Thursday, October 16, 2014

In Celebration of My Husband

Hubster turned 39 this month.

He may, or most likely may not, appreciate me sharing that.

I scrolled back through my blog to see what I had written on his last birthdays, only to find that it has been years since I've written Hubster a birthday blog post (I'm sure he's completely upset about this.)

If there is a person who deserves more recognition, I feel it's my husband. After all, anyone who has put up with me for all these years deserves something, right (and all he gets is this lousy post.)

This last year has pushed him more than we could have anticipated. Between the increased work load at dental school, and the increasing demands of our children, and the changes at my work, to say that the last year as been difficult would be an understatement.

Happy Birthday to the man who makes breakfast for three very picky eaters every school morning, made all the more difficult by those breakfasts needing to be gluten free.

Happpy Birthday to the man who gets those three kids dressed, ready for school, and out the door each day, by himself, since I leave to work sometimes hours before they are up.

Happy Birthday to the man who takes care of all the bills without ever complaining about it or often even mentioning, so that I have one less thing to worry about.

Happy Birthday to the man who always makes sure I have gas in my car, because I often forget.

Happy Birthday to the man who lets me watch cooking shows and dramas with men in kilts, even where there are sports on the other channel. Sometimes.

Happy Birthday to the man who is willing to smell the questionable gallon of milk and the tub of leftover casserole.

Happy Birthday to the man who gets up with the crying baby during the night, even after long days of school.

Happy Birthday to the man who has picked up more slack and supported me in more ways than I'll probably ever know.

This was supposed to be a chance to celebrate my husband's birthday, but I guess really, it's a chance to say thank you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Field of Dreams

They had built it, so we figured it was finally time for us to come.

Iowa has just a few claims to fame as far as Hollywood goes. We have the Bridges of Madison County, the Field of Dreams, and Captain James T. Kirk will be born here in the future.

The Field of Dreams Movie Site is just over an hour from us. We had meant to go the first year we moved here. However, at that time, our children hadn't seen the movie and were too young to want to see the movie, so the trip got postponed.

It only took us five year to get around to it.

Now, everyone had seen the movie, even Monkey, who, the moment the credits came up, loudly announced that he didn't get it. 

I'm not big into baseball or Kevin Costner. Even so, it was hard to not absolutely love the Field of Dreams.

To get there, we drove through quintessential Iowa countryside, full of small densely wooded areas, wide curving rivers, soft hills, and corn fields. Always corn fields. 

The Field looks just like the movie. Down a long drive, a pristine baseball diamond with wooden bleachers, next to a white farm house, surrounded by corn fields. And it's free. Always a bonus.

Our boys tumbled out of the van, grabbed their baseball gear, and bolted to the field. They ran the bases a few times, then quickly made their way to playing, taking turns pitching and batting. They just as quickly realized they aren't quite up to pitching on a regulation sized field, as the distance from the pitching mound to home plate is a little daunting for young arms. 

Both Bug and Monkey had few successful hits after Hubster took over pitching (my pitches were all wild and I was promptly switched out.) 

Later, Bug and Hubster played catch in the lush green outfield. I supervised Monkey and Duck, who found the corn fields the most interesting part.  It could actually be quite easy to loose a 22 month old child in a corn field, but only if that child didn't have a piercing cry that ensures not only its parents, but anyone within a mile radius knows exactly where it is.

There was a small little souvenir shop next to the field, but the boys felt that the afternoon spent playing baseball on one of Hollywood's iconic fields was all they needed. Because it turns out, you don't have to really love baseball, or the movie to have had a wonderful time.  Even if you can't pitch.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Monkey is Eight

Dear Monkey,

You are suddenly so much taller, so much smarter, just so much older at age 8.  This last year, you have grown several inches, but you've grown so much more than just in height.

You want to be with your friends much more, jumping at every chance to be with them. You don't want to watch Disney movies with me anymore, preferring Pokemon and Merlin on Netflix. You don't really want to read with me at night anymore - at least that's what you say, until I find you snuggled next to me on the couch.

Despite all this new independence you're demonstrating, for your birthday this year, you asked for "just a nice party with my family."

So we had a dinner with just us. A Minecraft cake (that melted a little in our hot, end of summer kitchen.) A wagon full of gifts. Silly string fights in the back yard.

The next day, I let you play hokey from school and spend a whole day with just me. It felt like such a luxury for both of us. For you, a whole day where you didn't feel the need to compete for conversation with your older brother or protect all your things from your younger brother. For me, a whole day getting to enjoy this new, older you. 

We went ice skating, and had the entire rink to ourselves. We played tag and had races and were just silly.

We went out to lunch at the fancy restaurant you had requested and I let you order a caffeinated soda. We ate monster-sized burgers and stole french fries off each other's plates. 

It was a wonderful way to celebrate turning 8.

I had the time to realize that even though, with each blink of my eyes, you are older and new and different, you are actually still the same Monkey. Just now, 8 years. And I'm just as luck to be your mom now as I ever have been.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Writing again

At first, I just hadn't blogged in a few days. I meant to write about Monkey's birthday at the end of August, but ended up working late that day. I thought that I would write about it that weekend, but some home projects popped up that had to be attended to.

I would think that I was going to sit down and write each day, and then suddenly, it was half way through September and I had no idea where the time had gone. But I still felt that I wasn't that far behind on things and could easily catch up.

Then yesterday, my mother called me about early ordering things for Christmas and my boys asked when we were going to get their Halloween costumes. That's when it hit me how far behind things I had fallen.

In my mind, I'm still at the end of August, summer is just wrapping up, we've just started back to school, the holidays are not breathing down my neck, and I've got plenty of time to do everything. In reality, it's been almost two months since I've written anything, winter is fast approaching, and I'm behind in everything.

I find myself each night at 10 pm, still rushing between dirty dishes, getting the crock pot set up for the next day's dinner, and piles of laundry. My have-to-do list overwhelms my every day and I never get to move on to my want-to-do list, which is where blogging is.

I often wonder how I became so busy. I've tried to scale back on things. I'm not taking on big projects, I'm working less. But each day seems to hold fewer hours. All the time I had to sit and write before, I have no idea where that time has gone.

I know it's an illusion to think that everyone else has their lives pulled together and is staying on top of things and that I'm the only person floundering under the pressures of every day. That perfect person is a fantasy I've created from my guilt of not being able to do a better job. But when I'm picking up my children from school while sporting wet hair, yoga pants and a Disney t-shirt that I had to smell before deciding I could wear them, and I realize that Duck ended up wearing pajamas to daycare and Monkey with wearing plaid shorts and a striped t-shirt and it's 40 degrees outside and he doesn't have a jacket and his shirt is backwards, and I'm planning on microwaving leftovers for dinner and serving them on paper plates...on those days, the parents who are wearing real clothes look like they have their lives all figured out.

A year ago, when I graduated from residency, I was so sure that everything was going to be so easy and simple and I would have oodles of time, so much time I wouldn't know what to do with it.  All that time was also a pure fantasy. I work full time and have three children, one of which won't stop biting the cats. That time I thought I would have for Netflix marathons and naps just was never going to exist.

Although, in full disclosure, I have been reading novels. I haven't read novels since 2009. It's been wonderful to read again.

I'm reaching the conclusion that I may never have a pulled together look or free time to rearrange my tubberware drawer. But what I do have are free weekends and happy children to spend them with and a great deal of wonderful memories.

I'm going to get back to documenting those, all our family celebrations, our Midwest adventures, and my ongoing tumble of thoughts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Junior High Jitters

Dear Bug,

You started junior high last week.

I spent so much time worrying about this - most of the summer, last year, years before that.

As quickly as you are growing, I still see you as my small boy, as someone I need to protect and shelter at all cost. When I would think about you starting junior high, all I could see was your shyness, your reserve, your struggle with new people and environments.

Additionally, it was impossible for me not to project my own experiences with junior high onto my concerns for you. Junior high was a miserable time for me, filled with social awkwardness, bullying, and isolation. I eventually found my core group of friends, but those years severely shook my self confidence. Junior high was just pure misery and I wished more than anything that I could protect you from that.

Add to that a new school that has a student population more than seven times larger than your elementary school, the more rigorous academic demands, the multiple classrooms and teachers, and your first time riding a school bus,  I was just a puddle of anxiety as the first day of school approached.

We did our best to prepare you. We toured the school several times over the summer, letting you locate the library, the gym, the cafeteria, try opening lockers. We attended every open house and orientation available.

And then the first day of school arrived, and off you went.

There have been many, many occasions in my life where I have realized that I worry too much.

This was one of them.

Despite my very best attempts, you have made the transition from elementary student to junior high student with ease.

Junior high appears to suit you. You were ready to leave behind elementary school. The fact that you grew a couple inches over the summer doesn't hurt, either.

In fact, I feel like I'm watching you blossom into a new and amazing person right in front of me. So much of your potential has bubbled up to the surface and become apparent.

I need to stop worrying. You are going to be just fine.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Solo Travels

When we found out that the boys' summer day camp ended with several weeks to go before school started, my initial reaction pretty much what it always is when I don't have an easy answer: Panic.

What would we do with them for two and a half weeks? Yes, they are getting older and with Bug being 12, I don't mind him being home alone for small amounts of time. But 11 week days home alone seemed a bit much. Especially because I knew that they would use all that time playing Minecraft and MarioKart and eating Cheetos.

After discussing several options, Hubster and I decided to send Bug and Monkey out to spent most of that time with my parents in rural Utah. (I would have sent Duck too, because he is waging an unholy war on kittens, furniture, houseplants, and my sleep at the moment, but it didn't seem kosher, letting a 20 month old fly with a 12 year old.)

First, I'd like to apologize to the Southwest agent I talked to on the phone. Southwest has a policy that children between the ages of 5-11, traveling without an accompanying passenger 12 and older, is an unaccompanied minor. If you read that carefully, according to Southwest policy, my children, flying by themselves for the first time, could not be booked as unaccompanied minors.  I may have lost my slim grasp on composure, as I was already anxious about my motion sick prone oldest child and my teaspoon sided bladder containing second child flying without me. I ask the poor women on the phone if Southwest expected my children to wander through a major Chicago airport alone. At that point she told me that I was more than welcome to get an escort pass. Instantly, I became a normal person again, but highly regretful of my behavior. I'm perfectly aware that it is not the fault of the person on the other side of the phone. Anyways, this is my public apology.


I found myself at an airport gate with Bug and Monkey, their bags carefully packed, snacks ready to go, travel papers in hand, and a constant reminder of proper travel etiquette and safety protocols pouring out of my mouth.

I stayed with them until their boarding passes were scanned and then, just like that, they walked away from me, down the ramp onto the plane.

The drive home from the airport was very quiet without the usually bickering coming from the back seats.

On the phone with Bug on their first day in Utah, I received a very quick run down on the day.

"When we got on the plane, it was very crowded. I think we were the last people on. There weren't any seats next to each other, so the flight attendant had to find us seats. We couldn't sit by each other!  Grandma wasn't at our gate when we landed, but I lead us to baggage claim without any problems! We didn't get lost once! And I stepped on a cactus!"

I instantly started empathizing about his rough day (and actually, my mom had been heading to their gate, they passed each other at some point, but my dad was waiting at baggage claim). When I said I was sorry it had been such a rough day, Bug replied, "What?  No! This is was best day ever!"

And that's how it was each day. They swam, and camped, and hiked mountains, and denied being home sick at all each time I called them.

When I met them at the airport at the end of their trip, they suddenly seemed so much older, much more than just the days they had been gone. After all, now they had traveled by themselves and had proven they could navigate an airport by themselves and had ridden horses by themselves and slept in a tent by themselves.

I didn't like how empty the house felt while they were gone or the constant little nagging feeling I carried in my chest as I went to sleep that I was forgetting something. I was so glad to have them home again.  But I'd do it again. In fact, this is going to become a standard part of our summers, sending the boys to visit family on their own.

They came back, laden with stories of adventure and friendship and connection, but also with a new sense of accomplishment and confidence.  Yes, we'll do this solo traveling again.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Our Disney Experience

When we started planning our Great Summer Road Trip, we knew that we had to make Disney World part of it. We felt that we couldn't drive all the way to Florida and not do the whole Disney thing. 

I went to Disneyland once when I was about 10 years old. We had taken Bug and Monkey to Disneyland when they were much littler (5 and 1 years old); neither of them really remembered it.

However, when I started planning the few days we planned to stay at Disney World, I also started having some mixed feelings.

First of all, it's expensive. Like really, really expensive. We calculated that our three nights, two and a half days at the Disney Resorts cost us more than the other 7 days of our trip combined.

Second, it was so overwhelming. Between park admissions with options for Hopper passes, and deciding which hotel to stay at, to deciding whether or not to purchase a meal plan, and scheduling FastPasses, it was absolutely the more stressful part of  planning our road trip.

Also, I worried about if my kids would actually like it. I worried that Bug was too old to be interested in any Disney related. I worried that Duck was too young to enjoy anything.

Initially, I had planned on staying at one of the more affordable Disney Resort hotels, such as the Pop Century or the All Star Movies Resort. But some friends who regularly visit Disney World recommended that we stay at a hotel along the Monorail course. They promised it would make transportation to the parks much easier, and would be worth the extra cost.

So I took a deep breath and made our reservation for the Polynesian Village Resort.

Let me just cut to the main point.  

We loved it. We loved everything about our time in Disney World. We would do it again. 

Here's what we loved (and Disney isn't paying me anything to say this - although I really wish they were):

We loved the Polynesian. Attention is paid to every detail so it felt like we were at a gorgeous hotel on a tropical island.  The hotel is just across the lagoon from the Magic Kingdom, so we could get to the park either by Monorail or by boat, both of which only took a few minutes. The pool, with it's volcano waterslide, was perfect. There was a small beach where they did campfires with s'mores in the evening. At night, they set up an outdoor screen and showed movies.  

My favorite memory may be sitting on beach chairs with my boys, watching Lilo and Stich outside. They paused the movie so we would watch the firework show at the Magic Kingdom, which we could see perfectly from the beach.

There was some construction going on at the Polynesian. We knew this when we booked our hotel. There was some extra noise associated with this (all in the day time) and some paths were closed, making it a little inconvenient to get to the on site laundry facilities. But absolutely no other complaints.

We loved the restaurants. We did breakfast at the Ohana Buffet one day, complete with visits from Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Goofy. The next day, we breakfasted at the Kona Cafe. The Tonga Toast, the enormous creation of deep fried, cinnamon sugared coated French toast stuffed with bananas, was amazing. Also, they were amazing about Duck's need for gluten free food. Each place we ate, they asked about food allergies. When we mentioned being gluten free, the chef would come and talk to us about options. They provided Duck with gluten free waffles that were delicious.

We loved the Monorail; I couldn't believe how quickly we were able to get from our hotel to the park. The ease of transportation allowed one of us to take Duck back to the hotel for his afternoon nap and   Our first day was cut short by a torrential rainstorm that caused most the rides to close down. Even our ponchos were little use against the downpour. We took our dissappointed children back to the hotel and changed everyone out of their soaked clothes, putting on pajamas at 4 pm. The rain stopped late in the evening. So at 9 pm, we headed back to the park and stayed until almost closing, enjoying going on all the rides in our pajamas. If we had had a 30-40 minute bus ride from one of the other hotels, this wouldn't have been possible.

We loved the Magic Bands. This is something new that Disney has started doing. These personalized wrist bands act as park admission tickets, FassPass access, and hotel door keys. My boys absolutely loved holding their bands up to the scanners on our FassPass rides, watching the scanners turn green, and then running on. We were also able to set it up so that Hubster and I could use our Magic Bands for purchasing items. This allowed us to buy food and souveniers in the parks, while leaving our wallets safely behind in our hotel room. 

We loved all the people who worked at Disney (or the "cast members" as Disney calls them.) They are paid to be nice to you, and they are. From housekeeping to waiters to ride attendants, everyone was just lovely.

We loved the parks themselves. We decided to visit Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom has all the rides I remember as a child and was incredibly nostalgic. And all three of my boys loved the rides. Duck loved It's a Small World and Peter Pan and Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but mostly the Carousel. Bug loved the Buzz Lightyear ride. Monkey surprised us all with his adventurous side and loved all the roller coasters, especially Space Mountain. 

Animal Kingdom was completely new for us. We like that it was less crowded and smaller than the Magic Kingdom, allowing us to do everything in less time. We loved the train and the safari rides and all the animals. 

Things I would have done differently:

I probably would have bought a meal plan. We ended up spending almost the same amount of money on food anyways, and we would have got the endless refillable drinks in the parks. Because with the heat and the running around, my boys were constantly thirsty.

I would have booked earlier. We booked a few weeks out and trying to make meal reservations was difficult. At the Polynesia, the only dinner reservation times left were after 8 pm. So we ended up not doing any dinners at restaurants at our hotel.

I would try to go during a less popular time. Especially at the Magic Kingdom, it was packed. We anticipated this and dealt with it just fine. But it would be nice to go again when it wasn't peak visiting season.

Overall, I feel like I can't say it enough: We loved our time at Disney. All my concerns that it was too touristy, too cliched, just too much, all those concerns amounted to nothing, because those couple days were some of my boys' favorite days of our entire trip. 

Mostly, I love the memories we made. From movies on the beach to nighttime roller coaster rides in our pajamas to the expressions on my children's faces.  This may have been the most expensive portion of our summer road trip, but those memories are priceless.