Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Early Holiday Start

I used to be one of those people that absolutely refused to do anything Christmas related until after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving deserved its fair share of attention and shouldn't be overshadowed by Christmas.

And then I started to buy wrapping paper before Thanksgiving, because I was worried my favorite patterns would be gone if I waited.

And then I started to get a couple gifts.

And it's pretty much just snowballed from there.

My goal each year is to have all my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. I use all sorts of rationalization, such as concerns about longer shipping times over the holidays, items selling out, the crowds at stores as Christmas approaches, and that not having to shop during December allows me to focus on all the other aspects of the holidays.

Hubster is not nearly the Christmas fanatic that I am. He puts up with my constant barrage of gift ideas and plans in exchange for me not listening to Christmas music until December 1, and not putting up any decorations until after Thanksgiving.

Participating in Christmas activities before Thanksgiving used to seem like such a big deal But now, half way through November, I'm seeing lights going up and fully decorated trees through house windows. Maybe it's just getting harder to resist when stores have their Christmas sections up before Halloween, instead of just before Thanksgiving.

With how much I love Christmas, I'm honestly not upset. I'm happy to have that beautiful holiday feeling a few extra weeks.

Is anyone else all ready for Christmas, or are you still waiting until after Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Up In The Air

For as long as I remember, the next step in my life has been fairly straight forward. High school, undergrad, med school, residency. There was an expected and predictable next step. I'm not saying that the next step was easy or stress free, because it never was, but it was at least predictable.

Now, not so much.

The obvious next step after residency is to find a job. Because Hubster is still in dental school, I was able to get a temporary, locum tenens type job with the hospital I did residency at. It worked well, allowed me to have a more flexible schedule, remain in a system that I was familiar with, and get some more experience.

I've really enjoyed my job for the last year and a half.

But now that Hubster's dental school graduation in on the horizon, it's time to start making permanent plans.

We know we'll most likely be moving, that we'll sell our home, move somewhere else, put the kids in different schools. Knowing that has added an element of unrest to our lives, because we don't know where we'll be going.

For the last six years, I've been able to live with the feeling of permanence. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that things weren't permanent. That we wouldn't live in our little house or in this particular neighborhood forever. After all, the house definitely wasn't our dream house. We weren't sure we wanted to live in Iowa for the rest of our lives. We don't have any family in the area.  But I was able to ignore that possibility and for the first time in my life, actually feel settled.

I moved many, many times as a child. After Hubster and I got married, we continued to move multiple times, from one miserable apartment to the next. When asked where I grew up or where I'm from, I give a couple states, not a city or an address.

When we moved to Iowa, we bought our first home. A place we could paint walls and hang pictures and mark our children's height on the door frame. I have fallen completely in love with our little house, with its big yard and all its 1970s building standards. I have lived on our quiet street for longer than I have ever lived at one place prior.  I have finally felt allowed to put down roots, which I did with abandonment, becoming more attached to our home, our neighborhood, our city, and state each day.

Now, suddenly but not unexpectedly, all that stability is up in the air. We don't know where we are going to land come next summer.

I've applied for jobs on the West Coast, in Montana and Utah, seriously looked into jobs at other Midwest locations. I've interviewed several places. Hubster has looked and enquired about jobs right along with me.

I'm determined that the next move will be the last move. I promised myself long ago that I was going to offer my children more stability than I had. When someone asked them where they grew up, they would have an answer. I wanted them to have a childhood home, to actually be from somewhere, to put down roots without constant fear of being yanked out of the familiar.

Already, the prospect of moving and leaving behind what we have built for our family is difficult. Bug, comfortably settled in middle school with his close group of friends is struggling with the impending changes. Even Monkey, who was initially excited about something new, is now more and more reticent about moving.

Even I'm not handling the possibility well. Frequently, we'll be out for family walks and I'll be taking in the tree line streets and familiarity, and just stop and cry out, "I just can't move!"

So there's a lot of pressure to make sure the move is worth it. It would be wonderful to move closer to family. It's not been easy being hundreds of miles away from our families. But we are weighing that benefit against the cost of taking our children away from what they know.

And Hubster and I really both need jobs in the same area, which is not as easy as one could wish. Both job markets for anesthesiologists and dentists are tight with limited options.

I know that we'll figure things out, that we'll make what we feel is the best decision for everyone (even if Bug continues to insist that we are only doing this to make him miserable.)

But until we make that decision, I'm up in the air, unsettled, distractable, stressed, and slightly unhappy.

This prolonged process of uprooting oneself, slowly pulling each tendril free, is painful.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Running Shoes

My boys go through shoes at an almost unnerving rate. It doesn't matter the brand, the type, or the quality. Without fail, within 3 months, their shoese are falling to pieces. Holes at the toes, soles coming off, stitching unraveling, falling to pieces.

So, this weekend, right on schedule, I was shoe shopping with my boys.

Monkey insists on velcro, because stopping to tie shoe laces apparently slows him down and cramps his style.

We finally found a pair of sturdy looking, gym appropriate, acceptable style and color, velcro securing shoes.

As Monkey tried them on, his face lit up.

"These are perfect!"

He quickly slipped the second shoe on and started running laps around the display shelves.

"I'm so much faster, Mom!  Look how fast I can run in these! I'm even walking faster! I can't wait to go home and run on the treadmill and see how fast I can go now!"

I remember being a kid and having that same feeling, being so sure that my new shoes made me able to run faster, jump high, and be all around amazing.

To be completely honest, I'm not sure I'm over that feeling.

When I replaced my running shoes, I had that same feeling. These shoes were awesome, the cushions and fit were amazing. How could I not run faster in these shoes? 

I got the same feeling when I bought a pair of running socks. They were padded in all the right places, didn't bunch up in my shoes at all, and were breathable, so my feet were never sweaty. Of course I would run faster with these great socks!

When I got my compression running pants, yep, I got it, the same "now I can run faster" feeling.

As it turns out, despite all that fancy running gear, I'm still slogging through the miles at the same turtle stampede pace. Not one piece of running gear that I added took any time away.

Do I feel better running? Yes. My feet don't hurt or get sweaty. My running pants actually fit and I'm not stopping to adjust things mid run. The sweating wicking material is great for so many reasons.  But am I faster?  Not at all.

But am I going to tell Monkey that his super cool, awesome, new shoes won't make him run faster?  Never!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Halloween Recap

I'm wondering if we haven't had our last Halloween where we trick-or- treat as a whole family. Now that  Bug is 12, I think putting on costume and running around the neighborhood might have lost its appeal. He actually asked if we could trick-or-treat in a diffent neighborhood this year, driven by a possible motive of avoiding being seen by friends.

In fact, if he hadn't be so excited about his costume, I dont think he would have gone this year. So thank goodness for awesome costumes. 

Bug has planned for the last several months to go as the tenth Docotr. We scoured thrift stores, collecting all the pieces. We ended  up making our own 3D glasses, because finding a pair proved to be elusive. 

His outfit turned out amazing, and he wore it without the least bit of self consciousness. In fact, his enthusiasm for this made me wonder if we don't have a bit of cosplay in our future.

Monkey didn't decide on his costume until the week before. He had thrown out ideas of being a Pokemon character or some obscure Minecraft characters, all of which had complex costumes. I finally convinced him to settle on something manageable: Steve, the main Mine raft character. All of Steve's parts are available at the store, but after checking prices, I decided we would be making Monkey's costume. 

It was actually very fun, all of us around the kitchen table, cutting out a cardboard pick axe, painting colored squares, actually making a costume instead of buying "off the rack."

Duck went as Tigger. Both because we already have three Tigger outfits and he wears them almost daily anyways. 

He makes a super cute Tigger. And when he was running around the grocery store, I could just tell everyone he was getting into character. 

This was Duck's first year experience trick or treating. The first house, his brothers helped him walk up, holding his hand as they rang the doorbell. After the first treat was placed in his bucket, he just stared at it as Bug led him back to the sidewalk. About halfway down the walkway, he suddenly understood, and turned around to run back up to the door we had just left. Getting him up to the next door wasn't hard. 

Our neighborhood is a perfect trick or treating neeighborhood. There are enough children for it to be fun, but it's never crowded  There are enough bare branched trees to give the right ambience. 

Overalll, it just felt perfect. 

This might be our last trick or treating together. I hope not. But if it is, we'll have the most amazing memories. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Clubbing, Chess Style

Last year, my older boys got very into chess. They played every day, competed at tournaments, won a few trophies. Like I said, they were very into chess.

I took away two main things from this.

First, chess parents are crazy. Just go watch "Finding Bobby Fischer" to know how crazy. I was shocked by the intensity that popped up at our small, local Iowa tournaments.

Second, I knew I needed to encourage my boys' love of chess. It has helped Monkey focus and sit still for a few minutes at a time. It has helped Bug be more confident. Neither of my boys have shown any interest in competitive sports, so having them learn sportsmanship through chess was a good thing.

Most of the schools in our area have chess clubs. Our elementary school was the exception.

When decided how serious I was about encouraging my children to continue to play chess, I decided I was pretty serious. Not hire a private chess tutor and force them to give up everything else to play chess serious, just pretty serious.

So now, apparently, I run our elementary school chess club.

Sometimes I wasn't exactly sure why I decided I didn't have enough to do, that my schedules weren't busy enough, or that I was remotely qualified to do this.

I especially started questioning my credentials (which consist of somewhat knowing the rules and enjoying watching my kids play) when several parents asked if they could come to chess club and learn how to play as well.

The first week of chess club, about 15 students showed up. The second week, 25 students showed up.  That's 25 kindergarten through 6th graders, just finishing a school day. It's just as chaotic and loud as you might imagine.

Luckily, there are been wonderful parent volunteers. Between all of us, we are able to get the kids to listen to a brief chess lesson, then pair up and play.

I questioned my sanity when I first started. Now, all I'm questioning is why I didn't do this a long time ago.

I love chess club.

The one hour a week is not overwhelming. I'm meeting parents and students and actually, finally, getting involved.

It's fun to watch the students learn chess and to learn it right along with them (since I read up on my chess lessons in the few hours before we meet.)

This winter, my boys and I will be back to sitting in middle school cafeterias, participating in chess tournaments. This year, we're hoping to be joined by a few of our friends.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


We have a small, itsy-bitsy tendency to go overboard with our Halloween pumpkins.

I thought about scaling back my pumpkin carving this year, but felt that it would be a cop out. There were expectations, dang it. With everything on his plate, Hubster also thought about keeping it simple. Then I reminded him that there are people counting on this, and we must give the people what they want.

And by people, I just mean us.

This is our Halloween tradition: pick pumpkins, decide on overly complicated design for said pumpkin and then stay up into the wee hours of the morning carving said design.  It's a little ridiculous, but wow, we love the outcome.

It's getting more fun, because the boys are actually able to do a little of the carving themselves. Monkey even transferred his own design onto his pumpkin by himself. He would have carved it himself as well, but watching him handle a knife made me nervous. Bug transferred and carved most of his design. Since Hubster was the one that usually finishes their pumpkins, he's grateful they are doing more (and that I'm more willing to let them handle sharp objects.)

Our pumpkins give a glimpse of current family interests. Video games, movies, books, and other pop culture make up the most of our designs. Each year, as the only girl, I feel that I must stake out some feminine territory. I was going to do a Little Mermaid pumpkin, but I was informed that this wasn't at all scary or Halloween related. But apparently Pokemon is fair game.

We let Duck choose between between Mater and Curious George - mostly he cried, because the black and white stencils scared him. Curious George looked a little easier, so he won.

Monkey knew he was going to do a Pokemon related pumpkin since July. I honestly thought Pokemon was a thing of the 90s, but apparently it's still a big deal.

Bug spent several hours debating on a good Doctor Who design, and then at the last minute switched to Calvin and Hobbes. 

I've done a Malificent pumpkin before, but after my Ariel idea was shot down by an 8 year old, I decided to do another one. At least it's still a Disney female.

Hubster had been debating between several different ideas, but once he saw this Breaking Bad stencil, it was settled. There aren't many things scarier than Walter White.

We know this won't last. We'll be lucky if they are recognizable by Halloween. But that just clears the way for even better ones next year.

(See previous year's pumpkins here: 2005-2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quintessential Fall

I often think that I hate fall. Just full on loathe it, because it represents the end of my beloved summer and the approach of despicable winter. I spend a lot of time thinking about how much I'm going to hate fall each year.

And then fall happens, and I love it. 

I love the colors and the sweater wearing and the soup eating.

I love the fall activities. It can absolutely not be fully fall without the mandatory fall activities.

Each fall, we must go apple picking.

We have a lovely local apple orchard we visit each year. We take a tractor ride across the creek and fill buckets with lovely red and yellow streaked Honey crisp apples. The buckets fill up quickly and we find ourselves heading home with 40 pounds of apples. These are all eaten in about a week. 

Each fall, we must go for an autumn hike.

This year, our first hike was along the Cedar River, with its beautiful cliffs on one side and wide flat shore on the other. The narrow trails winds through the forests full of just changing leaves, taking us to scenic outlooks, me just barely keeping up with my wild boys.

Each fall, we must pick pumpkins.

We've been to several pumpkin patches in the area, but usually, we find ourselves back at the orchard where we pick apples, because it's beautiful and simple. No entrance fees, few crowds, just lovely scenery and good pumpkins. Each year, the boys want to buy bigger and bigger pumpkins that we are then required to carry up the hill to be weighed.  This year, we were prepared with a wagon, only to find that the boys had still outdone themselves and the pumpkins didn't fit. 

The pumpkins are now carved and settled onto the front porch.

Each fall, we must play in the leaves.

It seems that jumping into a leaf pile is a fairly small activity. But this has become an annual highlight for my children. Everyone pitches in to rake the biggest leaf pile they can, being careful to position the pile close to the backyard swing. After all the raking is done, everyone takes turn jumping in the pile. Not just little jumps, but full on run as fast as you can, and then flip or belly flop into the leaves. Swing as high as you can and then sail off into the leaves. We play in the leaves until there isn't much of a pile left.

Each fall, I'm sad to say good-bye to summer. But I'll make the best off it, eating apples, carving pumpkins, and picking leaves out of my hair.