Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Year in Review

This year. Wow. It has been incredibly difficult and wonderfully joyful. We began the year deeply in grief after Chris' passing, but also surrounded by family and community. Now we exit the year on the heels of another great trauma, but again, surrounded by love and support. Here's to 2017.

  • jb started a new job. We started the year unsure where we'd end up geographically. Luckily jb landed a job that allowed us to stay in Philly and in the movement. Yay!
  • The preschool I was teaching at (and Zoe was attending) closed. This was sad for us as we both learned a lot from being a part of that community, but it has also been nice to have more one on one time at home with Zoe. We considered finding another preschool, but this is Zoe's last year before kindergarten and we both decided we wanted to spend it together with as much free time as possible.
  • Pittsburgh trips are fewer and farther between - With Leo being in school we haven't been able to travel to Pittsburgh to visit my family as often (or for as long), but we still really cherish the time we do get to spend there.
  • Color Run - The kids and I participated in a 5k together. There was a lot of walking (and some laying down) involved, but we made it! And they were so proud of themselves.
  • Mexico - As usual, we spent July-August in Mexico. The kids attended a nature camp, we climbed the Tepozteco, and enjoyed time with family and friends.

  • Camping with PFP - We did the annual camping trip with Philly Family Pride and had a great time sleeping in a tent, roasting marshmallows and swimming.
  • Leo started first grade - And loves it! He really likes his teacher and has been excelling in his classes. Zoe has been telling people she's taking a "gap year" between preschool and kindergarten.
  • Aunt Fanny got married - and I officiated! - and we all went to California! It was a wonderful trip (though it was the first week of first grade, so we made it abbreviated). It was such an honor to be part of Aunt Fanny and Uncle Nate's big day. We had so much fun and really enjoyed seeing the Southern California coast.

  • jb got mugged - This sucked. Jess was out walking our dog and checking her email on her phone. A kid came up and slapped it out of her hand. When she bent down to pick it up two more kids (teenagers, I guess) came out and beat her up until she let it go. At first I was frustrated that she didn't just hand it over right away - a phone is not worth getting beaten over...but it was Chris' phone and I can understand how hard it must have been to let it go. She had a black eye and some bruises, but was otherwise ok. Still, what an awful thing to have happen in your own neighborhood.

  • Beyonce! - Through the generosity of a dear friend, I scored a last minute ticket to see Beyonce in concert. It was cold and rainy, but totally worth it. 
  • Kids started swim class - At first they both found these classes terrifying. Like crying and screaming and begging not to have to go back. They were used to "swimming" with a life vest on in Mexico, and it was scary for them both to get in the pool without one. As the weeks went on, they both really thrived in the classes. Leo in particular amazed me in how hard he pushed himself. Usually, he gets discouraged when skills don't come to him easily - but this time he was so determined to work hard at something that really challenged him.
  • Talula crossed the rainbow bridge - Our pug had been sick all year. At first we thought it was "just diabetes" but as we struggled to get her blood sugar under control over months (twice daily shots, special food, and regular monitoring) it became clear there was another underlying issue. The vet diagnosed cancer and since she was losing weight rapidly and not responding to treatments there wasn't much more to do. It was very sad to say goodbye, but we are so grateful for the time we had with her. Over a decade. We miss her. 

  • Hosted Thanksgiving - This was our second year hosting Thanksgiving and it was so so so very lovely. We had both sides of our family over and deep fried a turkey.  We had a zillion sides and gazillion desserts. We pondered our blessings and shared our bounty. Even the neighbors came by for a bit. 

  • December marked 10 years since jb's mom passed away and one year since Chris left us. - Decembers can be long and dark and challenging - but we did our best to create our own light to share (thanks in part to the Darkest Days of Winter calendar) and gladly received the light others reflected to us. 
  • Election - Our whole family was very invested in the election (Presidential, Senatorial, etc.), but jb especially worked so hard to get progressive candidates elected...and we really got clobbered. We are all shocked and worried about what will happen over the next four years, but more determined than ever to be part of the right side of history.

  • New cousin!! - Uncle Jared and Aunt Mallory had a baby, Elise Elizabeth, and we are all head over heels in love with this little nugget. Both Leo and Zoe love holding her. Ok, fine, so do I. 

  • Leo started second grade math - Leo's class has an advanced reading group that he has been participating in, but they don't have an equivalent for math. Math is Leo's favorite subject and he has been eager to keep learning new concepts so his teacher arranged for him to visit the second grade's math class. So far he is enjoying it, though it does take some schedule juggling. He goes to lunch and recess with the kindergarten class and then math with second grade, and spends the rest of the day with his original class. 
  • Survived terrifying car accident - On our way home from Pittsburgh after Christmas, as we were driving on the turnpike, the back wheel came off our car causing us to lose control, drive up a steep hill and tumble back down flipping three times and ultimately landing upside down. It was scary and traumatic, but thankfully we all were able to walk away. Since then, we have been counting our blessings and snuggling at home while our bumps and bruises heal. We have seen an incredible outpouring of love and support that has turned one of the worst experiences of our lives into evidence of of how fortunate we are.

  • Set a date - After 15 years together, two children and life experiences that have included our highest highs and lowest lows, jb and I have decided to have a party to publicly exchange vows and celebrate our love story. We are legally married, so we aren't sure if it's a wedding, anniversary party, or vow renewal. Whatever it is, we are very much looking forward to celebrating with our family and friends. 

Happy New Year!

Past years in Review: 200720082009201020112012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Zoe is Four!

Here she is. My bright, funny, bold, and sweet four year old. We started off the day with our traditional pancakes and whipped cream, but Zoe, naturally asked for a clementine, too (remember when she got a bag of clementines for christmas and was so excited that she jumped up and down shouting "woohoo!" and from then on she called them "woohoos"?) we put a candle in her clementine and sang "Happy Birthday" again. Leo had to go to school and dad had to work, so we bid them farewell until dinner time.

The first thing Zoe wanted to do was take her new scooter out for a spin, so we scooted down to the playground and back. When we got home she climbed on my lap and started yawning. Uh-oh. 

So we made some time for a birthday nap.

Zoe only slept a few minutes, so when she woke up we still had plenty of time to do her chosen activity - go to the Please Touch Museum. When we checked in she mentioned that it was her birthday and the worker gave her a special birthday kid sticker which ensured that people wished her a happy birthday all day long. She had a great time doing all her favorite things at the museum - and even assisting in the show in the theater.

For lunch I let her get all the overpriced snacky foods I usually say no to. (We can bring these exact same items from home for a quarter of the price and she will still beg to buy them in the cafeteria...but look at that smile.)

After the museum we picked Leo up from (his LAST day of) kindergarten. We stopped at the library to pick up a few hold items and pop in on the music story time. Leo was clearly not in the mood for preschool tambourine music, but he sat through it without complaint for the birthday girl. 

For her birthday dinner Zoe said she wanted, "Bobby's Burgers with a Shake Shack. I mean a milk shack." She meant "milk shake" which was both adorable and evidence of how much she loves quality burger chains.

For dessert dad had baked up just what Zoe had hoped for: mini blueberry cupcakes without icing. We sang one more time, and finally headed back home. 

I think Zoe had a pretty spectacular day. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Leo is Six!!!

If you want Leo to use fingers to show you how old he is, he's gonna need two hands. SIX! A whole hand plus one. This year he was mostly excited and looking forward to turning a year older, but he did still have "butterflies" about whether he would "be a good six year old." Not as extreme as the night before he turned four, though. Phew.

As per tradition, we did the annual birthday interview. Leo takes these strangely seriously. Before and after he was bouncing off the walls and talking a mile a minute...but while the camera was on he was calm with succinct answers.

To celebrate we had a small party in the backyard (ok, it's not really a backyard...more like an empty lot behind our house...but you get the idea). Leo wanted a Lego party and we (loosely) complied. We picked up a Lego banner and table cloth at the store and threw some chips into his lego storage head. It was pretty windy out (and I got bonked in the head with balloons repeatedly) but at least it didn't rain!

We made some Lego-esque pizza.

jb somehow cut the watermelon into a Lego. IDK. jb is magic sometimes.

Then, also according to tradition, jb baked the cake (CAKESSSS - there were 3, count 'em THREE cakes), convinced herself they were ruined and had a minor panic attack in the middle of the night and then I decorated them. It's really just a sheet cake with six oreos for the nubs and then covered in icing. The idea for the Lego figures holding candles was again jb's idea.

Leo requested "marvel" (marble) cake for his birthday this year, so jb made two marble and one with sprinkles bakes in (similar to funfetti). So between snacks, cake and some outdoor toys (bubbles, airplane launchers, balls etc) the kids kind of just ran around for a few hours. It was really nice and low key. 

Happy birthday, Leo, my love. You needn't worry, you are already shining at this six year old thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sick As A Dog

Our pug Talula isn't doing well.  A few months ago she had some health issues crop up and after a few visits to the vet and many (rather expensive) tests she was diagnosed with diabetes. She's been on insulin for several months now, but it took a while to get her blood sugar under control. Now she seems to be feeling better, but she lost her vision (a complication of the diabetes) and the vet also discovered a mammary tumor. This is on top of recurring hot spots and ear infections which she seems to constantly be fighting. Poor puppy has seen better days.

Talula has been with us for about 11 years now. She joined our family before we had kids. Before we moved to Philly. Before I thought I was the kind of person that would drop a small fortune on vet bills to keep a pet comfortable and healthy. When Lu was really sick, she lost a lot of weight, was having lots of potty accidents in the house and was lethargic (even for her). It was scary.

We are still figuring out what the tumor means and what our options are, but in the mean time she is feeling much better on her current dose of insulin. She's trying to adapt to the loss of vision...but it's slow going. She's never had a great sense of smell...or hearing...and she's not particularly bright. So she's been banging her noggin on stuff all over the house. She tolerates the insulin shots twice a day pretty well, though she doesn't love the days we have to do a curve - which requires we prick her to draw blood every couple of hours to see how stable her blood sugars are through out the day.

Still, through all of this she has remained her sweet patient self. I can't imagine how frightened she must be, and I'm sure she was often feeling really lousy, but she never reacted with aggression. Not even when Zoe was trying to nurse her back to health in ways that only a three year old would think were helpful. She still follows jb everywhere. She still licks my feet every time I sit down. I don't know how much time we have left with her, but I'm grateful for it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Top Five Before School Breakfasts

The most important meal of the day is a big deal in our house. Before Leo started kindergarten breakfast would stretch until nearly lunch. We'd linger at the table and eat several "courses" in a row. We'd snack on fruit, eggs, and/or pancakes. Now our mornings are much more...compact. We find ourselves rushing around trying to get dressed, pack lunches and make sure homework and library books are ready to go...nevermind when it's cold out and we have to add hats/coats/gloves to the routine. Still, we need to make sure we send the kids off with tummies full of something that will keep them going until lunch. Whipping up something that is nutritious and can be ready in 15 minutes or less is our goal. Here are our go-to breakfasts:

1. Green Smoothie

Smoothies might be the king of quick breakfasts because throwing a few handfuls of fruit and greens into the blender takes about a minute - plus, they are easy to toss into a straw cup to drink on the go. Sometimes we add in some yogurt for extra calcium and a bit of protein. The best part? We pour any unused leftovers into popsicle molds and the kids will devour them as an after school treat.

2. Oatmeal

When we make this in the morning it is ready in under 15 mins, but when we have the foresight to make a batch for the week it cuts the time down to a 30-second microwave wait. This breakfast never gets old since we rotate the mix-ins, though our family favorite is apples and cinnamon. Can't beat it on a cold morning!

3. Bird in a Nest with Brussels Sprout Hash 

This is probably the meal on the list with the longest prep time. A bird in a nest can be ready in just a few minutes (just crack the egg into the cutout in the bread - we use cookie cutters to make the hole, but a cup works, too). The hash can be made by sautéing leftover veggies (brussels sprouts are our fave, and the one pictured also has sweet good!) and a strip or two of bacon. Just chop everything up finely and toss around a hot pan with butter. A bit more involved than other meals, but a great foundation for the day.

4. Bake aheads: Quiche or Muffins

Some mornings even 15 minutes is too much to spare...these morning we rely on grab and go options. These require some forethought, but end up being worth it to have something nutritious ready to go on those mornings when we are rushing. We try to have quiche muffins, banana/zucchini muffins, pancakes or hardboiled eggs on hand to pop out of the freezer/fridge and eat on the way to school. Sure beats a toaster pastry.

5.  Parfait

When I make parfaits the kids think they are getting sundaes for breakfast. I layer yogurt, berries (fresh or frozen thawed in the microwave a few seconds), granola, and bit of honey. I do make my own granola, but it's super easy and I like that I can control the ingredients. I usually double up on the nuts to make it extra filling and pump up the protein. You can put it in a bowl, but presentation goes a long way with kids (I guess that's why those ridiculous bento box lunches are so popular on Pintrest) so we fancy it up with a parfait glass.

I've got nothing against a bowl of cereal or a frozen waffle, but I do prefer to try and get something nutritionally dense and homemade on the table for breakfast when possible. Being able to control the ingredients (i.e. leaving out the junk and sneaking in some extra healthy stuff) in what my kids eat isn't always possible, especially now with birthday parties, snacks at activities, and treats at school. So when I can maximize the nutritive profile of what my family is eating, I do. It makes the treats we do indulge in all the more enjoyable.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

State Of The Young-ins: Spring 2016

A lot has happened/changed since the last time I wrote regularly here...but a lot is really still the same. I've been slow coming to terms with the fact that I no longer have a "baby" - I always pause in the baby section of stores only to realize that none of those products really apply to us anymore. We've got two straight up kids - with all the benefits and challenges that come with them. In many ways parenting has gotten easier in the last year or two. Both kids (mostly) sleep in their own beds, can get themselves dressed, play independently, go to the bathroom without assistance, can eat a meal and tackle chores that are actually helpful (unlike the toddler version of helping which just makes everything take twice as long). Whether they choose to do these things is another issue entirely...but they CAN be quite independent. After the first five years of parenthood that I spent either pregnant, nursing, or both...I've found a lot of freedom in the this stage of parenting. Of course new challenges crop up and we are still figuring out how to navigate this new chapter. We seem to be busy in a different way these days. Maybe busy is the wrong word. Our lives are full. Still, I do feel like we prioritize family time and we are doing a decent job of enjoying this era before it slips by.


Leo has adapted to school really well. He is closer to the end than the beginning of his kindergarten year and our one goal (that his first experience with school be a positive one) has been met. He loves his teacher, his friends and seems to be learning a lot. That said, it also takes a lot out of him. He comes home and just wants to either color, play with Legos or watch a tv show. Usually, we let him, because even though he does have homework, it is not mandatory. So we encourage homework, but equally encourage play...or even just relaxing.

The hardest transition on my end is that I just feel like I don't get enough of him. I miss him. We spent ALL of our time together for five years and now we get rushed mornings, packed evenings and (sometimes busy) weekends. At the end of the day I just want more time with him. He's turning into this incredible kid - singing songs I don't know, sharing jokes I'm not in on, and developing interests that I didn't introduce him to. It's amazing to watch, but bittersweet to loosen my grip on him. Luckily, he still really loves to cuddle, so if I ever do feel like he's growing up too fast, he's happy to slow down for a bit and remind me he's still my baby.

Leo is still his sweet sensitive self, but he has really come out of his shell this year. He was so very shy, especially with new people before, but now he's downright outgoing. He is quick to say hello or strike up conversation...he might even be a bit of a ham. He's reading easy reader books all on his own and loves math and science. He's in his second season at a local soccer league (jb was a coach last season) and loves digging holes outside.

Leo has a typical five-year-old sponge-like brain. He loves learning about animals and especially enjoys shows like Wild Kratts, that help him collect information. He also really enjoys learning things through song. We started with some simple songs - like the days of the week, months of the year, etc. (Well I guess really we began with the ABCs...) and he enjoyed them so much that we moved on to the 50 Nifty United States and now he's trying to master the periodic table song. The capacity for rote memorization at this age is impressive.

Leo is a much pickier eater than he was last year. His intake of fruits and veggies is limited to a short list of acceptable varieties. He is also still very particular about the types of clothes he wears. If it were up to him he would never wear anything that doesn't have an elastic waistband. We have to cut the tags out of his shirts, and the tantrums over socks and shoes each morning are epic. We are also deep in the whining phase of childhood, which I have little patience for...and I'm hoping the end is in sight soon. Other than these few quirks, he is a pretty easy going kid. He's eager to please, thoughtful, cautious and very in tune with other people's emotions. It's really a pleasure to know and parent him.


 Zoe is going to preschool two mornings a week, but spends most of her time as my sidekick. She did go to school for four day a week for a while, but it was a bit much for her. Zoe prefers to be home/with me, so as long as that's an option, we are trying to maximize our time together. She is still quite the firecracker, but I do think things have slowly begun to chill out now that we are past that tough 2.5-3.5 stage. The silver lining of missing leo while he's in school is that Zoe and I have been having a lot of one on one time and it's been nice to get to see who she is when no one else is around.

Zoe's current obsession is her balance bike. She rides that thing everywhere. To school, to the park, to pick up Leo from school...even from the living room to the kitchen. The first day she got on it, she rode ten blocks to a friend's home...then ten blocks back. Even after that she cried when we told her we had to go back inside and take a break from riding. The next day, the first thing she did was hop back on the bike and the poor thing had bike seat bruise (anyone who has taken a spin class can relate, I'm sure) and it hurt too much to ride. She was devastated. But as soon as her bottom felt better she got back on and has barely gotten off to eat and sleep since.

Her "baby Koh-wah-wah" (Baby Koala is actually a stuffed elephant...I don't know why she named it that) is still very precious to her. So precious, in fact that Baby Koala made it onto our holiday card this year. Zoe is also very fond of two pandas, Max and Pearl, that were a gift from a friend of the family. She has a basket on her bike and brings them with her everywhere.

Zoe has grown out of many of her adorable mispronunciations. Most notably my beloved "farkley" for sparkley.  Though she does still mix up or mis-remember the names of certain things and that is equally cute. For example, she calls sweat pants "sweaty pants." SWEATY PANTS. This is how kids survive. They drive you bonkers, but then they say something like "sweaty pants" and you can't stay mad.

Zoe can be quick to anger and often seems to be yelling. In fact, we thought she might have some hearing loss so we took her to the Doctor, but apparently she's just a loud kid who doesn't like to listen. So, uh, that's a relief? She knows what she wants and may the universe help you if you get in her way. She is confident, brave, funny (SO FUNNY) and sharp. While these traits can sometimes be challenging to parent, she is a hella cool person. Zoe jumps into everything with both feet. I admire her in so many ways...and feel lucky I get to know her and watch her grow into the girl (and eventually woman) she's meant to be.


Zoe still wants to do everything her brother does and imitates him and follows him with every sibling set since the beginning of time...pesters him. There has been quite a bit of bickering in our house and it drives me batty. It's incredible what ridiculous things these two can fight about. Of course, usually, a few minutes later they are BFFs again. It's me that is left with the residual anxiety of several minutes of screaming and crying - about a dozen times a day. Still, I'd say over all they get along really well and clearly love each other dearly.

These two kids are so different, and while they do occasionally butt heads, mostly they compliment each other in really beautiful ways. They learn so much from each other. I'm in awe watching their friendship grow and evolve. Their goodbyes in the mornings and their reunions in the afternoons are enough to melt hearts. When they are able figure out ways to play harmoniously together, it's my favorite thing in the world to observe. They come up with fantastic imaginary worlds complete with headquarters and superpowers.

My own relationships with my siblings are so important to me now as an adult, and I really hope for my kids to have that in each other. So far they seem to be off to a great start.