Thursday, October 20, 2016

Summer Meets Fall Meets Indian Summer

It's been a long time since I've updated. A lot of times, I plan to write something, but then time keeps going. And I ask myself, "Who really cares?" Well, I know I will be happy to look back on all of this.

The summer went by rather quickly, I suppose, but our family squeezes everything out of summer that we can get. We usually open the pool mid-March and it is still open now. In fact, we are having an oddly warm week this October, so we've been able to swim rather easily.

In the middle of the summer, I sprained my ankle pretty bad. It still hasn't healed all the way, but for a long time, I couldn't really walk anywhere, so we weren't able to enjoy the beach as much. I couldn't swim in the pool either (just stand around) and had to take six weeks off of running. I was so frustrated because I could hardly even walk downstairs. I never realized how horrible it can be to have to rest--and also how impossible that is with to two little boys. Chris tried to do his part in taking the boys on adventures, though, and they went peach picking, blueberry picking, and all of that.

Our biggest adventure lately has been adjusting to school. Whoa. I didn't realize how hard it would be to juggle all of the schedules in the house. Eliot goes to afternoon kindergarten and Jack goes to preK3 three days a week. They are both in school at the same time for just one hour three days a week. It makes working from home rather difficult, but I know it'll get easier from here after this year (kind of). Eliot decided that he didn't want to play soccer this fall, and while I was disappointed at first, I am glad to have our weekends open and also not have to worry about practice in the evening. I do miss soccer and I might tell him he has to do SOMETHING in the spring, but it has been nice to take a season off.

Eliot loves riding the bus to kindergarten. My biggest worry was the bus for him, yet it is his favorite part of school. He's doing well and never complains about going. He gets really excited about all of the rewards systems, like earning "pennies". He's recognizing words and loves to write books. He recently wrote a book about all of our crazy pets for a Reflections contest. When I was a kid, I wrote lots of stories and drew pictures, so it has been fun to watch him grow and trend toward writing as well.

Jack had a slightly rough start to PreK3. He cried the first few times, but now he just goes without looking back. He adores his teachers, which I think makes a big difference. Jack just turned three at the end of June while Eliot was a few months shy of four when he started preschool, so I try to keep that mind. Eliot had trouble adjusting too--and it took longer as well. Jack always comes home with a smile and stories to tell about school. He is always excited to show me the crafts he's done at school.

I am still teaching English full-time online and also adjunct at the community college. In fact, in just six weeks, I will have been teaching at my community college for two years! I've come a long way from the days when Jack would cry at the front door each morning when I left to drop Eliot off at PreK3, head to teach, and get home in the afternoon when Jack was napping. When I think back to that, balancing work seems like it has gotten easier. I'm always trying to balance being a great professor, a good wife, a decent housekeeper, and (of course) an excellent momma. Some days, it is harder than others when I'm tired and met with constant backtalk and having to say, "No no no. Stop stop stop." The boys tell me I'm "the best mom ever," which I know is a hyperbole probably mixed with some manipulation, but I'll take it.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Preschool Graduation

Preschool graduations always seemed a little silly to me. The kids aren't actually getting a degree. In fact, we are celebrating the kids entering kindergarten with the event that follows finishing high school. It's this weird, circular, backwards tradition that makes me feel dizzy. Really, though, I'm probably the only one who overthinks it.

Anyway. Eliot had his preschool graduation this past weekend. He still had two more days of school left, though. It was nice to have an end-of-the-year program and recognize how far he has come since I wrote my blog entry two years ago about enrolling him in preK-3. And then I look back at the photos of him on his first day, and, man, he is like a different kid. Truly, in two years, they grow so much.

I remember being so nervous about him starting school when he was three. I felt a bit guilty too, always second-guessing if it was the right choice. He cried when I dropped him off for the first couple of months. Looking back, I know it was worth it. These past two years have helped him to grow socially, get used to school structure, and learn a TON. Now he loves school and walks down the hall by himself. He is excited to start kindergarten and got tour a school bus. I am not worried about him moving on to kindergarten at all--he is ready.

Friday, May 20, 2016

You Can't Be Anything You Want When You Grow Up: Cultivating an Interest in Science

People complain about how millenials all think they are special rainbow butterfly snowflakes, and part of that is we were all told that we could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up. That is a nice thought, but it isn't necessarily true and can be damaging. We can't all be the President. I probably couldn't have been a mathematician. Everyone has limitations, whether it is intellectual, financial, physical, and so on. With enough will power, I believe people can overcome many obstacles, but I try to be more helpful in a practical sense as my boys grow up.

I don't tell my sons they can be anything when they grow up. I tell them that they will have to work very hard and I will do my very best to help them achieve their dreams.

Growing up, my parents always took a great interest in my passions. I loved to write and draw. They would read my stories, tell me how great they were, and also give me suggestions for revisions. Their praise didn't end with saying, "You're such a special, unique snow flake." Instead, they tried to help me grow. When I was 10, I took an interest in computers and developing websites. This was 1995, so the internet was quite new. I watched part of some documentary on O.J. Simpson in which the narrator said O.J. was following in his father's footsteps. One night while I was loading the dishwasher, I borrowed the phrase and told my dad that I was following his footsteps by hoping to work with computers when I grew up. I expected him to be happy, but he replied with an abrupt, "No." His career centered on computers, which we all benefited from financially, but he knew that wasn't me. My parents always told me that I was either going to go to college or had to have a clear, specific alternative plan for a career.

Obviously, I didn't go into the tech field. Instead, I continued writing and reading. I majored in English at a small liberal arts college, earned my M.A. in English, and then also my doctorate in Education. Now I am an English professor by day and a writer and doodler by night.

Like my dad, I want my boys to find their own passions. I read to them, write stories with Eliot, and we love to draw together. However, Eliot says he wants to be a Paleontologist. I don't just say, "You can be whatever you want to be." Instead, I tell him, "That's really great. If you truly want to be a Paleontologist, go to school, and work hard, I believe you can. And I'll do whatever I can to support you."

It doesn't stop there, though. I have been working on teaching Eliot to read over the past few months. As an English professor, I can teach him all about literature and writing, but I hope to inspire in my weaker areas as well. I honestly did not excel at math in school. I found zoology and marine biology to be incredibly inspiring, but most other sciences bored me. Give me the animals, please. If Eliot is going to be a Paleontologist, he will need to double major in both Geology and Biology. He will need to have an understanding of computers and statistics. I can read to him, help him draw, write stories together, and even explain statistics, but there is much more to learn in other fields. And I'm not trying to fully invest in this one career idea--didn't we all want to be Paleontologists?--but I think it is important for me to try to help inspire an interest and understanding outside of my own comforts.

While school is out this summer, I'm trying to give him some scientific experiences. I'd love to send him to a dino day camp, but the only local one I found is for eight-year-olds--and it is full anyway. Eliot and I went to the planetarium this week and learned all about Mars. I'm not too concerned with him retaining all of the information--it's a lot! More than anything, I want him to have positive engagements with science to spark his interest. My hope is that if I can ignite a passion for learning in him, he can use that to intrinsically motivate himself when school gets difficult. So, here are just some of the science-y summer activities I have looked into.

The planetarium
In our area, we are very lucky to have a planetarium open to the public. Each month has a different "show," so I plan to take Eliot once a month.

Netflix documentaries
Netflix has a ton of documentaries, especially animal ones. We usually end up watching a few a week in the evenings after dinner.

Day camp at the Virginia Aquarium
We are members of the aquarium and go quite a bit. They have three-hour "day camps" for five-year-olds for only $30 a day. I plan to sign Eliot up for at least one session.

Day camp at the Virginia Zoo
We are also members of the zoo. For kindergarten students, they have a couple of three-hour, week-long day camps to explore various aspects of animals and the zoo. This is $180 for members, so I'm not sure if I am going to sign him up, especially since it is a week long. Maybe I can find a different "behind the scenes" option for him because he just loves animals.

First Landing State Park
At the bay, the state park has lots of small educational activities for kids. In the summer, there is something going on almost every day. They even cast nets in the bay to see what they can catch (and of course release again).

NASA Kids Club
NASA has some supplemental material for kids as well to work through:

Our own nature walks
Of course, we don't necessarily need a "guide" to engage with science and nature. We can do it on our own as well. We go for walks in the woods and try to make observations. I tell the boys everything I know from identifying trees, how trees reproduce, what kinds of animals could live there, and so on. We've had a good time catching critters in our little nets at the Narrows and learning about crabs, mollusks, jelly fish, and more. When we go kayaking, I give the boys binoculars and tell them to keep an eye out for wildlife. We often see osprey, sparrows, cranes, and all kinds of birds. I tell them that they are being like Wild Kratts.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Walking into 30

The past couple of months have been a swirl of changes. I will turn 30 in July. I haven't felt too bothered by the number, really, but lately I have watched the symbols of my youth fade away much earlier than I expected.

It started with a car. My car. 2003 Volkwagen Golf. I bought my first car in high school. I worked at a Fuddruckers to make my car payment and pay car insurance. One day on my way to work, the Golf sputtered and the engine light started flashing. It actually would cost more to fix than the car was worth. We traded it in and bought a Tacoma. It seemed so odd because the Golf was only about 12 years old. It had low mileage. I thought it would last much longer.

Losing my car wasn't necessarily an emotional event. It was just a car. It stood for a lot more to me, but it was just an object. I just didn't realize that my car had gotten old on me. And that kind of meant that I was getting old too.

And then there was Bendy. Our dog. I got Abed-nego as I was entering my senior year of undergrad. He was my and Chris's first "baby" before we had babies. We took Bendy with us everywhere. We went on hikes, camping, and trips to the beach. Since he was a dachshund, we knew we needed to keep him thin and fit to avoid back injuries. We did not allow him to go down stairs or jump off furniture. Chris and my dad even made a ramp for him to get on our bed. The dog was so feisty and stubborn, but he loved us fiercely. He accepted our babies as our family grew. Then again, out of nowhere, he showed signs of a back injury. We tried everything, but he had nerve damage, affecting his right hind leg. The vet said all we could do was try to manage his pain. We gave him four different medications, but the damage kept spreading. He was constantly crying. We fought to get him to drink and eat. He quickly lost all use of his back leg. He couldn't even stand, let alone walk. He started losing control of his bowels. So, just one month before his tenth birthday, we said good bye. I thought he would have lived much longer.

I didn't know how to not cry all the time, so I started renovating our kitchen. I painted all of our kitchen cabinets, the doors, and the trim. I sat in the garage painting cabinet doors while the boys slept in their beds. I thought of our Abed-nego as a puppy and also in our last days together. I gritted my teeth and wanted to ask him why he had to go and get hurt. Why did he have to end this way so soon, so fast? So early. Ten years is OK, I guess, but I really thought we'd have more time. And then I looked at my hands and wondered how I got here. So much of who I was has gone. My car. My dog. My roles. What is left of me as a "twenty-something"? I am nearly thirty. I am stepping into a new chapter. It isn't a bad thing, but I had hoped to bring some things with me. Like my dog...

This point in life is so full of joy and also so hard. I'll just keep doing my best.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spring Clean-up and Garden Preparation

All winter, I dream of sunshine and plants and gardening. I wish for warmth (and fortunately we had a really mild winter), but researching plants and planning the gardens makes it easier to get through.

In February, we had quite a few warm days, so we worked on cleaning up the mess that winter had left us. Weeds growing between the brick pathways, mulch and dirt washed away by the rain, bricks needing to be pulled and re-set, bushes needing pruning, leaves to be bagged that had been keeping the bananas and elephant ears warm, and more. Even if the clean up isn't the most fun (and seems to endless), it felt so good to be working today establishing order.

Cleaning up!

So many gumballs to pick up!

March was really quite warm and spoiled us. We opened the pool on March 7th and heated it up. The boys were able to swim at least three days a week with hot days coming here and there.

The pool looking like alligator juice on opening day.

One rainy day, we decided to put the truck to use and drove down to Walker's Palms in North Carolina to check out a new shipment of NC-grown palms. We picked up two 30-gallon Sabal minors, which were huge! They are super hardy, but they are not a trunking palm. That is, their fronds grow up and look like the top of a Sabal palmetto, you could say. Chris also picked out two Sabal lousianas (trunking and very hardy), a few seven-gallon NC Sabal palmettos, one triple-trunk 15-gallon Sabal palmetto, and a saw palmetto. Planting these around the yard gives a nice feel of fronds and palms all throughout the yard. I'm excited to watch them grow over the years, but I love how it makes it feel tropical all throughout. Eventually, as more perennials return and we will in the beds more, we'll have some lush layers. I remember a couple of years ago when we drove down to Florida, we saw native Sabal palmettos growing with saw palmettos at their feet. The saw palmettos looked like baby palmettos all around. I loved how wild it all looked.

We had lost our pindo in the retaining wall last summer. Following a brutal winter, the pindo fought hard to recover. We trimmed off a lot of fronds and it did put out new growth; however, since our yard is so shady, I think it was struggling with a lack of sunlight. Then last July, we had a crazy amount of rain. Pindos prefer less rain, and we did our best to help with irrigation. The hard winter, less sunlight, and torrential downpours were enough to kill it off. It was one of Chris's favorite trees and a great piece, so we debated a replacement for a long, long time. If we put in another pindo, I worried that we'd just lose it in a handful of years. So, I persuaded Chris to try a different route than a palm. (Gasp!) We picked up a nice, full loquat tree in a 30 gallon pot. Loquats are cold hardy and produce fruit if the winter is not too harsh. We have one out front that is fruiting. Their leaves are cold hardy and remind me of a magnolia, which is my favorite tree. Of course, the loquat doesn't fill up the whole retaining wall area all the way, but I planted some lilies as well and hope to fill it more with elephant ears and maybe a hibiscus.

All the palms in the yard are looking really great, though. This past winter really was not bad and we didn't even end up wrapping the palms at all. We kept an eye on the weather, but decided it wasn't necessary. (The wrap v. don't warp argument is for another time). The winters of 2013 and 2014 were quite rough with dipping below zero and multiple snow and ice storms. In the spring, the palms took time to recover. They lost a couple of fronds from burnback. The fronds on the windmills sometimes bent down from the weight of snow. It took a couple of months in the spring to fill back out again with new growth. This year, though, everything looks mostly untouched. Even our sagos are so full with long growth that Chris trimmed them up some. Our one windmill (which was four feet tall when we planted it in 2013) is flowering with at least half a dozen seed pockets--probably more.

Super cold hardy Sabal minor.

Silver saw palmetto in front of the loquat tree. Not quite as hardy, but being by the retaining wall should help establish a nice micro climate. Also, since it is so small, it will be easy to protect.

 Windmill palm flowering

The bananas have been growing back for a couple of weeks and the canna lilies are returning as well. I can see a couple of elephant ears re-emerging. As I said, our yard doesn't get as much direct sun as other yards, so the bananas do not grow as quickly, but I'm happy to see them back. I know the yard will look like an amazing jungle eventually.

I know the "clean up" isn't over yet. The pollen is falling like crazy and won't finish up until May. Then we'll likely spread mulch. This year, we have so many perennials returning that we won't need to buy much in the way of plants--maybe just some elephant ears, hostas, and such. I have some orchids and ginger plants coming by mail order that I got off ebay for quite cheap.

Friday, March 4, 2016

North West River-ing

We stand at the odd place in between seasons. I remember the past couple of months of March feeling drab and wet and not spring as early as I'd like. Truly, March is still winter, but I am trying to take advantage of every ounce of sunshine.

Last summer, we bought a double kayak, which was something Chris and I had been dreaming of since before we got married. We took the kayak out about once a week or more exploring new places and it felt like such a vacation. Jack loved it (and often fell asleep) while Eliot was scared, but we made it work. This past week, we had some very nice days, so Chris and I took the kayak out alone (only the second time we've ever been without the boys) to the Northwest River. Everyone always warns you to look out for snakes at NW River Park, but we put it in at Bob's Fishing Hole. It just cost us two bucks to use the ramp and on we went. No snake sightings. While most boats went out to the left, we paddled to the right and quickly came upon an old rail road bridge. Chris was nervous about going under it, but I assured him we'd be just fine. Sure enough, we fit under without even ducking and our boat didn't scrape any rocks along the bottom. We were able to paddle along for about an hour before we headed back to pick the boys up from my mom's house.

My teenaged Golf recently died (RIP), so we bought a Toyota Tacoma. One of the many things I have been excited about has been using it for kayaking. With a bed extender, we were able to easily transport our double kayak. Honestly, we probably would have paddled more last summer if it hadn't been such a pain getting the kayak on the roof of our SUV. Now I know we can quickly and easily get ready for a trip, so I'll feel more spontaneous.

There's something really special about kayaking. I'm so glad that Chris and I both love it, even if we don't paddle fast and just drift along. There's no pressure; we just like being together. On a boat. In the middle of nowhere. Hoping we don't see snakes. It doesn't make sense, really, but we have fun. As I watched him strap down the kayak as we prepared to head home, I felt grateful that we grow together as a couple. It is important to find someone with similar interests as you--or at least someone who will get excited about your interest even if they don't care of it themselves--but it is also a beautiful thing to find someone who will grow in new interests with you.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Five Years

Last month, we celebrated Eliot's fifth birthday! It's one of those big birthdays because it sounds so big and means that school is just around the corner. However, I feel like we eased into it because Eliot is in his second year of preschool anyway. When he turned four, I said that he had seemed that old for a long time anyway. As it is with five.

Eliot has done so many really big "kid" stuff this year. He's doing great at soccer. He plays (and beats) video games on his own. Sometimes he seems like such a teenager because he wants to watch Youtube videos of other people playing video games, but I don't let him indulge in that much. Eliot ran a few races this past spring and fall, and is an amazing swimmer.

Eliot is doing well in school. When he gets to class, he is always a bit shy, but the kids excitedly greet him and set up games. He tells me all about the games they play at recess. Sometimes I don't even realize how much he is learning until he surprises me with his new knowledge. His teacher has been assessing and making recommendations regarding school, and they said he is doing awesome and is definitely ready for kindergarten. His teacher is especially impressed with how well he can write his name.

Eliot's favorite thing in the world is still dinosaurs. He loves watching Jurassic Park, playing with dinosaurs, writing stories about dinosaurs, impressing everyone with his dinosaur knowledge, and more. He knows the names of so many dinosaurs and facts about them that I can't even keep track.

He also really likes to play outdoors, dig in the dirt, swim in the pool, and go to the beach.

Eliot always has a plan or a design or an explanation for something. He has clear preferences and will strongly tell you how he thinks it should go. One thing we have been working on is getting him to accept that we can't always do his plan right away and sometimes no just means no. Although Eliot can be difficult to work with at times, he truly is the sweetest kid. He is so kind-hearted and gentle. He is always happy to cuddle me. He is sweet and empathetic. He just adores Jack and happily plays with him. They tease each other sometimes, but they're so good one another.

He has learned some tough lessons about sports and soccer lately. While he had a rough season in the fall at first and kept giving up too early, he really turned it around and has developed into a team player. Most of the fall season, he would complain that he didn't have fun if he didn't get goals. Some kids were being pretty tough bullies, but I told him to keep trying. At the end of the season, he got a few goals and was really excited. He had a much better attitude and would hang in there instead of quitting. This winter, he played indoor soccer with his team. He stopped talking about "his" goals so much and started trying to help his team get goals. The whole "team player" concept finally sunk in. I'm excited to see how spring outdoor soccer will go. Then next fall, he will step up an age group.

To celebrate Eliot's birthday, we had a Jurassic World birthday party. I made a cake with an edible t-rex image and also a fossil dig cake with crumbled up nilla wafers as sand. Birthday parties honestly stress me out because I'm not good at directing activities and the kids all ended up wanting to play video games. Arg. I caved and let them, but I wish we could have gone outside or something. Oh well. He had a good time.

I can't wait to see what "five" has in store for him. Eliot tells everyone that he meets that he is "five now" and that "Jack is two and calls all drinks 'juice.'"

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Christmas, the New Year, and a Birthday

Christmas Eve was a warm day. I have struggled to take a family photo each Christmas Eve and of course this year I do not take one either. I was very disappointed in how little photos I managed this holiday season. I didn't take a photo of one of the boys putting the star on the tree because Eliot begged to decorate the tree early in the morning before school. We had a good time together decorating it, but in the rush of the morning, I enjoyed our moments together instead of taking pictures. Then on Christmas Eve, I felt pulled in so many directions that I didn't even take a picture of us all. I did manage one photo of Chris and the boys (which is still on the camera) because they all wore Hawaiian shirts since it was so warm.

Eliot had so many questions about Santa this year. I feel like a horrible parent, but I just don't "feel the magic" when it comes to perpetuating the Santa story. I love the lights, the greenery, and celebrating Christ. I just can't muster up creating elaborate explanations for Santa. I didn't tell him Santa wasn't' real, though. I just asked him what he thought and let him develop his own ideas.

We did a lot of other Christmas traditions, though. We walked through the lights at the Botanical Gardens. One of our neighbor is quite famous for having an insane Christmas light set-up (like, featured on TV famous), so Chris walked to their house with the boys most nights. We went to Busch Gardens for Christmas Town. On Christmas Eve, we had dinner with my parents, sister, and her family. My aunt and uncle came in town for a visit the day after Christmas and then Chris's parents came to visit shortly thereafter. It was great to see everyone.

Before I knew it, we were in 2016! 2015 had been a good year for us. The boys continued to grow. Eliot finished up his first year of pre-K and then entered his second year while Jack started Parent's Morning Out once a week. I started working part-time at the community college in addition to my full-time job, which has been fun in a new challenging way. Chris finished up his doctorate in the fall and also ran over 1,000 miles in the year! I can't begin to imagine what 2016 will hold for us. I'm not planning too many changes or anything, but I hope to continue to grow more healthy.