Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of the year wrap-up: 2014 Edition

It's crazy to think that 2014 is now over.  What a year its been!  We had The Good (Sam hitting some awesome milestones), The Bad (medical bills, car repairs, home repairs) and The Ugly (Jeff's disastrous new job from May to August). 

Overall, I can hardly complain.  My family continue to thrives and we are hanging in there.  Here is my annual recap.

Travel in 2014:

February:  Orlando for a long weekend*

March:  Jeff and Ian go to Orlando for Spring Training.

April:  Spent the night at Jeff's parents and then toured factories in PA during Spring Break.

June:  Weekend trip to NYC with Jeff / Kids at Jeff's parents.

June:  Ian in Massachusetts at Camp Ramah for 12 days

June/July:  11 days in Israel*

July:  Trip to Dutch Wonderland and Hershey with the kids and friends.

July:  Kids in Orlando for 12 days, I was there for 4 of them.

August:  Weekend trip to NYC with Jeff / Kids with my parents.

August:  Ocean City, NJ for a week at the beach.

October:  Girls weekend to Berkeley Springs, WVA*

November:  Girls weekend to Charlottesville, VA*

November:  Orlando for Thanksgiving (me and the kids)

December:  Cherry Hill, NJ with the kids during Winter Break to see family.

*Represents trips taken solo.

I always read what I wrote the year before.  I find it interesting to see how close I get to my goals  becoming a reality.  One year ago I wrote that I am giving up on our family doing a week at the beach together.  Guess what?  I made it happen!!  This past August, my family (along with my mom and stepfather) joined my cousin's family at Ocean City, NJ for a week.  We rented houses side-by-side, 3 blocks from the boardwalk.  Jeff was even able to join us...he was working very hard on searching for a new job during that week, but we had him around.  We all had a great time and very much enjoyed being with extended family. 

I love that I keep a written record of our adventures.  It's way too easy to forget things we've done or experienced.  I am happy to report that we are doing a better job not overscheduling.  Only Tuesdays is my ridiculous day that has me in survival mode.  I feel like from the moment I wake up to the moment my head can hit the pillow again, it is one 14 hour juggling act.  Fortunately most Tuesdays Jeff is able to pick Ian up from religious school.  Therefore, Sam and I can head straight home from her gymnastics class and get dinner made.  I intentionally pick very easy meals to prepare on Tuesdays. 

This past year Sam had some phenomenal moments.  I am so impressed with what she accomplishes the minute she thinks it is a good idea.  She went from having a very soaked pull-up each night when sleeping to deciding she no longer wanted to wear an overnight pull-up ever again.  That was that.  No accidents what-so-ever.  It's pretty extraordinary how she was able to do that.  Another amazing achievement was how quickly she learned how to tie her shoes.  She wanted to learn and BAM!, within 2 days, she got it. It is so much fun to listen to Sam read. She is light years ahead of where Ian was at this age. Sam still has a lot of social anxiety and trouble expressing her feelings.  We have a coordinated effort at school and with her play therapy to help her with this.  I guess its getting better.  But I tend to see all the instances where she lashes out and is not comfortable in a social setting.  Her goal with therapy can be summed up with these four words: "Explode less, Cope more."  She willingly goes to school each day, so I am thankful for that.  :)

Ian has chosen to learn to play the violin.  He walks around the house playing his heart out.  He doesn't sound half bad either.  He no longer is doing gymnastics and has a new passion in playing Flag Football.  Who knew I'd enjoy watching his game almost as much as he enjoys playing them?  He continues to do well in school and has a SCA (student council association) position in his class.  He attends meetings regularly and helps decide things like Spirit Days.  It's too cute listening to him fill us in on his lunch meetings.  Ian is currently working on better managing his time each night with his homework.  It's a hard balance for him to get a grasp on. 

I am most pleased to report that Jeff landed on his feet after the new job nightmare this past summer.  The newer new company he works for is a better match for Jeff's strengths and is a great fit for both Jeff and the new place.  He comes home at a reasonable hour each day, feels good about the work he is doing and is not stressed.  I know I appreciate having my former husband back and the kids love having their dad back.

Me?  I've been struggling with getting Jeff more included on things we do outside the house.  I've gotten into a very bad habit of planning with the kids and if Jeff doesn't want to come, we proceed without him.  Before I realized it, the majority of our activities didn't include him.  This has made me sad. 

This past year I've taken steps for my family to eat healthier.  I no longer allow preservatives, enriched flour, high fructose corn syrup, or red dye/yellow dye in the house.  I buy organic / all natural as much as possible.  It takes a lot of time to read labels at the grocery story, but its paying off.  Ian's latest blood work came back much improved. And I feel better about the food we are all eating.

In 2014 my mom's health scared me big-time.  Her Bypass (from only 2 years earlier!) had failed and she was in the hospital multiple times getting the blockages repaired. I hate seeing my mom go through this. It's hard seeing our parents age.  I will continue to go down to Orlando to be with my family as much as possible.  It's important to me for my kids and I to spend as much time as I can with the Florida crew.  Of course with every visit, my desire to move and live closer to them gets stronger.

I continue to juggle all my part-time jobs.  I somehow make it work and can still be there for the kids before school and after.  I love the flexibility and am fortunate to have filled up the time my kids are in school.  I've gotten in a good groove and hope it can continue for the foreseeable future. 

I still have many, many issues with my weight. I am not sure I will ever come to peace with this situation.  I do my best to work out regularly, but I can tell you without a doubt eating is my downfall.  Who knows, maybe I am trying to fill some void?  It will always be a struggle.

Looking forward to 2015:

I am enjoying our less hectic schedule and want this to continue through the new year. I also hope that we can do more things as a family, rather than me and the kids without Jeff.  I am going to do my best to not plan too far in advance and take each day as it comes. I am encouraging Jeff to plan at least one activity (outside the house) once a month for us to do as a family.  Hopefully he can chose things he will enjoy and want to be a part of.  Meanwhile, I will pick an activity for us to do (in our home) as a family once a month.  Admittedly, I do a very poor job of not interacting that much with anyone when we are all home.  We do eat dinner as a family each night, but then I let Jeff take over hanging with the kids.  More time spent as a family (both inside and outside our house) is my main goal in 2015. 

I have big plans for our lawn.  I am tired of it looking like crap.  We got a proposal for an irrigation system approved by our homeowner's association.  This should be installed sometime in the Spring.  Having our lawn water itself will go a long way to helping our grass stay green.  And having taken down two trees will help more sun shine through.  If this doesn't get our lawn looking good, I don't know what will. 

In 2014 we did get recessed lighting in our downstairs family room.  We absolutely love it!  It's been one of the best home improvement jobs we've done to the house.  It would be nice in 2015 if we can continue and put more recessed lighting in other parts of the house. 

My last thing I look forward to in 2015 is being grateful.  Taking time each day (or maybe weekly is more realistic) to appreciate all we have.  Even as Sam is exploding, my mom's words ring in my ears:  "You wouldn't want her any other way."  I know so many families where the parents are dealing with many more challenging issues...their son barely speaks, or the daughter is severely handicapped, etc.  Yes, I am thankful for Sam and her ability to let us know she is in the room.  :)  We have a roof over our heads, always plenty of food on the table, and lights that come on when we want them too.  A car that works (even if it has 167,000 miles on it!) and can get fixed when it needs to, and a family that is always there for each other.  Not to mention friends who double as family.  It's a pretty sweet life and we should be thankful for all we have.  We are truly blessed. 

A New Year's Wish:

To those reading this:  I hope the new year is full of only good moments. May each day be better than the last overflowing with love and laughter.  Go beyond your comfort zone and live life to its fullest.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Hanukkah wrap up

Another Hanukkah has come and gone.  This was one of our better Hanukkahs for the kids. Neither child had any complaints, they showed appreciation and genuinely enjoyed what we picked out. 

Ian had been asking for the Xbox One for quite a while now.  I can't believe it, but we got him one.  This was a bigger extravagance than we normally do for one child.  It was Ian's main gift and he was thrilled.  For Samantha we got her things she had been asking for -- easy presents like books, more magnatile blocks, puzzles, etc.  Sam didn't care that her gifts didn't add up to as much as what we spent on the Xbox; she was just thrilled that she had more wrapped presents to open then Ian. 

Ian opened the present, saw it was the Xbox and instantly jumped into Jeff's arms. 


 Ian couldn't stop thanking us for days.  It was a really cool surprise. Gosh, I love being able to make that kid happy.  He brings so much joy to our lives, it's nice to do something a little over-the-top extravagant for him. 

I still prefer to have us do experiences as a family instead of giving presents -- especially when the kids don't lack toys, electronics or need anything.  It just didn't work out that way this year.  

I heard a really cool idea a little too late to do anything about it this year, but I think I am going to try it next Hanukkah.  Each night is a different theme and both kids get the same.  One night is pajamas, one night is books, one night is giving back and doing something charity related, one night is movie night, etc.   And maybe one night can be a special outing as a family.  I've got a whole year to figure out and make it meaningful.  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 Family Hanukkah Party

The family Hanukkah party got snowed out last year and didn't happen.  So we were long overdue to bring everyone together and celebrate a happy occasion.  This year we met at my in-laws house in the Pikesville (Baltimore) area. 

Kudos to Elaine (my fabulous sister-in-law) for frying all the latkes.  Yes, enough latkes to feed this crazy latke-eating family.  Elaine cooked enough for a small army.  You can never have enough latkes!! In addition there were platters of cold cuts, cole slaw, pasta salad, and kugel.  Yum-O!  But if you ask me, the latkes are the star of the show.

Unfortunately one of the Pennsylvania families could not make it this year.  However we did get a nice surprise and Devorah was able to come.  Even with a few missing, it's still a pretty big group. 

We mixed it up this year.  Marcia and Miriam (the matriarchs of the family) orchestrated a trivia contest, with all the questions having to do with the family.  We were divided into 4 teams - a good mix of different siblings/offspring coming together.  Let the competition begin!  There were 20 questions, plus a bonus question.  The questions ranged from "What country did Rae immigrate", to "What years did Marcia and Miriam graduate high school", to "Name one of Samantha's teachers", and "Name as many ingredients as you can in the Grandma Rae's famous cookie recipe."  The bonus question was list as many middle names in the family as you can.  My team came up with 26 middle names!!  Of course my team won. Woo-hoo!!! Although I couldn't have done it without Hava and Linda on my side.  It was truly them who gave us the winning edge.  Oh, what fun!

I am particularly pleased with how the family photo turned out.

The trivia contest wasn't the only cool thing about the family coming together to celebrate Hanukkah.  There was a big box of wrapped books.  Everyone got to pick one and open it.  If you didn't like the book you got, you could find someone to switch with you.  Ian ended up with the "Miniature book of miniature golf" and has been playing the game daily on this little 8 x8 size book of putting greens with a little golf club and ball.  Each page is a different golf course.  It's totally cute. I think it took Ian two trades to get to this book.  Sam opened up a collection of Berenstein Bears stories on the first pick and was very happy with that.  She loves her Berenstein Bears books.   Everyone was having a blast opening books and seeing what we each got.  There were books of all kinds represented.   

A great time was had by all.  The family Hanukkah party is always a highlight of my holiday. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Heard and Observed #51

Sam and I made a stop at the post office on December 23rd.  We get to the counter and the following conversation happens:

Postman (looking at Sam):  Are you excited for Christmas?

Sam, not really sure how to answers, stays silent.

Me:  We are Jewish and don't celebrate Christmas.

Now the postman is silent and not sure what to say.  I purchase the postage I need and then the conversation continues:

Postman:  You have a tree though, right?

Me:  No, we don't have a tree because we don't celebrate Christmas.

Postman:  Oh, but you put up lights, right?

Me:  No, we don't put up lights either.  We light a menorah each night for 8 nights.  Tonight is actually the last night of our holiday.

Postman:  Oh.  

The postman really had nothing left to say.  He was rendered speechless. 


Two weeks before Christmas Ian and I were at the shopping center across the street from where we live.  Ian was got a haircut and then we were making our way down to CVS.  Upon our walk, we come across Santa Claus waiting to mingle with the kids who are out running errands with their parents.  He sees Ian and the following conversation happens:

Santa (as he hands Ian a candy cane):  Ho! Ho!  Ho!  Have you been a good boy this year?

Ian (without missing a beat):  Yes, I have!

Santa (looking at me now):  Has he been a good boy?

Me:  Yes, a very good boy.

Santa (looking back at Ian):  What is your name?

Ian: Ian

Santa:  Danny?

Ian:  No, Ian.

Santa:  huh?

Me:  I-A-N  (saying it very pronounced).

Santa:  What would you like for Christmas?  (avoiding saying Ian's name).

Ian:  I would like an Xbox One.

Santa: Did you mail a letter to my elves?

Ian:  Yes, its probably at the North Pole by now.   

Me:  Ok, Ian let's keep going. 


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Can't let it go.

I’ve got a new obsession.  It’s called Idina Menzel.  Ever since I saw her in the preview of “If/Then” at National Theatre and then saw her again when the show went to Broadway in NY, I’ve been listening to her non-stop.  First it was the Broadway recording of the musical, then her “Holiday Wishes” CD came out – way before Thanksgiving and I’ve been listening to that.  So much so, that Sam was questioning why we were listening to Christmas music and it wasn’t even cold out yet.  I guess the song “Baby, its cold outside” loses something when you are wearing capris and a t-shirt.

Idina Menzel has been everywhere!  She has got one heckuva a publicity tour happening for her CD.  It’s been great seeing her do the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, listening to her DJ the IHeartRadio show, watching interview after interview on all the morning shows and reading all the articles in the magazines/newspapers about her.  I’m loving it!  It adds fuel to my fire.
Imagine my delight to find out Idina was doing a tour.  My friend Susanne and I decided the show in Baltimore would work better with our Summer schedule.  Both husbands were quick to join in and up for the road trip.   All I needed to hear was when the presale was happening and I could go into action. 
I got lucky, there was an American Express presale being offered a day before the Fan presale; which was two days before tickets went on sale to the general public.  The minute the clock stuck 10:00am, the website was launched and I purchased tickets.  We will be 13 rows from the stage, on the left hand orchestra side.  I realize now these are great seats without paying the additional inflated prices for the few front rows that were packaged as Platinum, Gold and Silver VIP seats – those were ridiculously expensive.   Believe it or not, for the first few hours (ok, days) I was bummed that I couldn’t get front row center.  What is wrong with me??  Why do I keep thinking that I will magically get the best seats they offer at a reasonable price?  I do this to myself time and time again.  I remember when my friend Amanda and I back in high school camped out all night for George Michael tickets.  I walked away disappointed that we were in the second section of seats on the field.  Come to think of it now, those were awesome seats!   For those few hours leading up to the tickets going on sale, I have such high expectations that I will be in the front row.  I guess it’s my eternal optimism. 
I am excited about the concert.  Idina has a phenomenal voice – I call her this generation’s Barbara Streisand.  Only she must be better than Barbara Streisand because even Jeff loves listening to Idina.  And I can’t get Jeff to listen to Barbara.  J    We are going to drop off the kids at Jeff’s parents’ house.  They will watch the kids for us during the show and then Jeff & I will crash at their house afterwards.   I love having a show to look forward to attending. 


Thursday, December 18, 2014


Going to the movies has become fun again.  I LOVE what our local theatres are doing to elevate the movie going experience.  Get this! Regal cinemas are installing full on recliners in every single one of their theatres.  How awesome is that?  To be sitting in a comfy recliner (complete with a little table attached) watching a movie on the big screen…ah, bliss!  

And Mosaic District has reserved seating available for the same price as a theatre that doesn’t offer it.   You can pick exactly the seats you are going to sit in, go eat at one of the nearby restaurants and not worry about getting to the theatre much earlier than when the movie starts.  You’ve already got your seats reserved!  

In an increasing trend, most every theatre is now offering full bars and a wide range of food – beyond the traditional hot dog and nachos.  

I used to get excited when a theatre I went to had stadium seating. That seems so year 2000 now.  :)

It was very necessary the movie theatre industry did something to get people back out there.  With streaming services running rampant and high tech televisions so readily available, I am sure movie ticket sales were suffering.  I love that someone somewhere decided to bring their ‘A” game and make going to the movies an event.   It was getting to be a bit too much with only making almost every single movie in 3D hoping to get people to show up.  

I am so excited, not only for myself but for my kids too.  Ian is now at the age that he is enjoying seeing movies.  When we were at Aunt Lori’s, a commercial for the new, updated version of “Annie” came on and Ian said, I want to see that movie.  Then a few minutes later, a commercial for the “Night at the Museum 3” (Was there even a “Night at the Museum 2”!?!?!) came on and Ian said, I want to see that too.   Without missing a beat, Aunt Lori told Ian, “Ian, that’s one thing you don’t ever have to worry about.  Whatever movie you want to see, you will go see.  You mom loves the movies.”   Why yes, I do.  

With all these changes, it just keeps getting better.  I may be wrong, but I think even Jeff said he wouldn’t mind seeing a chick flick with me if it was done in a recliner.  Oh no, does this mean Kelly and Jen (my main movie watching buddies) have competition?  Probably not, someone has to be home to watch the kids.   And going to the movies has been my means of escape.  In my opinion, there are few ways better spent than 2 hours at the movies.

On a related side note:   I am saddened and disappointed in Sony's decision to not release "The Interview".  By letting North Korea dictate what we can watch, go, and do means they won.   It becomes a very loud sign to North Korea that we are wimps and cowards.  This is not what the USA is about!  We stand for freedom, courage, and bravery.  I hate, hate, hate that North Korea is getting their way.  They are bullying us and winning.  Haven't we learned yet from past events in history that we need to stand strong and not cower to them or any other country for that matter?? 

If by chance Sony changes their mind and does release the movie, I will be the first in line to see it.   Come'on Sony, show North Korea who they are messing with.  Release the movie EVERYWHERE, don't charge people to see it the first weekend it is opened and get the theatres jam packed with our people. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ian and email

Watch out, Ian is on the loose emailing everyone.

For the past several years, Ian has repeatedly received a “2” (on a scale of 1 to 4) for one of his music grades.  The one specifically he gets the “2” on is “Singing appropriately”.   This has been troubling Ian deeply.  He takes his studies very serious and wants to do the best he can.  Each quarter the progress report comes home and he sees that “2” again under the music section, he asks us why this is.  We tell Ian as long as he is doing his best, it’s ok and not to worry about.

Since all of Ian’s other scores are 3’s and 4’s, Jeff and I have never been bothered by Ian’s 2 in music.  Neither Jeff nor I are singers, nor can we hold a tune, so it must be genetic.   Ian finally had enough being troubled by this score and decided to do something about it.  He emailed his music teacher.  All on his own.  He did show me the email before he sent it, but it was 100% thought of and generated by him, in his own words.  He looked up the music teacher’s email address on Blackboard and sent it on its way.  About an hour later, Ian had a reply from the music teacher.  And sure enough, Ian met with her the next morning and found out what he could do differently to get a better grade. 

I love this kid! I am so impressed that he had a problem, found a solution and took action.  I know it was hard for him to confront his teacher.  But he did it!  Way to go Ian!  I would’ve never had this kind of confidence to do something like email a teacher when I was his age.  Actually, I was just happy if I got a passing grade and wasn’t looking to make more work for myself with wanting to get better grades.  Back in the day, I am sure I even hid from my teachers after-hours, let alone would’ve willingly emailed one – that’s assuming we had email back when I was in school.  This part of Ian's personality must come from Jeff. :)

Below is a copy of the email Ian sent to his teacher. 

Hi Mrs. X,

[I am Ian Toppall from group C and I have music on Wednesday]

I hope its ok that I am emailing you but there is a question I have been wanting to ask. I have not had the courage to ask you in class.  Why did I get a 2 for singing appropriately in class on my report card last quarter? Is it my tone? How can I improve?

Ian Toppall


Mrs. X’s reply:

Dear Ian,
Please come see me after the announcements tomorrow. I will be happy to speak with you.

You are a wonderful student and I have some ideas for you to try.

Mrs. X


Sunday, December 14, 2014

One less thing to do.

I am not doing a holiday card this year.  There I’ve said it.  And since I’ve written it down for everyone to read, I will not go back on my word.  Nope, no holiday card.  I’m just not feeling it. 

The idea of taking photos of the kids and us as a family that I really like sounds painful.  Have you seen my family when they are less than cooperative?  It’s not pretty, I will tell you that.  Picking out a card style that isn’t too Christmasy seems like more trouble than its worth.  I will look at hundreds and hundreds of cards on various websites before I find the one I like best.  Getting the address list made into labels is just not something I have an extra evening to mess around doing. People need to stop moving!  And finally, getting it all together and put in the mail makes me want go to bed early and hide.  All of it sounds too exhausting. 

I am on holiday card strike this year.  I am making my life less complicated this holiday season.  I will sit back and enjoy the holiday cards we do receive and not feel guilty that I haven’t sent one out in return.  It will be hard, but I can do it. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tinsel Teeth

Ian's excitement for getting braces was through the roof.  He had seen almost everyone in his 4th grade class get braces on their teeth.  Phase 1 officially started on Tuesday, December 9th.  The smile on his face in the days leading up to his appointment couldn't have been bigger. 

It is a different day and age.  I had braces when I was 12.  I am pretty sure I wasn't this excited. I did my best to not dampen Ian's spirit on what a pain braces are.  How food easily gets stuck in your teeth, how you can't eat chewy-type foods (OMG!  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE caramel -- so not fair!).   How sore your teeth are each time you visit the orthodontist.  The wearing of rubber bands, the wearing of head-gear (could you look more like a geek??  I think not) and the wearing of a retainer.  I didn't tell Ian any of this.  Let him have this moment to be excited.  He will figure it all out soon enough.

The morning that Ian was getting his braces on, two twin 15 year old boys were getting there braces off.  It was neat to the see the full circle. Ian's first phase includes 4 braces in the front of his teeth.  It's a nice little introduction of what is to come. This is like dipping a toe in the pool before deciding to jump in.  This phase should last 9 to 12 months.  And then Ian will get a break before Phase 2 starts.  Ian fortunately didn't need to have an expander -- the thought of turning that key weekly freaked me out.  The main goal of doing phase 1 is to get Ian's overbite under control, because right now you could a sail a ship in the space he has with the top jaw extending over the bottom jaw. 

Ian gets to chose what color to put around the braces.  For the first 6 weeks, he has gone with a Hanukkah color theme and picked Blue & White.  I love the Orthodontist.  When the 15 year old boys were done, she handed them each a goody bag of everything they weren't able to eat -- gum, starburst, popcorn.   How cool is that? 

The before shot.

He is still so happy!!
The after shot. 

Another great thing about this orthodontist office is they encouraged me to come back to the area where Ian was being worked on and hang out.  And, they didn't mind the camera at all. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can I get that to go?

My dad and stepmother are currently enjoying themselves on a cruise.  When I heard they were leaving, I was instantly reminded of a very funny story that occurred during a vacation when the whole family got to go.

We were all gathered together, ready to leave.  We were just waiting for Lori to meet up with us.  My dad calls Lori to see where she is.  We don't here what she says to dad on the phone, but we do hear my dad's side of the conversation. 

Dad:  Lori, where are you?

Lori: -------

Dad:  Well can't Robyn pick that up for you?

Lori:  ------

Dad: Ok, we are ready to go when you get here. 

It turns out that Lori told my dad she was getting waxed.  Hahahahaha.  Um, no.  I can't pick that up for her.

This is one of those inside stories that keeps making its way into conversation.  Whenever I speak with Lori and we hear the other is getting waxed, we joke "How about you just pick that up for me?"

Gosh, I love my dad.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Thanksgiving wrap up.

It's taken me a while to get back into the swing of things.  Most days I feel too exhausted to want to write.  However, I love looking back and reading how I felt, what the kids were up to and what our family was doing.  This can only happen if I actually write it.  :)   I plan to do a better job of getting back into the routine of writing with the frequency I used to.

I have the best family.  Hands down, that's all there is to it.  I am so thankful for so many things; my life is truly blessed.  I don't have the newest car (it's become a family joke how many miles are on it) or the biggest house (by far I live in the smallest in my family), but I am rich with love.  So much love.  It's the best when we get together.  You'd be hard pressed to find a family that enjoys being with each other more than mine.  It's non-stop reminiscing, making new memories and laughing non-stop. 

I know my family will not be around forever.  I can cry buckets just at the thought of losing one of them.  It's important to me to go down to Orlando as much as possible.  There is nothing like family.

This past Thanksgiving I took the kids for a week. Jeff hadn't built up enough vacation time at his new job and stayed home while we flew down.  My niece turned a year old on November 13th.  Lori & Ben had her first birthday party while we were in town. 

It was a jam packed visit.  Not only were we around to attend Rachel's first birthday party, but we also witnessed her taking her very first steps.  How exciting! 

While traveling, my bucket of what I was grateful for overflowed.  Here is a just small sampling - some are very trivial, some not so much.  But all touched me in some fashion.  In no particular order -

* The airlines lifting the "no electronics" rule on take-off and landing.  Wow, I can't even begin to tell you what a difference this makes when flying with the kids.  I don't think they even realized we had taken off or landed.  It was a breeze.  I am not sure I could do a cross country flight with them right now, but I'm getting much closer.

*Ian being a wonderful big brother and letting Sam have the window seat on our flights. 

*My dad/stepmother and mom/stepfather not only getting along, but truly caring for each other.  It makes coming together for the holidays a breeze.  There is never a discussion of which house my sister and I will spend the big day at; it's just a question of who is hosting. 

*Having 3 different residences (my mom, my dad, my sister) all fight for us wanting to spend the night at their house.  We were there 6 nights and I split it up equally-- 2 nights at each place.  It gives me a gushy feeling to have so many want us to invade and make a lot of noise in otherwise quiet, peaceful homes.

*When we realized it wouldn't be possible for Jeff to go with us, it wasn't a question that me and the kids would travel without him.  To have the ability to purchase plane tickets (when we would have otherwise been driving with Jeff) is something I don't take for granted.  Having Jeff's parents take us to the airport and pick us up when we got back was a few more drops in my bucket of gratefulness.

*The woman who sat in front of Sam on the return flight. I am thankful for her gracious and understanding nature.  In an uncharacteristic move on Sam's part, she intentionally kicked the seat in front of her, repeatedly.  Ugh.  It took about 25 minutes before I could get Sam to finally stop.  She is known for a lot of inexcusable behavior, but she has never kicked the seat in front of her.  I guess there is a first time for everything.  The woman who sat in the seat in front of Sam was very sweet and should've been highly annoyed every time she involuntarily lurched forward again and again.  Miraculously she wasn't.  Believe me, Sam got punished for this, especially when she refused to apologize to the lady.

I love these people.

My gorgeous niece turning 1!

*My friends Amanda and Molly.  I've known Amanda since I was 6 and Molly since I was 12.  To show up at random times in Orlando and have a date instantly get put on the calendar for us to get together warms my heart.  Our kids are only weeks apart in age.  How awesome it is to have a playdate for my kids whenever we need it.  And a girls night out for me is always a must; I don't lack childcare to help take care of the kids.

Our girls at 6 months old and again at 6.5 years old.  Love.
It wasn't all sunshine and roses.  Southwest Airlines did lose the kids' luggage on the way there.  Fortunately, It was found the next day.  But for about 12 hours, it was a pain to think we'd need to quickly buy clothes, shoes, toiletries for the kids for the week.  On Tuesday, it rained ALL DAY LONG.  Like hurricane type rain.  That kept us mostly indoors hanging out at my mom's house.  It actually turned into a nice day being with my mom and Jim.  Mom and Sam made cookies together.  And, lastly Sam had a few major temper tantrums that I am still recovering from.  She has been pushing my buttons big-time.  Most days I feel majorly beaten-up by the time nightfall comes.

I can't complain.  I am truly blessed and I know it. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Flag Football - that's a wrap!

Ian is finished with his first season of Flag Football.  I have to admit that I never watched football before or even understand the game.   Heck, I still don't understand the game, but I know which team to root for.  And I've successfully figured out that when someone in the same colored jersey as Ian is running with the ball, that's a good thing.  A very good thing.  And its just as great when one of Ian's teammates blocks the ball from going any further when the opposing team has it. 

Ian had a great time playing.  I had a great time cheering him and his team on. All of the teams the Lions played (Ian's team name) were pretty evenly matched with the exception of one.  There was this one team that apparently didn't play by the rules and put together a team of the biggest, tallest, fastest kids you've ever seen.  All of the kids were supposed to be between the ages of 9 to 11 years old.  There is no way this was possible with this batch of kids.  The Lions had to play this team 2 times during the season, before the championship play-offs.  One of the game scores was 42-0.  Really.  Each time the moms and dads would comment what a joke it was for our sons to be playing against these kids.  One mom said, "I bet these kids already have armpit hair."  Another dad said, "These kids probably drove to the game."  It was insane. 

Of course when it came down to the big playoff game, it was Ian's team against these kids on steroids.  We all knew what the outcome was going to be, but we all secretly hoped the Lions would get their Disney ending. 

Believe it or not, the opposing team brought a new player to the championship game.  Like their current roster of players weren't intimidating enough, they had a new secret weapon ready to unleash.  The Lions were looking at another massacre. 

Somewhere from deep inside, the Lions played the best they've ever done.   It was truly phenomenal and so exciting to watch.  The Lions put all their heart into it and played a really fantastic game, full of defense.  One of the best quotes ever came from Ian when he exclaimed "Holy cow, I can't believe I blocked that!!"  The kid with the ball he blocked was easily 2 feet taller than him.   He had the parents on the sidelines laughing with that line. 

The Lions managed to score a touchdown.  Up until the last 4 minutes of the game, the score was 7 to 0, in favor of the Lions.  Woweee!!  No one was sitting in their seats; you HAD to be standing, with your eyes glued to the action.  What a game!!!

Unfortunately with the last 3 minutes, the other team scored a touchdown.  The game was tied until the last 10 seconds. It was unbelievable!!!   Then it went downhill quickly and the team scored another touchdown.  The ending score was 7 to 14.  The Lions lost.  :(

The coolest thing was this team Ian played against had never been behind in a game before during their whole season. And for more than 3/4ths of the game, it looked like the Lions was going to win!   The Lions gave it their all.  They should be very proud.  As Ian's coach said to the team afterwards, "It was not possible for them to play better than they did."   What a great way to end the season.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding happiness admist total mayhem

It's amazing how friends can make your day a lot sweeter.
I recently went on a girl's weekend to Charlottesville.  It was part of a multi-process farewell tour for my dear friend Dawn, whose family is moving to England for three years.

During the car ride home our conversation turned towards "being happy" and what that means.  It was a very interesting conversation of how people seek happiness and may never achieve it because they don't realize happiness can be just living in the moment.  For me, happiness is being content.  As long as my basic needs are being met (I'm not hungry, I'm not tired, I'm not too cold, or too hot, or whatever) and I am surrounded among people I enjoy being with, I am content.  And, therefore, I am happy.  In fact, all hell can be breaking loose around me and I can still be happy.  Really.

We went to dinner the night before at this supposedly very trendy, very hip restaurant in Charlottesville.  It came highly rated and of course, needed reservations to get a table for their busy Saturday nights.  We were seated within an appropriate amount of time of showing up.  The menu looked promising and we had a great waitress.  I ordered this amazing Peanut Butter cocktail that was out of this world. 

Three of us ordered the spinach salad (I asked to have my bacon on the side), Dawn ordered the salad on their specials list for the evening, and Susanne didn't order any salad.  Susanne and I each ordered the acorn squash soup.  Since I didn't order an entrée, the waitress said she would make my salad the entrée and bring out the soups first with the other salads that were ordered. 

Our salads (minus Dawn's) and both soups arrived at the same time.  We knew it was meant to be my salad because it had the bacon on the side.  No worries, I can set my salad aside and eat the soup first before it gets cold.  However, Dawn's salad never came.  And when it finally did, it was the spinach salad, not the salad special she asked for.  I asked the table runner if the small container was the bacon from my salad (it was very dark and I couldn't see it very well) -- he said and I quote "We don't have bacon at this restaurant."  Um, yes, you do!! It's written on the menu. 

The three of us look at our spinach salad we had ordered and realize it is missing easily 3, maybe 4 of the ingredients listed on what is has in it.  It is missing the cheese, the almonds, dressing, etc.  We eat it anyway because we are so hungry.

Meanwhile the table runner takes Dawn's wrong salad away and after a very long time, finally arrives with the salad special.  As Dawn is saying 'Thank you', the table runner slams the salad down in front of Dawn. Yes!  You read right, the plate gets slammed down.  Instantly the five of us drop our mouths open in shock.  We couldn't believe what just happened.  Dawn asks to speak to the manager and when he arrives, he makes excuses for the rude service and says that he isn't to blame for how busy the restaurant is.  WHAT!?!?!?!

During this whole process the spinach salad with the bacon on the side keeps arriving at our table, again and again and again.  I keep turning it away saying I already received it.  However the 3rd time it came, I got curious and asked to see the salad the guy was holding in his hand. I saw it was made correctly!  This is what the Spinach Salad should've looked like!  I told my friends the 4th time the salad shows up, I am taking it.  Sure enough, the extra salad came a 4th time and I said, "yes, it was mine."  This one was tasty.

It had to have been a full hour from when the salads arrived to when the entrees came.  At this point I only had sweet potato fries left to eat.  I shared my fries with my friends.  The one fry Dawn picks up is frozen!  Crazy, right!!?!?   We call the waitress back over and tell her to hand this fry to the manager.  Almost immediately a new order of sweet potato fries arrive at the table. 

We lost count at the amount of mistakes that were made.  It was pretty hilarious.  It wasn't the waitresses fault and we made sure her tip reflected that.  As she put down the bill, she said "If it said salad, you won't see it on here."   More probably should've been done to compensate for the rudeness and all the other mistakes, but we survived. 

What a crazy, fun night.  It might not be most people's definition of happiness.  But for those 3 hours, it was mine. 

The peanut butter cocktail...they did get this drink right.