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!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

it's the most wonderful time of the year!

In this day and age of internet, the one thing you've (and by you've, I mean "I") got to be really cautious of - is the tendency to compare yourself to others - particularly with the world at your fingertips via Facebook or other online social / media platforms.

For as much as I applaud and am inspired by the highly organized / efficient people who have all of their shopping completed by the end of November (or earlier), and are able to quietly savor the season of Advent … despite my best efforts, that scenario has yet to play out for this full-time working mama of four.   When I think of all the things that I need to accomplish between now and 24 days from now, while also ensuring our kiddos stay current on their homework and special school assignments, and eat once (OK, maybe twice) a day … I feel a little like this:

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Despite that … Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday season.  With all of it's busyness and mild chaos that comes with setting up decorations, unraveling lights, shopping for just the right gift(s), writing Christmas poems, sending out hundreds of cards, baking - wrapping - continuing various traditions - and making merry … there is nothing I would rather do.  Yes, maybe one day I'll be able to sit back and relax during the entire month of December.  But it certainly won't be this year.

So however you embark on the holidays: whether slow and steady, at break-neck speed - or some combo of the two … I hope that in each moment - your heart and soul are filled with peace, joy and magic.  Ho, Ho, Ho … WOO-HOO!  It's Christmas time! 

Happy December!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Summer Vacay - Stop 3 - Part 2: The Bestest Anniversary

I'm in a bit of disbelief that it is nearly the last day of November, and I'm still trying to finish writing posts about our summer vacation four months ago.  The days have been an absolute blur and I'm none too happy about the lack of time to just breathe - and reflect.  That will be changing soon.

(I really, really mean it this time.)

So much has happened in the past four months that I haven't documented and poof! It's gone from my mind.  Thank goodness for this blog and the written word - if not for my chronicling of life over the past 10 years, I'd have virtually no recollection of what happened when the children were young.  Much like a tree silently falling in a forest without any witnesses … if I didn't write about it, did it actually happen?

What's happened in the past four months that I can recall?  Well, sixth grade starting for the trio; third grade starting for Henry.  Swim team five evenings a week, a lotta scouts, a hilarious night out learning how to do the Texas Two-Step, a ridiculous number of business trips for both Charlie and I - and one huge 50th surprise birthday trip for Charlie that I miraculously pulled off with the help of my sister, Eileen, and my Aunt Grace.  In due time, I hope to write about these things before they vaporize from my memory bank.

But for now, I need to finish writing about our summer trip to the west coast!

I left things off after we'd just arrived in northern California, at my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Steve and Kathy's idyllic home in Sonoma County.   That was Friday evening, August 5th.  On Saturday - August 6th, we spent our 22nd anniversary with Charlie's brother, Steve, and sister, Susan and her family (husband Jeff, daughter Jessie), at Korbel.

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While the adults champagne and wine tasted and toured the beautiful grounds..

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(… Me, really hoping these racks within the room have been seismically engineered and bolted down.)

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(… Can you imagine a view like this from your kitchen window?)

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(… I couldn't stop singing, the intro to Laverne & Shirley as we stood along this bottle assembly line, "One - two - three - four -five - six - seven - eight … shlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated, we're gonna do it! On your mark get set and go now, got a dream and we just know now - we're gonna make that dream come true!") 

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The children spent the entire day with their Aunt Kathy on a picnic in the giant redwood forests.  Kathy always knows just what to do - and on this day, she knew that the best anniversary gift she could possibly give us, would be to take the children on a picnic, so that we could go wine tasting.

AUNT KATHY ROCKS!

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That evening, Steve and Kathy hosted the most wonderful dinner party for us.

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All four of the siblings were back together again …

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For the first time in more than five years.

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A highlight for me was seeing our nieces, Jessie and Alice, who are some of our favorite people on planet earth.  Wholesome, down to earth, smart as whips, beautiful inside and out. Jessie is an adventurous wildlife biologist who takes assignments in unbelievably remote locations, and Alice was about to begin her first year of teaching - sixth grade, nonetheless.  (I ADORE THESE TWO!)

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While waiting for dinner, Elizabeth gently slipped a flower in to her Uncle Steve's hair …

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And her Dad's … she's so stealth, this one!

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Seven of the eleven grandchildren on Charlie's side of the family were united … those not shown and sorely missed:  Lucy (who was 7-months pregnant so had sufficient excuse to be MIA); Geordie who was working in Mendocino, Angela who we saw earlier in the week in Santa Barbara, and David who is living in Tanzania. As in Africa.  So also sufficiently excused from soiree.

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Here are the kids with cousin Angela … Steve & Kathy's youngest:

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At nearly 5'6, and ranking in the >98% for height, our beautiful Carolyn has always outpaced her siblings (and peers) in the size department.  How awesome it was, then, for Carolyn to see her gorgeous cousin Alice, who was 6'2" when she was only 16-years old:  

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Those tall genes definitely come from Charlie's side of the family … considering at 6'1" he is the shortest brother by at least two inches.  I suspect at the rate Carolyn has been growing, she'll be taller than both her father and I within the next five years and whoa, mercy, is this child strong!  At the moment, she is the undefeated arm wrestling champion in sixth grade, and before we opted for swim team in lieu of crew - she was on a row team with teenaged boys.

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But that's a different story for a different day.

(If I can remember to tell it.)