Saturday, December 31, 2016

End of the Year Wrap-up: 2016 Edition

I blink and the year is over.  Most days are a blur of activity.  I love how much we get to do and experience; it's a great life and I feel blessed at how much we have. I'm not referring to material stuff, but to the family that has been created through birth, marriage, and friendship.  We are very rich in love, support, and strength.  "All you need is love AND a dog."  :)

I truly believe we make the most of our days and our time together.  It's fun to experience life through our kids' eyes.  This was more evident than ever when we went to Massachusetts in July.  I am still smiling at the memories of our trip and quite proud of how everyone in Team Toppall had an open mind and was willing to try some pretty wonderful activities for the first time.

Travel this year:

March: Ocean City, MD for 3 days (the kids & me with friends).
May: England and Portugal for 10 days*
June:  Orlando for a long weekend (Robyn & Ian)
June: Kids with Jeff's parents for 3 days
July:  Massachusetts extravaganza for 10 days
July:  Kids in Orlando for 16 days, I was there for 6 of them.
August:  Ocean City, NJ for a week at the beach
August:  Samantha at sleepaway camp in Palmer, MA for 12 nights
October: Gatlinburg, TN 5 days
November:  Girls weekend in Berkeley Springs, WVA*
December:  Orlando for 1 week (the kids & me)

*Represents trips taken solo

Can I just say "WOW!" ?   This was the year we finally made expanding our family with a 4-legged member into a reality.  Yay!   Three months ago we welcomed Lucy, a 2 year old lab mix, into our lives.  I am not sure who rescued who.  She is amazing and sweet and so lovable.  All she wants to do is cuddle and curl up next to you.  We are so fortunate to have found her.  Lucy brightens our day!  I still look at her from time and time and can't believe she is ours.  One of my favorite things to do is take Lucy with me in the car.  I spend so much time going back and forth taking the kids to their activities; its nice to have the company.
Ian has impressed me big-time this year.   He started taking drama through a local organization.  It takes up a huge amount of his free time on the weekends (9:00am to 1:00pm on Saturdays) and he doesn't mind in the least.  He enjoys it; really, really enjoys it.  It's so cool to see Ian get excited over something.  This Fall they did a production of "Singing in the Rain, Jr." and he had a blast.    Ian also got into running and ran his first 5k (3.1 miles).  He wants to continue with track in the Spring too.  I am so happy we finally stopped talking about tackle football.

Samantha started a new activity to do each week and now takes horse back riding lessons.  It is a great outlet for her and one she is truly enjoying.  I love seeing the self-confidence she has being on top of these horses.  And Sam also started running in the Fall, complete with a 5k race.  Wowee!  Another winner for her and one she wants to continue in the Spring.

I feel we've made headway with Sam and her getting ready for school in the mornings.  Each year, we make progress.  Not huge leaps and bounds, but baby steps.   Through recent psychological testing with her therapist, we've learned a lot about how Sam's mind works.  It's been like a light has turned on and we've been able to amend how we do some stuff.  We are setting ourselves and Sam up for success.  The next step is to go to Sam's school and have her teacher implement some adjustments.   School is going exceedingly well for Sam right now, but we fear that in the next few years it will become a struggle to stay focused.

I made the impossible happen by taking the trip to England and Portugal with my friends in May.  I still can't believe I pulled that off.  The time away was magical and I seriously didn't stop laughing for 10 days straight.  Being with your best girlfriends and getting to escape the day-to-day routine, traveling to far away lands, is something I feel that should be required at least once (if not a few times) in your life.  I still pinch myself that I experienced this.

My weight is ALWAYS going to be a struggle.  I've come to terms with this.  I do the best I can do and not beat myself up over a bad day, or two, or three.  I've done great consistently working out and feel good.  It's what I eat that needs to always be monitored.  It's too easy to fall into bad habits and it becomes a downward slippery slope very easily.

I've been trying to find a better balance and volunteer more.  I'm now part of a Jewish group called "Mitzvah Mavens".  I am enjoying this very much and the work we are doing is bringing the community together, while doing good.  It feels very fulfilling to be a part of this group. 

Jeff is still very much enjoying his job.  It's a great company to work for.  That's all I can say about that. :) 

This was the year we survived a child of ours having their first broken bone.  Samantha had a hairline fracture in her elbow.  It happened at school (during recess) while I was away in England, Jeff handled it brilliantly and Sam with her arm cast was seen as a bit of a novelty in her class.  She loved getting everyone to sign it.    This year we also survived Jeff having the flu.  Both equally impressive.

The year ahead in 2017:  

In 2017, One of the events I am most excited for is our trip to NYC at the end of June. I somehow worked a miracle and got us 4 tickets to see "Hamilton".  And we are planning to get tickets to "Kinky Boots" when they go on sale too.  Both soundtracks the kids can sing in their sleep.  Getting to see two shows on Broadway is a huge treat and I know these memories will last a lifetime with the kids. 

Jeff has the opportunity to take a very cool trip this year and visit Joseph (Dawn's husband) in England.  The two of them will travel to France and be in Normandy for the D-Day anniversary. How great is that?  Jeff never does anything for just himself, so I am very happy for him that he will do this trip.  I think it will be a fabulous adventure.

Get this, both kids are registered for sleepway camp for 4 weeks this summer. I am still in awe that Ian wants to go back.  Sam loved her 12 nights there in 2016 and couldn't wait for us to register her again.  We are still working out the financial part of it (OMG!!  It's ridiculously expensive!), but I am hopeful we can make it work.  I need to be SUPER hopeful because Jeff has different feelings on if we can swing it.   I do believe the kids doing sleepaway camp is a great for their growth and development. 

We still haven't done the recessed lighting in the house.  I will hope again that maybe in 2017 we can get it done.  Although, if we are trying to figure out how to pay for the kid's camp, I don't see the recessed lighting be a top priority.   Who knows?   We got a dog this year, so stranger things have occurred.

My personal resolution is going to have more patience.  I am not sure why but I am getting more frustrated when people don't move as fast as I do or want them too.  I need to remind myself it's not the end of the world if it takes a few more minutes to check out, move up in the gas line, or a million other things that has me waiting behind excruciatingly slow people.  I think I just need to take a deep breath and chill.

Another resolution is to weigh the same or less than I do right now.  If I can maintain this weight (or even keep losing) a year from now, I will be very happy I didn't slide backwards and kept the progress moving in the right direction.

My New Year's Wish:

If you are reading this, I wish for us to have more time to reflect, time to enjoy the quiet and time to relax in 2017.  I hope that we can be able to slow down the clock and enjoy our days.  And oh yeah, let's be kind to one another.   Love you!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The day Samantha met Santa

While we were in Orlando, mom and Jim took us to their favorite orange groove stand.  OMG!  These oranges are something else!!  So yummy!  This orange grove stand has an amazing business with not just produce, but a variety of other items too (special wines, honey, gift sets, etc).  In addition, there is a big farm where you can walk among chickens, roosters, cows, and pigs.  What a cool place to visit.

On the day we arrived there was a special VIP.  Santa Claus!  He was employed by the orange groove stand to greet the kids and do his Santa thing.  We just happened to arrive when there was no one around Santa.  Samantha made a beeline for him and started up a conversation:

Sam:  Are you a real Santa?

Santa:  I could be.

Sam:  If you are real, what are your reindeer's names?

Santa:  Blitzen, Rudolph, etc,...until he names them all.

Sam:  Where do you live?

Santa:  The North Pole

Sam:  Where is Mrs. Claus?

Santa:  Back at home getting the elves ready for Christmas

Sam: Is your beard real?

Santa: Try pulling on it.

Sam does.  It's a real beard!

This interrogation went on for 20 minutes!  Sam did not stop firing questions at Santa to see if he was real or not.  It was hilarious!  After she was convinced that this was the real deal, she sat on his lap and Santa asked his magical question:

Santa:  What would you like for Christmas?

Sam:  Not sure how to answer this one, Sam looked at me.  I told Santa we actually don't celebrate Christmas; we are Jewish and therefore, celebrate Hanukkah. 

Santa:  Great!  What would you like for Hanukkah?

We had the best conversation with Santa.  Turns out he is a super nice guy and has a dream to work for Macy's in NYC.  He wants to be the Santa in the parade and at the store.  He has four children, a new granddaughter and we learned all about them.  I think we must've chatted with this Santa for about an hour before a child approached him and wanted a turn.  

What a fun, spontaneous visit to the orange grove stand.  It was awesome!  And I love how social Sam became striking up a conversation with Santa Claus.  While she believes the Santa she met at the orange grove stand is real, she is still skeptical the Santa's at every mall she sees them in isn't.  :)

Sam thinking hard questions to ask Santa to see if he is real or not.

Sitting on Santa's lap after Sam's interrogation is over.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Monticello for the win!

What a gorgeous Fall day!
During Thanksgiving weekend, we had a fantastic outing!  We got a group together and spent the day in Monticello where Thomas Jefferson lived.  It was a 2 hour drive to Charlottesville.  With the way Waze brought us, we got very familiar with lots of back roads, but no traffic!

In total, we had 6 adults and 8 kids (ages 8 to 12 years old).   Our families have been close friends for the last 9 years; our kids have grown up together and have much in common.  All of us are obsessed with the music from "Hamilton".   Getting to see Thomas Jefferson's house and put into context what life was like back in the day of our Founding Fathers was a history lesson these kids were eager to learn.  There is nothing like bringing to life the songs we sing 'non-stop'.  :)

We got a tour guide named Carrie who was perfect for our group.   She was amazing in relating to our kids and didn't mind in the least, the endless amount of questions thrown her way.  I am not sure who was more excited, Carrie or our kids when it became apparent that our kids knew something about Thomas Jefferson's history because of "Hamilton" and paying attention at school.  At one point we were in one of Jefferson's rooms where he entertained guests and there were portraits up on the walls.  Carrie pointed to one painting and said, "Who's America's Favorite Fighting Frenchman?"  All the kids screamed excitedly in unison, "Lafayette!!!"   It was pretty funny and brought smiles all around our group, even those who were in our tour but not part of the 3 families.  There was another moment when she mentioned something in conversation about the use of guns and ships.  Our kids picked up on the reference and the next thing you know, all the kids, including Carrie were singing the song "Guns and Ships" from the Hamilton soundtrack.   

When the tour was over, a couple who had no kids came over to me and said, "Thank you being a part of our day.  Your kids made it so much fun for us. It was neat to see how into the tour they were."   Wow!  I, of course, replied thanks, but had to tell them we usually get the stink eye when the all the kids are together.  It was nice to actually hear a compliment.  

The kids were perfectly behaved and hung on every word Carrie had to say.  It was a great day spent and an educational one at that too!

Love this group of kids. A lot of energy and enthusiasm when these kiddos get together.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Back in TV land

We did it!  My Toppall team and I went approximately 3 weeks without our big downstairs television.  This is the main TV we all use.  We were successful in waiting for Thanksgiving sales and got an awesome television from the Big Screen Store.  We didn't go super huge either.  Our original set was 42 inches and the new one we bought was 49 inches.  It's a 4k curved Samsung.  I am still not used to the picture.  It just seems too vibrant.  I guess that's a good problem to have.

The technology has come so far in the last 12 years.  I know it didn't make sense to get a new television before the one we had broke, but it is certainly nice to have all the new features and better picture quality.  It's funny to compare the price from what we paid 12 years.  The new television we bought was a 1/3 of the price of what we paid in 2005. And it's a bit bigger too.  Additionally, we have all the smart features, including voice activation.  Jeff is even able to connect bluetooth wireless headphones to the tv for when he is on the treadmill.   Yippee!!

Love!  That's our fake brick on the lower right hand corner of the tv hiding the cables.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Oh, how far we've come!

I remember a time when I'd take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese and would look at the moms who sat at a nearby table and have a leisurely conversation while their kids played.  This was not me.  This was never me.   There is no way my kids didn't need me to help them at Chuck E. Cheese.  Hanging out at the table and telling them to go play on their own wouldn't have gotten very far.

On the busiest shopping day of the year (Black Friday!), I took 5 kids to Dave & Busters, located at the Springfield Mall and discovered what this feels like.  Yes, I did.  Only I didn't have another mom to chat with, I was on my own.  I brought my kindle in the hopes that I could be at a table nearby while the kids played, and to my delight, my dream came true.  Wow!  What an amazing feeling it was.

The best part about Dave & Buster's on Black Friday?  It was empty!  I was shocked how few people were inside.  We got a table for lunch instantly, ordered our food, and I told the kids to go play 3 games and come back to the table to see if the food had arrived. The food got delivered about 30 seconds before they got back.  Perfect timing!  After eating lunch, I stayed at the table to pay the bill and the kids continued playing.  They'd come back every 4 games or so to let me know they were ok.  We were at Dave & Buster's for close to 3 hours!  I asked the waitress if she needed the table back.  She said "Look around, we are empty.  Take your time and enjoy."  It was nirvana!  I couldn't believe how awesome this playdate turned out for all of us!

And the 3 extra kids I had with me?  They are besties with my 2 kids and get along fabulously.  It was my pleasure to take 3 extra kids and let my friend stay home and paint her bathroom. Win-win!

Friday, December 2, 2016

On your mark, get set, go!

I am ridiculously proud of Ian and Samantha.  Yes, I am their mom and should be proud.  I get that.  But I am very proud of them for a specific reason too.  Ian and Samantha wanted to participate in their school's running program.  Ian did "Boys on the trail" and Sam did "Girls run for fun".   Both programs met at school 2x during the week and got them ready to run a 5k (3.1 miles).  Additionally, Ian also did another running program through a local sports organization in our county and was in training in both programs for most of the same weeks. Yowzer!

The big ending to the season was a 5k around our local high school and surrounding neighborhood.  Let me tell you, it is not a flat course. Rolling hills define this 5k, it's a toughie.  Ian and Sam did it!  It was a cold, blustery morning, but they layered up and ran like the wind.  Go Ian!  Go Sam!

Ian and Sam have requested to keep going and register in March for the Spring running program.