Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankgiving... with a side of bittersweet

It's the day before Thanksgiving, so we're double-checking ingredients and making sure we actually have more than 2 sides. The turkey is an extra special bird --- it's a 12 pounder that Spenser brought home as a result of winning the 3rd grade Turkey Trot one mile race. As Rob says, "that Spense - he's bringing home the bird!" And now we're about to make the bird the featured menu item for Turkey Day! It will be accompanied by a prime rib, for those that are slightly more carnivorous than others.

But Thankgiving is a funny day. At least, it is here in my heart and mind. Over the last 20+ years, Rob and I have lost all of our parents. We're so aware of how lucky we were to have them to begin with, and they are a part of our lives, and the boys' lives, and we knit them into everything we do. That being said, though, it takes my breath away when I realize they are all gone. And Thanksgiving being the sort of holiday it is - well, it makes you remember all of your previous Turkey Days, and the drama of the family table, and the reluctant answers to the annual question "What are YOU thankful for?", which seems like such a stupid question when you're 15, but boy oh boy, when you're 45, it is amazing how long that thankful list is.

I'm not being a downer here. I think watching the Thanksgiving dinner episode of NBC's "Parenthood" is the reason I'm a bit melancholy. I am fully aware it is a t.v. show, no more and no less. But they do such a good job of portraying life in a large family -- and boy, do I miss life in MY large family back in St. Louis. Even though parts of it were downright weird and decidely un-fun. As everyone's life is.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all I have had as a result of my large family that I grew up with. I am thankful for the large family I have now - even if it is overwhelmingly dominated by testosterone.

And I am thankful for other things - and so, a list:

Outdoor Christmas decorations, especially the articulated white wire deer that come with entirely unintelligible building directions

The new engine that brought our 2003 Expedition back to life

Wireless printing. Definitely one of the best things EVER.

Elementary school Awards Assemblies - just had one yesterday. The parental pride was downright palpable!


Hunter and Truman, our family canine companions

Recreational and high school football - what on earth would fall be without my boys playing football??

E-mail and texting-- without it, my siblings and I would have virtually ZERO communication

Sod. Until your yard is missing a significant amount of grass, you have no idea how wonderful replacement sod can be. Trust me on this.

Our outdoor fireplace. We use it nearly every day, and it is definitely a source of family time for us.

Fall in Virginia - fall is a real season here, long and lovely, especially this year.

Christmas music 24/7 on Pandora. Really, can you hear "Have A Holly Jolly Christmas" too many times?

What I am most thankful for, though, is not something I can lay a hand on, or smell, or show in a picture.

I am incredibly thankful for my mom, dad and step-mother, who gave me a childhood filled with security, love and its share of bumps in the road. They gave me the foundation to become the still-in-progress person that I am, and they gave me confidence in myself to know that somehow, some way, I will muddle my way through and give my kids the same security and love.

Because one thing I know for sure is this: Rob and I are creating the memories that will someday provide our boys with the brickwork for their adult lives -- and I damn sure want to know that they had it at least as good as I did. And boy, did I have it good...

And I still do. Testosterone and all.

Happy Thanksgiving to you - and don't forget to have a healthy serving of Reddi Whip with the pie of your choice tomorrow. Honestly, isn't pie usually just a vehicle FOR the whipped cream?

: )

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ultimate Family Vacation

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It's easy for me to draw a picture of my idea of the "ultimate family vacation" - although of course the ULTIMATE vacation would likely include something more upscale than the vacation I'm going to describe - but for me, the "ultimate family vacation" would look very much like the trip we took this summer to Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Los Angeles is a favorite place of ours, and has been for a long time. It's sort of funny that way, because the kids have only been there once as a family before now, although the two oldest have each been there on additional time each on business trips with Dad. And add to those visits the fact that a favorite television show for my clan is "Emergency!", which took place in L.A., and voila! Favorite place status!
We stayed at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in Universal City, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It has this "old Hollywood" glamour to it somehow, although it has been recently updated and is gorgeous and classically Los Angeles in its design and color schemes. The outdoor pool features "family movie nights", and the kids get to swim around and watch great flicks from the pool on an inflatable screen. This was a big hit with my clan.
Add to a trip to Universal Studios, which included a walk-through of the Engine 51 station (Emergency! Engine 51, anyone?) and a fantastic afternoon. Our boys range from 8 - 15 years of age, and all of them had a great time between the rides and the shows. And we went to Venice Beach, which only happened because I had to visit one of the most wonderful paper shops on the planet - Urbanic Paper Boutique. Even better, we were there for "Cupcake Saturday", which made the boys' day. Killer cupcakes.
What made it the "ultimate family vacation", however, was what ran beneath all of these activities and places. All 6 of us relaxed, and talked, and spent time with each other, and although we are already a close-knit family, this time together wrapped us even closer. Early mornings at the pools, some long drives in Los Angeles County, the drive from L.A. to Phoenix - there were moments of conversation and camaraderie that never would have happened elsewhere. It was like time out of "real" time, and it made this trip a vital part of our family memory. So much so that we plan on doing it again - probably next year. : )
Don't forget to enter the “Do What You Love” Sweepstakes, for a chance to win your own ultimate family vacation. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life Surprises Me

1. The twins were watching a movie with me, and asked about a father and daughter dancing during a wedding reception. I explained that it's a sort of tradition, and it is called the Father-Daughter Dance. And as I said that, I had to pause because a huge lump turned up in my throat, and I had trouble speaking. I wasn't consciously missing my dad - I think about him daily, but not at that particular moment. Just SAYING Father/Daughter Dance overwhelmed me with emotion - and I was completely caught off guard. Losing a parent leaves such a void, and you become adept at either going around the void or filling it in so you are better able to avoid it -- but then your 8 year old asks about something as simple as a dance, and you find yourself swept into the void without having recognized you were anywhere near it.

I do have to point out that I had a splendid dance with my wonderful father at my wedding 21 years ago. : )

2. I thoroughly enjoyed the book "Red Hook Road" by Ayelet Waldman. Cannot recommend it enough. It tends to get classified as a book about sisters - but it is really about family, loss, and how relationships change over the span of time. I particularly liked how the parent-child relationships changed - and did not change - over the years.

3. I watched the first episode of a new show on Showtime called "The Big C". Laura Linney stars, and she is wonderful. If you can overlook the occasional colorful language (including swearing at people one would not typically say such things to but would probably wish to), it is a show with a strong script and very little reluctance to talk about those things people rarely talk about out loud - most specifically, cancer. But that was not the most surprising thing about the show - what caught me off guard was when Laura Linney's character said one of her reasons to not pursue cancer treatment is because it would mean other people taking care of her, and that is what she does - take care of other people. And she just couldn't face the idea of having to have others care for her in that way. And I understood what she meant, 100%.

Oddly enough, a couple of days later, I found myself in a conversation with a friend, talking about taking care of our families. She does a a great deal for her kiddos, her husband, her work - and I said that is exactly where I am in my life. I take care of my kids, my husband, my job, my pets, etc. - and right now, I don't do a great deal to take care of myself, in terms of "me time" and putting hours into hair care, etc. (not that I will ever put lots of time into hair care, anyway), -- and that is all right. THAT is where I am right now, and I try really hard to enjoy where I am right now. She totally understood what I was saying.

Taking care of my family and my household and my friends - and working, writing, etc., - is what I do, and if it means not doing certain things for myself or temporarily putting certain goals on a shelf for the time being, that is what I choose to do. Not what I am forced to do. I happen to be pretty good at taking care of others, and it brings me a certain joy.

Now don't misunderstand - I am no saint and I am certainly not filled with joy in everything I do. Joy is hard to find in some of the detritus of daily life - I know joy is definitely off-site when I have been waiting 35 minutes for football practice to end. And it is rarely nearby when I'm breaking up yet another name-calling contest between the boys.

It was just surprising to see a t.v. show said something I had been thinking, but had not put into words.

4. A children's book recommendation - Berkley Breathed, who is the genius behind the fantastic comic strip originating in the 1980s called "Bloom County, wrote a book for young adults called "Flawed Dogs". The twins and I are reading it together, and the plot is definitely NOT dumbed-down in anyway. The feelings of the dogs in the book are so on target with what dogs look like they might be thinking. And while some of the humans in the book are awfully reprehensible, there are also humans who are clearly the good guys. Get a copy and give it to a kiddo you like. Better yet, buy a copy and give it to a school library.

5. Last thought for today - there is a saying "Bloom where you're planted". What that says to me is this:
Realize how lucky you are while you are lucky. Be aware of blessings as they come your way, even if those blessings look a lot like fighting kids or houses in need of new windows. When you can think of nothing you want more than a quiet house, find a spot to find that moment of silence, but don't forget that some time in the future, the kids and dogs and aquariums making all of that racket will be elsewhere, and the quiet you seek now could become the quiet you try to fill with television and CDs.
Being married and raising a family is work. And man, there are moments when it is SUCH HARD WORK. Egads, somedays there are days and days when it is such hard work. But you know what occurred to me recently? It should be. It doesn't GET any more important than that. Funny how we all understand that becoming a doctor requires all of those years of education and training, and we all say "but it's worth it". But then we are all taken off guard when parenting is hard. Raising itty bitty human beings to grow up and be kind, civil, hard-working members of society is no easy task, and the world is doing parents few favors in terms of help along the way.

All of that being said, I love the idea of blooming where we're planted. Seeing the good before we get snarled up in the bad, difficult and icky. So, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing, and I'll be over here blooming if anyone needs me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summertime And the Living Is...A Bit Complicated

A Hope list for the Summer of 2010:

1. I hope we all relax. Although that is obviously not proving to be very complex for three out of four boys, as since last Friday (the last day of school), they have slept until noon or until they were rudely awakened by me. I do get a peculiar joy out of waking up sleeping teenagers. Does that make me unkind?

2. I hope the boys have what I think of as a "real summer". I know kids who participate in sport camps nearly all summer, and kids who go to "sleep-away" camp, and kids whose summers are chock-full of lessons, "summer bridge" learning programs, and various trips. The eldest boy does have weight training for football June and July, and "two-a-days" beginning in August, but otherwise, my kids tend to fall into the camp of "unscheduling". Sleep until you wake up (well, not every day), stay up later, go to the pool, hang out with friends, read, play games and yep - get bored. Last time I checked, boredom won't kill you. Although my boys apparently aren't aware of that fact just yet, judging by the fact "I'm bored" has already been said once -- and it wasn't even true at the time. It was just a reflex. : )

3. I hope we have a truly great getaway later this summer when we travel to the west coast for a "real" family vacation. We usually wrap our time away around visits to family or around work for my husband. This trip - although it does include a spot of "work" for Rob - is a true vacation, and we are looking forward to it mightily.

4. I hope to instill something faintly resembling a work ethic in the boys. After giving them a week or two of a break, I plan on putting daily responsibilities into place, so that everyone has at least some purpose in every day. I also want to encourage additional physical activity - biking, running, going on walks. And also some reading - fun reading, books of their own choosing. Just so we all keep some remembrance of our own capabilities, and perhaps return to school in the fall somewhat stronger and brighter.

5. I hope that these 90+ degree days in June are not a portent of things to come. Summer heat is fine, but 85 degrees at 10 in the morning? C'mon, that's August weather, not June!

6. I hope we score ourselves a contractor who can repair our collapsing retaining wall, which may eliminate the minor water-in-the-basement problem. And I hope we score ourselvs another fine person to clean our not so old roof shingles that have this rather repulsive mossiness all over them. Definitely reduces the "curb appeal" of our sweet yellow house.

7. I hope we are able to get our second car, a 2003 Ford Expedition with a habit of spitting out its own sparkplugs, up and running again, just in time for the 15 y/o to acquire his learner's permit later this summer. And yes, I do find the prospect of any of my children driving a bit terrifying, but this one - he's probably going to do just fine. And he already has a better internal mapping ability than I do, which he is more than happy to point out on a regular basis. At least he is unlikely to get lost. : )

8. I hope my little family of testosterone-laden critters remain as close and as reliant upon one another as we are now. My eldest reports that he has been ribbed a bit by friends who say he spends "too much time" with his family. To that I said "That is EXACTLY what I wanted for us - outcome achieved." He didn't find that half as funny as I did. But my point was made, and he actually (privately) admits he (usually) likes the fact we all hang around together and go to D.C. to "our" Washington Monument and "our" National Mall, and that we discover new places and experiences not far from our own backyard.

We are a tightly bound family, and we know that the next 10 years will separate us geographically and personally, with college and life decisions putting perhaps hundreds of miles between us. And that is partly why we invest time in just being together - whether we are all crowded together in our smallish den watching a pre-recorded episode of "Friday Night Lights" or we're driving to D.C. on what has become our annual pilgrimage to the National Christmas Tree (even though two years ago, the tree had actually been turned OFF the day before - Rob will never ever live that one down) -- or we're all at the high school varsity football game, sitting in what has become our "usual" spot, talking to friends and letting the older boys sit with their friends, but touching base with us at halftime.

We are a family. And I have yet to find the words to describe how much contentment I get from having my husband, boys, dogs, cat, turtles, and the life we have together. I have no idea how I got this lucky - but rest assured of this:

I never take it for granted.

Happy Summer to all who read this...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

22 Things My Children Have Taught Me

At the suggestion of Stacy Julian, from her wonderful blog located at, I put together my own list of things I've learned from being a parent. This ties to a project created by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which you can treat yourself to right here: -- go to her "small films" link, and select the film button with the yellow rubber duckies.

And please do watch her short film - it's lovely.

22 Things My Children Have Taught Me

1. How to teach kids to ride bikes

2. How to fix a dropped chain on said bikes

3. Holding two babies at once can be done

4. Feeding two babies at once requires dexterity and ingenuity

5. To trust my instincs about my child's health

6. Clean is great, but dirt on the floor proves we're playing in the yard

7. You can cook dinner, help with homework, feed the dogs and struggle to remember if you really did add money to the school lunch account, all at the same time

8. To listen with everything - my ears, my hands, my very skin - to really "hear" my kids

9. Bike helmets really DO prevent head injuries - but they do nothing for elbows, knees and shoulders - just ask my 12 year old

10. How to let my boys go - to daycare, to preschool, to school-school, to the 1st Homecoming Dance with the first girlfriend

11. How to be a teammate with my husband so we parent as a team and not as two visiting rivals

12. Caterpillars, earthworms, slugs and snails are to be "rescued", not overlooked or stepped on

13. Socks are only intact for about a month after purchase, because shoes are always apparently optional

14. Moo-ing can become a ridiculous funny family ritual

15. SpongeBob is actually NOT the crappiest show on television

16. 7-Up and saltines still soothe an upset stomach...or heart....or soul

17. Twins can reach higher than singletons because they see each other as ladders

18. Listen even when your ears ache from the constant input, because when kids know they can tell you anything, the payoff arrives when your "little one" is suddenly the 15 year old towering over you in the kitchen, telling you all the gory details of his day in high school - and you thank your lucky stars

19. Legos + Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars + wooden blocks = endless hours of play

20. Electric toy + batteries = interrupted play, while boy impatiently waits for parent to remember to buy/replace/locate the appropriate size batteries

21. Traveling as a family is just smarter, because otherwise you and your spouse spend the whole trip saying "Oh, I wish the kids were here to see/taste/smell/feel THAT!"

22. Life is better with my four boys in it

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New is not always better

Once upon a time, we lived in a house that we simply adored. It was a big, rambling Tudor, with lots of land, and deer who apparently thought the land was there specifically for their daily strolls. After three years, pretty much against our will, we had to relocate and leave that house, and we moved over 800 miles away to the sweet, smaller house that we reside in now.
So, here we are, four and a half years later, and our old house is up for sale. So I checked it out online, and found photographs. The photographs are significant, because the new owners "updated" and "modernized" the I looked at the pictures, and found myself so saddened.
The pictures show a house with extensive complicated landscaping, and a beautiful patio with a fountain and a pond. And the interior - the walnut tongue and groove walls are gone, the built-in bookshelves are gone, and everything is light and modern and...I looked at the pictures and felt like the soul of that house had been simply cut right out of it. It had been such a unique and lovely older house, and now, it looks like so many other big new homes, with little personality and lots of bells and whistles. And while the changes to the yard are pretty, and heck, we might have added a similar patio ourselves, many of the changes are ones that -again - are the sort of thing you see frequently in higher end houses, and they are hardly specific to this particular home.
I know how potentially idiotic it may appear to be, to be this affected by a home I no longer have any responsibility for. But you see, this house was what we hoped would be our "forever" house, where we would bring up our boys, live our lives, bury our family pets, run on the trails we built...and instead, we had to leave it. And now, someone has taken this grand older home and turned it into just another updated house.
Back in late summer 2002, my husband brought us to this house, so that we could see the house in person that we had looked at online for the last few weeks. We were moving from Colorado to Missouri, and we wanted to buy rather than rent, so this was our last chance to find a house. We literally just dropped into a realtor's office, asked to see this house - and this house only, which the realtor thought was just bizarre. So we opened the front door, my husband walked in first - he looked around the foyer, and as he turned to hold the door for me, he said "This is it." And so it was - just like that, we knew. This empty old house, which had sheltered the family that built it for their entire lives, opened itself to us and said "Finally! I've been waiting for you! Welcome home." -- and yep, we were home.
I've never felt that way before or since.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Getting some air

When son #2 goes outside to "get some air", he means it in an entirely different way
than most folks...
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweetarts are my Sweethearts

I'm going out on a limb here and guessing in advance that Valentine's Day will be a complete wash-out around here. Don't get me wrong - we're a loving bunch around here, with a bumper crop of hugs given out on a daily basis by everyone except the aquatic turtles. But with the high level of distraction we have been operating under due to the over-abundance of snow, both my husband and myself have honestly not given V-day one moment of thought. Add to that the fact that this Friday will mark the 10th (11th?) day of school closures, and therefore there will be no classroom V-day fest for the two elementary school attendees, and the result is: crap-on-a-cracker Valentine's Day festivities.

One saving grace, however -- Sweetart Hearts. It is pathetic to admit this, but I buy these suckers two bags at a time, initially in an attempt to keep them all to myself. But then it became entertaining to get the rest of the family hooked. So now Sweetart dust is covering certain parts of the kitchen counter where the crock of Sweetarts resides.
Don't blame me if the CVS and Target nearest me are out. I only bought their remaining inventory.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow effects

Here is where the snow measured on Saturday night, February 6. This was all
"new" snow - as opposed to the old snow (some VERY old, dating back to oh, the last blizzard on Dec. 20 - yep, it's still taking up space all over the yard).

And here is our lovely nest, looking quite "gingerbread-like" in the snow. The beauty of this photo is the fact we have electricity!

And now it is today - Tuesday, February 9, and we are awaiting the arrival of the first flakes of the really "NEW" snow, scheduled to start falling any minute now. Yes, we are thrilled to hear another 7-14" of snow is predicted over the next 24 hours. But this time, the snow is bringing its pal "high wind gusts", so this time could prove even more interesting...
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

After the snowstorm...

It is 9:30 on Sunday, February 7. My 3 younger boys are just awakening in their father's office where we have been camping since Friday evening. The oldest is off with one or another crew, doing what he can to be helpful. I'm beginning to pack up our nesting materials, with the intent of returning to our rightful nest later today.

Stafford County (and all of northern Virginia and the National Capital Region) has been hit with yet another significant snowfall - 19" according to our front yard, but over 24" have fallen in north Stafford County, and over 30" in part of Maryland and western counties in Virginia, so we did get a little lucky, as it were. Since we have lost power during snowstorms before, and this one promised to be a "big 'un", we made the call (with considerable pushing by my husband) to relocate the fam to a safer place with backup power. As it turns out, the power in our neighborhood stayed on, so we are going home in short order.

I've been able to do all of my necessary work for VDEM, which has been a huge help. And our boys have been simply outstanding in their ability to "roll with the punches". Virtually no complaining, and just a little bit of restlessness. Thank goodness for imaginations, cable television, Nintendo DSi's, and iPods. And snacks - particularly Spicy CheezIts and Ruffles Cheddar & Sour Cream. Between all of those options, they kept themselves busy while their Dad and I did the work the snow event required of us.

One of the upsides of the all-in-on-room situation is that a freshly woken twin came and climbed into my lap, nestling himself back to sleep for a few minutes. I know these moments are not going to happen all that regularly as we move along the age-line. And I will stop everything I am doing when these moments come along. There is nothing to compare with burying your nose into the hair of a boy snuggled against you...

So on we go, moving forward into the snow-laden beyond. : )