Tuesday, January 31, 2017

So far this new year...

We had a tiny snow storm.  Tiny.  There was maybe 1/2" of snow in our area covered by a thin layer of ice.  Mercer's school was cancelled for about 1 1/2 days because of it. Mine and Isabella's school was not.    There was barely anything to play in.  Todd took the kids out the first day for a little while.  I took them out the next to search for icicles.  We did have to get out in it to take Hip-Hop fro his walks.  He actually seemed to like it!  

I don't think that we posted on the blog about the election back in November.  But - there was a pretty historic election where a woman was a presidential nominee.  Most recently, there was a highly-contested inauguration that took place this month & it should be recorded here.  We did not vote for the candidate that took office and - so far - we are not happy about the actions of the new president.  Neither are millions of people around the world.  There were protests in major cities in America the day after the inauguration -- but also in cities abroad.  The protests were because of hate, racism, discrimination based on religion, and the like.  There have been more recent protests at airports in support of immigrants.  

When Obama was elected and put into office 8 years ago & again 4 years ago, we did have hope that our children would be able to have a fair shake in this world and not be judged because of the color of their skin.  It's only been a week since the new president took office.... and, we are feeling a little hopeless in this area.  I fear that we as a country are taking some steps backwards and not progressing.    If we just hold onto this as a country, we hope that things will be OK in this new administration:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

On a more positive note:  Mercer wrapped up his basketball season this month.  The coach said this was his best team that he's worked with.  The coach is not a dad of one of the boys - he either works for the city (or is retired city employee) and he's coached for a number of years.  Last year, my connection at the city Parks & Rec department told me about him and how he wants to "give back" to the kids.  

The coach bought each team member a Christmas gift mid-way through the season and he also threw a pizza party for the boys at the close of the season.  He was a very sweet man and helped lead the boys to victory for much of the season.  The Crusaders ended up winning all but two games.  
Mercer definitely improved as a player as a Center and as a Forward; he found his stride catching rebounds.  He made a good number of shots as well many of the games.  (He's #3 in these photos.)  He actually sank a 3-pointer in the last game!  What a way to finish the season.

Coach sent a nice message after the season was over:  "It was my pleasure to have coached your son this year and I was really proud of his attitude and the way he played. You are raising a fine young man and I know you and Todd are rightfully proud of him. I hope Mercer continues to play both baseball and basketball because he does have the right team attitude to be successful and have fun."

We love hearing that positive feedback!

I was ordained as a Deacon at our church this month.  I went through training late last year and wrapped up with an officer retreat a couple of weekends ago.  I have been wanting to get more plugged in at our church.  This will certainly prompt me to do so!   One thing that was really touching -- a friend of mine from a different church (someone who helped me decided to accept the nomination / someone who I've been looking up to for part of my spiritual journey) surprised me and came to the Ordination.  It meant a lot to have her there!!   xoxo  

As a part of the requirements, I have to help out with a certain number of church services each quarter.  Also, I have to serve on a separate committee... I chose building / facilities of course.    

This is a 3-year commitment (class of 2019).  Each year 1/3 of the Deacons rotate off, then a new group comes on, but there will always be 2/3 consistent crew.  

Our church has a lot of different programs.  One is a class on discipline (following book Easy to Love, Hard to Discipline).  Another is in Sunday School - we're following a book called the Gospel According to Star Wars (and Todd's going with me to this one).  Another program they host is the Scout Troop for Mercer's school.

 So - between new Deacon duties, classes and Cub Scout meetings and events, we are there a lot!  Most recently, we all participated in the Pinewood Derby.   '

This year, Isabella "helped" make a pink Spiderman car for the "Outlaw" competition.  She picked out the templates for the shape of the car, she sanded a little bit, and she did a coat of paint.  (Todd did all of the detail work, of course.)   Mercer did the same - but was definitely more involved in the painting and detail work than she was.  

Mercer's is the red one on the right with the blue stripe down the center in the top photo.  Isabella is the pink one - also on the right - with a spider web on it.   She also "represented" her car well by wearing the SpiderGirl cape!  

Neither placed in the top 3 for their groups, but it was still a cool thing for them to do with Todd and a fun day spent watching the races!!

There are a few photos that she took at the event (the last 3).  There are not many pictures of Mercer because he was not hanging out with us at this event.  He was mostly at one end of the track while we were stationed in our seats.  He likes that independence and freedom!

We had soup night this year again.  I had made suggestions of "neighbor" nights and "architecture / friend" nights to try to get some specific groups of people together - but it didn't work out too well.  It may have been too limiting, the attendance wasn't as good as expected.  But - we did enjoy those that we were able to catch up with (some are only on an annual basis).  And - we are eating a ton of soup in these cold months as we have had quite a bit of left-over to freeze.  mmmm.

Isabella has been talking about a few things in the car that are cute  "leg sleeve"  LOVE that is what she calls this when getting dressed!  

Mercer was caught telling Hip Hop that he's his best buddy and - he still loves him.  Both kids perceive Hip Hop as a sibling -- Todd and I are his mom and dad.  

Isabella has been asking a lot of questions about being in a woman's belly.  Last month, she was talking about death.  Whew - this curious mind is trying to figure a lot of things out!!

One final highlight:  Isabella has FINALLY figured out how to rhyme.  For MONTHS she has been saying random words and shouting out afterwords with such glee that they rhyme.  "Car Bat... that rhymes!"  um, no baby.    But -- it seems that she's finally caught on and she is soooo excited!!    

Hiss.  Piss.   (Yep - that's one of hers that she knows now, but thankfully she doesn't know that this is not such a nice word.)

We'll end with a cute photo of the kids.... we had a professional photographer snap their photos in the square before the holidays.  He captured some of their expressions perfectly!!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

December recap.... Happy New Year~

It was such a busy month.... I don't even know where to start.  Since the previous post was about Isabella, I'll start with her 4 year old well-visit (which happened to be on my birthday):  She is approximately 34.5 lbs (43% compared to other 4 year olds).  She is also 3' 3 1/4" tall (36% compared to others).  She's a little bit small - but not too far off the norm.  The pediatrician commented (again) on Isabella's energy level and how exhausting our kids are. There is one behavior issue that we're going to keep an eye on as she gets a little older, but overall, she's very healthy.... active and healthy!    

After the 2 hour pediatrician appointment (mostly waiting), Todd and I rushed to drop off the kids at a parent's night out event then we went to a one-man Christmas dinner theater on the square called Santaland Diaries.  It was crass and knocked parents for taking their kids to see Santa, but it was nice to get away for a little non-kid time and some laughter.  Here's a photo with the star of the show.  

The last blog post ended with our purchase of a Christmas tree that we cut.  It took us a couple of weekends to get things pretty well decorated -- including putting a tree upstairs FINALLY for Mercer.  We've traveled 5 years, so we never were able to get the 2nd tree up.  He had fun decorating and setting the train upstairs (which was great because of the dog this year).  We also received a lot of Rose Marie's porcelain Christmas lighted Village to put under the tree as well.  This was pretty cool space for Mercer / greeted him each time he went in and out of his room. 
The Christmas activities started to kick into gear!  

We hosted a belated birthday / Christmas tea party in honor of a woman from our church we got to know through the Foster-Adopt committee.  She's been a friend to us and offered lots of great advice before Isabella's adoption.  Ours was much more low-key than the formal tea party we went to last month.  Isabella loved pouring half-and-half tea/lemonade from one tiny cup to the next while the ladies and I talked about Patti's next chapter.  I am glad we got together -- even during the holiday season!
The kids and I participated in several advent activities at church.  One Wednesday night, the kids and I painted pictures during a church-wide Advent painting session.  (My advent piece was used for one of the church bulletins - which was kind of fun to see in print.)  I don't have photos of the kids' pictures.... the church kept them / hung up all of the pictures on a wall in the fellowship hall.

The next day, Mercer and I went to a school event where he got to paint a Christmas tree scene based on an example piece that was displayed (seen in the background).  Lots of people tried to make theirs look like the example.  His is so different and so creative!!  This had to have been my favorite week leading up to the holiday season -- getting to paint back-to-back nights with the kids!

One of my favorite photos during Advent, however, is of Isabella visiting the live Nativity.  She loved the animals, of course, but she showed some major tenderness for the baby Jesus in the manger.  So sweet!!  

Here's a nice shot of our church with a "flash mob" of little carolers singing.  I have full confidence that Isabella will be in this choir next year.  She loves to sing... she loves to perform in front of people.  She has done an amazing job at remember words to Christmas carols.   There have been MANY sing-alongs in our long car rides each day.  

We had to take our Christmas photos in two sittings.  One sitting with the REAL Santa and one sitting at our house with the kids.  There is another Santa on the square now in addition to the beautiful, original one who has been there.  The "new" one will allow portraits with dogs and families.  Mercer chose not to get a portrait made with the puppy.... he wanted to visit the real Santa.  :)  

Here are some pictures from our at-home session.  Photography sessions are hard work - as evidenced by Isabella in this photo below.  

Isabella had a little performance to Nutcracker music in her ballet class.  (They mostly did simple movements to the beat of the music, but they did it with GIANT smiles.  This was their first time performing in front of parents.)  She was very proud of herself!!

The week leading up to Christmas was much less stressful because we did not drive north this year.  We missed the family, but it was nice to be at home as well.  We think the last time was when Mercer was 2 years old~
The way the holiday lined up with school breaks was odd too & it would've been very hard to make it to our destinations in time.   My last day at school was on a Tuesday.  

Mercer's last day was on Wednesday.  I helped out with his class Holiday party -- decorating cookies and doing a snowball relay race.  Isabella was thrilled that Sean was there... this is one of Mercer's friends that she is in love with.  Look how she looks at him.

The rest of my and Isabella's first day of break was spent in the car.  Early in the morning, we had to take Hip-Hop to the shelter where we adopted him from for his final rabies shot and to get neutered.  We then had to pick him up at the end of the day to pick him up.  (All totaled, we were in the car for about 5 hours as both round-trips were during morning then afternoon rush-hour across town)  Thankfully we do not need to go there anymore!!  And - thankfully - the little guy did very well during surgery / had zero complications afterwards.  Good pup~

Day 2 of my break / Mercer's 1st day of break -- we had to do something other than sit around so we hosted a cookie decorating party & cookie swap.  "Spider-girl" helped to make the cookies for the swap.  All of the kids decorated sugar cookies with plenty of icing, candies, and sprinkles.

There were current neighbors + former neighbors that we've been wanting to catch up with.  It was fun, but the highlight of the event was Mercer unfurling his fire escape ladder / slinging it out the window / kids climbing up over and over again.  
His room was trashed with all of the kids streaming in and out.  But, this is where they began flying spinning tops out the window down to the back yard below. 

Us moms were nervous, so we grabbed our "white Christmas" drinks and headed outside to watch and pray that no one playing in the back yard would get hit in the head with a spinning top or anyone would fall while climbing up and down the ladder!

In an effort to "do something" every day of break, the next day - the day before Christmas Eve, we took the kids to Snow Mountain @ Stone Mountain Park.  With help from Grandma and Grandpa in Florida - who sent money down for their Christmas gift for an "experience" -- this was the family gift that would have normally been under the tree, but we partook in the experience before Christmas. 

There is a giant sloped lawn that is usually covered in grass -- but during the winter -- this slope is transformed into a tubing slope + a snow play area at the bottom.  We started in a giant Family tube that holds up to 6 people.  (seen here behind the kids)
 Isabella was too small to go on the single and double tubes, so she and Todd took several turns on the Family tube then she and I took several turns on it so that Mercer could experience the double tube with parents.  He did work his way up to the single (solo) tube & he / I "raced" down the hill in neighboring lanes at the same time -- kind of fun.  
Isabella - our daredevil - loved it.  Mercer enjoyed himself too, but is usually not as adventuresome.  We were really proud of him for trying out the tube on his own!    

There were other parts of the park that were transformed into snowy / lit-up magical areas.  There was a lighted parade, shows, and hot chocolate stands everywhere.  One of the other highlights to the evening was going to the 4D movie with Rudolph and the Abominable Snow Man.  It was a 3D movie with some enhancements such as puffs of air were sprayed during windy parts of the movie.  It even snowed several times in the theater!  It was a lot of fun!

There were parts of the day that were tough because of Isabella's strong-willed independent nature.  There were a few melt-downs.  If we go again, we may skip the snow play area that Mercer didn't enjoy and just go for the tubing that everyone liked?  Or - maybe we should take a trip to a real snowy mountain for skiing and tubing sometime??!?

Admittedly, there was some of this - hanging out on the couch with some screen-time, but we did try to get out when the weather cooperated.  

On Christmas Eve, we went to the children's afternoon church service, addressed cards (which went out late), watched Christmas movies and even made home-made ravioli.  This may be a fun Christmas Eve tradition moving forward when we are at home?

Mercer's letter to Santa was left out along with milk and cookies.  

(Of note - Mercer asked for something specific this year -- the first time.  I guess 8 years isn't too bad for this to be his first real request?!)  He also asked for things for Santa, the elves, and Hip-Hop in his letter - which was so considerate!  (I put the hearts next to the parts where he asked for things other than for himself.)

On Christmas, Mercer woke first excited to check out gifts, of course.  He tore through his.  Isabella carefully inspected each one wanting to stop her opening of gifts in order to play with them.  This drove her brother crazy!   

There was something interesting left on Isabella's stocking... an official signed & sealed letter from Santa.  He basically told her that - because of her behavior - she was on "probation."  She was not going to get toys, but that our Elves begged Santa to bring her gifts that she could be well-behaved and considerate. 


 The majority of the afternoon was spent on a family hike.  (Again - with the exception of Isabella's strong-willed desire NOT to move far on the path - it was nice to get out.  Todd and I had to tag-team on the hike with her so that we got in some exercise.  I also needed to go hang out at the stream by myself for a tiny bit of solitude. 

Todd smoked a ham when we returned and we made a couple of simple side dishes.  Nothing too major cooking-wise, but it was plenty for our little family unit!!   

After dinner, we did our final lighting of the Advent candle, passage, and nativity activity.  We did not put out our nativity sets for some reason, so these were ours this season.

The next day, the kids had camp.  Yep - even Isabella.  Monday through Friday, they both went to a basketball camp that Mercer had been to a couple of times in years past.  I had to work on an unfinished project from my previous job, so this worked out nicely.    

Todd and I got in a (rainy) hike with the dog the first day, then cleaned up a bit / went out to lunch.  Since Christmas fell on a Sunday, Todd got Monday off.  He and I haven't had a day to spend like that....well, ever?   

Camp went well except Isabella's behavior was not ideal.  The coach talked about the drama and how she can manipulate folks -- she was super sweet and considerate but found a way to always get her way.  He told us all of this in a loving way -- he absolutely adored her and during pick-up wanted to tell them about her intelligence and spunk.  Yep.  Sounds about right!

Grandma from North Carolina came down at the end of the week - literally as camp was ending.  We had another Christmas gift frenzy for the kids after dinner that night.   More games.  Some Star Wars stuff, some science stuff, and soft fuzzy blankets for the kids. 

We were glad she was here, because Saturday morning, she stayed at home with Isabella while we took Mercer to Urgent Care.   Apparently at camp the day before, he bonked heads with another player, saw stars, couldn't see for a short period, and his head hurt.  He didn't tell us all of this 'til we were putting him to bed at night when he showed us a knot at the top of forehead under his hair and complained of a headache!  When Todd and I sat down after bedtime, we compared notes (I had an issue at pick-up Friday: he got upset about something and couldn't be consoled for quite some time / couldn't remember what he had for lunch @ the pizza party.)  He was acting normal at home / bouncing around / full of energy like normal, but we were concerned that he may have had a concussion based on the different symptoms noted.  The on-call nurse told us to take him in.   The doctor did an evaluation and said - yes - he had a minor head trauma, however, it was not a concussion, but he was on "watch" for 24 hours.  whew!  We had a good discussion about concussions with him and with telling an adult if something happened instead of blowing it off / continuing to play.

The rest of the weekend with mom was pretty low-key. In fact, it had been cold and rainy all week / into the weekend.  Not much you could do outside, so we played board games inside.  

New Year's Eve Todd, Mercer, and I went to a neighbor's house with some other 8/9 year old boys and their parents.  Mom graciously stayed with Isabella again and they had their own little party that involved sparkly necklaces, videos on TV and ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.

It's been a busy year.  

In reflecting on the changes that have taken place, I am realizing the value of quiet time.  Since starting at my new school - I have realized that I'm around kids about 16 - 18 hours a day.  (I have Isabella in the car on the way to/from school for at least 1 1/2 hours a day, in class with kids then at home at night with ours.)  this has been a HUGE adjustment!!   Work is going well overall - teaching science, doing a little bit of architecture there, and even dabbling in art with after school offerings.  

Todd's job is going extremely well.  Overall, he is happy.  He is also preparing to move into management and become a partner.  They are moving to a new location in a few months which will be within walking distance of home.  He is very excited about both.  His office experienced some trauma this year, however, with the loss of one of his co-workers.  They are a small, tight-knit group of guys there and this has been very hard on them.  

The kids are thriving.  Both are healthy and both are doing relatively well in general.  (M struggles a bit with schooling / ADHD issues.  Isy struggles with her behavior -- well, really she doesn't struggle.... she's confident and bold.  It's the rest of us that struggle!  Ha.  

Here are a few things to capture that I've enjoyed with both of the kids that doesn't make the blog normally:  

- Mercer and I read Magic Tree House chapter books together.  If he and Todd read ahead, Mercer obliques and will re-read with me.  He is soooo loving and sweet and wants to snuggle / love on us and his sister.  He tries to boss her around sometimes when he's trying to be helpful to us... he is also "protective" of her.  It is absolutely precious to also catch him in the act of telling Hip-Hop that he loves him.... and that Hip-Hop is his best friend!    
- Isabella has a wonderful vocabulary.  She usually uses big words - for instance when passing a construction site and I tell her to look at the equipment.... she says "no thank you. I am not interested in that."  Um.  OK.  she loves to sing.   Even though we have a long drive which is not ideal, we do have a lot of time to talk and sing together.  She can also be so sweet and loving.  She has a huge place in her heart for animals which is beautiful to see.
- Hip Hop makes everyone in our family happy.  He really does.  He has been great for Mercer.  Isabella just beams when he kisses her on the face.  Yes - dog kisses on the face.  
Todd relaxes with the dog a lot, petting him on the couch which is "their spot."  The dog gets both of us out walking more.  In fact, I'll close with a photo from last week on a hike that he and I took on one of the days I had at home.  Good puppy.  He has been a good addition to our little family unit this year.  

Just like all of the "kids" in our lives, we are grateful and thank God for each and every one of them!!!   

(whew.  what a long blog.  Weird text formatting too, but almost 60 pictures.  yikes!)