Monday, July 30, 2012

only 36 more days

As a parent who works out of the house everyday, I've got to admit summer time is tough.

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My spirit hasn't been particularly high for the past several weeks when I'm drudging out the door in to a perfectly beautiful day on my way to the office and Charlie and the children are planning their awesome activities while I'm away.  The conversation at the breakfast table usually surrounds whether they want to go to the pool (again) or whether they want to go in to DC? Or maybe they want to go bowling. Or to the library. Or play laser tag. OR maybe just a leisurely bike ride and quick game of miniature golf.  Their options are undoubtedly endless.  

At some point, my family's happy gazes will turn to me and they'll enthusiastically ask, "So Mom. What are YOU going to do today?" And I'll do my best to put on a smile and sound chipper as I tell them about the various meetings I have to attend and also, I've got this HUGE Excel spreadsheet I'm working on and today I might break 100 different fill colors on the various cells.

How exciting!

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Charlie's been trying to convince me that it isn't ALL fun and games being home with the children, day after day after day (after day).  He's tried to tell me that there is absolutely NO down time and they are always in to something and the bickering and fighting is driving him insane and the only way he can survive is to be out of the house EVERY WAKING MOMENT.

At least when they're all in school, he has some down time and even though Henry's in half-day preschool, one child is a lot easier to watch than four.  And four are a lot easier to watch than eight.


Last week, one of our neighbors dropped by with their four small children (also under the age of eight) and asked Charlie if he would mind watching them? Wanting to be a good neighbor and thinking the kids would have fun playing together, my husband said, "Sure why not?" And things went very well for approximately six minutes until one of the kids crashed their bicycle in to a parked car, one of them was asking "What's to eat?" and the little ones (aged three and four) disappeared down by the creek. My husband promptly came to his senses and sent them all home because WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

Earlier this week, Charlie was in the yard playing hide-n-seek when Carolyn walked outside holding the telephone, chatting it up wildly and informing her dad that he had a phone call.  Charlie took the phone from his daughter and tentatively said, "Hello?" thinking that surely no one would be on the other end of the line because ... who exactly taught the children to answer the phone?? 

Alas, on the other end of the line, was Charlie's client who was calling from the State EPA office in California. My husband was apparently placed on speaker phone with his client and several regulatory workers gathered around for an impromptu (unplanned) technical conversation.  Now, have you ever had that happen, when you're playing with your kids and you are immediately pulled in to a conversation that requires: 

1) Quiet
2) Focus 
3) Intense technical competency at the snap of a finger? 

As Charlie tried to channel his attention to the phone call, he had to block out the sounds of children, all around him, permeating every void.  Despite that, he was able to launch in to a technical explanation of some highly complex who knows what exactly kind of system.  According to a reputable source (him) in the middle of describing a calculus equation, he heard little voices on the other end of the line. "Daddy, who is that guy you're talking to? Did he say that his name was Mike?? Is that COUSIN MICHAEL? Hi Mike! It's me! Remember me?!" 

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William, who had answered the phone at the same time as his sister, had not returned his phone to the cradle and instead, decided to hide under his bed and listen, along with his little brother.  It took Charlie a few loooong seconds to find his son and convince him that it was NOT his cousin Michael on the other end of the line. While Charlie hunted,  William talked and talked and I'm certain that our son talks more than any other child on the planet. By the time he was able to retrieve the phone, the men on the other end were in fits at the scene that was occurring in our home and were asking if they could have "secretaries" like the ones that we obviously have in abundance.  Charlie said, yes, ABSOLUTELY.

He'd even cover the cost of shipping. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

christmas in july

For the first 16 years of our marriage, Charlie and I had an annual tradition of sending our Christmas greetings out to friends and family in early December.  We had every intention to keep up that tradition, but then 2010 rolled around which was a crazy year what with the move and settling in to a new area and unpacking boxes and a couple nervous breakdowns.


So our annual greetings were delayed until February.  Instead of wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, we wished them a Happy Valentine's Day and were applauded for our creativity as opposed to two-month tardiness.


This past Christmas, I really did have every intention of sending our greetings out on time, but darn if time didn't fly right past me and the next thing I knew it was May and we still had festive evergreen hanging on our dining room chandelier (still do).  Because I was absolutely determined that I would get cards out before the end of the summer - last week - I sat down at around 10 PM one night, logged on to Shutterfly and crafted our annual poem. By the time I finished the poem and selected the card that I wanted to purchase and the photos that I wanted to use ... it was 1 AM and I was a tad bit groggy.   But the next evening, I showed Charlie the card that I had selected, the photo layout and the poem I'd written and he concurred with everything. So I clicked ORDER. 


The cards arrived earlier this week. 

(Does anyone else get so excited about things like this?! Squee!!!)



I opened the boxes and what to my wondering eyes should appear ...
But itty bitty cards with words that weren't very clear. 


It seems that I neglected to notice the SIZE of the 150 cards that I was ordering. What? What do you mean they come in different sizes?  It's a card, not a pair of slacks! 

(Note: the toothpick is for scale.) 



Charlie suggested that we return them and re-order. And while I did consider this for a few days... I finally concluded that if it took me NINE MONTHS to order these cards in the first place, by the time I shipped them back, logged back on to Shutterfly, re-ordered them in a larger size ... yada yada yada ... it would be November and then I'd have to change my poem and would want all new pictures.

So, if you're on our annual distribution list - apologies in advance that unless you have laser vision, you'll probably need a microscope to read our greetings.

On the bright side - who doesn't love receiving mail?!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

life = sad, beautiful, moments

The day after we returned from our trip to Michigan, I took the day off work so I could take the children to their swim practice and experience a few "summer weekday activities" that I rarely get the chance to experience.  When I arrived at the pool, I noticed that there were bouquets of flowers and what appeared to be tributes for someone named "Julia" set up around the front office.

My first thought was that the young woman who belongs to our pool - and who was trying out for the US Olympic Dive Team - made it.  But then, when I saw the puffy eyes and looks of anguish across the faces of lifeguards and coaches, I realized that they had set up this memorial for one of our former swimmers. Who, I'd later learn, had lost her life in a tragic car accident just two days prior. 

From what I'd heard from others, she was only 19-years old and the youngest of four children.  She had traveled to more than 90 countries and all seven continents and was majoring in Spanish as a rising sophomore at the University of Virginia. She was a bright light to everyone who met her.  For many days, I thought about Julia - and I thought about the absolute devastation that her family must be feeling. And every night, when I tucked our children in to bed, we said a prayer for her family, a family that we'd never even met.  When the children asked why it was that we were praying for people we don't know, I told them it was my hope that by holding this family so tightly in our hearts, it would make their hearts a little lighter. Even if they didn't know us, I was sure that they could feel the loving energy that was being channeled their way. 

A few days later, I read Julia's obituary and it surprised me that her father and I coincidentally work for the same company, in the same building. It suddenly made sense why this young woman was a worldly traveler at such a young age - since it's commonplace for our company to move its employees all over the globe.  It turns out, Julia's father sits just a few floors above me. So I logged on to our corporate website, found his MySite page and could not stop the tears as I gazed at a picture of his beautiful family, all smiles, and permeating happiness.  Although I hadn't reached out to the family, beyond our nightly prayers, I felt compelled to write him a note.  So I crafted an e-mail and hit send. Today, he distributed a thank you note to all of his colleagues telling us how appreciative he was of our thoughts and prayers.  He's made the decision to leave the company in a few weeks but he has requested that we please remember his family in our prayers. In closing, he provided a link to his eldest daughter's blog. So I'm sitting there at my desk and I click over to her blog and am instantly pulled in to the grief of a family that is mourning the loss of a beloved member. 

(Not a wise choice when you have a meeting in less than 15 minutes.)

If you are in a position to do so, I would encourage you to read the tributes that have been written for this amazing young woman by her family, especially those by her doting siblings. It crushes my heart that a person in the prime of her life would be taken so early and leave a gaping hole in this family and in this world.  And yet, after reading through the archives and seeing all of the awesome adventures that this family has had TOGETHER, my heart is overflowing with love and admiration. I'm so inspired because when I think of the legacy I want to leave behind, at the absolute top of my list is raising a family that is as devoted, committed and faithful as this one. And when I think of Julia - albeit only 19 years old - what an incredibly blessed life she has lived. May we all be so lucky.   

So tonight, as I sit down to jot down some thoughts and I'm thinking of Julia and the incredible fragility of life, I received a message that our dear friends and former San Diego neighbors, Tom and Dawn, were in a terrible car accident when a man who was escaping the police, struck them head-on going 110 miles per hour. The man, whom they never saw coming, was killed instantly. Thankfully, our friends survived and now have matching broken arms. 


A week ago tonight, there was the horrific tragedy in Colorado.  And tomorrow marks the three-year anniversary that our sweet friend Deana left us.  This isn't my most upbeat post, but to me, it's a sobering reminder - no one knows what the future holds. In a split second, life can change. So breathe in deeply, hug your loved ones tightly, give with all of your heart .... and savor this moment. 

It really is a beautiful day to be alive. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

summer at the lake

My sister, Eileen, lives in a great little town just north of Detroit, Michigan.  As much as we love the town, we love the lake that she lives on even more. 


During our recent visit, Charlie and I swam back and forth across the entire lake, every day. 


While we'd swim, the kids would either play on the raft anchored off the dock with their teenage cousins and teenage friends whose eyes were glued on our kids... 


Or, they'd follow us in a kayak just in case Charlie and I were to need a ride at some point. Not because of swim fatigue, because we're very good at floating on our backs for a recovery rest ... 


... but because it's a little freaky swimming across a lake, if you're not used to it. Especially when you'd swim over hot and warm springs and something swishes past you or tickles your foot e.g., fish? snake? previously undiscovered carnivorous creature that inhabits freshwater lakes in the northern US states?! and you'd let out a scream like a 5-year old girl. Oh it's just a leaf?! I thought maybe it was a piranha!! 


When we weren't swimming across the lake, we were diving in to it. 






And diving....




Do you want to see that again?




I think he's counting, here, how many dives he's made here today alone? 



There were race dives...



With only one child ...


With two children ... 


And with three. 



There were also back dives... 



And an abundance of jumping... 







Are you aiming for the five-year-old and dog??




We had an awesome trip. And the whole time we were there, we were savoring every moment. Because this stuff ... right here? 




These are the memories that stay with us for a lifetime. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

favorite thing friday (the halti and cesar millan)

To everyone who sent me a note regarding my post on Louie ... thanks.  


I've read all of them, even if I haven't yet had a chance to respond to all of them.  I'll admit, there has been a different "feel" in the air around here this week and I don't know if it's me, or him, or both of us. But I do know that I've waffled a lot between he's got to GO! and ... come on ... give him a chance.  I'm convinced there is a huge lesson that we could all learn from this experience. 

After several people wrote and recommended the Halti (or Gentle Leader) dog collars, I dashed out to the store to investigate. We tried one on Louie as we stood there in the dog aisle and the difference in him was immediate. Because you are leading the dog by the head, he doesn't pull, and the contraption is so much more humane than the metal choke collars. 

Even the kids can walk him now! 

So thank you, all of you lovely people whom I might never meet!!

If you have a dog and that dog pulls on leash or wanders ahead of you (which according to Cesar is a no, no), you need to look in to these collars. Note, they're much less expensive off the internet but I was in a rush and didn't do any research before I went to the pet store and now see that I spent twice as much ($19.98). Lesson learned! 

Now, in other news. 

Charlie had bought the Cesar Millan book, "Cesar's Way" a few months ago when we were struggling with housebreaking Louie and although I'd perused it here and there - I hadn't sat down and read the entire thing cover to cover. So that's where I've been this week. With my nose buried in a book written by an incredibly gifted man who illegally immigrated to this country, through San Diego County, more than 20 years ago.   

What it comes down to is this: every living thing projects energy. As human beings, we need to have calm and assertive energy and establish ourselves as the dominant "pack leader" in our home.  This doesn't mean that we are aggressive or cruel, it means that we are in control and we need to very calmly and kindly maintain that control.   Also, dogs are dogs: not little humans in fur suits. The fact that Louie went nuts on Sunday ... in retrospect is no big surprise to me, since the energy in our home was loud and crazy and then I go and swat him when he's licking butter off the counter and I proceed to yell at him while he's cowering under the table and ... seriously. 

What did I expect? 

Cesar makes a BIG deal about having calm energy in an environment, especially an environment with dogs.  Of course, when I read that I just kept thinking to myself, "How is that possible?!?!? HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE CALM ENERGY IN A HOME WITH SEVEN-YEAR-OLD TRIPLETS AND A FIVE YEAR OLD WHO THINKS HE'S THOR?"

Can you tell by my use of caps that I'm flabbergasted?

Here's a (not so) quick story that highlights an example. 

The kids are generally pretty good in the car. Probably because we've logged tens of thousands of miles with them and they're exceptionally good travelers.  However, a few months ago - at Christmas time, when we were driving home from the store one afternoon, the kids were yelling and screaming (or laughing and playing - same difference when you're navigating intense traffic) and all I wanted was a few moments of QUIET so I could focus on not hitting a bridge. I asked the children, several times, to please keep it down and play a game or just go to sleep. But the noise kept getting louder and louder and suddenly, I hit DEFCON 1 and morphed in to my mother. 

When I was growing up and we'd get rowdy in the car, my mother would pull over and put us out on the side of the road. (Actually, she never put me out because I was the baby and never did anything wrong. Ahem.). Once, she made my brother walk home. Granted, it was just up the street - but it had a lasting impression on all of us.  And then there was the time that she just turned her car off in the middle of the road and didn't even realize that she was parked on top of a railroad track and the railroad crossing guard had come down and snapped in two on top of the roof.  That is - she didn't realize it until the police officer came over and knocked on her window and asked her to get out and look at the broken crossing arm on top of the station wagon.  

So on this bright nearly Christmas day, when spirits should be jolly and bright, the kids have pushed me over the brink of reason.  Which is why I cranked the wheel to the right and pulled in to some totally random parking lot (a hotel it would appear) and I opened the doors of the van and ordered everyone to get OUT.  The children were perplexed as they looked at me and in their most innocent voices asked, "But why Mommy? Why do you want us to get out of the car?" And me, the mother who prayed and begged to God FOR YEARS for these little miracles, stared at my beautiful children and while my eyes twitched and my lip curled and I went completely out of my mind, I told them they had to get out because they had to WALK HOME.  Forget that they are seven years old and don't know where we live. Forget that it was winter and they were not dressed appropriately to walk 20 miles in the cold - even if we they knew where we lived.   

Suffice it to say, the children did get out the car, sat on a curb in the hotel parking lot and burst in to tears. Within a few minutes (yes, it actually took more than one) I felt like a monster - hugged them, swore I'd NEVER really leave them on the side of the road, loaded them back in the car, came home, drank egg nog and still feel guilt about it to this very day. 

HOWEVER. However! 

Whenever we're driving somewhere now and I get hit with a bout of the crazies, all I (usually) need to say is, "Do you want me to stop this car?" and they all quiet down because they know that I'm nuts enough to do it.  

So there we are, driving back from Michigan a few weeks ago and the atmosphere in the car is less than desirable and very, very loud.  We're going through toll booth after toll booth after toll booth (what is with ALL the toll booths in Ohio and Pennsylvania?!) and I can't exactly put my finger on the trigger but all of a sudden I could feel that last little nerve bending, bending and SNAP! 

The next thing you know, I'm stopping the car just before we reached the tool booth and in a certifiably insane moment, pushed the button that automatically opens the sliding door on the van. I was in mid rant when Charlie yelled, "JEN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! THE DOG!!" and thank heavens for Charlie and his lightening reflexes, because he grabbed Louie's tail before he leaped out of the car and quite possibly, directly beneath an 18-wheeler. 

Oopsie Daisy!  I'd forgotten the dog was with us! 

Sign me up for child and animal endangerment!!  The kids, meanwhile, went absolutely hysterical with laughter because wow Mom, that one totally backfired ... did it not?
All this to say, the energy in our household could use some improvement. And I don't (entirely) blame it on the kids.  I'm the role model. I'm the one that is supposed to be modeling CALM and ASSERTIVE behavior. I'm the one that is supposed to be the dominant pack leader, not the super freak who throws her minivan in to park in the middle of the toll plaza and threatens to put her children out.  

We're learning over here! 

Patience school is in session. 


(Just kidding.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

louie louie ... oh no, we gotta go

So, about Louie.


Charlie and I had made the decision, after we put Monty and Molly to sleep that we would not - under any circumstances - get a dog until we were 100% ready to care for a dog. We would absolutely positively not bring another canine in to our home until we were committed to keeping that dog indoors with us (as opposed to sequestered to the yard and garage) and we were in a position to successfully assimilate that dog in to our family.

We adopted Louie in November.

Housebreaking took a long time.  Maybe it took almost seven months with Monty and Molly and I just don't remember, but it felt like we were cleaning up after Louie quite frequently until June.  We walked him, a lot ... at least once every couple of hours. We put him in his kennel after walks and play time. We limited his fluid intake by not leaving his water bowl out all day. We did everything right (or so we thought) and it's only been recently that his itty bitty bladder can last for more than 15 minutes without springing a leak.

In conjunction with the housebreaking activities, we've endured a fair amount of chewing.  I've attributed this to the fact that he's a puppy and he's learning. See, I remember the amount of chewing Monty and Molly did when they were puppies, so I'm not surprised that we've replaced four dog beds in six months time.  But for some reason, it wasn't until the fourth dog bed was decimated that we finally wised up to the fact that until such time Louie was past the point of chewing up the beds we'd given to him, he'll sleep on old towels.

We've also endured a fair amount of nipping. In regards to the nipping, I've been stressing to the kids that they need to RESPECT Louie's personal space and not initiate sword fights with him. First because he doesn't have an opposable thumb nor the ability to hold a sword and second, real dogs don't sword fight.  Nonetheless, kids will be kids and regardless of what we adults say, they will infringe on Louie's zone so when the dog doles out a nip, I'll tell the children, "SEE? That's his way of telling you - BACK OFF." And they typically do. For at least five minutes. Give or take three.

When Monty was a puppy, we hired a personal dog trainer that cost the equivalent of a monthly two bedroom, two bathroom townhouse rental payment circa 1993.  We paid for the "lifetime warranty package" although, come to think of it - I can't recall if it was for the duration of Monty's lifetime or ours?  Nonetheless, a guy named Dominic came to our home every single Thursday for several months and he trained us how to train our dog.  In addition, everyday we sent Monty to a doggie day camp where he was socialized with other dogs while Charlie and I were in school and/or at work.

What we learned during the training of Monty, we applied during the training of Molly. And we've tried to apply those same principles during the training of Louie.  Thus far, it hasn't gone so well.  Even when I take him out on a leash with a choke chain, he'll nearly yank my arm out of it's socket. And he's pulled all four of the kids down, face first.

"Oh, but he's a puppy!" I keep telling myself.

He's learning! 

That's the same excuse I offer as to why he jumps up to people whenever they come visit.  When Alex and Kathleen were here a few weeks ago, Louie jumped up and scratched Alex on the arm. While this typically might not have been much of a problem, Alex is on Coumadin and he bled for nearly two days. So this turned out to be a big problem.

Although it's been suggested by more than one person that Louie is perhaps not quite the right fit for our family (I'm not naming any names, Kathleen and Mom), I'm not one to easily give up when I've got my mind fixed on something.  Just because I was born on the astrological cusp of Bull and Ram, what makes you think I'm set in my ways? I'm not stubborn, it's just that we'd made a commitment to the children, and to each other, and to Louie and to the Universe.

We were seeing this thing through. 


Two weeks ago, we decided that Louie needed more socialization, so we packed him up and took him with us to Michigan where he received an abundance of socialization from my dog niece, Star ....


... and all of the people that passed through my sister's home during the time we were there.  Louie did great. Except he ran away twice and almost got hit by a car on a major road.

Other than that ... perfection. 

He also learned how to fetch balls in the lake after he was gently tossed in (repeatedly). Turns out, he loved the swimming and the fetching thing - he just didn't like the entrance thing too much.


Since we've returned home, Louie has been out of sorts. Or maybe we've been out of sorts.  Coming back from a vacation is never easy, especially when there's a massive tree downed in your yard.  Alas, in one of his worst snaps yet - late last week, Louie bit William and nearly broke the skin. Yesterday, he growled at Henry when Henry disturbed him from a nap (not a good thing for Henry to do, but not a good thing for Louie to do, either) ... and shortly thereafter, when I swatted him on his hindquarters for jumping up and licking a stick of butter off the counter, he flipped out. He darted in to the dining room and beneath the table. Maybe I should have just let it go, but because I was ticked that he'd eaten our LAST STICK OF BUTTER, I scolded him, "Bad dog Louie! No jumping on the counter!!" And that's when he growled at me.

Whoa. NO DOG GROWLS AT ME. Especially not a dog that *I* feed and shelter and vaccinate and whose poop I scoop up in a bag twice a day. I pulled back a dining room chair to look at him and he came charging out - with his teeth bared and snapping wildly.

Think Cujo.

But small and black. 

Charlie snatched him by his collar and brought him downstairs in to his kennel and I made all kinds of loud and dramatic assertions that HE WAS GONE. HISTOMATIC. OUT THE DOOR. NO MORE. Even if he did miss Michigan and his cousin, Star ...  there was no way in hell I'd have a dog in THIS HOUSE that would turn on ME and nearly take my shins off.

What if he showed that kind of aggression to the kids? 

But then, after the kids cried themselves to sleep because, "We LOVE Louie and you promised us and him and the Universe and now you are breaking your promise you wretched woman....!" I pulled out Cesar Milan's book and started reading it. Again.  

I also texted my sister, Eileen, whose good friend is a veterinarian. His advice was that when Louie turns like that, we need to demonstrate our alpha position and quickly throw on a pair of leather gloves and flip him over on his back for 15 seconds.  Uh huh.  I'll be sure to try out that technique ... once I can find a pair of leather gloves that extend up to my armpits. 

At this moment, I can't make any long-term guarantees to Louie because the safety of our children is at the absolute forefront of any decision we will ultimately make.  However, I do believe that we can do better training him and there's no doubt, he needs it.  There's no doubt, we need it, too.  So I'll be signing the entire family up for a "group" training session, later this week and I'm so excited how in the process of training our dog - we, ourselves, will become better, more compassionate, patient, tolerant, connected with the natural world human beings. 

Meanwhile, Charlie has been lamenting Monty and has been looking at Lab Rescues. He desperately wants another squishy, docile, nothing fusses them up ever yellow lab. And he's trying to convince me that maybe if we had two dogs, we'd have a pack and instant order. 

See this? 


This is the face of a crazy man floating in denial. 

(And the feet of his totally sane wife who believes one dog is plenty enough.)