Wednesday, July 30, 2008

wednesday weigh in

This has been a tough week.

I've been thinking a lot about our dog Molly, who will be 14 in December.

One day I think that she is on her last legs and we need to put her down, the next day, she is bouncing around like a puppy. Still, she is losing control of her bladder and our garage absolutely reeks. Every time I to outside to see her - or get something from the refrigerator - I have to hold my nose. My life will be a whole lot easier when she is gone, but just thinking about her being gone makes me sad.

It's weak, but I cannot get myself to take my dog in to the vet as she is wagging her tail and looking up at me with her big gentle brown eyes with the intention of saying "Goodbye." But yet, I also don't want her health to deteriorate to the point where she is laying in her own waste and unable to move. I'm worried because I know this is something I should probably do, but I can't.

Then there's my father.

When I talked to him today, he sounded awful, probably the worst I've ever heard him. He is going through a difficult time in life and is very upset that his new friend, Mary, is not being accepted by the family. There is no doubt that he - and those that have helped him - have been through a lot. He has Parkinson's and his divorce, in which he lost a large chunk of his estate, is not yet finalized.

Within the past few months, Mary has begun to spend more and more time with my father. She is with him every day (and every night) and the concern is that she (and her son) are after my father for his money.

People need money to survive, but dang whenever it's around, it sure does cause a lot of problems.

I've heard both sides of the story and I don't know what to think or believe any more. I know that dad is not getting any younger and I know that his health is not going to improve. I also know that Mary makes him happy. From what I could see when I was visiting, she genuinely cares for him and sincerely, at this point, I can't think of anything that is more important that that.

Dad says that he is tying what remains of his estate in to an irrevocable trust, so there is no need to worry. But I do. Because as the youngest child, it's a part of who I am. I don't worry about the money as much as I worry about the genuine love and acceptance that my father has in what remains of his life.

Then there's my sister Mary who is going through radiation for breast cancer and from what my family tells me, she is having a very difficult time of it. I still haven't written to her. But I'll do that, tonight.

Then there's my sister Beth's very good friend, Craig, who fell 12-feet off a ladder and broke his neck and back and ribs. It's a miracle that he survived the fall. He was just moved to a rehab facility in Boston and my brother-in-law started a blog for him.

Then there's work.

And four small children.

And potty training.

And ice cream bowls that are too small.

Then there is my mom's fiancé, Jim, a wonderful man who I've known for the past 30 years. Late last week, he collapsed while eating out at a restaurant with my mother and their friends and had to be taken off to the hospital in an ambulance. He spent the night in the hospital and was treated for dehydration before being discharged the following day. He's home now. But I'm worried because I love the guy and he has to watch our children in less than a month when we participate in our triathlon.

And then there's our triathlon.

Which is the point of this post.

Last week I finally got myself in to the pool and I swam 1300 meters. The race will only require for me to swim 500 meters, but there is a big difference between swimming in a shark and current-free pool and swimming in a shark and current-abundant ocean, so I'm trying to add more distance to each swim so I'm more prepared for "race day."

What I figured out is that if I swim the side-stroke, I can go forever. Moreover, I think that the side-stroke makes me look less like a seal. Especially if I'm wearing my neon blue Speedo bathing suit with bright yellow swim cap and hot pink goggles.

Oh yes. I look good. But in a way that is unlike anything you've ever seen gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated.

On Sunday I rode my bicycle 12 (very hilly) miles with our neighbor and then Charlie and I ran two (very hilly) miles together on Monday night, with the children. He pushed two in our double BOB jogging stroller and I pushed the other two in our bike trailer with the stroller conversion.

My athletic husband, who ran a marathon a few years ago, was galloping ahead and I was trying desperately to catch him. I thought I was doing pretty well. As I was running up a hill pushing 80 pounds worth of stroller and children, William piped up "Mom, what are you doing?" and I breathlessly answered "I'm running!" He paused for a moment before laughing, "No you're NOT!!"

Lesson for the week: Nothing helps to boost a downed morale like endorphins. And nobody keeps you humble like a three-year-old.

Anyone that leaves me a comment telling me how they are doing with their goals, will be entered in to a contest to win a CD compilation of my all-time favorite bust-a-move work out music. Trust me. You'll love it.

Almost as much as you'll love the new ice cream bowls I'll probably send you, too.

sadly, this dish didn't break

There was a magnitude 5.4 earthquake in Southern California today.

I was sitting in a business meeting and felt the building that we were in start to shake. The epicenter was about three hours north of our house so everyone and everything is fine.

Thanks to those who called or sent us an e-mail asking why we still live in California where the ground shakes, the buildings collapse and there are out-of-control wildfires.

I've been in a dozen or so earthquakes in the 17 years I've lived in California. Thus far, we've been fortunate to never sustain any property damage - or bodily injury.

Tonight Charlie showed me what our "new" ice cream bowls look like, because apparently he thinks that we eat "too much" ice cream and need to start living a "healthier lifestyle" and all we need is a "taste" to satisfy our craving, so he took the liberty of packing up our vats bowls and moving them to the garage.

After filling this tiny cup up five times, I am now the kind of person that eats ice cream directly out of the carton.

(While hiding in a closet.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

finding grace

Before they were born, while they were still fetuses entirely dependent upon my body, my daughters have had distinct personalities.

The baby that the doctors referred to as "baby C' was my smallest and the most active girl, flip flopping around and kicking her siblings on their heads with her tiny feet. "Baby B" was always larger and very rarely moved. She was content to lay still while her sister did tumbling passes in the adjacent placenta.

Yet while they were in utero, I had already determined what they would be named and had deciphered my daughter's personalities.

Baby C would have a bubbly demeanor. She would be constantly on the move, never content to sit still. She would smile at everyone she meets and be the life of the party. She would be the first to crawl, first to walk, first to do everything.

Baby B would be more laid back. She would be slower than her sister to do things. She would be more withdrawn and have reservations about every one that she meets. If there was a party raging poolside, she would be more content to stay at home with me.

When our children were born, it really surprised me that "baby B" was the smallest of the trio.

It surprised me that she was so active, even as a 3-pound preemie, whereas baby C, the baby that I thought would be so active, was perfectly content to sleep.

I thought for sure it would have been the other way around.

The notable difference in their size and personalities continued to puzzle me as we brought our children home from the hospital. Baby B - Elizabeth Jeanne - would hardly eat and squirm constantly; whereas Baby C - Carolyn Grace - would polish off all of her bottles and sleep soundly.

Several months after they were born, when we were comparing their growth charts, Charlie and I confirmed, without a doubt, that our girls had been switched at birth.

The baby that in utero, we knew as baby C - the smallest and most active of the trio - was born immediately after her brother. Once we discovered that they had been mixed up, I realized that the predictions I had made about my daughter's personalities while they were in my womb, could not have been more accurate.

Elizabeth is a social butterfly and it downright scares me how she will talk to anyone. As she was active on the inside, she is active on the outside. This child never stops moving. She rarely eats, and yet is a ball of energy. She has a gentle demeanor and adores her baby brother. She was the first to crawl, first to walk and first to potty train. I think that if William had not been blocking her exit, she would have been the first to be born.

Carolyn is very shy and withdrawn. She is extremely cautious and will not approach any one that she doesn't know. Whenever we go out, she will stay by my side, and frequently, hang off my leg. She is jealous of her baby brother and will snatch toys away from him. Where her sister will eat two bites and ask to be excused from the table, Carolyn will sit and eat every last morsel on her plate ... before asking if she can have what her sister didn't finish. She is four-inches taller than Elizabeth and 12 pounds heavier. She was the last to crawl, last to walk, and still shows no interest in being "fully" potty-trained.

That last issue, the issue of potty training, has been very difficult for me. Almost as difficult as the way she hides under my shirt in public and knocks her baby brother down whenever he comes near.

Because Carolyn has been so adamantly opposed to going poop in the potty, her refusal is beginning to negatively affect my attitude towards her. I simply don't have the same level of patience or compassion that I once had, and I find myself saying and thinking things that are less than kind.

I am frustrated beyond belief.

Now if someone were to tell me about their stubborn child who refuses to potty train, I would tell them to relax. I would say that it will happen when it happens and until then *shrug* there's not much you're going to do about it.

But when I've got two other children, the exact same age, that have been potty trained for several months ... and one that is going through a regression of monumental proportions ... it's difficult to stay level headed. It's difficult to not want to pick your child up and compress their belly like a tube of frosting - squeezing that poop clean out.

Six people have now told me that the key to having a stubborn child have a successful evacuation on the toilet, is to put the child on the potty and keep them there until they poop.

I tried that once before and after a solid two hours and a tiny poop, I hadn't done it again. And since I've got so many activities happening on any given day and I'm often managing my time in mere seconds, I don't want to sit around waiting for hours and hours for a child to defecate.

But one day last week, I was at my wits end.

So on Wednesday night - and again Thursday night - I sat my daughter on the toilet.

The first night it took an hour. The second night it took four and a half hours. I suspected that Child Psychologists the world over would tell me that this approach is WRONG. I suspected that my callousness in ignoring my little girl's pleas of "I'm tired!!" would land her in therapy. I suspected that the vast majority of the civilized population would say that this is a cruel thing to do to a child.

But, there I was.

She was doing this holding-of-the-poop thing to spite me and I was NOT going to lose. It was a war of wills and I would triumph. The poop that had been daylighting since earlier that morning, was no longer longer poop, it was sh*t, and I was tired of cleaning it out of underwear, seeing it, smelling it, and otherwise thinking about it.

I was determined that it was coming out in the pot.

Not in a diaper.

Not in underwear.

Not in pieces on her hand - which she might then wipe on our linen shower curtain.

Thursday night, I put her on the potty at 8:00 PM. Four and a half hours later at 12:30 AM, my daughter finally did go poop. It came out once she fell asleep.

All weekend I was upset over my actions on Thursday night.

I was upset that I would force my little girl to sit on a potty to go poop, when it was clear that she absolutely did not want to. I was upset that I would tell her the next time I see her knock her baby brother down - or hit him with a block - I was going to do the same thing, to her. I was upset that I have been so disappointed with her in almost everything that she does.

I was upset that I had less than favorable feelings about my daughter as a manifestation of the frustration that she was not doing this one thing that I really wanted her to do.

When our daughters were born, it didn't matter to me who was named what. But I find it interesting that the child that I always thought would be Carolyn Grace, my baby C, is in fact baby B.

After some soul searching this weekend, I'm certain that it was no mix-up that my daughters were born when they were. I have decided that it was a case of divine intervention that my girls came out when they did. Because if Carolyn was born when she was "supposed" to be born, she would have been named Elizabeth Jeanne. But because their names had been picked out well in advance of their birth, the angels on high must have known that the child that would really need her mother's grace, was baby B.

My Gracie.

I have decided that instead of being frustrated with her, I must shower her with love. I must spend more one-on-one time with her and not completely lose my cool whenever she does something that I think she knows is wrong.

Above all, I must show her grace.

I have also decided (again) that pooping in the potty isn't going to happen until Gracie decides that it should happen. I can only hope that it will happen before I am eligible for the AARP. Until then, I am putting her in diapers - all day every day - because she and I have both cleaned enough poop out of underwear to last a lifetime.

Friday, July 25, 2008

favorite thing friday

There are very few things that really gross me out.

Actually, I just started thinking about that statement and it's not entirely true. My idea of fishing is to hold the rod. I need to have someone else put bait on the line - and then, have someone else take any fish off the line that I may have caught. Touching the bait - or a live fish - makes me queasy. And the time that I stepped barefoot on a snail when I was 18 years old, still to this very day, makes me nauseous. Almost 20 years later, I can still hear the crack and feel the slimy jagged ooze between my toes.

But almost more than either of those things, the one thing that really grosses me out is old sponges. Old stinky kitchen sponges.

A few years ago, I watched a show on Oprah about a woman who lived in absolute squalor. She never cleaned her bathroom, never cleaned her kitchen, never cleaned her house. She had the same sponge in her kitchen that was at least five years old that she used to wipe down her dishes and her counters.

A team of scientists - including mold and mildew experts - went in to this woman's house and collected samples from her rugs, bath mats, counter tops, and curtains. They bagged up her nasty old sponge and took it back to their lab for an evaluation. And although I remember feeling really grossed out with the state of this woman's living space, what I remember most from that show is that her kitchen sponge was loaded with E. coli and salmonella.

I can only imagine how bad it smelled.

Growing up, I remember my family would always throw sponges in the washing machine every few days to clean them. The average life of a sponge was at least a year. If not a decade or two. Even now my mother has sponges in circulation that I recognize from high school.  The sponges are clean, I'm sure of it, but I never did understand reusing something that I considered to be disposable. The quality of the sponge was degraded

So once I landed my first job and collected my first paycheck, one of the very first purchases I made was to buy NEW sponges for my apartment. Once every couple of weeks, I'd break out a new sponge and throw the old one away. It was and still is a great treat for me to open up a brand spanking new sponge.

Up until recently, I would use a sponge for washing dishes and wiping down counters. But when my mother noticed that some of her friends were using bar mops, she ran out to the store and bought me a pack.

Now, I use bar mops exclusively for wiping down and drying our counters, and I use sponges exclusively for washing dishes. At the end of the day, I toss my used bar mops in to the wash and pull out a clean one for the next day.

My sponges still go in to the trash after two weeks or when they get stinky, which ever comes first. But after reading this article, I have also started running our sponges under water and then, sticking them in the microwave for one minute to zap any bacteria.

Here's a link where you can purchase bar mops. I really like the William Sonoma brand. I also really like William Sonoma dish towels. In my opinion, they are the highest quality dish towels around. We've had ours for five years and counting. Come to think of it, I really like pretty much everything from this store.

Almost as much as I like clean bacteria-free counters.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

wednesday weigh in

I think it's important that I be honest and tell you ... I took a little hiatus from consistent running. Because, well, driving and staying in a new place every night for three weeks straight can throw a wrench in your exercise routine unless you are really dedicated.

And well, I'm not. At least not yet.

But I hope to be. One day.

This past weekend, Sunday to be exact, I started to run again. When Charlie told me that he had spoken to my mother and she told him that she booked her plane ticket to fly to California with Jim in August to watch the children so that we could participate in our triathlon, and Charlie then went on line and registered and paid money for our triathlon, and then I looked at the calendar and realized Good Golly the triathlon is in less than four weeks, I got a little panicky.

Since we are out $65.00 per person and my mother has dropped a small fortune on plane tickets, there is no turning back now. We are committed.

So Sunday, right?

I jump on to my recently* tuned up bicycle (*is five months ago still considered "recent"?) and make it to the end of the street before realizing that the tires are both flat and the seat is six-inches higher than it should be. And although I could still make it to the track, I look and feel like an idiot pedaling along with two flat tires and my legs over-extended, so I turn around and ride home. Awkwardly.

Charlie comes out of the house and fixes the bike for me. I hop back on and make my way to the track, after doing a three-mile loop around our neighborhood. Since I hadn't been on a bicycle in over four years (the last time was before I was pregnant with the triplets), this three-mile loop robs my brain of it's thinking power and leaves my legs feeling like jelly. But since I have to swim and ride before I run on race day, I figured that riding before I ran would be a good warm-up.

Once I got to the track, I hopped off my bike - did some stretches - plugged in my headphones - turned on my iPod and took off running. The first 1/2 mile was great. No problem. I was trotting along, with the mantra "wicked pissah" repeating over and over again in my head.

(This phrase happens to be a little something I picked up during my recent trip to Boston. Along with five pounds from eating hot fudge sundaes every-other-night.)

With each step, I'd tell myself "I'm wicked pissah, out running. I'm the wicked pissah runner. I'm going to do a wicked pissah race and finish in wicked pissah time, because that's what a wicked pissah athlete does. And I AM wicked pissah."

Left foot hits ground ... "Wicked"

Right foot hits ground ... "Pissah!"

Left foot hits ground ... "Wicked"

Right foot hits ground ... "Pissah!"

"Wicked Pissah! Wicked Pissah! Wicked Pissah!"

As I'm jogging along, I noticed that a few of the people that were walking or running in the opposite direction were smiling and laughing in my general vicinity and I assumed it was because they were thinking I looked so good.

But instead, it was because I realized, right about the time I finished a mile and felt like my lungs were going to explode that OH! I'm still wearing my big bike helmet and I look like a wicked pissah goofball staggering around the track.

My goal this week was to run twice, ride twice and swim twice. Thus far, I haven't been running or riding since Sunday and I have yet to step foot in the pool.

But I've watched figure skating while eating corn dogs.

That has to count for something.


How are you doing with your goals?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

and the winner ... (drumroll please)

Winning this contest with over 700 votes...

She is a Christian mom, Army wife, doula, and aspiring midwife...

She has had four kids in three years, including identical twin girls...

She is passionate about birth, babies, breastfeeding and all things natural...

She is currently pregnant with her second set of identical twins (this time boys!), due in September...

Let's give it up for....

Since she will soon have six children under the age of six ... including two sets of identical twins ... Heather's life most definitely classifies as twinsanity!!

Considering Heather will be in her ninth month of pregnancy in August, she is excused from posting a picture of herself running in a marathon with her new stroller. But don't think for a minute I don't want to see a picture of your beautiful babies in their new ride!!

Now, I must give a big thank you to everyone who participated in this contest.

Thank you to the people that wrote and shared their stories, thank you to the more than 1,700 people that voted, and of course, thank you to the people at Chicco for offering such a wonderful gift.

Congratulations again, Heather!! When you're not chasing (waddling?) after four little ones, please send me an e-mail with your address so that I can forward it on to the folks at Chicco and they can get your new stroller shipped out.

Wow. That was as much fun as post-season baseball!

What shall we do next?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

not unlike a hanging chad

I probably should have given more detailed instructions on voting the other day when I posted our top 10 finalists. But in the past day, I've received a lot of e-mails requesting that I please cast an additional vote for someone, which I cannot do.

Because I can't vote any more than any one else (once, per computer or per internet search engine i.e., Explorer, Fire Fox, Safari, etc) (hint, hint), I figured with a little over 14 hours remaining and the "race" extremely close, I should give a quick tutorial.

When I set up the poll, I had the option of allowing the voter to vote multiple times. But I opted not to do this, because I wanted the winner to be selected based on the consensus of the population, not how many times someone could hit "vote" and refresh in a 48-hour period. Frankly, I didn't think that would be a very fair advantage for someone who had a lot of time on their hands.

So now that the poll has been open for three full days, I figure it's a fine time to tell you how to vote. Because I'm good that way.

1) Click on the contestant that you want to have win.

2) Click "Vote"

3) You can then open up the results to see how everyone is doing - and - you have the option of changing your vote, if you so chose.

My apologies to anyone who needed this information sooner.

I hope this picture of my beautiful baby Henry before...

... and during his very first haircut offsets any inconvenience.

(Well, if you don't count the time my mother grabbed a pair of scissors and lopped his bangs off while we were in Massachusetts, this was his very first haircut.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

nothing that a glass of wine can't heal

This hasn't been my most stellar week.

Returning from vacation always seems to derail me for a few days, but coming home from three weeks away and immediately hosting an important business meeting for almost an entire week is tough. It's also tough trying to juggle two work schedules and four small children. And a dog that is on her last legs and will probably need to be put to sleep in the next few days. And then dealing with contractors that have to come in and rip up portions of your floor because they installed it incorrectly, really stinks.

You know what else stinks?

Waking up at 5:00 AM to the overwhelming smell of poop. And a child, standing next to you in the dark - tap, tap, tapping you on the head and telling you that they had a big poop and they know that poop goes in the potty and they really want a new bicycle and they don't know why they keep pooping in their diaper but CHANGE IT, MOMMY.

At this point, I am ready to jump off a bridge when it comes to this whole potty training stuff.

I have tried everything.

If you write to me and say "Oh, yeah, I had a really stubborn child and I did THIS" I can almost guarantee that yes, I did that, too.

Stickers? Laxatives? Rewards? Punishments? Praise? Ignoring it and realizing that they just aren't ready?

Did it.

I even stopped putting them in diapers at night and instead, put them in cloth underwear with a cover because I thought for sure they would be upset if they were in their own poop. Right?


Now, they've started pooping in their underwear during the day. Or, rather big poop smudges because they try desperately to hold it in.

I've had them clean their dirty underwear and was only a little surprised that they didn't mind at all. After watching them splash in poopy water, I grabbed the dirty underwear and threw them right in the trash while yelling, "DORA IS ALL GONE!!!"

You know what else is gone?

My mind.

Who takes four children out to get their hair cut and then takes them clothes shopping and shoe shopping and then schedules an appointment to have their professional portraits taken ... all within five hours time?

I'll tell you who, me.

With very rare exception, for the past several years, I have always cut the children's hair. And usually, I make the colossal mistake of cutting their hair mere hours before we go to have their pictures taken. And if there is one thing I really cannot and should not do ... it's cut hair.

So yesterday morning we went to have the children's hair cut and I was thrilled that the stylists took the time to put adorable bows in the girls hair for their pictures. We then went to a mall that I'm not very familiar with and I spent two of the three hours that we were there - running back and forth between Charlie who was taking the children on rides on a small train - and the three stores I had wanted to shop.

But I was having a terribly difficult time trying to find the stores and could be heard yelling at the mall directory "Who is the idiot that designed this stupid thing?! It's completely upside down!! Macy's isn't there, it's over THERE. What the berrying berry!!!"

(Although I didn't use the word berry.)

Then, because the kids are of varying sizes and I've been having terrible luck with purchasing clothes only to discover that they are way too big or way too small, I herded them in to the changing room with me, yesterday.

Elizabeth is in a size 3/4.

William is in a 4/5.

Carolyn is in a size 6/7.

By the time I finally left the store, covered in sweat and stressed out that we'd never make it to the photoshoot in time, and overly frustrated that the girls had pulled their professionally placed ribbons out of their hair and in the process, turned their adorable bobs in to something that resembled a rat's nest, all it took was my unsuspecting husband to ask "What took so long?" and I spontaneously combusted.

Poor Charlie didn't know what hit him.

You know, we've been though a lot together.

Graduate school.

10 years of infertility.

The birth of four children in under three years.

The death of loved ones.

Driving almost 7,000-miles in less than a month.

But I don't recall ever being so angry or loudly vocal as I was yesterday while driving south on the Interstate. "You want to know what took me so long? I'll tell you what took me so long!!" And then for the next 37 minutes, my lucky husband got to hear ALL about it. He got to hear how I am totally overwhelmed with work and life and potty training and everything in between.

Once I paused to take a breath, Charlie convinced me to cancel the photoshoot because everyone seemed to be a little crabby. So, I begrudgingly rescheduled the photosession for later this week.

Now, I just hope that Henry's black eye will be gone by the time his one-year-shots are taken. Because we no sooner walked in the door yesterday, when he took his first unsteady steps, stumbled on one of the toys his siblings had thrown on the ground, and smacked his face on a truck.

You know what helps when you are feeling overwhelmed?

Wine and an early bed time for your children. Honestly. I am sipping on a glass of wine while sitting next to my husband who is watching "The Best Damn Sports Show" and I feel like the world is my oyster.

Even though I sometimes choke on the pearls.

quick, i need advice

I am in the market for a new baby carrier.

The Bjorn is great, fabulous in fact, but I need something that I can wear Henry around in on my back. Or, side. I have a Kelty backpack, but I am looking for something smaller, easier, more comfortable for him and me. Something that I can just load him in to and get various chores done around the house.

I'm typing this one handed. Because my baby skipped his morning nap and slept for barely 45-minutes this afternoon and now, he won't let me put him down.

So please. Tell me. What is a good carrier that you would recommend. My plan is to buy one before I go to sleep tonight.

(or early tomorrow morning as the case probably will be)

why, hello monday

In lieu of a single blog post summarizing the current state of my child-crazed mind, I am doing a series of shorter posts. Why is it that I'm not writing a longer blog post, you ask?

Well, I have no time to sit and think because the triplet's aren't taking a nap today. Last night I decided I am done with kids not going to sleep until 10:00. I'm not going to bed until 1:00 or 2:00 AM because there is way too much to do and I can't get anything finished until the children are sleeping. And then, like clock work, Henry is up crying before I have a chance to dream.

So the reason I am sleep deprived and teetering on the verge of complete and thorough mental and physical collapse is solely due to my children. Namely, a 12-month old that is capable of climbing furniture and believes with everything he is, that sleep is for the weak.

Never once did I imagine that it would be so grueling to sleep train a singleton. With the triplets, they were all on the same exact schedule so there was no question that they were going to sleep. They could look over and see their siblings in their cribs and know that it was futile to resist. But with Henry, he knows the others are up and he refuses to go down without a fight.

Today is Monday.

I have a full week ahead of me with the most insane schedule juggling we've ever experienced and a dog that has severe bronchitis, is losing control of her bladder and is leaving messes of phlegm and pee everywhere she goes.

The past few days, in fact ever since we've been back from vacation, I've been walking around in a stupor wondering "How in the name of gin did I do this?"

Although there were challenges at times with driving almost 7,000-miles in three weeks time with four children under the age of four ... it is exponentially more difficult being at home.

If things don't improve quickly immediately, we're loading up the family and leaving for another tour of the US and Canada.

brainwash, nearly complete

I've been trying to impress upon the kids, in a way that they can understand, that there are good and bad things in the world. There are things that they should do to stay safe and there are things that if they don't do, they might be in danger.

The context and feelings behind these discussions will soon be the subject of a separate post, but today as we were driving to swimming lessons, William pointed out that there was a BAD MONSTER living in the forest - a dense area of trees along one of the roads in our neighborhood.

When I asked what the monster looked like, Gracie called out "HE TALL and GWEEN!"

When I asked what he does that makes him bad, Elizabeth pipped up "He eat cigawettes and, and, and .... he wikes da YANKEES!"

we'll be entirely grey by the end of summer

There's something about the second baby.

Or rather, the baby resulting from a second pregnancy.

Not only does Henry have older siblings that he can observe and learn from, I seem to be a lot more relaxed with him than I ever was with our triplets. As a result, my little baby seems to be doing new things at an accelerated pace.

For instance, the triplets didn't drink from a straw until they were 16-months old.

They weren't able to scale furniture until they were at least 17-months old.

And they didn't climb to the top of a slide...

... turn around ...

... and slide back down, until they were at least 24-months old.

I don't know what panicked Charlie more ... telling him that we need to consider taking apart some of the play structure to keep Henry safe. Or, telling him that because Henry was growing up so fast, it might be time to consider baby number five.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

now, we vote

Oh good gracious was that difficult for me to go through and select "just" 10 contestants for the Great Twin Stroller Giveaway. I had no idea that I would receive so many incredible responses. I just wish that I had enough of these double strollers to give away to everyone who took the time to write.

Thank you for sharing your story!

But before I launch in to the contestants that I am going to solicit your help to vote for, I want to tell anyone who wrote that their double BOB is too big of a stroller and not something that they can take through the airport ... that is crazy talk!!

You just roll that puppy right up to the gate. Right past the gate, in many instances, right down the jet way and to the airplane. Then, you unload your tots, fold up your stroller - put a check ticket on it, and leave it for them to load. When you get off the plane and before you even walk to the terminal, your stroller is right there - waiting for you. There is no need to check it as luggage. There is no need to have a stroller bag. There is no need to worry about it getting damaged. I have taken our BOB dualie back and forth across the country at least six times. Even if I had a smaller stroller I wouldn't have taken it, because
I absolutely loved having that big old beast of a stroller to push through the airport since I could load EVERYTHING on it.

Car seats. Suitcases. Children.

I also wanted to say that if I could get my act in gear, I would be willing to have another contest in which I give away our Peg Perego Triplette stroller. The one that is STILL sitting in our garage a full two years after our children have stopped riding in it with any frequency. The one that we have said (over and over and over again) we need to sell on Craigslist, but have yet to do. So, stay tuned. If I can find a box big enough ... this might be something I'll consider doing (although shipping might cost as much as the stroller itself!)

Now, on to the next step in selecting a winner in the Great Twin Stroller Giveaway!

To the left - in my sidebar - I have set up a voting poll. Once you have read the contestants entries, please go and vote. If for some reason [my computer illiteracy, perhaps] the poll doesn't show up, please leave your vote in the comments section to this post.

The poll will close at 11:59 PM, Tuesday, July 22. The winner will be announced on July 23. If there is a tie - I will ask my mother to select a winner.

Here are our contestants...

Contestant Number 1: KRISTI (AKA: BAMAGIRL)!!

I need this stroller because the "baby" I thought was coming home from Guatemala LAST CHRISTMAS at a year old will hopefully be home by mid-Sept at almost 2 years old. Lest I forget that the quest for my daughter has taken twice as long and cost twice as much to attain.....I wouldn't change it for the world but every little bit helps. Not to mention that a double is a must since I have a 3 1/2 year old as well. And there's no front to back double in my future because I don't want Sydney's first words to be "HE'S KICKING ME!!!" And if I were to be lucky enough to WIN this BEAUTIFUL stroller, I will happily take pictures of both of my GuateTots being "jogged" through whichever US airport we get dropped into upon returning home while striving to have us much as ya'll did on your recent trip!!!

Contestant Number 2: BREE!!

OK, I need this stroller because my daughter, Kara, is seven months old this week, and at the end of May, my husband, Luke, and I found out that SURPRISE! I am pregnant with Number Two, who's due in February. We are currently crammed in a two-bedroom apartment and trying to save our money for a house, so money is tight, and I am still freaking out over a surprise baby. Plus, I love the Chicco brand. We have the car seat and rave about it all the time. We also have the infant stroller, the high chair, and the backpack carrier. I'm not sure if we could afford to buy the double stroller, but we love it and would love to add it to our Chicco collection.

Contestant Number 3: HEATHER!!

You'd think that someone with 4 children already wouldn't NEED a double stroller. However, the Maclaren twin we used with the boys (ages 5 & 4) has barely lasted through the twin girls (now 2.) And with twins on the way again, it might be nice to have an option other than the freak show quad stroller that we'll be using when I'm out by myself. Until the new twins are big enough for the Choo Choo wagon I have no idea how I'm going to do it! I am quite sure the quad stroller won't even fit into a regular-sized elevator.

Contestant Number 4: JODY!!

I would love this stroller because it would honestly make life so much easier! I am a foster to adopt mother of two beautiful little girls that are 5 months to the day apart. The oldest is 15 months and the youngest is 10 months. We hope have their adoptions finalized within the next few months. I realize it's probably not the most moving of stories, but due to foster care confidentiality reasons I am not able to elaborate until after adoption on the rollercoaster ride we have been on for the last 15 months to adopt these sweet baby girls. But they're my world and I think if any kiddo's deserve a super cool double stroller to go out and about in, it's definitely them :o)

Contestant Number 5: HANNAH!!

I am a brand new mommy of 3 month old twin boys- my miracle babies. After several years of TTC, we were blessed on our 3rd IVF/ICSI cycle with these babies. Getting pregnant was a trial and the pregnancy itself was very difficult. We had one bad report after another about the babies and their health in utero. After a horrendous pregnancy of being confined to bed for most of the time (5 of those weeks in the hospital), my boys were born at 32 weeks and spent 5 weeks in the NICU. Despite the grim reports in utero, my 3 pound and 4 pound babies came out fighting and are doing great, with a few bumps in the road here and there. Needless to say, I am ready to be OUTSIDE!! However, my darling baby "B" hates his carseat and the only stroller we currently have is the double snap n go. When I have tried to go for walks with them, I end up carrying him and pushing the large stroller with one hand... not the easiest job. This stroller would help me regain access to the world again, as I have been so confined for so many months!

Contestant Number 6: JUDY!!

I would love to win this for my friend. She is the mother of 8 - just had her 8th (and last) this past fall and had some serious complications including of all things, a heart attack. I couldn't make this up if I tried. Her 10 year old has since become best buds with my 9 year old and we really are enjoying getting to know this special family. Sherry has a 9 month old and an almost 2 year old and this would be perfect for them - heck, her 4 year old would probably fit if they were wearing the baby!

Contestant Number 7: BROOKE!!

We're finally expecting #2 in Nov and on the search for a double stroller. We were planning to sell our single stroller to help fund the purchase, until we loaned it to friends (in pristine condition - our first refused to ride in it until he was almost 18mths) who left it out in the rain... and now we can't get the mud out. With the resale value now next to nothing, we can't afford the stroller we were planning on (a Phil and Ted's, not that we had a spare $500 in the first place!) If we win, I can't promise a marathon, but I can promise pics from Stroller Strides, which I will be joining once bub is 6 weeks old!

Contestant Number 8: DENISE!!

Well, our van got stolen in april and it was returned stripped. Four car seats and my stroller. I lost my job recently and have yet to find another one. My family is going through a very difficult time right now and we could use something nice.

Contestant Number 9: HEATHER IN CA!!

Let's why would I LOVE to have this stroller? Well my twins and third surprise have blessed my life in more ways than I can imagine. They also can completely torture me when we don't have a stroller. I am currently out of a stroller since my duo glider has dumped out on me after pushing the kiddos and I can no longer lift my quad stroller (65lbs) into my sweet ride of a minivan! So currently my trio and I are stuck at home unless I can scrouge up money for a babysitter to come help me take the kiddos out to play. My husband is a wonderful man who works very hard so we could afford IF treatments and for me to stay home with the girls. So the budget is fixed and no room for a stroller. I know that this is an amazing gift you have been given and it is so sweet that you are paying it forward to someone else. Hopefully if I can win this stroller I can get out of the house again and set a goal to enter some type of walk with the girls.

Contestant Number 10: PENELOPE!!

Oh that stroller looks perfect for us - I'm due in 8 weeks with our second child and my first, who has been walking everywhere for a year and a half, has just decided she loves the stroller again. BUT I am in Australia, so probably a bit too far away for your competition... (we'll see what Chicco says. I didn't see anything about the winner having to be in the US!!)

Ready, set, VOTE!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

favorite thing friday

The state of our nation, high gas prices, global warming, a 12-month old that would rather sleep in my arms than his crib, and finding a good mascara are all things that bring me angst.

But one of the greatest frustrations in my life is trying to spread butter that is either too cold or too warm. Because unless butter is kept at the exact right temperature, it seems that I am carving it from a rock hard stick and ripping my toast apart with a frozen pat - or - I am melting the equivalent of a 1/2 cup because I put it in the microwave for too long in an attempt to soften it. And although drizzled butter goes great with popcorn, I'd prefer to have a different consistency on my toast.

Up until a few years ago, I would put butter on a small dish and keep it out on the counter. The problem was that the butter would often go bad before I used it up. So, I'd put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold and then, I would inevitably ruin the entire stick whenever I'd put it in the microwave. This scenario would repeat itself until I'd become frustrated with my inability to have spreadable butter and then, I'd leave it out on the counter.

Until it went bad.

Then, one day, I was reading blogs and lo and behold, I found what appeared to be a brilliant solution to my conundrum. Ever since I first read about this little gadget that Nettie uses in her kitchen and I thought "Wow, that looks kind of cool!" I have purchased ... brace yourself ... 60 of them.

Two for me, because I broke one.

58 for friends and family.

At any given point in time, I have a box full of crocks sitting in our closet.

Oh how I love my butter crock.

From the Norpo box, "By insulating, protecting and cooling butter, you can maintain it at a perfect spreading consistency. Water is used to provide an airtight seal protecting the flavor and freshness. For best results the Butter Keeper should be stored away from direct heat or sunlight and the water replaced every three days."

Little did I know that before refrigerators, butter was kept in earthenware pots and sometimes, submerged in water. The modern water-submerged butter crock is thought to have first appeared in France in the Middle Ages and can keep butter fresh at room temperature (up to about 80° F) on the counter for several weeks without spoiling.

Because we live in San Diego where it is around 75 degrees in our home, year round, we haven't had too many problems with the butter falling out of the crock and in to the water. But if you run in to this issue, I would suggest storing the butter crock in the refrigerator and bringing it out to "equilibrate" a few hours before you need it.

There are a large assortment of butter crocks to chose from. Here is a link with several styles available. But if you happen to come over to our house and the topic in any way, shape or form involves a discussion about butter, I will ask if you have a crock and if you don't and if you express an interest in said crockery, I will set you up.

While I'm not on the Norpro payroll, whenever I buy something on Amazon, it will always remind me that I have previously purchased butter crocks and if my supply is low, I will order more. Starting at $7.95, they are relatively inexpensive - a wonderful gadget - and a great gift.

Especially to give out to anyone and everyone that steps foot in to your home and is impressed with your ability to easily spread butter on a variety of foods.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

he won't do that again

Right after we came home from our road trip late Saturday afternoon, Charlie took off for the grocery store to pick up a few items. When he returned home, and I was unpacking the bags, I thought for sure it was a mistake that there was a jar of GOOBER in the bag. Perhaps someone unloaded their groceries before Charlie had a chance to put up the plastic belt divider, or maybe it was left behind from an earlier customer.

Because seriously.


It wasn't like Charlie went to the store with small children underfoot that begged, "Daddy, PUHLEASE can we have THIS?!" My husband went shopping all by himself and although he might purchase a nice jar of Smucker's jelly, I could not imagine that my semi-health conscious spouse would intentionally purchase GOOBER.

So, I asked, "Charlie, dude. What's this? Did you realize this was in your bag?" And he replied, "Oh yeah! Isn't that cool?? I used to eat GOOBER all the time when I was a kid. I didn't know they still made it!!"

When I tried to tell my husband that peanut butter and jelly swirled together and loaded with so many preservatives that it doesn't even require refrigeration is the epitome of processed food and is not something that I want to be feeding our children. My husband was a little offended and responded "Jen, not only does this stuff taste AWESOME, it is a huge time saver. Just wait until tomorrow at lunch. Woman, you will be thanking me."

I think it is important to note that it doesn't matter how busy I am, I will carve out the additional 10 seconds required to make my children a REAL peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I also think it is important to note that as one grows older, their palate matures. Because once Charlie had a bite of a GOOBER sandwich, he almost puked.

Apparently, it doesn't taste as AWESOME as it did 25 years ago.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

dreyers is my drug

I've never been one to drink soft drinks.



Whatever you call it.

When I was young and my parents had just divorced - and money was tight for my mother - on the rare occasion we'd eat out, mom would discourage me from ordering soft drinks because they usually cost $1.00 and then, we'd be charged for refills. Mom further went on to tell me that there were TEN (10!!) teaspoons of sugar in a 12-ounce can of soda and that does nothing but rot your teeth.

So, I grew to love water.

Tap water with ice.

And a lemon wedge.

These days, I drink water all day long and almost always have a bottle of water with me. I don't even like soft drinks anymore and just the thought of drinking one makes me burp. My husband, on the other hand, is convinced that whenever he eats certain foods, nothing compliments that food better than an ice cold Coke. Much like Charlie insists on drinking coffee every morning, he insists on drinking Coke whenever he eats Mexican or Chinese food.

Have I written before about my husband's love of coffee?? The man absolutely cannot function without it in the morning. He will walk around befuddled and agitated until that first sip and then, a wonderful human being emerges from beneath his wrinkled brow.

Charlie can do ANYTHING when he's had a cup of coffee.

Charlie can do NOTHING until that first molecule of Starbucks French Roast is ingested.

The point being, I have seen first hand that people are addicted passionate about certain substances.

This week, I'm hosting a business meeting in San Diego. When I hosted a meeting several years ago, I remembered ordering soft drinks to have setup in our meeting room at the hotel for some of my co-workers and when the bill came due, I was appalled to see that my company was charged $3.00 per 12-oz bottle.

THREE DOLLARS for a 12-oz bottle of soda that would probably cost no more than $0.50 if bought in bulk at Costco.

So, when I set up this meeting, I just assumed that everyone would be content with having ice water. Surely they don't need soda. It's a rip off and it will rot their teeth. Besides, if they need a jolt of caffeine, there is fresh coffee stocked in canisters.

Today, during our Spanish Fiesta afternoon break, when they brought out fresh guacamole, multi-colored corn chips and churros, and large pitchers of ice water with lemon, I noticed that some of my coworkers were looking around and seemed confused. They were pointing fingers at the empty station on top of the snack table where it was clear soft drinks would normally be located. A few minutes went past and I could hear the murmurs.

"Where's the Diet Coke? Are they bringing out Diet Coke? Why haven't they brought out any Diet Coke yet? Where do I get a Diet Coke? I need a Diet Coke!!"

I finally confessed to the group that even though our company had record profits last year in the billions, I didn't order any soft drinks for the meeting. I thought that they were too expensive and I didn't think that anyone would miss them. Besides! They had a lot of sugar. Right?

Yet, when I looked in their eyes, I recognized the panic. The same kind of panic that grips me when it's 10:00 at night, the store is closed and Dear God, we're out of ice cream.

To rectify my wrong doing, I immediately called the Catering Department to order a large assortment of soft drinks STAT and I promised my co-workers that I would never deny them of their Diet Coke again.

And only then, did they let me out of the headlock.

Monday, July 14, 2008

because YOU inspire me

So, here's the thing.

On those days where I feel like I cannot tie my shoes, let alone successfully parent four small children?

On those days where I feel like locking myself in the closet with a 1/2 gallon of ice cream and coming out only when I need more ice cream?

On those days where I feel like it is a dog-eat-dog world and I'm wearing Milk Bone underwear?

You, the people of the internet, lift me up more than you could ever possibly know.

And that is the real reason that I blog.

Sure, blogging is a great way to capture memories and share pictures and stories of our children as they blaze through childhood. But blogging has become an important connection for me - to the outside world. It has been my reality check, that the challenges I am facing in life are all perfectly normal and often quite humorous, when you look at them from a different perspective. (Or, after drinking a bottle of wine).

Now I know that it is extremely difficult to get out and stay active, or get out and see the whole country, when you have small children unless you have the means to transport them effectively. And because I have put forth the challenge to do something at the end of August that you physically could not do (in mid June), I am so excited to be offering a give away.

Seriously, the timing on this is beyond excellent.

I was contacted this morning by a marketing company that represents Chicco and they are willing to offer me (or one of my readers) a brand new Trevi Twin stroller.

From what I have read, "The Trevi Twin is a double stroller, with a full recline, built-in boot to ensure a safe ride for newborns, compact 3-dimensional fold, and great features for parents. While some double strollers may be too wide to fit through doors, or hard to maneuver, the Trevi Twin makes getting around a breeze. The stroller is recommended for children from birth to 40 lbs and retails for $219.00."

Although this stroller looks pretty awesome and would easily fit in to my fleet of strollers, I am really excited to give it away to someone that could use it.

With that in mind, here are the details for the Great Twin Stroller Give Away.

1) Please post a comment on this post, telling me why you should win this stroller.

2) You have until 11:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time, Friday, July 18, 2008.

3) I will post what I consider to be the top 5 (or maybe 10, depending upon the feedback) comments and ask all of you to help me select a winner.

4) The winner will be chosen next Wednesday, July 23.

And then, the winner must take a picture of themself - running with this stroller - in a marathon, at the end of August.

Oh, just kidding.

Ready, set, GO!

our amazing trip (epilogue)

We arrived home late yesterday afternoon.

Henry was the happiest one to be out of the car.

William and Elizabeth were both sad that the trip was over and kept repeating that they didn't want to go home. Carolyn wouldn't get out and instead, sat in the back seat crying hysterically that she wanted to go back to Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill's house.

After much coercion and promises of an ice cream cone ... we unloaded the car, walked in to our spotless home - and almost instantly - it looked as though a twister had swept through. The bags that we had taken with us were dragged to various parts of the house by children who were suddenly happy to be home, and the contents of those bags were dumped. Toys were scattered and within minutes, the floor was no longer visible.

Charlie and I were so tired, we just stood by dazed and confused while all hell was breaking loose by the little people under our command.

Today, after we woke up and panicked for five minutes because we couldn't find Elizabeth ... only to discover that she had crawled entirely underneath her bed and fallen asleep there ... we spent much of the day trying to put things away.

This was an exercise in futility because it seemed that as soon as we got things cleared up, the kids would come storming through. Although I didn't think that we had that many toys before we left, today I felt completely overrun. I kept asking Charlie "Where the heck did all these toys come from? Did someone smuggle them in??"

But I suppose that's what happens when you go on a trip and only bring one or two toys per child. You forget just how many toys children have in their possession at home until the full force of their collection hits you square. It seems that when children return home from an extended time away, they must bring every single thing that they own out.

And leave it on the living room floor.

In the midst of trying to unpack and do laundry (and pick up our dog and grocery shop and sort through mail), we pulled all of the carseats out of the van and I spent a good portion of time cleaning each one of them, thoroughly. I washed all the seat covers, straps, seat protectors, and plastic housings.

Meanwhile, Charlie took the van down to have the oil changed and have the whole car detailed. We pondered spending the money to have the car professionally cleaned, but after I saw that there were Fig Newtons and assorted unidentifiable consumable goods melted in to the back seats and carpet, we agreed that paying someone to clean up that mess was money well spent.

Despite how tired we feel today, and how we doubt that we'll be be physically capable of driving more than five miles for the next month ... this really was a fantastic trip and we are so glad that we took it.

A lot of people have asked why we would drive when we could fly. The short answer is that we have a lot more flexibility with driving than we ever would have had with flying. Add to that, we had family that we saw in three different locations and the cost for plane tickets to Toronto, Boston and Greenville ... for five people ... with less than three days notice ... would probably have cost us close to $20,000.00.

Not to mention, traveling with four little ones by plane who require carseats is a difficult task. You need to transport the carseats (or arrange for carseats at your destination), and you most likely need to rent a vehicle, unless the people that you are visiting just so happen to have a 7-passenger vehicle sitting around that they don't use.

Having our own car on this trip was great. Not having to bend to airline schedules - security checkpoints - and possible delays - was worth any inconvenience with driving. Plus, we got to see the amazing country that we live in, so that was pretty awesome, too.

All told, we drove through 24 states, including: Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and California.

We stayed in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Green River, Utah.

Boulder, Colorado.

Lincoln, Nebraska.

Joliet, Illinois.

London, Ontario, Canada.

Concord, Massachusetts.

Greenville, South Carolina.

Monroe, Louisiana.

Eastland, Texas.

El Paso, Texas.

and Surprise, Arizona.

We drove through Arizona and New York twice. We crossed the Mississippi River and Colorado River twice - in two separate locations - and the Continental Divide twice. We lost three hours driving east and then regained three hours driving west when we crossed three separate time zones. We went from the most southwestern corner of the United States to almost the most northeastern corner of the United States.

Our total driving distance was 6,837.5 miles.

Or ... 11,003.9 kilometers.

We filled up 14 times driving from Boston to San Diego. The total cost on fuel from the east coast to the west coast was $513.99. Because we didn't hang on to any receipts on the way out, we estimate that we spent about the same amount driving there, plus $200.00 for various side trips. Therefore, we estimate that the fuel for this trip cost around $1,200.00.

We've estimated that our car averaged 23 miles to the gallon. A more fuel efficient car could probably make it coast-to-coast for about $500.00. But there's no way we'd all fit in something this small.

We stayed in hotels twelve nights. We were responsible for paying for the hotel on eight of those nights. The average hotel cost was $150.00. That works out to approximately $1,200.00 on lodging. Plus food and souvenirs bought at Truck Stations across the land ... we probably spent around $3,000.00 on this trip.

Considering this is the first time away Charlie and I have had since Henry was born (and can child birth really count as a vacation?), it was worth every dime.

Besides, the memories we created were priceless.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

our amazing trip day 22

Last night we met up with Alex and Kathleen in Phoenix, Arizona. Seeing them on the last leg of our journey was wonderful. They had a birthday party for Henry ...

And they gave us the chance to have a nice quiet breakfast alone while they took the children swimming in the hotel pool where we all stayed.

When you consider a year ago, Alex was struggling for life after taking a terrible fall in Costa Rica, it is nothing short of a miracle that a year later - he is the Gold Medal winner for the 50 yard free style, and has just landed a spot on the National Senior Olympic team. That we should all be as healthy and full of life at 80-years old!

It was so good to see them both.

Three weeks ago we left on this whirlwind cross-country trip and today 6,772 miles later, as we are making our way home on I-8, I'm reflecting on our adventure.

We have covered a lot of ground in 21 days. We have taken a lot of pictures, watched a lot of movies, read a lot of books, studied a lot of maps and filled up at a lot of gas stations.

We have sung "God Bless America" countless times and said at least as many times how cool it is to be doing this drive with our children.

We have had deep discussions over how the drivers in Nebraska are the most polite in the country, how many apples we've consumed in our lifetime, how many Starbucks there are, and thoughts on immigration.

We have determined that traveling gives you a whole new respect for the world and mankind. It seems that day to day life has a way of making you forget that there is a much greater world, beyond your neighborhood.

We have thought about what brought people to this country and to the location where they live.

We have thought about the mail routes that are in remote locations and how $0.42 for a stamp is the best deal around.

We have marveled at how many fences there are ...

And the labor that takes to build and maintain them.

We have drove from a point below mean sea level to a point 12,000 feet above mean sea level...

...and crossed the Continental Divide twice.

We have pondered the construction involved in creating the stone walls of New England...

And speculated how old some of them really are.

We have been amazed by how the Colorado River travels such a great distance, covers such a vast amount of land, and yet is a primary component of the drinking water infrastructure for the Southwestern United States.

We have gained a deep respect for the early pioneers and settlers that made their way across this country...

The farmers that grow and harvest crops ...

The people that maintain the thousands of miles of medians on our highways ...

And for the engineers and workers that have designed and constructed roads...

... tunnels...

... tunnels ...

... and tunnels...

... bridges...

... railroads...

... and tapped in to various forms of energy ...

... to sustain civilization.

We have been amazed at the trains that crisscross the country...

And how trucks ...

... and trains are critical for distributing goods everywhere.

We have marveled at the changing landscape.

The green forests of the east...

... and the beautiful deserts of the west.

We have considered how life can find a way to survive...

Despite the most extreme conditions.

We have eaten a lot of continental breakfasts ...

... a lot of (messy) snacks ...

... swam in a lot of pools ...

... slept in a lot of beds ...

... cozy sleeping bags ...

... and car seats.

We have checked e-mail and had conference calls from the road ...

We have seen beautiful cumulus clouds ...

... and had our toenails painted.

But mostly, we have had the opportunity to see the country as a family, spend some time away from the "real world", and connect as a couple.

This trip was everything we thought it would be.

... and more.