Sunday, December 10, 2017

November - Isabella's Birthday and Thanksgiving

November brought the end of baseball for Mercer (and Todd).  Mercer is still pitching as seen here in one of his "October" baseball games (hence the pink socks) and playing 1st base.  He started to have a little bit of pain in his pitching arm this season and had to time games / ice and rest his arm periodically.  He seems that he is enjoying thought, so...

Thankfully he has a break from baseball 'til the spring.   He's got basketball over the winter and it's much less intense.  Hopefully his arm will heal up. 

Our kiddos are active and they need the winter-time activities.  This is why it stinks that Isabella's gymnastics is taking a 2 month break!  We drive by the building almost every day and she keeps asking me when we get to go back.  In its absence, we know that it is something that she really enjoys!

The annual neighborhood artist market took place.  This year, I was asked to run a children's booth for rock painting.  It was a bit chilly this year - I don't know that the vendors got the turn-out that they wanted, but it's always a fun time.  

Mercer was running around with some of the other boys from the neighborhood.  Isabella put on a show during one of the sets that a local band was playing.  Todd was trying to keep up with both the kids + Hip Hop!

Isabella turned 5 earlier this month.  Hard to believe she’s been with us for only 5 years…. It feels like she has always been a part of our family!  She is a tall drink of water…. full of personality.  

And.... she's getting taller.  Slow and steady compared to Mercer's measurements (on the left hand side of the cased opening).  Man - the kids LOVE getting their annual mark on the wall. 

She adds SO much joy to our lives!   It is so hard to put into words how she lights up a room when she walks in and owns it!!  (or how she sometimes runs in like a bull in a china shop and owns it too!)  She is so strong-willed and knows what she wants.   She is super smart.  She is sweet and loving.  She also knows how to “turn on the charm” and may be a good actress one day…. She can turn on those puppy dog eyes when she needs to.  Hilarious how a tiny little person has so much charm and how to read different situations.  We are exhausted, but so very happy and blessed to be her parents.  Whew!

We had a little party at her school with classmates with the reading of a Dr. Seuss book, muffins, juice and goldfish the morning of her actual birthday.  That night, she wanted mac and cheese for dinner (she loves it, but we never make it at home)…. so we went out to dinner at a southern restaurant.   

The day before, we had a Spiderman birthday party for her at home.  Spiderman was her request, of course!  We invited a few superhero girls from our neighborhood over (plus a friend for Mercer to hang out with) for pizza, cake, and the making of some superhero accessories:  cape, masks, and slime.  

The slime was a huge hit – even with the older boys!   It rained, so we weren’t able to do the Spider-Man silly string fight outside or the punching bag balloon training outside either.  But - she had a good time and that's what matters.   

The "big" thing we did to celebrate was going to Cirque du Soliel.  Todd and I love Cirque, but we would normally have gotten a baby-sitter to go to the show.  Well, as a special treat, we took the kids and they were both so fascinated with it.   We've seen a bunch of shows -- and this one had to be way up there as one of the top ones!  Luzia had acrobatics, of course, but these amazing animal puppets and water.  There was a cool effect with making images in water at one point.  

It's great showing them new things and seeing the wonder in their eyes.  We were harassed by the "clown" who comes around in the beginning and messed with Todd's popcorn.  (Mercer did not like the contortionist, but other than that - he had a blast.  Isabella loved ALL of it.)  

Don't know what is going on with my camera... but loved this (blurry) image.  Todd got a guitar for his birthday / father's day earlier this year.  One song he was practicing... Happy Birthday To You.  He plucked the tune while we sang to Isabella (who also got a little guitar for her birthday!)  It was so sweet!  

My school has two grandparent's day events each year.  Isabella got to play "mama bear" in acting out the Three Little Bears skit in her class.  The (new) teacher also had each student read a simple Dick and Jane book in front of the grandparents.  This new teacher is pretty awesome.  Isabella started to turn around her behavior before Mrs. Helen arrived, but she is ON IT and behavior across the entire classroom has improved dramatically.  

The kids and I had the whole week off for Thanksgiving, so we went to Florida for a few days.  It was a lot of driving and we didn't have anything planned, but it was good to get down there. 

Mercer hasn't seen "Florida" grandma and grandpa in a year!!  We hung out at their place, went to a Thanksgiving dinner at their church, caught lizards, played games and Charlie even showed the kids how to shoot a BB gun!  We visited Aunt Melissa's new farm too.  She's going to grow a lot of moringa trees as those she's been growing in her yard are not keeping up with the demand she has for this medicinal plant.

(Mercer also "helped" grandpa change a headlight bulb in his car.  crazy juxtaposition of grandpa's tee shirt, huh?!) 

One of the highlights during our drive-time... we finally made it to the Mercer University campus bookstore while it was open and got some Mercer-branded swag!  I have to admit - it was pretty cool to see Mercer's name EVERYWHERE!  

We spent the actual day of Thanksgiving with Karla, Steve, Susan and her family.  Even though we don't see them often (it may have been several years since they've moved to Arkansas and we've seen Susan and the kids).  Mercer and Susan's youngest, Saber, played together really well.  (They are about 9 months apart in age -- Saber having just turned 9.)

We just love them and their family so much!  We always feel a part of their family (after all - they were my 2nd family growing up!)  We ate, watched movies, watched football and the kids got to use up the silly string from Isabella's birthday party.  

Mostly, it was just wonderful talking and catching up with Susan.   We will hopefully make it to Arkansas one day....
The day after Thanksgiving, we did NOT shop.  Isabella and I went to Martina's little girl tea party again this year.  Isabella was all over the place, but Martina absolutely loved her fiery spirit and getting to know Isabella a bit better.  Isabella was ga-ga for the little puppy dogs that live there chasing them and trying to pick them up!  Poor dogs had to hide from Isabella most of tea party!

One thing to note is the giant doll-house in the background.  I never paid attention to it 'til that week... Isabella got a smaller doll-house that week' it is really really nice one. 
Real wood construction and siding, has real little asphalt shingles on the roof, and is completed on the interior with finishes and furniture.  There is some repair work (for instance none of the columns were still intact, but already purchased them - just need to cut and paint them / nail into place.  Maybe one day, she will want to wire this for electricity.... a great "STEM" project for the two of us?!

We did some other stuff at the very end of November, but it's Christmas related so it will go on the next post.  I will end this post with a couple of cute things that Isabella says that - although she speaks very clearly and very well for her age - these little things still allow me to hold onto that little toddler / baby-talk that is just so darn cute:  "Swish wiper" for windshield wiper and "snuzzle"

Snuzzle is what we do pretty much every time I put her to bed... we snuggle (and I fall asleep with her.  It's not a great habit, but it's soooo sweet and I enjoy it. I know it won't last forever as our little one is getting so big and independent.

Monday, November 20, 2017

October was a hard month for us....

October was a hard, hard month.   Isabella was getting in a lot of trouble at school – so much so that we were starting to look at other options for her.  Kind of in the height of this struggle, we found out that Mercer’s birthmother, Danielle, was shot and killed by her domestic partner.  It is just senseless.   

Danielle’s step-mother called and told us the horribly sad news.  We kept in touch via text too to learn more of the details as they were unfolding (like catching the person who did this, details of the funeral, and the like).  We struggled with what to tell Mercer. 

We talked to his school counselor and she suggested that we NOT keep it from him – that we tell him she passed away without giving any details.  That was about all he could comprehend at his age.  If he had more questions, we could go into more detail as he was older, but he did not need to know specifics just yet.  

She said that if we kept it from him now / told him about it when he was older, that could actually be worse for him.  He would – in addition to the details of the death – also have questions about why we kept it a secret.    We took Isabella to a friend’s house to play so we could 100% focus on him.  We looked at photos of when he was born, our time in Colorado, and also when we flew Danielle out for Mercer’s 1st birthday. 

He was quiet and solemn.  He did not really get a chance to know her, so he seemed OK with the news.  I am sure that he will have more questions as he gets older and want to know more about Danielle.   She has changed quite a bit from the timid young woman we met almost 10 years ago.  We cannot know how much she struggled with her decision to give Mercer up for adoption, but it was evident how much she loved him.  It was obvious in her communications and letters.

Obviously we are grateful beyond words to her for making this selfless decision -- we cannot express how much so.  We admired her for her bravery, he kind-heartedness and her love for him.   She will always be remembered by Todd and myself.  Danielle’s family sent Mercer a letter, an obituary, some photos, and a necklace.  We have tucked it away for when he asks questions later.      This sweet spirit "earned her wings" (as her family put it) on October 2nd, 2017.  Danielle was 28 years old.  

We also had an architecture friend, Rob, lose his battle to brain cancer in October.  Even though he lived in Chicago and the last time we saw him was before we had kids... this bubbly goofy fun-loving fella had a special place in our hearts.  Looking through old photos just brings about a smile.  He had that gift.  

Both are reminders on how short life can be.... and the importance of enjoying the friends / families / experiences we do have here on this earth to the fullest.  <3 

It is hard to transition, but - while others were going through these very hard times, we were trying to make some good memories with the kids.  Unfortunately, I describe our daily routine as "survival" mode sometimes... just trying to get through the day (with work / school / homework / after school activities / dinner / bed-time / etc. )  That is not a great way to describe what is happening - obviously - but that is how it sometimes feels.  I think that this is why we try to do something fun on the weekends - as much as we can.

Isabella and I had a fall break that Mercer did not, so she and I went to North Carolina for a short visit.  We got to see my cousin, Tracy and her daughter Kaitlin at a softball game.  We had lunch with Aunt Becky and Uncle Tony and had a surprise visit from Uncle Mel.   We stay with grandma (my mom) and we always visit great-grandma / great-grandpa as often as we can.   So, we got to see quite a bit of our family on this quick visit~

For this animal lover, we have to go to the NC Zoo.  We watched the sea lions work with a trainer, hung out with the lonely polar bear for awhile, and played in the kid zone.   

When we came back, Mercer’s school had a 1-day teacher work-day so he came to a STEM camp that I was helping to run that day.  Then… it was back to normal for everyone.  

We were back in school and we had a better time with Isabella (since we knew she was having issues at school we really reinforced good behavior at home,  held to consequences + offered rewards for good behavior).  She’s now gets something out of the “treasure bag” like Mercer used to and we’re working up to earning “Isabella Fun Days” like Mercer used to get as well.  It seems that he went through a similar phase when he was in Pre-K and early in elementary.  I have to say I see a pattern in many of the young kiddos…. 

I’m teaching K-5 and it seems that the Kindergartners and 1st graders have very little self-control in general.  I take a DEEP breath every time a K or 1st grade class leaves my classroom.  But, it is fun overall. Whew~

We went to this amazing event that we go to every year down at Serenbe called RayDay in honor of the founder of Interface Carpet. 

Isabella, of course, stays in the area where the horses are.  (and, thus, so did Todd.)  

She also got her whole face painted this year (it was super cute). 

Mercer is starting to get to the age where he doesn’t like going as much – he’s getting too cool / too old for the little kid activities.  (sigh)  Thankfully, there was something new this year -- a building station for building bird houses and bat houses.  Mercer built both.  

There was free food trucks and free-flowing drinks from Sweetwater Brewery.  I got to catch up with some of my old colleagues and people in the sustainability industry.  

In the end - we ALL had a nice time... even Mercer.  (He enjoyed the building + found a boy his age to jump on an in-ground trampoline with.)  Next year, however, we may need to invite a friend to go with him!   Don't you love this tree?  So do the kids.... they're drawn to it every year. 

We celebrated Hip-Hop's adoption day by giving him some doggie ice cream before we went down to Serenbe.  

(Poor guy couldn't come with us there, however, we saw a few pups... hmmmm.....??)

Hip-Hop has brought SO MUCH JOY to our little family.  1 year -- feels like he's been a part of the family forever! 

The following weekend, we took another day-trip.  

This time, we headed north.  We picked out some pumpkins at Burt's Farm and then visited Amicalola Falls State Park for a hike up to the observation area.  

There's not a lot to write about but there are a lot of great (orange-themed) photos of the kids!!    Isabella has some funny poses.... and Mercer LOVES  / thinks it is hilarious (still) to give bunny ears during a photo.  ~Sweet kiddos!~

Because of the rules of the farm, we were not able to bring Hip-Hop along on this trip.  He would not have liked the hundreds and hundreds of metal-grate stairs to the top and back down at Amicalola Falls... so it was probably for the best.... but we did miss a pumpkin photo with our 3rd (4-legged) kid.  :( 

The kids stopped on just about every rock you could climb on too that was adjacent to the path.  "Take our picture up here!" was constantly being blurted out.

A few weeks earlier (at the very end of September -- a couple of days after the last blog was published), we DID get to take Hip-Hop to a great destination:  Sweetwater Creek State Park.  

We love going on hikes where there is water and/or where there are historic ruins.  This place has BOTH!  We had a great time navigating our way across rocks to destinations in the middle of the river (with the kids and dog).  We even found some painted rocks while there.  

Again - not much to write about, but here are a bunch of photos at this park.  

In sorting through them all, it is hard not to publish a lot of these photos... the warm fall light and the backdrop is just so beautiful!

So.... let it be known that the dog DOES get to go out!  He loves hiking, actually, and we love taking him when we can.

Finally:  HALLOWEEN.

My school had a fall festival and they encouraged K-12 students to dress up the Friday before Halloween.  The preschoolers were to have a costume "parade" through the school the following Tuesday -- on the actual date of Halloween.  Unfortunately for Isabella... I followed directions.  As it turned out, she was the ONLY kid in her classroom of 18 students who did NOT dress up.  Oh.... the tears were welling.  (And I'm not just talking about Isabella's!)  I felt awful.  Horrible.  

But - remembered that I had given several animal masks to the drama teacher at our school, so I asked her if we could use one for Isabella.  Of course!  (in fact, she was wearing one + a hat.... to be a "party animal.")  So - we turned Isabella into a party animal too.  When Suzanne and I went to Isabella's room that morning and we made a big deal about it / took her photo... she said in a feeble little toddler-sounding voice she silently asked "but where's my costume that covers my body?"   UGH.  Stab in the heart!  All of her little classmates had on head-to-toe costumes.  I get it... but what to do?!  

Well, in Suzanne's stash was a ragged piece of red fabric.  It was cut in an odd shape.  It had holes all through it... but I took it to Isabella and wrapped it around her neck like a cape... and she was BEAMING. She felt like a princess.  Seriously! It (the fabric) was sooooo sad and looked to have been moth-eaten, but Isabella LOVED that little ragged piece of fabric!    (sigh)

Thankfully, the rest of Halloween was pretty normal:  carve pumpkins, make "finger" cookies, go to neighborhood party, kids go trick-or-treating. 
Todd was with Isabella while I handed out candy.  Mercer (like last year) wanted to go ahead / go faster than his little sister so he could capitalize on more houses.  He did.  He went with some neighbor kids and their gracious parents.  He was happy with his stash this year.... as well as his "morph" costume.  

Isabella surprised us by wanting to be Elsa from the movie Frozen.  She already had a dress that grandma and grandpa in Florida had sent her.  We found a wig, but it didn't quite fit.  Oh well!  

She was happy -- they BOTH were happy -- and that's all that matters!  :)