Monday, December 26, 2016

boxing day

This year, my sister - Beth, and her 16-year-old son - Michael, are with us for Christmas.  My mother was supposed to be with us too, but she had a shoulder replacement last month, and thought it would be best if she stayed in South Carolina for the holiday.  We've really missed having Mom with us - and participating in so many of the traditions that we've conjured up over the years.

Including Monkey Bread on Christmas morning …


And ribbon wrapped stairway / hallway - a trademark move left for the children to show that Santa has been here on Christmas Eve!  


We're having a really great time with my sister and nephew.


In the two days that we've been together, we went shopping so we could do a Secret Santa exchange on Christmas Eve … we volunteered at our church's Christmas service … we've played soccer, gone for walks, watched movies, played games, played ping-pong, and had some intense Star Wars light saber battles.


Here are the kids, waiting to start opening their stockings until 7:45 AM … on the dot.  

Oh, the anticipation! 


After breakfast, we opened the rest of our gifts.

It was a glorious and music-filled day!


In the mix with us this year is my co-worker's dog, Bella.  We're dog sitting her for a few days while my co-worker visits family out of state.


I didn't mention it yet, but earlier this month, we bid farewell to our dog, Louie.  I'd like to say it was a difficult decision to give him away - but it wasn't.  For as much as we tried, we never felt the "click" with Louie.  There just wasn't the right kind of chemistry between us - and for five years, I attributed it to me and/or the family dynamic.  I wanted to blame it on the breed, but I kept thinking to myself, "A dog is a dog ... it's got to be a human issue. We're simply not trying hard enough."

The straw that broke the camel's back wasn't the nipping that he was prone to do, or the Cujo aggression he'd show to other dogs … it was that Louie kept running away.  He ran away when we lived in Virginia, he ran away when we lived in Texas.  He ran away when we went away on vacation in Michigan.   Every time the children would go outside, and leave the door open - which is at least 2X (er, 4X) a week - the dog would be gone. Running away, as fast as his four legs would carry him, GONE. And hours later, we'd get phone calls, not from the neighbor next door, or down the street … but from the neighbors in the next neighborhood, across the street, through the woods, and over the river.  "Hi, I think we've got your dog….?" 

Yes, we love meeting new neighbors. But not quite that way.

Eventually, we decided that there's a huge difference in breeds, and Louie isn't the right breed for our family.  He needed more than what we could offer him, and it wasn't fair to him - or us - to try to keep forcing something to work that simply wasn't working.  The multitude of dog experts that we've talked with seemed to think it was the "Mountain Cur" part of his breed that made him take off the way he did and give him that unending uber energy.  And you know, this family has got enough high energy without having a high energy dog, too.

Bella is a Golden Retriever / Labrador mix and she is the antithesis of Louie. We have discussed getting another dog - next summer when the kids finish school and we have time to devote to getting a new dog acclimated to our family.   Another dog for our family, would be a dog like Bella.  Or a dog like Pearl.  Or a dog like Monty.

But I'm thinking that just watching Bella whenever her family goes out of town might be a better arrangement for us.  We'll have Bella to love and care for roughly eight weeks a year - and in return, they get to handle all the dog care and vet expenses.


Ho, ho, ho … that's a win-win!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

it's the most wonderful time of the year!

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

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

Santa 2005

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

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

Happy December!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

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

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

(I really, really mean it this time.)

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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



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


All four of the siblings were back together again …


For the first time in more than five years.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

(If I can remember to tell it.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

my grandfather dropped out of school and was supporting his family when he was 12

Yesterday, I had to fly to Chicago for a meeting.

When I booked my trip, I knew that it would be a long day.  Because I like to be home in the evening, instead of flying up on Sunday night, and back on Monday after my meeting, I figured I could do the entire trip in one day.  And so it is, I booked a flight that departed from Houston at 5:10 AM, and returned that evening at 10:14 PM.  The way I figured, it wouldn't be too terrible, because I could always sleep on the plane.

My alarm was set yesterday morning for 3:00 AM. But at 2:15 AM, one hour before I was supposed to walk out the door - Charlie flew out of bed and ran to the bathroom.  It turns out, my husband had contracted a vicious stomach virus that had hit Henry last week at 2:00 AM, while Charlie was out of town on a business trip.

This virus - I believe (hope?), is the same virus that wiped out Elizabeth, and me, and my mom, and my Aunt Grace, and Carolyn, and William … this past June - less than a week before Charlie and William were slated to go camping with the Boy Scouts in Colorado.

My mind boggles over this, because it was nearly four months ago. But since Charlie and Henry were the only two who were unscathed when it swept through our house over Father's Day weekend - and now those two are the only ones who have come down with it, I desperately want to believe that it's the same virus and the rest of us have immunity.

So yesterday - I'm supposed to be leaving the house at 3:15 in order to make my flight.  But Charlie is curled in a ball on the shower floor.  The kids are in bed asleep, but have to be up and out for school in four hours and …. ACK!

What does one do?? 

I'm not sure I was fully conscious in making the decision what to do in that moment - because as I brought Charlie a cold face cloth, packed four lunches, wrote notes for the kids pleading them to HELP THEIR FATHER, set alarms so they'd wake up on time for school, and laid out various items they'd need for the day, it felt like I was in a dream.


Then I was backing out of the driveway, saying aloud, "Am I really leaving Charlie like this?"  Soon I was pulling in to the airport and parking, and asking myself, "Am I really flying out of state?"  As I locked the car, walked through security, and got to my gate as the plane was boarding, I felt this overwhelming urge to turn around and run home, but yet my legs kept moving in the direction of the plane.

As I landed in Chicago at 7:30 AM, and called home - the fog was lifting and I was stunned that I'd actually left.  Carolyn answered the phone, but had to run out the door to the school bus.  She quickly told me that there were three lunch boxes on the table, even though she was the only child still at home because her siblings had forgotten to grab theirs.  She'd take care of it though - and would bring everyone's lunches to the bus stop.

She then handed the phone to Charlie and he sounded awful.  His exact words were, "I'm dying. So sick. No talk."  Click.


In sickness and in health?! I'd totally abandoned my desperately ill husband!  And like Henry, who had been sick the week before - and all of us, who had been sick over the summer - poor Charlie would retch every 20-40 minutes for the next eight hours.  

While my time in Chicago was very productive... and people who I cautioned needed to lather themselves with Purell after shaking my hand were very grateful that I'd made the trip despite my circumstances at home... I thought about my ailing husband all day.

My flight landed last night just past 10:00 PM.  By the time I deplaned, retrieved my car, and drove home - it was 11:00 PM.   I walked in to the house, buzzing from the remaining adrenalin of a long day, and was met with a scene that looked like a BOMB had gone off.

The children had made dinner, and left everything all over the counter, including food that should have been refrigerated.  Dishes from breakfast [with food still on them] were in the sink, dishes from afternoon snacks [with food still on them] were on the counter.  Dishes from dinner [with food still on them] were still on the table. Their unpacked lunch boxes were still in their backpacks, as was uncompleted homework.  Glasses of half-drunk milk dotted the countertops.  Shoes, clothes, toys, were strewn all over the house.  There were empty and partially empty yogurt containers on random surfaces from the kitchen, down the hallway, in to the front living room.  Boxes of birthday presents that they'd received yesterday, were ripped open and items were tossed about.

It was like a herd of wild animals had ravaged our house. 

Charlie was in bed, sound asleep, wearing whatever he'd been able to pull on that day.  Charlie had every excuse in the world.  God bless the man that he'd managed to get dressed at all.  Our children, however, did not have every excuse in the world … nary a one.   It was extremely evident that they seized the opportunity while a parent was down for the count, to do whatever they wanted - including nothing at all that resembled any responsibility.  I've been coming down more and more on the children with how important it is that they take responsibility; they must pitch in and help. 

Clean up after themselves … turn off lights, take out the trash, wipe down the counters in their bathrooms, take inventory of when they run out of: shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste, clean underwear.  Do a load of laundry. Fold a load of laundry. Load and unload the dishwasher.  Sweep up a pile of dirt.  Put away their toys. As I've told them countless times, they need to help us keep the boat afloat without our constant asking.

Good Lord.  At what point do they just get it?

It is critical that kids learn life skills, including how to take care of themselves and their living space.  This is what I call the Fundamentals of Growing Up and it is our responsibility as parents to teach them.  It is NOT easy work, I think in many ways it would be easier to just shoo the kids off and do it yourself, or hire a maid to come in and do it perfectly.   But if we do that - how are they supposed to learn?   When done a little bit each day, the art of keeping up a home, is not overwhelming and are life skills every one needs to possess and yet very few young people do actually seem to possess.

I've lost count of how many ill-equipped teenagers we've hired over the years to come watch the children, and you'd think they've never seen a dishwasher before. After an evening out, there are few things more frustrating than coming home to dirty dishes piled up on the counter, empty pizza boxes, and a teenager sitting with their nose in a cell phone.

Be responsible and clean-up after yourself! 

That is my war cry and I'm starting to go hoarse. 

While our kids have the propensity to help - they often don't.  Or, it will take a considerable amount of urging on my behalf.  Urging in the form of, "IF YOU DON'T PICK YOUR LAUNDRY UP I WILL DONATE IT TO CHARITY AND YOU WILL WEAR WHATEVER IS LEFT IN YOUR DRAWER:  EVEN IF IT'S JUST UNDERWEAR AND PINK POM POM SOCKS TO SCHOOL." 

Charlie and I both agree that if our children were frontier children, they would be beaten.

Or dead. 

The kids are now 12, surely they can help out at home.  Consider: my mother's father dropped out of school when he was 12-years old and went to work to support his family after his father died. The year was 1892, but the point is: 12-year olds are a lot more capable than we give them credit for in this year of 2016.

I thought about having the kids do it this morning, but couldn't stand the thought of going to sleep with that mess in the kitchen. So after I spent almost two hours cleaning up last night - I climbed in to bed at 1:15 AM … 23 hours after I climbed out of bed yesterday morning.  This morning, the kids came downstairs all smiles.  Until I told them how disappointed I was with the absolute disaster that they'd left yesterday.  Knowing that their father was unable to move, instead of doing something to HELP make the situation better - they made it WORSE.  Did they not notice how I had made them lunch, and tried to get everything ready for them?


As I've told them before, we don't have a maid and we won't have a maid.  Not because it costs a lot of money, but because when they grow up and they move out, they likely won't have a maid so they really need to know what it takes to care for themselves. (And their parents and each other, should we ever be in a situation when we're flat on our backs with a vicious stomach virus.)

The character traits of ownership and responsibility are two of the most important that they will ever learn.  And if they chose not to have ownership and responsibility, there will be consequences. Which may include flunking grades in school - because I'm not going to continually harass them to do their homework. Or maybe it will be the consequence of a wardrobe that consists only of underwear and pink pom-pom socks if they chose not to help with their own laundry.

Tomorrow, I'll teach them how to use the stove, and expect they'll make dinner.  But first, they may need to ride their bikes to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients.

I love them to the moon and back ... but that's where I am.   As my mother says, "I carried you for nine months, it's time you start learning to carry yourself."


Friday, October 14, 2016

... and then they were 12

They're rocking out this morning to the Beatles "Birthday" song.

Not very many people can truthfully sing with their siblings, "You say it's your birthday?  It's my birthday, too! And mine, too!" 


What a gift these three have been to me, to us ... a dozen years of awesome.

(Charlie would like for me to add:  Not every single minute has been awesome - but the vast majority sure has been!)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Summer Vacay - Stop 3 - Part 1 No. Cal (the hosts with the mosts)

After an abbreviated visit to San Francisco, we continued our drive north to wine country, and arrived at Charlie's brother, Steve's (and his wife, Kathy's) home late Friday afternoon. These are the sights that met us...



Kathy is of Italian descent, and is the most amazing keeper of all things in and out of doors, including gardening, cooking, sewing and entertaining.


This is one portion of Kathy's basil garden which is larger and healthier than all of the gardens I've ever had in my entire life.


And these are the vineyards in their backyard...


I think if we lived here, our visits to the grocery store would be significantly truncated.


We were joined for dinner by Steve and Kathy's son, Andy.  Cousin Andy was a huge hit with the kids because he let them play on his iPhone and taught them all about Pokemon-Go.   Note: Henry's headband and wristbands were made by Aunt Kathy as one of many "Welcome!" gifts which stayed on him all weekend.


These KA-POW! BAM! bands gave him all kind of super-super powers, including the ability to jump really high and run very fast, and not get wet when he blazed through sprinklers.


When he let me borrow them for a couple minutes, I was amazed at how I, too, was suddenly graced with super speed and agility.  Bob and Weave! Duck and Run!  Not even Ricardo could catch me! 


Soon, the fog rolled in and as the sun set, the heat of the day faded to a perfectly cool evening. Made all the more perfect by a bonfire and 'smores.  


Because Aunt Kathy and Uncle Steve know how to do things right.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

rules for doing good

This past week, our sixth graders have been learning about the attacks on September 11.  Several conversations over the past few days have led to them trying to understand why it happened and how our country, and world, has changed as a result.   They still don't fully understand, because it's nearly impossible at 11-years old to get your mind around such evil and hatred.

It's been very difficult for them to comprehend the impact and sadness of that day - so this morning, we read this post that I wrote 10-years ago about one victim in particular which brought all of us to tears. Our thoughts today are with Perry Thompson's family - and all the loved ones of the 2,996 lives that were senselessly lost on that beautiful blue-sky day.

Our thoughts are also with the millions of people, around the world, whose lives have been displaced and are threatened each and every day by violence and fighting.

They are learning that the only way to defeat the bad, is with good.  So we also read these "Rules for Doing Good" by John Wesley, which were sent to me several years ago by my friend, Ronnie, and which hang above my desk:

Do all the good you can, 
In all the ways you can, 
To all the People you can, 
In every place you can, 
At all the times you can, 
As long as every you can. 


In other words: Be the light of kindness and love; and ignite the world with it.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Summer Vacay - Stop 2 - Part 2, Central Coast (the migration north)

The "plan" was that we would leave from our friends home early Thursday morning and drive north to the Monterey Bay Aquarium - arriving when the doors opened.  But our success of actually departing anywhere before noon is extremely low, particularly once we engage in a deep conversation about the anthropological evidence regarding Jesus and his very dark-skinned complexion.  What ramifications would it have on the world if it was proven that Jesus was black? Would or should it have any? And why?

Then we had another cup of tea and by the time we departed it was 12:15.


We took the beautiful Highway 1 up the coast, passing Heart Castle in San Simeon and the elephant seals of Piedras Blancas.


We're fascinated by animals of the ocean, especially marine mammals.  The lives that these particular animals live - the migratory routes that they take, the way they return to the exact same location each year, the 80% of their lives that they spend in water, the nearly 2,000 feet dives that they take, and the hazards - the sharks and whales. And we think we've got things tough.

Here were two young males, wrestling on shore.


Boys will be boys.


Who I imagine to be the mother elephant seal was on the beach barking at them, so they took their sparring match in to the water.


We also enjoyed watching the younger seals.  Like this one who by moving only her flipper and with eyes closed, was able to cover herself with warm sand.


This would be me if I was a seal.

If any one can bring back a tuna sandwich, that'd be great. 


We walked along the boardwalk, taking lots of pictures, contemplating the harsh lives of these animals, and feeling depleted by the ocean wind.


Who wants to jump in the ocean and swim from here to Alaska?

Anyone?  Anyone? 


Hopping back in to the warm cozy car, we continued our drive north.


We passed regions where helicopters were flying down to scoop up water to fight the fires raging to the east of us.


And we offered up prayers for the safety of the brave men and women who were risking their lives to put the terrible fires out that have been ravaging a severe drought stricken California for years.


Our destination Thursday evening was Charlie's sister, Susan, and her husband, Jeff's house - just south of San Francisco.  But there were several stops on our way there - to the children, it seemed that we were stopping every 20 minutes.


How could we help it?

Look at this view! 


And this road!  

Can you imagine the engineering, planning, and construction involved?!


We rolled in to the south bay of San Francisco at the same time as the fog.  None of the pictures that we took can quite capture the way that it billows up and over the hills like a blanket.


After a wonderful dinner and rest at Sue and Jeff's on Thursday night ... we continued our way north on Friday, through San Francisco.


We'd had plans to visit Alcatraz, but the reservations needed to be made months in advance. What is with all of this advance planning that is required these days?  And how can someone who thrives on spontaneity survive in this world?!

Instead of Alcatraz, we walked across the Golden Gate bridge and talked about Mark Twain and how "the coldest winter he ever spent, was a summer in San Francisco."


Once back in our car, we drove to Sausalito and walked / jumped along the bay.


We then stopped for lunch: chowder in a sour dough bowl because ... San Francisco.


It was a very good day.


Made all the better by children who thoroughly enjoyed being together.