Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October Surprise

I started this post two weeks ago, then got sidetracked, then came back to it, then got sidetracked again. It's ironic, given the content of this post. Consider it a metaphor. I'm going to post it now, before I get sidetracked yet again.  

Apparently the October Surprise it's that I'm going to do a blog post. I can't believe I haven't posted since July! September and October have been whirlwind and there are times I feel like I can hardly catch my breath.

Everything feels so non-stop. We don't set out to have it be like this. Stuff just adds up. It's good things. Our lives are full and lovely. We are doing so many neat, interesting, fun things. I am capable of saying no, but sometimes I don't want to say no, because the lecture/play/presentation/event/exhibit look so good!

Thing 1 is loving her college classes (yes, the day has arrived where we're paying for both our kids' college and our own student loans!) and has such excellent professors. One of them recently sought her out between classes and told her that she was moved to tears and chills by a poem she'd submitted. The professor said she is going to check out poetry competitions and workshops in the area and find good stuff for Thing 1. How great is that?!? Another mentor!

She is also enjoying her job at the movie theater. She's been able to take Mark to a couple of movies, me to a movie, and next week she's taking Max and some friends (so, this already happened, because I wrote this days ago and then, surprise, got busy). She continues to work some shifts at the Renaissance Faire, too, but now that she's working two jobs, she sees quite a difference between the two (the movie theater is about a hundred times more organized), so the seasonal job at the Faire is losing some of its luster. It'll be nice to focus on her regular job once the Faire is over. As it is, we're already scaling back on hours at the Faire. It's crazy to think this is her 3rd year there already! I know that over the years, she's hoped that grandparents could come see her in action there, but that hasn't really panned out. Not sure she'll work there again next year. We'll see. Thing 2 is very much looking forward to working at the Faire, as he gets to start that next year! Woot! That's super cool because the Shire is one of his very favorite places.

We are also running around like crazy getting her ready for homecoming. She picked a stunning gown and is now on the hunt for shoes and a purse and a wrap and all that stuff. We barely got the dress a few days ago and once she has the shoes (hopefully today), we're getting her in for alterations early next week (it's already in) and then the dance is just a few days after that. I'm so grateful to the women in my life who are helping me with advice and hands-on help, including hair and make-up assistance on the day of!

The past month and a half has been super busy with the start up of our 11th year running our homeschool group. ELEVENTH! The families in the group are amazing me with all the wonderful things they're offering. Our group calendar is filled with so many fun learning and social opportunities and everyone is jumping in excitedly. This may be the best year yet! That being said, the start of every year is always really busy with registration, computer stuff, calendaring, spreadsheets, group maintenance, etc. and I'm not going to lie, I've been feeling burned out for a while. I'm hanging in there, because I want this for our kids, but I'm already eyeing turning it over to someone once our kids graduate. I'm certainly not rushing the time for that, though. I'm enjoying the ride. Homeschooling is one of the best decisions we've ever made.

Just in the past week and a half, both kids have had their own book clubs (as well as our own book club that we've hosted for over 10 years) as well as various learning and social opportunities like classes, picnics, instrument lessons, taekwondo, obstacle course club, a visit to a local farm show, sushi out with friends, a visit to an art gallery, listening to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speak (Thing 2 got to see him; Thing 1 had class), play dates, hobby clubs, D&D, and more. Thing 2 even won his first tournament! We're all so proud and happy for him! He also made a fantastic game that we've been beta testing. The Kings came to visit us (we've had a lot of out-of-town guests recently) and Mike was blown away at Max's skills. We're constantly amazed by his talents with that (like Kate's talent with writing) and it's always so reinforcing to hear great feedback from others who see it, too. So grateful for the support and encouragement of friends and family.

It's not always so crazy like this. We find that spring and fall especially seem to fill up and we feel like doing more (generally). Summer is its own thing where we relax in some ways and enjoy lazy days of summer somewhat (although this past year it was foreign exchange students and summer camps, and this year it's been visitors and summer camps, so what do I know). And winter tends to be a time of hibernation and holing up at home more. Even then, we have holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays, so sort of, not really, I guess. :P

I think it's simply how things get as kids get older. It's driving practice, dates, friends, social stuff, learning, college classes, SAT prep, jobs, etc. And then there's the normal day-to-day stuff like homeschooling and work and cooking and cleaning and walking the dog and laundry and errands and home projects and clothes shopping. You know, life.

And it's beautiful.

And yes, sometimes it's stressful. I'm keenly aware of how much we do without extended family support. I've had to stifle laughter (and/or tears, depending on the day) when people who don't know our situation suggest, "Send the kids to grandma's for the day!" or "Get your parents to give the kids a ride!" We've had well-meaning people helpfully share what they do - have siblings help out, their dads/brothers/cousins help build the deck (we're paying a contractor), they have their parents help with rides and shopping and car problems and general running around, or at the very least they take advantage of a home-cooked meal or go on a date! Excuse me for just a second . . .


Let's see, I have doubled back, missed appointments, been late, skipped events, gotten lost, and gone out of my way countless times to bring a key to Mark if he's gotten locked out or to pick him up when there have been car issues or when there's been some kind of mix-up or conflict or run from one thing to another with limited time or under stress. We simply hardly ever went on dates until the past few years. I mean, we'd get kids to bed and stay up and watch a movie or get take out, but an honest-to-goodness date where we go out for, say, an overnight special outing? Ha! Yeah, no. Haven't done that since having kids. Asked for help with that once and got turned down. (We are coming up on our 20th wedding anniversary, so we're doing it for the first time ever now that our kids are older, but we're paying a babysitter). My dad totally could've built us a deck, but let's face it, they had me way older, so even if he were around, he'd be 81 now, so that's not terribly realistic. Throughout my adult years, he has helped us with some home things, but not a lot - he was sick for all of our married life and now he's gone. So that means contractors. Alterations for a homecoming dress? I texted my cousin to ask how she went about finding alterations. The response? Their grandma took care of it. Of course. Yeah, that's sweet, but not an option. So, more driving around for alterations and paying a seamstress to do it. And when we're stressed to a breaking point and could just use a home-cooked meal? That's on us. Someone taking us out for a meal here in PA? Umm, not counting potluck BBQs, we haven't had such a treat since . . . I honestly can't remember when, but it's been a couple of years at least. It's generally something that happens when family visits and that's a once every year or two kind of thing. Every single meal of every single day is on us. We don't even have school lunches. And sometimes, I'm not going to lie, WE'RE. SO. TIRED.

Like today. I've had a tension headache for 3 straight days. I've had times where I simply break down and cry, because I'm so worn out. But most of the time, we simply keep going. Because we want good things for our kids, for our family. And life IS good. And it IS beautiful. And it's also incredibly challenging to do it all without much of a village, that's for sure. So we focus on our family and do the best we can and hope we're doing right by our kids. It's overwhelming and lonely and guilt-inducing at times. I know for a fact that we subconsciously try to make it up to the kids by doing extra and more - we see what grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins do for their families and we try to do all of that, too, on top of regular, parenting stuff. We know they're already missing out on those kinds of close relationships (what with distance and all), so we try to enrich our lives in other ways.

Anyway, didn't mean for this to turn all morose and depressing. Like I said at the beginning, life is so good. So very good. And we're happy. I'm just being real here that we're also very worn out and stressed sometimes, too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

1,000 (or so)

I have been keeping an eye on the blog, trying to make sure I captured a particular post, so it could be celebrated. Yeah, I missed it somewhere.

Number 1,000.

That's a lot of posting. That's a lot of Stacy posting. I've contributed here and there, but this blog, largely a journal of our family's life, is all due to Stacy. I wanted to say a huge thank you to her for always making sure there's some record of all the things we are feeling and doing. So much of what she does goes unnoticed, unrecognized, and unrewarded. She is so many things to me, to our family, and to our friends, and I don't want her to spend any time feeling unappreciated.

She started blogging almost 10 years ago, and a lot has happened in that time. Let me share just a little of that:

*Two new houses, and two moves
*A new business
*A puppy
*Loss of several loved ones
*Many "roads less traveled" taken
*Thousands of miles logged on trips across the country, to Florida, New England, and other stops
*Several big cities visited (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and more)
*Hundreds of piano and violin lessons
*3 black belts in the family
*The evolution of several friendships
*A constant exposure to new people and experiences
*Binge-watching so many great TV shows
*So many Harry Potter stories and events
*Endless laughter
*Bittersweet milestones
*Embracing life as it comes
*Exchange students
*Countless house guests
*Dinner parties
*Games, games, and more games
*Home projects (oh, the projects!)
*A new car (yes, only one in 10 years)
*Baseball games
*Blizzards and snowball fights
*Beach trips
*Food. So. Much. Food.
*Fun holidays
*Fantastic birthdays
*Frustrations and venting
*Celebrations and cheering
*Lots of pictures
*Brutal honesty and vulnerability
*Kilts and steampunk outfits
*Long conversations
*Comfortable silences
*Love, love, and more love.

Thank you, Stacy, for all you've documented and shared! You are incredible!

My beautiful Boston girl

Monday, July 11, 2016


New fire pit
(well, old firepit, but we've made it a permanent place in the backyard).

New glasses and haircut.

New job. 
Before her first shift

After her first shift, where she got a nametag

My kids are growing up and I've truthfully never been so busy in my life. I feel like I haven't come up for air in months. Nothing means more to me than my family and I love, love, love these wonderful people. And Scout. Here's a picture of Scout.

Friday, July 1, 2016

This week's highs and lows


Picking Kate up from a week away at writers' camp. I missed her like crazy!

A welcome home dinner of chicken satay, coconut rice, and salad with mango and avocado

While Kate is awesome at getting the most out of any experience, this camp wasn't as great as the others she's attended. The kids attending weren't as into writing as kids she's met at other camps. She loves the classes and the teachers and learning and writing and having fun, but this camp isn't on the "must do again" list.


She started working the very next day. A 9-hour shift no less!


She was definitely tired after a week of camp and a long day of work. 


Our trip to DC on Sunday. We got to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time - take NO H8 pictures! This organization began as a loving, peaceful response to the hatred and marginalization inherent in California's Prop 8. It represents voices silenced by legislation like Prop 8 and other similar legislation around the world. Their mission is to promote love and respect for all human beings and that is something I can get behind.

It has significant symbolism for me personally, because Prop 8 was definitely a straw for me in my own personal life journey. It was a time when I knew I needed to leave being a part of an organization that didn't fight for the rights of the LGBT community, because even my membership felt like a complicit endorsement of hatred and discrimination toward an already-oppressed group of people. Leaving that organization has cost us friendships, strained family relationships, and invited judgment, but I wouldn't do anything differently, because despite all of that, a profound peace and authenticity has come into my life from living a life of principle, one that aligns with who I am and what I feel.

Kissing at Ford's Theater

It was amazing to be there with so many people also willing to stand up and not hide their support. It felt right and good to be a part of something that builds and connects rather than tears down and destroys. I'm very glad we could do this.

They were incredibly efficient, too, so the lines moved quickly and the photographer was amazing. We're so excited to get our pictures! Since it was so efficient and thanks to our awesome friends for playing with Scout for the day, we were able to do a couple more things in the city, including going next door to Ford's Theater where President Abraham Lincoln was shot.

Voting on the leadership quality they feel is the most important
After Ford's Theater, we walked back toward the metro via the HUGE barbecue street festival that was being held. We got so much free stuff this trip (free parking and free shuttle - sure, that's because the metro is being repaired, but still; a guy at the BBQ festival handed us free tickets which was a boon because it also allowed us to cut across rather than walking 7 extra giant blocks to get around it - especially good because Kate's feet were sore from all the walking at writers' camp; Ford's Theater was also free because apparently it's a national park now and we didn't know that, so that was a nice surprise). The BBQ people were awesome and they let us pass through without stamping our hands (because we were about to take pictures) and they recognized us when we got back so they let us right in! So friendly!

Max spotted a sign for lobster rolls at a restaurant we walked past, so Kate and I picked up two of those. We got to enjoy a nice chat with the guy from Boston who ran the place. We took our lobster rolls and ate those as well as some good BBQ goodness at the street festival. It was so great to be in a place with more diversity than our tiny town. We talked with people who live in DC and danced to an all-female band right alongside people on the streets. It was great. A gay man came up to us and asked about our NO H8 pictures and he thanked us twice very sincerely and was even a bit emotional about being supported like that. That was a sweet interaction.

If you look closely, you can see the Capitol in the background


Washing off the temporary NO H8 tattoos. I kept mine as long as I could right up until bedtime, and basked in the glow of a great day.


Working on and finishing a home project that I've been excited about for some time. A magnetized spice wall rack! Until now, all the spices have been crowded in a congested cupboard and cooking (something we do a lot) has involved various spice containers falling all over us while we access them. I saw something like this in the background of a picture someone posted on their blog, so I did a little research and we figured out how to make it happen! Also? I love working on projects as a family. This one even involved lots of rapping and singing ("Hamilton," of course)! And I'm so happy with the finished project! Foleys. We get the job done.

It's so pretty! And handy! And generally awesome. :) It made us smile the next morning to wake up and see it in the kitchen. I love that feeling you get when you wake up the next day after completing an awesome project and you see it and are renewedly happy about it. Bring on more cooking! This is especially handy since we're making Indian food this week and it requires a lot of spices (usually just about any spice starting with "C"). And yes, we've alphabetized this in addition to labeling them.


It's been an emotionally challenging week for me. I feel like I'm in a worse-before-it-gets-better kind of place. Sometimes I feel like I'm walking around in a haze. I'm incredibly exhausted. I feel like I've been running a race at high speed for years now. I'm not depressed and I'm not anxious (all the time anyway). It's something else entirely.


Taking my daughter around to follow up on places where she's applied for jobs as well as some fun volunteering positions.


Dealing with the rough side of that process - hiring freezes, rude interviewers, etc. She's such a great, hard-working, responsible kid. One manager was so rude, she didn't even allow a chance to find out how awesome Kate is. Her loss.


Looks like rude lady's loss is another's gain. Not 3 hours after the rude, dismissive interview, Kate got a call from another manager who is so eager to talk to Kate, that he had someone who doesn't usually handle the interviews call her right away to get her in this weekend! Woot!


Several repairs on the old van, including new brakes, new tires, and a new muffler. Those phone calls about cost from the mechanic always stress me out.


The new van is such a dream to drive. It's really wonderful. As usual, we didn't get a lot of extra bells and whistles, but even what's standard now is fancy for us. Plus it drives so smoothly!


On to July! This month brings another writers' camp (the really great one - great classes, kids who like to write, Kate's friends, etc.) and a several-week visit from out-of-state friends. Two of Kate's friends who came back in April will be spending a lot of time with her this month! Max has opted to not committing to too much stuff so he can play, ride bikes, swim, etc. A true kids' summertime! We've not scheduled a lot on purpose, but even the few things we have include fun stuff like games, anime, summer movies, smores around the fire pit, friends coming over, Harry Potter stuff, etc. And Hamilton. That's a given. Lots and lots of Hamilton playing in our house. All the time. So much Hamilton.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Jersey Shore

So, this past May, we did a quick getaway to Cape May, NJ, and we had such a lovely time exploring the town there that this year, we got a hankering to do something similar but in a different place.

As homeschoolers, we often get to travel and visit places on less crowded days (glorious!), so with it being June and school wrapping up in PA and about a week from wrapping up in NJ, we thought we should get over there before summer officially started. It was another great spring getaway.

We literally chose a place simply based on looking up available vacation rentals for the days we could be there. After finding a nice, pet-friendly place, we booked it and away we went! Turns out? We found a very nice spot just north of Seaside Heights where the TV reality show "Jersey Shore" is set. Who knew? So glad we chose a spot above it rather than in it, though we did go down to the area to check it out for kicks.

So, Mark worked Thursday morning and then got home for packing, lunch, and getting out the door. We're about 2.5 hours from the coast and I couldn't live any farther inland than that! We listened to podcasts and Hamilton and the time passed pretty quickly. Also? The new van is SO nice!

As we got closer to NJ, Kate got a text from her friend Morgan (we had invited her to meet us up at the beach for a day, but she's still in school in NJ) who was writing to say that her parents wanted to know if we wanted to meet up for dinner. Um, YES! Morgan has stayed with us several times and we've met her parents a couple of times and we always enjoy visiting with them, so we were pretty excited to get more time with them. They work in the food and restaurant industry, so they know good places and suggested a great seafood place (Crabs Claw Inn). We had a lovely time!!

Mother-Daughter Steamer Pots with Clams, Mussels, and Crabs

The whole group plus a photo-bombing waiter!

After dinner, we walked across to a frozen custard place and Nolan (Morgan's dad) treated us to our first ever "orange creme," which is basically a frozen custard creamsicle. Very yummy. We sat and visited for a while and even when we walked to our cars, we kept talking, because we were enjoying one another's company so much.

After much visiting, they headed back to their home in NJ (1.5 hours away!) and we went back to the beach house to get a little more settled. We always take games and movies/TV shows to watch as well as lots of fun food. We rarely buy a lot of processed foods, but for this beach trip, we loaded up on Pop-Tarts, because why not!

We watched some Friends episodes together and went to bed. It was hot and we were tired. And we were also excited to hit the beach the next day! Where we stayed was on a tiny strip of land with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other (we always prefer the ocean side). It was so cool. A lot of things there are being rebuilt after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. It was good to go support the area a bit.

Friday morning, Mark got up and went for a walk with Max and the dog. There's a donut shop right up the street so they got us some treats, including the famous NJ Pork Roll sandwich! Mmm-mmm, it's good. It's sort of like a Canadian bacon type of meat and it's typically served on a sandwich with egg and cheese (though Mark bought one without egg for the boys to try, as neither of them love eggs; Kate and I, however, are BIG fans).

Donuts and Pork Roll Sandwich

I took some pictures at the beach house that morning while we leisurely ate and got ready for some beach sun and fun.

That picture of sandals is also a picture of sweet Scout hiding under the couch hoping that would stop us from leaving. Unfortunately the beach where we stayed doesn't allow dogs, so she hung out at the beach house watching QVC while we took in the surf and sand. That's one of the reasons we love our fall beach trip - we go once dogs are allowed on the beach and she loves to join us. She happily sleeps in the sand under our chairs and loves, loves, loves being with us.

Here are some random shots from our first full day at the beach (oh, how I love the beach - I'm sooooo relaxed there and love to have my feet in the sand and my nose in a book):

EVERYTHING tastes better at the beach. I'm not even a fan of Italian subs, but at the beach? Yes, please! We got these yummy sandwiches at Jersey Mike's and they prepared them the traditional way with oil and vinegar and they were delicious! Sun Chips and fresh fruit are always yummy at the beach, too. Mmmm.

When we do our longer beach trips, we tend to really stock up on food (breakfasts, lunches, snacks, etc.) and then go out for dinner every night as part of our vacation. On these short visits, we take mostly snacks and sides, and treat ourselves to meals out and on the beach. We do a little online research and talk to locals to find good places to eat. There were lots of seafood and Italian (and both!) restaurants from which to choose and we were disappointed by nothing. Everything we ate this trip was delicious! (Okay, so the donuts aren't as good as the place we have here, but everything else? YUM!). Dinner at Lenny's was AMAZING.

Kate got Chicken Saltinboca and it was incredible

Mark got a delicious vegetable calzone

Max got his favorite white sausage pizza and I had a dish so good, I could cry
So my meal (not enough room in the caption to describe it) had penne pasta and asparagus tips and prosciutto all in an amazing brandy cream sauce. Oh, I could cry just thinking about it. Easily one of the best pasts dishes I've *ever* had. I'm glad the waitress mentioned it when I asked for suggestions, because it hadn't even been on my radar. The owner apparently created the dish and named it after his wife and holy cow, it's delicious. We also got an appetizer - a GIGANTIC homemade meatball and a BIG chunk of an amazing Italian sausage in an incredible Sunday sauce. YUM!

After dinner, we wanted to go get ice cream at the HIGHLY-acclaimed ice cream shop, "The Music Man" where there is a much singing of Broadway songs and parodies, and where they make someone from each table sing for their ice cream (seriously). We got there right as a show had just started so we needed to wait an hour before going back. We put our name on a list and drove around for a bit after making a quick stop back at the beach house. We got to see some cool birds as well as the sunset over the bay.

We drove around the private island in the town that has FABULOUS houses. It's also where Joe Pesci lives (one of the locals at the beach told us about that and said that he rides his bike around and everyone treats him like a regular person and that's why he likes it there so much). We had so much fun looking for him and making jokes about it while we did. We made up stories and dialogues about the people who live on the island and in those amazing houses, and had so much fun cracking ourselves up.

Then it was ice cream and show time. We LOVED it!! It was so much fun!! They made Kate sing for her ice cream, serenaded Max, made jokes about his hat. One of the musical servers borrowed Kate's hair clip and another kept feeding her ice cream while they sang to us. Another server took Max back to the freezer and through the kitchen. It was all hilarious! They started with a parody "Hello!" song from the Broadway musical, "The Book of Mormon," but instead of saying, "This book will change your life," they said, "This place will change your life" and made the song all about their restaurant, show, and ice cream. I wish I'd thought to take a picture of the menu - they had a dishes named after all kinds of shows and it was updated enough to have a Hamilton dish!

Kate, singing for her ice cream

He's wearing Kate's daisy hair pin

Serenading Max

With the cast!

We had a GREAT day and night. It was all fantastic. The food, the beach, the fun ice cream shop . . . so many laughs!! We went back to the beach house and I'm pretty sure we watched more Friends and went to bed. We'd all gotten some sun, so we put on aloe vera and slept.

The next day was another great day at the beach. It was windy at first, but eventually settled down. Oh, and before we hit the beach, we checked out the boardwalk at Seaside Heights (Home of the show "Jersey Shore") and it really fit a lot of the stereotypes - big gold chains, sideways caps with words like "BOSS!" on them written in little mirrors/sequins, fringed tie-dye shirts with the words "Jersey Girl" on them. It was awesome. We wanted pictures of the kids holding up some of the ridiculous clothing, but the shop owners were like hawks and there was never an easy way to do it, so you'll have to imagine it. We did get some greasy boardwalk food for the beach (to add to our cooler of grapes, chips, etc.), because food.

The boys even got in the water and rode the waves for a while (have I mentioned that we all got sunburned? Even with sunblock, we all got sun and burned and almost two weeks later, we continue to deal with peeling!)

Gotta get past those shells and pebbles first!

Riding the waves together!

My handsome boy

And my beautiful girl

After another great day at the beach (we played a bunch of Sueca - a Portuguese card game - on the beach both days), we went out for a fantastic Asian Fusion dinner. We were really hurting by now, so we tried to wear loose clothing and not stick to any chairs! I think you can tell in the following pictures that we got some sun!

It's cool we got seated, because the place was packed, we didn't have reservations, and there was a 45-minute wait. We were considering ordering take-out and while we looked at the menu, I wondered if something might open up for us and it did! Woot! After dinner, we went back to the apartment for pop-tarts and more Friends episodes. Oh, and we all used a whole lot more aloe vera, too.

The next morning we packed up and hit one more really well-rated local place - Lava Java! Such a cute little coffeehouse and cafe. We all got some fun drinks, and Kate and I split THE BEST breakfast sandwich we've ever had - eggs, cheese, potatoes, and pork roll. Phenomenal. Max got a chocolate chip muffin and Mark got a sandwich sans egg of course. Yummy place. Scout got to eat a bunch of delicious food, too, since they had all kinds of great outdoor seating. The beach is behind us one street in these pictures. Oh how I love being by the water like that.

The girls!

We got home and worked as a fantastic team (I have to say that our family REALLY pulls together with things like this - packing for a trip, cooking together, cleaning up, unpacking, getting ready for guests, projects, etc.) and got everything unpacked and put away, started laundry, etc. We also came home with lots of leftovers from the dinners out and that all fed us for days (Yay!).

We wanted to continue our vacation, so we played more games as a family and that night we watched The Tonys together and it was Hamilton-palooza and we loved. We had seen the horrific news out of Orlando that morning when we stopped for gas and I looked at news on my phone. The Tonys did a beautiful job being respectful and showing honor. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said, "And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love."

There is nothing I love more than spending time with my family having fun, visiting fun places, eating good food, enjoying nice weather, playing games, watching funny stuff, and goofing around together. I love them so much. This was a really nice little getaway for us and I am grateful.