myself in whatever the most important thing is that needs to have my attention. 

I've been trying to do more random acts of kindness and will continue to keep this up in the coming year.  It makes me feel good and I hope I am making a small difference (for the better) in someone's life.

We've had some very fun adventures traveling this past year.  I would love to continue exploring new places and creating lots of memories being together.  I've given up on doing a family trip to the beach over the Summer.  This just isn't going to happen anytime soon.  I am coming to terms with that.  I think the most I can hope for is that we continue to do a few weekend trips here and there. 

Another lofty goal I have is to redo our family room. I would love to get new furniture, paint, put in recessed lighting and update the tv in this room.  Jeff and I are slowly doing things around the house, (either cosmetic or home maintenance) and this room is my next big target.  After 9 years of living here, it was bound to happen, right?

A New Year's Wish:

Happy 2014 to each and everyone of you reading this.  Thank you for continuing to be a source of support, encouragement and friendship.

I hope that you find ways to be good to yourself and not feel guilt when taking a 2nd piece of cake or spending an extra five minutes reading the newspaper.  I hope that we all find humor and love and kindness in each day.   May 2014 be our best year ever.  I love you!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Meeting Rachel

My first attempt at meeting my new niece didn't go so well.  Sam and I flew to Orlando a good week after my sister's due date and she hadn't had the baby yet.  And despite being admitted to the hospital to be induced while Sam and I were still in town didn't produce the desired results either.  We flew back to NoVa on November 11th and Lori had the baby on the afternoon of the 13th. 

It was a long 5 weeks until I was back in Florida and could meet my niece.  We had skyped a bunch during the separation, but it wasn't the same.  Oh how I wanted to see her up close and get to hold her.  Finally, Saturday, December 21st arrived and it was time.  Rachel was worth the wait.  She is gorgeous!  Rachel is laid back, easy going and very content to let you hold her.  In fact, as long as she is in your arms, she is one happy little girl and stares at you endlessly, memorizing your face. 

To Lori and Ben's credit they are the not the typical first time parents.  They are very cool about Ian and Sam being near Rachel and will let her hold her without them holding their breath watching with worry.  I am impressed!

It was love at first sight for all of us.  Simply put, she is yummy.  You can't help but want to hold her and not put her down, like ever.  The kids and I can't get enough of her.  It is already hard for me to be living away from the family, it is going to be even harder being away from Rachel.  Babies grow and change so quickly.  I am going to have to make sure I have lots of trips to Orlando planned.

Lori and Ben planned the Baby Naming (Jewish ceremony where the baby is given their Hebrew name) for when we were going to be in town.  It was a beautiful party.

Lori and Ben gave the grandparents and Aunts a part in the ceremony.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pancakes for all!

Dad and Rita took us to a very fun place for breakfast on Sunday morning, The Old Spanish Sugar Mill and Griddle House, located in the DeLeon Springs State Park.  Similar to a Japanese Steakhouse, there is a griddle on the middle of the table and you are seated around it.  Each table is given two kinds of pancake batter (one is whole grain, the other is regular) and you can order whatever kind of toppings you'd like.  Choices included:  bananas, apples, pecans, chocolate chips, peanut butter, blueberries, etc.  Also, you can order eggs, french toast, sausage, and bacon.  You make your own breakfast!!  Other than the meat, which is cooked in the kitchen, all food is made by you right at your table.  This was so cool!

Apparently this restaurant has been around forever.  I can't believe I've never been before.*  (*According to both my mom and dad, I had been there many years ago.) To my delight, they had a Gluten-Free pancake batter.  I made the most delicious peanut butter, banana, chocolate chip pancakes.  Yum!!

The restaurant is wildly popular.  It takes a little less than an hour to get there.  My dad said he wouldn't be surprised if there was an hour or two wait for a table when we arrived. Since you can't make a reservation, my dad suggested we have a light breakfast before we get there in case we had a long wait.  Jeff took this advice to heart.  He had not only one bagel to tide him over, he a second bagel with lox.  Yes, Jeff had two bagels before arriving at The Old Spanish Sugar Mill.  We arrived at 8:50am and was seated at a table by 9:05am.  There was practically no wait at all.  And Jeff had two bagels!  By 10:00am Jeff had eaten 3 breakfasts.  :)

I love, love, love this place.

Taking pictures on the way there.  We drove there in style -- The Motorhome!

Ian having fun while waiting for our names to be called.

Sam had a little pancake with her chocolate chips.

After breakfast, we got tickets for the boat ride and took an hour trip down Lake Woodruff to check out the wildlife.  We saw a few alligators, a manatee, some cranes and other birds.  It was a beautiful day! 

How nice we were the only ones on this boat trip.  What fun!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Florida bound

We made the decision to drive down to Florida for the kids' Winter break from school.  It made too much sense to not load up the car and do the drive down I-95; Jeff had a bunch of vacation time he needed to use, the kids had two whole weeks off from school and we had a very important new addition to the family we had to meet.  Plane tickets were expensive and since Jeff was coming with us, driving was a no-brainer.

The trip by car is approx. 13 hours, this includes a stop or two for gas, bathroom and a meal in a sit-down restaurant.  I was opting to do the drive straight-thru the night.  My hope is the kids will sleep a good amount of the time and we could enjoy a peaceful drive.  Jeff, never having done a drive this long with the kids before, was instantly a little freaked out by the distance we'd need to cover.  He wanted to split the drive over the course of 2 days and spend the night somewhere in the middle.  Furthermore, Jeff's plan was to find somewhere kid-friendly to spend the remainder of day 1 and let the kids play at Chuck E Cheese, Bounce House, or somewhere similar to let the kids get their excess energy out.  Oy!

Jeff takes time to warm up to an idea.  Soon his idea of doing the drive to FL over two days changed to "Let's start the drive at 5:00am on Saturday morning and drive straight-thru". However, just one day prior to us leaving, Jeff comes to the conclusion he is ok with driving at night.  We can leave around 7:30pm and get to Orlando by 8:30am the next morning.  We'll get the kids in their pajamas, bring pillows and blankets and hope the kids sleep in the car.  Sounds good to me!

The plan worked for the most part.  One big exception; Jeff was tired and couldn't stay awake.  Ironically, before leaving on our trip, Jeff was really concerned that I wouldn't be help at all with the driving.  He thought I would be too beat from my day. I guess one of us was, but it wasn't me.

From 8:00pm to 1:30am I drove and got us to South of the Border.  We stopped to get gas, Jeff and I needed to go to the bathroom and we switched drivers.  From 1:30am to 3:30am, Jeff drove.  I could tell he was struggling with staying awake and pleaded with him to let me get back behind the wheel.  From 3:30am to 6:00am I drove again.  At 6:00am, once Jeff woke up from his very long nap and it was daylight, he was ready to go again and drove for the next hour.  Our plan was to keep going until Sam woke up and then stop for breakfast. At 7:00am, Sam woke-up and we went to the nearest Denny's.  The kids changed into regular clothes in the car and a hot breakfast was very much desired by all of us. 

Jeff finished the drive (only 1.5 hours to go) to my dad and Rita's house.  We started the drive at 8:00pm and at 9:10am, we pulled into their driveway.  Yay!

Ian was a road warrior!  He fell asleep at 10:00pm, woke up at 1:30am.  He fell back asleep at 2:15am, woke up at 4:00am and was awake the rest of the trip.  He never asked for a single thing (no snacks and never needed to go to the bathroom).  He was happy reading on his iPad and letting the miles pass us by.

Sam had many issues.  At first she couldn't get comfortable.  No matter what we did with the pillow, she wasn't happy.  It took her quite a bit of time to fall asleep. She was asleep from 10:30pm to 1:30am.  At 3:00am, she was awake for a good stretch of time and asked for a Fiber One bar to eat.  She then started whining she needed to adjust her pull-up (we convinced her it was important to put one on in the car).  She fell asleep at 4:00am still whining and slept till 7:00am.  As soon as she was awake she picked up where she left off and yelled at us, "I TOLD YOU I HAVE TO ADJUST MY PULL-UP!!!".  This was all needed to know it was time to stop for breakfast. 

At one point when the whining was in full bloom from Sam, Jeff declared for the drive home we will do it in 2 days.  He was a not happy camper.  I am not sure where he stands on this new plan. I am leaving the decision up to him.  We have plenty of time and don't need to rush back home.  But if it was up to me, there is nothing like doing it at night and getting it over with.

Jeff was convinced if I took out my camera everyone
would wake-up when the flash went off.  Ha! 

If I have a camera and stuck in a car for 12 hours, you better believe I am going to use it. 

It didn't matter that all passengers had a pillow to use.  They ended up not using them.  :)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Book club love

Every now and then a moment comes along that lets you know you have some pretty darn amazing friends.  Friends who value your friendship as much as you do theirs.  Friends who become like a second family when none of yours live within the same state.

I am crazy in love with my friends.  I've been blessed with more friends than a reasonable person should have, but there's no stopping me.  Each friendship is very special and very important to me. I was reminded yet again how wonderful a group of my friends are earlier this month.

I had dropped out of book club over a year ago.  While I love to read and enjoy talking about the books (especially the good ones), it was becoming one more thing in my busy life.  When I stopped looking forward to the meetings each month, I knew I needed to make some changes.  Replies to my farewell "I'm dropping out" email made me feel good and I knew I'd always be welcomed back should I ever need a book club fix.  This month book club was meeting at a house not too far from where I live.  I long lost track of the schedule and had no idea who was hosting when.  Early Monday morning I received a text from the person hosting letting me know that book club was that night at her house, up the street.  She was inviting me to come by.  A few hours later, I met up with another friend for lunch with our kids and she encouraged me to come to book club that night.  Both friends followed up later in the day with another round of text messages continuing to let me know I should come.  And lastly, as I walking in the door of the house where book club was, a third friend was calling me on my cell phone.  She was telling me that book club was just up the street and she was picking me up to go with her.  She wasn't taking no for answer.  Ha!  Wow, can you just feel the love?  Because I can.

I was so touched by all this.  It made an ordinary day become extraordinary.  And after 2 full days stuck indoors with the kids because of the weather, a girls night was just what the doctor ordered. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

'Tis the season to party

Jeff's company holiday party was a week ago.  It was at Art and Soul in the Capital Hill area of Washington D.C.   Art and Soul is owned by the guy who used to be Oprah's chef.  So I guess in some weird way I am now a few degrees from being friends with Oprah.  Not like BFFs or anything, but should the opportunity to have a conversation with Oprah arise,  I can now tell her I went a party at this guy's restaurant.  Sounds very important of me, doesn't it?  :)

It's been 20 years since I've graduated college.  That's a lot of showing up at company holiday parties under my belt.  I can honestly say this one for Jeff's company this past week was one of the best ones I've ever been to.  If I was in charge of throwing a company party, this is exactly what I would've done.  From start to finish it was amazing.  It didn't matter I didn't know anyone beyond a brief introduction to a few of his team members maybe a few months ago or another holiday party.  And it didn't matter that Jeff knew a very small percentage of those attending the party.  We had a GREAT time!

There was a big outside patio area with heat lamps and an awesome fire pit.  Plenty of seating and tables were scattered about.  Next to the fire pit was a bartender making spiked Hot Chocolates from the Hot Chocolate Bar.  Can you say "YUM-O!"?  Because I can...twice!  My first combination was A Milk Hot Chocolate with Baileys.  The second one I had was a Dark Hot Chocolate (made with cayenne, cinnamon, and vanilla) flavored with Amaretto, whip cream and chocolate shavings.  Now, we're talking!
Inside the restaurant's main room was a DJ playing dance music that got you moving.  A lot of the company's employees are on the young side and it was fun watching them get a little crazy.  There is nothing that makes you feel older than seeing several twenty-year-olds jumping around in 5 inch heels. 

Another room had a casino with a black jack, roulette and craps table.  Upon entering the party, we were each given $25,000 in funny money to play with.  Too bad it wasn't real, because in under 10 minutes, I took the $25,00 and turned it into $80,000.  Gosh I love to gamble!

The food was incredibly tasty. I love risotto and there were 3 different kinds.  There was also a bunch of other foods offered as well, but honestly the risotto had me at hello.  I will have to ask Oprah (you know the next time we hang out) if she likes the risotto too.  :)

There were two bars on the inside of the restaurant. We were given raffle tickets as soon as we entered and could pick various items to win.  The choices were an iPad, Zoo Lights Ticket Package, and a gift card to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.  Obviously Jeff and I didn't win or else I would've been leading with this bit of news from the beginning.

Who doesn't love getting their picture taken? There was also a photo booth.  It was a higher tech version than the ones you've seen before at parties.  You had the option to instantly view your photos, pick a filter (b/w, color, sepia, etc), and add effects.  You could email it, post on Facebook, print it out or a combination of any of the above.  As Jeff and I were approaching the photo booth, I asked this couple if they were in line to get their picture taken and they said yes.  I wanted Jeff and I to go next and walked right up to the couple and stood directly behind them - in between the man and the woman.  The woman then turned towards me and asked if I'd get out of their picture.  WHAT!?!?!  I had no idea that where they were standing was where you got the picture taken.  Oh my!  I giggled an apology and quickly moved to the side.  The couple gets their picture taken and moves towards the screen to finalize it when they decide they want a retake.  I didn't know that they weren't happy with their picture (it looked great to me!) and I had already moved front and center to the spot they had been standing in when posing for the camera.  Now the lady needs to ask me again to get out of her picture retake.  Oops!  I joked, "What, you don't want me in this shot either?"  Oh my!  What a fool I felt like. 

Jeff and I chose to get this in black and white.  Love this picture.

I am usually ready to leave any social event of any kind within 45 minutes of arriving.  It doesn't matter how much fun it looks like I am having,  I am ready to go and move on to the next thing.  This party had my attention and kept me entertained and engaged for three hours.  Hard to believe, but it did!  Jeff and I had a fabulous time.  I can honestly say I look forward to his next company holiday party.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Maximum Isolation

For one entire week our house was without tv, Internet and the landline phone. To make matters worse my cell phone reception is very spotty in the house.  It can really only be used by standing in the open doorway with your arm up in the air.  Not fun.  And not conducive to anything more than the most important and briefest of conversations. 

We lost electricity for a few hours on Monday morning.  When the power came back on, everything was working fine.  It was not until 5:00pm that night that we were in trouble.  Big Trouble with a capital "T".  After troubleshooting with Verizon and finding out that it would require a service call, we were told the earliest they would be able to come was Saturday.  WHAT!?!?!  Apparently we weren't in enough of a need to expedite a faster visit.  If you ask me, I thought we were in plenty of need.  But I guess our lack of life-support medical issues didn't constitute an emergency.  I get that.  And yes, it put it all in perspective.  But really, this 42 year old mom needs her tv.  She needs her Internet.  And she most certainly needs her phone.  As far as I was concerned, Verizon could have our electricity too.  What good was it if we couldn't connect to the outside world?

Can you imagine?  It wasn't pretty.  Quite ugly in fact.  Funny things happen when you can't be connected 24/7. Without "The Today Show" playing in the kitchen during my mornings, I lost all track of which day it was.  I put the trash out on the wrong day.  I had no idea what was happening in the world.  The only way I knew there was a two hour delay for school on Wednesday was because I got a text message from Fairfax County Public Schools.

I usually have the tvs on as background noise.  The silence was driving me crazy.  Coming home to a quiet house while the kids were in school was hard to take. 

Not a good combo - TV not working and a beautiful fire blazing in the fire place.

It seemed like I was the only one in my Toppall house that had an issue with the lack of Fios.  Jeff was gone at work at all day and had very little down time at home when he'd be watching tv.  The kids didn't complain at all that they couldn't watch tv.  Not one word was uttered from them during the whole entire week.  In fact, towards the end of the week they didn't even go downstairs to where the main tv is located.  The kids were very content to hang out in our living room reading and drawing/creating crafts.  How old school.  It was a bit refreshing to find out that Ian and Sam can easily take it or leave it, especially since we don't give any kind of limits on screen time.  But the person writing this blog was going through withdrawal.  Big-time!  I was waking up in the middle of the night with the shakes.  I had this list of everything I wanted to do as soon as I could connect again (pay bills, rsvp to evites, put a vacation hold on mail and newspaper, etc).  I didn't feel like myself.  It was like a part of me was missing.  I started sleeping with my cell phone on my nightstand, even thought I didn't have a chance of getting a signal.  Each day I would randomly turn on the tv and see if this bad nightmare had somehow resolved itself.  After 2 minutes, I'd be depressed all over again.

To help my situation, I did get a bit resourceful.  One night I went to Starbucks to use the Internet.  On Friday morning, I streamed the previous night's episode of "Parenthood" while working out at the gym.  That definitely helped me get my day off to the right start.   Overall the situation wasn't pretty.  I felt like we were living in 1985 and everyone else was in 2013.

Finally Saturday arrived and I knew I would make it.  Within 10 minutes of the Verizon guy walking in our house, our tv, Internet and phone were back up and running.  I ran around to each room and turned every tv on.  It was glorious hearing all the tvs working.  I picked up our phone and heard a dial tone while loading an Internet page on my iPad.  It was a beautiful thing to be connected again.

**Please take this blog entry for what it is -- a joke. While it was very challenging to not have tv, Internet or phone, I am fully aware that there are much bigger problems people face every day that don't go away as easily as service call from the Verizon tech.  I do have perspective and know how fortunate we were to have electricity during this Fios outage.  To have a roof over our heads and food on the table are the crucial things.  I get that.  :)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Snow day

Last week we had a few days of bad weather that kept the kids out of school.  We got approximately 3 (?) inches of snow.  It's been our most significant snowfall in some time.  Jeff got the kids sleds two Winters ago and so far they hadn't had a chance to use them.  Ian and Sam were very happy to see the snow fall and even happier that school had been cancelled.  From Monday to Wednesday morning (which resulted in a 2 hour delay) it was me and the kids 24/7.  Jeff made it to work each day without any problems.

On Tuesday, once the roads were clear and drivable, I packed up the sleds and kids.  We made our way to this really cool hill at a local middle school.  When we first arrived the ground had a nice covering of snow. By the end of our time sledding, the kids were a bit of a muddy mess.  The temps started rising and everything was melting quickly.

Ian and Sam had so much fun!  

I had visions of having to trail behind Sam and carry her sled back up the hill each time she went down.  Not once did this have to happen.  She not only carried her sled back up, but she ran doing it each time too.  It was so great only being the photographer.  For over 1.5 hours, the kids were on a continual loop going again and again and again.

Ian and Sam can't wait for the opportunity to go sledding again.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Prime time!

I've been a huge fan of Amazon since the website was only selling books.  Remember those days?  Now that Amazon has expanded their store, it is my first stop for all things you buy online.  They have wonderful customer service, very competitive pricing and fantastic return policy.  Plus, you can shop while wearing your pajamas.  What's not to love?

I knew about Amazon Prime but never felt the need to spend the $80 annual fee for the privilege of what it can do for you.  Mind you, I never did pay for shipping to begin with.  I always easily had $25 in products I wanted to order (or could add to it with things I was bound to get anyway) and that alone gave me free shipping.  And I never really needed my stuff to arrive within 48 hours.  I felt like the regular shipping speed was plenty fast enough. 

About 6 weeks ago, I was finalizing a purchase on Amazon and somehow I inadvertently ended up with the free 30 day trial to try Amazon Prime.  I still don't know how this happened, because many, many times before when I was offered it upon checkout, I could decline and it was never an issue.  Looking back, I am pretty sure that I was snookered into the trial.  I don't think Amazon was going to let me continue being a loyal customer without trying Prime.  Whatever the case, I let it slide and decided to see what the hoopla was all about.  I think just about every friend I have uses Amazon Prime and raves about it.

Can I say that Amazon is a genius?  They certainly got me to change my mind.  In those 30 days of using the trial for Prime, I've become addicted.  I took my completely adequate amount of shopping on Amazon to crazy new heights.  Yowzer!  I can't stop!!!  After only one week, I told Jeff when the charge for Amazon Prime hits our credit card at the end of the month, its ok and totally worth it.  I can't stop ordering things!

Example - Ian comes in to our room one night and says he would like some slippers.  Before he could turn around and leave the room, I had them picked out and ordered.  You want slippers?  Bam!  You got slippers!  They'll be here in 2 days!!

Jeff's cell phone case broke.  You want a new cell phone case?  Bam!  You got a new one!  It will be here in 2 days!!

I was raking leaves one Saturday afternoon and ran out of leaf bags.  I need more leaf bags?  Bam!  I got more leaf bags!  They'll be here in 2 days!!  Oh, and while I was on the website, I couldn't help but also get some awesome gadgets to help with raking.  Because you know, they were in the same listing as the leaf bags.  Like I said, Amazon is brilliant!

This is just the beginning.  I am very embarrassed to let you know the full extent of everything I am ordering.  It is going to have to stay on the down-low between me and my delivery man. 

Amazon knew what they were doing when they made me sign up for the 30 day trial.  Oh yeah!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sam can read. She could even read this. Or that.

Sam is very eager to learn to read. She is desperate to catch-up to what Ian can do.  She wants to be just like him.  Sam's kindergarten class has a goal of each child learning 100 sight words by the end of the year.  We are currently somewhere in the 40's of the number of words she knows. 

Beyond the sight words the school sends home, we've been working with Sam with beginning to read books and playing fun sight word games.  It is so exciting when she gets it. I am loving this time with her when it doesn't involve pulling my hair out to get her to do something.  It's actually pretty awesome sitting down with her and working on her reading. 

The other day I pulled out the first book in the series of "I can read" books we got her.  It is 11 pages long and each page has one sentence on it.  The sentences range anywhere from 3 to 8 words.  The key to these books is to take a few simple sight words and repeat, repeat, repeat.  Sam was able to read this book on the very first try!  Every page!  It was so cool.  I loved seeing her expression as turned the pages and she kept reading each line correctly. Her eyes got bigger and bigger.  She amazed even herself.  I teared up watching her read.  This is a pretty big deal for our household.  Ian wasn't reading until well into the first grade and even then I didn't think it was ever going to take.  It got so painful listening to Ian sound out each letter in every word.

Later that night, we skyped with my sister.  Ben's mom was in town and they had the whole family over for dinner and to visit.  Sam ran and got her book.  She held it up for everyone to see what she was reading them and did it.  After each page the Florida crowd cheered and clapped.  I loved their reaction.  And so did Sam.

Sam may not be a big fan of school, but she is getting A's in my book for her enthusiasm to want to learn to read.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's time for a tale from the crypt

I know its been awhile since I've reported on my encounters with The Crazy Man.  He is crazier than ever, but I think part of me is getting very used to him.  When I can anticipate some of the calls, letters or research I'll be doing, I know I've been working for him for a long time.  It will be two years in January!

Here's a little gem that happened about 2 weeks ago.  I still chuckle at the thought of it.  All names used in this story have been changed. 

A little background:  When you call The Crazy Man's primary care doctor and hit "0", Jose is most likely the person who answers.  I am not exactly sure what he does at the doctors office, but The Crazy Man thinks the world of Jose.  Now the nurse who is actually able to answer questions specific to The Crazy Man's situation is not such a valuable asset to The Crazy Man.  He feels that she is too young to be knowledgeable.  I, however love her because she takes our phone calls and gets back to us promptly.  This customer service is HUGE in my book.  A lot of the doctors offices we deal with (and believe me, we deal with MANY!) don't have nurses that take our calls.

The Crazy Man:  I need to you to call Jose at Dr. X's office.  Ask him which foot has the fungus on it.  I don't remember.

Me:  (WHAT!?!?!?!  How in the world do you not know which foot has the problem with fungus?  And, ewwwwwww by the way.)  Um, ok.  I will find out.

The Crazy Man:  Dr. X diagnosed me with the foot fungus on my last visit.  Ask them if it is the left or right foot.  Make sure you speak to Jose. 

Me calling Dr. X, pressing "0" and Jose answering the line:  Hi Jose.

Jose:  Hi Robyn.  It's been awhile.  How are you?

Me:  I'm good, thank you. Do you have access to The Crazy Man's file?  Are you able to answer a specific question regarding his last visit?

Jose:  I can try.  What does The Crazy Man need?

Me:  He would like to know which foot has the fungus on it.

Jose:  (Once he finishes laughing starts to go through the electronic file.)  I see when he was here, but it doesn't say anything about his feet.  Let me put you through to Cindy (nurse). 

Me:  Thanks Jose.  That would be great.

Cindy:  Hi Robyn.

Me:  Hi!  Thanks for taking my phone call.  The Crazy Man would like to know which foot was diagnosed with the fungus.

Cindy:  (once she finishes laughing, she starts to go through the electronic file):  I'm sorry Robyn, it doesn't mention specifically which foot it is.

Me:  Ugh.  What in the world should I tell The Crazy Man?  He is not going to be happy with that as an answer.

Cindy:  Tell him that he should use the medication on both feet.  Tell him it is highly spreadable and he'll be better protected this way. (By the way, Cindy correctly assumed this is why The Crazy Man needed to know which foot it was.  I didn't find this out until later.)

Me:  Great answer Cindy. Thanks!

Me telling The Crazy Man:  The drs office said to use the medication on both feet because it is highly spreadable.

The Crazy Man:  Those stupid asses!!

Um, yeah, they're the stupid ones.  :)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hanukkah - that's a wrap!

The 8th and final night of Hanukkah.  All candles lit.
We have a gazillion Menorahs.  Each year the kids pick the ones they want to use.
The Menorah on the left is all shoes, given to Sam by Grandma & Grandpa Toppall.
The Menorah on the right is a plane, given to Ian by Mom-mom and Pop-pop Jim Velicoff.

Hanukkah came so early this year.  It was hard to achieve a high level of anticipation and excitement waiting for the holiday to arrive.  And with all the hoopla of Thanksgiving being the 2nd night of Hanukkah, before you knew it, our 8 nights were over and done with.  It came and went in our Toppall house with a small roar.  By the time Christmas hits, Hanukkah will be a distant memory.

Unfortunately my plan to do a small family getaway (at some point during the coming months) instead of getting the kids presents for each of the 8 nights did not happen.  I had a dream of going to New York City for 2 nights during the Teacher work days at the end of January.  I absolutely love NYC and am very eager to show the kids what a magical place New York can be.  I put more value in the family doing some kind of experience/trip together than getting them things they will lose interest in after a few weeks.  And I hate the idea of getting them something just because you have to get them something.  I much rather bring home surprises throughout the year when I see something they would love to have.  However, when I priced out going to NYC, it was more money than Jeff and I felt comfortable spending. 

With no trip in lieu of gifts happening, I had to hit the stores and come up with some things for the kids to open.  I carefully selected a few presents for each of the kids and made a very concentrated effort to not go overboard.  Between the grandparents (3 sets!), Aunts/Uncles (another 3 sets!), and the gifts Jeff and I came up with the kids made out pretty well.

The night before Hanukkah began Jeff whispered to me, "Let's be the 'fun parents' and let the kids open a gift now."  He was having a hard time seeing the pile of wrapped gifts and not letting the kids start opening them.  Mind you, the kids were fine with it.  Jeff, however, can't keep anything under wraps.  I said "Sure."  The kids each opened a gift and was very happy.  Jeff was ready to let them open all of the presents right then and there, but I had to put an end to the madness.  We needed to leave something for the holiday. 

The kids loved everything they got.  My dad, stepmother and sister Meghan gave Ian money.  He really wanted to get some collectible baseball cards and used the money to pick them out. Ian was so giddy seeing all the great players' cards he was able to purchase.  The manager of the store was extremely impressed with Ian's knowledge of baseball (both current and very old school teams) and offered him a job when he turns 16.  He said he's never seen a kid of Ian's age have this much knowledge.  That alone made Ian's day.  He tells everyone he sees now that he has a job waiting for him. 
Ian with 2 of the many baseball cards he was able to get.
Please don't look at the hair, we he is still growing it out. :)

And just like that, Hanukkah is in the rearview mirror and we are driving towards New Year's.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A new kind of ornament.

The preschool I work at is doing a holiday lunch with the staff in a few weeks.  I am excited to be a part of this great group of women and look forward to joining in the festivities.  During the lunch we are going to do an ornament exchange.  Even though I don't celebrate Christmas, I thought it would be fun to participate in the ornament exchange. 

Just one hitch.  I had never bought an ornament before.  I wasn't sure where you even get one that would be a little special, not too costly and something unique that my fellow Preschool co-worker would want to hang on her tree. 

The other day after an impromptu lunch with a few of the women I work with, I made an announcement I was about to go ornament shopping and asked if Target would be a good place.  Instantly I was given the inside scoop that even though Target is wonderful for many, many things, ornament shopping it is not ideal.  Given we were just doors away from "The Picket Fence" (a cute gift shop), it was recommended I head down there.  Tami said she was going to Giant and would walk part of the way with me.  Upon entering shop, I started walking around and noticed many, many different kinds of ornaments.  They weren't located all in one spot.  The ornaments were scattered about the store in different displays.  I liked so many of them.  What would make a good selection for the gift exchange?  Should it be ornate?  Silly?  Classic?  A cool shape?  How could I chose?  I was feeling overwhelmed and decided to call Tami on her cell phone and catch her before she left the shopping center.  Tami (who is quite wonderful by the way) said she would be right over.

I took Tami through the store and showed her some of my favorites ones I had seen.  When we got to this one basket, I picked up a colorful beaded design and told her this was a strong contender in my decision.  It looked like a very pretty wreath. 

Tami leaned in close to me and whispered, "That is a napkin ring."
"No way," I replied to Tami. 
Tami then said, "Really.  How in the world would you be able to hang that from the tree?" 
"Easy", I said. "It has a big whole in the middle.  It just slides right on a branch."  

Um, no.  It was indeed a napkin ring.  Oops!

Obviously I am an amateur when it comes to celebrating Christmas and decorating a tree.  Now if there was a shoe exchange, that would be a different story! 

Just for the record, the ornament I did end up selecting is so awesome that Tami is hoping she gets it in the exchange. Clearly it was worth it for her to come back and rescue me or else she could've potentially been the one to end up with a napkin ring.  And not a whole set either, just one.