Monday, October 31, 2011

What I did for Halloween...

 Halloween is my favorite holiday. I just love it.

But this year caught me unawares and unguarded...

...I mean, here it is, October 31st...and I don't have a single decoration up. There are no Halloween cookies or pumpkin seed bark in the treat jars. I'm not hosting a pumpkin carving party. I am SERIOUSLY off my game.

Why? Well...I'm adjusting to a new Girl Scout schedule and program and lots of extra training...which has sucked up a lot of my free time.

And I'm dealing with kids schedules becoming more hectic and involved that is sucking up even more free time...I spend a LOT of time driving people around, lately.

And the last bit of my free time has been devoted to getting ready to run a race.

I wanted to run a half-marathon, and Miami hosts a Halloween Half Marathon that looked like lots of fun (lots of great people-watching and costumes). I thought running my first half-marathon on the weekend of my favorite holiday would be the BEST way to celebrate!!

I trained really hard, but in the end, I struggled...not so much with the course or the length...but with my own feelings of insecurity and self-worth.

After all, running is 90% mental...and if your head is tripping you out, you're going to suffer.

When I was finally able to shut up my inner demons, I actually had a really good time. My pace wasn't great...but I made new friends, enjoyed beautiful scenery and fun people, and I know at my next race my time will improve because I know that I won't have to battle the same issues.

I can only share some of my photos...because the cord that connects my camera to the computer has mysteriously disappeared. But here is a sampling of my race!!

This is me at 6:30am...excited and ready to run!!

Almost there!! WHEW!!

It's the ".1" that really kills you...

Hot, sweaty, and DONE!!! With my cool glow-in-the-dark medal!!

Jason survived, too!!

Some of the GREAT costumes we saw...

This was my favorite!! "Caw-caw!! Caw-caw!!"

This 80's-themed work-out couple finished the race in style...with him proposing to her at the finish line!!

This guy just needs a bikini wax...seriously...

So I wasn't in costume...but I still had a GREAT time!! And it will be my most memorable Halloween EVER!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nicolette's 7th Birthday

There's so many things on my mind about this birthday.

There's the very real idea that my growing up. Now don't get me wrong...she's still young. And she still needs me.

But not as much.

And there is no one beneath her to need me. She's the...(gulp)...last.

It should be kind of a celebration. See, we started our family so young...that while all our friends were out dating and being rowdy singles, we were already changing diapers. And then when they were newly married and "honeymoon-ing", we were carpooling to preschool. They were on couples cruises, and we were scraping money together to buy a house, afford dentists, and and buy a bigger car that would fit an entire row of car seats.

We consoled ourselves that we would be done just as everyone else was in the throes of child-rearing. By our calculations...our baby would be 18 when we were only 46 and 48, respectively. We'd be YOUNG...and empty-nesters. And we'd be able to go out and do all the fun stuff we missed out on.

When we'd share our theory with our parents, they's always say something like: "Yeah...but kids come back," or some such nonesense.

But now...I can see the end of the tunnel. That magic time...when all my kids are grown and only about a decade away.

And time, it seems to me, moves remarkably fast lately. Like I'm stuck in warp drive.

And doesn't look so fun to be an empty-nester. Remarkably...I'm kinda hoping that kids DO come back.

So as Nicolette celebrates this birthday...I have a mild heart attack. It's small...just a stutter in some far corner of my chest. But it doesn't dissipate. In fact, I have the sinking suspicion that for the next ten years or's only going to grow.

It's aggravated by the fact that as we are preparing for Nicolette's birthday, I am paying Kaitlyns application fees for college.

Like...when did THAT happen? I mean...I KNEW it was happening. I've been preparing and pushing and nagging her for years to be able to be in the position she is in now...preparing for higher education. And all the time I was doing it...I felt like the time was SO FAR AWAY. We had AGES.

And I am.

Actually DOING it.

And instead of jumping around and whooping for joy...I'm utterly perplexed.'s here? Already? But wasn't she just a freshman or something?

So all my kids are doing this amazing thing called GROWING UP. And when they were all small...I couldn't imagine it ever happening. It's not that I was one of those parents that couldn't WAIT for their kids to get older...I just honestly couldn't FATHOM it.

They would always be here, right?

Under foot?

Needing help?

Asking questions?

Discovering their world?

Holding my hand?

What do you mean Joseph is graduating middle school and preparing for high school?

I'm sorry...did you say Savannah STARTED middle school this year?

And Brigham? Oh...he's only 5 years old. No wait...he's NINE you say? No...that can't be right...

And yes, yes...Kate is GRADUATING. I know, I know...I know...

And wittle bittle Nickel-Pickel...she doesn't want me to talk like that anymore? To call her that adorable little pet name anymore?

Why not?




(Dramatic pause inserted here. I'm literally sitting here staring at my keyboard...knowing that I am supposed to be writing about Nicolettes fun-filled, wonderful birthday. But all I can do is just...sit. And contemplate. I'm kind of struck dumb. Give me a minute...let me pull it together...)


The funny thing about the years in which we allow the children to pick a family activity for their birthday is that sometimes they pick things that not EVERYONE wants to do. For example, Savannah picked Color Me Mine...a ceramics studio. The boys moaned and complained about it for days...and then after they arrived, they discovered that they actually REALLY enjoyed going.

Or when Joseph picked Ski activity we all went to...but only Joseph (and Jason) could participate in because of age restrictions on the activity itself.

So...Nicolette's choice was the same kind of scenario. Except...she picked a place popular with the little kids...but a dreaded establishment of chaos for the adults.

She choose...Chuck E. Cheese.

Ohhhh...there is no place more feared and robustly avoided than that giant mouse infested kiddie casino. And was Nicolette's birthday. was HER choice.

We tried to persuade her to choose a different venue. We even threw out some suggestions that we realistically could not afford. But she stood firm in her decision...and Chuck E. Cheese it was.

Thankfully, we picked a slower night. The usual riff-raff was there...trailer park trash and ghetto bunny mommas all huddled into too small booths devouring overly greasy pizza while their hellion broods ran amok throughout the place. But we found ourselves a quieter corner. And with Kaitlyn and Josephs help, we were able to assign a "chaperone" to everyone so they could play the games fairly and collect their all-too-precious tickets to cash in on their all-too-junkie prizes.

 And once Jason and I let go of our mutual contempt, we thoroughly enjoyed watching Nicolette happily skip from game to game collecting tickets...and were even surprised and PLEASED to see her older siblings win tickets and give them TO her (it was, after all, HER birthday) without any provocation from Jason or I.

Afterwards, we went to Yogurtland and let her load up on frozen yogurt and toppings...

 ...and then headed home to unwrap gifts. It was, all in all, a huge success.

I thought I would share just a couple photos from the evening that normally wouldn't make the cut. I am doing so because they feature Nicolette unintentionally giving some of the funniest expressions I have EVER seen. I was, quite literally, ROLLING while I uploaded these pics.

I hope they make you laugh, too. And from afar, wherever you are, I hope you wish Nicolette a very Happy 7th Birthday.

 Meanwhile...I think I'll look into retirement homes or something. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Savannah's 11th Birthday

It's birthday time again!!

This time for my sweetie-pie Savannah.

And since it is the year of family outings, she had the daunting task of choosing where to spend her birthday. After weeks of deliberating...she finally decided that she wanted to take a special trip up to Palm Beach and visit Rapids Water Park. We were all really excited to go...

...but then, disaster struck...

Brigham, who was playing his first year of tackle football, was injured in practice and got a broken wrist. And we couldn't afford the extra money to get a swim cast.

And so, Savannah...always the caring and sensitive child...decided to switch birthday locations. She didn't want to spend her birthday with Brigham sitting on a lounge chair while the rest of us splashed and played and slid all day at a water park.

So instead, she choose to visit Color Me Mine...the local "paint-your-own-pottery" studio.

At first, the boys groaned and moaned. But after we arrived, and they saw all the cool stuff to paint...many of it designed specifically with boys in mind...they changed their tune.

Even I got into the act.

We were there a couple hours...painting and decorating...and then we had to leave our pieces behind to get fired.

We had a late dinner at Jasons restaurant (Savannahs choice)...and headed home.

A couple weeks later, I went to pick up the pieces. It's amazing to see how different they are AFTER they come out of the kiln...

Nicolette BEFORE...

Nicolette AFTER...

A beautiful mug to hold treasurers in!! I love how Nicolette swirls paints and colors to make her own designs...

Brigham BEFORE...

Brigham AFTER...

Brigham loved this fighter jet piggy bank. Now he can keep all the spare change he finds around the house SAFE!!

Savannah wanted her's to be very she made a mermaid, and chose her colors so the mermaid would LOOK like her...trying to match paint with the color of her hair and eyes and her skin tone.

Savannah BEFORE...

Savannah AFTER...

I'd say she did a very good job with the matching, wouldn't you? It looks very much like my sweetie Savannah!!

Joseph BEFORE...

Joseph AFTER...

A gargoyle friend to guard Josephs desk of junk treasures. He did a really cool job on the can't see them properly in this shot...but he faded a dark blue into a purple...and it came out looking really cool.

Kaitlyn BEFORE...

Kaitlyn AFTER...

Kaitlyn's, of course, is beautiful. She'll use it as an incense holder in her room...and it's something else to add to her portfolio as she applies to Art School this fall...

And Me BEFORE...

And me AFTER...

I had a darling little ice cream cone I painted several years ago with my Girl I thought the sundae fit. And it's a piggy bank, I couldn't help it...I just thought it was adorable.

We had a great time...and the kids really liked having a lasting memento of the day.

Jut one more birthday left this year...Nicolette's. I wonder what family adventure she'll take us on for HER special day?

Iron Chef Pembroke Pines: September 2011 - Peanut Butter!!

 I am really super-duper behind on my posts...partly because I'm trying to figure out how to take photos from my camera and upload them into my photo files without them becoming teeney-tiny little thumbnails.

So far, I've been unsuccessful.

But until then, I will try and keep current with what is happening NOW!! And one of the things that just happened was the start of another season of Iron Chef Pembroke Pines!!

The secret ingredient was peanut butter. I hosted...which means there was a low turn-out ("Are you un-poopular? Do you pop out at parties?"...Name that redheaded comedic genius)...but we had a fabulous time and got to enjoy some wonderful food.

And best of all...I had a marvelous excuse to make my yummy Peanut Butter Stuffed Hot Fudge Cupcakes.

Sinfully divine...and worth each and every 632 calories per cupcake.

I first made these babies for my birthday...

They were a HUGE hit. Especially with me. So it was a total no-brainer to make them again. They're even fun to make...there are several steps...but my favorite is when I get to actually "stuff" the cupcakes with the luscious peanut butter buttercream frosting...

It might have something to do with the slightly messy nature of it...because if it gets all over my hands...that means that later, I get to lick them clean :)

I know...I'm naughty, huh?

Angel also brought a dessert...some rich and decadent Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars.

Sherie AND Heather both channeled Asian cusine and brought noodle dishes. They were both very different...Heathers was more peanut-y...and had fresh veggies on top. I seem to have misplaced the recipe soon as I find it, I will post.

And Sheries had this fantastic spicy element to it, thanks to the addition of chile oil. I absolutely loved it...

It was called Udon Peanut Butter Noodles. I highly recommend it.

So we sat around and chatted and ate...laughed and joked...and had a marvelous time. I always really look forward to Iron Chef...besides great food, it's just some much-needed girl time with friends.

Until next month...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Way Things Are

Did you know  my printer broke? I mean...flat out busted. And right when I was gearing up to do the most interesting weeks of summer school (in my opinion)...two weeks of India, France, and Australia. I was so looking forward to these...and then...BOOM!!

I guess I could've begged people to print stuff for me...but the fact is that it is A LOT of paperwork (worksheets, coloring pages, graphs...and lets not forget my highly detailed and highlighted lesson plans)...but I felt guilty requiring that much ink from anyones printer but my own.

Hey...times are tough...and ink is expensive.

Likewise, to go and spend hours at a Kinkos sifting through my stuff and printing there didn't seem feasible either.

And besides, I have been known to get a sudden idea and run to my computer, look it up, and print the directions or article or WHATEVER...all on the fly. And I couldn't very well do that if my printer was...well...not HERE.

So...we stopped.

I mean...we still swam, and went to the beach, and the dollar movies. We still did scripture study, and had time for reading, and I broke out the old handwriting worksheets...but for the most part...summer school ended.

And I was kinda sad.

My kids weren't. Although they won't admit it while they are in the throes of school, they actually ENJOY summer school. When I'm gearing up for it, they get all excited about it starting. And when it's over, they are always mourning the loss. But in the MIDDLE of it...when they want to go out and play and I make them write their journal entries first...there's a lot of moaning and groaning.

So at first...they were all excited. More time to play!! More time to be on the Wii!!

After about 4 days, the: "Mama...what can I dooooooooo?" 's set in.

I hate the "Mama-what-can-I-doooo"'s.

Bane of my existence.


Anyway...there are so many things to write about...we have Brighams short career in football (and just like summer school, yet another example of not appreciating what you've got till it's gone).

And there's my birthday (which really is just a story about a cupcake, and might get relegated to the Food Chain portion of this blog).

And there's all the upcoming Back-to-School...what with insane supply lists (they get more elaborate every year), all the "special circumstances" that each child seems to have this year, and even the weather (we're already on storm name "G"...can you believe it? None of them have come close...but still...we're just careening through the alphabet and it's not even September!!)...

But today I wanted to share this article from the New York Times about over-booking kids.

I am a purist parent. And it's mostly because of finances. We simply cannot afford to put 5 children in every activity they desire. It's not that I wouldn't LIKE's just not feasible.

I think Kaitlyn would really benefit in private voice lessons and art or photography classes...just to build on her strengths. And Joseph could use private music lessons as well, along with joining a swim team. And Savannah wants to dance, and cheer, and play sports, ride horses, and learn music...all at once. And Brigham NEEDS a sport (although his foray into football was a slight disaster...but more on that later)...and Nicolette has a SERIOUS talent for gymnastics and/or diving...and I would LOVE to build on that.

But I just can't. I have them signed up for Scouts because it is the most reasonably priced activity there is...and I stay very active and involved in it so THEY stay very active and involved in it.

But finances aren't the ONLY reason...I also believe that children gain more from being at HOME...with their FAMILY...than they do out in the world. Children learn many of your kids picked up a swear word after hearing a random construction worker utter it as you walked past? (Just for note: My kids didn't need a construction worker...they learn all the swear words they'll ever many for special occasions...right from their mothers mouth every time she stubs her toe). I'd rather have my kids getting those learning moments at home...from me...than from a coach, teacher, or other parent. After all...I think there's a lesson to be learned about seeing your mother wash her own mouth out with soap.

It's not that I don't believe in extra-curriculars at all...I just believe in moderation.

And in almost direct contradiction with the above statement...I DO wish I could do more. And when I talk with other moms, and the conversation rolls around to: "Well...MY kid does____________________ (fill in the blank with multiple activities)"...I always get uncomfortable.

First of all, these moms that talk about the expense and the time commitments LIKE they're complaining...but they're really not. There's a hint of bragging in their voices, like we're all supposed to be impressed that their kids do 20 different activities a week, or spend every weekend traveling for various sports teams, or that her husband and her haven't seen each other for WEEKS because they're so busy chauffeuring different children to different commitments. And then, when other moms chime in about THEIR kids, and the sacrifices THEY make to ensure their future soccer stars and art prodigies are successful in the world of fame and becomes an almost-argument...the whole: "My-kid-is-better-than-your-kid"...which is really a cover for: "I'm-a-better-mom-than-you-are".

Eventually, these moms notice that I have not offered any assertions of my parenting prowess, and like hungry wolves, they stop bickering amongst themselves and collectively turn on me.

"What do YOUR kids do?"

And I am a deer in the headlights of a monster truck. And I weakly offer: "Scouting."

"That's IT?"

They are condescending...incredulous at my obvious lack of mothering pride. They gang up and start spewing random facts they read in their latest issue of US Weekly and Better Homes and Gardens about how kids NEED sports, and MUST have multiple extra-curricular activities to fill in the gaps of what they are NOT receiving in our budget-cut schools...and how will my kids grow up and be functioning members of society without joining three separate traveling tennis teams?

I'm all but accused of contributing to childhood obesity, the fall in scholastic performance scores, and the rise in crime.

"Busy children are happy children," I'm told...and with a sniff and a flip of their $250 highlighted hair with feather extensions, they stomp off to further berate me out of my presence.

I used to try and justify myself...I'll admit it, I was a little ashamed that we couldn't do more...and I wanted to prove that I was a good mother, too. I'd start by giving excuses because we have a large family on a single income, only one car, and that we do A LOT of activities together as a family. But these excuses often fell on deaf ears, and I realized that no matter what I said, these women held the opinion that I obviously didn't love my children, because if I did, I would happily go bankrupt paying their activity fees.

And so...I stopped arguing, and let them tirade against me...figuring that they weren't exactly the kind of women I'd want to make friends with anyway.

I, personally, can't stand reading Us Weekly.

And, as time has gone on, I've stopped feeling (as) ashamed. True...I still wish I could do more...but not to prove to other moms that I am, indeed, a qualified parent. But rather because, as I previously stated, I see a lot of untapped potential in my kids, and I wish I could help them develop it. I would like to assist them in finding a sport, or hobby, that they truly enjoy.

But alas, the world is an expensive place. Gone are the days that you could go to the local community center and sign your kids up for a slew of classes. Everything is privatized, and EXPENSIVE...amounting in hundreds of dollars a month for membership fees, supplies, uniforms, gear, food, gas, and competition entry fees (in my area, some sports, like swimming and horseback riding, require you to enter so many competitions a month in order to stay on the team).

And I do believe that too many activities can hurt your children. I believe kids need down time to relax, to engage in creative play away from technology and structured activities (getting my kids away from technology is tough...getting ME away from technology is tough).

I believe that families need time together...that meals need to be shared, that regular activities and meetings need to be scheduled and honored...but also that impromptu moments need a chance to blossom.

And I believe that moms and dads need time to re-connect...time alone without the pressures of kids and family. And that can't happen if you're always heading in different directions.

Everyone has a different situation. I'm not saying that sports and classes are in of themselves bad things!! Like I said...I wish we could take part in more activities...but not an endless conveyor belt of extracurriculars. You may have that kid that really IS a prodigy, and traveling soccer is exactly what your kid needs. But I believe the majority of activities are just overkill.

I think a lot of kids don't need ten different sports and five different classes. I don't think that if the only time you spend with your kid is in the car while you shuttle him all over town necessarily makes you a good parent.

Every once in awhile, I find an article that agrees with me...and this is one of them. I encourage you to read it. Whether your a feather-extensioned soccer mom, or a dedicated homebody like's an interesting read.

And you can weigh in on this debate...ARE children over-booked? And what does that say about us, as their parents?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hemingway Days and The Most Brutal 5K EVER...

Jason and I had the chance to visit Key West this past weekend. Believe it or not, after slightly over 4 years living in South Florida, we have yet to visit Key West...this was our first excursion.

We went to take part in "Hemingway Days", a 5-day celebration/festival that includes contests and festivals, a HUGE 3-day marlin fishing tournament, and a 5K race around the island.

We stayed in the Douglas House, an absolutely CHARMING boutique inn right on the corner of Duval and Amelia streets. We arrived LATE Friday night, and woke up at the crack of dawn to begin exploring Key West. Our first stop was the obligatory photo op of Southernmost Point. Here we were able to not only get our picture, but see several Key West staples...rampant chickens, guys in drag, and elderly Cubans screaming: "Asesino!!" across the water towards Fidel.

It was only 9am, and already sweltering. As I locked my bike, sweat literally dropped from my face in make-up had already worn off, and my shirt was plastered to my back. I was already nervous about the upcoming 5K race I would be running in 10-and-a-half hours...

Next stop was the Ernest Hemingway House. This was AMAZING...I learned so many colorful and unique stories about this prolific American author, who actually completed most of his works here in Key West. I would love to share all these amazing stories with you...but the post would be immense.

One of the things Hemingway was famous for was his cats. He had received a polydactyl cat as a gift from a captain of a wrecker. Hemingway believed these cats, who are exceptional mousers, thanks to their additional toes, were good luck. He collected and bred them. They are featured in MANY pieces of artwork around the house...including an original sculpture given to Hemingway by his good friend, Pablo Picasso, who knew of his love for these cats.

(That sculpture has it's own very real, and immensely tragic, story.)

Today, more than 44 cats live at Hemingway House, and they are known the world over as "Hemingways".

Most of the 44 are polydactyls...just like our beloved cat Jay...who somewhere down his feline family tree is related to the famous first cats of Hemingway.

After the museum, we rode our bikes down Duval Street to Hemingways favorite watering hole, Sloppy Joes...where we had conch fritters, Sloppy Joes, and several gallons of water while waiting for the "Papa Hemingway Look-a-Like" contest and the "Running of the Bulls" race/event that took place just outside the bar.

I even managed to get a picture astride one of the hobby-horse "bulls" with two "Papa Hemingway" contestants.

By now it was mid-afternoon, and the heat was really taking it's toll. Both Jason and I were literally soaked to the skin and feeling the drain of heat and we rode back to the Douglas House and changed into our swimsuits and cooled off in the pool. We also stepped around the corner to share a piece of Key Lime pie...figuring it would be indecent to visit Key West without sampling that particular treat.

We tried to keep cool and rest the remainder of the afternoon, venturing out only to get our race packets and a light bite of soup and salad. At 7pm, we headed back down to Southernmost Point for the 5K.

It was still sweltering.

There wasn't a large group of racers, and looking around, it was obvious that most of them were seasoned runners. I guess you'd have to be pretty dedicated to drive all the way down to Key West to run a 5K in 93 degree weather with a 66% humidity.

I knew within the first half-mile I was in trouble. Earlier in the week, Jason and I had run a "mock" 5K...running casually and not racing, per se...but timing ourselves all the same. On that day, I ran a 10:14 best time yet...and I wasn't even working that hard. t was an almost 2 minute improvement over my last race pace taken on July 4th when I ran the Westin 5K. I was confidant about my abilities.

Alas...although we ran through beautiful, shaded, and historically interesting neighborhoods, I had little strength to look around and enjoy my surroundings. I felt sapped and energy drained. As it ended, I ran a an 11:14 minute mile, making my time improvement from my last time by about 45 seconds. Although an improvement is, I feel, might be more telling to share my place stats. I'm used to being in the "middle" of the competitors and age group racers...neither being the worst, or the best, runner.

But in this race, which had the smallest amount of participants of any race I have yet run, I came in at 302 out of 401, and 24th out of 30 racers in my age group. Ouch...

Nevertheless...I DID improve my time, and in conditions that I felt were extremely I'm going to call it a win.

After the race...we didn't hang around...and headed straight for the blessed air conditioning and an ICE COLD shower. After the shower, we had tickets to go on a haunted ghost tour of Key West, supposedly the fourth most haunted city in the United States. The tour included a visit to the museum that holds Key Wests' most creepy resident...Robert the Doll.

A doll supposedly imbued with dark voodoo magic that has wrecked havoc in the lives of all who possess him. I was the only one brave enough to "ask" the dolls permission to take photos. While I spoke with him, the girl next to me, who was holding an EMF reader, let out a gasp...her reader was fluctuating all over the place.

When I had finished photographing Robert, it calmed down again. This made the other people on the tour EXTREMELY spooked, although Jason and I took it as "all good fun". I am, as far as I know, the only person to get photos of Robert that night from our I guess it's pretty interesting.

We walked home from the tour, drinking in the insane night life that infects Duval street as the hours tick closer to midnight. Too tired to hang out and party, we went straight back to the Douglas House and gratefully climbed into bed. We had to get up VERY early the next morning so we could drive home and Jason could go back to work.

We had a lovely time on our mini-vacation...and hope to return to Key West again someday, hopefully with the kids.