Monday, May 9, 2016

A Lovely Mother's Day

I had a lovely day yesterday. Mellow, relaxing, calm, lovely, and nice.

I slept in, got cuddles with my puppy, and even an unexpected breakfast in bed (toasted chocolate chip muffin with butter along with a dish of fresh raspberries and my daily vitamins and cup of lemon green tea). Kate greeted me with a pretty homemade card and I got hugs and snuggles and "Happy Mother's Day" wishes from everyone.

We hung out leisurely that morning and then my family took me to the movies to see "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2." That was a fun movie to see all together - same lovable characters and a lot of heart and laughs.

I'm the short one in the middle
My kids made me a delicious dinner of cheesy grits and shrimp and sausage. Restaurant quality goodness! Mark made Butterbeer cupcakes for dessert - a very fun treat.

Yummy dinner

After dinner, my kids presented me with such a thoughtful gift. This is so the kind of present I love to get so much more than "stuff." They wrote things they love about me on hearts - 16 from Kate, and 13 from Max - and arranged them in a frame with Mark's help.

Me with my human kids and furry baby
I think I really needed the boost. It was so good to sit and read their thoughts like that. I know I have a great relationship with them and that we all get along, but sometimes I find myself wondering what they think of me, or I find that I'm doubting myself as a mother and person. Reading their hearts really gave me a lift. I especially love that, though they didn't discuss or coordinate what they were writing beforehand, several things overlapped, so I got to see what really stands out to them in their minds. It reinforced to me that I spend quality time with them and that they appreciate me and that we love to do things together. They feel safe with me and loved. I'm their parent and their friend. And they apparently both think I'm funny! They both wrote about my sense of humor - who knew??

I'm looking over these pictures and seeing that we didn't get a picture of Mark in the mix, but I'm very grateful for him as well as my kids and Scout. I love our family and nothing in the world makes me happier than all of us together and enjoying one another. Thanks, family, for a lovely and memorable day.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Can I clone myself?

There is soooooooooooo much I'd like to do (blogging being one of them). I hardly get to any of it these days. Honestly, I barely keep my head above water these days. I feel like there aren't enough of me, aren't enough hours in the day, or that I'm doing something wrong.

In many ways, we live a relatively simple life - we're not involved in 10 million activities, we own our own business, we live in a small town, we fancy ourselves homebodies, and we homeschool. So, what gives?

Here are some possible explanations:

1. I'm spread thin. Yep, that could be it. I may not have one main full-time gig, but I do a little of this and a little of that and it all adds up. How do people with loads of kids do it?!? I homeschool my kids. I work in the business. I do some side jobs. I cook. I clean. I run errands. I bake. I keep track of things. I email. I text. I run a homeschool group. I organize a lot of things (like, a freaking lot). I maintain a lot of social/educational relationships for myself, our family, the kids' schooling. I am in two book clubs. I run teen nights for our homeschool group. I do home projects. I like to make things special for people. I keep up on dentist/doctor/therapist/car/groomers/vet/home maintenance appointments. I research an insane amount of information for myself, the kids, our family. I throw amazing birthday bashes. I try to take care of my mental health (no small feat). I plan some activities for some community groups in which I'm involved. I make sure to spend quality time with each of my children as well as my husband. I try to do the same with my friends when I can. I worry. I think a lot. I analyze. I am politically active. I try to meditate and exercise (but am not good at getting to either of those). I try to be well read and up to date about what's going on in the world (i.e., I read a lot of articles). I troubleshoot so many technical issues at home, it's mind boggling. I mean, yay technology and all of that, but holy cow, every camera, phone, computer, laptop, tablet, ipod, printer, DVD player, small appliance, large appliance, wifi connection, bluetooth, speakers, and gadget of some kind seems to need some kind of update, fix, reboot, research, attention, wire, app, charger, upload, download, and back up of some kind. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

2. Homeschooling is work. For years I've said it's not that much work and I've meant it. I still think I do less than a mom who sends her kids to school. Like, hands down. That being said, for everything I don't do, there's an equivalent task. I don't pack lunches, but I essentially cook/heat/organize 3 meals a day and do the dishes for said meals. Mark does a ton around here and our kids are both teenagers and pitch in like rock stars, so that helps. We have flexibility. We aren't beholden to a bus schedule or a school schedule, which is awesome! We can stay up and we can sleep in. We can visit places when they're not crowded. We can get more learning done in a more efficient amount of time. We can follow our passions and learn about whatever we want! All that being said, we do a lot of talking, learning, researching, enriching, listening, watching, going, attending, participating, volunteering, working, etc. To make sure our kids have a well-rounded learning experience, it's all on us. We don't just keep them home and away from school and away from the world. We homeschool to GIVE them the world. That all takes effort, coordination, and time. I wouldn't trade it, but it's work, yes indeed. And since our kids don't get what school extra curricular programs provide, we must organize those ourselves, too. Any and all social, educational, enrichment activities are on us to research, find, and set up. That takes an enormous amount of time, too. Again, totally worth it, but yeah, this is pretty much a full-time gig. The awesome bonus is that I enjoy it and get to spend a TON of happy time with my kids, husband, and dog. Woot!

3. I'm a woman. I've read a lot of articles on emotional labor recently. There's just a lot of stuff that people take for granted and that society has taught us to assume women will do. And there's a lot of expectations placed upon women that simply take more time. One of my favorite articles I've read on this topic is here. I think it's wicked cool that a guy wrote that article and to see how enlightened he is about the topic and how well he portrayed "a day in the life." Love it. I'm immensely grateful to be married to a feminist man who is my best friend and partner. He is always seeking to know more and do more and I appreciate him more than I can say. I highly recommend two more pages to read: this one and this one (which resulted from the discussion on the previous page I linked). And then there's this - time poverty.

4. Mark and I are talkers and analyzers and overthinkers, so we're not always terribly efficient. Again, we wouldn't have it any other way, but oh my god, everything takes ten times longer than it does for more impulsive, quick-deciding people (though our theory is that those quicker deciders are going to  have to likely re-do something or regret their decision or fix something that they did too quickly). :P We bought a fridge a few months ago and it took us forever to research, talk about, and choose one. We discussed and analyzed and price compared and hypothesized and wondered and talked for weeks. Eventually, we chose a fridge and we've been SUPER happy with it ever since. We've recently been decorating and organizing our basement - more talking, deciding, moving things around, questioning, thinking, adding to the list, analyzing. More hours of work. It is looking terrific! Now we've got to figure out what to do about a second car (and boy, are we needing one!). Mark's car went kaput a few weeks ago after giving us 17 great years. Now we are down to one car (the van) that has 140,000 miles on it. If it goes kaput on us in the same number of years as the Saturn (and keep in mind that the van has far more miles on it than the Saturn did), that means more car shopping in just a couple of years. So do we get a car now? Or do we get a newer van now and then when the current van needs to be replaced, get a car then? Which car? Which model? How much? New with warranty or used? What year? Where to shop? We're overwhelmed and not even sure where to begin. Decision making overwhelms me. Some days I don't even want to decide what to do for dinner. We so rarely have a meal made for us, so these are constant daily decisions (first world problems, I know). Now deciding on a car?!? UGH. We've had so much going on, we've hardly had time to really look much beyond some initial research and browsing. Our daughter just got her permit so we're taking her out to practice driving, too. She is also job hunting and looking at college classes she can take. More hours. More time. All good things. But yeah, challenging to do it all. So, yes, we're a GREAT team and it's nothing short of remarkable what we can pull off together, but yes, we take our time talking and analyzing to get there.

5. I have my own emotional health challenges that makes every little thing seem so much bigger. I hate mental health stigma and I've never been quiet about the fact that I've struggled for what seems like forever with various emotional challenges (depression, anxiety, etc.). Not a day goes by that I'm not trying to learn more and be on top of these things. It takes work and time and a great deal of effort. Staying on top of this is no joke! These issues also make every little thing in life take a bit more time, energy, and effort. Whereas someone who isn't anxious could just make plans and decisions "like a normal person," someone with anxiety thinks of ten thousand contingencies and back ups and all kinds of additional things to think about by extension! That all takes so much more time and energy. Someone who doesn't struggle with depression probably just gets up and dressed and goes about their day. Someone dealing with it struggles to do even the most basic tasks and everything she does accomplish takes significantly more energy, leaving her depleted in other areas. Maxed out. Worn out. So, even getting through a day is about a hundred times harder, because it's like you're doing the "normal" stuff while carrying around a few extra bags of rocks and boulders.

So, there you have it. Me, sitting down to write before tackling yet more projects and to do lists. I love sitting down to write. My head is spinning and sometimes taking time to write like this helps. Here's hoping!

Also, here are a few recent pictures of our family, because posts are always more fun with pictures:

Because she's freaking adorable.

My hipster kid taking pictures like a pro.

On St. Patrick's Day (hence the green shirts), we visited the aquarium as a family.

My studious daughter got a cute haircut.

Saturday Night Gilmore Girls Dates with my boy!

He is growing like crazy . . .
This awesome guy cooked me a great meal on my birthday several weeks ago.

And he took the kids to see the Blue Man Group!
Kate had a fantastic visit with her fangirl friends.
Meeting at the airport in Philly

And at our house with the Winchester brothers

Monday, March 21, 2016

Honest Post

It's been a tough week, month, year, past couple of years, past several years, who are we kidding. Mark and I are both so tired. Sometimes it's lonely. We're doing the best we can and sometimes we break down. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we freeze when there are a million things to do, because of sheer overwhelm.

I was talking to someone this week whose children spend one overnight a month at her parents and who has parents, in-laws, and siblings who all help watch her children so she can go out, have a date, run some errands, whatever. These conversations always involve me smiling and saying how great that is and exercising being happy for someone else and trying not to feel down. And it's always a challenge. Never, in over 20 years together, have we had that. And we're tired.

We moved two years ago. Then the pipes froze in the farmhouse. We're still dealing with the aggravation of that through the plumber and insurance company. Selling the farmhouse wasn't easy and we lost money on the deal. More than I care to admit. That was this past year, along with a broken oven and a broken fridge.

Now this year has started off with nearly-doubled health insurance premiums, 2 straight months of illness among all of us and then, as soon as everyone is better, Mark's car doesn't start at work and I have to run to the store to get 3 quarts of oil, drive them up to him, see if his car starts, and follow him to the mechanic to find out that the car is officially dead, and then proceed to cancel/reschedule all manner of things we can't get to because of the car situation.

It's been a good car to us for 17.5 years and we've known for some time that it was getting too old to justify hanging on to, but with everything else going on, we've helped it sputter along all this time. Now, we're back to being a one-car family while we figure out what to do with the Saturn. Not going to lie, we've been emotional about it. I mean, it's a car and it's old, and time to move on, but there's a bit of nostalgia there as that's the car that brought home both of our babies and moved us to Arizona and to Pennsylvania.

And now it's the stress of another big purchase and buying a new-to-us car. I hate shopping. I loathe shopping. We haven't car shopped in, well, 17.5 years. I'm not excited about it. Part of me wants to continue to be a one-car family, but I know that's not really practical with two teenage children. We couldn't even think of anyone to ask for help when Mark's car broke down, let alone be in a situation where we could possibly need more help (if the van's in the shop or if we've got two things going on at once in two different locations). And let's face it, we're not good at or comfortable with asking for help, even though I know it's a good thing to recognize and admit when you need some assistance. Easier said than done. So, it's time to address getting him a reliable car. I'm excited for him to have something better to drive, as the Saturn really has been falling apart for some time now.

We're just tired. Exhausted. This is also the second time in a matter of months that we've had some fun family outings planned and car troubles have stopped us. We want to give our kids the best. And we're trying. We love the life we've carved out for ourselves, but like anyone else, we all have our stresses and challenges.

Our daughter turns 16 in a few weeks and that's big. We work hard to make birthdays and celebrations special around here. They don't get family dinners with aunts and uncles and grandparents, so we get together with friends and try to make things really great. And with turning 16, we have new things to look at - jobs, college classes, driving, etc. Our sweet daughter broke down in tears this morning just feeling overwhelmed by life. I hate seeing her like that. She puts a lot on herself and it can be stressful. I think it would be hard and scary to be a teenager in today's world. I mean, the whole world is out there, just waiting for whatever it is she wants to do and while that's amazing, it's also a lot to take in and make sense of.

Our son has so many interests and so much energy and he's wired so differently than his sister. One of my biggest challenges as a mom is meeting both of their needs and interests, especially as a homeschooling family. It's totally worth it, of course, but it's a trick sometimes. Again, we want to do right by our kids and that means daily, constantly evaluating what's best and pursuing those things. Today, my son also came to me in tears, because he accidentally hit a button on the computer that ordered some game cards (he thought he was just putting in the address and leaving it up for us to look at) and he felt bad and was worried we'd be upset (which we weren't - we get that stuff like that happens sometimes).

I just have to wonder when every one of us, at some point in the past 24 hours, has been in tears, if we aren't all feeding off of one another a bit. Feeling the stress of life and finances and decisions. Feeling lonely and unsupported at times. Feeling the weight of creating a wonderful life for ourselves resting squarely on our shoulders. Hell, even a patient of Mark's cried to him today about stress in her life. Maybe it's in the air.

I know I often post about all the fun things we're doing (and it really is a ton of fun), but here's another aspect of it all - the work, the energy, the loneliness, the overwhelm, the stress. It's normal, I know. We're extremely grateful to good friends who help make our life rich and fun and happy. We've had friends help us move, cheer us up when we're sad, listen when we've needed to vent, help with Scout so we could go on a trip, and generally be a support to us. I don't know what we'd do without them, but I'm glad I don't have to think about that, because they're here, they're present, and they're wonderful.

So, back to the grind. Back to figuring out what to do with an old, dead car. Back to trying to pin down an electrician who gave us a bid and now won't answer calls to get the job done. Back to arranging play dates with friends. Back to working on school stuff. Back to figuring out college plans. Back to making sure we're okay with one car for a while. Back to cleaning out the garage. Back to work. Back to shoe shopping and bra shopping and food shopping. Back to rearranging all kinds of schedules and appointments, because we thought we'd be out of town for a few days this week and now we're not. Back to errands. Back to "to do" lists. Back to birthday planning. Back to our wonderful, but admittedly sometimes stressful, life.

I tend to minimize my own challenges and struggles sometimes. I think of others who have different and very difficult life challenges and feel I have no right to feel stressed or overwhelmed, but that's simply not fair. I saw a quote this week and it resonated with me:

So there it is. It's been a rough go for us around here for a while. For more reasons even than I've written here. Personal things. Difficult things. We work through it and come out better for it, I suppose, but it's challenging.

I know people say things like, "You're a stronger person because of it!" and that's all good and fine, but you know what? I'm not sure that's much of a comfort sometimes. Like maybe I'd like to be a little less strong and a little more supported. I think sometimes that's just people trying to put a positive spin on something, but damn, I'm tired. So, not having to be strong all the time because you've actually got help and support, well, that doesn't sound like such a bad deal. No one says to those who have support, "Oh, that's wonderful, but you know you're probably weaker because of it!"

Anyway, there it is. I'm trying really hard not to sugarcoat or put a positive spin on it, so that I can be real and honest here. Life in your 30s and 40s. It's stressful sometimes.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Story About Pies

I wanted to share a cute Max story and today seems like an appropriate day to do it. Sometime this past year, Max said something about Shepherd's pie (a meal that I find kind of bleh/just okay) and since it's not something we make a lot at all, I was surprised by his comment, "You know how much I love shepherd's pie!" I did? I had no idea! I felt like a cruddy mom for not knowing that. But seriously, really? Since when?? Why did that not sound familiar?? 

So, a few weeks later, we had mashed potato leftovers as well as some meat to use, so I figured, perfect! I'll make shepherd's pie! So I did. And I was so excited to serve it because, after all he loves it, right? 

So, I serve the meal, eagerly watching for his response and feeling like such a great mom for making a meal he is so excited about, and he looks at it and says, "What's this?" And I said, "Shepherd's pie!" And he excitedly said, "Oh! Awesome!" 

And then he seemed confused, like he was trying to piece something together. He said it seemed different and was trying to remember how it was before. Then he mentioned how he especially liked how a friend of ours made it. Huh? She never made shepherd's pie. Did she? (I started to second guess myself). 

Turns out? Chicken pot pie!! NOT shepherd's pie. We all busted up laughing and ate it anyway. So, happy Pi Day and eat something round. Like chicken pot pie and not shepherd's pie.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dear Stacy

This is your day.
Not your day because you had to take it by force,
Or demand it,
Or beg for it,
But because it is yours by its very nature.

It is yours because you are,
Because you have made it this far,
Year after year
Through challenges
Big and small,
Seemingly insignificant
And so obviously monumental.
You fight.
You endure.
You survive.

This is your day.
A day to celebrate you.
The day we look to you
And tell you how much we admire you,
How much you inspire us,
And how much we love you.
Please accept this adoration
On the day that is yours,
Because we don't say it enough,
Show you enough,
Prove it to you quite enough.

We love you,
Not just on your day,
But on every day
Since we've known you
And forever.

Happy birthday!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Encyclopedia of Me - S (Stacy)

Photos from:,,,,,,,

So many good ones for this letter! How to choose?!? I'll combine words and sneak more in, that's what I'll do. Because I'm smart and sneaky and sassy like that. And I'll be great at it or my name's not Stacy! Oh, speaking of names, I'll just go ahead and mention that two of my close friends' names begin with the letter 'S,' too (*waves at Sherri and Sam!*). Okay, here we go . . .

So, several of these are going to get grouped together under "geeky," because there are several geeky things I enjoy that begin with the letter 'S.' Like Star Wars. Oh my god, I was so excited to see the new one in the theaters. Even though I've loved Star Wars for nearly two decades, I must admit that I didn't see them in theaters growing up. I was introduced to the original 3 by my husband soon after getting married and I loved them! Then I learned to love the prequel 3 through my son's love of Star Wars. And now the whole family is enjoying the new movies together. Mark took each one of us to the theater individually (just the way it worked out - he saw it 3 times in the first 24 hours) and when he and I were watching and the scrolling words started, I squealed, "I've never done this before!" and then loved every minute of it. I also geek out on Sherlock and love to watch the show (big fan of both Benedict Cumberbatch *and* Martin Freeman). There's Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory," a show that celebrates geekdom (woot!). And just to keep it well-rounded, I also enjoy geeking out on Shakespeare. I took several different Shakespeare classes in college and have read and watched many plays since then for fun. And I'm happy that Mark and the kids love the Bard, too. For real. We even recently saw a presentation of "Hamlet" from London with Benedict Cumberbatch in a local theater near us. The very next week, we went to see a local college's presentation of "Macbeth." It was awesome.

An "Encyclopedia of Me" post wouldn't be complete without mentioning food if it fits and oh does it fit. This one is another two-fer: seafood and sushi go hand in hand. Sushi is my favorite food and most any day, I'm happy to choose seafood over just about any other selection. Our family enjoyed a seafood feast about a week ago to help us break up this cold, snowy winter - crab legs, lobster, shrimp, clams, stuffed quahogs, etc. It was fabulous. When we go to the beach every year, we always go to Claws and have a feast of shellfish - it's hours of cracking and dipping in butter and it's scrumptious. Mark is always so sweet to do a bunch of the cracking for us. The kids are getting older and do more of it, so that helps. :) And tonight, we had 3 different kinds of fish - trout, swordfish, and seared tuna. Even the sides were yummy! My very favorite date to go on with Mark is going out for sushi. It's one of the first dates we went on when we got back together again after being across the globe from each other for 3 and a half years. I loved it then. And I love it now. And sushi is how we ring in the new year, too. Yum!

How about some music references? I like so many different kinds of music - 80s, alternative rock, pop, jazz, classical. For the purposes of this post, I'll list Sinatra, because that crooner voice and swagger just makes me swoon and old blue eyes has some wonderful standards that I love to listen to whenever they come on. Also? Ed Sheeran has got to be one of my very favorite artists - what an incredible talent in singing, songwriting, and performing! He makes me all melty for sure. I'm so happy he won a Grammy, plus how adorable are his parents? I'll throw in the movie "Say Anything" here, too, because it just may be the movie that made me fall so hard for John Cusack and his sweet, geeky ways. That iconic boombox scene is actually a pretty short, passing one in the movie, but he's a gem throughout the entire film. Ahhhhhh, lots of swooning in this paragraph.

Now, places. I was raised in Swansea, MA. Yep, that's my hometown. One of my favorite cities in San Francisco, CA which to me is romantic since that's Mark's big city. The mantel in our room has two framed city skylines - San Francisco and Boston, our cities. And I'm completely in love with Stars Hollow, CT and would move there in a minute. In fact, a few seasons into my first time seeing Gilmore Girls, Mark and I started some serious research into small towns in Connecticut.

Some of my very favorite things I enjoy start with 'S,' like summer (oh, how I love the sun and wearing sandals!), and scrapbooking (though I haven't done much in years), and several games including Settlers of Catan, Splendor, and Sueca.

I've saved this paragraph for one very special creature and one of my very favorite 'S' words - Scout! I love this dog more than words can say. Her name, of course, comes from one of my very favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Scout brings us so much joy, so many smiles, so much laughter, so much love, so many kisses and cuddles and snuggles. She is an absolute bundle of joy in our home and we love her so much that we often SQUEEEEEEE all over the place. She gets so excited whenever she sees us. She licks our tears when we're sad. She snuggles with us every evening and all night long. She cracks us up with her sass and demands and general craziness. She has so much personality and is so protective of us and our home. I never, ever, ever could've guessed that I would ever, ever, ever feel this way about a dog. I positively adore her. She is my safe place and I'm so very grateful for her.

Encyclopedia of Me - S (Mark)

Photos from:,,,,
Stacy: How could the love of my life not be first? Big shocker, eh? I've been with Stacy for more than half of my life, and it feels like only yesterday that we met. She is my soulmate, my better half, my best friend, my one true love. She gets me more than anyone else gets me. She makes me laugh. She is the one person with whom I would always rather spend my time. And if it weren't for the cheesiness of "Jerry Maguire," I'd tell her that she completes me. Oh, would you look at that. I said it anyway.

Scout: This little fur ball is such a great joy in our home. From the day we got her, she's been my shadow. No matter what's going on, she wants to be a part. And if you're down, she'll cheer you up. She's spunky, ill-mannered, poorly trained, and 100% pure joy. And no, she doesn't mind one bit that I'd like to cuddle with my wife at night. She's fine right where she is between us.

Satire: I'm not talking cheesy, pun-laden satire. I'm talking well-crafted, intelligent, clever satire. I grew up on Weird Al and still love the guy. I think he's brilliant. And for the most part, Saturday Night Live really fits the bill. The writing can be uneven, but when they are on (especially with big political stories) there is nothing like it.

Sports: Yep, that's a picture of my letter jacket. I was good enough to play a number of sports, but not so outstanding that I was the best on the team. I like sports. I'm not a nut, and I can talk about a number of things without needing to bring it back to sports, but I do like them a lot. I like the competition. I like the strategy. I like the statistics (especially baseball). I like following my favorite teams. And it can honestly be any sport. As I've gotten older and more and more things are asking for my attention, I've had to scale back on how much I watch them, but there was a time when I could turn on ESPN and watch whatever was there.

San Francisco: Home of the Giants. I have a lot of fond memories of braving cold weather, shady neighborhoods, and lots more when we would go to Candlestick Park. But that's not all. It's home to some of the best seafood you'll ever find. The hills give the city a great feel. It has Lombard Street with its glorious curves. Cable cars. The Golden Gate Bridge. Seals and sea lions. So much history of social change. There is so much to love about the city, and I'm so grateful I could not only show Stacy, but also take the kids recently. It's one of those cities with a "feel," and I feel fortunate to have experienced it many times.

Scrubs: Not the comfortable hospital clothing, but the TV show. I remember when Stacy and I first saw the advertisements about the show. We both said it could be either really funny or really dumb. It was the first year of medical school, so a humorous look at medical education seemed worth it. We watched the pilot episode, laughed like crazy, and never looked back. I still say that "Scrubs," more than any show on TV, captures the emotion of being a doctor. It may be surreal at times and a little far-fetched, but really hits all the nerves with me. And the finale (the "real" one)? One of the best on TV ever.

Sting: For some unknown reason, I didn't really listen to Sting much until later in life. I was familiar with his music, and it was good enough, but I eventually starting really listening to all that he's done and I am blown away. His style evolves with each album, but his musical genius is the same. And Sting is fantastic live. There are not a lot of artists that can make it new every time, but he does. I feel really lucky that our family was able to see him live with Paul Simon. What a great memory and experience.

Sashimi: I bet sushi will be mentioned several times by our family, so as much as I love it, I'll go a different direction. I love the raw fish. In fact, if someone said you can only choose one, sushi or sashimi, I would first wonder why someone was being so cruel to me, but next I'd pick the sashimi. Raw fish is such a wonderful treat. Tuna is my favorite, but I'm not picky. I'll eat it all. I was just telling Stacy the other day that I had raw rainbow trout when I was in Japan, and that was incredible. It's not one you'll normally find in a restaurant here, but if you get the chance to try it, do.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 4

Here it is. My final Grammys post. After reviewing the Best New Artist, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year, here comes the Record of the Year. This award is given for the recording as a whole. It goes to the artist and the production team, including the producer and engineering team. In some ways I had the hardest time deciding on this category. I wonder if it's because I'm not really very knowledgeable about the production side of the musical world as compared to the songwriting. Who knows? Whatever the reason, here is my latest set of reviews.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Really Love"
D'Angelo And The Vanguard
Track from: Black Messiah

How have I missed D'Angelo? Somewhere along the way I've probably been vaguely aware of him, and I know he's had a very hit-or-miss career and life in general, so maybe that's why he was unfamiliar at this point. But, wow. This was a great recording. Apparently Neo Soul is what I've been looking for to satisfy my nostalgia for funk-infused R&B-Jazz fusion. How's that for a unique mash-up? D'Angelo's is actually the first song I consciously listened to when I started working on all of this music for the Grammys. My first thought was if this was just the beginning, I was in for a treat. Like I said earlier, I don't entirely understand the behind-the-scenes work that goes into production, mixing, engineering, and whatever it takes to actually bring a record to the public. What I do know is that this track is seriously great.

"Uptown Funk"
Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars
Track from: Uptown Special

I think the first time I heard this song was when Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars were on SNL together. Stacy was scanning through the show to look for our favorite parts and I was in another room playing a game. When this song came on everything stopped. We had to watch and listen. Bruno Mars has one of those sounds that is classic. He takes the old and makes it modern and hip, and whatever he and Ronson did together here is pure gold. The song came out quite a while ago so I almost forgot about it when the nominations came out. This record captures all of the best of the R&B genre (with all of its sub-genre) and takes me back to all the music I listened to growing up. Loved it.

(Mark Ronson's TED Talk on music sampling is great, too. Give it a watch if you get the chance.)

And how much fun would it be to groove with these guys?

"Thinking Out Loud"
Ed Sheeran
Track from: X

On this one, I'm not sure how to tease out what makes it deserving of not only the Song of the Year but Record of the Year as well. I mean, it's a great song. His voice and guitar work are impeccable. The entire track is so easy on the ears it's ridiculous. I really don't know what else to say about it except that songs like this make me pre-order Sheeran's albums when they come out. I just know every album will have tracks this great.

Yes, this is the same video as the one from the Song of the Year category. And your point?

"Blank Space"
Taylor Swift
Track from: 1989

Can you tell that the nuance between Record and Song are difficult for me. I will say that Taylor Swift has captured the retro feel she was going for on this one. And this is one of those songs where we get a blend of great vocals and 80s-esque digital instrumentation. The whole thing works extremely well.

Did I hear this song many, many times since its release? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

"Can't Feel My Face"
The Weeknd
Track from: Beauty Behind the Madness

I heard so many people make fun of this song that it was hard to take it seriously when it was on the list of nominees. Honestly, I don't think I'd even heard the song at all before I undertook this Grammy goal. Maybe I heard a bit on the radio as one of the kids was flipping through and said something like, "Argh! Not this song again!" I really couldn't tell you. The record is smooth, that is for sure. Like Prince and Michael smooth. I've been harsh with my commentary on The Weeknd, and I am not going to back down, but this track is a nice surprise.

Ignore the hair and my previous panning of his album. This track is actually decent.

* * * * * * * * * *

My Choice: I'd love to see Ed Sheeran win here because I'm just a huge Sheeran fan, but if I'm being totally objective here, I think I have to go with "Uptown Funk." The overall sound Mars and Ronson achieve here are still my favorite of all the group. D'Angelo's "Really Love" is a close second.

My Prediction: I really don't know what to say here. Of all the categories, this is the one where I feel most lost. This is really stab in the dark, but I'm going with "Really Love" by D'Angelo.

* * * * * * * * * *

So there you have it. A few days until the Grammys and my predictions are in. All I need is to get credited on some album and the recording academy can ask me for my official opinion next year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 3

I've talked about the Song of the Year and Best New Artist categories. Now it's on to the Album of the Year. Obviously, this one took a little more time since there are a lot of songs to listen to. I could have just listened to samples and gone from there, but I feel like a really good album should be great from start to finish. Each track has a purpose and when you put them all together, the listening experience should transcend any one, single song you hear on the radio. There should be a reason that these five albums are in this category, and there should be a really good reason why one of these will take home the Grammy over the other four and all of the other albums released last year.

(Interesting thing I noticed--two albums have a very short list of people who worked on the album. Guess which ones they are.)

* * * * * * * * * *

Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes

OK. Stop what you're doing and find a way to listen to this album. Brittany Howard is one of the best songwriters we've got right now. When I saw that Alabama Shakes was nominated for a Grammy again this year, I was excited. Their debut album is so good. You will be hard pressed to find a singer and band with more soul and emotion than them. From the opening notes to the final refrain, this album was impressive. Seriously, impressive.

Blues rock, roots rock, southern rock, whatever. This is just good music. You can definitely hear their southern roots in every track, but it's not so heavy-handed as to make you feel like you have to love Country or Americana type music to enjoy the album. There are artists that just bring you great music, whatever the genre. In fact, they defy genre. Alabama Shakes is that kind of group. This was a fantastic album.

Favorite tracks: Where to start? How about the first three. "Sound and Color," "Don't Wanna Fight," "Dunes." And then you can keep going down the line.

Just one of the great songs on this album--seriously, could she be more soulful?

To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

If you read my earlier post about the Song of the Year you probably won't be surprised to hear that this entire album was rough to listen to. There is the obvious language to contend with. I'm not a prude, and I can 100% appreciate why Lamar chooses the words he does. There is a meaning and feeling he is trying to convey, and that's the way he does it. I can live with it. It makes sense to me. I will say that I didn't find his album, as a whole, to be exploitative or demeaning, like a lot of hip hop can be. There was a definite social agenda with the work that comes through.

Mostly, this album was rough because I felt like I was intruding on a space not meant for me. There have been a lot of takes on the album, and I realize that my take is completely reliant on my own experiences, which differ from Lamar's in about every way conceivable. He takes the 16 tracks and weaves a story of Black America as seen through his eyes and experiences, and attempts to convey some sense of suffering, anger, and ultimately (I think) hope that things will get better. He is realistic, but still manages to give the listener a little bit of optimism.

There is a lot in the album musically that is appealing. The music of the rap and hip hop music I remember from my teen years was a lot simpler. Straightforward beats with simple background riffs dominated the albums. Lamar manages (along with a huge team of writers and producers) to incorporate jazz, funk, fusion, spoken word, old school hip hop, and a number of other styles into his music. I think the variety did a lot to bind the album together and make it more listenable for me, even if after listening to the album I feel a little bit like it was a work I wasn't meant to listen to.

Favorite tracks: Two stood out, probably because of the musicality of the songs. "Alright" and "i."

[Again, We are a family that doesn't believe in censorship, but given the nature of the album I decided not to embed any videos here.]

Traveller, Chris Stapleton

I had never heard of Chris Stapleton before his nomination, but apparently I should have known him before now. For one thing, he has literally hundreds of writing credits on big time albums. He is one of those artists that is finally getting his "moment." Anyone who has read anything I've written here about music knows by now that I'm not much of a country fan. I have a handful of artists that I enjoy, but I normally don't really get into the genre. I will say that Stapleton has managed to make the good ol' outlaw country cool. I'm not going to lie and say that he'll dominate my playlists anytime soon, or that I'm going to play his album on repeat. It's just not going to happen.

What I will say about Stapleton is that his songwriting is impeccable, whether its the lyrics or music. All of it hints at his immense talent. And "hints" is probably the wrong word for it. It proclaims it. It trumpets it. It makes it so obvious that no one can miss it. All in all, the album was deserving of its place here in the Album of the Year category.

Favorite tracks: "Nobody to Blame," "Tennessee Whiskey"

(If you want to see a real treat, find the video of Stapleton and Justin Timberlake performing together at the CMAs.)

The title track, one of many smooth and very good tracks

1989, Taylor Swift

From the time I heard she was doing an 80s concept album, to when I actually heard it from beginning to end, I thought this idea had a lot of potential. I think she pulled it off. For the moment, I'm going to ignore all of the controversy surrounding Swift's videos for "Wildest Dreams" and "Bad Blood." I'm not going to comment on my opinion on whether she is just a "white feminist" or embodies all that is good in the feminist movement at large. This is about the album and whether or not it's the best.

She did a great job capturing a lot of styles from the 1980s. That was a time when the music was fun and less serious in a lot of ways. It's not to say there wasn't any meaning behind the songs, but people didn't take themselves so seriously. Artists released albums with songs people wanted to dance to, or break up to, or cry to. Taylor Swift did it. This is a very good album with several excellent tracks. I think making a clean break with the country genre on this album was the right move. This is a pop album plain and simple, and it holds up against the many other pop albums released last year.

Favorite tracks: "Blank Space," "Wildest Dreams," "I Know Places"

There's something eerie and "not" Taylor Swift about this one

Beauty Behind The Madness, The Weeknd

You know, I thought about spending some time actually discussing this album, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I was so disappointed that I didn't even finish listening. I got less than half of the way through and gave up. And I was a little bummed because Ed Sheeran is on there somewhere, but it just wasn't worth it. So many of his songs were filled with misogynistic, unnecessarily racy, oversexed lyrics that any musicality was lost. He has a great throwback voice, reminiscent of the R&B of the 80s that I love, but this album was awful as far as I'm concerned. Watch, he'll probably win now.

Favorite tracks: Yeah right.

[No video. I don't want to waste your time.]

* * * * * * * * * *

My Choice: Of all of the albums here, Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes was my favorite. Top to bottom, music and lyrics, it is the best of the five in my opinion.

My Prediction: This one is tough for me. I can see it going many different ways. Something in my gut says that 1989 by Taylor Swift will rise here. I could make a case for To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, but that would buck some serious trends since the album seems way too edgy for a mainstream win.

* * * * * * * * * *

Next Up, Record of the Year.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 2

You've (hopefully) read my review of the Best New Artist category, and if not, please do. It's so great. There are SO many wonderful insights. You will feel smarter almost instantaneously! /facetiousness

Now it's time for my take on the Song of the Year category. To be honest, every year for a while now I find myself going back and trying to remember the difference between the song and record category. I feel like I finally get it, but even then, I found myself going back to the Grammy site to make sure I get it. Anyway, the Song of the Year goes to the songwriter or songwriters. It ignores (although, I'm not sure you can completely ignore it) the actual recording and production. For each of the nominees I've included the artist who recorded it and then the songwriters who would actually win the Grammy. Granted, most recording artists who achieve this level of success are probably contributing to the writing process (and for these five nominees, that's the case), but that's not always a given. I've also included the album where the track appears.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Alright," recorded by Kendrick Lamar
Songwriters: Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, and Pharrell Williams
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly

OK. I'm going to say right up front that this song is a tough one to listen to, if for no other reason than it's raw and honest about life in Black America, especially the poor urban population. It also makes liberal use of the n-word, which can be a bit rough to hear. It's a song of hope within a world that seems hellbent on holding people down. I have no personal experience that can even come close to what Lamar and his peers have been through, but I can certainly get a sense for what their experiences mean. It's like reading African-American poetry and literature that came out of the Harlem Renaissance. It comes as close as you can to explaining to a person of privilege what it means to be oppressed and what it means to look for hope. I can't say that I'm a particular fan of Lamar's specific style, but this guy is talented. He is a musician among wannabes, not just someone with an ax to grind.

[We are a family that doesn't believe in censorship, but given the nature of the song I decided not to embed a video here.]

"Blank Space," recorded by Taylor Swift
Songwriters: Max Martin, Shellback, and Taylor Swift
Album: 1989

Taylor Swift is a favorite around our house, and I am very familiar with this song, including the brilliant music video. Like her other great songs, this one tells a very clear story of tumultuous love, and it belongs right up there in the canon of Taylor Swift relationship songs. I'm not as enamored with the song as some people are, and it's not just because Swift is, as a rule, overexposed. For whatever reason it doesn't jump out as one of those "wow" kind of songs, and she has several others that do that for me. Maybe it isn't fair to compare this to her other works since it's being nominated this year in this category for what it is, but it's hard not to.

"Girl Crush," recorded by Little Big Town
Songwriters: Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose
Album: Pain Killer

I had to actually go find the background on this song before I fully appreciated it. The title is misleading--it's really a jealousy/breakup song, not what it seems from the title. And honestly, even if the song is about a woman having a crush on another woman, who cares? As John Mayer said, you love "Who You Love." Anyway, the layers of meaning within the lyrics give the song some extra depth, and it's a pretty good song all in all.

"See You Again," recorded by Wiz Khalifa with Charlie Puth
Songwriters: Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth, and Cameron Thomaz, songwriters (Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth)
Album: Furious 7: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

So, I see this is from a movie about dudes driving cars too fast and putting on airs of bravado and machismo, for the seventh time! But this is about the song and the songwriters, so I gave it an honest listen and looked at the lyrics. It's a very touching song about two friends who are like brothers and all that comes with losing someone like that. It's not the most lyrically complex song I've ever heard, but it's a really good song.

"Thinking Out Loud,"
recorded by Ed Sheeran
Songwriters: Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge
Album: X

Ed Sheeran is brilliant. You could go grab just about anything he's done and put it in this category. His songwriting is that good. When I first listened to his album, which I had been anticipating for a while, this song is the one that I immediately said would be big. It wasn't the first single released, and I can see why not, but holy crap! This is the kind of song that defines an album. The nature of mainstream radio play these days is that stations play songs to death, to the point where we just wish they would go away and never come back to haunt us. This is a big reason I don't really like the radio that much. But "Thinking Out Loud" is one that I could listen to again and again and again, and so much of that is because of the lyrics Sheeran has strung together.

* * * * * * * * * *

My choice: In case it wasn't obvious from my commentary, "Thinking Out Loud" is my choice without hesitation. I don't think the others come close, except for maybe "Alright." Not to take anything away from the other songwriters, but I think this song is that good.

My prediction: Ed Sheeran has gotten the shaft, in my opinion, in past years. He has several nominations but no wins. He's been up against some pretty incredible talent, but I find it hard to believe he hasn't taken home even one Grammy. I think this year might be the year for him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Next up, Album of the Year

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 1

The Grammys are coming up and most years I find that during the show I discover new artists and songs and albums and all sorts of great stuff, so I spend an inordinate amount of time "catching up" after the show. This year I thought I'd get ahead of things and try and learn a bit about all of the nominees before the actual awards air. Trying to familiarize myself with ALL of the categories is practically impossible for me, though. I have a family. I work. I don't get paid for listening to music and writing about it. So, I decided to listen to the nominees in the "big four" categories: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist.

The 58th Annual Grammy Awards air on February 15th, so I have a little less than two weeks to get my thoughts out there. This post highlights the nominees for Best New Artist. I'll give a little information about the artist, my impressions, my choice, and my predictions for what will really happen. I'm not in the industry, but I love music, so I'm curious to see how my choices compare.

* * * * * * * * * *

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett is a singer-songwriter from Australia who released her first full-length solo album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, in 2015. She falls into the Indie Rock genre, which is sort of a catch-all for a wide variety of styles. I listened to the whole album and was immediately transported back to the world of 1980s alternative rock. At times it sounded like Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, and other times I thought I was listening to the B52s. It was well worth the listen.

If I'd known there was a clown in the video, I may not have finished the song.

James Bay

James Bay is an English singer-songwriter and I've seen videos of Ed Sheeran appearing on stage with him at a Bay concert. That's always a good sign. His album Chaos and the Calm is phenomenal from top to bottom. I first learned about Bay while watching "Jane the Virgin." The song I heard was so haunting and beautiful that I had to immediately look it up. And there he was.

My favorite from his album, even if the song is a bit melancholy.

Sam Hunt

When I first started listening to Sam Hunt's album, Montevallo, I wasn't sure if he was a country artist or just plain old folk rock. The line is definitely blurred recently, that's for sure. He's country. And honestly, some of his songs are just plain ol' ridiculous. I have learned to appreciate more and more country music through the years, but the glory of wild beer parties and "tenderness" of small-town break-ups just don't do it for me. That aside, it's a decent album. At times he reminded me of Keith Urban, but while I own a few Urban albums, I don't think Hunt will be added to the collection. Interestingly, Hunt was a college football player who ended up learning guitar and getting into the music industry after a professional football career didn't pan out.

If the trailer parks of the American South depress you, don't watch the video--just listen.

Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly was an American Idol contestant, but it's not clear how far she actually made it. Based on the fact that there is no mention anywhere of her appearing in the live shows I'm guessing she was a Hollywood wash-out at best. She ended up doing covers on YouTube and caught the attention of the record industry. She's got a very current, pop sound, but her guitar work is far more interesting than the usual mainstream stuff you hear. I first heard Kelly when I heard a recording on the radio that I knew had Ed Sheeran on it. Yep, Sheeran and Tori Kelly. Pure gold. It's got to be the best track on her album, Unbreakable Smile.

Want to record a surefire hit? Ask Ed Sheran to sing with you.

Meghan Trainor

OK. Meghan Trainor is probably the most recognizable of the group at this point. She's been on the scene and quite honestly, I feel like I've heard too much of her for her to be in the new artist category. But hey, by the Grammy standards, this past year was the year she burst on the scene and really made a name for herself. "All About That Bass" and "Lips Are Movin'" really got under my skin and I pretty much want to vomit when I hear those songs. Then she recorded "Like I'm Gonna Lose You" with John Legend and my nausea subsided. When I go back and listen to some of her recordings I can now appreciate her retro sound, and while it's not my favorite, I see her talent and the reason she's nominated this year.

Yeah, this is the song that made me listen again--it's in our playlist.

* * * * * * * * * *

My choice: Honestly, I've got to go with James Bay. I think his album is the best track for track, and I just love that British singer-songwriter sound.

My prediction: I'm thinking Meghan Trainor, if for no other reason than she's been fortunate to have a lot of exposure, and I think that really helps. Looking back over the past 20 years, only Bon Iver and Esperanza Spalding bucked the trend, in my opinion.

* * * * * * * * * *

Next up, Song of the Year

Friday, January 29, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

For Mark

Thank you for seeing my magic . . .

Friday, January 22, 2016

Colds and Copays and Contest Fees . . . oh my!

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of winter cold and weather. There are things I like about winter - nostalgic things like thinking about Mark and me our freshman year and how we'd stay out in the cold just to be together, our first kiss, walks in the snow, our wedding, the holidays, spending quality time as a family during FMLA leave our first year of residency, Max's birthday, things like that.

But being cold? Not so much. Snow? Won't drive in it. Sickness? I'm a germaphobe.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark lost his voice. He wasn't sick - it was just ridiculously cold (like well below zero with wind chills) and just going in and out of that at two different work locations while talking non-stop to patients all day . . . well, it really messed with his voice. And trying to recover from that when you're going in and out of that at two different work locations while talking non-stop to patients all day doesn't exactly expedite things.

Now, there is a big storm coming. Snowmaggedon! Anywhere from 3-24 inches. Still not sure even though it starts in less than a day. We live in an area where, for whatever reason, it's either huge or nothing and they don't know until it's closer.

Kate started physical therapy this week for her dislocating knee. Apparently, between her flexibility and rapid growth, it's made it easier for her knee to dislocate at times. Add to that all the walking she does at work and it's no wonder she's had issues. They measured her knee caps and taught her some exercises and we're hoping it all works. We have a new insurance plan thanks to the Affordable Care Act (hahaha, that first word is funny) and our rates went up over a hundred dollars a month and it continues to cover very little so it feels like we're paying monthly premiums so that we can pay out of pocket anyway (reference the co-pay for each time we go to PT: $85).

We haven't stopped working on a refi for the new house (my god, it's taking forever!) but it's happening next week for sure and that will save us every month. We planned it all out so we'd have a bit more of a buffer for things like vacations and such, but then our health premiums went up as well as some other expenses and so much of that savings got eaten up elsewhere. So frustrating. This economy stinks.

The kids have been dealing with something flu-like: body aches, hot-cold sensations, fevers, headaches, sore throats, and Max even threw up a couple of times (which he HATES and which really sets Kate off - even on TV, she can't see/hear someone throwing up without getting really icked out herself) and it stinks. I hate seeing my kids not feeling well. They've been wrapped up in blankets and we've been giving them Saltines, drinks, Tylenol as needed, cough drops, more blankets. So sad.

Scout is a joy. She is such a snuggly comfort and also makes us smile and laugh all the time. Oh, how I love our pup!

We have two teenagers now and my head is spinning at how fast the time flies (hence things like trying to get to the aquarium this week, but that's been postponed due to sickness and snow). I love my family and nothing makes me happier than being home together and playing games and eating good food and watching shows together. And we talk a lot, too. I love it. I feel very, very lucky.

Max started piano lessons and he loves it. His teacher is great and he's picking up reading music like a pro. That's why he wanted to take more formal lessons and he is really doing awesome with them. I'm so proud of him. 

Kate won another writing contest and I read her poem today for it today and it blew me away. She amazes me. She entered another contest today. It has a higher fee than many of them ($50), but it looks fantastic and worth a shot. It's so cool - I hope she blogs about it.

And me? I've been busy with all of the above and lots of homeschooling stuff. It's going really well and it's something that we love and don't regret one bit. It's challenging at times, but overall totally worth it. It suits our family and lifestyle and we're grateful. The kids are thriving and things are good. I feel like I've already posted a lot about myself in my New Year's post, so I don't have a whole lot to add.

Just thought I'd check in and post because I really am trying to blog more and Facebook less. So far, so good.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sometimes Homeschooling looks like . . .

We have two teenagers now. TWO TEENAGERS OMG WHERE DOES THE TIME GO?!? Ahem. Two teenagers. Every once in a while, I step back and take a mindful look at what homeschooling looks like around here sometimes. I've done posts like this before and it's nice to do one every so often - you can almost see an evolution of sorts. I hope so anyway . . .

So here we go. Sometimes homeschooling looks like this:

I love this. She's watching a video, taking notes, enjoying our dog, eating a snack (because she's hungry and not because it's some set, regulated time to eat), and talking to me in our home. We both even commented on how very cool homeschooling is right before I took this picture. It's when I thought to stop and take it in.I took the pictures and then over the next while, this post brewed in my head.

 And sometimes it looks like this:

He'd just finished meditating, as well as doing some video learning about cells, prefixes, and math. He practiced his piano and then organized and set up some Magic cards in a duel. (And he made his bed after I took this picture). :P Yesterday, he and Mark built a bookcase in his room and organized all his books, cleaned up a bit, and formed a To-Be-Read (TBR) shelf.

I took those pictures today at a couple of random different times. We've had a good day. It's been mellow yet productive and it's been filled with learning, and that is something we all enjoy and love.

We do some formal "school" learning, but most of what we learn comes naturally from conversations, outings, things we watch, discussions at the dinner table, sharing articles, reading books together, researching things we're curious about . . . you know, normal life!

We try not to distinguish between "school/learning" and anything else, because we have a learning-is-natural approach and it certainly shouldn't be a tedious chore. Sometimes this is referred to as "unschooling" - a term I once thought was code for 'lazy,' but over time saw was a lot of work and a natural, successful, effective approach.

That being said, we aren't so hands-off that we do absolutely nothing formal/planned (which is the approach of some unschoolers). But overall, our days are filled with learning in a playful, relaxed, natural way.

Here are just some of the topics covered today just in the normal course of the day:

- Cell cycles
- Geometry including congruent and complementary angles
- Prefixes
- A group violin lesson
- A piano lesson
- instrument practice
- Meditation
- The word "clandestine"
- Abraham Lincoln's assassination
- The similarities between Lincoln and Kennedy
- The Illuminati (not kidding)
- The Golden Globes
- David Bowie
- Peter and the Wolf (and how the different instruments represent the characters)
- Liesl & Po (a book the children and I are reading together)
- Read aloud, making a game out of it with dice
- Han Solo
- Benedict Cumberbatch
- Current events
- Feminism
- Gender Issues
- The etymology of the phrase "dark as pitch"
- comma usage
- Forming an X-wing group
- Knowing ourselves
- Handling anxiety and sensitivities
- Time management
- Laundry (collected, sorted, washed, dried, folded)
- Cooking
- Dishes
- Cleaning counters
- Baking
- Recipe following
- Setting the table
- Exercise (Zumba - the kids did this together using the Wii)
- Weekly planning
- History reading
- Sharing stories and things we've learned
- Gratitude
- Book Discussion
- Researching actors
- Galavant
- Catching up with our foreign exchange students
- The Proust Questionnaire and its uses
- Spelling
- Volunteering
- Calendaring
- Emails

Phew! That's honestly off the top of my head. The kids were able to sleep in as much as they needed to, eat when they wanted to, research things at their pleasure, contact their friends via phone or texting or Skyping, help with some house keep up, play, talk, laugh, cuddle with the dog in front of the fireplace . . . life is good. This homeschooling gig is a pretty great thing and we don't take it for granted. We feel very fortunate indeed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year, More Blogging

Just a heads up that as Mark and I make an effort to blog more, our children are doing the same. Our newly-minted teenager has a year-in-review post on his blog and has updated his picture and bio there, too (I know - he's looking so grown up!).

And then there's our soon-to-be-16-year-old daughter (where where where does the time go?!?) who is always writing and blogging - she has some real gems up. (Seriously, the time thing. We try to be mindful. We spend lots of time together. And yet IT FLIES.)

Then there's this sweetheart. We've had a good holiday.
Hope you have, too!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Two New Posts Below

Welcome 2016! 

Mark and I have both reviewed our 2015s below.
They're pretty honest and raw. 

We're also doing more blogging from here on out. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year in Review - 2015

  1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? Started playing D&D in a group with my family and some good friends - so geeky, so fun. Attended a Foley Family reunion in California with all of Mark's side of the family. Loved it. Paddle boarded and kayaked for the first time ever. Spent a week away from Scout while she stayed with friends during our CA trip. We were really sad and I missed her so much. And I was so ridiculously happy to get back to her (our friends are awesome with her and we're very grateful to them for their help, kindness, and love of Scout!). Visited Cape May, NJ. Hosted foreign exchange students - a girl from Paris and a boy from Spain. Saw my daughter off to a week of writer's camp in college dorms. Saw my boy take his first flight. Taught our kids the Portuguese card game sueca and played on the beach as a family. A different kind of therapy - life altering. Sobbed the hardest I have since my father's death due to extreme emotional strain. Am thankfully in a significantly better place and feel happy, content, and hopeful. Situation has improved 20-fold. Hosted Mark's brother's (Greg's) family for a lovely visit during a beautiful fall. Weekly post-therapy lunch dates with my husband. Love them and love him. Saw Benedict Cumberbatch on the London Broadway Stage via satellite. Made a game room in our home (something we've been wanting to do for a while) and we're loving it - pool, ping-pong, air hockey . . . awesome.  
  3. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? For several years, I have wanted to do the same three things - write, exercise, meditate. All things I feel good doing. Like I've said before, "I have this awful habit of wanting everything to be done/caught up/perfect before allowing myself to do something I want, which generally translates into not getting to things I want to do very much. I know better. I counsel people and tell them not to do that. I also tend to run around doing for everyone but myself. This needs to change." This year has had me getting help to overcome some of these self-defeating habits and I'm making progress in my habits, though there are areas where I'm really struggling. I have a ridiculously difficult time allowing myself good things or feeling deserving of good things. It runs deep and involves guilt, shame, and raw emotions. I often feel like there's a major wall/block stopping me from allowing myself good things. I'm still working at it and hoping for progress and trying not to get discouraged. This past year, I lived by the phrase, The Year of Não ("No" in Portuguese)/Now. See, "Não" is pronounced "now." So it has two meanings - saying no more (in order to say yes to myself more - as in, don't overextend and also, make myself a priority) and also doing things NOW - not putting them off. Happy to say I've done better with both. It's been much needed. So this next year? I'm looking to do this: "Less Facebook. More blogging." Facebook sucks me in in a bad way. Truth be told, I much prefer blogging and I miss it, so I'm back (and Jimmy, thank you for the encouragement - it means a lot).   
  5. Did anyone close to you give birth? Ronald and Alena.   

  6. Did anyone close to you die? No. Thankfully, no.

  7. What countries did you visit? No other countries, but we did visit California and had a wonderful time doing that. We also visited Cape May, NJ and we enjoyed our annual week at the beach in Delaware. And while we didn't visit other countries ourselves, we learned more about France and Spain through our great experience with foreign exchange students!    

  8. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015? I wouldn't say I lacked these things in 2015, but I'd like to see more healing, more insight, more motivation, more work on projects, more writing, more compassion for self, more peace, more happiness. And it might be time for a new car for Mark. We have a really hard time allowing ourselves to spend money on ourselves, especially on big-ticket items, as we carry these student loans, but when we do (reference: new house, new fridge), OMG, it's so nice and enjoyable and we find ourselves saying things like, "Why didn't we do this sooner?!?" We tend to deny ourselves in the name of "trying to be good financially." So, I think it might be time to get that good feeling with what he's primarily driving (though I loathe car shopping)! 

  9. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Our trip to the family reunion in CA. It was really great. Very grateful to my in-laws for making it possible and to our friends for their help with Scout.

  10. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Emotional Insight and healing. Learning to respect myself and have boundaries. I have been working SO hard. It's difficult to describe, but SO hard.   

  11. What was your biggest failure? Like I say every year, I don't like to think in terms of failure. It is what it is. I like the quote that says, "I never lose. I either win or learn."   

  12. Did you suffer illness or injury? I just reread what I wrote a year ago on this review and it was astounding to read it and think about how much more I've learned this past year. This year has been better. Grueling and a lot of hard work, but I've made progress for sure. There's more to go, of course, but I'm grateful for the progress made. At times I feel frustrated that I'm not better in certain areas or I feel impatient that it's taking a while. I get frustrated in areas where I feel more "stuck," but I think I'm hopeful. How's that for certainty? :P No major illness or injury otherwise, thankfully.     

  13. What was the best thing you bought? Really enjoying our digital frame of rotating inspirational and funny quotes. And the 3-in-1 table (ping pong, pool, air hockey) that we got the kids for Christmas has been a really big hit! 

  14. Whose behavior merited celebration? Mark's. He has worked so incredibly hard to gain insights, take ownership, and get more in tune with himself and his relationships; and the kids and I, in addition to himself obviously, are the ridiculously lucky people who benefit from his unflagging efforts. I love this man more than words can say. When we're good, we're an incredible team. I don't take for granted how lucky we are. It feels like 1+1=3 when we're in sync. I think that's why it's frustrating when we've felt out of sync. We know we're better than that. We're not the most efficient people in the world (because of all the talking and analyzing), but we like the reasons why we're not (you know, the said talking and analyzing). I am truly married to my best friend. I cannot say enough how grateful I am.  

  15. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Several people's.(Buckle up - this is going to be long and I can't do paragraph breaks without it trying to number them, so). I usually try to be vague or sugar coat the answer to this question, but not this year. This has been a year of seeing people's true natures as I discover my own. It has alternated between disappointing and upsetting, and enlightening as well as empowering. I will start by saying that I am not a perfect person (no one is) and that I've said and done plenty of stupid things myself. I have been struggling emotionally for a couple of years now and I've shared that with people close to me, and am grateful for the understanding and support of good friends. Some of my emotional struggles, I've learned, have probably played into some of the stupid things I've said and done. Now that I have learned more and recognize it, I can take better ownership and do better. I've overextended at times. I've done things out of fear. I think I used to let myself get taken advantage of too much because I was acting in an unhealthy, codependent manner rather than one in which I respected myself. I take ownership of that. I'm learning to see the red flags and, instead of doubting them or pushing down the idea of them like I used to, notice them and be more cautious. I've discovered people lying to us, several times over (they think they got away with it, but they are sorely mistaken). I've discovered insecure people who badmouth and gossip and manipulate others in order to feel good about themselves (you know, the old put-others-down-in-order-to-elevate-oneself trick - that never truly works). I've discovered takers/people interested in relationships where the only discussions and activities are about themselves while anyone else's lives are ignored (I'm simply not interested in that kind of relationship drain). And I've discovered (and I don't know if it's this area, a matter of intellect, or what) people who will hear a rumor about a friend and immediately believe it (without ever talking to their friend in order to verify if what they heard was even true) and subsequently dismiss a years-long friendship just like that! Astounding! Between us, Mark and I have lived in 6 countries, 4 continents, 5 states (and a province), and in countless cities with countless roommates, and we've never seen this sort of prevalence before here/now, so I tend to think it's particular to both geography and culture/education level. There is one woman in particular who seems hell bent on being a gossip "in the know" spreading rumors to any who will listen. I am a big believer in this: if you have a problem with someone, go to the person and work it out. Remarkable how many don't do that. Well, I did talk to that woman and even if she backed off, damage done, right? Here's the thing, she seems to have done me a favor of sorts, because it really separated the wheat from the chaff. It's been so telling who has simply believed her and who hasn't. I've had close friends who she tried to poison, come to me and say, "Stacy, how long have I known you?" and go on to explain that there's a strong history there that some stupid rumor would never damage. Again, these are smart, well-read women I'm talking about here. So reassuring. Others, though? Easily swayed apparently. Sadly. This kind of thing used to tear me apart. Now, I'm learning to see what it means and not sweat it like I used to. Anyway, I'm just done with all of that. I'm beyond tired of being a doormat. I'm done. I'm done chasing down someone's affection or even their thoughts on things. I'm not a mind reader. If someone's mad, they're going to have to put on their big girl panties and say something or, as far as I'm concerned, I'll assume everything's fine. I started to ask at one point - even wrote an email to a friend and then decided not to send it. Not chasing that down. They're not chasing me down? I'm not chasing them down. This isn't junior high. I'm not going to be the girl who goes around constantly asking, "Are you mad at me?" If you are, come to me. I might ask once, but if it's not a situation where we're both working together, count me out. (Not to mention, if someone is so freaking moody and irritated all the time that I spend that much time wondering if they're mad, I'm likely not interested in the first place!) Those people. The ones where you find yourself asking, "Who are you mad at now?" Or "You're mad AGAIN?!?" They're such a DRAIN. If they're mad at someone all the time, you can be pretty sure they'll be mad at you eventually. Why it's taken me this long to figure out, I do not know. My good friend Laura shared with me a really good approach - she just figures that if someone is badmouthing her, she doesn't want to know about it because that's their business, not hers. And she's absolutely right! I've no interest in being in a 1-way relationship with people. People are thrilled to have you around when they need you, but the second you have a hard time and aren't there for them because you're suffering? Some are no longer interested. Well, what do you know! I'm a ridiculously forgiving person who overlooks all kinds of things in the name of friendship - I've looked past things with others but sometimes feel like I'm given no wiggle room for screw ups (or even perceived ones) myself. I'm tired. But I refuse to allow myself to be taken advantage of, because I won't devalue myself like that. More and more, I find myself stopping and really asking myself, "Do I even like these people or enjoy this?!?" and going from there (it's remarkable how often in the past I've not asked myself that question - like I was on freaking auto-pilot!). I'm being careful and not allowing myself to get immersed in others like I used to, not spend so much time on people. I'd give my ALL to help people, which sounds noble, but was also unhealthy and self-defeating. Just over a year ago, when I was depressed in bed, a friend I've had for over a decade said to me, "I'd like to see you not get so involved in helping people." It was not the kind of statement I was used to hearing, but it really affected me. It was honest. I saw that my inclination to help SO much was a coping mechanism that seemed like a good thing, but it can be too much. I lost myself in the process. Helping others is fine, but it needs to be balanced and, quite frankly, I appreciate being looked out for, too. I'm also not interested in relationships of convenience. I've allowed myself to have relationships of circumstance for years (you know, you're friends because you work together or you belong to the same group or whatever), but I've been making a conscious effort to both turn inward and branch out. Less is more. I'm enjoying simple pleasures and time at home with family and less commitments while also getting out to some new groups and places, and meeting interesting people and surrounding myself with strong, positive women and men. I've been reading a lot of feminist articles and they are so empowering. I refuse to buy that women are all jealous and catty as a gender group. Some are. Some aren't. I am choosing to be with those who aren't. These are the friendships I value - people who make me think, expand my mind, focus on things that matter, make me want to be a better person, call me on my crap (I especially appreciate a friend of mine who is able to straightforwardly point things out to me without ever using lack-of-understanding phrases like "let it go" or "get over it"), have fun, laugh, love me, gently push me, respect me, are open, are honest, and where we both look out for each other and build each other up. Since this question is more on the negative side, it lends itself to a kind of negative answer, but the truth is that so much good has come from what I've learned, not only in terms of insight, but also in terms of how I spend my time and with whom! My radar has sharpened and I feel better tuned in with more awareness and less fear. Hopefully I'm more empowered and less jaded. I think I used to just take whatever came my way, perhaps feeling that that's all I deserved or that I wasn't worth more. No more. I have value and won't devalue myself by putting up with mistreatment. I want to model these things for my children - good, empowering relationships. Strong women. Strong men. Diversity. I'm just plain old tired of cattiness and pettiness and really want no part of it. Intentional reciprocity? Sign me up. Anything less? Nope. (And bonus! I'm seeing how, by extension, my kids are enjoying great relationships with great kids due to this restructuring/refined approach.) The following are some quotes that have been inspiring me these past several months (I think you'll sense a theme - and though it may seem like I'm pissed at people, I'm really not! I'm simply more self-aware, informed, empowered, clearer, and wiser.):





  16. Where did most of your money go? Two mortgages until September. Fun! After mortgages, it would be probably be student loans. Then maybe food. That's probably followed by homeschooling/enrichment expenses (curricula, monthly fees, apps, books, tickets, lessons, field trips, events, contest fees, etc.). Property taxes is in there somewhere, too. 

  17. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Our first trip to CA in 13 years. We hadn't been there since 2002! There were so many years of simply not being able to afford it. We're very grateful to Gary and Vivian for putting on such a great event and helping us all be there together. Our weekend in Cape May, NJ. Our digital frame of rotating quotes. Seeing "Love and Mercy" in the theaters. John Cusack retweeting my picture with a message to me! Podcasts. Lots of dinners and game playing with friends. Our annual off-season trip to the beach. A wonderful, supportive surprise in the mail from Jim. Salsa's Mexican Grill opening right down the street (OMG, so excited)! 

  18. What song will always remind you of 2015? Rachel Platten's "Fight Song" - it really resonates with me and what I've been working on this year. Also, Latin music, thanks to "Jane the Virgin" - such a fun, new TV discovery for us. Thank you, Netflix!   

  19. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    a) happier or sadder? Happier and more empowered. Making progress.
    b) thinner or fatter? About the same, I think. Maybe thinner. 
    c) richer or poorer? Richer, I suppose, now that we aren't carrying two mortgages, but we lost quite a bit on the sale of the farmhouse, so I'm not sure. Finances are so confusing. Also, costs of all kinds of things have gone up (health insurance, etc.) regardless of the fact that our income has not. Oh, gas prices are cheaper (but we don't really drive that far/that much, thankfully)! Then there's stuff like retirement, college savings, etc. - we've had years where we've been able to save and years where we haven't. I don't know. Like I said, finances are confusing. 

  20. What do you wish you’d done more of? Mmmmm, probably blogging? Mostly, I feel pretty good about how I've spent my time this past year. I know I've been doing the best I can and that I'm healing and making progress. Sometimes I'm frustrated at how long things can take and I'm not always patient about it, but when I step back and look at the big picture, I know I'm doing so much better.  

  21. What do you wish you’d done less of? I'm pretty pleased with how I've spent my time overall, as I've been learning to be gentle with myself and allowing space for learning and healing. That being said, I've noticed how often I operate out of fear and I'd like to do less of that. Less fear, more intention. Along those lines, I can also get sucked into brainless things as a way of avoiding things I *really* want to do, so I'd say I wish I'd done less Facebook. 

  22. How did you spend Christmas? Like we usually do -- here with my fun family, eating great food, playing games, and enjoying how well we all know one another - such thoughtful gifts and so much excitement over giving and gratitude over receiving. We're really enjoying our games as well as our ping pong/pool/air hockey table. Oh, and we made two kinds of octopus (delicious!). My kids jumped in and helped make lunch on busy days leading up to Christmas (gourmet grilled cheese with tomato soup - yum!). We've had great meals. Mark made the most amazing breakfast I think I've ever had - an eggs Benedict bake with hollandaise sauce. It was scrumptious! It's also been so nice to hear from friends and family near and far this holiday season. We love the week between Christmas and New Year's and are super relaxed - sleeping, eating, and playing. Love!

  23. Did you fall in love in 2015? So so so very much. I have literally been moved to tears at seeing how loved I am by my best friend. And on top of that? I love him, too.

  24. What was your favorite TV program? The Goldbergs, The Big Bang Theory, and our new favorite, Jane the Virgin! I've also enjoyed Difficult People, Master of None, and Grace and Frankie on streaming. Oh, and Amazing Race! 

  25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? I honestly don't hate anyone. Mostly, I'm simply feeling empowered about who I choose to spend my time with. It has to not be a drain. 

  26. What was the best book you read? This has been a bit of a "bleh" year in the book department. I did like "Calling Dr. Laura" - one of the many beautiful graphic novels Mark bought me this past Christmas. I liked "All the Bright Places." I listened to the audio of "Bossypants" by Tina Fey during our travel to and from CA and I enjoyed that! (Tina Fey is my soul sister). I read a TON of articles (it's seriously crazy). I need to read some better books moving forward . . .  

  27. What was your greatest musical discovery? A Great Big World. I didn't discover them this year, but their new album is great. 

  28. What did you want and get? Insight and healing. My inbox to zero! HUZZAH! (That took nearly all year). Also, a new fridge. It took the old one dying and Mark making it last longer by taking off the freezer panel and blow drying the ice for a while, but eventually, we went for it and it's so great to have room to put plenty of food again as well as have a functioning ice/water dispenser! (Thanks for the help, Mom!) 

  29. What did you want and not get? Woot! Again, we've done well. This past year, I said this: "I'd say more time/support working on taking care of myself." And, to a great extent, I've been getting that! But this question is about wanting something I did not get . . . hmmmmm . . . probably that ever-fruitless desire of wanting others to be more understanding. We can't control others; we are in charge of ourselves. A good life lesson. Also, to be able to do nice things for myself and enjoy myself without guilt. Like I said earlier, I'm struggling in this area and it runs deep so it's not something I can just turn on and off. I'm working on this and I think I'm headed in the right direction anyway. 

  30. What was your favorite film of this year? "Love and Mercy," hands down. I also loved "The Imitation Game," "St. Vincent," and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." 

  31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 41 - the day itself was wonderfully low-key (just what I wanted this year), spent with my family and, of course, it included gifts and good food. We got home just before an ice storm hit and stayed in playing games and talking on the phone with friends, helping them make a pro-con list about which house to buy.  

  32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? A lottery win? Student loan debt forgiveness (can you imagine?!?)?

  33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015? I've been making an effort to not deny myself or put stuff off (as I'm wont to do), working on not always saving things for special occasions only, but to do it now and enjoy it. Carpe diem and all of that. So, I wear what I want and sometimes that means wearing the nice jewelry or the pretty dress just because (and jeans and t-shirts when I feel like it), not putting off things we want to do, working on projects, etc. Like I said, it feels so good to be in sync!

  34. What kept you sane? My family, Scout, my therapist, friends, the beach, games, and TV.   

  35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? John Cusack (he retweeted a picture of me WITH A MESSAGE!) and Bernie Sanders. 

  36. What political issue stirred you the most? Inequality.

  37. Who did you miss? My dad. Also, the extended Foley clan after our wonderful reunion.

  38. Who was the best new person you met? My therapist. I'm very, very grateful to have found such a good one. Aside from that, we've made several friends in the area with people who share similar interests - tabletop gaming, Dr. Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, food, geekdoms, fandoms, etc. It's been really nice to branch out and meet new, awesome, FUN people. But someone we've specifically met this year? 2015? Hmmmm. Mark and I met a waitress on one of our lunch dates and we really hit it off with her. We've since become Facebook friends (she left her Facebook contact on our receipt) and we've met her husband, who is a really, really cool guy. We don't get together with them a lot, but we've been out twice so far and we enjoy ourselves so much every time. We've also been meeting people through our kids - it's fun to meet their friends and their friends' parents.  

  39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015. That some things run so deep that they affect us emotionally and physically and take a LOT of work to heal. That we have internal family systems that work to protect us but sometimes, well-meaning as they may be, hold us back. That self insight and healing can make a world of difference, even if there's a long ways to go. Oh, and to stop putting off things that I really want to do - hosting foreign exchange students, going to CA, wearing that dress . . .  

  40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
    So much this:
    "Like a small boat
    On the ocean
    Sending big waves
    Into motion
    Like how a single word
    Can make a heart open
    I might only have one match
    But I can make an explosion

    And all those things I didn't say
    Wrecking balls inside my brain
    I will scream them loud tonight
    Can you hear my voice this time?

    This is my fight song
    Take back my life song
    Prove I'm alright song
    My power's turned on
    Starting right now I'll be strong
    I'll play my fight song
    And I don't really care if nobody else believes
    'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

    Losing friends and I'm chasing sleep
    Everybody's worried about me
    In too deep
    Say I'm in too deep (in too deep)
    And it's been two years
    I miss my home
    But there's a fire burning in my bones
    Still believe
    Yeah, I still believe

    And all those things I didn't say
    Wrecking balls inside my brain
    I will scream them loud tonight
    Can you hear my voice this time?

    This is my fight song
    Take back my life song
    Prove I'm alright song
    My power's turned on
    Starting right now I'll be strong
    I'll play my fight song
    And I don't really care if nobody else believes
    'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

    A lot of fight left in me

    Like a small boat
    On the ocean
    Sending big waves
    Into motion
    Like how a single word
    Can make a heart open
    I might only have one match
    But I can make an explosion

    This is my fight song (Hey!)
    Take back my life song (Hey!)
    Prove I'm alright song (Hey!)
    My power's turned on
    Starting right now I'll be strong (I'll be strong)
    I'll play my fight song
    And I don't really care if nobody else believes
    'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

    No I've still got a lot of fight left in me"

    My voice. My story. I will not be silenced any more . . .