Thursday, January 30, 2014


Those who know me best know I am a HUGE Billy Joel fan.  I have been since the album "The Stranger" came out in 1977.  I was 6 years old, so yeah, pretty much my whole life. 

I remember the first time I saw him in concert.  It was in the 1980's and my whole family went to Tampa to see him perform.  My dad had us leave before the last songs played to get a jump start on the traffic.  Since those years, I've learned Billy ALWAYS has ended every one of his shows with "Piano Man".  That's how you know its over. 

 I remember when I saw him in concert with Elton John at the MCI Center in 2002.  Heather and I froze to death while waiting in line for tickets to go on sale.  We were there by 5:00am to get good seats.  Gosh I love this girl who is always up for the crazy ideas.  I remember a few years later when Billy came back to concert and this time Jeff and I went to see him.  I think between the Orlando area and the Washington DC area, I've seen Billy Joel in concert five, maybe six times over the past 30 years.  And it's never been the same tour. 

As big of a fan as I am and for all the "camping out" overnight or getting up ridiculously early to stand in frigid weather to get tickets, I've never scored really decent seats.  Oh boy I've tried.  I've tried working the ticketmaster phone lines while standing in line at Hecht's (remember when they sold concert tickets?!?!?).  I've tried working the online ticket website while working the ticketmaster phone lines.  I've given it my best shot but somehow always fell short.  That is until now. 

Billy Joel is back on tour.  He will be playing Nationals Park Stadium on Saturday, July 26th.  Tickets went on presale for American Express cardmembers starting at 10:00am on Tuesday, January 28th.  Um, hello?  Amex cardmember?  I've been in training for this moment being a proud carrying cardmember since I was 16. 

I was all ready to go once 10:00am came around.  I was working at the preschool, but like I've mentioned before I can multi-task with the best of them.  I had the browser open and I was watching the clock ready for the magic moment.  Once 9:59am turned into 10:00am, I went into action.  Only no action was happening.  It wasn't pretty.  The website wasn't letting me in.  While continuously hitting the refresh button, I started working two phones dialing for help.  I called Amex from the preschool office phone and meanwhile, called and from my cell phone.  Nope, no one could help.  It all had to be done online only.  Meanwhile, I got up to make copies and took my cell phone with me, I was still on hold waiting for to answer.  It is now 10:38am and I am beyond frustrated.  I make it back to the desk and begin calling everyone again (Amex, and while still refreshing the website.  I even logged out, re registered with the website and tried to get back in.  No such luck.  They all feel sorry for me, but can not help.  Tickets for this presale can not be sold over the phone no matter what.

FINALLY at 11:44am, I make it through the initial webpage and can now pick my price level for tickets and the quantity.  I already knew I wanted the highest price point to get the best seats.  I click the box for $124.50 a ticket and click "2" for the quantity.  The next screen tells me that all of these tickets are no longer available and my next best option is for the $99.50 tickets.  Ugh!  It's section 210, Row D so it isn't that bad, but I am not a happy camper.  I buy the tickets (with a $50 service charge!!!!  WTH!?!?!?) and get a $47 parking pass.  $301 later and I have my tickets to see Billy Joel.  I am happy I'll get to see him, but disappointed in being in the 2nd tier at the stadium.

Once dinner is over and the dishes are washed, I go online and see what seats are now available.  I just can't let this go.  This is where the obsessive part of my personality takes over and perserverance goes into high gear.  I come across a section on that says "Amex Perferred". I click thru and find that I am now offered floor seats.  Section 3, row 22.  Really.  And these tickets are the $124.50 I wanted earlier.  OMG!  My heart starts racing and I can't believe what I am seeing.  Let me show you the seating chart.


I can't let these tickets go.  No way!  Do you see how amazing these seats are?!?!?  I am front and center -- just a mere 22 rows back from the stage.  OMG!!  I've never gotten this close before for a concert.   So I do it.  I buy another set of tickets.  Another (this time it's $59) service charge.  And another $47 parking pass. 

Jeff has been amazing through this whole process, and fortunately has kept his sense of humor as my concert ticket total spending is now topping $665.  He actually loved our Section 210 seats.  He is now worried that it will be too loud down by the stage, that he won't have good access to the concession stand or the bathroom.  Jeff may as well go see Tony Bennett with how old he is acting.  But I love him dearly and I want him to enjoy the concert.   I know I'll have a great time in Section 210...but to be on the Floor, near the stage for my favorite performer ever is something I can't pass up.  I seriously don't see an opportunity like this ever happening again.  And believe me, I've tried very hard each and every time I've seen him in concert to get the very best seats I can.

I go on Craiglist and see about listing a set of the tickets (and parking pass!) I bought.  I find an entry from a guy selling floor seats for section 12 at $425 a piece.  Are you kidding me!?!?!  I have much better seats than section 12. I can't believe he is selling them for that much.  Geez, I could make some serious money here.  And I could make Jeff very happy (not just the profit from selling the tickets, but also because we'd be in his fave Section 210 seats).   Then I see a listing for the upper tier seats at $250 a ticket.  Again, another nice little profit could be made even on the $99.50 ticktes.  Enough to cover either set of tickets we decide to keep and then some. 

I am tempted to go back on the Website and buy another set of floor seat tickets, simply to sell at a crazy mark-up.  As I contemplate this outloud, Jeff is already convinced we will be stuck with all 4 tickets and both parking passes.  He sees us going to the concert, taking our awesome seats on the floor and then when he's had enough of the noise (or needs to use the bathroom), he goes to visit our seats in Section 210.  Since we have two parking passes, we can drive in separate cars and he can leave when he's completely had enough. 

I know I tend to get carried away and decide against buying anymore tickets.  But it took me another 20 minutes to come to that conclusion.

I decide to wait on listing the tickets on Craigslist.  There really is no rush.  I know this concert will sell out and as we get closer to the date, the value for these tickets will only go up and up.  It doesn't even open to the public for ticket sales until February 1st and the floor seats are now impossible to get -- even the ones in the way, way back like sections 9 and 12.  Yes, I keep checking. 

I go to sleep very happy.  The next morning I can't wait to tell my fellow preschool workers I was able to score tickets 22 rows from the stage.  They were with me during my big disappointment the day before.  I already have a taker for the Section 210 tickets.  I am not going to inflate the price, but simply sell it for face-value.  I have no need to be greedy and why not enjoy the experience with friends.  Plus, when Jeff has had enough now, he can switch places with my friend and hang out with her husband in Section 210.  :) 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I feel like I am back in school, elementary school that is.  Between Ian's 3rd grade math and Sam socializing in Kindergarten, I've been transported back to the 1970's.

I've discovered that Sam is shy.  Painfully shy.  I didn't realize how bad this was until kindergarten started.  She had an amazing group of friends all through preschool, but none of them went to the same elementary school as her.  It was time for her to start over.  It's not like she was going to stop being friends with her preschool crowd (they will be friends forever!!), but she definitely needed to have a friend or two to hang out with during school.  Sam needed to figure out how to make friends.  Each day she came home from school, I'd ask her about her day and who she played with.  Sam would shrug her shoulders and not really give me an answer.  My Mama Bear instincts came out in full force and I was determined to make Sam a friend during Back-to-School night.  As moms were filing into the kindergarten room I asked a few if they had a daughter or son in the class.  Once I found a mom of a little girl, I said we need to get a playdate scheduled ASAP!   It turns out that this mom also has a son who is in 3rd grade.  Ian knew him and they've played together from time to time during recess.  We scheduled a date to go bowling with all the kids.  A friendship between Sam and her daughter, Michela was forming. Yay!

Sam started talking about Michela and another girl named Courtney.  It was great hearing Sam telling me what was going in Kindergarten and hearing about these girls.  Ian even spotted Sam braiding Courtney's hair during lunch one day.

We had TWIN DAY at school coming up.  I never got into any of these themed dress-up days before with Ian.  He always handled it on his own. Ian would coordinate which baseball jersey the boys in his class would wear and they would show up at school ready to go.  For some reason I am much more protective of my daughter and was scared she'd be the odd duck out.  I couldn't let that happen.  I asked Sam if she wanted me to email Courtney's mom and see if they could dress alike.  Sam said yes.  When I sent the email I offered to go to Target and buy matching shirts.  I said it would be my pleasure to treat Courtney.  I got a pretty quick response from Courtney's mom.  She was very receptive to the girls dressing like twins.  Only my suggestion of keeping it easy by going to Target turned into a big-time shopping date at Gymboree at the mall.  Sam was overjoyed when she heard her and Courtney could pick out their outfit together.  We met at the mall on Monday afternoon (MLK day holiday) just in time before getting school cancelled for the next 3 days.  Fortunately Friday we only had a 2 hour delay and the girls dressed exactly alike for TWIN DAY.

Sam and Courtney having fun shopping together for matching outfits.

The cutest thing was when the phone rang on Friday morning.  I answered it to hear to Ian's friend Jack, in a shaky, timid 8 year old voice ask for Ian to come to the phone.  Jack wanted to confirm with Ian which baseball player's shirt they were all going to wear.  The boys decided on Strausburg. 

Sam and Courtney were the hit of kindergarten.  I can now breathe a sigh of relief that she has a couple of friends.  That is until next year when she ends up in different class than Courtney and Michela and I may have to start this making friends thing all over again.  It's a good thing I am good at it. :)

As for 3rd grade math and kindergarten sight words, I am still in elementary school hell. 

Sam in her TWIN DAY clothes. 
This is what the girls picked to wear.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Can you hear me now?

Sam loves the telephone.  She knows Jeff's cell phone number by heart and doesn't hesitate to call him.  She loves to call him when she wakes up and realizes he has already left for work.  She loves to call him while we are making dinner and find out where he is on his commute home.   When Jeff tells her where he is, Sam will then ask what is that near and how much longer until he gets home.

Most of the time I don't know Sam has called Jeff.  She will come find me in the house and simply say, "Daddy is near the hill where we went sledding.  He'll be home in 10 minutes."   At first I was in awe how she knew this.  Now I have it figured out that Sam just called Jeff.

A few weeks ago Sam took her phone calling talents to a new level.  Sam called Jeff while he was at home.  We were all sitting in the living room talking and without realizing it, Sam quietly goes to get the phone and calls Jeff's cell phone.  Sam got the biggest kick out of this when Jeff went to answer his ringing cell phone.  She had a smile on her face like the cat that ate the canary.  It was super cute and pretty funny.

Friday, January 24, 2014


I just got done reading a great book, "Orphan Train".  Thanks to Heather's mom for the recommendation.  It was the kind of ending that had me in tears with happiness.  I didn't want it to end.  I had fallen in love with these characters and I wanted the story to go on forever.  It was the kind of book that I woke up at 5:00am on Saturday morning (with 50% finished) and was not getting out of bed until I was at 100%.  It's so funny how with kindles you no longer think in terms of pages read, but with percentages.

After I was done with "Orphan Train" I consulted my list of what I wanted to read next and picked "The Interestings."  However, here's the thing; this book doesn't stand a chance.  I can't bring myself to start it.  The thought of having to get to know new characters right now is making me cringe.  This book has to start off with a bang to get me to keep reading.  It's almost a curse when I read I book I really, really, really love. 

With other books when this happens I quickly dive in to EVERYTHING the author has ever written.  I did this with Jodi Piccoult ("My Sister's Keeper" started that off).  I did this with Chris Bohjalian (Hello "Midwives"!), Jonathon Tropper ("This is where I leave you") and would've done it with Wally Lamb if it wasn't his first book that got released was when I discovered how great he was.  It's like I keep reading until I get burned out on their particular style of writing and have gotten my fix.

Maybe at some point I will go back and read other things the author of "Orphan Train" has done.  But right now there are so many other books I want to get to.  It's an interesting conundrum.  I love to read, but I want all the books to be as good as what I just finished or feel like I shouldn't even bother and start watching mindless tv.  Let's hope "The Interestings" is well, interesting.  :)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Haircut: hair by hair

Ian's hair is coming along nicely. Growing out the crew cut (number 4 all over!) is well on its way to a great style.  Ian has such a great head of hair and its a shame to not do something with it.  I finally found a hair cutter who understands my vision and is very talented.  He has managed to tame Ian's cowlicks into submission. Heck, he has tamed every single hair on Ian's head into submission.  I love this guy.  Here's the thing, he is a perfectionist.  To the point that it has turned getting a haircut into an hour long ordeal.  Really.  An hour.

When we went 8 weeks ago to our local barbershop (across the street from our house!) for Ian's haircut, we didn't have anyone we particularly liked and was happy just getting the first available chair.  By chance we got "Kevin".  I told him what I wanted and he went to work.  After about 25 minutes Ian and Jeff were losing their patience.  It was very obvious that Kevin needed to stop cutting as soon as possible.  If you've ever seen Jeff or Ian when they've "had enough" it isn't pretty.  It was in everyone's best interest that Kevin be done.  The end result was amazing and I vowed we'd be back again and again specifically for Kevin. 

This past weekend it was time for Ian get another haircut.  We had plans to walk across the street for breakfast at the bagel place and it was too convenient to not go a few stores down and get Ian a trim.  I called the barber shop and asked if Kevin was working.  The answer was yes. 

While we were eating I made sure to remind Jeff and Ian to be patient and let Kevin do his thing.

After a successful breakfast with the family, we made our way to the barber shop.  I didn't readily see Kevin and asked for him.   Kevin was hunched over on the outside bench and was taking a snooze.  They rustled Kevin awake and told him he had a customer.  Turns out Kevin was not the one we wanted!  This guy was much older.  Oh my!  I made a mistake.  The guy we wanted is named Quang.  The mistake was made because Quang was using Kevin's station last time we were there.  Fortunately Quang was in the back and was located. 

Ian sits down in the chair.  All is going well.  An hour later Ian is still in the chair.  All is not well.  Since everyone is doing their best to be on good behavior, Quang is able to do his thing.  It turns out Quang didn't know when it was enough.  I feel like each hair on Ian's head, strand by strand was treated with multiple tools - razor, scissors, texture scissors, straight razor, scissors again.  OMG!  Even I am admitting it was out of control.  I kept waiting for one of us to explode on how long it was taking, but we somehow managed to hold it together.  After about 35 minutes you kept thinking that Quang was going to be done any minute.  But it kept going and going and going. For me, it was getting so interesting to see what he could possibly do next to this young boys head -- who wasn't a model or on tv or in a movie.  :)

I have to admit that Ian's hair looks AH-Mazing!  But next time we are going to make some necessary changes. First of all, Ian will be given his iPad to read a book.  That will help pass the time.  The next change we will make is to tell Quang he has 15 minutes and to prioritize on what to do with Ian's head first.  And lastly, the most important change we will make is to call Kevin by his correct name, Quang.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Counting Stars

Ian has a song he has become quite fond of.  It's by One Republic called "Counting Stars".  I think from the moment that Ian first heard this song he has been singing some part or another of it continuously throughout his day.  It's gotten to the point that Sam has joined in.  Neither of them know the exact words, but do a good job of making up similar sounding words that fit in the tune.

Ian asked to have the song downloaded on his iPad.  This was way before the song started getting overplayed on the radio.  I wanted to make sure I got the band name correctly and said, "Is it by One Direction"?  Ian says, "No mom, if it was by One Direction I wouldn't want it."  Too funny!  Even at age 8, Ian has good musical taste.

While I was in the process of downloading the song, I found the words and told him what was actually being said in the song.  That helped greatly with listening to both kids sing this song ALL THE TIME.

For the past few weeks, every single time we get in the car, the song starts playing on the radio. Every single time!  It is the strangest thing.  We will be taking Ian to gymnastics (which is all of a 5 minute drive) and the song starts and ends perfectly in our time frame.  2 hours later, we are back in the car and the song starts and ends again during our short, little drive.  We go to the bus stop in the morning and the song begins playing as soon as I turn on the car.  Every morning!  Coming back from the gym in the morning, I'll hear the song and smile to myself.  It is so strange how this song keeps following us around.

After listening to the song over a gazillion times, the kids and I still haven't gotten tired of it.  Ian hasn't needed to play it on his iPad because we hear it so much during our day in the car alone. 

I guess this is much better than Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball which had been the song d'jour on the radio before this one.  Fortunately the kids didn't jump on that one.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

New Math

I've come to conclusion that "new math" sucks.  Big-time.  I am not sure what is wrong with the math we grew up with.  Didn't we all turn out just fine?  I know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide without any problem. 

Ian (in 3rd grade!!) came home the other night and was completely lost with his math homework.  He asked Jeff for help and Jeff replied with "I have no clue Ian.  I've never seen those terms before."  I asked Ian to show me what he had to do. Ian had a work sheet of multiplication problems that had to be done in 3 different methods;  Standard, Partial Product and Lattice.  I assumed correctly that Standard was how I was taught.  Whew!  Not a problem being able to help Ian with those.  The other two (Partial and Lattice) made me just as clueless as Jeff.  However, I was determined to help Ian and not let him go another day feeling lost with his school work. 

Thank G-d for the Internet!! What in the world would we do without being able to google our way to some much needed help? I found two YouTube videos that demonstrated each of the ways he was supposed to do his homework. Ian and I were able to work on them together.  An hour later I think we had a good handle on how to do this type of math.  Notice I say "we"?  We are both having to learn.  I thought I was done with school!

Partial Product

Seriously, could they make this math any more confusing for kids?  Having to learn 3 very different ways to do multiplication is just plain ridiculous!  The kids don't know if they need to multiply, add or split up the numbers.  It is insane.  Can't they just pick one method and stick with it?

I am in survivor mode with Ian's homework. I just hope that whatever he needs help with can be googled to show me what do. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Like DUH!!!!!

6 years ago we bought our refrigerator.  It's a side by side, not one of those newer fancy 'french door' kind with the freezer on the bottom.    It's been good to us and I have no complaints.

When the refrigerator was delivered I had a great time unwrapping the shrink wrap from all the drawers, baskets and shelves.  It was fun to set-up.  That's a sure sign you are getting old, when getting a new appliance puts a smile on your face.

Anyway, I felt like we were given one drawer with the shelf on top too many.  It didn't make sense to me to use it and I didn't remember seeing it on the display model at Sears when we purchased it.  I put the 'bonus' drawer in our shed and promptly forgot about it. 

Two weeks ago Ian goes to get something out of the bottom drawer in our fridge and inadvertently is very rough with pushing the drawer back in.  The plastic cracks and makes the sliding back and forth of the drawer on the track jagged.  I remembered the extra drawer we were given 6 years ago and retrieve it from our shed.  I'll just switch it out -- Voila!  Problem solved.

When I look at the drawer that was in storage and see what I am about to replace, I realize that this is not a duplicate piece.  Nope!  It was meant to be another drawer/shelf for inside the refrigerator.  I quickly raise the two shelves that are in there and make room for this drawer.  OMG!!  How cool is this!?!?!?   I can't believe all the extra space we have now.  It is quite remarkable the difference this extra drawer/shelf is making.   It is like a brand new refrigerator!

So I sort of feel like a complete dork! I was pregnant with Sam at the time so I am going to say this happened because of 'pregnancy brain'.   At least it was discovered and fixed while we can still enjoy it.  The comments from Jeff and the kids when they saw the "new" fridge layout was pretty funny. 

And it should be noted, I was successfully able to find the drawer that I still needed to replace on Amazon Prime!  It was here in 2 days.  :)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ian goes to Subway

With Jeff being out of town this past week for work, it was up to Sam and me to pick Ian up from gymnastics at 8:00pm.  Ian asked if we could stop at Subway (which is on the way home) and get a meatball marinara sub.  This is his new favorite item from Subway.  Ian had a small snack before class, but eats something more substantial afterwards when he gets home.

It was seriously cold out (and dark) by the time we loaded up the car and headed home.  I wanted Ian to be able to have his sub, but I didn't want to have to get Sam out of the warm car.  And I didn't feel comfortable leaving both kids in the car (with it running to keep it warm) while I ran inside to get Ian's sandwich.  My only other option was to give Ian money and send him in on his own.  These are those kind of life skills he needs to get comfortable with.

I double-parked the car right out front so I could keep an eye on Ian through the glass windows while waiting in the car with Sam.  What happened next is soon to become a classic story told time and time again in our house.

I see Ian make his way down the counter and get to the register.  I can see Ian hand the man behind the counter the $10 bill I gave him.  I see the man give Ian his change.  However, Ian keeps dropping the coins, having to bend down and pick them up.  Again and Again and Again.  They must've fallen a total of 5 times.  And each time the coins fell they scattered all over the floor.  It was hard not to laugh.  I mean the first two times I felt bad the coins fell, but after 5th time, it was getting hysterical.  Finally Ian starts putting the coins (one at a time) in his pocket until he has all the change safely secure.

Ian gets to the car and climbs inside.  I ask him how it went.  He said they were all out of meatballs.  Oh no!  So then Ian proceeds to tell me the exact conversation he has with the guy behind the counter at Subway.  Ian even does a dead-on PERFECT impression of this guy's Indian accent.

Ian:  I'd like a 6 inch meatball marinara with American cheese on Italian bread, please.

Guy Behind The Counter With Indian Accent (now referred to as: GBTCWIA):  No meatballs!  No Meatballs!  No meatballs!

Ian:  Ok, then I'll have a 6 inch Turkey, cheese, lettuce, and tomato on Italian bread, not toasted.

GBTCWIA:  You want it toasted, yeah?  You want it toasted?  Toasted?

Ian:  No!  Not toasted.

GBTCWIA:  Oh yeah, you want it toasted.

Ian:  Non toasted please!

GBTCWIA proceeds to put Ian's sub in the toaster.

Ian:  No toasting!

GBTCWIA:  We don't have shredded American cheese.

Ian:  I just want the slabs of cheese!

The rest of the sub gets made. 

GBTCWIA asks Ian if he'd like to make it a combo with a diet coke.

Ian:  No, I don't want a diet coke.  How old do you think I am?!?!?

GBTCWIA:  So you just want 21oz water?

Ian:  No, I don't want any drink.  Just this bag of chips and this sub.

GBTCWIA rings the food up and starts to give Ian his change.

GBTCWIA gets really annoyed with Ian as he keeps dropping the change everywhere.


As Ian is telling me this story, the tears are running down my cheeks.  I am laughing that hard.  I was proud of Ian for not making a beeline out of there once he saw the challenges he was facing ordering and the fact they didn't have any meatballs.  Ian took the news in stride and went with his next best option. 

The next day (Thursday) Ian is chosen to have lunch with the principal of his school.  This is actually a good thing and seen as an honor.  Upon pick-up from school, Ian tells me he told his teacher and the principal the Subway story.  I ask Ian what they thought of his story and knowing Ian, he retold it complete with Indian accent.  Ian says they both asked if he did this whole thing on his own.  I am cringing as I ask Ian what he said to that.  He replied with, "I told them you didn't want to come in."  OMG, I am now mortified.  I can only imagine what they think. 

Friday morning we do kiss-n-ride at the kids' school.  It is raining and yucky weather (in fact we had a two hour delay -- yet again this week!).  As the car pulls up, an older woman whom I've never seen before comes to the kids' door and helps them out.  She is holding an umbrella and is ready to shelter them from the rain.  She sees it is Ian and looks at me and says, "Ian told me the Subway story.  It was really funny."   I quickly replied, I hope you don't think he was completely unsupervised.  I was in the car with his little sister, double parked right out front.  I had my eye on him the entire time.  She said, "It's ok.  We were impressed that he did this.  And the amount of detail he had telling his story."   My reply:  "Yes, I've been laughing quite a bit hearing Ian tell the story."

I was trying to get Ian to learn a few life skills (ordering food, handling money).  In turn, Ian got more than he bargained for and learned how to communicate with someone whose first language is not English.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Within the past 3 to 6 months, Ian's taste in breakfast foods have gone through the roof!  There is nothing breakfast related he doesn't like to eat.  It's been fun watching him try new foods and then go on to devour them.  He has seriously become the Champion Breakfast Eater in the Toppall house. 

We stopped at a Denny's not too long ago and Ian had the Jr. Grand Slam, which was eggs, turkey bacon, hashbrowns and orange juice.  He asked for a side of fruit with this too.

At home he alternates between Banana Walnut Muffins, A Jimmy Dean Egg-Cheese-Sausage English Muffin Sandwich, or a bagel with lox.  Sometimes he'll ask me to make him an omelet, which I will happily do.

When he is with my mom, she always makes him a big bowl of slow-cooked oatmeal with blueberries.  No one makes oatmeal like Mom-mom.  I don't even bother to try.

Every now and then I'll make pancakes on the weekend and he'll go through a small tower of those. 

Ian's newest favorite breakfast item is bacon. My dad better get faster hands if he wants a piece when Ian is around.

I love seeing Ian enjoy eating breakfast so much.  It's a great way to start the day.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Spectacularly surreal

TIME:      11:15am to 1:45pm
WHEN:    Wednesday, January 1, 2014 
WHERE:  Burke, VA, United States  (Specifically on Burke Centre Parkway)
WHO:      The Toppall Team (Jeff, Ian, Samantha and me)

We had New Year's day blissfully free of any place we needed to be.  I proposed an idea to Jeff, "Let's walk to Cafe Rio for lunch and walk back."  Despite the 35 degree weather outside, Jeff didn't find a reason to turn down my idea and it got presented to the kids.  Ian and Sam were game as long as they could use their scooters.  Heck ya!

Not once did we hear "How much longer?"  Not once did we hear "Are we there yet?".  No one complained about the cold, or being thirsty, or having to go to the bathroom, or their feet hurting, or being too hungry, or the path being too hilly, or the sun in their eyes.

For 1.85 miles in each direction we did it!  It was 2.5 hours total of being part of a bigger plan.  There was no quick escape or exit available.  The kids and Jeff did a great job of hanging in there.  I think the funniest moment came as we were walking into Cafe Rio and Sam realizes where we are about to eat lunch.  She whines LOUDLY as we're walking through the door, "AW, NOT THIS PLACE!  I DIDN'T WANT TO COME HERE TO EAT."   Come'on, you can't tell me she didn't know where we were headed.  Not only did we mention the name of the place several times as to where we were going, but she is fully aware geographically what is located in the direction we were moving.  Her whining went ignored, her hunger kicked in and Sam ate her brother's chicken taco. 

After lunch, Ian and Sam requested Sweet Frog (located at the end of the shopping center) for FroYo before heading back home.   We got our frozen treat in freezing weather and then hit the trail back home.

I loved it!  And was so proud of my family.  To the casual pedestrian or car driving by, we looked like a normal family.  One who enjoys being outside and getting fresh air.  No one knew that inside I could hear a clock ticking (quite loudly) just waiting for someone (any one of us that bears the Toppall last name) to explode and ruin this fantasy.  It never happened!! 

As we had our house in sight, I threw out the idea that since this worked so well, we could do it all the time.  I got a few glares back in return and felt I shouldn't press my luck. So I altered my thinking and said "Maybe we could just do this every New Year's day."   At which point everyone agreed in 365 days they would be up for doing it again.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I heart Jennifer Lawrence

I didn't realize what a HUGE Jennifer Lawrence fan I was until I saw the movie, "American Hustle."   She took a supporting role in the movie and stole every scene she was in. 

I didn't really know who Jennifer was before seeing her in "Hunger Games".  I was in awe of how well they took a larger-than-life story and translated it perfectly for the big screen.  The casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen worked brilliantly.  She played that role exactly how I envisioned it when reading the story.  I loved everything about the movie, both the first "Hunger Games" and "Catching Fire."

The next time I took notice of Jennifer was in "Silver Linings Playbook".  What a great movie!  For this role she got the Academy Award.  How cool that someone so young was awarded the top prize in Hollywood.  There is a really cool moment when after the award show, Jennifer Lawrence is getting interviewed by one of the entertainment tv shows.  While she is being asked about how it feels to win, Jack Nicholson comes up to her, interrupts and congratulates her on the win.  After Jack walks away, Jennifer has this moment on air where she is visibly star-struck by Jack's presence.  In a very real person moment, she quietly freaks out and her mouth drops open.   Not realizing that Jack hasn't fully walked away, Jack taps her on her shoulder and Jennifer turns her head and sees him right there.  It makes her jump in her seat, shocked seeing him.  This moment is so down to earth and relatable.  It makes you love her even more.

Since the Academy Awards, Jennifer Lawrence has been quoted many times about how she won't lose weight to get a role; how she wants to portray only "fit", "healthy" women and send out a positive role model to girls.  And she has been known to go head-to-head with Joan Rivers for calling women "fat".   Got to love her, right?

I admit it, I have a girl crush.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Final thoughts on trip

If you ask me if there is anything we should've done differently with our trip to Orlando, I will answer 'no'. Jeff agrees and he isn't the kind of person to look at the glass "half full".  Not that he always sees the glass on the way to being empty either, but he is definitely more cynical than me.  It went as well as if not better than we could have hoped for. 

Driving straight-thru on the way there and back was smooth sailing.  Mount St. Samantha did not blow -- not once!  It took us 13 hours when going at night and 14 hours driving back during the day.  We definitely had more stops for meals and to walk around during our return drive on Sunday.  I introduced Jeff to "South of the Border."  This is the big tourist trap that is located right in between South Carolina and North Carolina.  I have so many memories as a little girl stopping there each summer when driving up to NJ.  Boy, has that area expanded!

Having fun at South of the Border:

THE smartest thing I ever did was purchase a dual port USB charger with a 4 foot cord.  The kids could be on their iPads while they were charging.  It didn't matter their iPads were on for almost 13 hours non-stop, it never went below 100% on the battery.  Seriously, can you think of $20 better spent than that?!?!?

Jeff and I were able to see 3 movies in the 8 days we were in Orlando.  I was in movie heaven!  Each film we saw was better than the last.  "The Wolf of Wall Street", "American Hustle" and "Saving Mr. Banks" all were fantastic.  How nice to go to a movie and not have to pay for a babysitter. 

It had been a while since Jeff had been in Orlando.  We were trying to think of his last visit and we came up with my sister's wedding in October 2009. I honestly don't think he has been back down there since then.  He has seen my family lots of times in other locations, but not on their home turf.  So weird that for the last 4 years, I've gone down with just the kids and not him.  It was great having him with us. 

In lieu of Hanukkah gifts from us, Jeff and I planned a family outing to go go-karting and out to dinner.  This was a fun evening and a great way to spend time together. 



It was a great trip!  My favorite highlight was meeting my gorgeous niece, closely followed by getting to see so many awesome movies.  And I feel it necessary to mention being around my family may very well trump going to the movies.  Gosh we have a good time when we get together. 

The most bizarre part was how much we did in Orlando while we were there and then when we got back home, the kids still had an entire week off from school.  We have certainly had the best of both worlds -- a fun adventure seeing the relatives and still lots of downtime chilling at home. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014


While in Orlando my Toppall team and I visited this place called "Wonder Works".  Located on International Drive I couldn't help but notice this building every time I drove on I-4 back and forth to one parent or another.   Why?  Because the entire building is upside down!! 

Yep, this is exactly what the building looks like. 
Ian especially likes the upside down palm trees.

I had never been before and wasn't exactly sure what the inside had to offer.  I was very intrigued and got excited when Jeff, the kids and I had a free day to spend however we wanted.  Given the location I was a little nervous that this would be a tourist trap, a waste of time and money. 

Wonder Works only has 4 locations in the U.S.:  Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Panama City and Pigeon Forge.  I just looked at their website; it appears that a new location in Syracuse has just opened too  (Which if you ask me, makes no sense when the other 4 locations are all huge tourist destinations -- Syracuse is not!!).

I am excited to report that the inside is even cooler than the outside.  This place rocks!!  And, not only did Sam fall in love with Wonder Works, but so did Ian, Jeff and me.  Every floor had us engaged no matter what age we were.  My Toppall team spent 4+ hours having fun and doing the coolest things.  Everything is hands on and interactive.  There were endless exhibits that we couldn't get enough of.   Fortunately the day we were there (December 24th), it wasn't that crowded and we could spend as much time as we wanted before moving on to the next thing.

Our favorite things:

Ian:    Baseball pitching simulator; you could pick different major league players to pitch against.

Sam:  The bubble room where you could make the biggest sized bubbles you've ever seen!

Jeff:    A room that you walked by and it had you dancing like you were in a 70s music video; complete with lights, disco music, and projecting your moves into psychedelic patterns on the big

Robyn:  The ropes course.  Very high in the ceiling was a full obstacle course that you walked around while harnessed in. 

A few moments stood out for us. There were three things that Ian wanted to do, but was scared. One was the bed of nails, where you lay on a flat surface and then thousands of nails push your body up several inches.  The other was the ropes course.  Ian talked a good game of wanting to go everywhere on this course, but once he got up there, his fear of heights kicked in.  The last thing was the roller coaster simulator.  It took a little hand-holding from Jeff and me, but we convinced Ian that he shouldn't let fear keep him from enjoying something he wanted to try.  Once Ian finally tried it he was happy he did it.  It was a great moment when Ian realized there was no reason to be scared.

What a nice surprise to have discovered such a great place.  Without hesitation we would go check out Wonder Works at one of their other locations if we were nearby. 

Sam and Ian are moving a ball with back and forth to each other with their brains.
The one who is the most relaxed will move the ball the furthest. 
Believe it or not, Sam won this challenge.

Ian laying flat on the bed of nails.

Ian getting lifted up by the nails.

Climbing to get to the ropes course.

Ian and me ready to start.

Uh-oh!  What happened to Sam's body?

Getting ready for the 4D theatre ride

Here are some fun photos that they make with you against a "green screen".

Sam had enough at this point and didn't want to cooperate any longer.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas 2013

My Toppall team and I aren't normally around the family for Christmas.  Given that we are Jewish, not being near family for this holiday is ok.  More than ok.  However this year was different.  We were staying with my mom and stepfather from Tuesday, Dec. 24th to Friday, Dec. 27th.   Given that Jim is not Jewish, him and my mom do a little Christmas celebration each year.

First it gets funny...

Watching my mom and Jim exchange presents was hilarious.  The presents my mom received from Jim had already been picked out by her but wrapped by Jim.  Each time she opened a gift she gave quite a performance acting surprised. At first I was blown away by how perfect Jim's gifts were for my mom, but then I remembered she actually picked them out herself.  My mom had a variety of presents for Jim (all a surprise) but forgot what was in each box.   It was very funny watching them open the gifts.

Sam wanted to know how Santa delivered the gifts since Mom and Jim don't have a fireplace.  Ian said he came through the air vent.  Sam didn't question that as an answer, despite the air vent being very small in size.

We had a big dinner and Lori, Ben and Rachel came over to join us.  The majority of the day was spent in the kitchen cooking. It was a lot of work, but very fun and so delicious!  I made two desserts; an Apple Cheesecake Streusel Bar and a Turtle Bar. 

Then it gets ugly...

After dinner my mom wanted to take us to Celebration for their holiday celebration.  At 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, and 9pm they have it snow for 10 minutes on the hour.  And this year they offered outdoor "ice skating" until 10:00pm.  Celebration is approx. a 15 to 20 minute from my mom's house.  We followed Jim who took us a back way to get there.  Only this way wasn't faster, it took us an hour of sitting in traffic to finally get there.  At this point, Jeff is starting to lose his good mood.  Sam fell asleep in the car and it is guaranteed now that she won't go back to sleep easily when we get back to my mom's house.   We weren't getting anywhere quick and it was only getting later and later.

It took us another 20 minutes or so to find a parking spot.  We finally ended up in a condo parking lot with big signs announcing it would TOW if your car was found in this lot.  Both Jim and Jeff begrudgingly agreed to park there.  My mom and I (obviously genetics were in play here) didn't see anything wrong with these golden spots that were extremely close to all the action.  Ian kept saying he didn't feel safe (?!?!). Jeff wanted to stay by the car and keep an eye on it.  Jim at one point felt like he should go back to the parking lot and check on the car.  Basically the girls ruled and we all proceeded ahead with our plans to watch it snow and ice skate. 

Have I mentioned that Jeff is not a fan of big crowds or lots of noise?  Both of which were in full swing as the holiday music is piping through the speakers and everyone in Orlando seemed to have the same idea as us on where to go on Christmas evening. 

The snow is really just bubbles made to look like snow.  It's a novelty and everyone in the town square gets all excited to see it.  Everyone that is but Jeff.  He wasn't amused and was ready to get back in the car and make our way home to put the kids down to bed. 

After the snow fall, it is time to go ice skating.  Mind you it is not real ice, but a special kind of plastic that you can skate on.  Normally I am all about ice skating, but due to a blister on my foot, getting ice skates on my feet wasn't my idea of fun.  Jeff hates ice skating but felt like he had to do it to help the kids.  He is now comparing this whole evening to being on a beach.  With all 3 on the ice Jeff is holding on to Sam's walker more to balance himself than actually needing to help Sam skate.  He keeps glaring at me and I am pretty sure he mouthed the word "hate" when I our eyes met. 

The skate session is for 30 minutes but the kids and Jeff last about 15.  They've had enough and want to their skates off NOW!

As we make our way back to the car we stop at the Market Cafe for Ian to use the bathroom.  Mom looks at her watch and sees it is going to snow again in 10 minutes.  G-d I love her and her inability to know when to give up, but my mom proposes waiting for the snow to fall again.  It was a pretty unanimous "no" and we go to the car.

Now it gets pathetic...

We tell Jim we are not going to follow him home.  We will go our own way and put the address in the GPS.  We just know that getting on the highway will be faster than Jim's back roads.  As we make our way to I-4, the GPS has us go towards a toll road.  Jeff asks if we will actually be going on a toll road.  I say, "No, it's just the direction we are headed.  We won't come to the toll."   Well, I was wrong.  Big-time!  Before we knew it, we were at the toll booth and needed a $1.00 to go through.   I knew I didn't have any money on me and Jeff said he didn't either.  We pull over to the side of the road, right in front of the toll booth and work on counting all the change I could find at the bottom of my purse.  We make it to .89 cents.  Yep, that's the best we can do.  I am laughing at the predicament we are in.  Of course, Jeff is getting even more pissed and his mood has gone from bad to worse.   I think at this point he was wishing he was on a beach.   It is truly sad that between the both of us we don't even have a dollar on us.  As we are scrounging for any change we can find, Sam says "You should've gone to the bank earlier today."  Um, yeah!  That's for sure.

There is no option to turn-around  We have to go through the toll booth. We tell the toll booth collector we only have .89 cents.  Does he take credit cards?  He says no.  After a long moment of silence I ask what do we do then?  He gave us a card and said we had 10 days to mail in the toll.  We thanked him and continued on our way.  I did offer the .89 cents we came up with as a down payment, but he wasn't interested.

Then it got funny again...

We were certain that with our change counting delay there was no possible way we'd get home before Mom and Jim.  Surprisingly enough, we did.  At this point we are all giggling again and very surprised to have a good 5 minutes before they walked in the house. 

This will surely be a Christmas to remember.  :)