Thursday, April 20, 2017

musings on my 46th lap

Today is my 46th birthday, and I am taking the day off from work. Bear with me, please, as I now wax poetic because at this exact moment, I'm watching the sun rise, listening to the Beatles Pandora station, updating my blog, and sipping green tea (and honey) in a cup that Elizabeth received for Christmas during a mug exchange.  I love this little mug, it reads, "Cup of Happy" and at the bottom is an awesome little sunshine, smiling at me.

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At 46-years old, I know that the simplest pleasures are often the greatest - and my perception of my circumstances dictates my attitude.  As such, I have tried to rigorously see God's Fingerprint on every situation, good - or bad - and embrace a grateful attitude.  Without question, my cup of happiness runneth over!

Earlier this week, I'd been traveling for business to Michigan, where I was fortunate enough to see my sister, Eileen.

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Yesterday, we spent almost four hours together at the Detroit airport eating lunch and walking at least 7,000 steps while waiting for our flights. I was flying home to Houston, she was flying to Nashville - so she could drive to Fort Campbell and see her son, Tommy - who was just recruited and accepted in to West Point Military Academy. (!!!!!!)

Last year at this time, Tommy, a combat medic - won Soldier of the Year for the 101st Airborne, and this year, because of his outstanding Army accomplishments - he's going to West Point.  When Eileen showed me the packet of material he had received from this prestigious school welcoming her son for the Fall of 2017, I cried.  We are so proud of him - and Eileen - and I am so incredibly grateful for his service to our country.

At 46-years old, I am amazed that I am doing life with such an incredible family ... that I was so fortunate to be born to my parents - and have the siblings and cousins that I do.  We are a product of our environments and while we're not perfect nor idyllic by a long shot - my family has taught me an immeasurable amount, and have shaped and inspired me for four and a half decades. I couldn't be prouder of our next generation.

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Over the past few months, Charlie and I - and the children - have been working with local shelters and homeless organizations, and it rocks me every time I talk to people who have made it their life mission to serve.   One of my quests is to surround myself - and our children - with people who are cut from this dedicated and compassionate cloth because, they truly are the lights in what may sometimes seem like a very dark world.

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At 46-years old, despite the negative news, violence, pain and suffering that is happening around the world,  I am incredibly grateful for the brave, courageous, and loving people who step forward and are committed to serving and doing as much good as they can - where they can - when they can - at all the times they possibly can.

Last week, I was in a meetings with my colleagues from all over the world.  On one of the days, the new president of our company dropped in to talk with us.  Before I headed in to work, I was telling Elizabeth that I would be meeting the president later that morning and she said, and I quote, "I hope you like him."  What a surprise to my pre-teen that our new president is a woman.

After I listened to this vibrant woman speak and hear how she was offered the position of president from our former CEO, I had the opportunity to tell her - before an audience of my peers - of the exchange I'd had earlier that morning with my 12-year old daughter.   As I explained that my daughter's automatic assumption was that our new leader was a man - she threw her head back and laughed.  Continuing, I told her that I was so excited to see the inclusion and diversity of women in to senior management roles within our corporation.  Since she is only the second company president in the history of our 147-year old corporation, this is a huge step for women in the science and engineering industry.  She agreed and added, "I want you to tell your daughter that I said 'Hi.'  I also want for you to tell your daughter that in 30 years, she will be the President of Exxon Mobil."  

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When I look at Elizabeth, I see so much of myself as a 12-year old.  Like Elizabeth, I struggled with a learning disability, and often felt like the dumbest kid in school who just didn't GET it.  Eventually - I did get it and I'll forever be grateful to people like my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Parsons, who told me (and I believed), "Jenny, you have so much potential to be tapped." I worked harder and cultivated the work ethic I have because school didn't come as easily to me.  Over my life, I've seen time and again how our disabilities or challenges usually lead to our greatest strengths.

This past Saturday, I took Elizabeth shopping for an Easter dress and as she stood in the middle of a bustling store - she confidently held up two dresses, and tucking one, then the other, beneath her chin boldly asked me, "Mom, which of these do you think would look better on the President of Exxon Mobil?"

At 46-years old, I am incredibly grateful for my education, career, and the power of positive messaging that was instrumental in getting me to this place in my life. My hope is that my experiences - in conjunction with their own - will allow our children to see that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to.  Although, on the road of life - it helps if you know which direction to aim.

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Updated at 11:35 PM:  I logged off this morning before I published this post to get the kids off to school - and then volunteer in Henry's classroom.  Charlie took the day off from work with me, because he knows that my love language is Quality Time, and he is a Good Man.

After we helped the third grade teachers for an hour, we checked Henry out of school and picked up lunch for the triplets, which we brought to them at their school.  Charlie and I smothered our sixth graders with attention: hugs and kisses and some cool dance moves in the middle of their crowded cafeteria, while their little brother jumped around.  We're trying to help them get over this phase of remarkably easy preteen embarrassment …. as in - I just have to look at them and they turn bright red. So I think Charlie and I doing Yo Gangnam Style in front of their peers really helped.  But we may not find out for another 20-years when they're in counseling.

We then checked the triplets out of school and the lot of us went to the 1:00 showing of Beauty and The Beast.  The teachers were surprised we were taking the children out of school because they have a math test on statistics tomorrow, but as I explained to them: not to be mean (get it?) birthdays only come once a year, and the probability is significantly greater we will remember this day spent together for the rest of our lives.  Also, the greatest gift I could give to myself is to break our normal busy schedule and spend a fun mid-week day with the ones I love more than oxygen.

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After the movie - which was very good; we went out for dinner … and it just so happened that moments after we sat down - to our complete surprise, a Beatles tribute band started to play on the lawn in front of the patio where we were seated. Over the next hour, a crowd of at least 1,000 descended upon the park to hear them play; including all of the amazing triathletes who are in town for the Iron Man, this weekend.   The band was fantastic, and at intermission, I had the chance to meet John and Paul.  SQUEE!!! I was just rocking out with those guys this morning when I started this post!

What are the odds?!?!

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We came home and I was smothered with cards and presents, including this outstanding apron from my husband.  Wonder Woman.  William took one look and said, "Wow, Mom! That's what you'd look like if you weighed 90 pounds!"

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Yes ….  I'm Wonder Woman alright.

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At 46-years old, I'm in absolute wonder that I have a life so blessed!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Summer Vacay - Stop 4 - Part 1: The Happy Campers

Of course it happens that every time we set off on a road trip, we are motivated to sell off everything and travel the country.  Permanently.  This trip was no different.

While on our amazing road trip this past summer, Charlie and I did what we do best:  We questioned everything about life - what we were doing - where we should be - and if any course adjustments were necessary.   Seven months later: the jury is still out. 

There is something so incredibly freeing about just taking off with everything you need to survive in the vehicle you are driving.  You have no responsibilities, except arriving safely - and enjoying the journey.  We listen to books on tape, read stories, sing songs, listen to music and talk radio, play games like, "I'm thinking of an animal…" and "This is the game of concentration - no repeats or hesitation … category is: sedimentary rocks!"  And the kids all get frustrated with Charlie and I because they don't appreciate geology categories as much as their parents do.

Sandstone!

Siltstone!

Limestone!

After spending an amazing time with Charlie's family - we loaded up our trusty 11-year old minivan which was absolutely packed to the brim, with all of the supplies and camping gear we would need for our three week vacation.  And in that space between the driver and passenger seats, Kathy gave us an abundance of fresh vegetables from her garden.  And then - just as we were pulling out of the driveway, Steve eyed a minuscule patch of space on Henry's lap and quickly darted in to the house returning with - of all things - a baritone.   Yep.  Let that soak in.

A BARITONE.

I'm not sure what we ever did to hurt Steve … but there you have it.

"No, really, I insist.  It is because of my affection for you, the children must take this horn to play on the nearly 2,000-mile drive from northern California to southern Texas. Isn't that right, children?!" 

HOONKHOOHEEEWHAAAAASQUEEEEAHAWOMPSQUEEAH.

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Once we departed Santa Rosa, we continued on - partially deaf - to the southeast for Calaveras County; the gateway to Yosemite National Park.  It was in Angels Camp, that we tread in the footsteps of Mark Twain … and learned all about the jumping frogs.  They really exist!

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We toured the historic town, ate peppermint stick ice cream (our favorite)…

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And Charlie and I had a Ms. Pac-Man showdown wherein I impressed the socks off our children by landing the HIGHEST score on this arcade game (NOTE: my video game ability rises and sets on this game, only.  With two quarters and a Ms. Pac-Man table game … it's on like Donkey Kong.)

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After touring the town, the kids, not me because I'm not totally cra-cra, swam in a ridiculously cold campground swimming pool; and then we settled down with a game of cards around our campfire - before climbing in to our newly pitched, 8-man tent that had been set up in a picturesque location.  Thankfully, there wasn't any inclement weather or wind, because after we set it up, we realized that we had TWO remaining poles.  Oops.  Instructions would have been useful.

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The next day, we woke up at the crack of dawn - ate fresh vegetables from Kathy's garden for breakfast - and continued southeast to Yosemite National Park, the first of what would be five national parks that we would visit over the next five days on our beautiful drive back to Texas.

Hop on back soon for more to this story.

Get it? Hop? Like a frog?

Ha!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Summer Vacay - Stop 3 - Part 3: The Russian River

Yes.  I know.

It's nearing the end of March, and I'm still writing about our summer 2016 vacation.  Seeing as summer 2017 vacation starts in approximately ten weeks … I better hurry up and finish this series, or my blogging backlog will be seriously out of control.  Especially since I also need to write about Charlie's 50th birthday surprise, and 2017 Spring Break - which concluded, today. 

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So, the day after our amazing anniversary celebration, Charlie's brother - Steve, and his incredible wife, Kathy … and Charlie's sister - Susan, and her brilliant husband, Jeff … and their awesome daughter, Jessie - all took off for a day of paddling on the Russian River.

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We had so much fun, together.

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Even though Charlie and I - and our children - are a big group in and of ourselves … we are part of a much larger family, and when even a portion of us all get together - it really is an awesome sight.  Being together on the river in our canoes and kayak - gave me that feeling that we were WITH our tribe, and it was spectacular.  

Jessie, our wildlife biologist - who actually works in remote places like Alaska, tagging owls and tracking wolves, was in the kayak - while the rest of us were in canoes.

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Kathy and Steve, with Elizabeth and William. 

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Susan and Jeff, with Carolyn. 

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Charlie and I with Henry.   

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Our "assigned" boats didn't stay as such for long … after less than 30 minutes, people started moving vessels.  Henry made his transition while underway.

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Elizabeth abandoned ship, when Uncle Steve took a nap.

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She rendezvoused with Jessie on the kayak.

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Then Jessie migrated to a canoe, and Elizabeth and Henry took off on the kayak.

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Then Charlie was in the kayak.

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Then Jeff.

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Then all the kids … and the kayak partially sank.

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Then our very own Chief Smaka, suggested that we stop for a picnic lunch.

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Kathy is Julia Childs, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen all rolled in to one … so you might imagine that her idea of a picnic lunch was a big step up from my typical PB&J, Cheez-Its and apple slices.  Since she had planned this event weeks in advance, every detail was meticulously executed.  From the coolers that had been stored at a specific take-out location; to the linen blankets that we sat upon.  To the humongous focaccia sandwiches that she had prepared with vegetables grown in her own garden. To the chocolate chip cookies, pita chips, and ice cold drinks.

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And, to make it all the sweeter, our picnic stop just so happened to be in an area that was overrun with wild blackberries.

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It was a beautifully perfect day.

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Made all the better because of the fantastic family members we were so fortunate to spend it with.

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Monday, March 06, 2017

a spot of roundhouse kick tea

I've developed an addiction to green tea and honey.  I'll have at least two cups of it, every day, and am convinced that concoction has healing powers.  I can definitively say that whenever I feel myself coming down with a cold - or general fatigue - a cup of green tea and honey will soon make me right as rain.   It's remarkable! 

For my entire life, I've always been prone to respiratory infections and would catch everything that the children brought home. But since my green tea and honey ritual, my immune system is as strong as Chuck Norris.

Why Chuck Norris?

Because Charlie and one of his colleagues have this ongoing discourse of jokes about Chuck Norris. Each day they try to out-Chuck-Norris each other.  It's totally juvenile and hilarious.  I've learned that there are entire website (s) devoted to Chuck Norris jokes and Charlie now has most of them committed to memory.   Here are a few that I can remember:

Chuck Norris can ride a motor. Without the cycle. 

When Chuck Norris does push-ups, he doesn't push himself up - he pushes the earth down.  

Chuck Norris will never have a heart attack, because his heart isn't fool enough to attack him. 

When Chuck Norris was born, the doctor cried. Never - ever - slap Chuck Norris.  

All this to say, green tea and honey is tough stuff.  And best of all, a few of my children enjoy drinking it, too … it's truly a highlight of our day sitting down with each other over a cup of tea.

Moments after I took this picture, William said to me, "Mom, did you know that Chuck Norris was born in a log cabin … that he built with his bare hands?" 

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So not only are my habits rubbing off on the children, it would appear Charlie's are, too!

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!