Tuesday, May 22, 2018

March and April... back to the grind. May is bringing some change....

As soon as we got back home from Colorado - literally - within hours, we were working on a project for Isabella and a project for Mercer that was due on Monday. Usually, kiddos don't have homework over breaks, but they did this time.  We were scrambling (and up late).  Unpack.... get back to the grind:  home, school, life.  

I had a big grant proposal go out for my school a week after our Colorado trip as well (I was, of course, doing some work over our vacation on the grant).  The day after it went out, I was let go.  Seriously.  Enrollment is down by about 100 families and they're discontinuing the high school.  Lots of the middle school and rising middle school families are bailing.... there's an online computer program that they started using this year and I think generally people hate it.  Although I'm no longer teaching the middle and high schoolers - I had moved to the K-5th grade group for the majority of my classes - I was still let go.    

[Speaking of not having high school anymore.... two of my former students graduated.  The 3rd senior did not.  He still has to work through the summer, but it was an absolute pleasure to really get to know these kids.  Jeremie - the boy here in blue - was adopted and he openly talks to me a lot about adoption stuff and things that I could do / should do to help Mercer as he gets older.  He's such a great kid!  It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know both of these young people.]

Back to the job situation:  my school gave me 1 ½ month’s notice (through the end of April), however, I still have not been able to find a job.  At this point (mid-May) I have been applying across multiple industries:  teaching, environmental non-profit, architecture and property / construction management… but after 2+ months of applying and interviewing, I still do not know what my future holds.  It’s a bit scary.  (And – it is, quite frankly, exhausting working full time with 2 children trying to find a job.)  Since early March, I have felt very uneasy, quite stressed out and a bit defeated – especially after not having heard anything from anyone for the first full month of applying.  At this point, I only have 2 prospects – A couple of weeks ago, I had a 2nd interview with an environmental non-profit whose board I have sat on previously + I have a 2nd interview lined up for an environmental non-profit where I used to work in early June.  I know that this may take some time, but I really wish I knew what my next chapter was going to look like.  This is HARD!!   

The woman who runs Isabella’s preschool offered to let me help her out until I find something.  For the past three weeks, I have been up & down on the floor with infants / chasing crawlers / etc.  Whew…. I am too old for this!  My “reprieve” is when I head back upstairs to my classroom to deliver Pre-K STEM / STEAM programming.  Here's a photo of Isabella in my class.  She's enjoying this new arrangement.  It’s cute, but it feels odd when my old K-8th graders ask me why I’m not teaching them anymore.  "I miss you.  Do you want to be downstairs with the babies?"  How do I even explain?!  Now - since this STEM / STEAM stuff is going well... the head of schools wants to keep me.  What?!  My morale is down and moving to preschool my pay is down, but I need something to continue to provide insurance for the family & because of that, Isabella will still need daycare while I work.  So, I am there for awhile.  (I am hoping that the work in preschool will cover insurance and her tuition?!)  It seems natural to keep her there.  

She has basically 2 more months until she starts Kindergarten where Mercer goes.  (She is so excited to ride the bus and go to school with brother.  He will be annoyed, of course, but this is the only year they’ll be in the same school – assuming that we keep them in our city schools all the way through.)  

Isabella attended a “Teddy Bear” tour at Mercer's school recently.  (When Mercer went, he took a frog.  Isabella took a pink poodle.)  This is done to get the kids into the building so they can see what it’s like.  Isabella is an old pro, of course, having visited Mercer up there dozens of times!   She is going to rock their worlds when she arrives on the scene in August!

She is doing MUCH better in her preschool, thankfully.   She still tries to push limits, but the teacher that’s been there since October (Ms. Helen) has really turned that classroom around.  She is very structured and has introduced more literacy and math and the kids are gobbling it up.  The structure has been great for ALL of the kids + it is really impressive with ALL of the things they have learned.  She’s starting to read lots of sight words and sounding out others she doesn't know to figure it out.   They even held a spelling bee!  

I loved the sweet little preschool where Mercer went all the way through & where Isabella started (which was recently sold).  I am grateful, however, for the extra things that this preschool offers… especially music and language (Spanish daily + Portuguese AND Mandarin once a week.)  She is now also getting this stellar STEM / STEAM programming once a week too from me. ~wink~  They get to go to the dress rehearsals of plays that the K-8th grade kids put on, dance performances, etc.   Her exposure to different things is fantastic!  

They recently had a tricycle rodeo too.  I was teaching a class so I couldn’t attend, but she rode around the parking lot after school for me.   Afterwards, we packed the trike up into the car and headed home for an evening to celebrate HER.  

We went out for a picnic, hung out at the playground and took her out for ice cream to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of her Adoption Day.  The amazing thing about this…. We ran into the social worker who did her paperwork and performed the home visits so we could finalize her adoption!  Serendipitous! 

We try to celebrate with an adoption day gift too.  Here's a cool one - a Roominate Kit (designed by women for girls to get them interested in engineering)  Isabella had fun putting it together and she literally rolled up her sleeves to get into it!  

It was late, so we created a circuit and wired up the fan another day.  Pretty cool!

The next week, we were back out at the same park & playground.  I "strongly encouraged" Mercer to take his bike, spent about 20 – 30 minutes with him off & on, giving him encouragement and a little balance as needed…. and he DID IT!  He’s ridden several times at home on his own as well.  (And at this writing in May - he's riding almost every day.  yay~)  

I texted the woman who is an Occupational Therapist who taught him initially to ride his bike 2 summers ago without training wheels and she was just as proud as I was that he finally did it on his own (and at home afterwards)!  It just fills my heart to see him want to get on the bike and ride.  SO PROUD.  Seriously proud!!Now we can go on bike-riding adventures again!

The City of Marietta opened a new section of a walking / bike trail that will eventually stretch from Kennesaw Mountain down to the Chattahoochee River.  (called the M2R Trail… Mountain to River)  Marietta Rocks was contacted (that’s me) to have a presence as the organizers wanted a lot of different kinds of artwork along the 2 mile stretch of the trail. 

Seeing that I’m not as into the rocks and my kids certainly are not, I only put out some that were painted back in January.  We placed the rocks, walked along the trail, ran into lots of neighbors and friends, checked out the murals and sculpture that was unveiled, took in music from live bands along the way and just had a lovely evening along about a mile or so of this new trail.  

Obviously, Isabella felt moved by the music at a couple of the different locations / different kinds of music playing (the one on the bricks is of a band that one of our neighbors is in and she did this funny gypsy dancing to.  Well, they played their bluesy-zydeco again and she went for the same style of dance.  She's a trip!  The artwork is supposed to be temporary, but I imagine it will be up for awhile!  There was such a great energy in our fair city that evening!     (Check out this photo of Isabella brooding by the LEGO "paintings."  How does she know how to brood?!) 

Mercer was supposed to have a bike rally along the new trail for Cub Scouts the next day, but it poured rain.  Honestly, we like the cub scout activities, but haven’t participated in as much this year as in years past.   

Maybe we can take bikes to ride the trail soon now that Mercer is feeling good on 2 wheels ?!!

Mercer did FINALLY make it to a cub scout camping trip.  He usually misses because of baseball... but convinced Todd to miss an early game so Mercer could go.  He actually has to be self-sufficient by next year if he wants to advance to Boy Scouts.  Todd took him and said it was nice (except for being cold and dodging rain)... not having to bear the brunt of the work and set-up / clean-up.  The boys are doing more and more each camping trip!  

One of the GREAT things about this trip.... he cooked (again) and now he has been interested in cooking something many weekends here at home!  He's also watching those kid cooking shows.  yay... this is a good thing!

This blog post is flowing by subject within March and April.  A couple of other things happened.... we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in early March.  It totally snuck up on us.  Because of the ski trip, we were so focused on that - then the grant in early March... so no planning for the anniversary!  (And there are no photos of us for the anniversary - but there was nothing too photo-worthy...we just went to a cajun restaurant we like that is hard to get into on a weekend.  It was a school night and the kids were cranky + they did not like cajun so much.... wonk-wonk for a nice dinner out!)  Oh well.  We will have to GO BIG for our 25th!  (We have been wanting to go on a Mediterranean cruise.... hmmm.... think we can pull that off in 5 years from now?!  We'll have a 10 year old and a 15 year old.  Yikes!) 

Aside from his camping weekend, March and April were full of baseball practices and baseball games for Mercer and coaching for Todd.   The team he is playing on is, unfortunately, will not advance through the playoffs.  There are a lot of young players who just moved into this division and several who have not played before.  Also - Todd noticed that they seem to lack focus as a group.  

Overall, however, Mercer is doing well.  He has really hit his stride with pitching and playing 1st base.  He’s only allowed to pitch a certain # of times each week so he straddles between the two different positions.  Unfortunately, he has had to stop pitching sometimes as his arm has been hurting him.  He’s been icing it down most nights, but… we hate to see him hurt!

They haven't won any games but again we are proud of him and his playing.  It has been fun to watch him and his natural instinct on the field!

Even though he is a little upset that he didn't win any games, he did have fun with his teammates.   The league photographer is - luckily - on our team.... so we get some nice shots from her (including this informal team photo + candid shots). 

Isabella - after seeing a girl play on Mercer's team - said that she wanted to try little league ball.  Since gymnastics and baseball would both be on Saturdays, we asked her to make a decision between the two.   Within a split second, she yelled out:  gymnastics!  (As of this writing - she is signed up for the summer session of Gymnastics.  whew!)

Mercer was playing baseball this year during the egg hunt, but he's sort of aging out of it.  Isabella was into it.  In our n'hood, we do a "progressive hunt" at multiple houses.  Isabella picked out her dress, a black band-aid for a boo boo on her knee and Disney princess winter boots. ha~

Easter fell on April 1st this year.  We did not have much luck getting the kids to smile for the camera at the same time, but here are our best shots.

We will sometimes go on a hike after church, however, a woman that we've known for a long time - the Executive Director for Keep Marietta Beautiful who says she's the "Georgia Grandma" to our kiddos - had a stroke.  She doesn't have family in town, so folks have been signing up to hang out with her.  We signed up for Easter and decided to make an Easter dinner instead of hike with a picnic.  

After church, she got to hang out with the kiddos while we cooked and then we had an egg hunt and played outside.  Of course, Todd and I were tired from cooking and cleaning and entertaining.... but she left exhausted too - saying this was "real life."  Yes... it was.  Yes... it is.  Our kiddos do have a lot of energy and take a bit of energy to keep up with!  ha~    

(Not sure where Isabella is getting this "kick-your-leg-up-for-the-photo" pose this Easter day.  Funny!)

The day before Easter, the kids went to a bowling party.  It's also funny that our kids wanted to dress up for the party - both of them!  

It was cool when the lights went down!

Here are some more outdoor shots to close out activities in March and April.... these photos are of one of our favorite places to hike -- where there is moving water and old mill ruins! Paper Mill park was especially beautiful the last weekend of April.  The colors reflected in the water were just gorgeous (pale green with deep purple undertones).  

Photos of the kids are included here of course, but I was really intrigued by the beautiful rippling water that day!!  What a relaxing hike it was playing in and splashing along the water's edge.  

Saturday, April 14, 2018

February was all about the 10 year old.

Mercer's school break aligned with mine and Isabella's; we decided to take a trip to Colorado. Mercer has been asking for years to see where he was born.  During this winter break, he was turning 10.  What a better gift than providing the opportunity to show him some of his roots?!  (Here are a couple of photos from the "reveal" -- an early birthday surprise.)

We flew into Colorado Springs late on a Saturday, then drove a few hours west to the place we were staying called Granby, Colorado.  It was really late when we arrived; we were pleasantly surprised to look out the windows at the first light of the sun to see the beautiful scenery in which we were surrounded.  

There were (snow-covered) farm relics spread out across the hill behind our hotel.  

The first day - Sunday - we did not have plans.  We got settled / unpacked / got groceries / got fitted for our ski gear / etc.  For fun, we got sleds from the front desk and went to play in the snow.  One thing we recognized right away -- how different the snow was.  It was DEEP and you would sink down when walking.  In fact, Isabella's boots kept falling off and getting stuck in the snow!  

We figured out that it was better to walk where there were already footprints and the snow was already compressed a bit.  There was an area behind our hotel that looked interesting (there was an old snow-covered wagon and an old farm combine)... so we explored that area. 

As it turned out, this was a golf course that was buried under close to 2 feet of snow!  (Todd and I would often sink into the snow up to our knees!)  We had a lot of fun sledding there with gorgeous snow-capped mountains & our hotel in the background.

 Monday, we had morning ski lessons at the nearby Granby Ranch Ski Resort.  We signed up for family lessons - although Todd did not really need them.  I learned on this trip that he skied for about 14 years in elementary, middle and high school.  He just needed a bit of a refresher.  I had only skied a couple of times and did not remember a thing (except that i zig-zagged to go slow).   This was a first for both of the kids.  Of course, Isabella picked it up right away.  Mercer had moments where he did well, then wouldn't do so great / get frustrated.  After the lessons were over, we had lunch and took a break... we went back out.  Isabella started going down the "bunny" slope with Todd -- holding onto one of his ski poles. 

Mercer and I hung out - testing out the shallow slope at the end of the bunny area, but ultimately went back to the ski school area.  He did well sometimes, however, by the end of the day he was done.  (We went in for an apres-ski hot cocoa while Todd and Isabella kept going down the slope.)

We had 2 days of equipment rental and 2 days of lift tickets... so decided that he needed additional time in ski school.  This time, he went into a youth class.  After class and a break - he was ready to go down the bunny slope and did not hesitate -- jumping on the lift all by himself.  There were several times he did well, but then he hit a point where he got frustrated and hung up / tripping a lot.  We took a break, but sort of forced him to continue.  The last few runs he had were great!   In fact - one of my favorite memories of the trip was on the 2nd to last run... Todd / Isabella in front, Mercer going down the slopes by himself and I was following.  It was fun to all be skiing down the bunny slope together as a family!  

As seen in this photo of Mercer and Isabella... the bunny slope is behind them.  It's a pretty decent slope!!  

Here are a couple of shots of Todd and Isabella in front of me at the top of the slope.  It is just beautiful to see the mountain ranges beyond the resort hotel and buildings! 

For the most part, she would hold onto one of his ski poles.  Sometimes when nearing the bottom of the slope, she would let go and navigate through people (gulp) and stopping on her own!

Mercer did say at the end:  "I learned how to go slow from mommy."  I was not trying to win any speed awards, so.... yes.  Slow.  

(But, knowing how to go slow IS important!)  :) 

Doesn't he look old in this photo?!  (Taken a couple days BEFORE he turns 10 years old~)

A couple of times, Todd broke away from us and was able to go to the Green slope (It looked plenty steep and was a long run, but they had more advanced slopes too.)  He was happy that he got a chance to do at least that one on his own.  Heres' the view from the top of the next level.  There were a couple of levels above what he did including a black diamond slope.

I accidentally booked the wrong ski resort.  I meant to book "Winter Park," but the day that I actually called, apparently the online search I did showed a different resort.  Our condo had links to two different resorts.  As it turns out, the slope that I originally planned to book was farther away from our condo, it was much more expensive AND it was a lot bigger.  The one we went to was closer, smaller and cost a little less.  In hind-sight - we are really glad that we ended up at the slope we did.... it was the "right" slope for us as we were new to this.  It was smaller (but Todd said still bigger than where he grew up skiing) and easier to get to since we were not used to driving in so much snow.  We would recommend it (Granby Ranch) and - if we go again - would definitely go back to that resort.

By the end of the 2nd day of skiing, we were happy to turn in the rental gear:  boots, skis, poles, and helmets.  It is unbelievable how much gear it actually takes to ski and how much work it is to unpack everything from the car / carry to resort / putting on all of the gear / getting out to the slope!!   In addition to the boots, skiis and poles we rented, we brought our own "neck gators," waterproof gloves, thin thermals, fleece mid-layer, waterproof outer layer that's not too thick, wool socks, waterproof boots, goggles.  

We tried to buy up a size what we could for the kids so they would have winter gear for another season - but whew - soooo much stuff went with us to Colorado!  We certainly needed it.  One day, we woke up and our phones said -7 degrees.    There were a couple of days when there would be a new fall to add to the 20+ inches of base that was already on the ground.

It worked out that we went skiing / spent the whole day on the slopes Monday and Tuesday, as it did get quite a bit colder Wednesday.  The only thing we had planned was a dog sled ride.  Here are the dogs rearing to go (but we weren't allowed to interact with them ahead of the ride).

We were in these big wooden sleds with foam and sleeping bags to cushion / keep us warm.  
Mercer and I rode in one sled.  Todd and Isabella in another.   The first few photos are Todd's - taken while riding.  

The masher took photos of Mercer and myself in our sled (you can see the foam and the sleeping bag set-up).  I snagged a photo of the masher bringing in Todd and Isabella’s sled next to ours.

Mercer got to drive our sled at the very end with no help from the masher.  (He is squatting down behind Mercer in the photo - you can barely see him!) Isabella got to drive as well, although the masher was in control of that sled.  

It had to have been a pretty cool experience for the two of them!!  

The scenery / the backdrop for the dog sled ride was beautiful!  Sometimes you would catch glimpses of the mountain ranges on the south side of the property.  A lot of times, you were riding through snow-capped evergreens.  And the trees would open up and you would be in an open field with the mountain range stretching along the west side of you. 

As mentioned, you are not allowed to pet or interact with the dogs before the ride, however, you are encouraged to praise and pet them afterwards.  

Included are some photos from the photographer that is at each session too.  (This is why we have the most pictures of this experience!)


Here's a photo sent to us several days after our ride.  There are only 3 sleds that go out at a time.  The 3 sleds that went before us were occupied by a family from Marietta.... but we did not know them.  When it was our time-slot, we were in 2 sleds and the 3rd was occupied by a mom and daughter from metro Atlanta.  The woman who runs the dog sled business is from south of Atlanta, so she wanted to get a photo of all of the Georgia families together.  Crazy, huh?!  

One final note:  the dogs go to the bathroom while running.... and you're downwind of them!   ha

We had lunch in the nearby town of Winter Park, then wrapped up our day with hot chocolate in our room, then play in the game room in the hotel.  Simple play.  Sometimes, I think we feel like the kids need "big" experiences, but honestly, they enjoy this family time too!

The next day (Thursday) we went tubing.  Soooo glad we did not spend another entire day on the slopes, as the wind was whipping around and I got wind burn on my face in the short 1 hour that we were out there.  

Todd took turns escorting Mercer and Isabella down the "black diamond" tubing slope.  I was happy enough on the main slope which was plenty steep enough!   The photo with the yellow and black flag shows the extra steep slope for the black diamond launch.  The launch where I was was only about 20 feet lower (and maybe with a gentler slope) but it's still high!  

It was fun, a little scary at first AND exhilarating.  Here's some context of the black diamond slope and a hut at the bottom of the hill.  

Next photo (so you get a sense of how big the hill is):  Todd and one of the kids is in one of the double tubes that looks like a tiny spec coming down the hill!

These hills were WAAAAY bigger than the "snow mountain" guided tubing we did last winter at Stone Mountain park. 

Somehow, Isabella fell asleep in the tube at the end of our session ?!  

You can see the full range of slopes beyond.  The black diamond to the far right.

We went out for hot chocolate to warm up from the tubing, then went out for bowling afterwards.  This was our last day in the Winter Park / Granby area.

Friday was Mercer's ACTUAL birthday.  We snapped a photo of the birthday boy (he looks sweet and innocent in the top one - which he is - and really old in the one below).  

After packing up the car, we checked out of our condo in Granby, drove through Winter Park, over and down the mountain (which was scary) towards the highway.  One thing that was crazy:  there were people who would park on the side of the road, hike up and ski down random sides of the mountain.  (Back-country skiing?!)  Lots of cars pulled off to the side and spotting of footprints for the trek upwards.

We made plans to meet my cousin Josh who lives in Denver.  We met for lunch (where we officially sang happy birthday to Mercer with ice cream and a candle), then Josh took us to the Denver Science Museum.  We spent the afternoon there.  

When it was closing, we headed to the other side of town to go to this place called "Casa Bonita."  It was quite an experience... it was made up of multiple levels of dining all focused on a 3 story water-fall.  

There were these cheesy short skits that took place every 15 minutes or so -- all which ended up with someone jumping into the pool of water.  

There was an arcade for the kiddos, a little maze through a cave, a puppet show and a mariachi band.  This place was DEFINITELY designed for kiddos.  Todd, Josh, Dan (Josh's partner) and I were all "over" it... not our scene... but Mercer and Isabella had a BLAST.   

Josh works at a group of hotels and he actually set us up for a night in Denver so that we did not have to drive the 2 hours back to Granby and back over the mountain, thankfully!  We saw him briefly the next morning, then took a quick driving tour of downtown Denver (including LoDo - Lower Downtown - where I spent some time / we spotted my old architecture firm's office near the Rockie's stadium.)  And - this big blue bear which Mercer and I read about in a book on Colorado.  We HAD to see him!

Finally, we headed south to Colorado Springs.  We were meeting Danielle's family there.  To be honest, we were nervous about meeting them.  As it turns out, they were nervous too - especially her dad who we met 10 years ago.  Danielle's step-mom (Connie) and I were messaging back and forth leading up to the meeting; she said that Mercer was Danielle's dad's only grandchild and he (Ken) was emotional the morning of our meeting and wanted to make sure we were going to come through.  


We did.  

And, we're glad.  

It was a bit awkward at first.  We met at a pizza restaurant in historic Colorado Springs.  We had some small talk before ordering, ate, then talked a long time afterwards.  They were really sweet and brought Mercer a birthday gift (an RC drone + a package with some light-up "shoe skates" from two of Danielle's friends). 

They also gave Mercer Danielle's Denver Bronco's jersey.  We were actually considering getting him one at one point because he says his favorite football team is Denver.  This one has WAY more meaning though.  (He needs to grow into it, of course, but just so so cool!)  

They were even so kind as to have brought something for Isabella:  stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons.  As it turned out, the crayons were the entertainment that day.  Isabella - with her sassy self - handed out crayons to everyone at the table and "demanded" that people draw pictures on the kraft paper table covering.  She likes to play teacher.  She likes to tell people what to do. Well, it was great and lightened up the mood!  Connie and Isabella went back and forth - Isabella putting an X across each drawing that she made.  It upset her (but seemed to upset her in a playful way).... that she kept trying and kept trying to gain Isabella's approval to no avail.  Isabella had her number!! 

After awhile Connie said "whew - you've got your hands full.  Good luck with that one!"

Danielle's brother (pictured here in a photo that Isabella took) supposedly had not laughed since last fall.  That day - it took him awhile to warm up, but he did.  Isabella was flirting so much with him.  During the drawing episode - the rudimentary drawings that he (Dustin) would draw, Isabella would put a check mark or star next to and give him the prize.   

Danielle's step mom was grateful to see that / thought Isabella had a heck of a lot of spunk but also had a gift to see that he needed the extra attention.  Here's what she wrote:  

[Ken] said Danielle could not have picked better parents for him.  Meeting him [Mercer] I think put a lot to rest with him emotionally.  I thank you and Todd for that.

Isabella did something yesterday that not many do and that's put a smile on Dustin's face.  Ken and I both said she had a gift of seeing when others are in need of some special attention and that's the one she chooses.  He talked about her all evening.  Most kids shy away from him because he's so much larger than them and so quiet but not her lol...

Not sure why Isabella is not smiling in these photos, but she does get in a mood sometimes!  The boy at the far end of the table (across from me) is Danielle's half-brother.  

He is the young boy seen in this sweet photo posted on the blog 10 years ago.  Now - he's in ROTC and is in high school! 

Mercer did not know them since he was so young.  The meeting was not for "him."   Going to Colorado Springs in the first place - and planning the whole trip out there - however was for him.  We showed him the hotel where we stayed the first 2 weeks of his life.  He got to see an Olympic training center as we drove by & he thought that was cool because the Olympics were going on at the time. He got to see the landscape and a little bit of the city.

This meeting at the pizza restaurant was really for Danielle's family.  The stress leading up to it and the awkwardness of the initial meeting was all OK considering that Danielle gave us such a beautiful, amazing gift.  

(Note - as soon as we landed back in Atlanta - Isabella promptly says... for my birthday, I want to go to Colorado!)  

I guess it was a successful family trip!!