Friday, August 18, 2017

Kid Interviews - 2017 Mid-Year Edition

This is typically something we do at the beginning of a year, but it's August. And we still want to do this. So here it is.

Kate - Age 17, 12th Grade

Favorite Color - Yellow
Favorite Food - Sushi
Favorite Drink - Coffee or tea, "depending on my mood."
Favorite Board or Card Game - Geek Out
Favorite Wii Game - Mario Kart
Favorite Online Game - "I don't think I really play any online games."
Favorite DS game - "It's been a while. I don't know if I have a favorite."
Favorite Hobby - Reading and writing
Favorite non-electronic thing to do - Writing or Reading
Favorite thing to do outside - "I like roasting s'mores."
Favorite Book - Harry Potter
Favorite Movie - "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"
Favorite TV show or Cartoon - "Supernatural," "Doctor Who"
Favorite Restaurant - Wasabi
Favorite Outdoor Spot - "The hammock under the tree"
Favorite Animal - Dog
Favorite Fruit - Berries or mangoes
Favorite Flower - Sunflower
Favorite Tree - Weeping Willow
Favorite Vegetable - "Vegetables are always boring unless you dress them up some way, so I don't know if you can pick a favorite."
Favorite Snack - Popcorn
Favorite Stuffed Animal - Menedy (stuffed cat)
Favorite Sport - Quidditch
Favorite Dessert - Chocolate peanut butter cookies
Favorite Place to Vacation - The Beach
Favorite Houseguests - "Any of my friends from the Supernatural role play."
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor - Chocolate Peanut Butter
Favorite Smell - My Sherlock candle, campfire
Favorite Aisle in Department Store - Stationary
Favorite Song - "I don't have a favorite song, but anything from 'Hamilton' is good."
Favorite Group or Singer - "I don't know if I have an all-time favorite, but right now it's Dodie."
Favorite Season - Fall
Favorite Podcast - "Pop Culture Happy Hour"
B.F.F. - "It's hard. I have so many best friends from different groups."
Favorite Room of the House - The writers room or my room.
Favorite Day of the Week - "Probably weekends because I have a lot of school friends so I can see them and talk to them more."
Favorite Event of the past year - "Going to see 'Hamilton.' And the Supernatural convention was pretty cool."
Favorite Errand to Run - "Getting Scout groomed so I can play with the puppies."
Favorite Outfit - My Wonder Woman t-shirt and jeans.
Favorite Instrument to Play - Violin
Favorite Phrase - "I don't think I have one."
Favorite Thing about Daddy - "I like getting into geeky stuff with him."
Favorite Thing about Mommy - "Goofing around during some mundane task, like cooking or cleaning."
Favorite Thing about Your Sibling - "Playing games with him."
Favorite Thing about Scout - "How quirky she is. She definitely fits in with our family."
Favorite Christmas Gift of last year - "My new computer."
Favorite School Subject - English
Favorite Family Tradition - "I like our New Year's jar of quotes."
Favorite Homeschool Group Activity - Chorus
What do you want to be when you grow up? - An author
If you could change anything about the world . . . - "Make sure each person has compassion. I think that would automatically fix a lot of things."
If you could have any superpower . . . - "I would want to freeze time so I wouldn't mess with time traveling timelines, but I could still get more stuff done."
Weirdest thing you can do - "I can turn one foot backward and one foot forward at the same time."
Best thing about you - "I think I'm a good listener for my friends."

Max - Age 14, 9th Grade

Favorite Color - Silver
Favorite Food - Pizza
Favorite Drink - Knight's Ale
Favorite Board or Card Game - I don't really have a favorite. I get on different kicks at different times.
Favorite Wii Game - Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Favorite Online Game - Overwatch
Favorite DS game - Super Smash Bros. 3DS
Favorite Hobby - Playing games and making games
Favorite non-electronic thing to do - Making games
Favorite thing to do outside - Play with the neighbors
Favorite Book - Full Metal Alchemist series
Favorite Movie - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Favorite TV show or Cartoon - Over the Garden Wall, and Gravity Falls
Favorite Restaurant - Papa John's
Favorite Outdoor Spot - Renaissance Faire
Favorite Animal - Bald Eagle
Favorite Fruit - Spiky Melon
Favorite Flower - White roses and Nightshades
Favorite Tree - The tree in the backyard that looks like it's on fire in the fall
Favorite Vegetable - "Whatever I'm in the mood for."
Favorite Snack - Salsa Sun Chips
Favorite Stuffed Animal - Zip (stuffed eagle)
Favorite Sport - Tae Kwon Do
Favorite Dessert - Tiramisu
Favorite Place to Vacation - "The beach, and I had a lot of fun in Orlando."
Favorite Houseguests - Mike King and Matt Shetz
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor - Mint Chocolate Chip
Favorite Smell - Gasoline
Favorite Aisle in Department Store - Games
Favorite Song - "It always changes, it depends on what I'm in the mood to listen to."
Favorite Group or Singer - "it's always changing."
Favorite Season - Fall
Favorite Podcast - "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me "
B.F.F. - Connor
Favorite Room of the House - The living room
Favorite Day of the Week - Saturday
Favorite Event of the past year- Game designer camp
Favorite Errand to Run - "I don't really like running errands."
Favorite Outfit - Beanie, flannel, geeky t-shirt, black pants, Converse sneakers
Favorite Instrument to Play - Piano
Favorite Phrase - "I live by daily phrases."
Favorite Thing about Daddy - "That he always looks out for us before he looks out for himself."
Favorite Thing about Mommy - "That she loves us very much and takes care of us."
Favorite Thing about Your Sibling - "That she likes to hang out with me and does fun things with me."
Favorite Thing about Scout - "That she's cute."
Favorite Christmas Gift of last year - A new laptop
Favorite School Subject - Science
Favorite Family Tradition - My birthday parties
Favorite Homeschool Group Activity - Park Days
What do you want to be when you grow up? - "A game designer. My dream job would be an e-sports gamer."
If you could change anything about the world . . . - "Everyone says, 'world peace.' I'll say, 'global peace.'"
If you could have any superpower . . . - "teleporting." 
Weirdest thing you can do. - "Walk on my two legs."
Best thing about you - "I can't pick one. I'm so amazing. (he laughs) If I think I'm amazing, then it means I'm amazing, just like he said on 'Freaks and Geeks.'"    

Monday, July 10, 2017

Encyclopedia of Me - T (Stacy)

Pictures from my own collection, Youtube, New York Times, Forbes, and Pinterest  

Transcendentalists - So this was one of those things I learned about in college and just fell in love with nearly immediately. One day, I was walking through my college bookstore when I picked up a book of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I started flipping through randomly and was blown away at how much resonated with me. It was as if he were in my mind, reading my thoughts. Things I had considered, views that seemed right to me . . . Emerson expressed them so beautifully and we were on the same page about so many big things. The transcendentalists were a group of people who were into self-empowerment and trusting themselves. They loved to learn and did so often as a group. They wrote essays. They believed in the interconnectedness of people and nature. They were big on intuition and cared more about individualism and authenticity than conforming to society's expectations. They were anti-orthodoxy and believed in equality. They felt that we all have knowledge that transcends the palpable (that "trust yourself" thing). They believed these ideas not as religious beliefs (remember, they're anti-orthodoxy), but rather as a way of understanding life and relationships. I love so much about this time period. Mark and I got to visit Concord and Lexington as newlyweds; and a year ago, we were able to visit there again with our kids. Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Walden Pond, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, plus all the historical revolutionary war stuff ("Shot Heard Round the World," the Minutemen, etc.) . . . it's a perfectly lovely area to visit.

To Kill a Mockingbird -  I'm not generally one to reread books (there are so many good books out there to be read!), but this book (and Harry Potter) is an exception. I've read it at least a half a dozen times and I think I fall more in love with it each time. Scout is so spunky and scrappy! She makes, in my opinion, one of the best narrators of all time. I laughed with her and I cried with her. Who doesn't melt at her quick fist and big heart? Her good brother and Dill, their sweet sensibilities at the sick injustices of the world. And Atticus! Dear Atticus. Is there a better father in all of literature? I love this book so much. To me, it is a living, breathing thing. I have feelings for this book similar to the feelings I have for people I love. I'll always be grateful to Harper Lee for this treasured, timeless gift she's given our world, a world, sadly, still desperately in need of its message.

TV - We are living in the golden age of television. The shows are quality. The writing is excellent. There's so much good stuff out there! I really do have simple tastes and pleasures, and one of my very favorite things is cuddling up on the couch with my family (Scout included, of course) and snuggling with blankets and one another while watching shows together. We watch all kinds of sit-coms and dramedies. We watch SNL (Tina Fey!) We watch The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. We binge watch shows on Netflix or DVD, like Freaks and Geeks, Gilmore Girls, Friends, New Girl, Parenthood, and The Office. We get excited when our shows come back every fall. Even with stuff I don't watch personally, I get excited for people in my family who I know love those shows (Dr. Who, Supernatural, Gravity Falls, etc.). Our current favorite also fits the letter for this post - This is Us. I've never been so blown away by a pilot before. That show is truly phenomenal. Oh, and I should add that we love, love, love Tivo.

Therapy - That may seem weird to list, but it's something that describes me in two ways: one, I am a therapist and two, I've benefited from seeking therapy myself. I detest that there is a mental illness stigma in this country. Therapy is the kind of thing that can benefit absolutely everyone. And the things one learns in therapy should, in my opinion, be taught in kindergarten and throughout school to all children and teens. Mental health should be covered so people can have access and not have to spend so much trying to pay for it. Just imagine for a second how our country would fare if everyone could get the care they need for the emotional struggles in their life. Not a doubt in my mind, there would be more *thriving,* instead of just surviving, in this country, and everyone would benefit. We are, after all, interconnected. I earned my Master's in social work over a decade ago. I've worked as a therapist online (typing!) and in person. I've taught classes (teaching!). I've facilitated summer camps. But the biggest benefit of all for me personally has been the help it's been for me as a person and also the skills I'm able to pass on to my family. Life is hard. Tools to help us navigate life definitely lighten the burden and empower us as people.

Theatre - So this is one I've always enjoyed on some level, but thanks to Kate's growing interest in it a few years ago, we've really gotten into it even more. Some of her online friends were making lots of musical references and she wanted to understand better and know more, so we started Musical Mondays, where the kids would watch/study a musical each week off of a list they made of musicals they've been interested to see. "Hamilton" is a big part of what really got the theatre ball rolling here, but it's definitely expanded into so much more. We live close enough to NYC that we can go in for the day by car or bus or train and catch a show. This past spring, we were able to nab "Hamilton" tickets for the following December. Boy, was that a big deal! In the meantime, we got to see other shows. I was able to take Kate to New York this past summer to see her first show on Broadway - "Les Miserables." Then, in October, Mark surprised me with an overnight getaway and we saw "Waitress" (which has a very special place in my heart) and "Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812" with Josh Groban. Both were amazing. Then in November, Mark's parents came to visit and took us all to see the very hilarious "Something Rotten" in NYC. We all loved it and Max and Grandma got to see their first NYC Broadway show together. In December, our family got to see the amazing "Hamilton." Worth all the hype and more. And then this past spring, Kate and I returned to NYC to see "Waitress," this time starring Sara Bareilles herself. It was fantastic! Mark is taking the kids to see "Comet" this summer as well. Pretty exciting stuff. We also live really close to Hershey Theatre and get to see lots of the touring shows there. We've got season tickets for the upcoming shows because they're all so good (including "Something Rotten" again!!)! Kate also volunteers there and gets to see a lot of shows for free. It's great. Oh, and we got to see the touring company of "Rent" in York a couple of months ago, too. Loved it! I'll toss in one more "T" word here, because it fits - traveling. We enjoy traveling. It doesn't always have to be extravagant - even simple beach trips or visits to NYC or DC are just FUN for us. We simply enjoy being together and exploring and relaxing and having fun.

Trustworthiness and Thoughtfulness - Over the past several years, I've come to appreciate these two traits as hallmarks of a good friendship. As you get older, you begin to notice the difference between one-way and two-way relationships. Thoughtfulness doesn't need to be extravagant. It's checking in. It's remembering what's going on with others and asking them how they are. It's responding when they're hurting or having a hard time. I think it's actually fun to be thoughtful. I have always loved "just because" gifts/notes or surprises or just someone wanting to spend time with me. I like to be on both the giving and receiving end of that kind of thing. We've lived in several states/countries/continents and value our friendships from all those different times in life. I love meeting new people, too. Isn't that part of what life is all about? I especially appreciate and feel safe around people who are thoughtful, but who are additionally trustworthy. Trust, once broken, is very difficult to repair. I have far more lasting friendships than I have damaged ones, but for the ones that have suffered, broken trust has been what did them in - lack of honesty, gossip, two-facedness . . . those things are poison to relationships. And when I think of my absolute best friend, these are two *major* qualities that he has - he is trustworthy and thoughtful. I feel lucky to be married to someone who always looks out for me and is always thoughtful. He has had more than one experience talking to other men who have felt way too at ease badmouthing their wives. I have never, ever once worried that he would do that about me. He is completely trustworthy. This guy has my back and I know it. He is my best friend. A recent example of his thoughtfulness is that after the past few weeks of stress around here from his surgery and colitis, he surprised me with an appointment for a massage. It was so thoughtful of him and it was perfect to go and get one. I'm so grateful to him and for him. I love this guy!!

So, a few other "T" things. Taming of the Shrew is one of many Shakespearean plays that I enjoy and Kate's name comes from it. Another great, more current novel that is a big hit with most who read it (and a big favorite in our book club) is The Thirteenth Tale. I've literally bonded with a now friend over this book and because of that, she joined our book club and has found it to be a perfect fit (and we love having her in our group)! I like tea and street tacos. Many of my favorite games start with the letter T, including Ticket to Ride, Takenoko, Trivia games, Ten Days, True Colors, Timeline, and Tokaido. A lot of music I've liked for different reasons over the years and/or that are musical memories for me also start with T, like Take 6, Taylor Swift, They Might Be Giants, Train, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Trombone Shorty. And I'll add a person, too. TJ. He is such a sweet and thoughtful friend to Kate and, because of her friendship with him, she's getting to have so many cool experiences. I have a soft spot for him because of how sweet he is toward Kate and how he looks out for her, makes her laugh, and treats her so well. And I'm still grinning over his beautiful birthday tribute to her, too. Luna to his Harry. I'm very grateful for TJ.

Encyclopedia of Me - T (Mark)

J.R.R. Tolkien: I'm a big fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I remember my mother reading The Hobbit and telling the story to us chapter by chapter when I was way too little to read a book like that by myself. I remember finally picking up LOTR and reading from beginning to end in college. In the middle of a busy semester with all kinds of Japanese to read and translate, and papers to write, and pre-med classes to pass, I decided I needed to read those. Reading those stories, and seeing the movies, and sharing all of that with my family has been something really fun. I know many people have criticisms of Tolkien's exhaustive style, but without him, modern fantasy would look a lot different.

Trombone: When I was in 3rd grade I lived in Canada, and the Canadian Brass came to our school to do a concert. I loved it. From that moment I knew that I wanted to play the trombone. When we moved back to California and I had the chance to join band in the 4th grade, the teacher told me that he only had experience teaching the flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, or drums, so if I wanted to play the trombone, there would be a lot of working on my own. I knew what I wanted, so my parents rented the trombone and I learned. I couldn't even reach the last position on the slide because my arms were too short, but who plays that many B-naturals when you're starting out on the trombone anyway? I went on to play for many years (and I really should be playing more right now) and it's been a source of a lot of fun times for me. I still have the Bach trombone I received as an eighth-grade graduation present from my parents, and which my middle school band director helped us pick out by going from store to store all over Oakland, so we could get her educator discount. Big props to my parents for letting me take a chance on an instrument that 4th grade teacher didn't want to teach.

TSR: This is the game company started by Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons. D&D is one of those things I've played off and on for many years, and each iteration is fun for different reasons. Also, TSR made a role-playing game called Top Secret/S.I., which is an RPG all about espionage. I played it less frequently, but really enjoyed that as well. TSR was purchased by Wizards of the Coast several years ago, so it's no longer around, but I have fond memories of any game or book with that TSR logo on it.

Thelonious Monk: Here is one of the great names in jazz. He's also a great musician. Somewhere in high school I came across his music and became intrigued immediately. He took the rules and twisted them all up in a way I hadn't experienced before. His dissonance and simplistic piano-playing style really spoke to me. At the time, I was probably looking for ways to break free from norms and expectations, and playing some very different jazz music filled that need. I still frequently go back to albums by him when I'm looking for something familiar and pleasant to the ears. Many people will argue about what's pleasant, but that's OK. There's room for everyone.

Tokyo and Takasaki: Here are two "towns" in Japan that shaped a lot of my first impressions of the country. My first night in Japan was spent in Tokyo. I remember being blown away on the ride in from the airport. It was so huge. We drove right through the downtown area and I couldn't believe so many people and lights could be in one place. I was soon shipped out to Takasaki, a fairly big town about 2 hours by train from Tokyo. It was my first taste of how blended agricultural and urban life are in Japan. It was a short bike ride from the huge city center to rice fields and little homes. I lived there for 4 months and it was the perfect place to learn the language and customs. Soon after that I moved to Tokyo for 7 months. Within days I learned to ignore the city sounds and find peace amidst the chaos. I drove in Japan for the first time in Tokyo. That was an experience and a half! And I was blown away with how a city so enormous could still have room for beautiful parks and shrines and temples and tiny little ramen shops. It's still one of my favorite cities I've ever visited.

Trains: I have to go back a lot of years to find a time when trains weren't a part of my life. I rode the BART in the Bay Area plenty of times growing up. Stacy and I took the train home for a surprise visit during our freshman year in college. And since getting married we've always lived close enough to the tracks to hear the sound of the train. Max was a train nut when he was a little kid and we watched a lot of Thomas, read a lot of train books, built many train tracks for Thomas and his friends, and drove toward train crossings to catch a glimpse of a night train. We can ride the train in and out of NYC to catch a show or spend some time in the city. I rode more trains than I care to count in Japan, including the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). I like climbing on a subway car or other train in a big city. There is something relaxing about traveling by train, wherever it is.

Picture credits:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


We are, by choice, primarily a one-income family. While I have always done *something* on the side (Google researching, Google ratings job, online counseling, working in our clinic, teaching summer camps, running groups, etc.), Mark is the main person bringing home the proverbial bacon and I am the main person home with the kids and sort of managing our lives in general.

When we are feeling connected and in a good rhythm, Mark and I are an incredible team. Doesn't matter what we're working on together, I feel *super* happy (almost weepy even) when we're working on it together - projects, planning, cooking, you name it. This teamwork also means we pick up slack for one another - when one is busy/stressed, the other tries to do more, and vice-versa.

When it comes to finances, it's about the earning as well as the spending/saving. I'm pretty conscious of the fact that anytime we spend money, it basically means work for Mark, so I don't take decisions about money, small or large, lightly (though he'd like to see me relax more and not stress so much). We view my being home with the kids as an investment not only in them but in our sanity for a little balance in our lives. We are fortunate to have this option, but while that means we do okay, it does not mean we roll around in money all day. It means we have to be even more careful about our choices.

So, here are 10 things we do to try to save money:

1. We don't waste food. And when I say we don't waste food, I mean we don't waste ANY food. We don't eat out a lot (I mean we love to eat out, but again, it's a way to save money, so while this is one of our favorite treats and we do indulge, we cook and eat home most of the time). When we do eat out, we bring home leftovers. One of my superpowers is that I can make leftovers of all kinds stretch and I can reinvent entire meals of leftovers.

I recently looked in the fridge and saw leftover fried rice, leftover white rice, spinach that was getting older, and shredded cheese that was also getting older. I pulled out all of those ingredients, started stir frying with the right seasonings and sauces, grabbed some tortillas, and voila . . . I made delicious cheesy, spinach enchiladas! The kids devoured them and have been raving about them and asking for more. I made it up so I wouldn't have to throw out old rice, spinach, and cheese. (For the record, by "old," I don't mean bad-for-you old; I just mean older.) I seriously turned Chinese into Mexican.

2. I only treat myself to a really nice cut and color at a salon (and a chain salon at that) once a year around my birthday. AND I use coupons. There are women who go to fancy salons every 3-6 weeks and spend hundreds of dollars each time. No judgment from me - everyone spends money on that which they value. Well, as much as I like to look nice, I personally don't value spending thousands of dollars a year at a hair salon. The thought of it stresses me out. I get one really nice cut/color treat a year and the rest of the time, I cut my own bangs and color my own hair using an $8 kit. It always looks nice and saves us hundreds, nay, thousands of dollars a year.

3. I hate clothes shopping. Hate it. The stereotype of girls who go shopping for fun? Does not compute. Again, to each their own, but shopping isn't a pastime for me; it's something you do out of necessity because your old clothes have worn out. I'm not saying this is ideal. This is not an area where I make myself do this. It's easy because I tend to naturally put off clothes shopping because I think it's such a bore and a chore. I don't look like a vagabond or anything, but yeah, I have a pair of shoes right now that are completely split on the bottom and the stitching has come out around the sides (so you can see my socks from underneath the shoe and from the side, too). At this point, I'm riding it out, because spring will be here soon and I won't have to worry about winter shoes for at least 8 months. Whenever I do need to get some new clothes, I tend to resist by saying, "But I swear I just bought new clothes," to which Mark responds, "You bought that shirt in 2004." And he's right.

A picture of us from 1992. I think I just donated that sweater a few weeks ago, in 2017.

4. We've been together for 25 years this fall and we just bought our 3rd used car (and even then, Jim was kind enough to help us out significantly). Now, full disclosure, we're car shopping to replace the old van now. We knew that both of our cars needed replacing and, like clothes shopping, we have put it off. Well, we put it off so long with our Saturn that it just went kaput. We're trying to get ahead of that with our old van so that we can at least get some trade-in value on it toward the purchase of its replacement. The timing has just worked so that both cars have needed replacing at around the same time. We're trying to stretch it out a little just because that's a lot of expense at once. (Also, we hate car shopping.)

We got this car in 1998. It went kaput in 2016. That's 18 years of reliability!

5. We do a lot of things ourselves. We do a lot of home projects ourselves - electric, plumbing, repairing, etc. We research how to do it and then we do it. We do hire professionals when necessary, but we have always done a lot ourselves. Same with cleaning. We have never had a cleaning person (though we've talked about it many times and it often sounds like a huge help). We just can't stomach paying someone to do something we can do ourselves. It's good for the kids to know how to clean (which is why when we DO talk about getting one, we figure he or she can come once a month and we'll clean once a month, so every two weeks the house gets clean but we do it half the time) and we're capable, so we do it. This does mean that sometimes there are longer stretches than we'd like when we don't get to cleaning it the way we'd like it, but such is life. Priorities. It's neat and clean and sanitary and we don't live in a museum. It works for us.

6. We use our library. A lot. We always have and we continue to do so. It is our first place to check when we need or want a book. We all love books and yes, we buy them, too, but it adds up, so the library is a wonderful resource. There's not a doubt in my mind that, especially as homeschoolers, we've saved tens of thousands of dollars by using our library. We do purchase a lot of our own supplies and curricula for our kids' education, but we try to use resources like the library whenever we can. They know us there. We all have library cards. We request items online. We write dates on the calendar. We get email reminders. We have a special basket in our house for library items (so they don't get mixed up with our items). It takes a little more effort, but it is totally worth it and saves us a bundle! This is also how we watch a lot of movies and TV shows - the library has an extensive library of DVDs that we can borrow. Such a great resource!

7. Simple pleasures. Our family thrives on these, somewhat by necessity but also by choice. We talk about this a lot. We do a lot of running around sometimes due to the nature of homeschooling and teenagers, but it's balanced by lots of down time at home. Some of our very favorite things are meals together (this has always been a big priority for us), watching TV shows together, adventures together, playing games together, listening to podcasts and audiobooks together, getting ice cream, working on projects together, celebrating birthdays together . . . you name it. We can make an event out of anything and we love to simply ENJOY ourselves. We have nights where we spontaneously get appetizers and have a bunch of midnight snacks while binge watching Netflix or some political humor shows like The Daily Show. We have lazy days where it's hours before we're out of our pajamas and we're talking, eating, and playing games for a while. We have Sunday morning cuddles in our bed, playing with Scout and relaxing before we get up and ready and do our weekly planning along with a fun breakfast. This past week, we celebrated the first day of Spring with an annual tradition of getting free Rita's Italian Ice (it's not Dell's) and I learned that Dairy Queen does free ice cream, too. Score!


We enjoy one another's company and value our relationships. We invest in them and put effort into them, because it's important to us. We talk a lot about both friendships and family relationships - they are a two-way street, both giving and receiving. I've been making a conscious effort these past couple of years especially to not keep chasing down affection or attention from others. If they're not interested, I'm not interested. It's not complicated. Relationships take effort on everyone's part - it's important to be present, to be interested in one another, to support one another. It's obvious when someone is interested and when they are not - just look over years of evidence and you know.

Many of our friends here are busy with their extended families and visits from grandparents for birthdays, recitals, and what not. That's not really a thing for us super often. Our friends go on big and small outings and annual vacations organized and funded by their kids' grandparents. That's also not regularly a thing for us (though we did do a big Florida trip in 2009, thanks to Jim, and a big family reunion in CA a year and a half ago, thanks to Gary and Vivian, and both were lovely). Our vacations and trips tend to be smaller most of the time (though we hope to do some bigger trips one day) - we do a lot of day trips to neighboring states and local exploring adventures. We do little getaways and road trips. We've done some pretty cool things, to be honest. It's nice living close to DC, NYC, and New England. Plus, we live in a gorgeous state and in a lovely small town. Every thing we do can be special with a little effort and thoughtfulness and creativity. Just this past week, we did a college visit in MD and took some time to explore Annapolis, MD, and we had such a good time. We did a fun progressive dinner, got Kate a pencil from the college she visited, and Max got some comics at a comic book store. Little things, but fun and special things.

Taking NOH8 pictures in DC
8. Annual off-season beach trip. This is probably one of our favorite times of year. We go to the beach in Delaware on the off-season and take Scout daily to hang out on the beach with us. We rent a beach house, eat food, take books, collect sea shells, play frisbee, listen to music, eat good seafood, play games. It's lovely. And we go to the same place every fall. Because we go off-season, we're able to go on the cheap. We love that we have a regular place to visit that is familiar and a fun tradition for us. It lends a nice rhythm to our lives. We've recently started adding a shorter spring trip as well where we explore some new beach-y place somewhere else. The past two years, we explored Cape May, NJ, and Lavalette, NJ. Both were so much fun!! These trips are an inexpensive way to have some nice mini-vacations and some great family time.



9. We live close to a lot of what we do. We've always been anti-long commutes and business trips. While we do drive a ways now and then for these trips and various homeschool opportunities, we generally don't do a lot of day to day driving if we can help it. We like living in a small town where we're close to most everything we do - work, groceries, kids' lessons, etc. We homeschool and run our own business. That may come with some challenges, like anything does, but it does afford us a lot of flexibility and freedom, too. And we take advantage of that as often as we can!

10. We are open about our finances with our kids. We talk openly about money and costs and budgeting and saving and investing and all of that stuff. We try to strike a balance teaching them to be wise and also to enjoy. I have a tendency to stress about finances quite a bit (honestly, not a day goes by that I don't think about finances - every single time we spend money on anything, I'm doing math in my head about what that means for us), but I don't want to pass on an unhealthy emotional approach with regard to money, so I tend to work on that and work on having a balance. Mark is good at helping me with that. It's hard not to stress about finances sometimes just because life is expensive! But life is also about enjoyment. Balance.

We're coming up on paying for college for these two kids (technically, we're already paying for college!) and we're open about explaining what we can and can't do. We want to give them everything, but the reality is that we can't do that very easily. We want them to go wherever they want and I hate that sometimes that's limited by cost, but such is life. I feel for them. This is a pretty lousy time historically to be dealing with college costs. They're higher than ever. So we talk a lot about options. Unfortunately even the state schools in PA are super expensive and other parents have told us you're better off going to a more expensive, private university that awards more financial aid than going to a state school that offers none. We're just starting to scratch the surface on all of this. We've always saved at least a little bit so there's some money put away for college, but not enough to pay for it all. Both kids have always worked in the family business and both have gotten regular jobs at the age of 14. We work. We save. And we learn to balance that with some spending, too. It's a process and a balancing act.

Guess who just got hired for his first real job!!
 So, there are 10 ways we save money given our living situation. I'm sure there are more, but those are the first 10 that came to mind. We love our life. We say that a lot because it's true. We love our family and home life and feel lucky to have the situation we do. We are fortunate that I get to stay home and we also work hard to make that a reality. You know, people talk a lot about moms being home with little kids, but I've heard it suggested (and agree) that while that is important for early bonding especially (and it is), teenagers also need their parents and I love that I'm home with them and that they can talk with me whenever they want. They can sit and cuddle with me and share their thoughts and excitements and struggles with me. I love that we value our relationships with one another so  much that when we say "Family First," it really is the guiding principle in our life decisions as much as possible. I don't think having a stay-at-home mom is a deficit. I think it's a surplus. There's so  much good that comes of it, even if it means looking for ways to save to make it happen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Happy International Women's Day!

It's March 8th. International Women's Day. I thought I'd come up with a list of qualities I admire in women and maybe even the people I know who embody them.

1. Builds others up - I've come to appreciate women who take the time and energy to build each other up instead of tearing each other down or being critical. I think I took for granted the idea that all women are catty or petty, or that gossip was just the norm, but it's not. I've had friends for over 10 years who personify this kind of empowering thinking and I notice that I feel different around them than I do around those who are always tearing others down. Being around women who don't participate in gossip and who can call a spade a spade without tearing others down unnecessarily makes me want to be a better person myself, too. Some of my favorite conversations with others are those that are about anything BUT gossip. It feeds the soul and the mind and I like that.

2. Is a good listener - Women who pay attention to what's going on in the lives of others and take time to check in . . . that's pretty great. When those in my life take the time to be present, know our lives, and help where they can, even with a text saying, "Hey, I remembered that today is the first day of classes - how is that going for Kate?" or "I know Max entered that X-wing competition. How did it go?" or simply, "How are you holding up?" It's greatly appreciated. Women who say, "I know you're tired and spent. How about I take you out for coffee and some good conversation?" That. That is immensely appreciated. Be here. Be present. Listen.

3. Lightens the load - I've said this before and I'll say it again, these child-raising years are, hands down, the *busiest* years I've ever experienced in my life. It is far more mentally and emotionally and physically involved than childhood, adolescence, college, grad school, working, etc. That is not to say that all those other things aren't involved or don't present their own challenges, but being a parent is not a job for the weary. I've read countless articles about gentle parenting and conscientious parenting. Bringing a child into the world means so much more than feeding and clothing and educating them. That is the *bare minimum* expectation (you know, keep them alive and healthy - duh). While the pendulum could easily swing the other way where parents are enmeshed or over-involved, avoiding that extreme does not excuse one from thoughtfully considering their children's individual needs, sensitivities, and what makes them who they are. It's talking to them, listening to them, building them up. It's coordinating the activities and experiences that feed their souls and minds. It's making sure they are considered in decision making, that they are spoken with respectfully, that they know they matter and are a priority. This takes time and energy. A lot of it. Whenever anyone has done *something* to lighten the load a bit, I'm ready to cry. I think it's times like that I realize how spread thin I often am. I've had times where a friend has helped us get ready for birthday parties or friends who have offered a ride or even a day for my kids to go play at their house so I can have a breather. I've had friends show up to the kids' recitals and plays and ceremonies and games and book signings. I've been lucky enough to have women in my life who have sat at my bedside when I couldn't muster the energy to get out of it due to depression. Women who have made a meal or helped us move. Again, be here. Be present. I don't take that for granted. Most of the women I know have constant hands-on help from their parents with this sort of thing, but for those of us who don't, friends become like family, filling in those roles and helping be "the village." All of us, especially as women, have a delicate balance here - taking care of ourselves and our own sanity while also helping those around us. I've been out of balance on this for many years - taking care of everyone else's needs ahead of my own - but I've been working hard to get a better grasp on this balance and I think I'm making progress.

4. Celebrates others - Oh man, I admire the hell out of women who do this, especially those who do this with their own children. What examples they are to me! Respecting others' own choices and decisions; recognizing that everyone is different and not everyone is on the same life path; seeing that what feeds one's soul isn't necessarily the same thing for everyone - these are ways to celebrate one another. I know so many good women who speak highly of their children and can say they're tired or worn out or losing themselves at times even, but never, ever, ever with an unkind or untoward word about their children. And definitely never blaming their children. They recognize who their children are - the ones who need to wiggle; the ones who need to talk more; the ones who need more hugs; the ones who need more space; the ones who are more sensitive. None of this is stated negatively or mockingly or in a criticizing manner. These things are seen, embraced, and fed. They are celebrated, building up the child instead of tearing them down. Man oh man, I hope I do this with my kids. I give this a lot of thought and I know, even if I'm not always perfect, I certainly try.

5. Shows their vulnerability as well as their strength - I admire strong women, but I especially admire a strong woman who isn't afraid to say, "It's hard sometimes." That's not weakness. Showing vulnerability is a risk and is, therefore, an act of bravery, I suppose. You risk being discarded. But when you connect? Oh, it's worth every bit of risk, because those connections can often be so pure and profound. In fact, being "discarded" helps, too - it's like the trash taking out itself when you see that someone judges you like that and wants nothing to do with you. I have cried in front of my family and in front of some close friends. I've shared my emotional health struggles pretty openly with people, because I hate that mental health stigma exists and I want to help combat it and connect with those who also struggle to let them know they're not alone.

So there are 5 qualities off the top of my head. I'm grateful for the good women in my life who exemplify these traits and help me be a better person. What qualities would you add?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What makes a house a home?

This morning, I got up and showered, took Kate to her college classes, came home and cuddled with the dog, had some breakfast, and then got ready to sit down and take care of emails (which is a catch-all phrase for family stuff/scheduling/schooling/appointments/correspondence/errands/to-do lists, etc.). It was chilly, so before I sat down, I flipped on the fireplace and grabbed a blanket to cover my lap.

As I was reaching for a fuzzy blanket out of our basket of many fuzzy blankets in our living room, I had the immediate thought that these blankets are part of what make our home "homey." In the winter, we're all always grabbing blankets for our laps or to cuddle with. When we watch TV, we're often all on the couch with fuzzy blankets covering our legs. Sometimes we each have our own. Sometimes we share. But there are always blankets. Scout loves them, too.

That thought gave me the idea for this blog post. I thought it could be fun to challenge myself to come up with a list of 10 things (tangible and intangible) that makes our house a home. My mind is racing today and I'm struggling to focus and concentrate, so I'm going to stop right now and write this blog post. Here we go - just posting what comes to mind off the top of my head:

1. Our basket of fuzzy blankets. I've already talked about these, but let's officially list it as #1.

2. Emotional safety. Everyone is safe, in our home, to speak their minds, share their feelings, have their feelings, have their opinions, and talk about anything. No restrictions. If someone is sad or angry or happy or excitable, we try to be understanding of one another. Sure, we all have our times when we're a little irritable or short on patience, but by and large, this is a safe place to be. No one gets angry at anyone else for having an opinion that's different or for having whatever feelings they're feeling. I like that our kids can come to us with anything - excitement, frustration, and questions - and know they're not going to get yelled at or mocked. We are sarcastic and snarky sometimes, but we are not mean and do not make fun of each other.

3. Talking. So much talking. We talk all the time. We talk at mealtimes. We talk before bed. We pause what we're watching and talk during shows. We talk in the car. We talk in the middle of the afternoon. It doesn't much matter. We enjoy talking and sharing with one another and I love it. We know each other and share and listen and it's lively and comfortable and wonderful.

4. Games. We have so many board games. We play games a lot. Sometimes we go on streaks where we play a game (or lots of games) repeatedly for days in a row. Sometimes we have weeks of lots of game playing. Sometimes we have stretches where we don't easily get to play, but we always come back to games (and yes, we talk during game play, too). We also have a ping pong/pool/air hockey table and that's often a room we go to in order to take a break from the grind and challenge one another to a quick game or a quick tournament. I love it. Again, I've always wanted that kind of home - one where being playful and creative and happy is the basis for not only how we furnish and decorate our home, but also how we live in it.

5. Music. We often have music playing as we prepare meals together, set the table, and sometimes just for fun. We play music when we get together with friends and play games. We play music when we celebrate New Year's. We listen to all kinds and lately it's been a lot of Broadway. When I put mine on, it's either that or lots of 80's pop. At Christmastime, we play so much holiday music. We watch the Grammys together. We geek out reading articles about songs and musical artists we like. It's happy. I love to dance and can't seem to help myself when the music is on. I also love to sing along and everyone knows if they ask me something while I'm singing, I have to finish singing before I answer them. I almost can't even concentrate if music with lyrics is playing. Sometimes Mark and I dance in the kitchen. And when I'm dancing and singing, I don't even care how silly I might look or whether or not I'm getting the words perfectly. I'm just happy and having fun. And we're all enjoying one another.

6. Scout. Neither Mark nor I grew up with a dog. We had no idea what we were in for when we got Scout. She brings SO MUCH LOVE, JOY, and ENERGY to our home. So much. I have never in my life felt so loved like this. She is a lot of work but oh so worth it. She is, at turns, cuddly and playful and sweet and demanding and feisty and mischievous and energetic and mellow and hilarious and and and . . . well, you get the idea. She definitely makes our house more homey. We love her excited pants, her pitter-patter walk, her hops, her licks, her wet nose kisses, her pawing us, her snuggles. We love our Scout!!

7. TV shows. It's funny. I kind of hate the sound of a TV that's on, but  more specifically the sound of a TV that's on mindlessly. Like just on for noise. It's like nails on a chalkboard. But for us, the TV isn't something that someone flips on and then clicks through for hours on end. It's something we turn on to watch stuff together. It's deliberate. We flip it on sometimes at lunch and eat around the coffee table while we watch yesterday's Trevor Noah. We all get excited on Tuesday nights to sit down (with blankets and sometimes snacks) and watch "This is Us." We laugh as we watch episodes of "Clarence." We binge watch shows like Friends, The Office, New Girl, Glee, Frasier, Malcolm in the Middle, and more. We have our Gilmore Girls tradition that we've all shared. We sometimes watch a news special about Lin-Manuel Miranda or Taylor Swift or something else we're interested in. But whatever it is, we're interested and if we don't all watch it, we take the time to know, "Hey, Max really likes Invader Zim" or "Kate really likes Castle." Mark hardly ever watches baseball, but when he does, we ask him questions and he teaches us. Kate binge watched Castle and I got inadvertently sucked in and loved getting interested and sharing that with her. Mark now watches Supernatural with her. Max wanted to watch The Office, so Mark is watching that with the kids (and I get sucked in now and then, too). I recently watched the entirety of Frasier with Kate and now am starting up Glee with Max (I had gotten to about season 2 or 3 with Kate, but it's been a while so we're casually starting over). It's funny - a few weeks ago, I was thinking of writing a blog post all about TV shows and how much we learn from them due to the conversations that come from watching them together and maybe I still will, but I guess I'm alluding to that a little bit here, too. We love sharing hobbies and this is one of them - a love of good television and pop culture.

8. Food. All kinds of foods, but especially savories and meals from all over the world - Japanese, Indian, Mexican . . . we love it all. We love to try new things. We love to eat out and get take out. We love to cook. When we watch something special like the Gilmore Girls revival or an Awards show, we often make themed foods or appetizers. When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, we made Obama cookies and cooked Kenyan food. When Prince William and Princess Kate got married, we got up early and watched while eating tea and crumpets. When we watch awards shows, we sometimes make a bunch of little savory appetizers like pigs-in-a-blanket or salami pickles or mini egg rolls. We're not opposed to ordering in at 10pm or spontaneously suggesting a fun food outing. New restaurant? Let's check it out! And cooking. So much cooking. Our house often has the smells of such good cooking. We enjoy food as a hobby. We eat pretty healthy overall, but boy do we have fun with it.

This picture is a just because candid - Mark recently got me flowers to bring some light and cheer to these gloomy winter days and you can see the lived-in nature of our home (calendar, pencil, book on the table), books in the background, fandom art on the walls, etc.

9. Books. Shelves and shelves of books. Books in nearly every room. A basket of books from the library. Piles of books we're reading. Boxes of books from overflowing shelves. Books we read ourselves. Books we read together. We share stories. We read books. We listen to podcasts. Right now, the whole family is listening to Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime" and it is excellent! We're enjoying it so much. We listen in the car and at home while we eat our meals. I've read the Harry Potter series 3 times so far - once myself, once with Kate, and once with Max. It's so special. There are quotes on our walls from the Harry Potter books. Fandom stuff all over. Another book that is special for me to read with the kids is "To Kill a Mockingbird." I've read it with Kate and will read it with Max soon. We all like all kinds of books. I'm so glad books are a big part of our home.

10. Pictures. We have pictures all over the place. In frames on the mantel. In frames on the wall. We have a digital frame that goes through old pictures. We take family pictures every couple of years. We have scrapbooks. We have home videos. It all contributes to a hominess. I've never wanted a stuffy home. I've always wanted a place where people can feel comfortable and relaxed and welcome. This isn't a museum. It's our home. I like things clean and sanitary. Neat even. But it's also lived in. Because we live here. And I like it that way.

So, here's something funny - know how I wrote this post because I was feeling so distracted? Well, writing certainly helped. Then, I got distracted again and it wasn't until I was climbing into bed that I remembered I didn't post it. :P See? So yeah, I wrote this yesterday, but am posting it now.

So, I'm curious to hear your thoughts - what are 10 things (tangible and intangible) that make your house a home?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Day

This hasn't ever been a big deal kind of holiday for us. Sometimes we celebrate it. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes we do something like a kids' party or daily love notes and sometimes we're super low-key about it. We usually do something, but what's nice is that we tend to be on the same page.

This past year, I put up daily hearts on the kids' bedroom doors as well as on ours (for Mark) telling them things I love about them. This year, Mark and I both weren't really feeling it and kept things easy.

Mark went into work early yesterday and went out of his way to pick Kate up from her classes just so I could rest longer (I've been dealing with chronic neck pain and the cold tends to exacerbate it). In his text to me he said to consider it his Valentine to me. Now that is a great Valentine! I put a cheesy Waitress-themed (Broadway) Valentine on his Facebook wall. That's how we rolled this year.

The kids got valentines from a woman here who always does something sweet for them on these kinds of holidays. She puts together special things for her grandkids and always makes two more for our kids. We're so grateful for her thoughtfulness with that. They always get valentines in the mail from their great grandma as well. They opted out of going to the homeschool group's party - they're outgrowing it, I think.

It was a full day of work, classes, a dentist appointment for me, Max's book club, Kate's critique group, etc., but we managed to sneak in a few Valentines treats.

We got Valentines for our kids - flowers and chocolates:

And Kate made heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies for us to eat while watching "This is Us" as a family. Perfect!

How was your Valentine's Day?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Grammys Are Coming--Part 4 (2017)

The category I saved for last is Album of the Year. Mostly, I was trying to buy myself some time since I wasn't familiar with four of the albums, and one is old enough that I had to completely remind myself of it. I think there is a clear winner in this group, but there have been surprises before. Overall, I'm sort of underwhelmed by the choices this year, and I'm not sure if that's just my personal taste, if the Grammy committee missed something way better out there, or if the field just isn't that strong this year.

* * * * * * * * * *

25, Adele

Adele is great. Her voice is magic and you always feel like you're hearing someone at her best. I do think a lot of her music starts to blend together. With that said, her songwriting is fantastic, her recordings are always impressive, and her passion is unmistakable. So, the album is a great listen and worthy of attention. It definitely holds its own and then some among this group.

Instead of posting the same song again, here's another track from her album, albeit performed somewhat live.

* * * * * * * * * *

Lemonade, Beyoncé

This album is something pretty unique. Beyoncé covers a lot of styles and hits a lot of important topics. It's a manifesto about black power, feminism, Southern stereotypes, and more. The fact that it was actually released as part of a one-hour video presentation should say something about the work itself. It's a concept that can't even be fully appreciated without the visuals. After listening to the album, I can see why the questions about her and Jay-Z came flying fast and furious. There are several lyrics that hint at problems. I will say that rumors about celebrity couples don't faze me anymore.

Here is another single from her album. Trigger warning: there is a lot of underwater imagery in the beginning that may make some people feel short of breath.

* * * * * * * * * *

Purpose, Justin Bieber

I will probably never be a Bieber fan. We have too much history and there are things about his singing style that I find unlikable. His voice is still too nasally for me, and after all of the Kate McKinnon impressions on SNL, I find it very hard to even look at him without laughing. Leaving all prejudice behind, I will give him credit. This is a very mature album that is constructed very effectively. The title is a bit presumptuous, and some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose for me, but I will admit that I was wrong when my first inclination was to dismiss it.

This is the title track, and it's a good one. I still find something about Justin Bieber very irritating whenever I see him, but I recognize this is probably rooted in a lot of my earlier judgments of him. I'll give him props where props are due.

* * * * * * * * * *

Views, Drake

Drake has never been an artist I cared much about, and even after this listen, nothing has changed. I still don't get what all the fuss is about him. When I've seen him be interviewed he seems perfectly likable--probably because he's Canadian--but I just don't get it. This album is supposed to be unique for him because of the variety of styles he uses. Most of it is in the dancehall vein, and that may be why I don't really like it that much. Also, this is one of the albums that makes me feel like it was a weak year for music. Hey, it may just be my personal taste, so if he takes home the Grammy, I will applaud an artist that put out good music this year. I'm just not buying it.

I wanted to embed a shortened video to cut out the nearly two-minute intro to this video, but it wouldn't embed. Here's the link to "One Dance," which was one of the best tracks from the album. It gives you an idea of the style Drake's going for.

* * * * * * * * * *

A Sailor's Guide To Earth, Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson was a complete unknown to me when this nomination came in. I hadn't heard any buzz. I'd never heard of this album. Part of it is because it's not the genre I keep up on, but normally I've heard of the big releases from the previous year. He comes off as older than he is, but that's probably because he is squarely in the middle of the outlaw country world. His sound is most definitely a throwback to classic artists like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. The album was not my cup of tea, but not hard to listen to. It was a good concept album, and that's probably what thrust it to the front of the Grammy committee's minds.

"In Bloom" is a Nirvana cover, which took me by surprise.

* * * * * * * * * *

My Choice: Honestly, take your pick. I'm down on Drake and Sturgill Simpson, but that's probably just because my personal tastes don't line up. If I had to pick one, I'd choose Lemondade. Purpose is a surprising second choice for me.

My Prediction: Lemonade. I think that this concept album is the strongest top to bottom, and barring some sort of political bias that I'm unaware of, the Grammys are going to reward Beyoncé for her timely message.