Monday, June 20, 2016


 When you mess with one of my kids, be on notice that I am going to speak-up.  Take note now that I will do what I need to and protect my children.  

So without going into too many details, my Mama Bear has come out in full force and I am roaring.  Fortunately the assistant principal at our elementary school is taking the situation seriously, inquiring and find out everything they need to.

But here's the thing that stings.  Ian doesn't want to fight this fight.  He'd rather I never knew what was going on and just let everything stay status quo.  Ugh!  This pains me.  I hate that standing up for himself doesn't come naturally to Ian.  I hate that there is a pretty strong chance he will never tell me anything ever again now.    And I hate that my son has the biggest heart ever, is the best friend to everyone, goes out of his way to be fair and in return, gets treated like shit. 

I hate, hate, hate standing on the sidelines and not being able to do more.  Believe me, I've done plenty already, but when it comes to my children, I don't mess around.  Messing with them, means messing with me.  And even though Ian doesn't want to bring attention to an injustice, doesn't mean I will keep quiet. 

So I just pray that Ian understands I am doing my job as his mom.  I hope he knows he can still come talk to me and tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I hope he realizes that there are some fights worth fighting for.  And I hope he gets it that you have to stand up for yourself. 

If there was an option to keep my kids wrapped up in bubble wrap to protect them from life sometimes being harsh, I'd be the first in line. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

70 Candles on the cake.

So I messed up. Big-time.  A few months ago, I said I was coming down for my dad's birthday.  He is turning 70 and it's sort of a big deal.  Back when I made my intentions known, dad kept saying nothing is being planned and there won't be a party.  I said, it doesn't matter, I'll be there.  I didn't press the issue with Jeff and the kids and made the decision that they could stay home rather than spend the money and miss all the activities we already had on the calendar.

A few days before the big weekend, I woke up and decided I'd take Ian with me. SOL testing was done for him and it wouldn't be a big deal for him to miss school on Friday afternoon and all of Monday. Furthermore, we had enough Jet Blue points to cover the cost of a ticket.   I should've insisted that Jeff and Sam join us.  The birthday celebration turned into something spectacular, complete with a fabulous party on Saturday night and a brunch the next morning.  All of Team Toppall should've been there.  Next time I will do better.

The whole weekend was wonderful and filled with family.  Ian and I had a great time.  I always go back to this one sentence:  I adore my family.  I absolutely love spending time with them and can't imagine not being a part of every celebration, milestone or birthday celebration.  Being with my sisters, dad/rita, mom/jim, neice, and brother-in-law has the ability to make an ordinary day extraordinary.   I can tell that Ian feels the same way and truly values spending time with the family.  He gets just as much enjoyment from it as I do.  We kept Ian's last minute travel plans to join me a secret from dad.  Ian was so excited to surprise Papa.  It was the coolest moment ever when my dad's face lit up seeing Ian standing in his kitchen. 

Rachel stuck to Ian like super glue.  She couldn't get enough of him.  It was super cute watching the two of them together.    Meghan and her boyfriend Bradley spent Sunday with Ian bowling and then I joined them for go-karting.  So much fun!

Surprise!  Ian is here!!

Chilling at the pool at my dad and Rita's house


The whole gang, plus a cousin or two.

Fun at the Fun Spot!


Picking Rachel up from day care before we went to the airport

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ian's day off.

If I knew then what I know now, I don't think I'd have gone to school nearly as much as I did.  I went every day!  Surely, there were a few days when I could've skipped and I would've still turned out ok.  Having kids, I was determined to be the fun parent and let my kids in on the secret that taking a mental health day every now and then is totally ok.

Each year after SOL testing (standards of learning) is over, I let Ian take a skip day from school.  It's his day from start to finish.  SOL testing starts in 3rd grade and we've had a fun-filled day during school hours 3 years in a row now.  Next year, Sam will get to have a skip day too after her SOLs are over.

I liken Ian's skip day to Ferris Bueller's day off.  It's that much fun!  We started off with Mom-mom taking Ian to buy his birthday present.  He wanted a Slackline and was able to pick one out.  We then headed to Dave & Buster's, where it was delightfully empty and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  Lunch was at Burton's Grill (a very yummy restaurant!!) and Susanne was able to meet up with us.  Afterwards, we went to TopGolf where the 3 of us (Mom, me, and Ian) hit golf balls on the driving range.  Our last stop of the day before having to get Sam from school was Starbucks for a Frappacuino.

With everyone typically at work or in school, there is something so wonderful about going to these very popular spots and not dealing with a crowd.  It's the best!   I think this is what makes it even more fantastic than if we did all these activities on a weekend or school holiday.

The other thing I really like about my skip day idea is that I get one-on-one time with one child.  It's a day designed for just what they like to do.  No worries if their sibling isn't into the batting cages (as we did in a previous year).

And lastly, the icing on the cake for why this idea is a winner, is because it gives them an incentive to work very hard and prepare for the testing, knowing there is a sweet reward at the end of the tunnel.

Dave and Busters:  The place is E M P T Y !

He shoots, he scores!

Mom-Mom gets in on the action.

I'd like to think this idea would catch on if more people knew about it, but I'm worried it would become too popular.  It's best to keep it on the down-low.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

She's a big girl now!

For several years now, Sam has come and asked me if she could get her ears pierced.  I told her she can do it when she feels ready to take on the responsibility for caring for them and can handle the pain of the initial piercing.  About a month before Sam turned 8, she said she was finally ready.  I knew mom was wanting to take Sam to get her ears pierced for some time now and would jump at the chance to be able to go with her when she came for a visit last week.

I made an appointment at this girls spa "Sweet and Sassy" in Ashburn.  It is about 45 minutes from our house, but well worth the drive.  They totally go all-out making the ear piercing a very big deal.  It's pretty awesome!   Sam was able to pick out the starter earrings from a pretty good selection.  Sam sat on a throne (pink and purple of course!) while 2 women were ready to pierce each ear at the same time.  Afterward, they took her picture and she got to put it on the wall.  A certificate with the all the important details was Sam's to take home.  While the whole experience lasted about 15 minutes (Sam picking out the earrings took the longest amount of time), it was very special and something Sam will not forget.

I can't believe how grown up Sam looks with her ears pierced.  It's amazing how something so small can all of sudden make her look more mature.

Sam has been doing great taking care of the piercing.  She is following the instructions to a T.   It was good to wait until she was ready.  Now her options for jewelry have expanded big-time!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Counting steps

Our Toppall team has gotten a friendly competition going.  Both Samantha and Ian wanted Fitbits / Garmin fitness trackers for their birthdays two weeks ago.  They want to see how many steps they have each day.  Through the generosity of Jeff's parents and his sister, their wish was granted. 

I have been wearing one for years and Jeff has had one for the last 7 months.  Frequently Jeff will text me throughout the day and see who has more steps.  It's fun and gets me walking a bit more than I normally would've.  Now we've upped the ante and Ian and Samantha are getting in on the game.  Samantha averages 18,000 steps a day!  Who can keep up with that on a regular basis?!?!?!  It probably doesn't help that she gets on the treadmill each morning before school and will sometimes break into a run to get more steps tracked.  Yes, really.  

Sam came up with a contest.  She said at the end of every week, the person who has the least amount of steps needs to give the person with the most amount of steps, a $1.00.   Love it!  Obviously, she is in it to win it.  

Jeff and I don't stand a chance.  ;)   Personally, I am loving how this is a step in the right direction (no pun intended!) on making us all healthier and more aware of how important it is to keep moving. 

Sam getting ahead start on her steps for the day.  This is BEFORE school!

Ian doing laps around the kitchen to up his step count.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Road trip ready!

Jeff has accurately observed that I am happiest when traveling.  And if I can't be traveling somewhere, the next best thing for me is planning a trip.  Until he said this out loud, I hadn't realized just how excited and fulfilled it makes me to have an adventure.  Any kind of adventure!  Whether its to my hometown of Orlando and getting to see my family (a trip I've done a thousand times over the last 27 years), showing the kids NYC (one of my most favorite places on Earth) or exploring a new country I've never been to, there is not one aspect of the travel process I don't totally embrace or get excited about.

I think this is why I love our Summers so much.  I try to mix it up and show the kids as many different environments as possible, while trying to stay within a reasonable budget and realistic logistics/expectations.   While I would love to have our bags packed for all 8 weeks and travel the world the whole time, I know that we don't have the money or parental support to do this (Jeff does need to work!).

One of the trips we are taking in July is a 10 day road trip to Massachusetts.  We had a fortunate windfall when my dad said to book something, anything with his RCI points that were going to expire.  Jeff and I finally agreed on a week in the Berkshires.  We've super sized this trip a bit by adding 2 days in Boston and a day trip to Plymouth before starting our 7 days in a town near Pittsfield.

We aren't this bad yet when it comes to loading up the car, but we are close!

The last few weeks has been filled with discussing, planning, mapping out, and making reservations for our trip.  I love our plans!  We have so many fun things in the works.  Whitewater rafting, zip lining, aerial park (think ropes course), go-karting (of course!), and a mountain adventure park.  I almost can't believe its our family who is doing these type of activities.  We got lucky that the majority of the stuff we are doing requires a minimum age of 8 years old.  Whew!  We just made this cut-off with Samantha.  The more tame stuff includes Jeff and Ian attending a Boston Red Sox game, the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Boston duck tour, Boston Science Museum and an animation museum where you make a movie.  Oh and Jeff and Ian are doing a side trip to Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Sam and I plan to have our own day of fun while they are gone and I've got something in works.

Bring on Summer...we are ready to go, go, go!

Monday, June 6, 2016


The awesome place I do my boot camp style workouts at distributes a newsletter once a month.  The newsletter is chock-full of great info (healthy recipes, the workout schedule, upcoming events outside of the gym, etc).  Additionally, the newsletter each month highlights a different member, giving you the chance to get to know them and hear their story.  I am always so inspired by what each of the members write.  It's one of the big things I look forward to reading each month.

This month, my friend Kelly asked me to be the member featured.  While flattered that I was asked, I quickly wrote back and said, "thanks, but no thanks".   I am totally screwed up.  I want people to be inspired not depressed after getting a glimpse inside my brain.  She gently persuaded me and said what I would write would resonate with so many people.  I'd be surprised by how many women feel this exact way, she said.  Ok, then.  I will give it a go. 

I ended up being pretty pleased with how it turned out.  It wasn't as depressing as I'd thought it would be.  Here is what I wrote / written for the June 2016 Newsletter:   

    Sometimes I think that it would be easier not to care so much.  Not worry about how big I am getting or how much I weigh.  Not worry about how little energy I have. Not think twice about having that second piece of cake or another helping of pasta (gluten free of course!).   Basically just give up.  

    But then I realize I won't be able to keep up with my two very energetic kids.  I won't be able to do fun things like rope courses or zip lining.  I won't ever get to know what it feels like to cross the finish line of a race that I worked very hard to train for.  I won't be able to go to the doctor without fear that he will give me bad news of what the excess weight is doing to me.  

     So I do care.  I care very much.  I am always trying to figure out what will work for me.  What can I do to be my healthiest self and maintain it long-term?   These past 9 months have been a powerful journey of bringing together exercise and diet. This is the first time in 44 years I am still feeling so motivated after such a long amount of time.  I did my first Whole30 on October 12th with my friend Susanne.  I look back and am in awe that we accomplished what we did those first 30 days. And I kept going!  It's not easy, and I struggle every day making the right choice (and I don't always), but I believe strongly in the plan. 

     I started working out at Empower when it first opened in September.  Faithfully, I go every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 5:30am.  I can't imagine never not going. Between Donald and the 5:30am ladies, it's a fabulous trifecta of trainer, workout buddies, and just the right exercises to keep it challenging and fun.

     Since October, I've lost a little more than 30 pounds.  But more than anything, I am excited to have more pep in my step, the thrill of wearing a smaller size of clothing, less chins in the pictures I'm in and the knowledge that my cholesterol is in a healthy range and I am not pre-diabetic.

     I am not done.  Far from it.  It is a struggle every day.  Every.  Single. Day.  I wrestle with the demons in my head to make the healthier choice.  It will always be baby steps for me and my hope that over time I've gotten further ahead than I have behind.    

     At the end of each day, as I go to sleep and review my day, I know all the hard work was worth it.

August 2015
May 2016 - just 9 months later