Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Little (Ha!) Update

I have not posted nearly as much as I would have liked to or what I pictured when this year started, but I think I'm doing better than past years, so that's something, and I'm not giving up. I love blogging and miss it when I don't get to it.

We've been doing a lot of stuff lately. I almost don't even know where to begin and I'm sincerely rather exhausted (yet invigorated, too, but mostly tired :P).

Let's just look at May highlights (and I'm challenging myself to post no more than 1-2 pictures per thing mentioned - we'll see if I can pull it off):

We started the month with a very relaxing day at home after a fun trip up to MA to visit Louisa May Alcott's house as well as many other fun places in New England (the Science Museum, an art museum, the Swan Boats, etc.). It was great to get away and take the kids to Boston, as it's been about 8 years since we've been in the city with them. That trip deserves a post of its own. Both kids blogged about our visit up there. It was great.

We've all been rather obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack. The kids are most definitely obsessed with it.

The kids wrapped up their weekly violin and piano lessons. Max starts up again in the fall. Kate has some violin lessons here and there over the summer, but no groups for the summer, so that helps free up an evening for us each week, which feels really, really good.

We met up with friends to try a new Mexican restaurant and it was YUMMY. Well, the kids and I had already tried it, but this time Mark got to try it, too, and it was (yet again) delicious.

Max got together for an all-day playdate with Jack. He's also been doing lots of game playing online and in person with several of his friends. And he's become QUITE the neighborhood socialite. For the past couple of years that we've lived here, he's mostly known and enjoyed the company of the kids next door. But now that he's a little older and other kids in the neighborhood are a little older, everyone is venturing out more on bikes and scooters and meeting each other. There seems to be a steady stream of kids coming to the door asking, "Can Max play?" and everyone is happy when he does. He's made a ton of friends and has already been swimming at one friend's house. And yes, there has even been a neighborhood crush, go figure. He's the sweetest kid. It is absolutely no wonder to me that there's interest.

Mark and Max continue to work toward their next degree black belt (3rd degree) and Max even volunteers at the studio now where he assists in classes for the pee-wees and helps teach the little ones. He's a natural and all the teachers love working with him. We get nothing but positive feedback. We're so glad he enjoys it so much and we're very proud of him.

Kate met with an advisor at the local community college and we learned about all the options available to us and she has been preparing for her placement test and looking at classes she can begin taking this year. She's a little nervous, but mostly excited. It's such an awesome opportunity. She is also looking forward to at least TWO writing camps this summer. She absolutely loves those and can't get enough of them.

I worked very hard to get my inbox down to zero (yes, again) and I did it and things are going so much better at home in general with everyone pitching in and working together that I am doing a much better job staying on top of it. This is due to everyone helping out as well as my own learning to respect my own needs, too, and I'm very grateful for both.

We enjoyed a lovely Mother's Day (I did a post about that). Mark and the kids made it special and I feel like a very lucky girl indeed to have the beautiful family that I do. I love them more than words can say. There is nothing in life that means more to me than my family. I love being a wife and a mom.

Look closely - see me and my honey?

We worked our tail ends off on the basement and it is a geek haven for gaming and fun and we're super proud of it and how it looks. We had a heater put in to help get the chill out in the winter and now it's enjoyable year round and we're thrilled! We are so excited to put it to good use. We priced out lots of options and didn't want to spend a lot putting in walls and insulation when this little heater does the trick just fine. It's perfect. We also added some outlets, lights, decorations, etc. It is glorious! We even designed a sign for the door to the basement that references several of our favorite fandoms. Kate made it and it's awesome.

Kate went to her writers' critique group while the boys hung out and played games and I met up at a delicious bakery with some local friends as well as some friends I've made on the Internet.

Kate hung out at her friend Maya's house and that's always hours of laughter and fun. That same night, the boys went to taekwondo and we girls participated in our naturally-evolved egg night tradition. (By the way, this awesome tradition has also helped us come up with so many cool recipes that we've entered several of them in an egg recipe contest that we feel pretty good about possibly winning!)

Of course, we've had our regular work stuff, appointments, school stuff. That almost goes without saying, except that I wanted to say it, so there.

 After much car researching and online looking, we got a new minivan! It is a 2015 Kia Sedona and it drives like a dream!! It's another of those why-did-we-wait-so-long kind of situations (though of course we know the answer to that - the usual "trying to be smart financially"). The Saturn, after 17 very faithful years, was just done and our 2002 Dodge Caravan doesn't have much left in it either, so getting a van just makes sense. We dislike pretty much all kinds of shopping and this took weeks of looking and reading and test driving, but once we decided, it was pretty much one full day of choosing and getting the Kia Sedona. Jim, thank you for your help - you have to come see it in person now!!

We got to spend some time with Fran and John (Gramsy and Pops) and meet of their incredibly nice extended family. They were so excited to introduce us to their siblings and in-laws and every kind word they said was true - what genuine, good people. We felt honored that they wanted us to meet them. Thank you so much for reaching out and inviting us.

We spent an entire day at Hershey Park with our homeschool group as well as friends outside the group and it was a great day. It was chilly and windy, but it wasn't terrible (most of the time) and there were no lines. I even got to connect with an old friend from my teenage years (Jared Kohl) and we loved meeting up with him and his super nice wife. Max loved hanging out with Aaron and they had a great time. Kate went off with the teenagers and rode all sorts of rides. It was a fun day for everyone.

I was able to connect with a couple of friends of mine - one in the afternoon and one later that evening - and it was so good to talk and catch up. I hate when my friends are going through stress and hard times, but I'm grateful that we support one another and are at least listening ears as well as hands-on help for one another.

The kids competed in a Science Fair (and got first place!). They mostly worked with Mark on it and they all did such a fantastic job. I can't tell you how proud I am, more so even than the win, of how well they worked on it and the time and thought and work that went into it. The process. Just aaahhhhhh. So proud and so grateful. They tested how well people's brains function at various times of the day - morning, noon, and night. Very cool project.

We (and by we, I mean mostly Mark, since I've been shuttling kids all over the place, though the kids helped, too, especially Kate) mulched our entire yard. He also got the garden ready and cut down two pine trees and made several trips to the lawn waste facility to dump branches and such. He did a beautiful job and it looks amazing. It should be noted that it's been unseasonably HOT and he worked so hard in a lot of heat. He's amazing.

Here is a little before-and-after photo evidence:

This picture was taken by the previous owner's realtor so this is about 2.5 years old - the trees got even bigger
It looks so much better without the weird trees in front. We're going to plant flowers in that area now.

The boys went to a middle school musical and had a great time. Kate and I got some much needed down time after a crazy week.

Mommy-son dates!

We've been doing our weekly dates and we love them. This time, it's Max's turn since he's our newest 13 year old. He and I marathon watch Gilmore Girls on Saturday nights while eating copious amounts of food and it is awesome. I did the same thing with Kate when she turned 13. I love this tradition! Kate and Mark are watching Scrubs as well as all kinds of movies while Max and I have our mommy-son dates.

Mark and Kate are in a Sci-Fi (and Pie!) book club and they went to a meeting to discuss Neil Gaiman books and eat good food. They had a great time. While they did that, Max and I got together with friends to play games for a couple of hours. This was all followed by a much-needed quiet evening that felt fantastic.

In their theater camp shirts

With the director
 The kids participated in a week-long homeschool theater camp and put on the play (including several musical selections) "Peter Pan!" Kate played a Pirate (Bill Jukes) and Max worked really hard on the technical crew - he did sounds and set and photography. They both did an excellent job!! They were ALL SMILES after the play and I swear it seemed like Max was flying high on happiness. They loved it and want to do more theater stuff. Max is even thinking he might like to be on stage (something we've long suspected he'd like and something he has, in the past, resisted). We're very grateful to our friends for coming out to support the kids. We really appreciate it.

That week involved driving over an hour each way for auditions as well as a full week of preparing and the performance (so 7 round trips). It was a lot - really more than I generally like to do - but it was worth it and I'm glad we did it. It was mostly a lovely drive and we spent the time listening to all kinds of great podcasts, the Hamilton soundtrack, and some Spanish lessons. It was a good week. We're also all glad to be done and to be able to relax more. We packed a lot of lunches that week. Mark did a lot of yard work that week and I did a lot of email/homeschool group stuff, errands, and reading, mostly at a Starbucks near where the kids had camp. Mark and I got to spend some time together on a couple of the days, too, which was especially nice, because I love spending time with him. Yes, both times involved sushi. We love to eat good food!

Kate is also leading a book club for a local group of girls/women and we attended that meeting as well. We both liked the book and it was a good discussion. That was during the week of theater camp, too, so it was an especially busy day!

All ready for her interview!

The very next day after the play, we mostly relaxed and did our dates, but Kate also did have a job interview that day for a waitressing position. She is hoping to hear back soon and already in the interview, it sounded very hopeful that they'll hire her. Woot! This is a regular job in addition to her seasonal one at the Renaissance Faire. She has also been getting to practice some driving, too. That's an experience! We have "Student Driver" magnets on the old van and she does a great job and is very cautious. It's so crazy that we have two teenagers - working, babysitting, driving . . . aaahhhhh!

We did some adventuring with our D&D group on one afternoon, and later that evening, we hosted our book club (going 10+ years strong!) and welcomed a new member to our group (I'm excited about this!).

The next day, we spent a day in the lovely town of Lititz where I set up a homeschool field trip for our group (we had about 30ish people in attendance) as well as a Teen Day around town (there were 16 teens at that!). It was a good, full day. That was on Memorial Day.

Today the kids had yearbook club (another 40-minute drive, though we car pooled for this one). Kate got some driving practice in with both me and Mark. Max has been playing in the neighborhood (a couple of friends even have pools!), and Mark took Max on a daddy-son date tonight to get wings and talk.

That about wraps up the "highlights" and I should add that this is all while we're doing our normal/regular work and school stuff every day, too, as well as chores, walking the dog, running errands, etc. It's been a busy month, that's for sure.

As much as we enjoy hosting foreign exchange students, we decided not to do it this year, because I simply don't have the emotional reserves to do it. We're open to doing it in the future, no question, but this year, I need to take it easy. And I'm pretty proud of myself for knowing my limits and learning to honor them.

This is just because she's so stinking cute and we adore her!
We're looking forward to a fairly low-key summer overall. Kate has a couple of camps. Max has all kinds of laid-back summer plans with the neighborhood kids as well as a robotics class through 4H. Max has a friend coming from out of town. Kate's friends are coming back to visit again, so that will be fun. We're looking to get away to the beach some, of course. There are some cool local events going on. Dentist appointments. Gardening. Book clubs. House guests. Movies. Swimming. Biking. Backyard S'mores. BBQs. New summer movies. Online poetry course (Kate is taking one through the University of Iowa). Some outdoorsy stuff. Events with friends. Birthday parties. Stuff like that.

It's been a busy time for us with these kids getting older and stuff, but we're loving it and relishing it and trying to keep a balance! May's been busy (as evidenced by this much-longer-than-anticipated post). June looks more relaxed. I think.

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.