Friday, July 10, 2015

No Sleep Till Puebla

Even when everything goes (mostly) right, travel days are rough. This morning we woke up at 3:45, drove to the airport, kissed jb goodbye, and two planes, a bus, a car and much waiting in line later we have arrived at my cousins house in Puebla. It's nearly midnight our time and the kids are finally in an actual bed.

The kids were total troopers throughout our very long day - but there were still a few meltdowns (my own included) and poorly timed naps (like when Leo was awake when the plane landed and suddenly not when we had to deplane).

I've lived through a handful of travel horror stories, but today was actually pretty smooth. We made both of the stand-by flights we were hoping for. We got to sit together. We were prepared with snacks and activities and even a few TV shows. So why are we still all so wrecked? 

Travel is kind of like giving birth. It's not the most relaxing way to spend a day, but somehow it always ends up worth it. 

Tomorrow we start making it worth it. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Pittsburgh Spotlight: Toys 2 Try

Each year since Leo was born, we've had a birthday party in Pittsburgh. When Zoe came along we made it a joint birthday party. Well, this year Leo really wanted to celebrate in Philly AND in Pittsburgh, so we had a Philly party on Leo's birthday and for Zoe's birthday (well, once we got home from camping) we headed to Pittsburgh to celebrate with friends and family there. 

Our birthday parties up until now have been pretty formulaic - rent pavilion at park, invite friends, bring assorted snacks and drinks, let kids play at playground, and eat cake. It's fairly easy, low key, and fun for both kids and adults. Unfortunately this year, with my father's passing, I was not in the headspace to reserve a pavilion in advance. When I finally realized I hadn't done that this year, they were all booked up. biggie...we will just have it at my mom's house. She has a big yard and we can replicate our formula there. So that was the new plan. Until we saw the forecast - thunderstorms were predicted all day. 

At this point the party was in just a couple of days...we were faced with a lot more cleaning/childproofing than anticipated to move the party inside - but even if we did get the house ready - what the heck were we going to do with a dozen kids between the ages of 1 and 9 in my mother's living room?!?!  I was starting to panic - this is where Toys 2 Try entered. 

I had visited Toys 2 Try at their former location a couple of years ago and had a good time. It's a great play space combined with a toy store (and some of the toys for sale are incorporated in the play space - hence the name). I checked out their website and they had a reasonably priced party package that included pizza and juice for the kids -  I thought I'd give them a call on the off chance they had availability. 

Luckily they did! I booked it and sent a note to our guests about the change of plans. I was still a bit nervous since I hadn't seen their new space and had never done a "package birthday party" before. The play space is owned and managed by a sweet family and they were super helpful both leading up to and the day of the party. I asked if we could bring additional food/snack and at extra pizzas to the order to feed the adults and they were very accommodating. When we showed up the day of the party everything went off without a hitch!

The space was large and well designed. There were active spaces and more mellow spaces. Not pictured are the upstairs areas which included a sandbox, kitchen/shopping area and arts and crafts table. Downstairs were two separate rooms for climbing and tumbling.

The outdoor space was large and generally awesome. There are also picnic tables out there which gave the adults some space to spread out and chat (there are still more adults than kids at our parties). Inside there is a long table that they set up for the kids to eat pizza/cake/etc.

The couple who own the space and their daughter were all on hand and took care of everything from decorating, to handing out pizza slices to clean up. I do still really like DIY parties, but it was really nice to just enjoy the party for once. They even planned an activity (making marshmallow snowmen) but the kids were having so much fun playing that we skipped it. Everyone in attendance seemed to have a good time and I was shocked at how easy and affordable it was to throw together a party at the last minute.

And of course, as always, jb and I teamed up on the cake.  jb baked the cake itself and whipped up the icing, and I decorated it (Thank you, Pintrest) - which was difficult in the heat and humidity. Each bit of icing I added seems to melt off immediately...but it turned out ok considering. At least the 3 year old of honor was impressed, and that's all that mattered, really. 

Toys 2 Try was the perfect host for our party - and I realize we don't even live in Pittsburgh, and only a few of our readers do, but if you have the opportunity to check them out - either for a party or just for a playdate (you can pack a lunch and meet friends there), you totally should. (No we didn't get a discount or anything for this post - we really just had a fantastic experience.) And happy birthday Zoe!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Zoe Is Three

Zoe is three years old. Her birthday and Father's day were back to back, so with so much celebrating to do, we decided to go camping. Also, seeing as it was the first father's day since my dad passed, we invited my youngest sister and brother to join us - and it was nice to be together, though we missed Aunt Fanny who is all the way on the west coast these days.

We spent two nights at a campground in NJ and spend one day at the lake beach on site and drove out to the ocean one day. I think Zoe (and all of us really) had a great time. We certainly didn't let the fact that we were camping interfere with our traditional birthday pancake breakfast.

Zoe is so big, and SO independent. I often find myself helping Leo (at five!) get his shoes on and his arms into his jacket while Zoe gets herself ready - assuming she's in the mood to cooperate, of course. She is definitely in that 2.5-3.5 tough age where everything is a power struggle. But when she is at her best she is amazing. She is eager to help and wants to be JUST like her big brother.

She is talking a lot (A LOT) but still has a few baby words that I just can't get enough of. For example, instead of "regular" she says "regulee" and she has trouble with the "sp" sound - using "f" instead. So she likes "Feaking Fanish" and getting "Farkley clean."

Camping was a blast, we skipped stones, roasted hot dogs and ate s'mores. The new additions to our gear this year: the camping stove and hammock were thoroughly enjoyed. Zoe spent her free time around the campsite either relaxing in the hammock or collecting frogs in a bucket. (Leo was too squeamish to touch the frogs.)

I'm glad we did both the lake and the ocean because the lake was just the right size and intensity to give the kids a bit of freedom and get them used to the water before hitting the "real" beach. And this year they both spend the majority of their time IN the water (rather than treating it like a giant sandbox) and had fun dodging waves.

I will leave you with the birthday interview. Sadly it's really hard to hear her, but I tried to repeat her answers. Still adorable. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Leo is Five

Leo turned 5 on Saturday and we had a little get together at our home. Leo was pretty insistent that he wanted a birthday party in PHILLY and ON his actual birthday. So we made it happen with a trip to the store, the borrowing of a tent and tables, jb's baking talent and some low-maintence guests. Leo was thrilled - there was running outdoors, bubble blowing, sword fighting, friends and cake.

The cake, as per usual, was baked by jb (and delicious), and I decorated it. Leo loves (loves loves loves) Wild Kratts, so we made him a Tortuga cake from that show. If you haven't seen the show, it's basically a turtle shaped vehicle they travel in. (The show is pretty great, lots of animal trivia - I feel good about him watching it.)

I think Leo had a pretty great day - he definitely thought the best part was having his family and friends over to celebrate with him. It's a pretty great thing when family and friends win out over cake or presents. He's officially a big kid. Five. A whole hand of fingers. It's especially obvious in his latest birthday interview...

Happy Birthday, Leo.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Back To Nuclear

After living with us for nearly the entirety of Leo's 5 year life (and some months before), Uncle Daniel has moved out. We saw the writing on the wall when he first met his now girlfriend - he began spending more and more time with her and less time at home. Of course we were/are happy to see him happy, but we miss him a ton.

So, it's just jb, the kids and me under our roof these days.  There are some nice things about just being a nuclear family (for example, I've all but given up wearing pants around the house), but mostly we've noticed the downside of losing Daniel as a housemate. There are the more tangible perks to having another adult around, like one more person washing the never-ending dishes or someone to occasionally keep an eye on the kids for 20 minutes if I need to run and errand that would be a thousand times quicker without my two-sidekicks. But really, the biggest loss is his company. We miss seeing him in the mornings when he'd come up for coffee and at dinner time (we tried to eat dinner as a family when our schedules allowed). One more perspective in our conversations at the dinner table and one more life experience to share with the kids is never a bad thing.

The kids loved having him around and he struck that perfect harmony of intimate familiarity and novelty for them. When he would invite Leo downstairs to his room to "listen to music," Leo felt like the coolest kid in the world. When he'd take the kids out to lunch, not only was it a welcome break for me (watching TV in the middle of day - woot!), but it was so special to the kiddos to have time out in the world with their Uncle.

And then there was the cooking. Daniel is a great cook…and he's great to cook for. Pretty much every recipe he tackled turned out great, and no matter how awful something I made turned out he was still full of compliments. With three adults in the house who enjoy cooking, not only was the workload spread out a bit, but the variety of foods served in our house was more diverse than ever before. The kitchen is and was truly the heart of our home - with someone always cooking/baking/washing/eating. So the heart of our home is still pumping along, but it's missing a valve...or it's been transplanted...I think this metaphor got away from me. Sorry. Thankfully, he's just over the Schuykill in South Philly and we still get to see each other regularly. Thanks Daniel for your years of friendship, support, help big and small, and being the best family addition we could ask for. We wish you luck in this next chapter. Don't forget about us.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Tale of Three Proposals

So, I'm an engaged woman. (Well, actually, I'm a married woman. We got married over brunch on Monday, but more on that later.) A mere fourteen years after jb offered me a piece of dried pineapple and struck up a conversation about Ani Difranco, here I am, with a ring on my finger and daydreams of proclaiming my (perhaps obvious) love and commitment to my partner, best friend, and parent of my children.

Really, jb has (sorta) proposed thrice. The first time, was many years ago, early in our realization that we wanted to be each others' forever. For a few different reasons (some my fault, some not) that first proposal ended badly. Both jb and I were left feeling slighted and we've both had to sift through some complicated feelings about proposals, engagements, and weddings. Thankfully our feelings about each other weren't complicated and we just kind of swept that whole ordeal under the rug and got on with the business of being married (without actually getting married) and building our family.

Last May, when same-sex marriage became legal in PA some of those complicated feelings resurfaced. At least for me. I was wondering - Should we get married so we have that legal safety net? (How very romantic!) Should we take this as an opportunity as a do-over? Try to fix what was broken all those years ago? Should I be the one to propose this time? Should I hint that I would like a second chance to say yes? There were many, sometimes conflicting, thoughts swirling through my head - and many feelings of sadness, fear, resentment and hope. I was surprised at how strongly these feelings came back. Could we salvage this skipped chapter in our love story? Or maybe it would be easier to sweep it back under the rug and keep living this - pretty great - life we have worked out without a wedding.

Months passed. Life continued. I was beginning to think sweeping it all back under the rug was the best option for us - why fix what isn't broken? I clearly still have feelings about missing out on that rite of passage - but is it worth dredging up all that hurt? Nope. Definitely not. Unsavory feelings get stuffed down deep and maybe covered with cheesecake for safe measure. It's the way of my people. So, I tried to put it out of my mind.

This brings us to the second proposal. (Full Disclosure: jb does NOT count this as anything close to a proposal, but this isn't her blog) One day, fairly recently, we got a letter. jb opened this letter, read it, made a disgusted face and "Ugh!" sound, and then tossed said letter into my lap. As I scanned the letter I realized that it was from jb's employer stating that now that same-sex marriage was legal in the state of PA they were dissolving domestic partnership benefits. If our family wanted to continue to have health insurance we needed to get married by X date. "Are you asking me to marry you?" I asked, and poor flustered jb blushed and stammered that she just wanted to share the frustration of being commanded to get married in a matter of months.

It was ridiculous. Even if we weren't bringing this proposal baggage into the situation with us, who throws together a wedding in a few months at the request of their employer? So obviously my plan to forget the whole marriage thing wasn't an option - we at least needed to get legally married to protect our family. So now we were facing uncomfortable feelings/conversations/situations with a ticking clock hanging over our heads.

After a couple heart to heart chats with with two good friends, I decided what I needed to do, was to let jb know that not only had I been thinking about all this before the letter, but that many of those dormant complicated feelings had resurfaced. It was only fair. Also to let her know that I wasn't sure what we should do. It seems strange to get engaged after so many years...and redundant to get married. Yet, that's what I wanted. I didn't want anything over the top, or extravagant...but I wanted her to ask me, and I wanted to stand before our friends and family to declare our love and commitment. I acknowledged that she was in an impossible place. I know she was probably dealing with her own feelings about putting her heart on the line again (even though there's a pretty good chance I was gonna say yes...), and let's face it, jb gets nervous about ordering a sandwich...this must have been beyond daunting. Still, I wanted a chance to get it right this time. (Says the girl that just has to sit back and be asked.)

So, I had lobbed the (very unfair) ball into jb's court - and jb delivered. The third, and final proposal happened on Easter Sunday. After we presented the kids with their basket, jb said she had a basket for me. It consisted of potted fire tulips (ones that are orange/red/yellow -my favorite since forever), my favorite chocolate, dried pineapple (throwback to when we first met), and a tiny box with a beautiful ring the color of jb's eyes. jb got on one knee and was sweet and adorably flustered as she asked me to marry her, and I said "or course." Perfectly sweet and simple.

This one stuck. It's a good thing, too, because we had to get down to business. You can't fool around with losing your health insurance when you have two kids - so as soon as we got back to Philly we went down to City Hall to apply for a self-uniting marriage license. Then, on Monday we went to brunch with our two chosen witnesses (my mother, and jb's brother daniel), filled out the paperwork, kissed and shared a meal.

So we are legally married. We've been married in our hearts for a long time. And... I think we will also have a low key ceremony to get married in the wedding sense. With so many proposals, it only makes sense to match with so many stages of getting married.

I'm happy to finally be married to my true love. I'm grateful jb wants me as a wife. I'm grateful she was willing to risk asking me again. And I'm so glad I get to choose her now and always.

Monday, April 6, 2015

New Beginnings

I love springtime.  The sun shines and flowers bloom and the world is bursting with promise and possibilities. It's especially nice after a long, cold, hard, sad winter. We went to Pittsburgh for Easter and it was the first time I've been home since my father passed. It was strange to arrive at my childhood home without him to receive us and I had several waves of grief,  but things began to feel more normal after a few days. That is of course until it was time for us to leave, because my dad always liked to try to talk us into staying a few more hours/days/weeks as we were packing up.

Still, despite his absence, we had a wonderful visit and a delightful Easter.  We dyed eggs, made bunny crafts, and donned our spring colors. We ate quiche, potato salad, kielbasa, and chocolate. We hunted for plastic eggs, and we spent time with friends and family.

Also? My true love, whom I have shared my life with for fourteen years, asked me to wed. It was sweet and lovely, just like my love and I naturally said yes. 

Life goes on, and it is still beautiful, even after loss. I wish my dad could be here...I wish he could walk me down the aisle. I know he'd be happy. I am happy. And I'm looking toward the future with an open heart.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Year in Review: 2014

Each year in late December or early January I write a "year in review" post to recap the highs (and sometimes lows) of our lives that year. This year, not only did I miss that post...but well, I've been silent since early November. So even though we are rounding out the third month of 2015, I'd love to take this opportunity to look back over 2014 (and maybe fill in some of the updates I neglected to share).
  • Travel: We got a decent amount of travel in. The biggest trip(s) being Mexico, of course, which was lovely in June because both my parents and all my siblings were able to come. We were also able to go camping (at Knoebels) and to DC (twice), Pittsburgh (a gazillion times), the beach (twice), and to Chicago to visit some friends I met through blogging.
  • Last year before Kindergarten: The kids and I have been savoring this last year of flexibility in our schedule and all day togetherness before Leo begins Kindergarten in the fall.
  • Reading: Not only has Leo begun to love (and even prefer) longer form chapter books to picture books, he has also begun reading words and some basic phonics books. He gets frustrated and impatient when it doesn't come easily, and I remind him that he doesn't have to do it if it's not enjoyable - but he insists he loves it. And he is always beaming with pride afterwards.
  • Amusement: We hit three amusement parks last year: Diggerland, Sesame Place and Knoebel's
  • Dad Stopped Chemo: My dad decided to stop treatment for his pancreatic cancer over the summer. He often said he felt he had lived a good life, but regretted not getting to retire to Mexico with mom as they had planned.  So,  that stemmed the Mexico trip that we all took together. It was amazing because we hadn't all been able to be in Mexico at the same time in years.
  • Steph moved to LA: My sister, Stephanie, moved to California. Her fiancee (oh right! And she got engaged!!) is doing his residency out there. We miss them, but with Skype and FaceTime we are surviving.
  • Swimming: Well, kinda swimming. The kids got to spend more time in pools than ever before and have gotten fairly comfortable in the water. Between Mexico and the YMCA they have really evolved in their water comfort. At first they would both cling to me for dear life and whimper; now they can float around in their life jackets and kick their way across the pool.  I need to get them in swimming lessons now that they aren't terrified to get into the water.
  • Lyme: Zoe was diagnosed with Lyme after a limp that wouldn't go away spurred us to take her to the ER. She was treated with a long and strong dose of antibiotics and we haven't seen any symptoms since. 
  • First Movie: We took the kids to see Frozen, their first movie in the Theater. Initially Leo was the biggest fan, but over time his love of the film has waned, while Zoe's love of it has only grown. For christmas she got Elsa and Anna dresses and wore them NONSTOP for about two months.
  • Alejandro: My dear cousin, Alejandro, passed away unexpectedly in December. It was a shock and a tragedy. Thankfully, jb encouraged me to jump on a plane to Mexico so I could be there with family. I hesitated because I'd never left the kids overnight before and Zoe was (and is) still nursing. I'm so glad I went. I ended up staying for five days, along with my mother. We buried him, spend time with family, began to go through his apartment. It was difficult, but I think I would have always regretted it if I didn't go.
  • Writing workshop: I participated in a writing workshop for women of color at the Kelly Writer's House. It was good for me for several reasons: 1. It was time to focus on myself and be among adults. 2. It was a WOC space, and I didn't realize how seldom I'm among women of color and how much I missed it. 3. It made me think about my writing in a different way and what I would like to do beyond this blog/diary. 4. I got to read some great and varied writing and meet some pretty amazing women.
2014 was a good year despite some difficult things. I'm grateful for all of it, even the hard things, but I'm also glad to but much of it behind me and try to look forward. 

Past years in Review: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 20112012 and 2013.

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's over

My father is gone. He passed away on February 2nd surrounded by his four children and my mother, his wife of nearly forty years.  I'm not really ready to write about it, but I miss this space and feel like I can't write about anything else until I acknowledge his absence and the journey our family took together to see him to the end of life in this world. It was hard, it was beautiful, it was ugly, and it was a pleasure.

Most of what I want to say I've already said in this post, and I'm so glad I wrote it all out when he was still around to read it. One of the hidden blessings in knowing death is approaching is having the opportunity to leave nothing unsaid. I know he read it because he was one of this blog's most loyal readers. My sister would often snap a picture of him at the computer reading about our latest adventures.

That's the main reason I started this blog - to keep loved ones up to date on what's going on in my life.  My first post was the day my parents and two youngest siblings moved to Mexico for two years. I wanted to span the distance between us somehow. And it did. I kept the blog up when they moved back to Pittsburgh and was especially glad to have it when we unexpectedly moved to Philadelphia when Leo was only three months old. I've been writing in this space for nearly 8 years, and through it all my father was the one person I knew checked it every day.

Over the last six months the kids and I have been splitting our time between Pittsburgh and Philly to maximize our time with my father and family. It hasn't been easy, but I feel very fortunate that we were able pick up and cross the state for a couple of weeks each month. The kids were troopers through it all (and so were jb, who had to miss us, and my mom, who hosted our chaos).

In the post I wrote for and about my father after his diagnosis I said that I worried about my family, but knew we were lucky to have each other - and that was the one truth and comfort I kept coming back to through it all. We were all under the same roof this past year more than we have been since before I left for college. Over the summer in Mexico, in November for about a month before my sister moved to LA, and again for the few weeks before and after my father passed. We took turns caring for my father, the children and each other. We tried to make sure everyone got a little time to escape on their own. We drank wine and reminisced and laughed. We cried and fought and asked forgiveness. We were all under a tremendous amount of stress, but we still managed to treat each other gently. Most of the time.

I feel so overwhelmingly lucky to have shared this difficult milestone surrounded by my loved ones and I'm so impressed with each of them for how they rose to the occasion when the going got tough. I'm so glad we could all be there, not only in the very end, but in the months leading up to it...and now in the aftermath as we navigate life without dad. I hope my dad felt surrounded by love in his final moments. Throughout his entire life. He was and is so very loved.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We had a SUPER Halloween

Leo has been emphatic that he wants to be Superman for Halloween all year - seriously, since last Halloween when he had some costume envy. I asked him intermittently throughout the year - and his answer was always the same. He has a deep and abiding love of all things superheroes, and Superman is the ultimate superhero in his opinion. Zoe, on the other hand, has a deep and abiding love of all things if Leo was going to be a superhero, she most certainly would be, too. I did a little due diligence by reminding her that she could be anything she wanted - for example, a bumblebee, a carrot.... Elsa .... a firefighter, or anything at all. Afterall, I didn't want a repeat of Leo's costume remorse last year...but she didn't budge. So it was settled, Leo would be Superman, and Zoe chose Batman. With both kids dressing as superheroes, there really wasn't any other choice but a family costume theme.  While jb seemed grateful that her costume hid her face, she was a great sport about joining in the fun.

In the weeks leading up to Halloween there was a lot of costume chat among kids on the playground and inevitably, there would be a kid who would tell Zoe that she couldn't be Batman or tell her that she must mean "Batgirl" and Zoe would tell that poor child what was what. She was unwavering in her insistence that she was Batman - and wouldn't answer to any other name when in costume. 

Both kids were just so, so, so, so excited when Halloween rolled least they were once I reminded them that it involved trick or treating (and that Election Day is just around the corner).

Here they are ready to pound the pavement:

We participated in the neighborhood parade and stopped at a few (ridiculously crowded) houses along the way to trick or treat. The parade route is not the smartest strategy if your goal is to maximize candy collecting, but it's so nice to see our neighbors and check out all the cool costumes.

Some houses really get into it! Unfortunately Zoe was terrified by this awesome Kang costume.

Once the parade was over we trick or treated our way home - the kids needed several rests and candy breaks along the way.

Both superheroes required being carried at some point.

Leo was just so proud of his costume. I thought about DIYing his costume or trying to piece together some of his gazillion superman pjs/shirts/sweatshirts into a makeshift costume - but I know he really envisioned the store-bought costume and I am glad we went ahead an got it.

Here are the superheroes winding down and heading home.

But not before stopping to strike a super pose.

Happy Halloween!