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!

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.