Tuesday, February 07, 2017

our wittle ones

Elizabeth was home sick from school yesterday, and while she was recuperating on the couch, she decided to start writing a blog, which she has entitled "The Amazing Trips Jr."  For her first post, which she is publishing on her school account, she pulled these pictures of herself, and siblings, when they were babies.  I can't stop looking at them and their beautiful eyes.   The sight of them and memory of this time, actually makes me lose my breath a little.

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While not every day is perfect, and we all face our own challenges with the rapid growth and changes that are happening at this stage in life (myself included; patience continues to be my greatest shortcoming), I am so proud of the kind and gentle people that these precious babies are growing in to ... Charlie and I really have been, and continue to be, blessed beyond measure.

Wow, oh wow, wow, wow.  Thank you, Universe!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

jamuary

This first month of the year has been a doozy on the school project front.

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After a nice, long reprieve during the month of December … when children (and their parents) became accustomed to holiday parties, PJ days, and a marked decrease in homework … suddenly the new year begins and the fire hose of academic life has been turned back on. Here's what we've been up to since the beginning of the year...

This month, our three sixth-graders had to present their "Wax Museum" projects.   For those not in the know, Wax Museum, is a social studies assignment that spanned six months.   Each child was assigned a character while still in fifth grade, who they have been studying since summer vacation.

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They read their character's biography, and since the beginning of sixth grade, created a trifold board presenting their character's life and achievements, constructed some kind of special project, and created a cereal box and journal.  The culmination of the project, was the student dressing up - as the character - and posing in a wax museum setting.  They would stand before their full semester's work, and when you pushed a "button" they would launch in to memorized speech.  Just like a character in a wax museum.  Our characters were…

William - Henry David Thoreau.

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Elizabeth - Clara Barton.

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Carolyn - Florence Nightingale.

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While this assignment has been coming together, by and large, at school - the responsibility for the child at home, was to pull together a costume.  Elizabeth had been begging Santa for a sewing machine, but little did Santa know that it was her intent she would be making her very own Clara Barton costume.  Santa just thought she really wanted to learn how to sew.  Silly Santa!

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Long story short, we have a wonderful neighbor who knows how to sew (very, very well) and after she came over and showed us how to set up the sewing machine, she hooked me up with these things called "patterns."

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Unfortunately, my neighbor had other plans that weekend, so couldn't stay - so she left me with her patterns and the advice that I just READ EVERYTHING CAREFULLY.   Even though I really did read everything carefully (twice), it didn't matter too much, because I had no idea what I was doing and wound up sewing the pattern to the fabric and then stitched the whole thing together.

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It was a colossal mess and cost me the better part of a weekend.

Lesson learned: while sewing looks very easy; it's a bit more complicated and making a dress as the very first thing you ever sew with a pattern isn't recommended.  Sleeves, especially, can be very difficult.  Now I know!

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In the end, the day before the projects were due, my blessed neighbor returned from her travels, and swooped in and saved us by helping to make the aprons. (I did Carolyn's apron all by myself, and affixed the red cross to Elizabeth's!)  And my other blessed friends swooped in and rescued me by helping to cobble together the rest of the costumes with things they had at home.

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Once we made it through Wax Museum (times three), we had to do a landform project for Henry's 3rd grade class.  The assignment read, "This will require parental involvement."  It also required a whopping three pounds of salt to make the formation.

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And so it is, Charlie and I, and Henry, spent the better part of three evenings making, shaping, painting, and labeling this landform model.

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The landform project was no sooner turned in, and Henry's science fair project was due.  Now science fair applications came out in December, and when Henry first showed me the solicitation, he was SO EXCITED to participate.  It was absolutely his idea.

There was to be no grade awarded - not even extra credit would be assigned. Participation was entirely voluntary.  But Henry wanted in.  So we came up with an idea that he could test, and he submitted the application in December.  It was accepted.

And then Christmas came and whenever prompted if he wanted to get a jump start on his science fair project, Henry would respond, "Science Who?"

So it is, this past weekend - four days before the project was due, we brought Henry out to "the field" so that he could collect soil samples for his experiment.

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Then we spent time testing his experiment - which was to understand if soil type had any influence on the speed of groundwater flow.

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OK yes. If you really must know.  His two hydrogeologist parents may have helped slightly influence him in his selection of a project topic.

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Nonetheless, after Henry collected his soil samples, evaluated how they transmitted water, labeled his journal, and drew a few pictures … it was bedtime.

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It was Sunday night when Charlie and I sent him to bed and then decided that since the project wasn't for a grade - nor extra credit - it was entirely a voluntary effort; we would help pull it (and a crossword), together.

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This was our date night on Sunday night. Charlie and I, a bottle of red wine, and a tub of Modge Podge - making a 3rd grade science fair project while the Patriots won the AFC.

KEEPING THE LOVE, ALIVE! 

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When the kids got up on Monday morning, they took one look at the science fair project, and all gasped, "MOM! DAD! There is NO way a third grader made that!"  

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There's still some water in the fire hose - this weekend is the Pine Wood Derby.  Charlie was planning to spend evenings this week, "helping" the children work on their cars (because every one wants to build and race one), but I'm optimistic he is going to swipe one from my "KEEP IT EASY" playbook.

If my prediction is correct, he'll be entering the award-winning "PWD" or "Pine Wood Derby Box Car" that was constructed in 15 minutes, a few years ago.  After essentially seven years of Cub Scouts, and numerous pinewood derby cars constructed … the box car is still our favorite.

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It's amazing the ingenuity that blossoms when you're pressed for time!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

repeat after me: butter, back, breast, free

This is what our family does, Monday through Friday,  every week.

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The children swim, while Charlie and I steal away to work out.  We can actually see them from where the weight-lifting room is situated.  While we're pumping iron, we're watching the children swimming laps.  And while the children aren't exactly keen on swimming five days a week, the way Charlie and I see it: 

1) it's fantastic exercise for them (and us),

2) they are getting quite good at it, and

3) it allows Charlie and I the critical opportunity to go work out at the gym.

For YEARS we've struggled with finding the time to go work out, and we've now finally found that opportunity while the kids are at swim team.  I'm very sorry that they don't like getting in to a chilly pool.  But on the upside, they get to sit in the hot-tub for a few minutes following their workout.  AND! I know that:

4) they'll take showers every night after practice. Because for those not in the know, tweens and personal hygiene go together like Christmas and diets. (i.e., they don't.)

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Ah, bliss!

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Considering my 83-year-old mother still swims laps every single day, I know that ALSO…

5) this is a skill that they will have for their entire life, and one day - - maybe not until 71 years from now - - they'll thank me for it.  So in advance of that:  you are so very welcome, my preciously beloved children who read these stories in the Year of our Lord, 2088.

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It also helps that we go to the gym so much, because Charlie and I love food, and we're currently weaning ourselves from unabashedly eating everything in sight during the Christmas holidays.  We're significantly scaling back right now, trying to re-accustom our bodies to "healthy" eating and this thing called "portion control."  Wow, did we eat well during the month of December…  so much lovely wonderful home-cooked / baked food every! single! day!

It felt like we were living on a Food Network set!

My husband just came in to the kitchen where I'm typing this @ 10:00 PM and said, (and I quote): "Jen, I am savagely hungry.  I am so damn hungry to my core. WOMAN, LISTEN!  I need food. MAN FOOD. No more of this salad stuff.  I need a chicken burrito. FEED ME!"  

Yep.  Thank Goodness for swim team.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

taking time to celebrate the little things

I've been on a really great track, updating my blog four times over the past week.  So hopefully, I'll keep the momentum up to write about what's been happening over here.  In between finishing the write-ups that I intend to do regarding our 2016 summer vacation. It's so important that I capture memories about the five national parks that we visited over the course of five days.  Ideally, I'll get to all of that before our 2017 summer vacation commences.

But you know, we've been busy.  So busy that in the fourth quarter of 2016, I logged more than 20,000 business travel miles.  I went to the Caribbean twice, and Europe once.  Sprinkled in between, were domestic travels around the US.  There was a month-long stretch where I didn't even bother to put my suitcase away, because I needed it so often.

When I returned from the Caribbean - the week before Thanksgiving - I was thoroughly wiped out.  So wiped out, that I literally could not get out of bed for four days straight.  On Day 1, I thought to myself, "I've been busy, I just need a day of rest. I'll surely feel better tomorrow."  On Day 2, I thought, "Hmm, I must be really tired." I was more tired on Day 3, than I was on Day 1, and couldn't even open my eyes.  By Day 4, Charlie was sounding the alarm because I actually slept through Thanksgiving, while he and the children made plans to celebrate the holiday with our friends.

My mother kept calling me to ask if I'd gone to the doctor yet, and no - I hadn't.  I was too tired.  And I was trying to convince myself, it was just fatigue from all the travel.  But that Sunday after Thanksgiving, when I was still feeling completely depleted, I dragged myself to the Emergency Room, where they gave me an IV and antibiotics, and referred me to a host of doctors. Including a hematologist who is doing a deep dive in to why my cortisol levels tend to plunge to levels like say, ZERO.  

Over the past month, I've been doing a lot of reading up on adrenal fatigue, and how sustained stress can really, really, REALLY mess with your system and cause all kinds of problems.   I'm definitely not alone in this …. I am amazed at how many people I talk with who are stressed to the point of exhaustion and burnout.  It seems that we American humans at a certain age in life, are entrenched in this crazed pattern of busyness and putting out one fire after another, with very little (if any!) down time.   And at some point, we might stop feeding our soul and doing the things that bring us JOY and PEACE, and nourish our spirit.

As for me: I love writing this blog.  I love taking pictures. And I love putting pictures with stories and as you might have noticed, over the past couple of years, I haven't done very much of either because too busy. Or, more likely, I don't have the energy at the end of the day because I'm tapped.

But taking pictures, and writing stories that force me to stop and reflect on things that are happening, and my feelings about them - really feeds my soul.  So does knitting.  And cooking. And gardening.  And visiting neighbors.  And believe it or not, cleaning the house. Dusting, and vacuuming, and organizing drawers.  I love an orderly space so much it hurts.

All this to say, I'm currently exploring a reduction from full-time to part-time work status so that I can slow down and savor these days with my children before they're all grown up and moving away.  Or, are at an age where they no longer get super excited when they see me walk in to their classroom to volunteer for an afternoon.  These are such precious times, there is nothing more important in my life than stepping back (and in to life) to really experience them.  It's all about energy conservation and putting that energy to its best use.  Especially when you have so little energy as it is.

The way I see it, I need more downtime so that I can have an opportunity to THINK about what's important, and validate that I'm on the right track with our priorities in proper place.  I've been taking a yoga class with the thought that it would give me that critical time I need to meditate and reflect, but the fact is - my energy is on remaining upright and not wobbling during a sun-salutation.  And when when we are in corpse pose at the end of class, while everyone else appears to be properly quieting their minds and bodies in Savasana, I wake myself up from snoring when I doze off wondering what I should make for dinner.

I'm hopeful that less time "working" will give me more time for "living".  And executing ideas like this one that sprung to me last night, when Henry mentioned that TODAY would be his 1/2 birthday.  That's right.  Exactly six months from today, my baby will be double digits, a whole decade.  In honor of this momentous occasion, I took a break from work to make O'Henry's for my Henry.  Seeing his thrill over this small surprise gesture was more important, and precious than anything else I might have accomplished today.  Or perhaps this month.  He told me that he made a wish when he blowed out his candle.

I did, too.

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For more moments of simple happiness, just like this one.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

houston, we have a tooth!

It's been more than five years since Henry has had a tooth in the top right side of his mouth.  Considering corn on the cob is one of his favorite foods, it was particularly challenging for him this summer, when he also lost the front tooth and incisor on the left side of his mouth.

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When I tucked him in last night, his front right tooth wasn't yet visible, but it erupted over night, and this morning - it was there.  Wow, it's so nice to once again see some pearly white in that region!  Yes, it would appear braces are in Henry's future.  Since the triplets will be going in to Phase 2 of their braces in the next few months, I'm fervently hoping we can find an orthodontist in the area that offers a buy two, get two free kind of deal.  

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(Ha, ha, ha ... you're going to be BROKE by the time I grow up!) 

On that note, these are the brand new glasses that Henry was prescribed last month. Ten days later, this is what they looked like.  Oy…..

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Seriously … between the purchasing of shoes, glasses and braces for the lot of them, extracurricular activities, weekly groceries (I cannot believe how much they can put away), and squirreling money for college tuitions … perhaps I should instead put my energy in to finding new cost-effective recipes for dinner.

Rice and Beans!

Beans and Rice!

Monday, January 02, 2017

starting the new year off on a good foot

We took the children shoe shopping today.  Carolyn, Henry and William had their shoes picked out in less than five minutes, and then spent the next hour reading books, while their sister tried on every color available in her size.

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Even though I have been walking more than 10,000 steps a day, my shoes have held up remarkably well and I've been in the same pair for the past 16-months.  Charlie's been in his shoes for nine months.

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The children, on the other hand, need new shoes every four months. Not just because they are growing crazy fast and their shoes are quickly too small, but because after four months, the soles are completely worn out.  These kids are wicked hard on their shoes.

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And since 3/4 of the brood are now in adult sizes, they're also wicked hard on my wallet!

Monday, December 26, 2016

boxing day

This year, my sister - Beth, and her 16-year-old son - Michael, are with us for Christmas.  My mother was supposed to be with us too, but she had a shoulder replacement last month, and thought it would be best if she stayed in South Carolina for the holiday.  We've really missed having Mom with us - and participating in so many of the traditions that we've conjured up over the years.

Including Monkey Bread on Christmas morning …

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And ribbon wrapped stairway / hallway - a trademark move left for the children to show that Santa has been here on Christmas Eve!  

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We're having a really great time with my sister and nephew.

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In the two days that we've been together, we went shopping so we could do a Secret Santa exchange on Christmas Eve … we volunteered at our church's Christmas service … we've played soccer, gone for walks, watched movies, played games, played ping-pong, and had some intense Star Wars light saber battles.

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Here are the kids, waiting to start opening their stockings until 7:45 AM … on the dot.  

Oh, the anticipation! 

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After breakfast, we opened the rest of our gifts.

It was a glorious and music-filled day!

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In the mix with us this year is my co-worker's dog, Bella.  We're dog sitting her for a few days while my co-worker visits family out of state.

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I didn't mention it yet, but earlier this month, we bid farewell to our dog, Louie.  I'd like to say it was a difficult decision to give him away - but it wasn't.  For as much as we tried, we never felt the "click" with Louie.  There just wasn't the right kind of chemistry between us - and for five years, I attributed it to me and/or the family dynamic.  I wanted to blame it on the breed, but I kept thinking to myself, "A dog is a dog ... it's got to be a human issue. We're simply not trying hard enough."

The straw that broke the camel's back wasn't the nipping that he was prone to do, or the Cujo aggression he'd show to other dogs … it was that Louie kept running away.  He ran away when we lived in Virginia, he ran away when we lived in Texas.  He ran away when we went away on vacation in Michigan.   Every time the children would go outside, and leave the door open - which is at least 2X (er, 4X) a week - the dog would be gone. Running away, as fast as his four legs would carry him, GONE. And hours later, we'd get phone calls, not from the neighbor next door, or down the street … but from the neighbors in the next neighborhood, across the street, through the woods, and over the river.  "Hi, I think we've got your dog….?" 

Yes, we love meeting new neighbors. But not quite that way.

Eventually, we decided that there's a huge difference in breeds, and Louie isn't the right breed for our family.  He needed more than what we could offer him, and it wasn't fair to him - or us - to try to keep forcing something to work that simply wasn't working.  The multitude of dog experts that we've talked with seemed to think it was the "Mountain Cur" part of his breed that made him take off the way he did and give him that unending uber energy.  And you know, this family has got enough high energy without having a high energy dog, too.

Bella is a Golden Retriever / Labrador mix and she is the antithesis of Louie. We have discussed getting another dog - next summer when the kids finish school and we have time to devote to getting a new dog acclimated to our family.   Another dog for our family, would be a dog like Bella.  Or a dog like Pearl.  Or a dog like Monty.

But I'm thinking that just watching Bella whenever her family goes out of town might be a better arrangement for us.  We'll have Bella to love and care for roughly eight weeks a year - and in return, they get to handle all the dog care and vet expenses.

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Ho, ho, ho … that's a win-win!