Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer Adventures 2015....still going

While Ian was spending a few days in CT with his cousin, Sam and I tried to make the most of our days back home.  One of the mornings I had to work for the crazy guy and bring Sam with me.  She was a rockstar and really made me proud.  I was quick to offer whatever reward she'd like for hanging in there for 2 hours while I worked.

Me:  Sam, name it and we will go get it.

Sam:  Cold Stone!  The biggest Chocolate Devotion EVER!

Me:  Ok.  You got it.

Sam:  Can it be considered lunch?

Me:   Ok, but please don't tell Ian.

Sam:  I'm not good at keeping secrets.

Yes, this thing is as big as it looks!
Yesterday, we weren't at my Aunt's house 5 minutes to get Ian (our meeting place was in Cherry Hill, NJ which is almost exactly halfway way for my cousin and I to get to) when I hear Sam say to Ian "...And it was the "I'm LOVING it size!!!".   Hahahahaha.

My cousin and her family lives in Darien, CT.  Leslie sent me some pictures she took.  She said this beach is about 10 to 15 minutes from her house.  I am in love with these pictures.  It looks so beautiful.  Ian had a great visit. I can see us doing this again and again.  At some point, we will also incorporate Sam and Ellie into the swap.

Our next 'pack your bags, we've still got places to go' is happening tomorrow.  We will be on a flight at 7:00am to Orlando.  This is always a highlight of my summer each year.  I go down for a few days with the kids and then let Ian & Sam spend a few weeks with my family without me.  It's a win-win-win for everyone.  The grandparents and my sister/brother-in-law get lots of one-on-one time with the kids and I get a break.   My mom and stepfather will drive the kids back to VA.  It always amazes me how this is everyone's preferred mode of transportation.  They've been doing it for years now -- in fact they took both kids down I-95 by car before I ever attempted it.  Got to love how fearless my mom is.  I guess the apple didn't fall far from the tree.  :)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer adventures 2015 continues

A week ago, Ian and I did something that I hadn't been able to do since before having children.  We went to a double feature at the movies.  Seeing 2 movies back-to-back is something I used to love to do.  In my opinion, it's a great way to spend a Saturday or a Sunday.  

There were two movies Ian had been looking forward to seeing and both happened to be playing at the same theatre.  It was Jeff's idea that I take Ian and go enjoy the day doing what I love.  Ian got a kick out of the idea and was totally up for it.  I asked Jeff if him and Sam wanted to join us for either one or both films, but these weren't the kind of movies Sam would want to see.

We started with "Max" at 10:00am and then went right into "Ant-Man" at 12:30pm.  In between, we walked quickly to a nearby Panera Bread and picked up a grilled cheese sandwich to go for Ian for lunch.  We munched on popcorn until we couldn't take one more kernel.  It was devine!

Each movie was very different from the other and both were awesome.  I loved "Max"!  But then again, it wouldn't be hard to not like any movie that makes a German Shepherd it's star.    And Paul Rudd as "Ant-Man" was a great casting choice.  He is a very likable actor and someone you feel like you could be friends with.

Ian and I had a great time on our movie date.  What fun!   Ian is now enjoying a few days in Connecticut without us.  My cousin Leslie invited Ian to come spend time with his cousin Max, who is 6 weeks younger than Ian.  Her two kids (same age boys and same age girls) are like two peas in a pod.  We pick Ian up tomorrow morning.  I can't wait to hear how his visit was.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Summer Adventures 2015

A few times this summer I've had second thoughts about staying home with the kids.  Maybe if I had a full-time job and put the kids in day care or in full-time camps, they'd (and me!) would be better off.  I can't help but think the reason Sam and I butt heads so much is because we are around each other 24/7.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?  There is no absence to be had here.

Being a mom isn't easy, especially when you have a challenging and spirited kid who sometimes sucks the life out of you.  Please know that not all of our days during this summer break have been horrific.  We've had more than our share of fun adventures.  The scale is definitely tipped in favor of staying home with the kids and juggling 3 part-time jobs around their schedule. It IS still a good thing.

With that said, the fighting/bickering/annoying each other 'just because' between Ian and Sam is out of control.  I've gotten creative and assigned them even and odd days.  If it is an even date (July 2, 4, 6, 8, etc), then Ian gets to go first in everything.  This includes but not limited to taking a shower, getting sunscreen on, etc.  If its an odd date (July 1, 3, 5, 7, etc), then it's Sam's turn to go first.  This new system has helped, but only so much.  There is still so much for them fight about that I don't even have a strategy figured out.  Let them work it out between themselves; just as long as there is no blood.

Additionally Samantha marches to the beat of her own drum.  She is feisty and definitely pushing all my buttons.  I can only pray at the start of each day that today is a day she will be cooperative and a team player.  All too often, Ian gets the short end of the stick when it takes a good percentage of my energy and attention to interact with his sister.

I think I found I am most happiest making plans.  Researching different options (where to stay, how to get there, what to do, who to go with, etc) makes me happy.  The optimistic girl in me thinks the whole day will be picture perfect and everything will go swimmingly.  Ha!  That rarely happens, but for the most part, I am still glad we attempted whatever it is we did.

The kids and I spent the day at National Harbor.  We didn't have a plan and it worked out great.  We wanted to do the Ferris Wheel (they call it the Capital Wheel).  Originally we were going to go last Monday, but that day looked like rain.  At the last minute (really, it was the day before, but for those who know me, plans made for outings with the kids are weeks in advance!), we decided to try again on a Thursday.  The weather looked amazing....low humidity and a high of 83 degrees. 

All we had in place was to meet at the Ferris Wheel with our friends at 10:00am when they opened.  The rest of the day was going with the flow.  It turned out to be a perfect day.  Again there were 5 kids with us, but for some reason, looking back, I don't recall any of the kids having any sort of issues for the time we were together, jumping from one activity to the next.  The day hummed along nicely.

Selfie in the Ferris Wheel.

Playing at The Awakening Statue.

Swan Paddleboat!

We wrapped up the day with a stop in the Peeps Store and lunch at Rosa Mexicana.  It was a bit more upscale place to eat than planned, but Baja Fresh at National Harbor had closed.  We didn't find this out until it was too late.  The kids, Kelly and I all enjoyed our lunch very much.

A couple of days later, I decided to take the kids to The National Building Museum in D.C.   There is a Beach exhibit that I had been hearing about from my friends.  It's basically a GIANT ball pit -- to the tune of 1 million balls.  The whole thing is in the theme of a beach, complete with chairs and umbrellas.  It's all indoors.  We had a very rough start to our day before even leaving our house and many times I contemplated not going.  I took a bunch of deep breaths and persevered.  By the time we made it downtown (about a 30 minute drive), we were all in better moods and getting a rock star parking spot certainly helped the situation.

The kids LOVED the exhibit.  It was just what we needed and a lot of fun.  After a few hours, we headed out of the museum for lunch.  Again, as with the National Harbor, my go to restaurant (Green Turtle) was closed for renovations and we had to improvise at the last minute with something else.  We ended up at Clyde's for lunch.  Hahahaha.  Not our usual type of restaurants I take the kids to for lunch.  Being surrounded by women and men in business suits having lunch meetings made us a feel only a little out of place.  Both kids behaved beautifully.  Clyde's does have a kid's menu so we couldn't have been that much out of our element.

Oh my gosh!  Every time I tried to get up, I'd sink further and further.

I thought I was going to have to live among the balls forever. :)

We ended up going back in The National Building Museum after lunch and seeing the other exhibits.  It was a very enjoyable day.  Who would've thought that with how our morning had been?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Heard and Observed #53

Driving in the car:

Sam sneezes.

Ian says, "Bless you"

Sam replies with:  "Ian, you talk to much."

How sweet is my daughter?  ;)

Me:  "Sam, when someone says Bless you, the proper response is thank you."

Sam:  "But its true, he talks too much."


Saturday, July 18, 2015

My man, the plumber (no, really!)

A few months back we had a problem with our downstairs toilet.  We called a plumber and the next thing you know, the $14 replacement part turned into getting a new toilet installed.  It was a bit of disaster, but one thing had led to another and once the lid that goes on top of the toilet shattered, it made more sense to buy a whole new toilet.

Lo and behold the other day, the same exact problem occurred in the kid's bathroom.  As soon as I saw the water overflowing out of the tank, I knew what was happening.  Jeff said he could fix it.  We both commented in unison how we can't let the lid break.  Within one hour, the toilet was fixed!  It cost $8 for the part.  I am so excited.  

Who would have ever thought this was possible?  For 2 days I kept the bucket under the tank just to make sure it was 100% fixed and no longer overflowing.  Yep, we were good to go.  Woo-hoo!   I think even Jeff was surprised by the outcome.  And it was accomplished without the plumber's crack.  :)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cruising with the Toppall's, part 2

Cruises LOVE to take pictures of you. They also love to sell these pictures to you.  It's big money for the cruise lines.  It's also a great vacation for families and groups to have reunions and go on vacations together.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to put 2 and 2 together that big groups/families and pictures are a natural combination.

One evening, while the boys were using the bathroom, Sam, Marcia and I were hanging out in the atrium watching the photography action.  I love to people watch and very much enjoy seeing people get their photo taken.  The photographer (named August, but born in September) was having fun chatting with Sam while this big group was forming.  August, who was Asian, was going to be their photographer.  The group that was gathering were all African American and all were wearing white. White tops, white bottoms, white dresses, white on white on white.  They were stunning!

With a group this big, they had to position themselves on the curved staircase.  There were so many of them!  I went up to one of the women and said, "You all look beautiful, how many are in your group?"   She answered with "46".  Wow!   The photographer had a great sense of humor and took quite a big risk saying this out loud while they were making their way up the steps, "All the dark people in the back, all the Asian's up front".   Hahahha!

The boys finally come out of the bathroom and we are ready to keep making our way to the theatre to watch the show.  As we are waiting for the elevator to arrive, the doors open and another 8 or 9 people come out.  Clearly they belonged to this big group and were making their way to the staircase for the picture.  Sam takes one look at people coming out of the elevator and says quite loudly, "MAN, HOW MANY OF YOU WHITE PEOPLE ARE THERE?"

It was very funny on so many levels.  She would never think to comment that there were so many African Americans in one space, but you couldn't help but notice that they are all dressed in white, head to toe.  I am so nervous that the kids will say something inappropriate or politically incorrect; either about color, height, weight, disability, etc.   Sam commenting about all the white people who were clearly black was definitely never in my radar as a possibility.  heehehehehehe


This is me and Ken.  Ken is the Maitre D in the Normandie Dining Room.  Once we got on the cruise ship I had to let him know I was gluten-free.  As instructed, I told Ken and from that moment on, I felt like I was treated like a celebrity.  Everyone knew my name and I was offered the menu the night before to let them know what I wanted to eat for dinner the following night.  It was pretty awesome and the family enjoyed getting a preview at the menu too.  No dish was off limits and everything was able to be altered for my food allergy.  I had GF bread waiting for me each night too.  And, without me asking, in addition the dessert I ordered, they ALWAYS brought me a chocolate melting cake.  I was given 2 desserts each night!  How much do I love cruising!?!?

Anyway, back to Ken.  Every single evening during our dinner hour, Ken would sing for us.  By the 3rd night I noticed a pattern that he was singing Frank Sinatra songs each time.  I commented to Ken how much I enjoyed hearing him sing as I'd leave the dining room at the end of dinner.  By night 5, I started guessing on the way in which new Frank song Ken would sing.  I never guessed correctly, but Ken got a kick out of my guesses and made one of the songs "Witchcraft".   (Side note to mom:  This was for you!  Think back to New Orleans.).   I had a lot of fun with this.  Even though our table was in the back of the room and Ken was singing towards the front of this huge room, I'd stand up and he'd give me a little wave.  


Ian and Sam loved getting back to their cabin at the end of each day and seeing what new towel animals had been created. 

The class they gave on how to make these towel animals was pretty fun.  It is amazing how intricate and complex the elephant is.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cruising with the Toppall's

Whirlwindesque....that's the way the summer is going.   Right after our 4 days in NYC and just before unexpectedly purchasing a new car, Team Toppall fit in a week-long cruise.  Jeff's parents treated us to a fantastic voyage and joined us for the fun.   We left out of Baltimore on Sunday, June 28th and returned 7 days later on Sunday, July 5th.  The ship made 3 stops; Port Canaveral, Nassau and Freeport.  This was the first time cruising for both kids.  Ian had been before when he was 2 years old, but since he doesn't remember any of it, it doesn't count.

I truly think a cruise is the ideal vacation.  It's perfect on so many levels; mainly that it can appeal to all age groups.  There is something for everyone.  From the kids club to  PG- and R- rated comedy shows, to family friendly entertainment, to piano bars, karaoke, bingo, full length hit movies on the Lido deck, pools/hot tubs, dance clubs, behind the scenes look at how things are done and so much more, it's quite hard to get bored. Plus the never ending list of activities changes daily.

The other main reason I find it ideal is the abundance of food.  You never have to cook or finding a restaurant for everyone to eat.  There is so much food!  All kinds and endless quantities of it.  We never once had to worry about finding something Sam would want to eat and on the flip side, Ian's inner foodie was able to come out in full force.  Ian loved getting to try all these new dishes he wouldn't normally have access to.   My gluten allergy gave me special treatment and I easily was offered GF bread, pancakes, french toast, and many, many desserts, all to my heart's content.  It was quite wonderful how Carnival accommodated my celiac disease.

And if that is not convincing enough to take a cruise, you get to experience different destinations without having to pack and unpack each time.   Sam loved the Bahamas and would like to go back RIGHT NOW!  hahahaha.  If only it were that easy.  Seriously, the kids had never seen water that blue or that calm.  They loved being able to see the ocean floor.

As I was telling this to my friend, she said, "But you've got to want to be on a boat".  Why yes you do.  If you don't want to be on a boat, then no amount of convincing reasons is going to persuade you to take a cruise.

Highlights from our vacation:

  •  Sleep!   Jeff, the kids and me all slept amazingly well; each and every night.  I usually wake up at least once if not twice throughout the night.  And 95% of the time I will wake up at 4:45am ready for the day -- not by choice!  From the first night on the ship, I slept like a baby and didn't wake up until 6:30am or so.  There was one night when I slept so incredibly well I didn't even turn over. My body actually ached from sleeping on one side the whole night.  I can't remember that ever happening before.   

  • The Kids Club!  I had a goal with Sam and her social skills group this past year.  I wanted her to be comfortable enough that by the time the ship left the port of Baltimore, Sam wouldn't have any issues with getting signed up for the kids club.  It worked.  Sam and Ian each enjoyed a few hours playing with kids their own ages and Jeff & I had a few kid-free hours together.  Ah, how sweet!

  • Port Canaveral!  We stopped for the day near Orlando.  My family met us and spent time hanging out on Cocoa Beach.   We signed Ian up for a surf lesson.  He had never been on a surf board before.  It was truly magical watching him learn to surf. Within 15 minutes he was doing handstands on the surf board.  Spectacular how quickly surfing became something natural for Ian to do.

  • Nassau!    Another stop we made was in the Bahamas.  We signed up for the beach day excursion at Nassau.  The weather and water was gorgeous. 

  • Jeff saying he had the best 2 days of his life spending it with us at the beach (back to back days -- Cocoa Beach and Nassau).  Jeff normally can't stand the sand or being outdoors on the beach, so him making this statement is HUGE!  Huge I tell you!

Jeff telling me how happy he is.  (I take pictures of everything!)

  • Enjoying all the ship had to offer.  There were endless activities and we enjoyed sampling a good number of them with the kids. 
Playing Bingo!

Learning how to make the towel animals.

  • Grandparents!   Definitely a highlight was having Jeff's parents with us.  It was great to enjoy almost all our meals together each day and some of the other activities too.  Sam and Ian loved spending time with their grandparents.

Having fun with the selfie stick!

A funny thing happened towards the end of our cruise.  We had two rooms with the connecting door in the middle that we kept propped open.  Ian and Sam had their own space and Jeff & Me had our space.  It worked out great and I am forever grateful to my in-laws for getting us an extra room (rather than sticking the four of us in one room).   I said to Sam, "I hope you've been brushing your teeth each day."   Sam responded with, "I haven't had a chance all week."   OMG!

I LOVE this picture!

What a good looking bunch!

Friday, July 10, 2015

An unexpected surprise and delight

I REALLY wanted to see my car turn 200,000 miles.  It became a challenge I imposed on myself. And, when I set my mind to something, I am pretty good about making it happen.  I was at 193,000 miles and could see the finish line within shooting distance.  My 13 year old car had been very good to me and kept me safe in many crazy situations I found myself driving over the years.  I adored my car. 

With that said, it was getting to the point that parts on the car were just wearing out.  As well made as it is, nothing is going to last forever.  I had it in my head that the next big repair it needed (anything costing over $500) was the moment I knew it was time to say good-bye. 

It finally happened.  The day after we got back from our trip to NYC, we were meeting friends at their pool for the afternoon.  I had been using the car all morning and everything was fine.  We left the pool and all of sudden, the power locks went kaput, the air conditioning went kaput and the emergency brake light was permanently lit even though the brake wasn't being used. Uh-oh!

I got my car in for service early the next morning and found out a multi-control unit fuse box needed to be replaced.  It was going to cost $795.  Thanks, but no thanks I said to my guy Milton who has serviced my car for the last 13 years.  I went one room over at the dealer and asked them to tell me what I could get for my car as a trade-in. 

My ending mileage

Saying good-bye to my car.

The next morning Jeff, the kids and I went to test drive two cars at the dealer.  I really wanted the Honda Pilot (well, I really wanted the Acura MDX but you have to wake-up sometime and realize how far fetched that idea was).  The 2016 model had just come out.  It was completely redesigned and looks amazing.  Jeff preferred I stuck with the CR-V and get the 2015 version.  He had a hard time justifying the additional $13,000 in cost for the Pilot because I so badly wanted a car with 3 rows of seats.

If I got the Pilot my life as I knew it would be over.  No dinners out, no movie nights, no girl's weekends, no taking the kids to NYC for 4 days, etc.  You get the point.  I'd have the car I want, but I wouldn't be able to do anything else. And you all know how I like a good adventure!  This would've been a selfish move on my part and the kids would've suffered too.

At the end of the day I picked the CR-V.  A lot of technology has happened in the past 13 years.  I got the exact color I wanted and the EX-L model with leather seats and all the bells and whistles.    Once we got back from our latest vacation, Jeff and I made the new car purchase happen quickly.

When I woke up the next day with my new wheels in the driveway, I got very excited.  This car is perfect for me.  It's true that I don't have that 3rd row of seats I've wanted for years, but I can't really mourn something I never had anyway.  Right?

One of the coolest things is when you use your blinker to indicate you are making a right-hand turn and you get a view of the right-hand side of your car.  There is a camera that displays what is going on in the lane next to you.    The other thing I love is the smart entry and push button engine start.  I leave my keys in my purse and NEVER have to take them out.  As I approach the car, it unlocks automatically.  As I leave the car it locks automatically.   And once I am in the car, all I have to do is hit the button to turn the car on.  Good-bye "old school" keys!

As I am driving around in my new car, I feel like I was two steps away from having driven a Fred Flinstone know, my feet through the floor board pedaling.  I will never say a bad thing about the first CR-V, but boy have their been improvements over the past decade. 

Ian says he can't wait to see what happens when I get the next new car in another 13 years.  He predicts we will be flying around in our cars.  I already feel like I am now!  What a smooth ride!

On a side note, I believe I had negotiated a really good deal on the trade-in and the price for the new car.  However, it makes you wonder just how good of a deal you got when your car salesman insists you go to dinner and give him the receipt afterwards for reimbursement while they get your car ready to deliver to you.  Things that make you go hmmmm.  ;)

My new car!!

This was my Pilot.  It was waiting for me when I returned from the cruise.
They even had a "SOLD" sign in the window with my name written in the top corner.