Saturday, January 2, 2016

Year in Review: 2015

2015 has been a difficult year. It started with me still reeling from the loss of my cousin in December 2014 and went on to include three more losses that have left me feeling like a grief stricken pinball.
  • My dad passed away after his battle with pancreatic cancer in February. 
  • My (great) Uncle Steve passed away at 90 years old in November. I wasn't able to make it to his funeral. Obviously at 90 years old, it wasn't unexpected, but he was SUCH a cool person and was so pained by the loss of my father...I just wasn't ready to lose him.
  • My brother-in-law Christopher passed away just two weeks ago, right before Christmas. He was so smart and kind - and full of life. And so very loved. There are no words.
Those three (four) losses alone are enough for me to want to say good riddance to 2015. Plus there is the difficulty of spending the holiday season planning and attending a funeral only to be followed by cleaning out Christopher's apartment before the end of the year. We inherited his two cats (adorable, sweet kittens) and our existing cat (also an adorable sweet thing) has not exactly welcomed them with open arms. It's getting better and now they are able be in the same room without hissing and mooing, but our couch was a casualty in the transitional turf war...and if you have any experience with cat urine, then you know that it's not an easy thing to come back from. Jess entered the new year unemployed (nothing dramatic, just the end of her contract and she has several promising leads for new employment, and we will be fine thanks to savings...but still, this employment gap is stress she does not need right now). And just to make sure 2015 kicked us in the ass on the way out the door, our washer leaked and flooded our basement. So. I'm very, very tempted to say a giant "Fuck you" to 2015...but I can't deny that it contained some immense joy and beauty as well. 
  • Outpouring of love and support - Throughout the year people have made a point of letting us know we are not alone. Phone calls, cards, food, texts, and general kindness have reminded us again and again that we are loved. 
  • Pops and Julian moved in - After Uncle Daniel moved out, we only had a few months as a household with only our nuclear family of four. Pops and Uncle Julian moved in in August and with them came their cat, Chica. This marked the beginning of us going from a zero-cat household to kitty city. As I've said before, living with family isn't always easy, but I really like sharing a roof with extended family.
  • Leo started kindergarten - Leo started Kindergarten at a local public school and has really blossomed during his short time there. His teacher has over 35 years experience and he's enjoying every day and cultivating a love of school - which was my only hope for his first year of school.
  • Zoe weaned - This one is bittersweet, but Zoe stopped nursing (with encouragement from me) in August. She still asks about it, but over all the weaning went smoothly. It's nice (and a little strange) to have my body back. Up until that point I was either nursing or pregnant (or both!) for six years!
  • Mexico - The kids and I spent a month at my mother's house in Mexico this summer. We visited my cousin (the twin of the cousin that passed away last year) in Puebla, we climbed pyramids, visited ancient churches, ate delicious food, explored the continent's first public library, climbed a mountain, ate fresh trout, swam in a river, missed jb, got massages, hiked ravines, explored caves, and spent time with family. 
  • Started running - After my dad passed I knew I needed to make a change and I started running - one minute at a time, until I was able to finish my first 5k. (I have like three posts about this in drafts...but the urge to write has really been hard to muster.)
  • Lost 50 lbs - hand in hand with running, I also made some changes to my eating habits after some major weight gain leading up to and following my father's death. The loss wasn't easy, and I'll likely never be thin...but I'm proud that my body feels like mine again and that I have kept it off for a few months despite major emotional rollercoaster-ing.
  • Camping - We managed to pack in two camping trips over the summer including one beach trip.
  • Zoe School - With Leo at kindergarten, Zoe has been at pre-school on her own. She was doing as many as four days/week earlier in the year, but we've taken her down to two days/week. While school has been great for Zoe, I really feel like this is my narrow window to really get some one-on-one time with her in. We've never really had that before this year and it's been great getting to know each other in some new ways. At the same time, she's loving preschool and really coming into her own now that she's not Leo's little sister at school.
  • Teaching - I actually started teaching at the kids' preschool last year, but this year is my first full year as a teacher. I'm only there 1-2 days/week, so my experience is still fairly limited, but I've learned a lot and found some great joy in both the kids and my co-workers.
  • Time to myself/with friends - With Leo in school five full days, and Zoe in school one morning  (two for a couple of months there) without me, I find myself with a bit of time to myself each week. I use this time for running, yoga, coffee, seeing friends, or shopping in stores that are not kid friendly. It's not a ton of time, but it's made a big difference in my psyche. Plus, as always, jb makes herculean efforts so that I get time out with friends fairly regularly - and now that neither kid is nursing, bedtime is not as much of a restraint as it had been in the past.
  • Fun Home - speaking of time to myself, I had the opportunity to go see Fun Home on broadway and it was amazing. Plus, a day in NYC with other adults? Yes please!
  • Hosted Thanksgiving - we hosted a holiday for both sides of our families! It went really well and a good time was had by all. I look forward to doing it again, but this year will forever be special not only because it was the first one in our home, but it was also the first without my dad and the last one we shared with Christopher.
So, life has presented great sorrow and difficult challenges, but we've had our share of joy and beauty...I guess that's what life is. Still, 2016, I wouldn't mind if you could take it a little easy on us, please.

Past years in Review: 200720082009201020112012, 2013 and 2014.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Run, Mama, Run

I'm doing something totally out of character. I'm running a 5k. In the past I've walked 5ks. I've enjoyed other ways of being active; Zumba, yoga, swimming... But until fairly recently, I've never run more than a few steps in a row - and those rare instances were usually an emergency situation, like trying to get the last piece of cake or something.

Recently I gained a whole bunch of weight. Right around when my dad was super sick and right after he passed I gained about 30+ lbs. Now I've always been chubby to fat, but healthy and reasonably active. Well, between grief, and weight gain, and being more sedentary than usual I was feeling really yucky. I knew I needed to make some changes, but that was so much easier said than done.

Around April I cut out sugar (except for some occasional indulgences) and drastically cut back on processed carbohydrates. I made a list of goals that help me feel more alive and fulfilled - like getting outside every day, cooking food for my family, or adult time with friends.

As I started to feel more like myself I searched for other changes or challenges and I started doing the Couch 2 5K program. This is an interval program that teaches anyone without running experience how to run-ish. I used a phone app that follows the program and prompts you to run for a minute then walk for several minutes and gradually ups your running time. Let me tell you, those first minutes were the longest minutes of my freaking life. I was sure I wasn't cut out for this. But I kept at it and slowly but surely I've worked up to running for 25 minutes straight. Granted I'm VERY slow, but i'm doing it. As my mother so poetically put it: I'm slower than a turtle stampeding through peanut butter, but I run. Or jog. Or walk/jog/wog.

Well, as part of the program and to keep me goal oriented, I signed up for a 5k in November: The PanCan Purple Stride. As you probably know, my dad passed away from pancreatic cancer in February. I thought this was a fitting way to honor him as I work my way out of the hole left by his departure - both physically and emotionally. My goal is to run/jog/wog the whole thing, which I'm still training towards. But I'm proud of myself for getting as far as I have. I'll consider it a success even if it takes me an hour. I'd love your support (monetary or in spirit).

I'm doing this for my dad. For my kids. And of course, for myself. I'm grateful for the support network that has gotten me through and all the wonderful things I have to live for. I know my dad was so grateful for all the blessing in our lives, and that's what I want to carry with me now that his physical presence is gone. Send me good energy on November 7th!

Friday, September 18, 2015

First Day of Kindergarten

Leo survived his first day! The day began with jb, myself, zoe, pops, Uncle Julian and Uncle Daniel (who got on a bus at 6 am so he could be there to cook Leo breakfast on his first day) helping Leo get ready. He was nervous, but still smiling. Uncle Daniel made eggs, bacon and pancakes and everyone assured him he was going to have a great day and that the outfit he chose was looking sharp.

He was excited to have a way to display his button collection.

Not only was it Leo's first day of kindergarten, but it was also Zoe's first day at preschool without her brother.

When Leo picked out his backpack, I couldn't figure out why he had chosen blue when he usually prefers colors in the pink/purple range...then I saw jb's backpack next to Leo's and I figured out his motivation. Just like dad.

Once we got to the school yard Leo's nerves spiked. We found his classroom's spot and let him line up with his classmates. We stepped back with the other parents and that's when the lip quivering began. (These details and pictures shared with Leo's permission) When he broke into tears jb rushed over to give him a hug and a little pep talk. It was heartbreaking to watch and it took all of my self control to not scoop him up and run out of the school yard with a "Maybe next year!" yelled over my shoulder.

Quickly, his teacher noticed he was crying and rushed over. She held his hand while also still instructing the rest of the class on the morning procedures. She did a great job of comforting him without coddling and STILL performing her teacher role for the rest of the students. It was clear he was in capable hands.

With tears streaming down both mine and Zoe's faces we watched as he entered the school with his class...thankfully Leo had stopped crying by the time they reached the door. Zoe said she was too worried about Leo to go to preschool, but managed push through. jb, though the only one who didn't shed a tear that morning, was the one most preoccupied with worry about Leo throughout the day.

Zoe and I had a one-on-one library and coffee date while we counted down the minutes until we could pick up her brother. 

When we all met back up to pick up Leo he was all smiles and gave Kindergarten two thumbs up. He said it was "awesome" and "just like preschool except your mom doesn't come." The details of the days are emerging slowly but surely...and I'm trying to limit the thousands of questions I have for him. It is so wild that I know so little about his day! Deep breath. 

He can't wait to go back on Monday, and I'm so proud of my big kid. I really think it's going to be a great year.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Kindergarten Countdown

There is so much I want to write - I can't believe I haven't even done a recap of this year's Mexico trip - but the truth is my head is dominated by the fact that Leo starts kindergarten in TWO days. So many feelings...for everyone in the family.

Leo getting comfortable in his classroom

Leo is feeling both excited and nervous, though since meeting his teacher last week, excited has trumped nervous most days. We got a bunch of kindergarten/school books out of the library (oh, and Leo got his own library card!) to prepare. I actually teared up while reading these books to him...I am not sure I will be able to hold it together on the first day.

He's got a backpack, folders, new shoes, a lunch box and a burning desire to learn as much as he can. I'd say he's ready. He knows a few kids in his class already from around the neighborhood and is looking forward to playing and learning with them. He even started a journal - which he enjoys, but also finds exhausting. I can totally relate.

I'm less ready...but ready or not, Kindergarten starts on Thursday. We are really optimistic about this milestone. I think he will do great. Though I am anticipating a transition period...for all of us. Zoe hasn't been apart from her brother for more than a couple hours sporadically. Though I think it will be good for them to have some time to grow on their own, they have been two peas in a pod for three plus years and will miss each other greatly. Let's not even get started on how much I will miss him.

Sigh. It will be wonderful...I know it will...but like so many wonderful things, it will also be hard. Wish us all luck this week.

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.