Wednesday, December 30, 2015

End of the year wrap-up: 2015 Edition

It's so true what they say, as the kids get older, the years are going by quicker.  I feel like I blink and it's a new year.  I am very impressed with all we managed to do in 2015.  It was a jam packed year, full of so many awesome adventures, new experiences and happy moments.

Without further ado, here is my annual recap:

Travel in 2015:

January: Orlando for a long weekend (the kids & me)

March:  Gettysburg, PA (Jeff & Ian)

March:  Richmond and Williamsburg (the kids & me with friends)

April:  Orlando* for a long weekend

 June:  NYC (the kids & me with friends)

June:  Cruise with Jeff's parents

July:  Ian in CT visiting relatives

July:  Kids in Orlando for 18 days, I was there for 5 of them.

August:  Deep Creek Lake/ Wisp with Jeff

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

October:  Williamsburg for the weekend

October:  Atlantic City, NJ for a family reunion 

November:  NYC*

November:  Orlando and Cruise with my side of the family

December:  Gaithersburg, MD for Matthew's Bar Mitzvah

December:  Pennsylvania for family Hanukkah party

*Represents trips taken solo

We did the week at the beach again this year.  It will forever be remembered as the year that Jeff and I (despite being the ones to pay for the beach house) didn't get a bedroom to sleep in.  Oy!  Never again I've promised Jeff.  Other than this huge SNAFU, it was a great week.  We will most likely go back again this summer and get the house right next to my cousins like we've done the past 2 summers.

In 2015, I feel fortunate to have spent as much time as I did with my family in Orlando.  As of right now, I don't have any side trips planned to go down by myself.  I'll have to see what I can do about that.  I treasure the time I can spend with my parents.  They won't be around forever and its important to me to see them as much as possible.

Ian and Samantha are doing great in school.  Their teachers are amazing and the best suited for each of them.  Even Samantha is enjoying going to school.  What more can you ask for than that?

Sam has surprised us more than few times in the last few months with her ability to adapt to new environments and being social.  It still brings a happy tear or two to my eye when I see how far she has come.  The biggest shock of 2015 hands-down has to be Sam's desire to want to go to Camp Ramah / sleepaway camp.  She will be going for 12 nights in August 2016.

Ian has decided to play the saxophone.  I love listening to him practice. He has come far from that first day when we thought, "Uh-oh, what did we encourage him to do???"   The other activity Ian is doing is Flag Football.  He'd love to be able to play tackle football, but I can't see that happening anytime soon.  Every time I see another story on the news about a high school student dying from getting hit too hard during a football game, I make sure Ian sees the story too.

Both kids have recently shown a natural talent for creative writing. It's pretty wild to read what they are working on (completely on their own, not because its a school project) and know that it came from them at 7 and 10 years of age.  I am seriously blown away by what Ian is writing.  He is that good.  Who knows, maybe Ian will become a writer.   Finally, the kids' school this year, is making sure that homework doesn't take over their home life.  It has truly made a difference and is a refreshing change from the last 5 years.  It's a nice change of pace to be able to have a life after school.  And this has made it possible for Ian to work on writing -- just for fun.  If you ask me, this is better than any homework they are being asked to do.

Both kids have shown an ability to carry conversations with adults.  I love this!  I love that we are raising kids who are not afraid to speak to adults. I love that when someone says to Ian, "How are you?" and he responds with, "Fine, thank you.  How are you?".  I love that the kids have eye contact with the adult they are speaking with.  It makes me feel like Jeff and I are doing something right in the manners department. 

Jeff has gotten into a great groove at work. He was picked to work on some major high-profile projects and did a wonderful job.  There have been many times when he put in 2:00am / 4:00am / 6:00am conferences calls on the weekends, but none of us mind as it isn't stressing him out.  I am so proud of him and what he is accomplishing.

Who knew this was the year that I'd get a new car?  While it isn't the new Pilot I wanted (for the 3rd row seat), I did get a new CR-V with all the bells and whistles.  I absolutely love the car and am enjoying all the new technology.  It's awesome!  I almost made it to the 200,000 miles I wanted to on the old CR-V.  The car got traded in with 194,000 miles on it.  No one can say I didn't drive it to the fullest it could go without getting into some major repairs.

2015 for me has become one of my best years ever.  Since September, I've really put a focus on my health. Between the boot-camp classes I do religiously 3 times each week and my 5:30am walks with my friend Tami, I feel like I've got a handle on this exercise thing.  Additionally, I've given up dairy, grains, and sugar.  It's clean eating all the way.  I am far from the end result I'd like to see, but the baby steps I have been making are starting to pile up.  It's a great feeling and I am really looking forward to 2016 to make even more progress.

I am loving my part-time jobs and am really enjoying the flexibility I have.  I even got a nice little raise from The Crazy Man about 2 months ago.  There's a funny story behind the raise, but let's just say that he was terrified I wasn't happy.  It's pretty cool the schedule I have been able to work out and still be available for the kids before and after school, and any school holidays or sick days that come our way.

Last year at this time I wrote about Jeff not joining us in a lot of our activities outside the house.  2015 has seen a big change in this.  We've been doing so much as a family and it's been really wonderful.  In fact, each month, Jeff tries to find something for us all to do outside the house.   It is awesome and I love it.   The four of us rock!  Go Team Toppall!

The biggest negative this past year has to be the kids fighting.  OMG!  They bicker over everything and anything.  I am so done listening to them try to kill each other.  They used to fight over who got to use their bathroom first for showers each day.  So I came up with odd and even days.  Every date that is an even number means that Ian gets to go first.  Every date that is an odd day means that Sam gets to go first.  If only every thing else could have a solution this easy.

Unfortunately the battle Sam has with getting dressed each morning before school is only mildly getting better. I tell her I won't make her breakfast until she comes downstairs dressed.  Some mornings this causes a huge battle, other mornings she complies 100%.  I'm guessing its all dependent on if she got a good night of sleep the night before.

Sam is still quick to explode, but I do believe her temper tantrums/meltdowns aren't as long lasting as before.  Jeff feels all this stems from her being frustrated.  It takes a lot of patience to work thru her anger and find the cause.

Another unfortunate situation is our plans for installing an irrigation system in our lawn never happened.  However, with two of the trees gone, we've gotten more sunlight and the lawn is not looking half bad.  Some of the best news I have to share is that I didn't rake one leaf this year.  Jeff did them all with his lawn mower.  What a great time saver!  I could get used to this.

My wrap up wouldn't be complete without mentioning that the kids and I still desperately want a dog.  It seems so hopeless that Jeff will ever be ready to jump back in.  I feel this big void not having a four-legged member of the Toppall family.  I have to say to myself every day (sometimes multiple times a day):  I love Jeff more than I love the idea of having a dog.  If I put it in that context, I can make it to another day.  But when you've had as many dogs as I have my whole life, it baffles me that we have two kids and not a dog for them to love. 

The year ahead in 2016:

I have some really wonderful plans coming up this year.  I hate to even mention it in case it doesn't happen.  So I will keep my mouth shut for the time being.  :)

I am hoping that we can continue with installing recessed lighting in at least the kitchen and dining room.  It has made such a difference in our downstairs family room.  This is probably where we'd spend the first bit of extra money that comes our way.

In a bit of irony, we will be paying a good deal of money for someone to remove my 'renovation tree'.  The tree is dying and at some point will probably fall.  Jeff would like to have the tree professionally removed; I would like the tree to fall in the direction its leaning and get me a new kitchen.  Jeff has won the argument on this one.  I can't guarantee that either A. It will fall exactly where I need it, and B., we won't be home at the time and potentially die from the tree crashing in the house.  While this is a chance I'm willing to take, Jeff is not.

I wish to continue pushing myself outside my comfort zone.  I love spending time with friends and plan to do that as much as possible in 2016, getting my family included on my adventures.  I really enjoy getting to hang-out with my kids.  They are amazing people!  Ian and I have been enjoying going to movies.  It's wonderful that Ian is old enough to join me.  He makes a great date.  :) 

My New Year's Wish:

To those reading this: I wish for the coming year to let us all enjoy the moment; savor our time spent with family and friends.  May we have reason to smile and laugh not just at the big stuff, but the little stuff too. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

8 awesome nights!

We had a pretty great Hanukkah at Casa del Toppall.  The kids are aware that while they will have several gifts to open from Jeff & me, they most likely won't get 8 presents from us -one for each night. We value quality and experience-type gifts over quantity.  I do try to keep it pretty equal between Sam and Ian on the nights they are opening our gifts.

The show "Annie" is coming to National Theatre in March. Both kids love the story and the music from the show.  We sing the soundtrack all the time in the car.  If it had been playing on Broadway when we went to NYC in June, this would've been their first Broadway show.  I've told them many times over the years that "Annie" on Broadway was the first show I ever saw and I would love for it to have been theirs too.   Unfortunately it wasn't playing in June and we saw "Matilda" instead, which was excellent and well-received by our group.

With "Annie" coming to our area, Jeff and I decided to get tickets for the whole family to go and make this one of Ian and Sam's bigger presents.

I printed a sheet of paper saying, "You, yes YOU(!) are going to see "Annie" on Saturday, March 19th"  I placed it in a small envelope, then put it in a bigger envelope, and finally wrapped it in a piece of Hanukkah wrapping paper.  I gave identical packages to the kids to open at the same time.  Ian and Sam opened their gift and let out a big squeal of happiness when they realized they were getting to see this show.

Ian:  So we are going up and back in a day?

Me:  Huh?

Ian:  To New York City...are we going up and back in a day?

Me:  Oh, uh-oh.  Um, no.  It's not playing in NYC.  It's playing at The National Theatre.  We are going up and back to D.C. in a day.

Ian:  Oh.

Me:  Yeah, oh.

It never occurred to me that the kids would've interpreted the ticket as a trip to NYC.  Can you say Hanukkah fail?   Although this has given me a great idea for next year's Hanukkah gift and maybe, just maybe it will be a day or weekend trip to NYC to see another show on Broadway.

Once this confusion was cleared up and we told the kids we are going to see the show with family friends, their smile returned and they were excited again.  I have to give a big pat on the back to Jeff and I for not going crazy this Hanukkah.  Every gift had a purpose and was something the kids ended up loving when they opened it.  It's so hard to get the kids gifts when I feel like they already have everything.  Fortunately I had a great memory and recalled various things they said they wanted this past year.

Another Hanukkah is in the books.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The grocery bag story

Jeff doesn't mind me writing this about him as long as I mention 2 very important details (which I will share at the end of the story).

Three weeks ago, Jeff woke-up early on a Sunday morning and hit Wegman's for our weekly grocery shopping.  He came home with our groceries all sporting new reusable Wegman's branded bags.  I asked him what happened to our old set of bags that he took with him.

Jeff:  "It was the strangest thing, I got to the check out lane and when I went to get them from the bottom of the cart, they were no longer there.  They must've fallen off the cart at some point."

Me:  "Ok, so you retraced your steps and went looking for them, right?"

Jeff:  "No, I just bought all new bags."

Me:  "WHAT?????  You seriously left the pile of bags somewhere in the middle of Wegmans?  Really???"

Jeff:  "Yes.  It's no big deal."

Me:  "You didn't even have kids with you!  You had no reason that was making you want to get out of there as fast as possible. It would've taken 5 minutes to find the bags. I am calling Wegman's customer service."

The woman at Customer Service said someone turned the bags in and she had them.  Jeff said he'd stop by Wegman's on his way to work the next morning and pick them up.

Here are the two important facts I promised Jeff I'd include in my story:

1. When he got to customer service, the woman said that upwards of 500 reusable bags are turned in each month from people doing the same exact thing as Jeff did.  The bags fall off their cart and they just decide to buy new ones instead of looking for their old ones.

2. When we told this story to a few friends, all the husbands instantly agreed with Jeff that he did the right thing and they wouldn't have gone back for the bags either.  

I am still shaking my head that so many people lose their bags and don't care.  That's crazy!  And I am pretty sure it is a gender thing that men would be ok just getting a new set and women would want to find the ones they came in with.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hanging with Benjamin Franklin

We had yet another busy weekend of traveling.  The kids are getting to be experts in hearing the sentence, "Pack your bags, we are hitting the road early on Saturday morning."

This most recent weekend took us to Pennsylvania.  It was Jeff's family Hanukkah party on Sunday and this year it was his Aunt Miriam's turn to host.  We decided to make a weekend out of it and go up the day before.  Jeff came up with the idea to do the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  The kids and I have been about 3 times in the past years, but Jeff had never been.  We LOVE this museum!  It is easily in our top tier of most favorite places to go.  You know its a great museum when you plan to spend 5 hours and it's just not enough time.  As we were wrapping up our visit, Sam said, "Why do we need to leave?"  Jeff answered, "Don't worry, we will be back in 2016."  I said, "Don't you mean 2017 when we will be back in the area (Jeff's Aunt hosts every other year)?"   And Jeff said, "No, we can come back next year."   Wow!  For those that know Jeff and his aversion to plan trips that require money being spent, this is HUGE!

Some new things we did this time around at The Franklin Institute was the IMAX film "Everest".  Wow!  What a great documentary.  Those people who risk their lives to make it to the top are crazy and inspiring and brave.   The other new thing we saw was the "Brain" exhibit.  This was beyond cool.  It was multi-rooms of how the brain works, what it looks like, feels like, and exercises/effects that show how your brain can play tricks on you.  We had done this area first when we arrived and this was the area that Ian and Sam wanted to go back to and spend lots more time in.

After we left The Franklin Institute, we made our way to Dresher, PA and had dinner with good family friends.  They had recently moved from NoVa to PA and it was great getting to spend time with them.

The next morning was the Hanukkah party and some of the best latkes ever consumed.  Yummy!  It was a great party and its always neat to see the family grow (because more and more babies are being born, not because we are all getting fat!).

It was so warm that the we spent the majority of the party outdoors!
This wraps up our long string of weekend getaways and we will now have a relatively calm Winter Break. It will be nice to wake-up in our own beds for the next several weeks.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tales from the dating crypt

Just when you think The Crazy Man can't get any crazier, surprise!   This story really takes the cake.

Back in August 2014, he was prescribed several sessions of physical therapy for some pain he was experiencing.  The doctor sent him to this one particular place that had a very well qualified PT who could assist him.  The Crazy Man did his 8 or so appointments but was not very happy with how social the physical therapist was.  Apparently she didn't keep her eyes on The Crazy Man the entire time he was doing his exercises.  Instead, she diverted her attention and was very friendly with the other physical therapists and patients in the office.  She chatted with them about her life and what was going on in their lives; typical friendly banter.

The Crazy Man was not pleased with how social "Kim" was.  In fact, he had me research the corporate office for the Physical Therapy place and get the name & number for the head person.  The Crazy Man spoke with a VP and got Kim in trouble. It was more than just a quick conversation.  The Crazy Man went to great lengths to ask a very long list of questions that he demanded answers. Here is the list:

If an appointment is scheduled at 12:30 is it acceptable the appointment begins at 12:40 due to the therapist still eating lunch?
·        I had to fill out forms; I don’t think the therapist read them.  If she did how would it have changed her treatment of me?  Did she use the information on them to help me?  If so, how did she change it?

·        Do you not provide an introduction to the company and the therapist on the first visit?  In my situation, they did not.

·        How long is a therapy appointment?  

·        Why are my exercises different in one office than another?  Specifically Burke, VA vs Annandale, VA.

·        If I am on a machine across the room from the therapist and she has 3 or 4 files in front of her that she is working on (which she did), is that okay that she is not right next to me?

·        If I am on a machine and she is talking to other clients and staff about their weekend plans, and happenings in the world and not paying attention to me is that okay?

·        If I am on a machine and she sets the timer and then ignores me because she is chit chatting and doesn’t hear the alarm go off, is that okay?

·        Is it okay that she talks with other staff members about nonprofessional non work issues?

·        On my 2nd visit I arrive to see my therapist and I was greeted with her saying I cannot see you today because I scheduled something else so you will see this other person.  Is that okay?  I made a specific appointment to see her.

·        She introduced me to a trainee on my first visit and asked me if it was okay that she worked with us too.  I said of course.  Is that okay that a trainee treats me?

       Why are my exercises different than other people in the gym?

      The VP was very nice and took everything The Crazy Man said very serious and got him the answers he was seeking.  Meanwhile, the sessions end and I feel this should be end of the story too.  But noooooooooo, there's more.  

     Fast forward to last week.  It's been 16 months since The Crazy Man made that call to the Corporate office.   The Crazy Man comes into my office and says, you think we can get Kim who I used to do physical therapy with on the phone?  I said, "Yes, I can easily find her phone number."   

     The Crazy Man:  I want to call her and ask her out to dinner.

     Me:  WHAT?????   Did I hear you correctly?  You want to ask her out?  Isn't this the same woman you got in trouble?

      The Crazy Man:  Yes, but I'm going to tell her that we won't talk business.  It will purely be social.  

    Me:  You've got to be kidding me!   THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA!!!!!   Seriously?  

     The Crazy Man:  You think she has a problem with me?
     Me:  Yes!  I do!!  You called her corporate office and got her in trouble.  There is no way she is going to want to see you again, even for dinner.  That fish has swam away.  Find a new pond.  Put yourself in her position, would you want to see YOU again???

      The Crazy Man:  I guess your right.  Who can I call and ask for a 2nd opinion on this?   

     OMG!  I can't believe he thought this was ok.   Just when I thought he can't get any more crazy, he manages to surprise me.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Bucket list item - BIG CHECK!

Right before we left on our trip for Thanksgiving, I got to do something very near and dear to my heart.  Five awesome girlfriends and I went to NYC solely for the purpose to see Billy Joel play at Madison Square Garden.  He has been doing this residency where he plays once a month at MSG and will continue doing so until he stops selling out.  It's been going on now for 2 years!  We made it to performance #23 and he has recently announced new dates for 2016.

We had a great 24 hours.  There is something so cool about seeing Billy Joel play at this venue.  Beyond being an amazing performer (my absolute fave!), he played for 2.5 hours straight - without one break.  He did 28 songs!  A few of the songs he gave the audience two choices and let us pick which we'd want to hear.

Our seats were pretty wild.  We got these skywalk seats that were high above the entire Madison Square Garden.  In fact, we were parallel to the jumbotron.  There was no one in front of us and no one behind us.  It was like our own box, complete with plexiglass keeping us from falling over the ledge.  These seats were so neat!  We had a fantastic view and it was so cool to see all the action below us.  I really loved these seats and would pick them again.

The funniest part of the evening came when we walked back into our hotel (It was a Hampton Inn near MSG) and Beth identified former Gov. O'Malley near the entrance.  She told us it was him and we didn't believe her.   He was alone in the elevator and as we entered, I said to him, "Did anyone ever tell you that you look just like Gov. O'Malley?"   O'Mally replies with, "That's because I am him."   Without hesitation Tara says, "Why the F--- are you staying here at a Hampton Inn?"   OMG!  I still can't believe she said that to him.  The former Governor said he needed an inexpensive place to spend the night and he has an appearance on Morning Joe the next morning.  He was a very nice guy and incredibly accommodating on our request to take a selfie with him.  We actually forgot to get off on our floor and ended up going up and down on the elevator a few times.  It was very funny.

The whole time we were in NYC felt so surreal.  It was an idea that had been tossed around many moons ago.  We somehow convinced all of our husbands to do double duty and take over in our absence.  There were 4 of us that the Thanksgiving lunch at our kid's schools ended up falling on the Thursday we were gone.  We didn't know this was the date that would get chosen until just 1 month prior.  All the husbands rearranged their schedules and made it to the lunches.

I know I can't do things like this all the time, so it makes it very special when it does happen.  What a great city! What a great night!  What a great concert!  What a great group of girlfriends! 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Heard and Observed #54

Sam in the shower:   Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!!  There is no hot water anymore.  Is mom running the dishwasher and doing the laundry??

Jeff:  No, she is not running anything.

Jeff then turns his attention to Ian:  Ian, when you were in the bathroom, did you take a shower or a bath?

Ian:  Both.

Hahahaha!  We had no idea that Ian was in the bathroom for such a long time that he drained all of the hot water from the hot water heater.  Given that our new hot water heater was installed at the end of May, it had to be for a ridiculously long time.   Oh my!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cruising with the Mazers

We've just come back from our 2nd cruise within 5 months.  In an embarrassment of riches, Jeff's parents took us on a cruise at the end of June and my dad & Stepmom took us on a cruise during Thanksgiving week.  Believe me, without both sets of parent's generosity, we wouldn't have been able to swing such fantastic vacations. 

We had a wonderful time and being with the family is what its all about.  I truly treasure every moment I got to spend with my dad, Rita, sisters, brother-in-law, niece and the latest new addition - my sister Meghan's boyfriend, Bradley.  We think this one is a keeper.   Meghan thinks so too!

There is something magical that happens when the Mazers come together.  I honestly don't think anyone else has this much fun. It probably helps that we all have the same sense of humor -- it's a little bit sick, a little bit dark and very funny.  And we have excellent memories. 

Some highlights from this cruise:

  • Every morning (anywhere from 7:00am to 7:30am), Ian, Dad and I went for breakfast.  The others would join us as they woke up on their own time, but without fail, the three of us had breakfast together. It was during one of these mornings that Ian said to me, "I think Papa is one of the most amazing men I've ever met."  Then he added, "No, make that he IS the most amazing man I know."   Ian said this with such awe in his voice.  I loved hearing from Ian that he realizes how special my dad is. 
  • The cruise officially kicked off with the Muster Station drill.  It is mandatory that you go to your assigned muster station and find out what to do in the event of an emergency.   Not seeing this as a mandatory requirement, there was much discussion on what each of us was going to do.  Jeff and Rita, without hesitation, said they were going (and did).  My dad, Ian and I were quick to say we planned to hide out and knew just how we were going to get away with it.  We'd go on the balcony and close the drape just halfway.  Then when they came and did a room check, they'd open the door and not see us on the balcony concealed by the part of the drape that was closed.  Brilliant!   When the announcement was made to report to the muster station, Sam said she was coming with me, but as we were walking on to the balcony, she said she was scared and ran to Jeff and Rita.  Meghan and Bradley were asleep in their cabin and the steward woke them up. They had planned to hide as well, but got busted and the steward waited for them to vacate their room.  As Dad, Ian and I were hiding, we looked behind us and one balcony over was Lori, Ben and Rachel - also hiding. 
Here is the selfie my dad, Ian and I took:

I LOVE this picture so much!!  My dad NEVER smiles in photos. 

It was at this point that I said to Ian, you've officially earned your Mazer stripes.  You're one of us now.

  •  Lunch at Senor Frogs in Nassau.  Even when we could all easily go our separate ways, we still wanted to be together.   The cruise itinerary got re-routed due to weather and we spent an extra day in Nassau.  It was decided to go to Senor Frogs for lunch.  Oh what fun!  The end of the meal came and they handed all of us shots; non-alcoholic for the kids and very strong filled alcoholic ones for the adults.  Most of the adults didn't want their shots and we gave ours to Rita.  She was a champ and drank them all.  Even in the afternoon, Senor Frogs is a festive, party-filled restaurant.   

  •  Getting to meet Meghan's latest boyfriend and liking him.  Meghan brought Bradley with her on this cruise. This is the first guy we all really like.  He is quick to add to the conversation, has a sense of humor and without hesitation or being asked, jumps in and is helpful.  This could very well be The One.  Meghan is still young, so we will see if this guy has staying power.  When we said good-bye at the end of the week, I told him how wonderful it was getting to know him and I was happy he came.  He replied, "I'll be back."  Yay!

  • My niece Rachel just turned two years old.   Hearing her vocabulary explode was quite impressive.  She is a chatterbox and it was fun watching her interact with all of us.  She loves Sam and Ian and couldn't get enough of them.  It is heartwarming seeing the cousins together.

"Keep Calm and Mazer On"   A few people asked us what a "Mazer" is.   Ian replied with, "It's an adjective and a verb".  Well said.