Wednesday, December 17, 2014

let me tell you about the birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees


A few months ago, I had "the talk" with our fourth graders about "the birds and the bees."

It was a simple conversation that started when we were out for a walk around the neighborhood and William saw two teenagers hugging and he mumbled under his breath, "Geez, they should get a room."   His comment floored me, because: 1. Where did he hear that? And 2. Does he even know what that means?!

So I asked him and he said he'd heard kids on the bus talk about hugging and kissing and "all that kind of stuff" and I suddenly remembered being in fourth grade and riding the bus.

On or around the day that Ronald Reagan was shot (circa 1981), my best friend, Vivian, told me that babies came out of a woman's belly button. Since she was a whole year older than me, I suspected she was an expert on the subject.  It wasn't until a few years later, I'd learn she had her facts slightly mixed up.

By the time we'd walked back to our house, I had given William and his sisters the 30,000-foot overview of human reproduction.  When we arrived home,  I pulled out our dry erase board and sketched pictures of a woman's reproductive system, a man's reproductive system, and how babies are conceived and delivered.

It was a very informative discussion that only slightly traumatized the children and caused my husband to hide in the garage until it was over.

Apparently, earlier this year, we were informed that the school would be having a talk with the children about similar topics, including what to expect with the onset of puberty, but I must have forgotten about the communication. And I must have missed the subsequent communication that was distributed late last week to remind parents that they could opt-out of having their children participate in this session which would be occurring this week.

To be honest, I'm lost under all the academic paperwork.  Unless they send letters home glued to my child's forehead, I'll likely miss it.

This past Monday evening, our phone started ringing off the hook as several angry parents (who also have a challenging time wading through the ocean of school paperwork) called to ask if we knew that the school had talked to our kids about puberty?  Interestingly enough, we did know about it, because our kids were still talking about it ... nonstop.  

As I explained to the parents who called, I think it's fantastic that the school is talking about it, because knowledge is power and with all the changes that are about to explode in our children - they need to know what's happening with their bodies. Also, not all families feel comfortable talking about these topics, so at least the children have a basic understanding that is rooted in fact.   

Most days when the kids get off the bus and we ask them what happened that day, they can nary remember a thing.   But on Monday, the three of them rushed us at the bus stop and didn't take a breath the whole walk home.

"MOM, MOM, MOM, did you know that I'm going to grow HAIR in places I could NEVER imagine?" followed by, "MOM, MOM, MOM, and did you know that I'm going to get PIMPLES in places I could NEVER imagine?"

Within 10 minutes of arriving home from school, one of William's best friends - who lives in the neighborhood and comes to our house most afternoons - arrived with his notebook.  I was busy talking with Charlie and didn't notice until much later that they were swapping notes and making sure that they captured all the Rules of Growth, as explained to them by their teachers.


The 12 Rules, as recorded by two 10-year-olds are:

  1. We can't control growth of our body.
  2. We get hungry as we get older (big appetite).
  3. Our muscles get bigger and stronger.
  4. We need food because the calories help us grow.
  5. We get taller by the amount of food and growth we have.
  6. We need water to help our body stay healthy.
  7. Apples are not only good for your teeth, but your body, too.
  8. Some people find growth painful, awkward, or embarrassing.
  9. Sometimes in boys, they will get hair in places they can't even imagine like facial hair, underarms and chest.  
  10. Sometimes boys get things called "wet dreams" (Jen comment: OMG. Wait, WHAT?!)
  11. You might get pimples all over your body in puberty.
  12. Pimples grow in parts of your body you couldn't imagine.

My daughters then told me about the things that they discussed when they were pulled aside with all the other fourth grade girls.

They said the teachers explained how a woman's body works and how they, too, will grow hair in places they never imagined.  They talked about a woman's cycle, mood swings, and the development of breasts.  At the end of the discussion, the teachers told the girls that if they had any questions remaining, they could anonymously write them on a piece of paper and she would answer for all to hear.  Carolyn said she wrote down a question and passed it to the front of the room and as the teacher worked through the 10 or so questions that had been turned in, she got to my daughter's question and read aloud, "Can you please explain how an erektchun happens?" 

According to Carolyn her teacher read the phonetically spelled word a few times, before she realized what it said and then she gasped out loud and asked, "Who turned this in?!"

Carolyn raised her hand and the teacher said, "Oh No Dear! We don't talk about THAT until seventh grade!"  Then she asked my daughter where she had learned about that word, and Carolyn said, "My Mom. She explained a lot AND she drew us pictures."

I might never show my face at school again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

embracing an attitude of gratitude

What I didn't mention in my first post about our recent trip to the eastern Caribbean, is that we missed our flight on the way to Miami.  Even though we left our house at 3:00, the airport is only 30 minutes away, and our flight wasn't leaving until 6:30 ... we missed our plane.   Here's what happened...

We left the house at exactly 3:00 PM.  There was virtually no traffic on the road and by 3:20 PM, we were less than three miles away from Ronald Reagan National Airport. It was expected that we would be parked and standing in security by 3:35 PM and be sitting at our gate by no later than 4:00 PM, a whole 2.5 hours before we were scheduled to depart.  However, as we approached the exit, traffic slowed and then came to a halt.


For the next three hours, we moved less than 500 feet.  We would learn that there was a serious automobile accident on the 14th Street Bridge in to Washington, DC and all four lanes of traffic were stopped.  Stopped to the point that we turned off the ignition of our vehicle, and sat waiting, while watching planes take off and fly over our heads.


While we were sitting in gridlock on 395, I struck up a conversation with the woman in the car next to us.  We had started to move a tiny bit, and she tried to cut in to our lane to the point that she nearly hit the passenger door.   I rolled down my window to tell her, "PLEASE! We are trying to get to the airport before we miss our second flight!" and she rolled down her window to tell me that she was trying desperately to get home because she was returning from the funeral of her daughter and granddaughter, who had perished in a house fire earlier in the week.  The house caught on fire and the father was able to rescue one child and raced back in to help his wife and daughter, but he fell off a ladder and was unable to get back inside.

We tried to let her go first because we were broken for her loss.  But she insisted we go first because she didn't want us to miss our next flight.   If only we really knew what was happening in the world of people around us, I wonder how much more compassion we would have?  I suspect our hearts would grow at least three sizes each day.    

When we arrived at the airport, we were placed on standby along with several other passengers (that arrived after us) and had also missed their previous flight because of the traffic gridlock on I-395.

Five minutes before the plane was scheduled to push back, we were called to the gate and told that they had just enough seats for us.  But instead of the nice row of six seats - we were spaced all over the plane.  William was on row 8; Henry on row 14;  Charlie on row 18; Carolyn on row 22; me on row 27; and Elizabeth on row 34.


I was so prepared with coloring books and crayons to keep the kids entertained for the three hour flight, but because of the hasty nature of us boarding the plane and taking our seats, I didn't have the ability to give the kids any of the supplies that I'd packed.  Earlier in the day, this might have been a problem for me, but the woman from the freeway was still on my mind, and so we were feeling nothing but gratitude that we were together as a family, and embarking on a wonderful trip.

Carolyn and Elizabeth wound up being seated between Korean men that didn't speak a word of English. William had a book on Jamestown that kept him entertained, and Henry immediately picked up the menu from his seat back pocket and giddily began pondering aloud what he'd have to eat for the duration of the three hour flight?



For all the traveling that Charlie and I do, it's remarkable that the only time we have significant travel issues is when our family travels together.  This past April when we flew down to Florida for Easter, we were on our plane, racing down the runway for lift off, when the wheels touched back down, the pilot slammed on the brakes and banked a u-turn back to the gate.

I'd never had that happen before and was wondering what exactly had happened, when the pilot came on over the intercom and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, as you can see we are heading back to the gate. As we were taking off, an alarm sounded that indicated our door was not shut properly and the last thing we want to do is have the door fly open when we're 37,000 feet up.  Am I right?!"


Yes sir, you are right about that.  I'd much prefer that the airplane door remain firmly closed when we're seven miles off the ground.  I'm grateful for your attention to detail.

By the time the door was properly closed and secured, and we returned to the line-up, we were number 14 in queue for take-off.  Being so far back in line, meant that we landed later than expected and we missed our connection from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale.

We had to fly standby, then, too.   Here are the children, settling in and waiting for a flight that could accommodate us all.  This was a particularly long wait since there are not usually an abundance of empty seats on planes flying south to Florida for Spring Break.


What a good experience for my fledgling travelers, and wonderful opportunity for Charlie and I to demonstrate kindness and patience!


When we finally boarded our plane, we were immensely grateful that we caught a connection and arrived safely.  Albeit six hours later than we expected.

We were also grateful for our sense of humor.

When you pack for a trip, never forget to pack your ability to chill-out and laugh.


Today, my doctor called me to tell me that my blood work came back.  In addition to my auto-immune disease flare up (which I'd suspected), I also tested positive for parvovirus, which is what caused my severe arthritic conditions and inability to move for several days last week.

The first thought that sprung to my mind, is the "parvo" that dogs contract, but this is apparently a totally different virus that affects humans.   When I told Charlie the news I said, "See, I told you I was sick as a dog!"   (Get it?!)

According to the doctor, the symptoms can last for a few days, to a few weeks. But I've found SUPPORT FORUMS for people who have suffered from parvo for years.  Alas, over the past few days, I am finally feeling better and am extremely optimistic that I will not be one of the victims that suffers from this crippling viral infection for the next decade.

Sincere gratitude for my health, because it is awful to be sick

Last but not least, I've got gratitude for the amazing trip that we shared with my amazing mother and the awesome memories made.  Gratitude that my children had the courage to stand on the main stage and participate in a "Talent Show", the last night at sea.   Elizabeth, hula-hooping...


And Henry wow-ing the large audience in to fits of laughter with his "karate" moves.


Henry showing "the crane"...


Daniel San (from Karate kid) showing "the crane" ...

(Henry's was better.)


Gratitude for beautiful sunsets over the ocean.



And gratitude for the onboard treadmill that I used once during the seven-day cruise...


That helped burn off approximately 1/1,000,000 of the calories consumed.

Friday, December 12, 2014

aye matey!

We left from Miami on Saturday afternoon and our first port of call was San Juan, Puerto Rico.  As we cruised out of the Miami harbor, a pod of dolphins showed up along our starboard side and were jumping throughout our wake...


We were supposed to arrive in San Juan on Monday afternoon, but because of rough seas - we didn't arrive until Monday evening.  Those two days at sea - with the boat tossing and turning - were quite difficult for William, who had turned a light shade of green and was happiest when he was standing outdoors, with his face perched over the railing, feeling the warm ocean breeze on his face.


It was almost 8:00 PM when our boat docked in Puerto Rico.  We had just enough time to get off the ship, walk across the street to the Ralph Lauren outlet where we bought Charlie a new shirt marked 75% off, buy Dramamine for William, and get back on the boat.


When we woke up the next morning, we were in St. Thomas.


Because we had a full day planned that started early, we had room service drop off breakfast, which we enjoyed on our balcony while the ship docked.


Good morning, Noni!


The plan was that Charlie and I would take the four children to swim with dolphins in Tortola, while my mother stayed on the ship having a massage.  Instead, moments after we stepped off the boat in St. Thomas - after a lovely breakfast on the balcony, and after clothing our children in full-sleeved sunscreen protective shirts - the 95 degree humid and windless air engulfed us.  As I was snapping off this picture of my mother, in her pink hat, waving from her balcony, as the dolphin tour guide affixed bracelets to our wrists...


Elizabeth leaned near me and whispered, "Everything is turning yellow, I see spots."  And then she collapsed, limp against me.  I'd been giving both her and Henry a slight hug, so was not fully cognizant of what she was saying - or doing - and I felt annoyed that she was now hanging on me, in what I thought was an attempt to bogart all of the attention from Henry.

So I tried to nudge her upright and gave her a little kick while saying, "Liz, stand up! What are you doing?!" and that's when her head flopped to her shoulders and I could see that her eyes had rolled to the back of her head and she was totally unconscious.

Her sudden fainting spell surprised me, so I quickly scooped her like a baby and gently laid her flat on the ground before gravity kicked in and she fell down.  As I was getting her horizontal, Charlie - who was listening to our dolphin tour guide - called over at us, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, WOMAN?! WHY IS LIZ LAYING ON THE GROUND?! GOOD GOD, GET UP!!!"


A lovely woman who was standing next to me, with her four children, whipped out a huge unopened bottle of Evian and handed it to me, while I tried to peel Elizabeth's long sleeve swim shirt off.  She'd clearly overheated and I needed to cool her off.  Then I waved up to my mother, who was still overlooking us from her balcony, and summoned for her to come down.

Mom was on the scene within minutes, and Elizabeth was sitting upright, pale as a sheet and horrified that I tried to take her swim shirt off in public.  (She'd forgotten that she was wearing a bathing suit beneath it.)  We had a split second decision to make as to whether we were going to go swim with the dolphins on another island, or stay behind with Elizabeth.  Given that my mother, a retired nurse, was with us, she suggested we leave Elizabeth with her - and go with just the three kids.

So that's what we did.

While we were on our outing to a different island, my mother took Elizabeth upstairs for what would be a three-hour nap. Followed by shopping that included Elizabeth having a Jamaican braid and beads put in her hair, and scouting out places to have her ears pierced.

Meanwhile, we took a boat to Tortola, went to a dolphin rescue center, and were able to dive in to the lagoon and swim with real live dolphins.  I'd love to share pictures of that experience, but the photos cost $35.00 each, or $359.00 for the package of 50 photos and well, we've all got really nice photos in OUR MIND. 


Henry quickly became best friends with the son of the family that gave us their Evian...


And after spending a full day together, they were making plans to back pack around Europe when they graduate from high school. Or something equally awesome.


Island Living!

A Christmas tree, next to a palm tree (in front of a $100 million dollar private yacht!)


It was such a wonderful excursion. While the dolphins were amazing, just the scenery was enough for me to soak up.  It was so picturesque and at one point, I suggested to Charlie that we sell off everything and buy a catamaran and sail around the Caribbean.  We could teach the children onboard the boat, and what an INCREDIBLE educational experience for everyone!



Or, perhaps this if we wanted a more pirate-y feel!


Charlie just laughed and told me to put down the rum and punch.

Monday, December 08, 2014

my so totally awesome better half

When I posted photos of our trip to the Caribbean last week, I had every intention of posting additional photos throughout the week.  But then Henry was sick. And Carolyn was sick. And Charlie left for a business trip to California for several days and curses of curses, I became sick times ten.  

It's shocking how quickly a person can go from feeling healthy and great, to feeling like death would be a relief.  Injected in to this post, are photos from our trip - a few days before I was leveled flat. And as I look over them again, I am so thankful that none of us were sick on the ship or when we were far away from home.


Last week, as I lay in bed, unable to move and wondering how I'd survive, my children who quickly recovered, and had found all the Christmas decorations, were excitedly asking me about what we were going to do for the holidays?!


All I could think was, "It'll be a miracle if I'm still here for the holidays."

Do I plan Christmas, or my Memorial Service? 


For the first time this year, our children were tardy to school last week.


Not one day, but every day.


Also for the first time this year, our children bought their lunches at school because I didn't have the ability to shop, nor pack anything for them.


Never before have I been so grateful for school lunches, and school buses that take our children safely home.   Our wonderful Greek bus driver even stopped by to see me, and insisted that I take turmeric and honey, which seemed like an awful concoction, but I downed it like candy.


Turns out, I've had the flu, which triggered a terrible flare-up in my autoimmune disease that has laid relatively dormant for the past three years, and which I'd tricked myself in to believing had gone away. While I never had the congestion that usually comes with the flu, I did have the chills, fever, and joints aches that rendered me immobile for five days.


By the time Charlie arrived home on Saturday night, my hands were so stiff and swollen, they were shiny.  I know I've said it before, but Thank God for Charlie.


Thank you, God.  

Thank you. 

Thank you.  

Thank you.  

He jumped right in, the strong healthy man that he is...


Threw down his suitcase and briefcase, and immediately took charge. Because, well... you might imagine the state of the house when my blessed husband arrived home.   With a wife incapacitated for multiple days, and children running the roost, it was like a scene from "Lord of the Flies."


Feverish me, on the couch unable to open my eyes, surrounded by piles of Christmas decorations and (thankfully, empty) cereal bowls.  Children, perched all around me, watching live-stream Christmas movies on Netflix, wearing headdresses they'd made out of garland and ornaments.


My wonderful man promptly restored order, made homemade chicken soup, ensured children were bathed, and gave me the will to live.


Today, as I sip the green juice of cucumber, kale, celery, parsley and ginger root (and pop handfuls of vitamins), I'm so grateful to once again move my fingers, and be able to sit upright for more than 15 minutes.  Christmas will be here, and with a dash of turmeric in my egg nog...


It really feels like I will be, too!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

amazing trips, noni style

Many years ago, my mother was inspired to take each of her seven children on an amazing trip in honor of their 40th birthday.


It all started when my oldest sister, Mary, turned 40 and to celebrate this momentous occasion, my mother took her on a trip to Ireland.   For several days, the two of them spent time together exploring the Emerald Isle - and the land of our ancestors.  Since then, whenever one of my other five siblings have turned 40, my mother has generously taken them, and their families (if they so opt), to a global destination of their choosing.  Mom considers it a wonderful opportunity to spend one-on-one time with her child (and grandchildren) on an adventure they might not otherwise have experienced. And so it is, over the past 16 years, my mother and siblings (and nieces and nephews) have traveled to Europe, Canada, Walt Disney World, and throughout Central America.  It's become an incredibly special tradition I hope to emulate with my own children (and their families).

My 40th birthday was a few years ago (3.5 to be exact), but I've delayed my "Birthday Trip" for a number of reasons. Most notably, Jim's health has been declining and I did not think that he could make the journey with us, nor would my mother feel comfortable leaving him alone for an extended period of time.  Mom had suggested that I go on the trip with out her, but that was unfathomable. The whole purpose of the Birthday Trip was to spend time with my mother.


Way back when my older siblings turned 40, and I told Mom that when it was *my* turn, she and I would hike to Machu Picchu and explore the ancient Incan ruins, my mother warned me that it was unlikely she'd be up for traversing Peru by the time she was 77-years old.  After Mom celebrated her 81st birthday this past year and I still hadn't made any Birthday Trip plans, she encouraged me that we needed to schedule something, soon.

Like, this year ... if possible.


And so after some discussion, we selected a cruise to the eastern caribbean over Thanksgiving.  We would depart from Miami and our port of calls would include Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten.  From a proximity perspective, this was great because Mom is still living in Florida, while they rebuild her South Carolina home after the terrible fire earlier this year. And since neither Charlie nor I had ever been to the Virgin Islands (or on a cruise), and our children were begging to go somewhere "tropical" with their Noni, this was the perfect choice.


What made it all even more perfect is that my wonderful Aunt Grace would fly to Florida to stay with Jim for the week, so my mother could embark on our trip with a mind free from worry knowing Jim was in good hands.


Tonight, I uploaded photos to my computer and there are more than 400 that I snapped off over the past seven days.  While I'm not going to post all of them, there are far too many for this one post, so I'll try and upload them throughout the week.  For now, I'll leave you with this: Somewhere over the rainbow...


Is a cruise ship that has all-you-can-eat soft-serve strawberry frozen yogurt.


As far as Henry is concerned, it doesn't get any better than this.

Monday, November 17, 2014

the ortho in the orchard

A few weekends ago, we fulfilled one of our Fall Rituals, by taking the children apple picking in the local foothills.


It was such a beautiful day ... the air was cool and crisp, and the sky was cloudy, but didn't rain.


It was late in the season, so we spent a couple hours running up and down through the orchard, looking for trees that hadn't already been picked clean.


One of Henry's favorite books at the moment is, "Ten Apples Up On Top!" so we stopped along the way to see how many apples we could stack, a la Theo. LeSieg (Dr. Seuss).



Without super glue and dowels, or other engineering devices, we determined two was as high as we could go.


We stopped to enjoy a snack and began to ponder all of the things we'd do with these wonderfully fresh apples.  The kids told me how excited they were to make carmel apples, but I told them that they really couldn't have carmel apples this year (and shouldn't even be eating an apple unless it was cut in to slices) because of their newly installed braces.


While Henry rejoiced that he could still eat carmel apples but his siblings couldn't (which somehow made his excitement all the sweeter), Elizabeth very loudly explained to me that she had talked to her orthodontist and he had told her that YES, SHE COULD EAT CARMEL APPLES. 


She was so convincing and I'd almost believed her, but with Charlie as my witness, in that exact moment - the only other person who was standing in our area of the orchard picking apples interrupted our daughter's pitch and said, "Young Lady, I AM AN ORTHODONTIST and I will tell you right now that you most certainly CANNOT have carmel apples with your braces. You will rip your arch wire right out!"


Oh, to see the look on our faces ... it was a funny, funny moment. If I hadn't been in such shock at the fortuitous nature of his presence, I would have snapped off a picture.  I also wish that I'd taken a picture of the good doctor waving a finger at Elizabeth as he stepped in to his vehicle a short while later.  His personalized license plate read, "N2 TEETH."

With my camera in hand, I was taking a ton of pictures, while thinking how much I love spending time outside with everyone.   I was also thinking that I really need to take a photography class, or read the manual that came with my camera so I can better understand how to use it.


At a minimum, I should get in to the habit of checking the camera lens before I snap off pictures, to ensure that there isn't a glob of who knows what smeared on the end.  (Sorry Carolyn!)


Each of the children had their own bag, so at the end of our outing, we had four pecks of apples.


Four pecks of apples equals approximately eight gallons, or one bushel. In our case it was probably 10 gallons of apples because the bags were packed so high.


With so many apples on hand, and carmel apples ruled out for three of our four children, we made Apple Crisps for several of our neighbors, including a few who recently moved in.


Because that's another one of our Fall Rituals