Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Giraffes and Toddlers

The weekend already feels like so very long ago, but let's start there anyway. On Friday night Landon went to watch a friend's brother's baseball game and then joined Claire who had gone with other friends to watch all our adult friends play in a softball game together. We did not go because (1) I'm not on the team because I'm afraid of sports where things can hit my face; and (2) we couldn't spectate because I had a headache that was trying to KILL ME. I lay prone on the couch from 6:30 until 10 p.m. having taken two of the only pills that sometime work and out of other ideas. It went away sometime around 6 a.m. Saturday morning, or so my dreams that transitioned from me getting thrown onto a rock to us at Disney World lead me to believe.

There are no headaches at Disney World.

A non-headachey night

On Saturday we woke to cold temps, wind, and threats of rain. We did not wake to a cancellation notice for Claire's soccer game. The big kids, who had played hard at the softball game the night before were still dead asleep at 8 a.m. when I went to rouse them. Landon in particular was exhausted- apparently he played intense games of tag for about 3 hours and had not consumed NEAR enough calories to be able to handle that. But after we stuffed him with a few granola bars he was ready to face a new day.

Claire's soccer game was frigid and drizzly and terrible. For me. Claire had a great time. Landon and Cora camped out inside my car, joined by two other sibling friends, and never emerged, so I'm pretty sure they had a good time too. We got home and I changed into everything I own made of fleece and fired up the TV for a Zac Efron movie marathon. We started with Greatest Showman (ALWAYS) and moved to High School Musical. I'd never seen the latter and found it adorable. The day remained gross, so we pressed on with Wonder Woman (Cora's choice) and the kids LOVED it. They've been playing Wonder Woman nearly nonstop since.

Fleecy movie snuggles are the best snuggles

The rain stopped and the sun finally broke through in the evening while I made our veggie chili mac. Inspired by the adult softball game from the night before the kids asked to play baseball (or basketball, as Claire insisted on calling it), which is really just catch and some monkey-in-the-middle with a baseball and gloves.

I love a beautiful evening full of family and games and fresh air.

It's like everything I hoped having kids would be. As long as I'm not the one having balls thrown at me.

Sunday was finally a beautiful weekend day. There was more baseball, some yoga, a family walk, prepping of the crockpot pea soup, and then more baseball. We decided to drop in our fabulous neighborhood zoo to see the new African Savannah exhibit that had opened Friday. We knew it would be crowded, so we waited until the last hour before close, zipped right in and grabbed someone's recently vacated front-row parking spot and hopped right over to the new area.

And it's AMAZING! I couldn't even get Cora to turn around for a picture!

All the Savannah animals roaming together right in front of you. You can walk all the way around the entire enclosure- an enclosure that puts the animals SO much closer to you from all angles, and even feed the giraffes! At least when they aren't already stuffed full.

It got 2 thumbs up from all members present. It was so great to see the animals mingled together- zebras, giraffes, ostriches (Claire's nemesis), birds... this giraffe and pelican got into a fight while we were there. It appeared to be over a certain spot of dirt. The giraffe, failing to understand his vast size advantage, lost and moseyed away. I'm sure there will be a rematch.

The meerkats have also been relocated and Landon requested "a copy of the picture of me and my meerkat, so I can put it in a frame in my room." It is also now his iPhone background.

The hippos have a new home and the rhinos and there are plans for many more new habitats and exhibits. The last phase is scheduled to be completed in 2025- "I'll be 18!" exclaimed Landon. "Holy crap" muttered James and I. At least I have no doubt we'll still be going to the zoo.

We ate our pea soup and the kids still seemed to have energy (probably stored up from our rainy day movie marathon the day before), so we went out on one final walk. I think we finally got them tired because James had to tow them up the last hill on the way home.

I simply love this image.

The week began with me skipping lunchtime yoga on Monday because I needed nachos and so dragging myself to 8:15 p.m. yoga that night. It's a gauntlet: first I have to watch my family eat delicious food I have prepared but now can't eat because I'd throw it up on my yoga mat, then I have to walk by my FAVORITE bakery that is located next door to the studio, and I have to smell the delicious smells of one of my very favorite restaurants that is located directly behind the studio. It's a feat of mental and emotional strength just to get yourself on your mat at 8:15 p.m. after a full day of work and knowing your kids are tucked in their beds at 8:01 p.m. and you could be sitting on the couch luxuriating in that fact. But it was such a great class. I wanted the yoga so very much and getting home to a scalding hot bath, glass of wine, and reserved plate of dinner felt *amazing.* So amazing I might even one day do nighttime yoga again.

That sweaty post-class glow

I have since made a reservation at that restaurant for James and I Friday night, with plans to stop at the bakery afterward. I'm playing the long game.

Speaking of Wonder Woman (because I did, a few hundreds words ago), Cora is completely obsessed. This is how she presented herself before school yesterday, before I told her she needed to leave the headband at home.

This morning I left for work super early so I didn't see her chosen ensemble until I got this picture from her teacher today. It was captioned, "Wonder Woman kept us all safe on the playground!".

She is my first child to find four hard (sometimes so very, very hard), but she remains SUCH a delight to us all. She's really turning into her own person and it is such a joy to watch. There is never a morning when she sees me getting ready for work that she doesn't tell me I'm "so beautiful." She always wants a hug or a little cuddle and she still loves sleep more than anyone else in our house. She's tall and athletic and crazy strong. She loves her siblings fiercely but is by far our most independent child. She loves her "hard work" at school and her playtime at home.

Earlier this week when a friend took Claire to soccer with his daughter #2, daughter #3, who happens to be one of Cora's besties, stayed over with us. The girls had the BEST TIME. Landon was at a different friend's house (our house is just a way station from 3 - 5 p.m.), so it was the two third babies all on their own with all the toys and they tried to play EVERYTHING. Eventually they settled in the bathroom to play with friend's new makeup kit she got for her birthday.

I couldn't help sneaking in for a few pictures.

When we first moved here, a neighbor across the street told us that she was best friends with one of the girls who grew up in our house and that they got ready for prom in what is now my girls' bathroom. I was thinking of that story as I watched these two little ones giggling over their makeup together and thinking, I bet that will be them in another 13 years or so. And it made my heart so happy I almost started crying crouched in the corner of the bathroom snapping pictures with my iPhone of two almost-big-girls playing with a Trolls makeup kit.

I struggled a bit last week with the idea that I don't have any babies in toddler sizes anymore. Cora is so tall she's a solid Girls size Small (as is Claire, actually), so those adorable Toddler sections of all my favorite kids' clothing websites are just done for me now and that's so hard to believe. I have LOVED having toddlers in my house. Chubby, round, excited-about-life, bursting-with-love little toddlers. But I look at these increasingly bigger kids and think of the increasingly bigger adventures we get to have and the increasingly big world we get to help them navigate through (along with wine and good grown-up friends) and I'm just so full of love and excitement for the years we have ahead. Cora is now older than Landon was when we moved from Fort Worth to Austin. How is that possible? We didn't even know we'd have a Cora yet back then! (And how is it possible we ever doubted that we would?)

I had no idea the Trolls makeover and a change in Old Navy clothing sections would bring about such introspection, but I think it's good to linger in the bittersweet, to feel those feelings while still looking to what's ahead with a smile. It's been nearly 11 years of babies and toddlers and now we have kids and tweens. What an adventure it's been and what an adventure it's going to be!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Shopping, Chefing, and All The Emojis

It's not been all closet clean-outs and margaritas with friends over here the past few weeks. I have also cooked things and bought things and contemplated buying more.

But first, something I forgot to add in my last post - thanks to a friend with season passes who knows my love of plays and musicals, I'm now the proud owner of a ticket to the Dallas tour of Hamilton!!! A fellow musical-loving friend is going to be my date and I am SUPER excited about this. After an intense internal debate that was settled by a facebook poll, I have decided to start listening to the soundtrack so I can have it all memorized before the show. The show that will be April 27, 2019. So I have some time. The countdown is already on my phone. (372 days! SQUEE!)

Other things I've bought in the last two weeks that I love:

This dress. It's for my parents' house re-opening thank you party they're hosting for everyone who helped them during Harvey. I LOVE it. I love it more than anything else in my closet. I want to wear it around my house all the time every day and swish my skirt at every opportunity. I got it on clearance for $50 at Nordstrom Rack and that makes me love it EVEN MORE.

Now I'm just searching for the right necklace and earring. Something fun and casual to keep it all from being too dressy. The top part of the dress is a simple navy jersey material so I'm thinking a chunky pink necklace or gold necklace with fun tassel/beaded pink earrings. I don't know. I'd probably decide better if I was wearing the dress right now.

This dress! Also Nordstrom Rack. I'm trying to revitalize my work wardrobe a bit. $40, fits perfectly, and I'm obsessed with the color.

I sort of forgot Nordstrom Rack existed until 10 days ago (we don't have one here) and it's been an exciting rediscovery. I got my swim school date night dress there:

and this other one for work:

I love it all and I'm done now. Party dress, two work dresses, and a new date night dress - my whole closet feels revitalized and it finally allowed me to get rid of a few work dresses I bought in 2009 that I adored but were sad and worn (but oh so trusted and familiar!) New dresses, you have big shoes to fill.

Moving on. Has anyone tried these Heliocare pills? My dermatologist recommended them for daily sun protection. Since I'll do anything to keep my skin from doing its usual "burn in 10 seconds" modus operandi, I'm giving them a whirl. I like the idea of a layer of protection I don't even have to remember to put on, but we'll see. I haven't been in the sun enough yet to know if it's working.

Next, do we like these shoes? They're more than I would usually spend, but I don't own any neutral/light colored heeled sandals anymore and I've had a surprisingly hard time finding some I like at my usual discount haunts. They're super comfy and not too high for long outings.

Who am I kidding? I'm totally keeping them.

And lastly, do you use packing cubes? I bought a set at TJ Maxx 5 years ago and LOVE THEM. Living in Yellow, a blog I need to stop following on facebook, recommended these and they are so perfect. I'm donating my old grey ones to the kids because I love color and polka dots and my suitcase is a boring silver and these help spice it up. This set has 5 pieces and are way higher quality than my old ones. I used them on my work trip earlier this week and can't wait to pack to go somewhere to use them again!

Now for food! First, a PSA: Have you been using your KitchenAid to shred chicken? I only discovered this a few months ago and keep meaning to share the genius. Unless all of you already knew and never told me, in which case, this is a very random picture of shredded chicken and I'm mad at you, but if not - use your KitchenAid to shred your chicken!!

Just stick your cooked chicken breasts in the mixing bowl, turn it on low with the paddle attachment, and 15 seconds later, they look like this! It's the best. No more shredding with forks that always makes my fingers feel tired!

(This was from my bbq chicken two weeks ago; 4 large frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot, half a bottle of bbq sauce and a generous squirt of Italian dressing, cooked on low for 8 hours. Use for sandwiches, Claire's beloved quinoa salad, enchiladas, anything!)

And a few good recipes from last week and the plan for the week ahead:

Wednesday: Greek Farro Salad (my recipe here)

Thursday: Amped up TJ's Chicken Chow Mein (2 bags of the TJ frozen chow mein, plus a big bag of fresh broccoli chopped up, handfuls of shredded carrots, sliced baby bok choy - stir fry it all for about 10 minutes = delicious!)

Friday: Pesto Chicken Gnocchi (broil TJ's pesto chicken, mix with gnocchi, kalamatas, sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pesto). Cora's absolute FAVORITE meal.

Saturday: Cheesy Vegetarian Chili Mac. Love this one; haven't made it in a while and seemed perfect for a forecasted rainy day.

Sunday: Pea Soup (I wrote out my recipe here); cornbread (love the TJ's box mix).

Monday: Chicken Rollatini with Prosciutto, with Broccoli Fettucini Alfredo

Tuesday: Vegetarian Tacos, toppings, refried black beans.

Wednesday: Shakshuka! The exclamation point is because I like saying the word and I've been wanting to make this forever and have finally decided this is the week. Served with naan bread.

Thursday: Crock Pot Creamy Chicken Enchilada Chili. Family favorite. (Totally use the KitchenAid to shred the chicken for this now - I just put the frozen breasts in with everything else, cook all day, fish out with tongs before serving, shred in the mixing bowl, and dump back in. Ta da!)

My lunches for the week: Asian Quinoa Salad (generally based on this recipe except I skip the cabbage and add avocado when I have it, also sometimes mandarin oranges). For the 3 days I do yoga at lunch and eat at my desk after. I like having something to look forward to and this is a fave.

Lunch last week: TJ's cruciferous crunch bag salad (shredded kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green and red cabbage), sweet potato ribbons, farro, fresh Green Goddess dressing. Delish!

And finally, I'll leave you with a recent message from Landon. We recently ("FINALLY," he would tell you) powered up an old iPhone of mine, got him an icloud account under mine, and gave him access to iMessage to text friends (the 4 who also have icloud accounts on old non-phone-phones) and my family. He also has the camera, calculator, and weather apps, all of which are adored, and nothing else. Oh and the calendar, which he hilariously updates daily with his comings and goings- I get copied on all of them since his username is under mine and I giggle every time a new one pops up ("this is when I go swimming" was yesterday's 5:00 entry). The "phone" has no data plan, doesn't leave the house, and charges in our room at night. He loves it. And I must admit, I have loved being able to get glimpses into his heart and day when he messages me every day when they get home from school with our nanny.

On Monday night while I was away for work, he sent this just before bed:

It just warmed all of the cockles of my heart. I love his exuberant use of emojis. It was like getting a hug through the phone and made me laugh out loud and want to hug him back. Between the phone and his recent discovery of the delights of boxer briefs ("Mom, they can go UNDER my real shorts. Like during the day. UNDER them."), growing older has been a lot more fun lately.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Unicorn Rises Again

Two weeks. I think it's the longest I've ever gone between posts in 11.5 years of blogging. I didn't mean to. It's been busy. I've had an unusual number of fun evening engagements, several of which have involved friends, wine, and/or margaritas. James's computer had to go to the hospital so mine was drafted to serve the swim school for six days. I went on a work trip. I've taken the testimony of 3 witnesses, read 7 books, and organized every closet and room of my house after a tequila-fueled dream told me to. I tried to start my 2016-2017 photo books for the kids but after spending one whole evening adding all my backgrounds and stickers and fonts and creating my two first pages entirely from scratch some computer glitch failed to connect Shutterfly to the internet so all of those hours of work never saved and my book reverted to the generic and empty shell its been for the last year and I temporarily lost the will to live.

So it's been a busy past two weeks. Last Friday found me on the couch with a glass of wine in my hand, Biore strip on my nose, and a heart full of blogging intentions, but then James rented Molly's Game and I had to do lots of wikipedia'ing to find out how accurate the movie was and I feel down a poker/Olympic skiing internet wormhole. Friday nights around here are crazy.

On the Thursday night before that, I met up with a group of my favorite women for Ladies Night at a restaurant with $5 frozen cucumber margaritas all night. Mom friends + cucumber margaritas restoreth my soul and then, even better, I got an after party on the front porch of another friend who couldn't make it over and we drank prosecco with a light breeze accompaniment until nearly midnight. I’m an extrovert and a night-owl, so I always love a good after party. And then, that night, my laughter and alcohol-soaked brain dreamed up a fantasy so hot, so enticing that I lay in bed an extra half-conscious few minutes the next morning just so I could keep it true.

I had dreamed that my WHOLE family had cheerfully and productively helped me clean out, organize, and label bins for everything in our house. A part of me knew it couldn't be real, but the other part was tired and happy and thoroughly woo'd by the lies my brain was feeding me. It was so sad to wake up and realize that couldn't have happened between midnight when I went to bed and 6 a.m. when I forced myself up, heart now pounding about how much I had to do at work. I shook off my fantasy by racing off to work to get on top of *something*.

I was at my desk by 7 a.m. and worked straight until 5 p.m.; no lunch, no yoga, no breaks to obsess over news articles. Just testimony prep. Not quite as good as home reorganization but man did it feel good to know I can still be that productive when needed. I was billing in double-time.

When I got home that evening, I decided cooking dinner was beyond me so we should all go out for pizza. I yelled to the kids to get dressed to head out and they assembled a few minutes later in outfits so perfectly them, I had to get a picture.

One of the great joys of parenting is how incredibly unique each child is. Same environment, same genetic mix, and yet they are so VERY MUCH themselves (and so very much not me) from their first moments. It delights me. My athletic-clothes-only Landon, my boho chic Clairebear, and my Princess Cora going full-Ariel with a Mrs. Potts purse stuffed with one of Landon's Spy Gear toys.

This morning I called them from my hotel room to say hello before they went to school and I went to take my first of two rounds of witness testimony and their distinct personalities shone again:

Landon: Hi mom! I got a 100 on my Benchmark and my teacher was really excited. Love you!

Claire: Hi mom, I love you so much, are you lonely in your room? I miss you!

Cora: Mom, I just really like sleeping. And also I like gnocchi.

I love them so much.

Other highlights of the last 14 days -- two Saturdays ago, James and I went out to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the swim school. Five years! Can you believe that? I kind of can't. Back then we were reeling from months of unemployment, our move, my pay cut, and our decision to have a Cora. He started the company when I was 5 months pregnant and it was more than a little terrifying.

But man, I'm so damn proud of this guy. Five years. He started with 24 students and now has 300 in this session and has taught thousands of swimmers since the beginning. He has taught kids to save their own lives in the pool, to love swimming, to get better at it, to work hard at it... He recently got an email from a new client and I happened to see if up on his computer- he never shows me these things and I know he gets them often- and it just made me smile. The parent wrote: I just wanted to thank you for your coaching style with our group of girls. We like the structure & we love your passion for what you do. You are very reputable around our community & we are honored to be part of your organization. Thank you so much!

So proud! I bought a new dress and earrings to celebrate him. And then we celebrated my dress and earrings with a fantastic meal and two bites too many of dessert.

In other celebrations- Claire was named Student of the Month for her class in April! She was very excited. She continues to adore school, her teacher, her work, her social interactions, and walking us through every second of all of those things every night when we get home, so being able to announce Student of the Month when I walked in the door was really all her favorite things happening at once.

My parents treated us all the ice cream to celebrate. She and Landon have each now gotten Student of the Month every year of their elementary school careers and my parents have sent money for ice cream every time. There is much motivation to keep this tradition going. Mostly from Cora.

And Landon, he's so enjoyable these days. Other than his need to constantly walk me through the more intense scenes of Unbroken (the Young Reader's edition, thank god; he's already read it 3x) until I finally told him to stop because the stories upset me and he's old enough to start learning how to cater conversation to your audience (like not the dinner table when your two younger sisters are listening with wide-eyed looks of fascinated horror), he is a cheerful, emotionally-balanced DELIGHT.

I got home from yoga this past Saturday morning to find him in the playroom, all the toys dumped out all around him, "I couldn't take it anymore!" he exclaimed when I walked in, "there's no order!" I completely understood. While he spent 5 hours cleaning out and reorganizing every inch of the playroom (final results pictured above), I did my closet, bedroom, pantry, kitchen, and the girls' closet. We were the only two people rejuvenated by this experience, but the girls played quietly elsewhere and James was blissfully unaware of all the cleaning he was missing while he got lifeguard/CPR re-certified. By the time he got home, I was just standing in my pantry, gazing at my newly labeled bins and feeling a little high.

I've learned that the answer to home organizing happiness is to do it when my disorganized spouse is missing. I don't actually need his help, but when he's home I feel like he SHOULD help but his brain is incapable of allowing that to happen. Like literally incapable. He tries, he just freezes, and I have no choice but to yell and no one wins. This time, we all won, especially when he came home from training and said, "do you feel like a margarita?" Because I DID.


Also exciting! Landon brought home his recorder this week and it brought back SO MANY memories. I loved my recorder. I loved that I could learn to read in a whole new way with a whole new alphabet. Landon is similarly entranced and after mastering Hot Cross Buns I taught him Mary Had a Little Lamb and we've all now heard both songs a few thousand times. Cora sings to each one.

I got out my flute so Landon and I could play together. My embouchure is crap now and I can't get many of my old notes out, but my fingers remember everything. It's really unbelievable. My mouth stumbles behind, but my fingers played every note of my first ever trio from 6th grade. The kids were very impressed with the flute, even if not the sounds I can now make from it, and the old band medals I pulled out from the same bin. Someday I'd like to relearn how to play, I did love it.

Seven days later our home remains filled with the delicate sounds of Hot Cross Buns over and over. We need to get him a song book of some kind... practice hours seem to not be a problem.

Other high points: a friend came over last Monday night after our kids went to bed to plan out all our summer camps for our kids (the first hour) and chat and finish a whole bottle of wine (the next 3 hours) until James came out and told us it was Tuesday and he was going to bed. Planning summer camps is usually such a burden emotionally and financially, and it was SO FUN to share it with someone else. I highly recommend this method to all. I barely even minded how many times I typed in my credit card information.

But then, even better, this little gab fast also SAVED me money when my friend off-hand referenced a "TCU employee discount" for a summer camp I was considering. "But I'm not a TCU employee," I countered, confused. "Um, yes you are," my friend reminded me, the person who had just entered a W-2 from TCU onto her tax return the day before. You guys, my four hours a month of barre teaching makes me an EMPLOYEE and employees get discounts!! My kids are getting to do some seriously awesome camps for way less money and the value of that far exceeds my $25/hour barre salary. I would never, ever have thought of it if she hadn't mentioned it to me. God bless friends and discounts. I owe her another bottle of wine.

Earning my discounts!

Speaking of the place where I buy my wine, have you had Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning? Do you like things that are delicious? Because if so you need to buy some immediately. Make some toast, or use a toasty cracker, add avocado, sprinkle with EBTB Seasoning. (Egg optional.) Savor. Make noises. Force your husband to eat some and then make more. One of the greatest things about working from home on Fridays is making this toast with this seasoning. It doesn't pack well in a lunchbox and I don't want to share with the kids, but at 11:30 on a Friday morning, with my laptop up, citrix connected, and James at swimming- it's the perfect coworker.

Wrapping up (it's so late; I'm so tired; work travel at the beginning of the week is the worst), we've had family pictures scheduled for both Saturdays of the past two weeks, and on both Saturdays of the past two weeks, after gorgeous weekdays with mild temperatures, the temps have plummeted 40 degrees, the winds have kicked up 30 mph, and we have found ourselves with canceled picture dates, watching family movies on the couch all snuggled under blankets. No one is sad about this.

Coco was first and it was FANTASTIC. Gorgeous, moving, and so perfectly done... we all loved it. This past weekend was The Greatest Showman, which the girls and I saw in the theater but Landon and James only know from listening to the soundtrack one MILLION times. It was a huge hit. Landon kept yelling out, "oh, THAT'S who's singing that song!" I think the whole world made more sense to him once the movie was over. We watched it twice more over the weekend to be sure.

And finally(ish), another exchange that made me chuckle this week that I don't want to forget. On Saturday (I think?), the big kids set up the gymnastics mat for a game of "fight." Obviously I assumed this would end terribly, so I popped my head up to tell them no when I heard:

Landon: okay Claire you can be Hog Rider or P.E.K.K.A who can knock down towers or a Valkyrie who has axes!

Claire: Um, how about I’ll be a unicorn named Ashley?

I was laughing too hard to intervene, and so decided to let it play out. Within a few minutes, Cora had entered the ring, everyone had lost a round to everyone else, and they were all playing gymnastics to Claire's gymnastics coach and realized that indeed, the unicorn named Ashley had won.

And at 11:58 p.m., that seems like the perfect place to stop. Unicorn Ashleys forever; I'm so glad to be back, I've missed you guys.